Drawing Boxes: A Critical Fundamental

Warning! Don’t be tempted to skip this step because it appears too simple: these really are the foundations that will enable you to draw more complex figures down the line.

The box is like the sphere in Lesson 2. It is a critical form that you must learn how to draw if you are serious about developing your drawing skills. The ability to draw the box is a necessary basic skill. If you don’t have a complete mastery of this, it will hinder your development as an artist. Spend as much time as it takes to become proficient at drawing them at any angle or in any combination.

Drawing Exercise One
Start by drawing a series of boxes freehand, i.e. not using a straight edge. Think of the box tumbling through space (see Illustration No. 1). Approach it as if you were animating it so that each drawing is a progression from the last. Be careful that you maintain the feeling that the corners are at right angles and that you have a sense of foreshortening as the sides recede back in perspective. You may want to watch my video on this subject to understand this better. If you have no knowledge of foreshortening or perspective, or are having a difficult time with this, you should acquire a good book on perspective and take some time to study it. This is a skill that is absolutely necessary in your development as an artist.

Drawing Boxes 1
Drawing Boxes 1

Drawing Exercise Two
Now let’s take this box we have been drawing and round off the sides so that it looks like a bar of soap (see Illustration No. 2). Start by tumbling it through space as we did in Part One.

Drawing Boxes 2
Drawing Boxes 2

Drawing Exercise Three
After you feel comfortable, I want you to see if you can give it life and a personality the same way we did in Lesson 1 (see Illustration No. 3). Have it bend, twist, walk and meet other boxes. Think of fat boxes, thin boxes; in short, become master of the box!

Drawing Boxes 3
Drawing Boxes 3

If it helps, set up some boxes to draw from. You could suspend some from the ceiling by string or wire. It would even help to make a box mannequin, using blocks of wood and wire.

It is easy to relate houses, cars, and other inherently box-like forms to our simple box. Look carefully at the other example on this page to see how the box was used to help draw the figure. Sometimes we use the box as a starting point when drawing difficult angles. Remember, there are no rules, just tools. The sphere and box are tools that help you to understand complex forms and enable you to depict them successfully in three dimensional space.

Figure Drawing from Boxes
Figure Drawing from Boxes

By Glenn Vilppu

This article first appeared in Animation World News October 01, 1998. This article was taken from the third in a series of articles on drawing for animation. 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 studios in the animation industry both in the US and in their affiliates overseas. If you have not seen the previous lessons starting in the June 1998 issue of Animation World Magazine, it is recommended that you do. The lessons are progressive and expand on basic ideas. It is suggested that you start from the beginning for a better understanding of my approach.

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.

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