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Review: Drawn to Life (vol. 1 & 2)

Every day it seems another few books for animators hit the shelves, and there are no lack of options for where to spend your hard-earned money. How do the pair of Drawn to Life books by Walt Stanchfield stack up to the rest? Do they deserve a spot on your bookshelf?

Summary

To begin with, these books are not exactly written by legendary Disney instructor Walt Stanchfield. The information inside all comes from the mind of Walt, it’s true, but it was originally produced as handouts within Disney Animation Studios itself, not in any way in book form. After Stanchfield’s death, Don Hahn edited and compiled these notes into the two volumes you see before you.

As a collection of notes from the esteemed teacher of drawing and animation, the information you’ll find here is some of the most valuable to any animator that’s ever been written. While a majority of the pages deal with gesture drawing (because that was the class being taught over a number of years) there are tips for acting, posing, clarity, staging, and a wealth of other topics all the way through the 753 total pages combined. There’s even some philosophy tossed in as Walt encourages his pupils to live a life outside the studio walls to be better well-rounded human beings. That’s not something you find in many animation manuals (though I personally think it should be)!

A sample of the blending of text and drawings found in the books.
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A sample of the blending of text and drawings found in the books.

Included alongside plenty of text are drawings from both Walt and many famous Disney animators as they attended his workshops. These energetic scribbles are marvelous to observe and study. Each one has a life and soul that can sometimes be missing when final renderings or clean-up is finished. It also showcases how great drawings can be pushed in order to come away with truly “Golden Poses.”

The problem, if there is one, is that because it was never intended to be in book form, it does not function well as “a book.” This is not something that leads nicely from one page to the next, or into and out of set chapters on specific topics. Trying to read these books as you might The Illusion of Life or Character Animator Crash Course will leave your mind spinning and information leaking out of your ears. The notes were never intended to be read that way when Walt wrote them.

Instead you might consider reading them as Walt always planned: as single-serving notes passed out after weekly classes and lectures. If you were to read one numbered set of notes every week, or even daily, you’d be much more likely to walk away with the treasures Walt Stanchfield’s mind collected over a lifetime of art. Otherwise, reading it cover to cover, most of the information is likely going to be lost in a sea of brilliant insights that don’t have time to be absorbed.

The Verdict

Drawn to Life volumes 1 and 2 by Walt Stanchfield are incredible collections of secrets of both drawing and animation. The information within is enough to spend a lifetime pouring over and trying to implement into your own work. For that reason both volumes come highly recommended. You might want to purchase the first and see if it’s right for you, before getting both as a set. Either way as long as you read them as intended and not “straight through in one sitting” you will no doubt find a masterclass of our artform and beyond.

 

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Phoebe B.

I absolutely must go find copies of these books I always meant to when I heard about them but never did.

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Love these books!

Sabina K

Those books not only help you with figure drawing, but most importantly – encourage you to think more. Think about art, think about the story your pose tells, think like an artist. That’s what I love most about them.