Monday, August 15, 2011

Disney Staging

The best of Disney's animators knew how to stage their characters in a way that made them easy to read on the screen. That way their personality statements were uncluttered and to the point.
Every line put on paper supports a main thought, and the rhythm of the drawing leads your eyes toward the area you are supposed to look at.
This is not an easy thing to achieve. An animator needs to boil things down to a clear essence, because the audience only has a split second to see and understand what's going on.

I traced these classic Disney moments off from xeroxes of the originals. In most cases the characters were animated on different levels, I combined them here for the final composition.
This stuff leaves me in awe. I know that some animators like Frank Thomas and Eric Larson worked hard to achieve this simplicity, while others like Milt Kahl and Marc Davis did it intuitively.
Each drawing is accompanied by an overlay that shows the flow toward the focused area.

The first example from "Pinocchio" even had two animators who worked out the staging issues. Stromboli was animated by Tytla, Pinoke by Frank Thomas.
Combined they form a powerful composition, the main focus is Stromboli's right hand grabbing Pinocchio. The characters connect very strongly. That firm grip 
showes Stromboli's physical strength, and Pinocchio's vulnerability.

Milt Kahl did all three characters in this scene from "Song of the South".
They relate sooo simply, clear personality and attitude in each of them.
Your eyes end up at the rabbit.

Frank Thomas animated Merlin and Mim. Props like Merlin's hat and his magic wand help point to his nose being grabbed by Mim. That's the business of the scene and all lines support the idea.
Here again opposing attitudes make up for an entertaining statement.

Robin and Maid Marian were done By Milt, their hands/paws connect in such a simple and elegant way. Even the feather on Robin's hat is curved and points toward Maid Marian. This looks so simple, but it really is quite sophisticated.

Milt again, drawing Penny and Medusa. 
It is absolutely clear who is the forthcoming character, and who is reacting.
Medusa is as usual overpowering, and here even her lips help the visual connection with Penny.

I don't know about you, but I find studying this stuff fascinating.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I can't thank you enough for putting these together Andreas. I have been going through a lot of the classic Disney films myself recently (I was looking at Peter Pan this morning and grabbing frames out of it! Haha!) and looking at this very thing as I find it is something that is lacking in my work. Getting all the elements within a pose to really clearly support and idea and lead the eye seems so simple and is soooo hard to achieve.

    Thanks again!

  3. Mr. Deja,

    when someone talks about staging, I get very daunted, because they are describing it in tiny details and I don't completely understand. What you have just posted here makes absolute sense, and I wish to thank you for that. Staging now makes a little more sense to me, and I can see how they really add to the action and charm of the drawings.

  4. Fantastic! There's so much thought that goes into these that it really makes you think about how much these guys work at it.

  5. "I find studying this stuff fascinating."

    As do I! Thanks for sharing :)

  6. Thank you so much for posting these. It's just simply amazing the kind of detail they would keep in mind when exploring there poses. Incredible

  7. these are awesome Andreas!

    This might seem like a dumb question, but do you this might be why Milt was a more pose to pose animator? Just looking at his thumbnails and the number of variations on just a single key pose, do you think that made him plan out those poses before hand instead of straight aheading into them?

    He also seemed to not be afraid of clearly presenting those poses, instead of trying to hide his key poses. His poses remind me a lot of this illustrator: Fred Ludekens..

    .. anyway, thanks for putting these drawings up! They are so inspirational~

  8. Very insightful and fascinating for sure! Thanks for sharing these, Andreas.

  9. One of my favorite posts so far. Thank you so much for doing this. After looking at the lines of rhythm it makes it so clear.

  10. This is a very insightful post and I really appreciate it. Thanks again for the inspiration, insight and beauty that you share with these drawings:)

  11. Reasons why your blog is consistently at the top of my reading list: this post.

    Thanks, and keep the good stuff coming!

  12. Wow total masterpieces, thanks for drawing over and pointing out the flow too

  13. Every one of your blog posts is a piece crucial insight that helps me improve my drawings/animation. Thank you, Andreas!

  14. Interesting! This concept reminds me very much of Italian commedia dell'arte - a style of comic theatre popular in Italy in the 16th Century. Actors were trained to lead the action (physically) with a part of their body that represented their motivation. A nosy or inquisitive person, for example, would lead with their nose: peering round corners face first, body following later (much like Ichabod Crane in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad). A greedy person would be all hunched over: shoulders, face arms all focussing in towards the clasped hands in the centre of the body - I'd say the Coachman from Pinocchio shows this sort of thing.

    Everything was exaggerated for comic effect. Actors would follow these very clear lines of action, drawing the audience's attention in much the same way as you've demonstrated here.

    Really interesting: thanks!


  15. Awesome post, thanks Andreas!
    Also, thanks for putting captions below the images. This makes it much easier to read while studying the image.
    Love the blog! Keep it up.

  16. Whenever I feel I might be getting it, something like this comes along and puts me in my place. There's always more to strive for, and I love it! This changed the way I'll view scenes from now on. Thanks Andreas!

  17. I've seen on other blogs where people have tried to explain the staging, but the images you have provided here are the clearest explanation I've seen! Thanks for the info!

  18. Andreas, I remember these from class a few years back during the training program. I recently was trying to find them, but was disappointed that I couldn't. Thanks so much for putting these up on your blog. This blog is FANTASTIC and thanks for putting in the time to share all this. Truly invaluable.

  19. I do to. And staging is always any area I have trouble with. Thank you.

  20. This is great! Can u give more examples? How does one keep the clarity when working on camera moves or complex acting? How does one balance the genuineness/spontaneity of the performance while still maintaining silhouette and staging?

  21. I will post a whole bunch more of these beautifully staged poses. There are some knockouts to come.

    Milt would do a drawing of a pose that was important to the scene, but he animated straight ahead into it. He just used that drawing to give him an idea where to head to.
    (Of course it could be several drawings like that per scene).
    Milt knew when to pause and show a strong personality pose. Other animators preferred to move more within that pose.

    during a cameramove, don't have the character do anyting subtle or important. It won't read.
    When animating complex acting, think about the emotion FIRST in your rough pass. Once that's clear to you, then go back in to check and correct the clarity of the silhouette and readability .
    In other words, start out by animating emotionally, then
    make sure everything communicates.
    I call this chewing your scene twice, and I can't animate any other way.

  22. Thank you, that makes a lot of sense. Looking forward to more !

  23. Great post, Andreas! Also, thank you for taking the time and effort to share these GOLDEN resources!

  24. woah, somebody should really do a book about staging... this stuff is great!

    thanks Andreas!

  25. I find it fascinating too! Thank you for posting this, teach us more please!

  26. Of course it's fascinating.
    Thank you Andreas, for this post and for the ones to come! :)

  27. Staging concepts cleary explained. thanx n um sharing it on ma blog

  28. Thank you for this post!
    I printed them out and put them in the book "The Art of Animal Drawing" by Ken Hultgren! :)