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Using Tone To Draw

Renowned drawing instructor Glenn Vilppu offers the tenth installment in his bi-monthly Animation World Magazine online drawing course. In this chapter, he begins to discuss three distinct methods of using tone.

This is the tenth in a series of articles on drawing for animation. In these articles I will be presenting the theory and practice of drawing as a "how to" instructional series. The lessons are based upon the Vilppu Drawing Manual and will in general follow the basic plan outlined in the manual. This is the same material that I base my seminars and lectures on at the American Animation Institute, UCLA, and my lectures at Disney, Warner Bros. and other major studios in the animation industry, both in the U.S. and their affiliates overseas. If you have not seen the previous lessons starting in the June 1998 issue of Animation World Magazine, it is recommended that you do. The lessons are progressive and expand on basic ideas. It is suggested that you start from the beginning for a better understanding of my approach.

Illustrations A, B, C & D. All drawings in this article are by and © Glenn Vilppu.

Indirect Lighting and Modeling Tone

The first half of this manual has been primarily concerned with creating form using line, emphasizing the need to visualize the whole form and to draw across the surface of the form to show its volume. In learning to see spheres, boxes, and cylinders, we focused on seeing the corners of forms and used these basic visual tools to help us see the orientation of the forms in space and to draw them. In reality, we see things primarily in tone, not line. I have used tone in many of my examples to define the forms without explaining the usage. In this chapter, and the next two, we will discuss three distinct methods of using tone. The three approaches, which are indirect lighting, direct lighting, and atmospheric perspective, are distinct but generally used in varying degrees together. For the purpose of teaching, I am focusing on each one as a separate and distinct approach. As you will see, they can be used as separate methods though they are generally used together. The clarity of an edge of a form is defined by what is behind it. The greater the contrast the clearer the contour. A solid black object against a white background can appear quite flat without a light source defining the interior corners and the parts that come forward (see Illustration A). To create a strong sense of volume it is necessary to emphasize these internal corners that come forward and subordinate those that recede back in space.

Illustrations B, C, and D demonstrate the fundamental elements of the indirect lighting approach. The part that is facing you is the lightest and the form becomes darker as it turns away from you. Notice that I said, "Turns away from you." The important point here is the angle of the form in relationship to you. In Illustration C, the outside contour has also been softened to make it recede even more. "What faces you is in light; what turns away from you is in tone."

What faces you is in light; what turns away from you is in tone. Another way of thinking about this is to imagine yourself as the source of light. Illustration E gives an example of this basic principle. Remember, it is the angle that a particular surface plane faces that determines its value (degree of light and dark), not how far away from you it is.

This use of tone, or value, is usually referred to as a "modeling tone." We model the form using the tone to define itself in space in the same way a sculptor does. Since our main concern is to describe form, you must look at the basic procedure as a tool rather than a rule. We use the tone to push the sides back on a form. Let us modify the basic concept now to read: "What faces you, relatively, is in light; what turns away from you is in tone." The word "relatively" is very important. Study Illustration F. This is actually an optical illusion. The forms can be seen going in or coming out. The parts of the forms that are in light do not actually face you, but, relative to the forms that are turned more away, they do. Notice that there is no difference between those forms that are close to you and those farther away. Of course, in reality, there is, but for the moment concern yourself only with the angle that the plane of the form is facing.

The Importance of Values

Before we go any further, you need to develop some basic skills in working with values. One of the most fundamental skills that you must develop as an artist is to be able to recognize and put down values with control. The illustration gives you examples of a few basic exercises that you should do. As a working artist, with over forty years of experience, I still feel it necessary, at times, to do variations on these exercises today.

An example of the gray scale.

It is important that you develop the skill in being able to put down a flat and even value. We are interested in seeing the value, not the technique.

"We are interested in seeing the value, not the technique."

Every irregularity or change in tone communicates a change in the form. Do not draw dark lines between values. A line between values will distort the relationship of one value to another and make it difficult to see their relationships. Each degree, or step, of contrast between values should be equal in contrast. Do not underestimate the difficulty or importance of this exercise. It could take hours to do it right.

Practice drawing simple forms from imagination. Redraw some of the forms created in Chapters Two and Three, using tone, but no line. Remember, we are using a specific approach to modeling form. We are not copying the patterns of light and dark that we see on the model. We are analyzing the forms of the model but are not necessarily using the tones that we see on the model. As I have said repeatedly, "Don't copy the model; analyze."

"Don't copy the model; analyze."

Adding to the Basics...

After you have become comfortable using the modeling tone, as we have discussed so far, you can start adding some variables that will give your drawings a more natural look. The first of these variations is to make the tone stronger on one side or the other consistently. Look at the spheres at left to see the difference. The far left is the way we have been doing it; the other is an example of emphasizing one side to give a feeling of a light source other than from directly ahead. A light source from directly in front is sometimes referred to as "flat lighting." In general, you will find that favoring one side or the other will give a stronger feeling of relief. In essence, you are shifting the light source to one side.

Look at this drawing and try to see it as a series of simple spheres with the tones pushed to the outside receding edge.

We started this lesson drawing with no distinction in the distance of a form from you, concentrating on the angles of the various planes to establish the tone. In the beginning of this chapter, I mentioned that we will be discussing three distinct approaches, "indirect lighting, direct lighting, and atmospheric perspective," and that, in practice, we usually use all three methods together to various degrees. In that context, we are now going to use some of the basic elements of atmospheric perspective in conjunction with the modeling tone. In Chapter Twelve we will bring in many more elements of atmospheric perspective than we have discussed in this chapter. The basic concept of atmospheric perspective is that the farther something is away from you, the more atmosphere there is between you and the form. The closer something is to you, the sharper it will be, the more detail it will have, and the greater the contrast will be; the darks are darker and the lights are lighter. As the forms recede back, the lights and darks become closer in value and you lose contrast and detail. See the illustration on the right. A foggy or smoggy day gives you a perfect example of this concept.

The forms do not have to have great distance between them. A simple overlap can become an excuse for using this concept. In Oriental landscapes, as well as in Cubist paintings, this approach has been used as a basic method of showing space and separating forms. Here you see several examples of this. Look at the details on the right taken from the drawing on the left and notice how this simple idea helped to separate forms and give a sense of depth to the drawing.

Using the concept from the simple forms, try creating the sense ofdepth with more complex images.

Notice how the leading edges in these examples are darker.

Notice the way this idea is used in these simple forms. In a continuously receding flat form, the leading edge should be darker. This idea is carried over into drawing boxes and cylinders. On this page and following pages are various examples of the basic ideas we have been discussing. Study them to see how they have been modified and used.

In the next lesson, we will be discussing direct light. To use direct lighting, you must first have a good understanding of indirect lighting. Practice creating forms from imagination and rendering them until you have a thorough grasp of the elements discussed. Glenn Vilppu teaches figure drawing at the American Animation Institute, the Masters program of the UCLA Animation Dept., Walt Disney Feature Animation and Warner Bros. Feature Animation, and is being sent to teach artists at Disney TV studios in Japan, Canada and the Philippines. Vilppu has also worked in the animation industry for 18 years as a layout, storyboard and presentation artist. His drawing manual and video tapes are being used worldwide as course materials for animation students. Glenn Vilppu first wrote for Animation World Magazine in the June 1997 issue, "Never Underestimate the Power of Life Drawing." His drawing manuals and video tapes may now be purchased in the Animation World Store.