Obviously all this doesn't apply so much to computer animators since the 'maquette' of the character is already planted inside the machine, ready to be manipulated. But since most of the leading computer animators draw rather well, many work out their positions in small sketches, and, of course, the planning, layout and story artists and designers draw exactly the same as their classical equivalents.

I had an unnerving experience in Canada when a friend asked me to give a one-hour address to a large high school gathering of computer animation students. They had a very impressive set-up of expensive computers but, from what I could see of their work, none of them seemed to have any idea of drawing at all. During my talk I stressed the importance of drawing and the great shortage of good draftsmen.

A laid-back greybeard professor interrupted to inform me, 'What do you mean? All of us here draw very well.'

Words failed me.

At the end of the talk, I showed them how to do a basic walk, and as a result got mobbed at the exit, the kids pleading desperately for me to teach them more. I escaped, but I'm afraid that's what the situation is out there - a lack of any formal training and no one to pass on the 'knowledge'.

You don't know what you don't know.

One of the problems rampant today is that, in the late 1960s, realistic drawing generally became considered unfashionable by the art world, and no one bothered to learn how to do it any more.

The Slade school in London used to be world-famous for turning out fine British draftsmen. A distinguished British painter who taught at the Slade asked me, 'How did you learn how to do animation?' I answered that I was lucky enough to have done a lot of life drawing at art school, so without realizing it I got the feeling for weight which is so vital to animation.

Then I said, 'What am I telling you for? You're teaching at the Slade and it's famous for its life drawing and excellent draftsmen.'

'If the students want to do that/ he said, 'then they've got to club together and hire themselves a model and do it in their own home.' At first I thought he was joking - but no! Life drawing as a subject went out years ago. It wasn't even on the curriculum!

I had a boyhood friend who became a bigwig in art education circles. He ran international conferences of the arts. About sixteen years ago he invited me to Amsterdam to a conference of the deans of the leading American art colleges. He knew me well enough to know I was bound to say controversial things, so I was invited as his wild card.

In my talk I found myself lamenting the lack of trained, talented artists and that I was hampered in my own studio's work because I couldn't find trained disciplined artists to hire. The applicants' portfolios were full of textures, abstract collages, scribbles, often nude photos of themselves and friends. No real drawing. I didn't realise how strongly I felt about this and as I talked I found myself nearly in tears.

My advertising campaign design for Mike Nichols' The Graduate. A foundation of life drawing was invaluable when I had to draw this simple leg for this movie logo.

I harangued the deans of the art schools for failing in their duty to provide proper skills to their students. Surprisingly, when I finished, the deans called an emergency meeting to which I was invited. JLook Mr. Williams,' they said, 'you're right, but we have two problems. Number one: since classical drawing was rejected years ago, we have no trained teachers who can draw or teach conventional drawing as they never learned it themselves. And number two: our mostly rich students - on whom we count for our funding - don't want to learn to draw. They would rather decorate themselves as living works of art - and that's exactly what they do.'

So I said, 'Look, all I know is that I can't find people to hire or train; but otherwise I don't know what you can do.'

They said, 'Neither do we.'

Lately things have improved somewhat. So-called classical drawing seems to be coming back, but with a hyper-realistic photographic approach because skilled artists are thin on the ground. Shading isn't drawing, and it isn't realism.

Good drawing is not copying the surface. it has to do with understanding and expression. We don't want to learn to draw just to end up being imprisoned in showing off our knowledge of joints and muscles. We want to get the kind of reality that a camera can't get. We want to accentuate and suppress aspects of the model's character to make it more vivid. And we want to develop the co-ordination to be able to get our brains down into the end of our pencil.

Many cartoonists and animators say that the very reason they do cartoons is to get away from realism and the realistic world into the free realms of the imagination. They'll correctly point out that most cartoon animals don't look like animals - they're designs, mental constructs. Mickey ain't no mouse, Sylvester ain't no cat. They look more like circus clowns than animals. Frank Thomas always says: 'If you saw Lady and the Tramp walking down the road, there's no way that you are going to buy that they're real dogs.'

But to make these designs work, the movements have to be believable - which leads back to realism and real actions, which leads back to studying the human or animal figure to understand its structure and movement. What we want to achieve isn't realism, it's believability.

While Tex Avery released the animator from the more literal approach in order to do the impossible, he was only able to do it so successfully because his animation was mostly done by Disney drop-outs who already had 'the Disney knowledge' of articulation, weight, etc. So, ironically, his rebellion, his 'going the other route', had its basis in an underlying knowledge of realism.

But don't confuse a drawing with a map! We're animating masses, not lines .So we have to understand how mass works in reality. In order to depart from reality, our work has to be based on reality.


I met Grim Natwick (born Myron Nordveig) in a Hollywood basement when he was in his eighties. Grim was the oldest of the great animators, being already in his forties when he animated eighty-three scenes of Snow White in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Previously, he'd designed Betty Boop for Max Fleischer, for which he received nothing and was furious about it 'til the day he died, aged 100.

I'll never forget the image of this big Norwegian American sitting in the golden twilight, extending his long arms and spatula hands saying ...

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