Thursday, March 22, 2007

Eyes: Construction and Pitfalls

In preparing this post I kept thinking, "ahhhh man I could be preparing this post for a year before i feel like I have something that does justice to the topic." So, I feel like what would be best is if I just break this topic down into post's and sessions. This first post will be about construction (how the eye is put together) and the general errors I see a lot in drawing eyes. The first thing for anyone to do who wants to really understand what they are drawing is to study the object thoroughly right!? You might be able to draw something from memory well, but unless you've got that reference and real life study in your brain it'll probably lack authenticity. Eyes are definately MY favorite part of animating close ups or medium shots. They give the term "working within the pose" a lot more meaning to me and open a lot of acting doors. The goal isn't to match life but to caricature it-- just like always in animation. There an authenticity to eyes that can be found though, one that seems to trigger something subconscious in us where our brains say " hey, I've seen that before." It can only help cross that barrier in the mind of "I know this is just a pile of drawing in some wear house to, man I am really understanding what that character is feeling".
In studying animated eyes I've found something really interesting-- I can't find one shot where any of the 9 old men did any eye darts. I am certainly not saying that their work was less because of it, but I think it's interesting that it's used more today and not really at all back then. If anyone can think of any examples I am missing from the 9 old men era that i am forgetting please let me know. Anyway, that's sidetracking. So, eye construction... I think it's important to know how the eye ball works within the socket, how far back it is in your head, how the muscles work. What I think is less important is all the inner workings (blood vessels, etc...) though not without value.

I think the first thing to note from the picture above is that the eye ball is NOT a perfect circle. Why? Because of the lense in front of your pupil. Check out the drawing below.

I don't necessarily always draw the lense, but I do draw the affects of it. Meaning, because your eye is not a perfect sphere there is friction on your eye lids. Your bottom and top lid with deform and bend slightly to the curve of your lense.

Below here in this pic see how the curve of the lid's follows the direction of the pupil. Not only is it what is physically accurate, but it also creates interest in the shape of the eye. A very basic drawing/design rule is uneven shapes. It's a very simple way to create dynamics, tension, a feeling of movement and life.

Speaking of pupil direction, check out this page below. In extreme up or down shots (imagine the eye is in a general looking straight position) how you draw the eye is important. Remember that the pupil and cornea are not on the surface of the lens. It's beneath the lens. If you flip your eye from the right to left rows you'll see the difference between a pupil that is "painted" on a flat surface verses the pupil that is set beneath the lens. You'll notice on the profile I didn't draw the literal lens sticking out from the eye. It's a matter of taste/and style sometimes.

As I said before a basic design and drawing rule is to keep your shapes a-symmetrical . This creates interest in your shape. In this case below make sure your shapes are not straight and boring, but also that the pupil direction is reflected in the overall shape of the eye.

This pic below is just to show you where and how the muscles connect to the eye. This is more important to inform how you animate your eyes than it is how you draw them. Notice how short those muscles are? Short muscles mean quick contraction which translates into eye darts. That's why your eyes move so fast. The eyes can move slowly, but it's not as often. Like everything, it's a matter of taste in the moment of choice.

Lastly, the thing to know about eyes is that their shape is created by the lids surrounding the eye ball. Not the eye ball itself... check out these pics of different people and note what kind of impression they give you as a viewer based on their shape.

I cannot communicate how important eyes are. Yeah yeah, we all know that you say, but really man! If they are the first thing we look at they must say some something pretty important to us as people. A lot of what I covered today was more on the technical "how to" end of things, but you gotta know this stuff to get to the artful parts of it all. Next post I'll post some screen shots from live action and animated performances that I feel uses eyes to their potential. Until then, thanks for hanging in there and reading all of this!


messytimbo said...

thanks man that was really helpful. i think my last piece of animation really suffered because of the eyes and the way the head was moving around.

can't wait to your next post. it's so great there's someone out there who's willing to help people. thanks so much.

also i would love get some tips on how to move the head around convincingly. i hope thats not to cheeky of me to ask.

Duker said...

Hey Matt,
Oh man did I miss your animation tuttorial.Good thing your bear animation was AMAZING!!It helped me to be patient ;)) I also can't wait for Coraline(big fan of the book).Doesn't matter how long it take between each post ,your blog is still a major source of inspiration .
Oh I have a small favor to ask ,I am trying to get a job at disney ,and I would really appreciate if you could give me your opinion(please the truth) on my reel.
Thank a lot

libra bear said...

The timing for this post couldn't be better. I have to animate Someone trying to catch a fly. So you could imagine the amount of Eye darts I have to do. But the eyes are so small they don't read as well as I would Like. Thats probably down to a design flaw. Guess I have to move the head. I'll post it when I'm done. Thanx again matt.

willipino said...

great post! i'm looking forward to the follow up.

Matt Williames said...

Timbo: I am so glad it helped! And helping others is my pleasure, I love it! I'll do a short tutorial someday on how to do (solid) head turns and the limitations of the head. Feel free to request whatever you are curious about, sometimes it's hard for me to know what people want to hear about.
Duker: Thank you so much for you gracious words! I'll look at your reel soon, does your blog have your e-mai address so I can write you my thoughts?
Libra: Your very welcome and it's my pleasure! Can't wait to see your animation!
Willi: Thanks man! I hope it's helpful/inspiring for everyone!

louis de La Taille said...

i have a dumb question, and i already apologize for it. But since i'm french, i don't understand the term "eye-dart", and unfortunately, you use it a lot! I've looked into dictionnaries and i've asked to bilingual friends without result. So could you please explain the exact meaning of the word, or better, post an example ? I understand it'about acting, and that it's not the same thing than a blink. But it's the best I can tell... I'm aware that i'm not gonna be the best animator ever when i will understand the world and then the notion, but, you know... maybe it can help !
Thank you anyway for the rest of the blog: For the things I undertand, it' very helpful !

Scott Watanabe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Watanabe said...

Awsome post. Such a simple break down. Much appreciated.

Ricardo Silva said...

I have a feeling that the incoming posts are going to be great! Just like this one is. :D

Thanks for sharing Matt!

Matt Williames said...

Louis: There are no dumb questions... unless of course it's a stupid question. haha... but your certainly is not a dumb! An eye dart is when your pupil moves back and forth from the left to right very quickly. It's a very quick, "poppy" movement. the "dart" of eye dart refers to darting back and forth. does that make sense, just go out and talk to anyone and you will see them do it in a matter of seconds.
Pavement mouse: Your very welcome! And thanks for stopping by!
Ricardo: I hope they're good!! Its my pleasure to share it with you all...

andy said...

Awesome stuff Matt! It's always nice to have something as specific and important as eye construction laid out clearly like this, it'll definitely make me consider more closely my animated eyes in future :)
Can't wait to hear more!

Matt Williames said...

Tim: Hmmm, I'd have to see the specific shot you mentioned, but as far as drawing the lashes favoring one side it is an intentional design principle (uneven shapes). It also helps give the eye it's shape, if that lash line was an even thickness all the way across the upper eye it would flatten the shape out a little.
I think the important thing with lashes is to keep them simple. I worked on a barbie commercial and the model they gave us had every individual eye lash drawn in there. When i asked if i could simplify it they said "No way, that's what the doll looks like and we don't want that to change." What can you expect from advertising agents ya know?
Andy: Thanks for dropping by man! I am glad you enjoyed the tutorial, more are coming!

Angela said...

Wow thanks! That's awesome advice, stuff that I never thought of before. I will definitely try to incorporate this. No doubt, it will make my art look better!

Q/Minkyu said...

Ahhhh Matt Save me!!!! Sooooo much to doooo gahhhh.

MathieuV said...

Hey Mr Williames.

Just wanted to say thanks so much for dooing these. I'm learning so much from your tutorials and I am forever greatfull. Please do continue with these, they are just amazing.

Thanks again
Mathieu Vierendeel

maarten said...

Hey, first of all, really helpfull lesson! Never seen eyes the way I see them now. That's not the reason why I am replying though....

I have watched all your animations posted here, and they are amazing, really inspiring. Also I read that you have even taught animation at CalArts.

The point of my reply is.... I'm a beginning animator, actually, I made my first animation yesterday.

Drawing is my passion, and my ambition is to go to animation school.
I was wondering if you have any tips for me...? Animation-wise but also maybe about how to get accepted into animation school.

Thanks a lot! And again, you'r work has been really inspiring to me!


Matt Williames said...

Sure, I'd love to help if at all possible! write me at and we can talk more about art schools! Thanks for visitng the blog!

alex said...

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...

maarten said...

Thanks a lot!
I sent you an e-mail!

Andre Barnwell said...

Thank you for continuing to post knowledge on your blog and your lipsync helped me out a alot and several others in remembering patience when approaching lipsyncs...anything for that matter animated related. I did a lip sync and Im cleaning it up now and Im pretty proud of it thanks to your tutorial. Once again thanks a million for the sharing the knowledge.

Matt Williames said...

andre: You are most welcome... you and all of you talented Sheridan folk! There are more posts coming, just swamped with a commercial to do! Peace!

Virgil said...

excellent stuff man, I love your blog. thanks for all the goodies!

Tania said...

It's really interesting to find some new information about your eyes:) Thanks

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bhashkar_suainlogistic said...

I am so glad it helped! And helping others is my pleasure, I love it! I'll do a short tutorial someday on how to do (solid) head turns and the limitations of the head. Feel free to request whatever you are curious about, sometimes it's hard for me to know what people want to hear about.

Manoj Singh said...

wow, ... Excellent!

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Anonymous said...

Ahem, what about Chuck Jones type characters?Where pupil breaks the eyeball line to make character more expressive.

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