In 1988, an extraordinary thing happened in the world of animation. The film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”( Directed by Robert Zemekis, animation directed by Richard Williams) was released. The film gleefully celebrated the kind of imaginative slapstick cartoon violence that was the staple of the most popular short cartoon classics that were made during the period from around 1940 till the decline in the year that the film takes place,1947. Cartoon lover’s eyes popped like Tex Avery wolves all over the world for this caliber of animation hadn’t been seen since…well, 1947. The film was a major hit, and a powerful shot in the arm for the until then sluggish animation business. For me personally, well…it saved my life, and my faith in the power of the animated film.
It was also in 1988 that I became associated with the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon Art in Dover, New Jersey. School founder and comic book illustrator Joe Kubert had begun an animation department, with Milt Neal, an animator who had worked at Disney in the hyperion days on such great cartoons as Dumbo and The Reluctant Dragon. I was hired to come in a couple days a week and keep an eye on Milt’s students while he worked on a film of his own in his room down the hall. I made the mistake of complaining to Milt one day that some of the students were not doing animation, but wasting their time on figure drawing. Well, the old guy really lit into me. What he basically said was that if I really knew anything about animation then I would know that figure drawing has a lot to do with animation, that is at least, the kind of animation that has come to be called “classical animation”. I would soon come to see that he was absolutely right. Without even realizing it, I had been applying the principles of figure drawing to my own animation work. Once I became conscious of this, my character animation began to improve vastly.
The next year, Milt left the school, but I stayed on as an animation instructor and have since been teaching a course in what the school lists as “life drawing”. My class however, goes in a different direction from standard life drawing methods. While we do work with live models, we also work from video tape, freeze framing the action of a selected sequence, and using the “poses” as animation drawings. First year students go through a series of assignments that involve the basic drawing principles and the ability to create movement with drawings, or “animation”. I call my class unofficially: Drawing for Classical Animation.
What follows are the notes for my class. To use them, all you need is a big stack of nice drawing paper, animation bond preferred, and a good soft pencil. A hard pencil is a detriment to creating loose action drawings. Your pencil should feel as if it glides across the surface of the paper, leaving a dark, solid line. My fave is an Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602. Unfortunately the company no longer manufactures them so these days I usually use a Turquoise or a Sanford 3B or 4B. NEVER an H!! Also, keep a few pages underneath the one you’re drawing on for softer, prettier lines. Thanks and credit must be given to Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson, for defining and ennumerating the 12 principles of animation that I have given my own take on here, in their highly recommended book, “Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life” (Abbeville Press,1981) So, are we ready to start drawing?