Acting in Animation with the Entire Body

The face can provide a wealth of story-telling data with just a simple expression. Rarely, though, does the whole story come just from the head. By using the entire body, and really pushing your poses, you can achieve a better sense of story and scene than you ever will with faces alone.

Let’s travel back in time to the year 1800. Two southern gentlemen are having an argument. Insults fly and tempers flare until finally one of them shouts in a furious rage, “I challenge you to a duel!” How might you draw that pose?

Animation Character - Angry

This first attempt is straight-forward, plain and generic. There’s nothing special about the pose. Other than the facial expression it tells us almost nothing about what the character is feeling. To illustrate, look at what happens when I simply change the eyebrows:

Animation Character - Afraid

Suddenly it turns from an active, angry pose to a passive, worried pose. Now he’s pointing in fear. That one subtle difference has completely changed the pose’s meaning. Why? Because the pose was weak and generic to begin with.

When you draw a character expressing emotion, be careful of relying too heavily on just the face. The head only makes up about 10% of a person’s body. Why waste the other 90%?

Angry Poses for Animation

Here are some quick sketches showing the same emotion, but this time using the entire body. By acting with the legs, arms, and torso you’re able to explore more entertaining possibilities and at the same time make a clear emotional statement to the audience.

You’ve got an entire body to communicate with. Use it!

If you like this article, please consider backing the Pose Drawing Sparkbook on Kickstarter. Also, to promote the project I’m giving away a free list of 100 Sketchbook Ideas on my personal site, no strings attached. Enjoy! And remember to act with not just the face, but the entire character from head to toe.

Cedric Hohnstadt owns an illustration studio where he specializes in character design and toy design. His past clients have ranged from Coca-Cola to Hasbro to Disney. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and three daughters.

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