"That Krusty drawing is painful to look at, it's so dang dimensional. Any thoughts/suggestions you can give we less-stellar-drawers to get that much form and depth into our work? I keep practicing but I don't feel like I'm getting anywhere... Anyway, awesome stuff." - J.K. Riki
Well, here's the thought: GRAVITY. Many times, we draw characters with their limbs in the right spot and with the correct anatomy, but that's all they are, looking right and in the right place. But there is a whole other element that isn't actually seen, it's felt. Gravity & weight affect every part of a character. Every limb has a gesture. When I draw or animate a pose I think "Where is the energy coming from? Where is the source?" When someone is doing something, there is always an active energy that they are controlling. The fellow in the drawing above lifts his hand, but the exact "epicenter" of energy is in his palm, more specifically the ball of his palm on the thumb-side just as it connects to the wrist. Take a look . . . . His fingers fall away from it and his arm hangs down from it. In a way, his arm is almost limp between his shoulder and his wrist. Similar to Krusty's arm.
That leads us to the 2nd thing to see: The anchor points. It's not that the arm just connects to the shoulder, it hinges there, or it rests there, or it leads the action from there. There are a ton of choices. Basically the question to ask is "What kind of energy does this part have?" It could be a large part or a small part, but it has energy. Resting/dormant/potential energy OR active/kinetic energy.
The other kind of energy is what I call SECONDARY energy. That is when something is moving, but it is being dragged or pulled along by something else. It's hard to capture in a single drawing, but it comes out a lot when animating. You can see extreme examples here on Homer and Ned Flanders. Flander's right arm is being pulled by his shoulder and chest. It isn't resting and it isn't active, but IT IS moving. The same thing on Homer's arm pulling out a gadget from his pocket. His wrist "owns" the energy and leads the action. His upper arm is slightly active, but his hand and fingers are dragging behind.
Looking at the Krusty drawing, a few other things to consider are:
-How heavy is that part of the body? That will also affect the gesture.
-The face and the hands are the most expressive parts of the body. Hands have an expression of their own, even if they are hanging, they will react as the face does. The hand in front of Krusty's face is what I think really sells the pose. This is definitley something I can go in to more depth on in a future post.
-Limbs aren't flat, they have form that we don't see behind what we do see. Re-reading your post, J.K., I think this is what you meant by "so dang dimensional." It's all about thinking 3 dimensionally. What we are not seeing affects the parts we are seeing. Animating is the best way to wrap your head around this.
So to label the Krusty drawing with some of what I have mentioned. Krusty's arm hangs from his hand to his shoulder with a resting energy, and you can feel it's weight. Even though his knees & legs aren't moving, they have an energy to them that they just moved or are being kept there, where as his feet fall away from them towards the ground, limp - a cross between resting energy and secondary. The hair is puffy and has a different texture and feel than the hard head. This gives a good contrast. And his hair has a mass to it as well, it goes around his head and the eds have a weight to them that is also affected by gravity. As far as the expression, even though it's a cartoon, it has it's own anatomy. The line of the brow is not just a line, it describes the bottom of the brow muscle.
Thanks for the comment J.K. Keep them coming. I realize I gave more thoughts than suggestions. As far as practicing, we can never do enough of it. But in my opinion, the number one best way to improve your drawing is to animate, traditionally. Not with Flash or Maya or another CGI equivilent. Traditional animation will make you think in ways you wouldn't by doing single illustrative drawings. It shows you things you never would have thought of otherwise. You find things you never would have found. Animating traditionally will undoubtably improve anyone's drawing. If you want to be hardcore, find software you can do it in, or get a hole-punch, pegbar, paper, light disc/table and a pencil and practice till the cows come home. The 11second Club has a great competition every month where they post a sound bite from a movie and anyone can submit an animated clip using that dialog. It's a great motivator. The craft of traditional animation may not be as widely used as it once was, but I am so glad I'm a part of it while it's here. I would not have drawn that Krusty drawing the way I did had I not have animated my butt off for years.
These bottom two drawings I've posted aren't some of my best, but I thought they had good energy to describe my point.
And on a final note, I was told by a co-worker years ago something that John Kricfalusi told him when working for him. He brought in a drawing to John K. for his opinion, and John said "Well, does it make you laugh?" I always think of that. Whenever I was doing something particularly funny on The Simpsons, I'd look at it and think "Is it making me laugh?" and if it didn't I'd work on it until it did, or my deadline.
Thanks again J.K. Riki for your comment. I hope how I responded was helpful. J.K. has a great blog about animation and animating over at http://www.animatorisland.com. I suggest clicking on over and taking a look.