Drawing & Animation: Great Ideas Start With the Stroke of a Pencil

By Rob Court, Originally posted April, 2005 on the Scribbles Institute:

At the heart of every great animated movie you’ll find talented artists. All of them have been drawing since they were kids. And all of them will tell you the same thing: Great animated movies start with brilliant ideas that flow quickly from the tip of a pencil.

When a writer has an idea for an animated movie, the story is told with simple drawings. These drawings are called rough sketches. The rough sketches are drawn on cards and attached to large bulletin boards. A team of artists and writers can move the cards to different places in the story, or add new cards to change parts of the story. The parts of a story are called scenes. After the story is completed, the creative team presents it to an animation studio such as Pixar Animation.

Above: The creative team presents the story to studio directors and producers. Above Left: The team members use character voices, make sound effects, and even sing songs to present their ideas. Above right: Storyboard pictures are drawn inside frames. Notice how simple lines show the key poses of characters.

After the story is approved by the studio, storyboards are created. Storyboards show the emotions and dialog of characters in a scene. They also show the timing of scenes and important movements of a character. The movements are called key frames or key poses. Storyboards communicate instructions to many people involved in making the movie.

Before starting production of the movie, one of the most important creative phases begins. This phase is called character development.


Character Development: Imaginary Actors Come to Life

Above: While drawing, animation artists imagine themselves to be inside the character, to think like them. Glen Keane, imagined the anger and strength of the character from Beauty and the Beast. Take a moment to study the master animator’s sketch, shown above. Each bold pencil stroke brings the character to life. Notice how lighter lines show the position of the Beast’s body. Darker pencil strokes show facial features, strong claws, clothing, and dramatic shadows. Every line shows how this actor will move.

Animation artists know the audience is made up of humans, and humans expect characters to look believable. Legendary animator Gene Dietch writes, “We should aim not just to make our characters move, but to make them live – or certainly seem to live – to project inner life.”

Drawing how a character looks and moves is called character development. Artists put a character into different situations to develop their personality and the way their body moves. Sketches are made of the character’s anatomy (body structure) and facial expressions.


Above: Animation director, Glenn Keane, starts developing a character for Disney’s Aladdin by sketching simple curved lines of action – the first sweeping lines of an arched back, the swing of an arm, or tilt of the head.

As characters come to life, the studio prepares for the animation process. Drawing is very important as production begins.


Artists Use Drawing for Communication During Movie Production

Sometimes several years are needed to complete an animated movie. Many teams of specialized artists are brought together to work on a movie. This work is called production.

During production of a movie, drawing is used by artists and directors to communicate visual changes and ideas. Corrections such as changing a character’s position, or adding new background colors, are quickly sketched during conversations.

Shown above: A drawing by Hayao Miyazaki shows a key frame from Princess Mononoke. Blue pencil lines tell artists where to add shadows. Other lines and notes show camera movements and colors to be used.

Finally, after countless hours of drawing combined with the latest technologies to produce all those great effects, your favorite animated movie is ready. Another great story idea brought to life by solid drawing skills.


If you’re interested in animation as a career, learn the sketching techniques shown below. The sketches are great examples of how drawing was used in animated movie classics:


Above: It takes hundreds of sketches to develop a single character. These rough sketches show Aladdin pausing to think, then telling Jasmine, “I’ll do it!” © The Walt Disney Company

Above: After many discussions with directors, Princess Jasmine is formed with beautifully drawn lines. Shown above is Mark Henn’s development sketch for Disney’s movie, Aladdin. Notice the care in drawing believable human forms and emotions. © The Walt Disney Company
Above: Some of Glen Keane’s first ideas of Ariel for a scene in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Notice how he has drawn very quickly, capturing his imagination’s first thoughts of a pose. © The Walt Disney Company
Above: Glenn Keane’s character development sketches for Beauty and the Beast. Careful attention is paid to believable anatomy and proportions. © The Walt Disney Company
Above: Glenn Keane’s character sketch for Beauty and the Beast © The Walt Disney Company
Above left: After months of development, a concept drawing by Joe Johnston shows the basic character in the movie Iron Giant. It was important to show animators how the robot’s legs would move. Above right: Tony Fucile and Steve Markoski worked on this concept sketch. The director, Brad Bird, liked the refined concept, and it became the basis for the movie’s main character. © Warner Bros.


Above left: Pencil shading shows the 3D form of the robot’s head. The artist was studying the movement of the neck and jaw. Above right: The beautiful pencil drawing shows the robot walking in the evening. The telephone pole shows the size of this giant. Dark gray tones create the mood of the scene. Areas where more light shines are called highlights. Notice areas that have been erased to show highlights. Which emotion, do you think, is shown by the position of the robot’s head and body? © Warner Bros.

Early concept sketch for Mickey’s Mechanical Man made in the year 1933. It’s interesting to compare it to sketches for Iron Giant  © Walt Disney Studios
Above: is a cleanup drawing for 2D animation. A final pencil outline is carefully drawn of the Beast. Next, a thin, clear plastic sheet, called a cel, is placed over the drawing. Then black outlines and colors of the character are painted. Thousands of cels are filmed in sequence to create a character’s movement on the screen.

Join the Conversation


    Fatal error: Allowed memory size of 134217728 bytes exhausted (tried to allocate 30179328 bytes) in /home/psokqlft1o0c/domains/sketchsquatch.com/html/wp-includes/comment-template.php on line 2396