A Kick in the Head, Part Two

A few years ago a bunch of us were looking at portfolios for possible trainees at work and it struck me that we were rejecting all of them because their drawings all lacked one thing: appeal. It didn't matter how great the staging was, or the acting, or the drawing; if the applicant's work didn't have some amount of appeal to it, they were passed over.

I realized that all of the people that work in Story at Disney have a lot of appeal in their drawings. We don't really talk about it much, but it's very important. When we screen our work for the studio we are basically screening the whole movie in storyboard form to see if the story and characters are working. The whole studio is invited, and they all have to sit through an hour and a half of just storyboards cut together with music borrowed from other movies and voice acting done by people in the studio instead of the final voices. There's no color and no movement - just our static drawings - so the whole thing is very rough around the edges. Anything we can do to make the experience more pleasant for the viewers help them have a more positive reaction to our work and to the movie in general.

I include this along with "Silhouette" as a "Kick in the Head" because it can be easy to find excuses to let appeal drop from your work. It's too easy to let deadlines and time pressure convince you that you shouldn't take that extra five minutes and go over your drawing one more time and try and make it more appealing. It's easy to say to yourself, "it's only the story that matters, and clarity, and I just don't have time to draw appealingly, it's not important".

But here's why it is important: unappealing drawings can kill an otherwise good idea. I have seen this over and over: a really good idea gets storyboarded with unappealing drawings and the idea just dies. People can't put their finger on why it doesn't work but they know it's not quite clicking, and it's only because the drawings are not very appealing. And so a new idea is brainstormed, and it gets rewritten and reboarded all over again, when the old idea was good, it just didn't get presented right. Everyone responds to good design and appeal on a deep level and they aren't always able to articulate the fact that they're being turned off by unappealing drawing and it's affecting the way they react to the ideas. But it definitely happens.

Ideas can be unappealing or appealing as well. As you storyboard and make choices about how to present the characters and situations, you should always strive to find the charm and entertainment in every idea in the most appealing way.

I don't exactly know how to tell anyone to improve the appeal in their drawings. We all respond to it on a deep level and I think we should all make sure to listen to that voice that tells us when our drawing could be more appealing. Make appeal a priority in your work and study the work of artists that you find appealing.

Vance Gerry once said that he felt Robert Crumb drew well but that his drawings were unappealing. I think that's a great observation.

Being able to draw well and being able to draw appealingly are two totally different things.

I once drew a lot of flak for saying that this Jack Davis drawing was unappealing to me.

I think a big part of what makes this drawing unappealing to me is the level of detail. The Robert Crumb drawings are like that too. When Jack Davis draws with less detail I find his appeal goes way up. But that's just me.

Proportions are very important to appeal. The proportions in the Crumb and Davis drawings are part of what makes them unappealing to me.

In general I would say that it's more appealing to emphasize the more expressive parts of the figure: like heads, eyes, mouths and hands.

Also you should de-emphasize the parts that are unexpressive, like noses. This doesn't mean leave them off, or make them small, necessarily...it means just don't give them as much emphasis as the more expressive parts. What do I mean by this?

In the movie "The Prince of Egypt" there was a conscious design choice to elongate the area of the nose on the faces. This has the side effect of pushing the eyes and mouth far away from each other.

I think in general it's better to put the eyes and mouth as close to each other as possible. What the mouth does affects the eyes by pushing up or pulling down on the lower eyelids, and when the eyes and mouth get too far apart it can be hard to maintain that effect between the two. That's why drawing certain animals with long faces - like goats and horses - can be challenging and you have to work extra hard to make them appealing. Also the nose isn't an expressive feature - it doesn't add much to expressions, or change from expression to expression like the eyes and mouth do - so I think it shouldn't get the same kind of "real estate" as the mouth and the eyes do.

Some clues to appeal can be seen when you look at an appealing drawing of a character that's supposed to be ugly.

Check out more Ariel and Ursula development here.

Preston Blair talks about Rhythm as an aid to appeal in his books.

Appeal is a deep, personal thing that means something different to everyone. All I can say is, make it a priority in your work and it will come through. Some artists that I find appealing are:

Quentin Blake

Richard Scarry

Earl Oliver Hurst

Freddy Moore

Mary Blair

Bill Peet

Chuck Jones

I don't know what else to say regarding appeal, just be aware of it and feed yourself a good visual diet of appealing images to inspire you and give you something to aim for.