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Character Design and Principles

For the final assignment for life drawing we have to present four principles with our character. Since my last post on the subject I managed to came up with a design that I think is good for appeal. (The final designs are in my sketchbooks, the first one pg75-76, and the second one pg1-17.)



The second principle I wanted to show is solid drawing.  I think my sketches prove that I have a clear understanding on the character’s anatomy.

I had to pay attention to balance, that’s why at the end i chose him to have bug like legs and arms. Two legs were necessary, but I didn’t want to add more, the four arms could be very expressive.


The first pose I draw was – of course – Hamlet, just because Shakespeare is awesome. From this on I just grabbed random quotes from my favourite books for a few more sketches before moving on to the other principles.


At the end next to appeal and solid drawing I chose arcs, follow through and overlapping action, and squash and stretch.  (second sketchbook, pg11-15) (I already talked about the principles in my previous post.)

As for the articles we talked about at week 12… Only the second one, the one about gender representation influenced me somewhat while thinking about the character. First I didn’t even want to give a gender to it, it doesn’t really matter if it’s male or female, but considering the fact that it’s based on a moth I changed my mind. Altho I wouldn’t change the shape, just the color to keep it simple and real in this matter. I haven’t done a coloured version yet, but I imagine the male would be brownish, and the female would be a grayish colour just like in nature.

I really feel like this year’s life drawing helped me a lot. I pay more attention to perspective, anatomy and proportions than before, and altho I still struggle to get everything right I came a long way.

Reading list

My academic reading list for the year:

  • Russett, R. and Starr, C. (1988). Experimental Animation. 
    • Read: 9th November 2016 – 29th November 2016
  • Maltin, L. (1987). Of Mice and Magic. 
    • Read: 6th December 2016 – 29th December 2016
  • Williams, R. (2002). The Animator’s Survival Kit.
    • Read: 27th October 2016 –
  • Vogler, C. (2007). The Writer’s Journey.
    • Read: 30th January 2017 – 2nd March 2017
  • Hogarth, B. (1996). Dynamic Figure Drawing.
    • Read: 1st December 2016 – 9th March 2017
  • Mercado, G. (2010). The Filmmaker’s Eye.
    • Read: 28th March 2017 – 5th May 2017
  • Thomas, F. and Johnston, O. (1995). The Illusion of Life.
    • Read: 1st May 2017 –
  • Stephenson, R. and Phelps, G. (1989). The Cinema As Art.
    • Read: 5th May 2017 –

Principles of Animation

I feel like it’s really important to be aware of the twelve principles of animation. I already looked at them every now and again before we got this assignment from Mike, but it’s never a bad thing to look through it again and again.

I found a few useful sources next to the book The Illusion of Life, which was the first book to talk about the issue. Honestly, it was still the most useful text to look at, although I got a much better understanding while looking through videos like Alan Becker’s tutorials on youtube, or Aaron Blaise’s course on the subject. I also learnt a lot about these things while reading The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams.

According to the book the first principle is squash and stretch. It emphasizes speed, momentum, weight and mass. It’s important to keep the volume of the object/character consistent while using this principle.

The second principle is anticipation. It’s basicly preparation for an action. With the help of anticipation the audience is informed what will happen next. It also helps the character to gather energy, so the action will be more realistic.

The next principle is staging. It’s the way of presentation of an idea so it will be clear for the audience. The staging directs the eye where to look, and if it’s badly done the main action can be lost among all the other things going on on the screen even if it’s just in the background.

The forth principle is straight ahead and pose to pose. Theye are two different methods of animating a scene. The first one is about animating as you go, draw the first frame, and then the next, etc… This is a great approach to be creative, but it’s more likely to make mistakes and it’s harder to fix as well. The second, pose to pose means that first you draw the key poses and than add the inbetweens. This gives more control, and there’s less opportunity to make mistakes which are easier to fix. According to every sourse I read and watched they are the best when used together.

Follow through and overlapping action is the fifth principle. An other word to describe it would be ‘drag’. It means that when the main body moves the tip of the appendage is the last that catches up, and follows through the body. The amount of drag someone gives to an object gives it weight and mass as well. It’s importatnt to keep in mind that this movement is always the result of the main action.

Slow in and slow out, the next principle, gives life to the motion. It covers the fact that all movements start slowly, build up speed and finish slowly. In hand drawn animation it means that the drawings are closer together at the start and the end of an action, while in computer animation it depends on the curves of the graph editor.

It’s also important to keep in mind that most living things move in arcs, which is the seventh principle. It gives more character and it’s a more natural way of action as well.

The eighth priciple is called secondary action. These are mostly gestures that support the main action. One has to keep in mind that is only to support, and it shouldn’t grab the audience’s attention more than the main action.

The amount of frames inserted between each extreme affects the nature of the animation and the movement. The more frames there are the slower the action is. This is called timing.

The next principle, exaggeration is used to encrease the impact on the viewer. There are different levels of using it, if there’s less the action is more realistic, if there’s more it is more cartoony.

I think solid drawing is one of the most important principles – and the one I have the most trouble with. A character or an object have to keep its weight and volume consistant throughout the animation. You have to keep in mind perspective and balance, not to mention anatomy. It takes a lot of practise. An important note is to avoid ‘twinning’, which means the body is symmetrical, and the arms and legs do the same things at the same time.

The last principle is appeal. It means that the character has to be pleasing to look at, the design has to be dynamic with a variety of shapes. Keeping it simple is important as well, a design that’s too detailed lacks appeal in animation.


The Emperor Moth

For the character design for life drawing I decided to give in to my passion towards butterflies and moths. I already have a few sketches, but finally I have time to do a deeper research on the subject.

My first type of character was a humanized version of a moth, I wanted it to be majestic, that’s why I chose the emperor moth, the name just seemed to suit my idea, and the moth itself is beautiful as well.


I kinda stuck with this idea when I moved on to the next design to do the smaller version of the moth.


This was my first sketch on rotation. The moth itself is brown or gray originally, but I’m thinking of changing the colour to make it more interesting. Also on this version Mike pointed out that it might be better if I added bug-like legs, and I have to pay more attention on balance as well.


Gender Representation in How to Train Your Dragon

The original post that made me think about this issue can be read here. Mike asked us to read it before today’s life drawing class.

The post talks about Disney and Pixar animation, but I think it mostly applies to the whole industry. It was always bothering me, I just couldn’t put my finger on it before. The example I would like to point out is Dreamwork’s How to Train Your Dragon movie series. I loved the story and the world since I first watched the first movie in 2010, so much that I read all the books as well. It is usually easy to spot differences between books and their film adaptations, but I try to focus on the gender representation issue.

The story is about vikings. They have board shoulders, they are heavily built, not just the men, the women as well. In the movies this works just fine in the background, all the women characters who doesn’t even have a line in the movie look like vikings. Fierce and strong. But what about our main characters?

All of the girls have beautiful hourglass shapes. We could say it’s only because they are still kids, but the boys are already heavily built – except for Hiccup of course.

Jumping to the second movie where we meet Hiccup’s mom. She is a viking as well, right? And she is not a kid anymore. Let’s have a look at the book.


This is an illustration made by Cressida Cowell, the writer of the books. That’s right, she is Hiccup’s mom. A strong and feared fighter, a viking, heavily built and fierce as any other woman in the village. In the movie she is beautiful, has a narrow waist, and there’s not a loose hair on her head even tho she was living with only dragons for more than 20(!) years.

Every single character is more appealing in the movies. It’s understandable, according to the principles of animation appeal is really important, and on top of this it’s a kid’s film, it wouldn’t sell if everyone would look unpleasant. But there is a really huge difference between the changes in male and female characters. Yes, Hiccup is more visually pleasing and not as clumsy as in the books, and yes, Snoutlut isn’t as ugly either. But Astrid – who isn’t in the books… Her equal could be Camicazi, Hiccup’s friend, who is a witty little viking, very mischievous, always where the trouble is, kind of an escape artist… – became a love interest. And Valka – Valhallarama in the books – was the most feared fighter among the vikings and became a crazy housewife. It’s not only their looks that changed. Yes, they are still well-built characters, but in a very different way. I kind of want to point out that they only changed the names of the female characters. They even kept the name of their dragons, Camicazi’s dragon is Stormfly just as Astrid’s.

One could ask that most of the story had been changed, why just focus on these things? It is true, the whole story lost the main meaning of the books in the first minute of the movie. All they kept was the looks and personalities of the male characters. And this is why I’m asking the question, why they didn’t keep the females? Was Valhallarama too fat to be shown as a protagonist in a movie? Was it a problem that she was stronger than Stoic, the chief? Was Camicazi too clever to be included? Would it been a problem if she had outwitted Hiccup every now and then?

This is only one more example on how the male gaze changes and manipulates the way woman are seen in the world. DeBlois might have only had in mind to shape the characters as much as they will fit the story that he wanted to tell through Cressida Cowell’s world, but still this shows what a big difference there is between a man’s and a woman’s point of view on female characters.

I sure have learnt a lot, and will keep an eye on this issue from now on. I know that things got much better in the last few decades, but there’s still some space to improve.


  • Cowell, C. (2003) How to Train Your Dragon. Hodder Children’s Books.
  • Gardan, T. (2015) Looking from the Outside In – Gender Representation in Animation. Available at: (Accessed: 3 May 2017)
  • How to Train Your Dragon (2010) Directed by Dean DeBlois.
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014) Directed by Dean DeBlois.