Foundations: Start Here

When you’re starting out (or even if you’ve been an artist for a long time) it’s essential that you have the strongest foundation you can. The first lines you lay down, or poses you block in, set the tone for everything that comes after it, building on top of each other like a stack of blocks. Here are some things to keep in mind when at that extremely important starting line.

I was recently discussing practice with a young animator, and he was clear that his life drawing needed work. Posting some examples I could see much of what held me back for many years in his drawings. The issue was that they were flat and lacked depth. The key to fixing such things is to start with a solid foundation.

Without real, dimensional shapes underneath, all you’re doing is laying down flat lines. You need to think around forms from the very beginning, much like Glen Keane discusses in this example.

One Block on Top of the Next

Think of it as if you were building a castle out of wooden blocks. If you want it to stand the test of time (or the wrath of a curious little sister) you need to be sure that it is stable from the very first block and up. That means that when you rough in the initial shapes you’re building on, you want to be certain to get it right. If it’s wrong, and you can see it’s wrong, don’t move on to placing the next block (say, the eyes on top of the head). First adjust the foundation, that original shape, until you are satisfied.

As you practice, it will become much faster to line things up correctly, but at first TAKE YOUR TIME. No one is rushing you to finish (and if they are, tell them to relax). Better to get it right one step at a time than to try and set a speed record and end up with a very wobbly end result.

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Applying it to Animation

In the same way, when you begin any animation you need a solid foundation. This is normally achieved in good timing, composition, and posing. If you block out a piece in 3D or play your animatic in keyframes and see one aspect that doesn’t quite fit, NOW is the time to fix it. Don’t just move on, or one of the foundation blocks at the bottom of your tower is going to be wobbly. As you stack more blocks on top of it (keys, breakdowns, or in betweens) eventually the whole thing will fall apart, and you’ll wonder where you went wrong. A little more time now will prevent a ton of headache later!

If it needs fixed, fix it. No amount of work later will hide that it’s broken.

Be Wary of Getting Stuck

All this is fine and good, but you have to balance it with moving forward. Sometimes a piece of work will still fail, and that’s alright. Learn from it and keep going. Work that new knowledge into your next piece. As time goes on, and you practice, it will get easier, quicker, and you’ll gain confidence. In the meantime don’t be afraid to take your time and get your foundations rock solid.

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Its hard though lol


Great article. What books would you suggest for someone with the goal of learning drawing and then building upon that to learn 3D animation?

I’d love to learn the foundations of “sculpting” the image while I begin to learn the fundamentals of drawing.