Design Essentials for the Motion Media Artist: A Practical Guide to Principles & Techniques

Design Essentials for the Motion Media Artist: A Practical Guide to Principles & Techniques

by Angie Taylor

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Master the fundamental concepts and techniques of motion media design so you can apply--and occasionally break--the rules to achieve your communication goals. This authoritative guide presents all of the design essentials in an engaging and inspiring way. Each principle is explained with text, illustration and photography where necessary. An accompanying website will


Master the fundamental concepts and techniques of motion media design so you can apply--and occasionally break--the rules to achieve your communication goals. This authoritative guide presents all of the design essentials in an engaging and inspiring way. Each principle is explained with text, illustration and photography where necessary. An accompanying website will contain any necessary digital files for download, updates and links to other resources.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Today's software is so creative and seductive that it is easy to think that's all there is to creating engaging content. Angie Taylor's book shows the other side of the story: the visual techniques and design principles that underpin digital moving image making. In this comprehensive guide she has assembled a wealth of tips and exercises in topics such as drawing, composition and typography that will be required reading for all up-and-coming motion media artists."

- Birgitta Hosea, Artist and Course Director of MA Character Animation, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London.

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A Practical Guide to Principles & Techniques

Focal Press

Copyright © 2011 Angie Taylor
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-08-095392-2

Chapter One



If you are embarking on a creative path in your career, it is vitally important that you understand how to communicate using a visual language—that is, without the use of words. I believe that drawing is the best way to develop a strong, confident visual language. All good designers draw in some way or another. Not all of them are professional draftspeople. They may not use drawings as a technique in their finished work, but you can be sure that they all use drawing somewhere within their creative process. Some draw to improve their perception of the world around them, and others draw to develop their ideas and techniques. In other words, you don't need to be really good at drawing, but you do need to be prepared to give it a go and explore it as a means of developing what's referred to as an "artist's eye." With an artist's eye you will learn to see and represent the world visually, without the use of words. It's a place where shapes, colors, textures, and light become your words.

Learning to See

Drawing is an art form in itself, especially when it is executed by somebody with good skills. But it's also an important exercise that should be performed solely for the purpose of developing your own unique way of interpreting the world. Through really looking at things and then attempting to draw them, we can prevent ourselves from doing what we're naturally inclined to do, which is to interpret everything we see with words.

The human race has naturally developed to be inclined toward verbal communication. At school we are encouraged to concentrate on learning grammar, spelling, and written communication skills. English is a compulsory subject in most schools; it's considered essential to learning to prepare ourselves for whichever career path we may choose. But unless we opt to take an art or design course, our visual communication skills are largely left for us to develop ourselves. So it's no surprise that we find it more difficult to communicate this way and often misinterpret the nuances of the visual language.

Later in this chapter, I'll share some of the exercises I did at art college that helped me to understand how to communicate visually and to develop my artist's eye, but for now, let's talk about why drawing is so important.

Why Sketching is Important

Software applications provide new ways of creating imagery without the need for good drawing skills. Compositing imagery using software techniques will not give you the same understanding of form, light, and balance that you'll achieve by observing objects and then drawing them manually. When you source an image from the internet and adapt it, you don't have to think about the physical qualities such as weight, texture, or the form of the object. Instead, all you have to think about is whether it "looks right."

Allow yourself to get hooked on the habit of regular drawing, and it will reward you with an expanded comprehension of the world around you. When you draw an object, person, or animal, you are forced to consider how it is constructed, what supports it, and how light interacts with it. This gives you a solid foundation for everything you do as a visual designer. It also gives you more originality, insight, and adaptability than a designer who cannot draw.

When I draw, I feel like I get lost in my own little world, where the only two things that exist are the subject of my drawing and me. It's a very intimate experience; after drawing an object or a person, I feel like I have a special relationship with it. I know this may sound weird, but I seem to remember every detail of everything that I've drawn. It's like the subject of my drawing has been channeled deeper inside my mind, into my own private library of special things that I can draw upon for inspiration.

Can Anybody Learn to Draw?

You may be thinking to yourself, "Oh no! I can't draw to save my life! I'll never be a great designer!" Don't worry; it's not too late! You can learn to draw. Learning these new skills will add a new dimension to your work as a designer. I'm not suggesting that your drawings need to form part of your designs but that they will help you to improve your skills and change the way you think about form, composition, and structure. This chapter is designed to teach those who can't draw the fundamental skills they'll need. In some ways you are lucky if you are a complete beginner because you won't have picked up any bad habits, plus you still have the joy and excitement of exploring virgin territory. Actually, I'm quite green with envy.

I also hope this chapter gives those of you who can draw some new ideas and exercises. I want to reignite your passion for drawing! In fact, my aim is to get every last one of my readers addicted to drawing and image creation. You may be thinking, well, what's the point of learning how to draw when I can create finished images using collage or software compositing techniques? It is true that software applications like Adobe® Photoshop, Gimp® (GNU Image Manipulation Program), and Corel's® Painter make it easy to create imagery using clip art, stock photography, and other sources. 3D applications also allow artists to create imagery by building 3D models and environments. Nevertheless, I urge you to go back to basics and pick up a sketchpad and some pencils. Practice drawing as a means of developing ideas for your digital creations. Every time you draw, you'll be improving your eye, and your work, including your digital work, will improve as a result.

The Universal Fallacy of "Talent"

I don't believe that "talent" is something you are just born with. I didn't come out of my mother's womb with a pencil in my hand and suddenly start drawing masterpieces. I was, however, lucky enough to be born with a natural curiosity for how things work. This was combined with parents who provided me with drawing materials at an early age and brothers and sisters around me who believed that art was something worthwhile.

I started drawing at an early age and was inspired to do so by watching cartoons, reading comics and watching my older brother draw. I felt inspired to keep practicing so I could be as good as my big brother. Eventually, I was rewarded by witnessing a continued improvement in my drawing skills. At school, I really loved art class and was told that I was "good at art." I had a positive label that bolstered my confidence, so my skills continued to develop.

In my opinion, talent is a mixture of some beneficial personality traits, inspiration, support, confidence, and hard work. It's more about "how much you want it" than the luck of the draw (excuse the pun!). My mother is in her eighties and has just learned to draw and paint within the last three years (Figure 1.2). She always believed in the myth of talent and was constantly lamenting, "I've always wished I could draw." After several years of me nagging and cajoling her, she eventually succumbed when her husband gave her a Japanese ink painting set as a birthday present. She started painting with it and found that its loose, edgy quality suited her "style." She continued to experiment with it and gradually gained confidence. She is now painting with watercolors and has become a member of her local art group (Figure 1.3). I'm sure she would be the first person to tell you, "If I can do it, anyone can!"

So you see, it's largely about attitude. Even if you've never considered yourself to be good at drawing, be brave, take a leap, get a sketchbook, and try it for yourself. No one needs to see your drawings. Just through the act of drawing you'll find your eye, and your work will improve. If you already draw, then stretch yourself. Draw more often. Take on more challenging work. Show your work to friends, get feedback, and use it to help refine your skills. Practice and experience will always make you a better designer.


Having said all of this, it is not reasonable to expect to suddenly be able to draw after reading this book and doing the few exercises included. You wouldn't expect to be an expert golfer after reading a book on golf. You'll need to practice a lot to develop your drawing skills. Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and a regular contributor to The New Yorker, claims that it takes 10,000 hours of study to become a genius in your chosen field. This works out at about three hours per day practicing your skills. But don't be disillusioned by this. After all, you don't need to achieve the genius-level drawing skills of Leonardo da Vinci here! Even ten minutes a day would be a great start.

This chapter presents a few drawing exercises, tips, and tricks that you can use to develop and improve your drawing skills. Once you have completed these exercises, I'm hoping you will have the bug and will not be able to stop the immensely enjoyable and cathartic processes of drawing. There will be times when drawing becomes a chore. At these times, try not to pressure yourself too much, and carry on drawing regardless. When motivation is scarce, I find it helps to see drawing as a form of exercise, kind of like going to the gym. There will be times you enjoy it and get a thrill from the results, but there are other times you just won't want to do it. At times like this, just think about how good you'll feel once you've done it and what a brilliant artist you'll become as a result. Make it your mission to do one drawing per day as a minimum, even if it is a five-minute doodle over your morning coffee.

And don't be disillusioned if your drawings don't turn out exactly as you'd want them to. Like most artists, who are their own worst critics, most of my drawings disappoint me. You should always expect that 90 percent of your drawings will end up in the trash. As with every other art form, you need to produce a vast number of failures before finding your successes. Don't let this put you off. You'll learn just as much from your failures as your successes. It is just as important to learn what doesn't work as what does.

Drawing Materials

When you're starting out, you may want to experiment with different drawing implements and materials until you find the ones you like and feel happy using. You can choose from pencils, pens, markers, charcoal, paint, or crayons. Don't fall into the trap of feeling obliged to use materials you don't feel comfortable with. You'll find that friends and colleagues will want you to use their own favorite materials and implements. By all means, experiment with them, but don't allow yourself to be swayed by others. Find your own materials, and you'll find your own style as a result. You may want to use a material based on artwork that you like. If you try it and don't like it, then move on until you find the materials that are right for you.

I always felt like I wanted to use charcoal because I'd seen charcoal drawings that I really liked. But when I tried to draw with charcoal, I found it dirty, messy, and hard to control. (It also set my teeth on edge.) As a result, the drawings I did with charcoal were pretty terrible. So while you are trying to build your confidence, please avoid using materials that you find difficult. Once your skills improve, then you can begin to experiment more with them and extend your repertoire.


It's hard to find time in our busy lives to practice drawing. I recommend that you carry a small sketchbook around with you so you can practice on the train, in waiting rooms, or even during a walk with your dog. I usually carry a small, soft-covered A6 Moleskine sketch pad around with me in my back pocket (www.

It's good to treat yourself to quality drawing materials if you can afford it. You may actually be inspired to draw more often if the materials you use have a pleasing touch and feel. If you feel that Moleskin sketchbooks are too pricey for simple sketching, then you can buy very good A6 sketchbooks and notebooks very cheaply. In my studio, I have an A1 spiral-bound sketchbook that is great for creating big sketches on my drawing board. At home, I have an A3 sketchbook that is perfect for picking up to sketch out quick ideas or doing a detailed study of my dogs or the plants in my garden. I also have little sketchbooks beside my bed and in the bathroom just in case I feel inspired at an awkward moment (Figure 1.4). Chapter 2 offers more information about when and where to use your sketchbook, plus some sketching tips and tricks.

Drawing Papers

Besides drawing on pages in your sketchbook, you may want to buy loose sheets of paper for creating mounted artwork. Paper is made from pulped wood or pulped materials such as cotton or linen (also referred to as rag). The more expensive papers tend to be made from rag and tend to have more interesting textures to draw on. The cheaper papers are usually made from wood pulp and tend to be smoother and less absorbent. Usually you get what you pay for with paper, but I have found decent cheaply priced papers. My advice is to shop around and try before you buy.

Paper comes in many varieties, ranging from the low-quality, inexpensive newsprint to the different weights and sizes of cartridge papers and handmade papers. Each of these papers has a different quality that you may want to explore. Cartridge papers range from very smooth-surfaced papers (good for creating precise pencil worked drawings) to highly textured, heavier papers, which lend themselves well to a rougher, freer style of drawing. There are also papers made for office use, such as photocopier paper and inkjet paper, which are smooth and better for drawing with pens.

I often use card or line-board for my drawing. I like to draw with ink, and these boards are designed for ink work. They provide the perfect surface for ink, and some of them are coated with china, which you can scrape away with a scalpel if you make a mistake. These boards are quite expensive, so you may want to use them only for finished line work. I recommend that you explore different materials. Keep looking until you find the one that works best for you. Sometimes you will be surprised to discover that a material you initially rejected encourages new, unexpected marks or techniques.


I usually use a propeller pencil (Figure 1.5) for sketching when I'm on the move (sometimes known as a propelling pencil or a mechanical pencil). A propeller pencil is a pencil that looks more like a pen. It has a hard case, just like a pen that contains replaceable leads. There are several benefits to using a propeller pencil. You can buy different weights and qualities of leads, depending on your needs, and you don't have to carry a pencil sharpener because the lead always maintains a consistent width and weight. Rotring makes a great range of propeller pencils, including their Tikky range (

In my studio, I also have a complete collection of traditional wood-encased pencils, ranging from 6H to 6B. The lead in pencils is measured by letters and numbers that indicate the hardness and blackness of the graphite that's used to make the lead. The letter H represents the hardness of the lead. Harder graphite leads give you sharper lines, but the harder the lead, the lighter the marks. These hard pencils are perfect to use for precise edges and detailed technical drawings.

The letter B stands for blackness. Pencils with a high B factor have softer graphite leads that make blacker marks but softer, less-defined strokes. These are great for filling large areas of black and creating texture. They allow you to create dark lines without having to press hard with your pencil.

The following is the scale of the pencils I use, from the Hs (which are progressively harder and lighter as the H numbers increase) to the Bs (which get progressively softer and blacker as the B numbers increase). You can get even harder and softer pencils than this range, but I find these are usually sufficient for my needs.

6H 4H H 2H H HB B 2B 4B 6B

HB is the average-Joe of the pencil world. It has an equal amount of hardness and blackness. It is the most common, general-purpose pencil used for writing. You can find these in any shop. Art shops will stock a wider range of graphite pencils as well as all sorts of other pencils, crayons, charcoals, and chalks that you can use for drawing. Try experimenting with these to see what you feel the most comfortable with. You'll probably find that a particular medium may suit you better than another, so it's worth taking the time to find out what suits you best.


Excerpted from DESIGN ESSENTIALS FOR THE MOTION MEDIA ARTIST by ANGIE TAYLOR Copyright © 2011 by Angie Taylor. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

A freelance animator and digital filmmaker, Angie produces animations, motion graphics, and visual effects for production companies and broadcasters including the BBC and Channel 4 television in the UK.. An Adobe Certified Expert, and Apple Solutions Expert, she is active on the training circuit; providing corporate training for Adobe and Apple, and seminars at key industry events like NAB, SIGGRAPH, and IBC.

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