Some Notes on Comparative Anatomy

It’s a mighty big subject obviously but for this talk I focused on looking for squash and stretch in the skeleton. Useful for animation and also for rigging.

It’s easy for humans to forget how squashy-stretchy most animal skeletons are, because we ourselves are built very upright and straight with all our bones pretty much on the surface. A coiled-up, spring-loaded arrangement of bones is more usual, especially in the hind legs. Because they are covered up in muscle it can be hard to see the real structure, always study carefully the skeleton of any animal you are going to animate!

All animals bones evolve as a compromise between two functions: strength and flexibility. The stronger a structure the less flexible is must be and vice versa. The long coily spine of a rat could not support the huge heavy gut that a cow, for example, needs to to have to digest grass (see the notes on cat spines for a little more indepth on this subject). A good thing to think about for designing creatures and characters!

I talked a lot horses because horses are the BEST animal.

Some more resources:

The Boneman has a terrific gallery of skeletons, they sell books that cover engineering the skeleton bone-by-bone for a wide variety of creatures.

Stuart Sumida is the premiere consultant on comparative anatomy for the animation studios. If you have a chance to attend one of his lectures don’t miss it!

Some videos I showed on in the lecture on this youtube playlist.

If you’re really interested in the subject, the best thing you can do is to build your own anatomical model. You can get kits or you can do it yourself from scratch with Sculpey and some good anatomy texts. I did this horse a few years ago and it’s incredibly useful for understanding the engineering of the system in 3 dimensions. The one thing I would do is make it twice as big! By the way someone asked what the anatomy book I used was– it was mostly Animal Painting and Anatomy, it’s very wordy and only covers horses, dogs, and cows but it’s a real education and goes into huge detail of what the purpose of each muscle is. It’s good to have more than one book on hand, more a more general book with tons of interest ways of looking at anatomy is Animal Anatomy for Artists- Elements of Form.

To do the sculpture you will also need a very large, clear picture of the skeleton of the animal you want to do from the front and the side- do NOT eyeball the process! use calipers and make an exact copy of the skeleton in Sculpey onto a wire frame. When you’re done, bake the skeleton and you can put the muscles on top with super-sculpey to feel the play of hard vs soft shapes. A demonstration of anatomical sculpture making of a human.

Hope this is useful!


Till the Cows Come Home

Here’s some of my notes on four-legged walks (our feature animal: COWS!) for a class I’m teaching at the Animation Workshop, for those who might find it useful– as always, study as much as you can from reference and understand WHY the action is as it is.

Some Victorian costume sketches

Man, I need to put some posts up here more often.. consumed by the comic!!

Speaking of the comic.. the only time I seem to sit peacefully and draw these days is on airplanes, also the only time I seem to watch movies! I caught Young Victoria a few weeks ago on a flight to Canada, and got a bunch of valuable 1840s costume notes.. they managed to make the clothes not quite as hideous as the fashion of that period actually was, which is a pretty spectacular trick. Click for larger.


Also a spectacular trick is that I was able to do drawings at all, as I was clutching my pencil in a tightly clenched, shaking fist.. I hate flying!

Ada Lovelace Day!

Not that long ago if I’d wanted to be an animator, I would have received the following kick to the head:

“Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen, as this work is done entirely by young men.”

All applications by women to Disney back in the Good Old Days were forwarded to the ink and paint department.

I might be one of the last people in animation to start out literally inking and painting other people’s drawings on cels. I was lucky enough though to do so on a National Film Board short directed by the wonderful Susan Crandall, who along with animation lead Beth Portman first taught me how to animate, first explained to me that there was an actual job ‘animator’, and, girl though I was, encouraged me to believe I could be an animator myself.

Nowadays you don’t get kicked in the head by an actual ‘no girls’ sign (though you do get poked in the ribs rather more often than I would like), but it can still feel kind of lonely and exposed as a woman in this business, especially without that comfortable wind at your back of countless Role Models, as the awkward phrase goes, that guys so often seem to take for granted. That is why my drinking buddy Suw Charmann came up with Ada Lovelace Day!

I’m not going to risk creating a whole freakin’ pocket universe like I did last year, because I don’t have time to do it safely and under controlled conditions, so we’re going to take it niiiiice and slow this year with what it’s actually supposed to be about, raising a pint to an inspiring woman.

Happily there is now no shortage of awesome women in animation, so that hard part was deciding who to blog about. Maybe go for the up-and-coming bright young things, represented by Allison Rutland, who kicked ass on Reepicheep in Prince Caspian before heading off to Pixar? Or superstar draftsmanship from Joanna Quinn? A historical figure, like Lotte Reineger, who made the first animated feature film?

In the end I thought I should feature someone techy.. someone who started out studying computer programming maybe? Someone with a foot in animation and a foot in rigging? Someone geektastically cool? Someone who will give me an excuse to put up a truly awesome video? I present my Ada Lovelace Day heroine this year, Virgine d’Annoville, lead animator on Yoda, people. YODA. Check it out:

She animates stuff like that for kicks. We crossed paths when we were both at Sony Imageworks a few years ago, she was cruising on Superman I believe. Lately she’s been up at ILM working on stuff so cool she can’t even talk about it, at least not without killing you immediately afterwards, and heading up development of rigging interfaces.

THE FORCE IS STRONG IN THIS ONE! Sorry. Had to say it. I’ll stop now. Geek out, ladies, it’s Ada Lovelace Day!

On You Huskies!

In the midst of showreel-editing misery, this brought up some fond memories:

“The Golden Compass”, copyright New Line Cinema

Yes, I know they look exactly like real dogs. Thank you! Yes, we could possibly could have just used real dogs. Next question…

Inspiration was provided by hours and hours of old “Challenge of the Yukon” radio shows….

….which in combination with lengthy rendering times might have made me go a little nutty. I gave all the dogs names. They were.. let’s see.. I think Nanuk was the left-hand dog, Snowball the right-hand one, and of course Yukon Prince in the lead. In my daily dailies drawings I had him starring in an action-packed series of adventure novels circa 1933 (I have a thing for period book covers.. title fonts are some of the great freebies on Blambot):

Yukon Prince!

It’s a good thing I work in the animation industry otherwise people might think drawing imaginary covers for imaginary books was a really strange thing to do.

Bess of the North

I also was working on a heron for a while, but his series (more around the mid-1910s I’d say) was less successful:

Percy the courageous heron