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Based on our previous article on character design tips, here we take it in action to explore one of the principles of animation – solid drawing. Let’s explore what makes a good, solid drawing by studying one of the concept art tests character found in for Disney’s “Zootopia.” Using the principles and topics covered by Walt Stanchfield’s “Drawn to Life,” this article breaks down the tiger drawing into basic components to better understand a successful drawing.

Concept drawing for the tiger carnival for Zootopia.
Concept drawing for the tiger carnival for Zootopia.
  1. We’ll be looking at the concept drawing for Zootopia by Disney Animation Studios.
Tiger demonstrating character design with line of action
Line of Action

2. Line of action – the arc is simple and clear. It is also important to note which way the tiger is jumping and whether the tiger is arching before or after the peak.

Demonstration of gesture breakdown principle
Gesture within gesture – through limbs, spine and tail.

3. Direction and focus – the direction is expressed through every part of the body: all the way from tail to its finger tips. Even the flow of its knees help emphasize the gesture. The bent pose at the end of the arc indicates the tiger’s anticipation to land.

Example of perspective study in use of character design
Perspective studies.

4. Perspective – the depth of the model is visualized with differences in size and overlapping objects. Notice just by flattening the ellipses, the eyes gives volume across the face. It is noted that many works from Disney paid careful attention to eyes.

Surface study.

5. Surface lines – stripes give volume to the character, and we feel the patterns wrapping around the body. This is achieved by tapering the patterns in opposing directions, allowing negative space to be part of the design. The claw marks help indicate the center of each finger.

shape language and silhouette demo of character design principles
Shape language.

6. Silhouette and shape language – the design of this tiger is made of ovals, circles, and parallel lines (or cylinders). Round shapes suggest joyful and bouncy personality; cylinders suggest structure. Also notice how the proportions of the shapes are varied throughout to keep the character design dynamic. These shapes allow animators to pose the character with a clear arc and use shapes to direct the focus of the pose.

Straights vs. curves

7. Simple vs. complex (or straights vs. curves) – after breaking down the shapes, we can see that the drawing plays around with contrast in shapes to indicate direction and gesture. Simple and complex shapes are interacting with each other to maximize the arc and evoke the character’s round personality at the same time.

When we break down the drawing into basic components, we can see how the simplest shapes can create depth and complexity. As we draw for storyboard or for animation, it is good practice to keep these drawing principles in mind so that we can find more effective ways to visually communicate.

Additional Recommended Resources:

“Drawn to Life” by Walt Stanchfield.
“Tuesday Tips” by Griz and Norm

About the Author

Win Leerasanthanah is an animator from Bangkok, Thailand, currently based in Los Angeles working as a pre-vis artist at the Third Floor Studio. His credits include films such as Avengers: Endgame and Solo. Win graduated with MFA in Animation at SCAD and is an ASIFA-South Lead LA liason and blog content creator on the marketing committee.

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