Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Book Review: The Art of Animal Character Design by David Colman

At San Diego ComicCon last year, I met an artist named David Colman, and bought a few of his sketchbooks, including a 36-page color booklet called "The Art of Animal Character Design: Little Brother Edition." The booklet was, according to its own foreward, "a 'teaser' or 'trailer' to the full color hardcover edition due out in the near future." The sketches and concepts breifly mentioned on it were fascinating; so when I stumbled onto David's blog a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to find the hardcover would be first available at WonderCon, only an hour away in San Francisco.

During setup at the con Friday morning, I discovered David's booth just down the aisle from ours, where he was stacking books in preparation for a hopefully busy weekend. Hopefully I wasn't too annoying when I immediately slapped down $40 on his table, but that did make me officially the first book sale of the convention. ;) David himself proved incredibly personable and friendly; our path to the cafe and washrooms went right past his table, and each time I walked by he would offer a cheerful greeting. He seemed to have a good convention, and I hope he did enjoy it.

The Art of Animal Character Design, by David Colman
David's Doodles, 2007

The book is a good size, just over 9" high and 11" wide, hardcover, and runs 174 full color and well-designed pages. The cover is a tasteful design in red and orange earthtones. It looks elegant; it makes as good a coffee table book as it does a reference guide.

According to the back cover, David is considered a top character designer and teacher in the animation industry, well known for his animal drawing expertise. The contents of the book leave no doubt about his talents. The text is short and succinct; the entire book could be read in under an hour, although you'll want to take much more time than that to study the hundreds of life drawings, development sketches, concept paintings, and character designs that fill the pages. And while the text is not verbose, it does speak powerfully to big ideas and important concepts any artist must consider in their own drawing.

The book is loosely divided into sections. The first part talks about the importance of drawing from life, and gives hints and examples of what to think about when sketching at the zoo. This leads to a discussion of character discovery -- in essence, drawing not just what you see, but what you feel to be the character or personality of the animal. Other sections discuss memory sketching (to absorb and incorporate what you've learned from life drawing), and design fundamentals such as shape exploitation, volume redundancy, and visual landmarks. One chapter is devoted to creating fantasy creatures. Then the book comes full circle, re-stressing the value of life drawing.

One thing this book is definitely not is a how-to-draw animals book. Nor, I suspect, is it meant to be one; there are plenty of books and classes available for that. The Art of Animal Character Design is instead an inspiring and fascinating examination of the creative process; a guidebook of concepts and suggestions to keep in mind when drawing. Besides that, it's an amazing collection of great art from a master in the field. And it's also a reminder that true talent is not just an inborn gift; it must be worked at and nurtured ceaselessly to achieve full potential. The book is a bit pricey at $40, but it's an invaluable resource for artists and art appreciators alike.

The Art of Animal Character Design is available now through the DavidDoodle store. Please check it out!

Now, to go find a local zoo and secure a membership ...


Andrea said...

I'm really looking forward to getting my own copy of this book. Like you I picked up a copy of Little Brother Edition at SDCC last year and loved it, except for the price ($15 for 36 pages was entirely too much, however good the booklet was. At least it makes the $40 for the final book feel cheap in comparison).

Your post is a good reminder too, as it's been a very long time since I've gone life drawing at the zoo.

Richard Gaines said...

John, I don't think you will remember me, but I had met you twice via Lon Smart back in 2004. The first time was at MegaCon and the following time was at a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Orlando where I also met up with Lon, with whom I have been corresponding recently. Lon showed you one of my (then mediocre) attempts at a storyboard and I think I even asked you your opinion on Bush!

Having met you, I was curious about your work, but I was bereft of ever seeing it until I chanced upon your blog via Florian Satzinger's (positively brilliant!!) comment window. I have to tell you that I really love your work. You're able to knock those poses out really well. I especially enjoyed looking at your "Raccoon Draws..." sequence on your website.

Lon told a while back that you moved back to California. How is it there? I was actually planning on moving out there at the end of the year.

I hope everything is going well for you!

Zola said...

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