Wednesday, May 14, 2008

George In Context

Once I have figured out the basic construction of a character and am comfortable with drawing him from different angles, and I know his basic personality, then I find it much easier to create poses and expressions if I have a story to tell.

This is the big difference between drawing random sketchbook doodles just for fun and drawing functional drawings in context. The functional drawings have a purpose, other than just floating on a page cluttered with more competing doodles. Functional drawings have to tell a story, and for me those are actually easier to draw than random sketches.

When I have a story playing in my head, then the drawings just pour out. I don't have to consciously think up an expression. I just feel them happening as I make drawing after drawing of a character acting out the scene he is in. People make fun of me when I am drawing storyboards or layouts, because my whole body convulses and my face distorts as I personally experience what the characters are feeling with each drawing. When they try to interrupt me to ask a question, I barely even know they are there. I don't want to stop the natural flow of the story I am drawing. I never knew I did that until people started laughing at me - or got mad!

I don't know if I am recommending that to anyone else, but it makes another point - it is important when doing continuity to be totally focused on your drawings and story. You have to immerse yourself into the scenes. Don't "multitask". Don't watch TV or rock out to your IPOD if you want your drawings to feel natural, alive and performing at their best.
Sketchbook virtuosos sometimes have trouble making the transition from the random to the purposeful and here's why.

When you first try to draw poses and expressions with backgrounds together on purpose, you stiffen up because you are not used to balancing so many requirements at once. But that's the name of the game. Luckily the more you do it, the quicker you lose the stiffness and soon a whole new world opens up with creative possibilities your random mind never would have dreamed of. You can't give up just because the stiffness discourages you. Suck it up and keep going until it becomes more natural to tell a story with drawings.
I've said it before, but I can't stress it enough: "Functional drawings" are what you need to make a cartoon. A functional drawing is a totally different animal than a sketchbook scribble.
Once you get used to doing drawings that have a purpose, other than just looking sorta keen floating on a page full of other doodles, you'll open a whole new wonderful world to yourself. You'll be performing instead of merely doodling, and performance is what entertainment is all about.Drawings on these comics were done by me, Jim Smith and Vincent Waller. Those guys also live their stories as you can see.

Take note of how George's expressions and poses move from one to the next. They connect from pose to pose in a logical way that tells the story and his emotional state at every important moment.

In the above pages, George is basically cocksure about his ability to outwit a stupid creature of nature. Most of the poses convey this, but the odd pose is an accent "That's a dirty mouth bass!"

Accents occur naturally in acting and not at random. They serve functions and tell us quick inspired emotions that burst from the characters.
If you have already become comfortable with George's construction, then the next step is to draw him performing a scene or 2 from a story.

Here are plenty of stories:

Points to remember:

1) Learn how your characters are constructed first. Before you attempt to get creative with them. This is more important than anything. If you are still struggling with drawing a character even in his most basic generic state, then you won't be able to do functional drawings of him acting.

Learn the generic first, then the specific.

2) Learn the personality of the character by reading stories with him in it, or watching the cartoons.

3) Take a scene from a story that hasn't been drawn and rough out a sequence of the character (or characters) acting the scene.

I do this in rough first - storyboard style, straight ahead in continuity. I'm not trying to make finished cleaned-up drawings. I'm trying to stage the scenes and get a good performance out of the actors.