3 Ways to Use Models as Reference Animation & Comics

Drawing backgrounds and different angles are often challenges for artist, which include animators, storyboarders, comic artists and mangaka to name a few. I’ve come up with 3 easy ways to help and take your art to the next level. Using Dolls and Toys, Making Paper background Models, and Using Digital 3d software and games

This article is accompanied by a video tutorial:

Using Dolls and Toys

When wanting to draw characters from different angles, it’s useful to use posable dolls as reference. In the example below, I wanted to draw a cut where a knight was charging towards another knight on his horse. I also wanted the ‘camera’ to pan around the character as he ran to make the shot more dynamic. Drawing the charging scene itself is a challenge, because horses are difficult to draw for most people. However, drawing a camera pan really adds another layer of complexity to the design.

I got a posable Harry Potter doll and sat him upon a horse statue with a pencil in his hand, placed them on top of a Lazy Suzan turn table and took videos from different angles and positions. I then used a dragon shaped piggy bank over to the side as scale reference.

This is solution is extremely easy and cheap to re-create. I didn’t need reference for details, so it didn’t matter to me what kind of toy I used as long as I could move the limbs to the position I liked. Artists are known for using the wooden mannequins as pose reference. However, some toys have a lot more articulation and have the added benefits of coming with face, hair and clothes, which gives you more points of reference.

After that, I can import the footage to my computer and watch it in slow motion to study the poses. Depending on your artistic style, you can copy the poses in your own style, or draw directly over the videos and rotoscope it.

Making Paper background Models

When I was a little kid, I remember making paper doll houses with my cousin Stephie. The process was extremely easy, all you had to do was fold paper to make boxes and trays. This became the inspiration for the next process.

Drawing backgrounds to scale is a real skill. I’ve read plenty of books and know the formular of how to draw perspective, but let’s face it, drawing accurate perspective is BORING. Haha, (soz background artists :p). Here is another very easy way to create reference that you can use multiple times for backgrounds and settings.

In this example, I wanted to draw the inside cloister of a cathedral. The architecture is very repetitive in that there are arches, symmetrical windows and columns. While it is possible to copy photos and have a still background image, what if you want to walk down the halls or see the corridors from different perspectives? The answer is having a 3D model where you can go around it from all angles!

To do this, I went into photoshop and made an A4 canvas (the size of my printer paper), and on the long plane, I drew the basic shapes of the corridor. I drew an arch with symmetrical windows and columns and copy and pasted them next to each other. Using the ruler tool, I made rectangle and square shapes as guides. That way I could print out the shapes, cut along the dotted line and glue the parts together. I made several of these rectangular cuboids and placed them in the position I wanted. I placed the models on top of my cutting mat, which had a grid on it. Using the grid can be useful too because it shows the lines moving towards the Vanishing Point, which can be an extra point of reference. After that I used a Go-Pro type camera with a warped fish-eye lens to go down the corridors. (You can just as easily use your phone or webcam to do the same thing.)

In the same method above, you can export the footage to your computer and use the shots for reference by copying the footage or rotoscoping it.

BONUS TIP: If you want to draw a scene in different times of the day, or with special lighting, you can position desk lamps around your models and study the way light and shadow hits them.

Using Digital 3d software and games

This method is a bit more difficult, because it depends on having extra skills and computer software. If you know how to do it, you can create 3D models on a digital animation software and use that as reference. I personally, I can’t use 3D software, because I get motion sickness. Instead, I use the Sims 4 to help create scenarios. In the Sims you can create houses and buildings and have your Sim character perform actions like dancing or eating. You can either take screenshots or using a screen capture software, record what’s happening. This can be useful for everyday life scenarios. However, if you want something more complex, like a plane taking off, you wouldn’t be able to do that seeing as there are restrictions within the game. Though, if you are making a fantasy type story, you could always use a fantasy style 3D game as reference too.

WARNING: I’ve noticed that a lot of Webtoon/ webcomic artists have been using Google Sketch Up in their comics. However, instead of using it as reference, they have been tracing over the shape in such a precise way that the backgrounds end up looking very boring. I would suggest that you use these methods as guidelines, but to

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