The concept of rubber bands in posing (and anatomy) eluded me until I had my first drawing lessons from the late Walt Stanchfield, a renown animator and drawing teacher at Walt Disney Feature Animation. Now, I can’t think of making a drawing (or 3D pose) without instinctively viewing all the parts together as a whole, each one attached, relating, and influencing the other.
These recently published books, collecting all of Walt’s notes on drawing based on his Disney master classes, should be on every animator’s shelf.
Like so many before and after, I was very fortunate to be in his drawing class (which, at the time required a rumored two year waiting period just to get in!) He was talented, charming and filled with knowledge. Most of all, he was generous and inspiring. His wisdom was plainly clear in both his words and his art. The message he preached was deceptively simple; draw the “verbs.” He’d say for instance:
“Instead of naming the parts of the body (nouns) tell what those parts are doing (verbs).”
Glen Keane’s gorgeous studies for Rapunzel from Walt Disney’s Tangled. Notice how this great master always drew ‘the action’.
“When you stretch or twist, the rubber bands in that area stretch and become taut. We call that “tension.” So when a pose is assumed, it is not chiseled in marble, but is still alive and an effort must be made to continually stretch the rubber bands in order to retain the gesture.”
Bill Tytla’s rough animation drawings from the Night On Bald Mountain sequence from Walt Disney’s 1940 masterpiece, Fantasia.
Great cohesiveness and design is achieved by invisible rubber bands connecting the solid joints, such as the wing tips, hands, elbows and hips. The physical tension adds to the immense drama of the scene.
In 3D animation, we are easily tempted to forget about the push and pull that occurs in the body because we think we’re dealing with a puppet – a virtual one with a multitude of parts and controllers. It’s easy to get lost trying to “manage” all the the various controllers and attributes (such as rotations, translations, and distortions like squash and stretch), never mind the associated graph editor.
This memorable scene, from Pixar’s Finding Nemo, animated by Doug Sweetland, displays perfect application of rubber bands to unify the poses as well as excellent choreography of movement.
The key is to forgot all the details of the “nouns” as Walt would say, and pose the “verbs.”
“All drawings should communicate the feeling of tension to the viewer… not appear to be frozen in space, but seem as it if were alive and capable of moving farther or releasing the tension and easing off.”
Structure alone isn’t enough. You’ve got to find a way to make it feel like all those solid parts are relating to each other in time, space and energy.
Chuck Jones’ drawings of Wile E. Coyote are some of my favorite drawings of all time. He was a master of the rubber band concept — every “thing” belonged with every other “thing.”
You have to, as Walt says:
“… imagine that you are drawing it. With your imaginary pen, within the body but also in the space between the outstretched parts.
Your attention should be, not on the lines or details, but on the feeling of movement and tension.”
Here, another master animator, Marc Davis, shows in his drawing of Malificent that great design, line of action and rubber bands all work together to create beautiful compositions.
Pick up Walt Stanchfield’s book (if you haven’t already). It’s a gem on the concept of rubber bands and a whole lot of other things. But most importantly, incorporate this technique into your work to bring strength, force, appeal and cohesiveness to your poses.