Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Line Quality

Hey gang! This is the first post of what I hope becomes a series of discussions related to picture-making and animation. So here goes! Today, John K. has some thoughts on the importance of line quality in animation. Here's the link to his post where he asks the question "Is Good Line Important?" Definitely worth checking out, as he chronicles his opinion of how line has taken a back seat in some animation. A lot of what he talks about is clean-up, which is the animation process where the inker comes in to clean up the the rough pencil sketches of the animator. The trick here is the preserve the energy of the gestural quality of you sketch. I typically go through a similar process when I take a sketch to it's inked stage in my illustrations (see below). I'd be curious to hear about everyone else's general methodologies for getting from sketch to final...both in the digital and traditional realms.

Now, most of the FableVision crew brings a different philosophy on line to the table. I personally find line the most interesting part of making a picture—it's where I get my kicks as an artist. Our differences in how we use line define our styles as artists.

So I'm gonna single a couple people out. First, I'll start with Pete. Of all of us, he probably takes the loosest approach to line—wavy and varying as it skips around the page. Pete's line has a ton of energy to it. It breathes evidence of the brush stroke that created it. It's not continuous—broken in segments...you can see where Pete picks up his pen as he scoots along. It retains the properties of a sketch.

Allie also uses a fairly loose line, but prefers a single-width line, best created with a pen or a pencil. Her line-weight is uniform, and has the confidence of a doodle. One consequence of uniform line-weight is that it flattens the drawing. The line reads as pure line, which an artist can use to their advantage.

Keith's line, especially when he works in pencil, fades in and out. He employs both contrast and thickness. When he works in Flash, Keith uses a varied line weight to achieve the subtleties in contrast he gets from the pressure variation of a pencil line. And this variation is used for emphasis—the effect is that the drawing has realistic 3-dimensionality.

None of these samples use line in conjunction with color, which is an entirely different balancing act. But I thought it would be best to isolate line in its raw form at first. What are people's thoughts on the importance of line?


John L said...

I agree that lines are important. Though I wouldn't be quite so picky as John K in what constitutes a good line. I do like the Xerox look of 101 Dalmations -- but of course, those characters and storyboards were designed by Bill Peet, so they had a solid foundation by a master illustrator. Which speaks to his point that even a beautiful line needs a solid drawing behind it.

I also think that great animation can make up for a poor or messy line -- but it has to be GREAT animation, not Saturday-morning TV cartoons of the 80s. You can have beautiful, inventive movement as well as beautiful lines. But in the illustration world, good lines are even more important.

Bob Flynn said...

I should've put the usual disclaimer that when you enter the world of John K, you enter a world of opinion and bias. He likes a bold cartoony line. For whatever reason, Disney did eventually abandon the Xerox line that was so prevalent in their feature films of the 60s and 70s. I too like 101 Dalmations, but I think it has more to do with the how the line interacts with amazing character design and playful backgrounds.

I tend to favor a crisp line myself, but I think what I look for is a confident line. A line can be loose and messy, but still be confident. I do agree that this is less of an issue in animation, where the drawings are flying by so fast. But because I approach animation as a cartoonist and illustrator, I probably bring my biases with me as well.

Bob Flynn said...

One more thought on the process of sketch to final. I personally find that using a lighttable too much to trace and retrace my drawing sucks out the orginal energy of the drawing. Each time to redraw something, it loses a little bit of the oomph you put into the original. Whenever possible, I try to go from sketch to final in one run. Using Flash to ink a sketch works really well, because there is no inbetween step.

But I know some people really like to rework their drawing over and over to get it just right. I guess for me, its about retaining the gestural quality of the sketch.

Allie said...

With a good number of John K's entries (including this one) I often feel like I miss the point he's trying to express. Almost like he's having an arguement with someone who has an opposing opinion- but we never find out who that person is. Stepping back though I can accept he's meerly looking to ignite conversation, precisely what he's done here!

Line weight is certainly important. I highly doubt even the artists who were working on the cartoons John K was talking about having poor line quality, would argue that themselves. I bet they were even thinking it as they were making it. The reason behind the skimping on quality was likely poor financial planning. Just a way to cut corners. Plus, we're talking about cartoons that weren't neccesarily intended to completley fulfill viewers from an artistic standpoint. I'm thinking particularly of the picture of a badly drawn cartoon version on 'The Fonz.' They were made to make money. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the animators who made Popeye were just working for free... but at that time I feel the focus was more on discovering animation and discovering the way lines could move and limbs could bend, and arm muscles could buldge thanks to a leafy green friend in a can. From that thought one could hypothocize that the quality of an artists line weight could be equivalent to how curious they are by nature. And remember, even those folks who were making said thin lined cartoons, were possibly going home at night and working with their own lines.
I also think a person's line weight says something about them as a person. Not to psychoanalyze... I won't go there. At least not without the chaise lounge.
I personally worry about the line quality of my drawings constantly with fear of falling victim to the uniform thin line disease. Where instead of breathing your own life and personality into your doodle, you simply press the inkpot to outline at a hairline width. Though I do (for myself) prefer a solid line, I stand by my thought that there is a major difference between a drawing with a flat line which is based on a bad illustration, and a good illustration. It's a matter of if there's life and story in the entire drawing, lines and company.
Our different line weights are one of the things that I love most about what makes us different as illustrators. I love how we can take the same animal and a pen in hand and all come out with something different.
And so, here's to lines! Keep making them guys! ----------------

Bob Flynn said...

Wow, very insightful, Allie! The main reason why I initiated this discussion was to get people thinking of line. It's obvious that John K has an axe to grind, and while it can certainly come off as annoying, I can appreciate his passion for the medium. At his best, he's only pushing people to really think about how they can improve the form, instead of animating at the whip of a corporation.

Per your thoughts on line, I go back and forth about what kind of line I like. I have some posts about it kicking around on my own blog. There's something inherently powerful about a uniform line because it's primary roll is to separate positive and negative space, without bringing attention to itself. It's shares territory with something I neglected to bring up, implied line...which is kind of what you get when you work with flat shapes. And implied line is how our brain recognizes the borders of objects. So, by working with a raw line, you're tapping into that.

What matters is if your line is confident and descriptive. If you can pull that off, you have a great drawing.

John L said...

I have a few more thoughts about lines...

I mostly use a brush for ink drawings now, both in my books and my web comics. I used a quill pen years ago, and always felt restricted by it (having to hold the pen a certain way.) I find that a brush gives you more variation in thickness, and also more freedom to draw in any direction.

I still sketch in pencil, and ink on top of that, using watercolor paper (not bristol). I think the biggest challenge in tracing your own drawing is translating from one medium (pencil) to another (ink), which has its own personality.

I saw an exhibit of classic illustrations recently, including many pen and ink drawings. To see original drawings is really inspiring, because so much detail gets lost when reproduced. A few artists whose lines I like -- Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle, Ernest Shepherd, and Ida Rentoul Outhwaite. (Anyone else have some favorite line artists?)

Renee Kurilla said...

I have alot to day on this subject...but not enough time to write (I've been doing some work tonight and am SOOO sleepy.) Somebody remind me to post!

Renee Kurilla said...

Apparently I'm so tired, I can't even get my words right.

Renee Kurilla said...

As much as I love lines, I would argue that making any design WITHOUT them is a fun and rewarding challenge.

If you read my blog a few posts back when I was trying to finish an oil painting, I got stuck near the end. It wasn't working right, so I fell safely back on the good old quick fix...I outlined my characters. And immediately they popped (like I wanted them to). I believe this is the reason I haven't painted since. I got disappointed with myself.

I believe a good lesson in color theory and paint mixing would have helped in this situation. Maybe we can talk about color theory if we ever have an Inspiration Friday!

Anyway, back on the subject...while John K makes a good point, and completely respect everything he has to say, I feel like he is leap years ahead of my own understanding of art. He's kind of like a Yoda. So, from a naive Anakin Skywalker-ish perspective :)...

In my art...
my lines are almost always better in sketches. Bringing that flowy sketch to finish...there's almost always something that gets lost. In searching for the right line, I've almost always found that tons of sketchy lines make the perfect combination. When I simplify it to just one line, it's almost like I don't pick the right one to trace. Maybe that's why I can spend a ton of time perfecting the smoothness of my lines in flash...and probably why I'd rather not even use them at all.

Wow, I think I figured something out here. Sorry for rambling :)

Bob Flynn said...

Great thoughts, Renee. I certainly want to talk a lot about color theory as well. Line is just easier to discuss. And I didn't mean to slight shape based artwork in anyway....because as I said, you're working with implied line in addition to positive and negative space.

Mainly what I was getting at here is line quality...which is the stylings you apply to a line.

It's been fun to see you grow with the challenge of making shape-based artwork. I think it maybe started with Sparky and the first stroke animation, where you had to emulate Noah. But never think of line as a crutch. It's an important device you can use as an artist...one of the most basic.

One other note: When I color my illustrations in photoshop, I sometimes find it fun to shut off my line layer to see all the color shapes underneath. It allows me to see if the color can carry the weight on it's own (if I'm coloring right, the values do indeed work as a flat color painting). In my artwork, I use line for detail and definition of form. It is the framework that holds my picture together.

John L said...

In one of my art classes, we explored various visual elements individually -- line, value, color, texture (I can't remember any others.) We should do a separate posting on all of these, and see what discussion comes up! :)

Maybe I'll write about value/shading...