Sunday, October 18, 2015

How rough, how clean?

Young pencil animators often wonder about the nature of their drawing style. Am I drawing too clean, am I loosing life in my animation? Or do I draw too rough, does my work still communicate? Eric Larson told us way back the REAL answer has to do with clarity. Eric didn't care that much about your drawing style as long as you got across your ideas CLEARLY.
In other words, can an audience understand and appreciate your work?

Here is a look at vintage Disney examples that show a range of approaches.
In the early days at Disney a loose quality in drawing was encouraged by Walt himself, because it allowed the animators to work more spontaneously and intuitively. It seemed that loose drawings captured the spirit of life more than clean, tight renderings.
It's important to point out that vivid (even multiple) THIN lines were king, since the final representation of the characters would be done in one fine line, no THICK AND THIN.

There is looseness but great clarity in Fred Moore's work. A drawing like this one would be pretty easy to clean up. Look at how Fred treated Doc's pupils. they are outside the eye unit in order to exaggerate the upward eye direction.

A drawing from one of Milt Kahl's early experimental scenes for Pinocchio. All the body volumes are   drawn in a scribbly but perfect way. Only the hands might need a little investigation by an assistant.
In later years Milt would become obsessed with the depiction of hands.

A Frank Thomas rough of Pinoke just before he jumps into the ocean in search of  Monstro, the whale. The line work is similar to Milt's, loose, but controlled.

Preston Blair added shading to the belly of Fantasia's hippo. This made for a cool looking pencil test, but the darker tones would have to be be ignored by clean up and the inkers.

Beautiful rough of Rat from wind in the Willows. A very scribbly animation drawing by Milt Kahl, but a competent assistant shouldn't have any problems defining these lines in a clean way. The volumes are perfect in this strong pose, only a few details on his outfit need some attention.

Eric Larson animated this scene, in which Cinderella dreams about attending the royal ball. Working with live action reference can be tricky, but Eric always distilled a believable (graphic) performance from the footage.

During fast action scenes Milt would occasionally leave out facial details, knowing full well that his competent assistant could take care of those things.

This animation drawing (probably by Cliff Nordberg) shows some color pencil under drawing, but the final graphite lines are pretty exact.

A surprisingly clean rough by animator Woolie Reitherman. The acting is pretty broad here, but Woolie didn't leave anything to interpretation. By this time (the 1950s) animators knew that very rough drawings could lead to misinterpretation of their work by clean up artists.

Drawings like this one by Milt would not be redrawn, instead his assistant (on The Rescuers, Stan Green) would just erase construction lines, before the scene went straight to Xerox.


  1. Great variety of drawings to compare. I know these are nine old men, but it would have been nice to see one by Glen Keane, to emphasize his rough approach with the charcoal lines. A teacher of mine had some assist under glen and it was a real lesson in finding the complete motion underneath the scribbles. Cheers and thanks again for such a great post.

  2. Great post...and I'm enjoying your fantastic book too!

    1. Great drawings and explaining the "why" of each example to help when doing your own drawings.

  3. what on earth is that second drawing from?
    It's got to be an interesting balance- knowing when to speed up and get footage out, or when to take the time to be definite. I think there are times when a soft line, or bundle of gestural lines can describe form & gesture better than solid clean lines.

    1. The 2nd drawing is a caricature of Martha Raye from "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood", animated by Ward Kimball.

    2. The 3rd drawing is from the Mickey short "Symphony Hour" - Clarabelle Cow (minus the bow on her head) animated by John Elliotte.

  4. Great post - there's so much life and energy in those rough animator's drawings. And I have your book - a wonderful tribute to those terrific artists and their work. Thanks for your devotion to artistry and craft!

  5. This is a fantastic post. I learn so much from seeing how other animator's approach rough drawings. Rough drawings are currently what i work best in. I have tendency to clean up too much and end up losing the life I had in the original drawing.
    Also I received your book in the mail today and I am extremely excited to read it!!

  6. I always prefer the roughs to the clean ups, they give you a little insight into the animator's thought process.

  7. Grim Natwick told me that he drew in two completely different ways when he animated. His first pass was super scribbly. Lines flying every direction because he was trying to find the energy in the movement rather than defining the volumes of the characters. Then he would go back and reinterpret his scribbles into solid shapes on a second pass, fighting to maintain the energy in the scribble animation. On Snow White he started differently. He began just doing a straight roto tracing. Then he threw the rotos away and did a scribble pass using the basic timing and motion he had learned from doing the rotos. Then he would go back and tie them down so Marc Davis could assist them. Having Marc Davis as an assistant must have been amazing. At one point Davis was lead assistant over 8 other assistants. It took 9 assistants to keep up with the footage Grim was able to produce. He did over 120 scenes of Snow White in his short time at Disney.

    1. Wow, thanks so much for this insightful information. I know that Marc really enjoyed working with Grim.