Monday, August 29, 2011

Strong Silhouette...or not?

I am sure most of you know about the value and importance of a strong silhouette
when it comes to key poses.
Some of the old Disney masters said that your silhouette should give the audience an idea about the character's overall mood, and that it also might reveal the business and the acting.

The first two examples prove that point very clearly, the last two are somewhat of an exception in this regard.
Milt Kahl animated these scenes, and as usual they are worth a closer look.

Pecos Bill and Widowmaker show a very clear silhouette. Everything points outward, it's almost like an explosion. The emotion here is definitely exuberance.

This scene with Tramp interacting with the beaver also reads very clearly.
The staging connects the characters beautifully. Tramp leans forward and his paw pushes on the beaver's belly. There is just enough negative space between the two so that both poses are easy to recognize in silhouette.

Here we have a case of staging where the main business happens within the character's silhouette, not out in the open at all.
Robin Hood is wiggling his finger through a shot hole in his hat. So why does this read so well after all?
Milt made sure that your eye goes right to that subtle motion, look at the arrows.
And then the importance of  color. Robin's brown finger is moving in front of the WHITE  part of his fur.
It becomes a silhouette within a silhouette. 
Check out the frame grab below.

One of the great scenes in Disney animation.
But you couldn't tell from Medusa's silhouette what's going on here.
Again, the important subtle action of the false eyelash being pulled is staged within the main shape.
But to me there seem to be a hundred lines pointing at her left eye area.
No matter which part of the drawing you start looking at, your eye will end up at the stretched eyelash. The bend of every finger, the folds in her towel, even the shape of her lips help the viewer to focus on this one  particular part of the drawing. 

Of course all this looks so simple, but it took a lot of artistic brain power that made results like these possible.


  1. This is such a juicy post! The use of lines in Medusa is incredible.
    What a great way to start the week :)
    Thank you

  2. Thank you SO much for posting so regularly. Like Walt Stanchfield's famous notes, these posts are not only informative and excellent reminders----but greatly, greatly inspirational. (Believe me there are many out there who need it!) Thank you for the umpteenth time for your passion.

  3. Great Tip, can wait to try it ( overall mood in the silo and business). The flow and direction to look at is just unreal.

  4. To me, this is a lighthouse inside the mist at midnight far deep in the sea. Thanks man, really!.

  5. Great observations on the nature of silhouettes. I have to often remind myself that there can be shapes within shapes; not everything has to read like a cookie cut gingerbread man.

  6. I agree with Kimathi above, your posts are reminiscent of the Drawn to Life notes. Publish a book?

  7. Thanks, Andreas! It's amazing, once I started looking closely at the frame of Medusa, I was able to see that (indeed!) EVERY line, even the most subtle, are pointing at that eye! The corner of her smile, the bridge of her nose, the straps over her shoulders. The amount of thought Kahl gave to the lines he put down is inspirational.

  8. Thank you for posting, this is extremely helpful.

    I was just noticing the lines in both frame grabs are a little more sketchy on the characters than some other Disney films. Was this due to xerography? I know that was implemented because of budget reasons but I've always loved that look of the not so clean line on the characters. It makes them seem even more alive to me.

  9. I like your red lines/arrows, Andreas!
    You are a wonderful teacher too! (Sorry, but I don't speak English very well.) Again: thanks this wonderful post and your infinite enthusiasm! :)

  10. Off topic - but I had to butt in and say that Madame Medusa's line in this scene is, for my money, one of the most upsetting comments ever committed to film:

    Madame Medusa: Penny, don't you like it here? A big, beautiful boat, all to yourself!
    Penny: But If I don't get back to the orphanage... I'll never get adopted.
    Madame Medusa: Adopted? What makes you think anyone would want a homely little girl like you...?

    It's hard to know who to credit this with: the script had so many writers - but I think special mention must be made of Geraldine Page's intonation and lazy disdain as she delivers the killer blow. Heartbreaking.


  11. Chris,
    Frank Thomas thought that Geraldine Page was the best voice they ever had. And according to Milt Kahl, she read her dialogue lines only ONCE.
    She was an unbelievably intuitive actress.

  12. I also think Milt was able to extend the silhouette of Medusa's fingers into the white towel/turban on top of her head. This offered additional room for play. Possibly breaking a rule, but knowing how to do it.

  13. I like this post very much. Silhouettes are very important, but it seems that lines of action can be even more important. This will definitely help me to get some clever poses.

  14. I have a question about staging if you don't mind my asking. It's incredibly impressive how they have the characters set up, but I can imagine that the motion sometimes leads to less desirable staging in inbetween drawings. How is that handled?

    Also thank you for having examples of "breaking" the rules! It really helps me see what the rule means when there are examples and counter examples.

  15. As an animator for video games you make me realize how much of a slob I am when it comes to posing and animation. Often I get so lost in just movement, poses, and getting the idea across. But really sitting down and concentrating on silhouette and design. That's just another part of my brain! Man! How many potential pieces I could have had that could have been much better if I just thought more about design and leading the eye better. Thanks for the realization :)

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  17. I'd always been told about the importance of a good silhouette, but I'd never seen it explained well. Now I feel as if I have a better grasp on the idea. After reading many posts like this one, I find myself looking out for these types of things.

  18. This post is so helpful! :)
    Thank you! :)