The Vilppu Method, part 1- Drawing from Imagination

The drawing that we do from the human model is research that helps us to better understand the human form and its movements. Unlike the illustrator, learning to copy the model has very little value for us. Rarely do we work from the model except in training situations. One of the primary requisites in order to create is the ability to draw from our imagination. Understanding and being able to create believable attitudes and movements, i.e. bringing our characters to life with our acting, is the basis of our art.

Drawing, as it is practiced in the animation industry today, most approximates classical drawing in the tradition of Raphael, DaVinci, Pontormo, and other great draftsman of the past. The drawings of the past were used primarily in planned stages toward the creation of paintings, sculptures, and murals. As such, they were practical pragmatic steps in representing ideas. The classical approach of constructing forms in an effort to create the ideal perfect form, along with the desire for clarity, transition, and ease of understanding, are the same requirements of good animation drawing. The main difference is in the ideal of the form created. Drawing from imagination toward a conceptualized ideal is the norm in animation.

A child, learning to speak, starts by mimicking the sounds that he hears and slowly develops the relationship of sounds and meanings that we call speaking. This is unlike most training in drawing given today that teaches to mimic nature without first an understanding of the elements of visual communication. Of course, there are those individuals who through an innate talent have developed this ability of communication in the same way that there are accomplished musicians who do not read music.

Alexander Marshack was commissioned by NASA in 1963 to write a book in collaboration with Dr. Robert Jastrow to explain how man reached that point in science and civilization to make it possible to plan a manned landing on the moon. The research led to his book The Roots of Civilization. Marshack draws the conclusion that one of the basic elements that distinguishes man from most other animals is his ability to think in sequence. He uses the analogy of sending a man to the moon; in his discussion he talks about how impossible the task of sending a man to the moon is when considered as a whole, but taken as a series of small steps or problems, it becomes possible. As each step is broken down into even smaller steps, the impossible becomes possible. The main element is the building of one step upon the previous in a time factored manner. The pace of learning of any given subject, after the initial rapid advancement, seems to move upward in ever shortening steps, while the time between those steps seems to stretch out longer and longer until we begin to wonder if there is any movement at all.

By Glenn Vilppu

This is the first in a series of articles on drawing for animation. In these articles I will be presenting the theory and practice of drawing as a “how to” instructional series. The lessons are based upon the Vilppu Drawing Manual and will in general follow the basic plan outlined in the manual. This is the same material that I base my seminars and lectures on at the American Animation Institute, UCLA, and my lectures at Disney, Warner Bros. and other major animation studios both in the U.S. and in their affiliates overseas.

Glenn Vilppu teaches life drawing at the American Animation Institute, the Masters program of the UCLA Animation Dept., Walt Disney Feature Animation, Warner Bros. Feature Animation, Dreamworks and Rhythm & Hues Studios. Vilppu has also worked in the Animation industry for 18 years as a layout, storyboard and presentation artist, most of this time was spent working at Disney. His drawing manual and video tapes are being used worldwide as course materials for animation students. Glenn Vilppu has, in effect, either through teaching them directly or teaching their teachers, trained an entire generation of professional animators.

To be continued in Introduction to the Vilppu Method, part 2...