Ahh...drawing. In my experience, many students find themselves intimidated when asked to draw, generate thumbnails, or create storyboards for class, artwork which will end up being shown to their peers in the classroom setting. The intimidation is understandable; from an industry standpoint computer animation has liberated some of the greatest animators from the shackles of great draftsmenship, and so many students are forced to ask themselves whether or not the skill of drawing is in fact an industry standard at this point. Well on one hand as a medium, the computer has allowed a greater population to access animation as a career path than ever before. The computer has also allowed animation to become more accessible than ever to the common student, especially for those who may not have been privy to an extensive art background in their youth. Almost overnight, it appears that the computer has become the primary tool for which an animator is expected to express him or herself. Currently most computer games, feature films, commercials, and Internet animation rely heavily on an animator’s knowledge of computer animation. The danger our current industry is now faced with is whether or not working professionals can effectively animate without the skills that are gained from basic drawing as the impression can be that basic drawing may not relate to computer animation. From an education standpoint, my opinion is that the overall quality of current animation being produced may be lacking when it comes to certain animation fundamentals. Now days many students can enter a program and go to school to learn everything there is to know about Maya, but may end up graduating having taken only a few drawing classes and/or possibly never having taken a class in story or design.
So why is basic drawing an important part of an animators education? If a drawing class is taught well, especially a life drawing class, a student can learn about story, design, weight, physics, balance, squash and stretch, overlap, follow through, positive negative spaces, silhouette, composition, structure, rhythm, and line of action. All from one class. Another benefit of basic drawing is that you will find yourself being challenged to draw on a regular basis which will allow yourself to constantly keep working on and being reminded of the basic skills that create the backbone to a great animator. As a student it can be overwhelming to try to juggle all of the skills at once that are required of animation. A drawing class can provide you the opportunity to create not just one drawing but rather many drawings in which you will find yourself with ample time to work on each skill, either one at a time or all at once.
When I’m in a life drawing class or any drawing class for that matter, I’ve found that one of the simplest things that I can do for myself is to sit down at home and re-trace the drawing that I created in class. I put a piece of tracing paper over my drawing and examine the drawing while thinking about design or weight or balance, and when I’ve picked a tool in which to focus on, I will re-trace over my original drawing. I will then keep repeating the process until I’ve addressed all of the ideas I want to work on, overlap, squash and stretch, silhouette, rhythm, etc, etc.
The point is you don’t need to be a gifted draftsman to be a great animator. However, you do need to understand all the principles that are taught in a good drawing class to become a great animator. Outside of class there is no reason to be intimidated by drawing as you will be the only one examining your work and you don't have to show your drawings or thumbnails to anyone if you don't want to. While you’re in class try not to worry about what your drawings may look like but rather, challenge yourself to concentrate on the process and your thought process that goes on while you’re drawing. If the drawing looks like junk but in the end you came away with a better understanding of how the shapes and forms work together or where the squash and stretch was working in the pose, then you’ve already accomplished something for yourself as an animator. And, you'll remember what you’ve learned so that the next time you sit down to plan out a shot or pose a character you’ll have a greater understanding of what does and doesn’t work. Personally, I don't worry about the drawing anymore. I focus on trying to learn something each and every time I draw.
Just for the fun of it I’d like to show you that your drawings don't have to look great or pretty, nice or presentable by sharing some thumbnails I’ve created from the various films I’ve worked on. These thumbnails may or may not be pushed, nor in the final poses for the characters in the shot. I tweak my poses once they are in the computer when I'm working to the main camera. In these examples I'm only trying to get and idea of what the pose will be, what my acting choices are, and how character is going to move. I take a lot of notes that I combine with the drawings to help me describe the motion, arcs, antics, or ideas that I can't draw. They are the road map of my shots but not always the final destination.