Last time we had a look at how a character’s body type, personality, emotions and background-story influence posing and how to deal with weight and balance. This week you’ll learn a few guidelines to make your poses clear, readable and more appealing.
Many of the following guidelines are simple visual recommendations. While they can help to make your poses more readable and interesting to the eyes, they cannot replace elaborating believability and body mechanics of your character. The spark of life mostly comes from what we discussed in the previous article. Everything in this article is very important as well, but cannot cover up a lack of personality or weight in the poses. This also means you have to be careful not to lose anything in the refinement of a pose.
An easy way to judge if your pose is easy to read is to look just at the silhouette.
If it’s clear in the silhouette, you can be sure that the audience is able to read it better and faster. Your goal should be that you can tell what your character is doing (and maybe even what he is feeling) just by the silhouette.
This is usually one of the first things taught about good posing, but I would be careful with making it the most important rule. Brainstorm and scribble first until you know what is important for your character and what you want to convey in this particular pose. Afterwards see how you could make the silhouette more clear. If you can put something in silhouette that wasn’t in it before, do it!
If it is not possible to put something in the overall silhouette (e.g. when the arms must be in front of the body) make sure that it at least sticks out from whatever it is in front of and move it out of already crowded areas.
Tilts and rhythm
A trickier improvement is to bring rhythm into your pose. What is rhythm in a drawing? Well, a great, catchy rhythm in music is energetic, alternating and full of surprises. A great drawing is the same! A song without an interesting rhythm is repetitive, monotone and boring. Sounds like something we would not want our drawing to be.
One way to achieve a good rhythm in a pose is to have a bunch of alternating tilts. Try to have a different angle for every joint. A tilt in the body or the head can do wonders and forces you to make a statement: Is the character interested and therefore leaning forward? Or repelled and leaning away? It automatically breaks symmetric poses (also known as twinning), that should be avoided. Additionally it will create many differently sized positive and negative shapes, which are necessary to create a more dynamic impression.
Besides leaning the body in general, it’s the shoulders, the hips and the head that are often kept too straight. It can greatly improve your pose to play around with different angles.
In order to not just have a total mess of different angles and chaotic variations you should work with contrasts and opposing patterns – even the wildest rhythm has some kind of structure. The famous all-time classic is the straights-against-curves rule. It’s as easy as it sounds: You have one straight line next to a curved line. You can try to apply this to two opposing body parts:
And this also can be used for opposing outlines (see next illustration). The more stylized you work the stronger you may have to use this.
This leads us to the aspect of flow which describes how well your lines and shapes flow into each other. While the line of action describes an overall flow of energy you also have to give every small transition from one shape into another a certain smoothness, a flow.
This is especially difficult in computer animation where you might have to break the rig or even deform the geometry to make two elements connect that are not meant to connect in this way. When you play around with a new rig you should spend some time searching for angles, perspectives and deformations that look especially good and appealing.
The next thing I want to talk about is partly a matter of design/style, but 2D animators in particular can accidentally let this flaw sneak into their poses or inbetweens, even if all the proportions are perfectly on-model. I am talking about tangents of lines that are not supposed to connect, because they outline two different objects that are stacked in different levels of depth. Take a look at this illustrations and pay close attention to the connection of the shoe and the pants or the ear, face and hair area. Doesn’t the version on the right make it much clearer which things are behind or in front of another?
In some styles you also have to clarify sharp edges in Z-space by making one of the lines go over the tangent point, e.g. the lines across his elbow on the right side, where the line of his upper arm continues, putting it in front of the lower arm.
Back to tangents: They can make your drawing appear more flat (think of a picture from a church window or an ancient rug drawing). If they sneaked into a drawing on accident they create line catcher points that can, in the worst case, be felt as something disharmonious. If overlapping characters cause tangents it can become unclear which leg or arm belongs to which character. In reality it’s very rare that two independent objects align so perfectly that outlines meet in one point. So check your animation (even inbetweens) for tangents and avoid them if possible.
However in some cases tangents might be part of the design concept like in “The Secret of Kells” or Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” (in the hair and the folds). If you know what you are doing and why you are doing it, it can be perfectly okay; if not, avoid them.
Next time we’ll have a look at how all the poses a character goes through in time connects to each other and some more general tips and tricks. If you have any questions for future articles on posing, feel free to ask them in the comments below!