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Vilppu Drawing Online: From the General to the Specific

Renowned drawing instructor Glenn Vilppu offers the sixth installment in his bi-monthly Animation World Magazine online drawing course.

Glenn Vilppu.

This is the sixth 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. Most lessons will also be accompanied by short QuickTime clips of me demonstrating the material discussed. 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. In the first five lessons, we have gone through the basic elements, or tools, that we use to create form. All of the work we have done so far has been on the presumption that we were doing a procedural drawing where one element was built on top of the previous rather than a direct type of drawing where each line essentially was the finished line. A Plan of Action In this lesson I will outline a basic procedure showing how all of the elements that we have discussed so far fit in. The essence of this approach is that we go from the general to the specific, and that you essentially concentrate on one thing at a time. What we are talking about is a general plan, not a set of rules, but a plan that has to be responsive to the situation or needs of the drawing. As I mentioned in the introduction, there are three elements necessary to accomplish anything. First, you must have an approach or plan of attack. Second, you must have the knowledge to accomplish the task, and third, you must have the spirit to carry it through to completion. Drawing is essentially a logical and practical process. As I have already mentioned, the basic structure of this approach is going from the general to the specific. In drawing terms, general means the "total." In drawing the figure, this means the action or attitude or, in another words, the gesture. Artists throughout history have done gesture drawing in many ways, this being determined by their personalities and the prevailing styles for any given time. Yet they all have essentially done so in a similarly logical manner. What is important at this point is that you concentrate on communicating the action in its totality, and not get sidetracked into copying details or becoming preoccupied with specific contours unless they somehow assist in communicating the overall gesture. A fundamental truth that seems to get forgotten is: the lines that you draw are what the viewer looks at. This may seem obvious and simplistic but it is true. This was the point of Lesson No. 1. Illustration No. 1 gives you more examples.

Illustration 1.

Looking Back to Move Forward

At the beginning of the drawing the primary concern is the total action. In Illustration No. 2 I have tried to show how the kinds of lines you use and the forms that you emphasize affect the feeling that your drawing communicates. Look at the differences between drawings A, B and C. Each drawing has a difference in the feeling it communicates. In "A," the lines, in general, go with the direction of the forms; one line flowing into the next. The general feeling is one of rhythm and grace. In drawing "B," we have a much sharper feeling and, in a way, "jerkier," if you can think of a drawing as having movement. The sharpness of the corners give it a bit more "bite," as we say, and perhaps this harshness is easier to understand. In "C," where the concentration is on the contours, the actual gesture becomes secondary to the flat shape created. "A" and "B," though different in feeling, still convey the sense of the movement (since the movement or gesture was the subject), while in "C," the subject was the contour and not the flow of the forms (the gesture, in this case, if captured, is a secondary consideration to the shape). This is not to say that shape is not important. In fact, it is very important, but at the beginning of the drawing, the primary concern is the total action. Examples "A" & "B" of Illustration No. 2 are exaggerations of two very common basic approaches to starting a drawing. "A" is exemplified by drawings of Daumier and "B" by the preliminary pen sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. These are the two extremes; you will find many artists who combine elements of both. Again, remember, there are no rules. Illustration No. 3 gives more examples of the approach shown in example B. Illustration No. 4 shows the second step in the process, clarifying the basic volumes, or masses. This can be carried to the extreme of cylinders and boxes, as we did in the first four lessons, or can be incorporated into the drawing in a less obvious way, as they are in Illustration No. 4. The study of boxes, cylinders, and spheres is the means and tools that help you understand in a simplified way what it is you are looking at. Again, there is every extreme inbetween.

Illustration 5.

Putting It All Together

Illustration No. 5, as well as many examples in previous lessons, give you a little bit of the feeling for the variety that this step can take. In general practice, the artist will often do a drawing in several layers. This layering is done in numerous ways. In the Fifteenth Century, it was common practice to do all of the preliminary drawing we have been discussing in a medium that could easily be erased, such as a soft charcoal, chalk, or graphite, and afterwards, going over the drawing with ink or wash. At this point, the preliminary drawing would be erased and further development of the drawing would be continued. Today we use light tables, tracing paper, and opaque projectors to do the same thing, still using the same materials and methods of the past. Remember, we are discussing a procedural approach to drawing, not direct drawing. Although all drawing is, in a way, direct, the point is that the sequence allows you to concentrate on one element at a time and go from the general to the specific. This is a general method, or approach, to help you organize your efforts. It is not a rule, but a tool. Illustration No. 6 exemplifies this.

Illustration 6.

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.

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.