Drawing & Composition for Visual Storytelling

The Line of Action

The position and posture of the characters in the scene can greatly effect the staging and composition, in addition, it can help to place the characters within the situation, making them part of their environment and the story.

Some ways to strengthen the pose of the character is to create a nice silhouette, this is the overall shape of a pose. This shape should read clearly even if the pose were filled in black you would still be able to tell what the character is doing. Another method is to create a strong line of action through your character. This helps your poses “read”, it makes them clear and understandable and gives them a distinct non-ambiguous direction.

This is an important factor in storyboarding – characters should rarely be standing straight up and down. No one in real life does it either, even army kids don’t stand completely up and down, their backs are slightly arched. Another important part to drawing any character is to observe what real people do and how they use thier bodies to act out certains emotions. Watching movies, etc. is a good start. Watching the Simpsons is a good reference point because it’s all about real life acting. You wouldn’t think it but Homer moves more like a real human than you think.

 

Most people jump into the details too quickly. They want to get the facial expression and details of the face before establishing the body. Fill up some pages of thumbnail sketches portraying as many expressions as possible. The body language should always come first, the face just backs it up.

The one thing that will always bring your drawings to life is the ‘line of action’ or the imaginary line that dictates how the body will move. You can also think of it as the back bone of a character. This line should always be used in setting up a pose, as you can see in the pic below, I get a wide range of emotions with no faces using only their bodies. When all else fails, get up and see how your body bends and shapes when trying to act out emotions.

Most storyboard artists and animators follow this method as a basic principle for planning out the acting and motion of the animated characters – their attitude and behaviors become expressed through their physical body.

Body language and posture can add enormously to the mood, expression, and context of your character. Check out the poses of these characters and notice how well the action line, postures, and gestures harmonize with the facial expressions:

You can also create dynamic compositions that help to tell the story by using action/reaction poses. One character causing the action, the other character(s) react or follow the action. By using Opposing Poses like in some of the examples shown below, you can have characters curved or directed on an arc, other characters have straighter poses, but still aimed on an angle. This kind of dynamic posing sure beats the hell out of characters standing straight up and down all the time.

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