Monday, September 24, 2007

Acting It Out

Norman Rockwell held out for a long time against using photos for reference, preferring to make charcoal studies directly from live models. The reason he finally started taking photos was to capture kids and animals, who can’t be induced to hold a pose for very long.


I’ve always admired the work from Rockwell's early period of the 1920s and 30s, but I suppose he was right about kids and animals.

Especially if you’re painting an action scene, you really have to let them act it out, and take what reference you can.

When it came to shooting scrap for a Dinotopian festival, I recruited my sons, wife, nieces, and nephews at a big family reunion to actually test out the games. We played a tug-of-war game called “Tuggle,” and a team coordination game called “Plank Walking.” The kids had fun wiping me out every time in Tuggle, because a small kid with good timing can beat out an adult every time.

Acting it out not only gave me the reference I needed (for the people at least), but it gave a reality-check for whether the games worked the way I had imagined.

The downside of using photos is that I'm easily swayed by their compelling actuality, and lured into copying the details too closely, forgetting what I had in my mind's eye. Both of my pictures fail because the clothes and the people look too contemporary, especially in their clothes and hairstyles, and not exotic enough to look Dinotopian. Maybe you can leave a suggestion for how to use photos and avoid this problem.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

IMHO, you either have to dress them up -- as I believe Rockwell did (although maybe not with the children?) or ignore the clothes all together when sketching it out and just use the form. One good idea would be to draw new clothes, but keep them in the same color family so you could still use the photographs as reference for the light and color interaction.

SHANE PRIGMORE said...

I am so Glad I found your blog today. I have been a fan of your work for many years and Coincidentaly I just purchased "Dinotopia Journey to Chandara" yesterday , and I can not tell you how inspiring and beautiful that book is. I own all three and open them up regularly for motivation. You are truly an inspiration and this blog is an amazing insight to your elaborate research and process. I LOVE IT!! I will be back often.

SHANE PRIGMORE said...

Oh , and yes, please post some of your plein air paintings that you mentioned a few posts ago. That would be awsome.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Shane,
Most folks here already know that Shane does character design and development at DreamWorks Feature Animation and has worked on Iron Giant, Lord of the Rings, Curious George and lots of other great projects.

I'm really glad you enjoy the book and the blog, and maybe I'll meet you when I come to DreamWorks in a couple months!

Meredith D. said...

I would suggest developing a "costume reference book." Much like Tolkien invented the language of Elvish for his fictional world, perhaps you can invent a history of Dinotopian clothing and hairstyle. That would give you a reference to use when making up clothes.

Noah Klocek said...

It's great that you have a blog, I can't believe how long it's taken me to find it.

I have the same problem you do, when I use photos I tend to copy them. I even do that when I'm out plein air painting. The only thing that works for me is to study the picture or landscape for a while then put it away. I try to do the lay in without looking at any reference and just find nice shapes. Then is use the reference to help with the details and lighting.

I would also love to see more of your plein air paintings. Although it is awesome to see your process.

Noah Klocek said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Claire said...

It's hard to explain how I use photographs, since I'm so wary of them; I adore working from life, but feel somewhat guilty using photos as anything more than loose reference. I usually let myself do sketches from photos in my sketchbook, using them as a way to understand the photos but without getting too caught up in trying to capture the details... I keep my references at a distance.

-C

muddy red shoes said...

I use photos for illustrations a lot, have a bunch of very funny pictures of my 6 ft 6in husband (big bloke) pretending to be an overweight 14 yr old who hated swimming! It works well as long as the photoes are not too great(?) I think they help especially if you have a tight deadline.
Love your blog.

ewinwe said...

The Brother's Hildebrandt relied on photos a lot for their work - but they would use costumes (a la, the first comment re. Rockwell). As i recall, they would make the photo sessions into a party, with the crew invariably off to the pub for a pint or three later.

Kids love "dress-up" and you do not have to get too elaborate with it, just the "hints" of Dinotopian costume would do the trick ... and pints of koolaid are generally less than a pint of lager :-)

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Kirk Witmer said...

To avoid copying photos ...
Could you use a Photoshop layer to create a digital "wire frame" or stick figure of your model(s)? Working from only that layer without the photo behind it would maintain proportions, angles and foreshortenings and yet remove any potential influence of clothing and colors.

Anonymous said...

With photos, I find it's easier to draw a gesture or charcoal study just as if I were drawing from the model, then put the photos away.