I’m going to use Laer, an alien character from my novel series, to show you the dos and dont’s of posing your character.
In this image, you’ll notice the character appears off balance. We obviously don’t want this. Even a slight mistake can make your character look like he’s going to topple over any minute!
How do you know if your character is off balance? Well, a simple test will tell you. Put a dot on the ground equidistant from each of your character’s feet. Draw an easily erased vertical line up from that dot. The overall weight should be roughly the same on either side of the line. This does not mean the line has to go straight up through the middle of the body and face. It just means the “volume” of the image should be roughly the same on either side of the line. See picture for further clarification.
Unfortunately, this balance test only works for standing poses. The rules are different for flying, falling, sitting, or relaxing, obviously.
The picture below fixes my errors in balance, but the pose is still a little lame. Sometimes you will have to have a simple, stiff pose (for example, if you are working on a turn-around for an animation where others will require clear references from all angles) however, it’s best to avoid straight on poses that look stiff and/or symmetrical. This may tell us how the character looks, but it gives little hint to the personality of your creation.
Below we have a pose that is slightly improved. You ought to be able to tell from the soft expression and slight wave of the hand (keeping it close to his person) that Laer is a mild, friendly alien. He’s probably not a warrior.
We might have a nice pose now, but I think we can push this further. There are plenty of things we can do to enhance the pose that will tell you more about who Laer is.
With every drawing of your character you should try and tell a story – even if it is just a brief blurb. Consider this image a snapshot in your character’s life. It will help prevent you from drawing him/her/neither/both in an unnatural pose (doing something he wouldn’t normally do, for example, a grumpy pilot smiling casually).
This version of Lear tells you more about his personality and has good balance. His line of action is subtle, but Laer does not do a lot of moving (he’s semi-lazy and his job consists largely of sitting at a computer bank on a star ship, so that doesn’t help). Putting the piece of technology in his hand tells us that he probably has regular access to this kind of thing. His smile tells you he knows how to work it (if he didn’t understand it, he might have a curious or frustrated expression – raised eyebrow or scowl).
A picture will never tell you EVERYTHING about your character, but the goal is to get the drawing to say what you want it to and not say anything you don’t: an accurate representation of your character. We’d also like it to look good, of course!
Expression and gesture/stance all play into a good, lively pose. They can be enhanced with a fun line of action and it rarely hurts to throw in an accessory or two from the character’s day to day life. Below I have examples of good posing. They include lines of action (in red).
1: Stae (Laer’s mate) almost dancing. You should be able to guess from this picture that she is friendly and energetic. 2. Pon – He is a very kinetic character – ready to leap at a moment’s notice. 3. These stinky monsters disguise themselves as rocks until someone is unlucky enough to walk too close. They leap from the ground in one quick burst of energy, swallow up their intended prey, and settle back down afterwords to let it digest (like a snake).