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Gesture Drawing for Animation: Capturing the Essence of the Pose

by Prem Sai /Win Leerasanthanah (Editor: Colin Wheeler)

One of the stepping stones of becoming a great animator is the practice of gesture drawing. What is a gesture drawing and why do we do gesture drawing? It is the exercise of fast, quick sketching and it helps animators learn to capture poses and an overall picture than focusing on details so that they can apply the gesture to their characters easily. Here’s some tips from Prem Sai, who was an intern at Dreamworks Studio as a character designer, and his wisdom to share on how to get better at gesture drawing:

Gesture drawing is a physical and mental experience, as real as the air we breathe. 

Figure drawing can be used to learn a multitude of things – forms, shapes, volume, perspective, anatomy, staging, composition, caricature, straights against curves, lighting and so many other ideas. Gesture drawing at its best is very subjective to the artist and should be treated as an outlet for immediate representation of your experience at that split second. It is about jotting down your reaction to the subject matter rather than copying what you see in front of you. Without that sincerity in expressing your experience, the drawings would be life-less and might not evoke the necessary emotion in the viewer.

Self-Expression versus Perfection

If you’re very much in control of the movement, by too much control you’re concerned about the execution. ” -Bruce Lee

One of the things that helped me realize the importance of self-expression was while listening to a Bruce Lee interview where he talks about martial arts: “If you’re very much in control of the movement, by too much control you’re concerned about the execution. ” The same with drawing. If you’re worried too much about that perfect line or the little bumps on the body that you might have missed out, it is going to show in the drawing and the drawing ends up looking way too stiff. On the other hand, if you completely ignore the things you might need to make it authentic, it would end up looking too wobbly. Knowing your subject matter thoroughly can help your right brain to focus on the immediate needs while allowing the left brain to sift through your knowledge bubbles to make things look right while you’re experiencing the gesture. Here’s the concept illustrated in a two-minute gesture below.

Line of Action in Gesture Drawing

Line of Action in Gesture Drawing

When I was drawing this pose for instance, my first reaction was: what do I want the audience to feel when they see this?I want the entire image to SHOUT out – rubber band, catapult, BOW & ARROW!! And from that point, even if I completely mess up, I still know I’m expressing myself honestly. After that, I can move onto other technical aspects like shape, structure, anatomy and design in the time I have left.

Emotional Shape in Gestural drawing

Emotional Shape in Gestural drawing

Emotional Shape in Gestural drawing

Anatomy and Form

gestural drawing by Prem Sai

Prem Sai is a character designer from San Francisco, California. Recently, he was a character design intern at DreamWorks Animation. Currently he’s in his final year of MFA in Animation at the Academy of Art University, San Francisco.

See more of Prem’s works at:

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