Many beginner animators struggle with this question, “Do I need to know how to draw to do animation?” and it’s a totally genuine concern as there are many people that are daydreaming to make magic happen on TV screens by making breathtaking animations.
The problem is that for many of these people they realize that even though they love to be an animator and make animations they don’t have the ability to draw consistently and accurately, thus, they think they would never be able to do animation as long as they don’t know how to draw.
I had the same question and I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to know how to draw to be an animator especially in this day and age where most of the stuff is done by computers and this resonates especially with 3d animations as they are made on computer software that makes them easy-to-control puppets. The answer for 2d animators and 2d animation in general is different as it depends on a lot of other factors because you would have to draw each frame individually.
How are Animation and Drawing related
Firstly, let’s look at 2d animation. In 2d animation you have to draw each frame individually whether that be by hand or computer and put them together so that it becomes a moving animation, this is called frame by frame animation.
If you haven’t practiced your drawing day in and day out you may not possess the ability to draw each frame as consistently and accurately as possible, this will leave your final animation looking a bit strange as for example, your character might end up with different sized features throughout your entire scene.
In 3d animation you create models and rig them in order to make them move the way you want. Rigging basically means to add spines and joints to your characters so you could move them like a real life character and bring it to life. This can be easily achieved using modern computer software like Maya, which is the industrial standard and also used by Disney animators, or even free alternatives such as Blender.
Another important thing to note is that in order to effectively and accurately represent real life people and objects you would need a good sense of drawing in order to represent action, movement and perspective.
Do I need to know how to draw to be a 2d animator
Now, the question prevails “do I need to know how to draw to be a 2d animator” and the answer depends mostly on one main factor.
Your animation style
if you are making realistic and action packed animations featuring full figure characters with varying motions you may see yourself having to learn to draw first but if you’re animation style is just a friendly little cartoon made up with just simple shapes you may not need any drawing skills as you have tools for shape building in animation and drawing software.
I had noticed back in 2014 – 2016 that there was a growing trend of animated story time channels on YouTube. However, when vlogging became popular, animators simply couldn’t compete with them as their content was easy and quick to produce allowing them to publish new videos daily, whereas, making an entire animation from start to finish can take at least a month. To counter this, I saw that many channels had simplified their animation style. Other than drawing a huge crowd of people they just made them circles in the background, rather than going through the effort of making smooth movements they would just add freeze frames and talk over them, to avoid building tall detailed building they just made shaded rectangles. These shortcuts allowed animators to produce more in little time which helped them catch up with others. The most popular example of this is the famous animated story time YouTuber, TheOdd1sOut.
Why am I telling you this? Because it just proves and supports the fact that you don’t necessarily need to have good drawing skills to become a 2d animator.
What to do if you can’t draw
So, we looked at whether it is possible to become a 2d animator without drawing skills and it is, as we have many examples available to us, but, we also see that these animators use shortcuts in their own creative way so what can you do if you want to animate but can’t draw.
I wouldn’t go into too much detail as it all comes down to how creative you are. The more creative you are the more ways you’ll find to animate without having too rely too much on good drawing skills.
The most important one is to simplify your characters and animations. Many people forget that even though it is important to create beautiful and visually appealing animations you need to have a good story to tell otherwise people just won’t be interested.
You might have seen some animated cartoons for kids nowadays that are terrible. From the un-expressive faces to the choppy robot movements, the animation value of it is pretty bad but they usually have a good moral lesson and teach social values which is why many people still recommend watching them and many parents show it to their children.
Now, what does simplifying your animations mean?
Basically, remove the details unless the animation wouldn’t make any sense without them. This could mean not adding very precise facial features on your character or not focusing too much on shadows and tones etc. For example, if you want to show your character is happy just add a big “U” on their face to show they’re smiling but if you’re going to add more details such as their eyes squinting, their cheek bones rising, their cheeks puffing, their nose widening a bit you might find yourself struggling to stay consistent if you are not at least decent in drawing facial expressions.
Do the same for backgrounds, many people I have noted just give the background a plain color with some minor details just to give the audience an idea of where the scene is taking place with the main focal point being somewhere or someone else.
Simplify everything to basic shapes, huge crowds are circles, tall buildings are rectangles, a face is a circle… You get the point.
Do I need to know how to draw to be a 3d animator
If you want to make 3d animations without any drawing skills then you’re in luck as you don’t need to know how to draw to be a 3d animator thanks to modern technology and animation software. Almost all of the work that you do in 3d animation consists of you working on a computer and manipulate your character similar to a puppet. Drawing is not required for you to animate in 3d as it has to deal more with rigging and how to make the character rigs work in your favor.
Why you should learn how to draw to be a better animator
Even though it is not mandatory that you learn to draw to do animation you should definitely strive to improve your drawing skills as it will give you an edge and help make your animations look more visually appealing and consistent. You will also be much faster as you wouldn’t always find yourself struggling to create a certain scene or mood.
By learning the fundamentals of drawing and practicing certain drawing techniques you can make your animations come to life. I did mention above that in animation it is more about telling a good story than drawing and even though that’s true you need to make that story believable, and to do that you need to make your expressions, your movements and your scenes believable. In order to achieve this it will help to improve and practice your drawing ability as you will be able to emphasize certain elements really well catching the viewer’s eyes.
If you want to learn how to draw as a beginner who has no idea where to start at drawing, I’d recommend you these great beginner books including one by my favorite artist, Andrew Loomis.
- Figure Drawing for All it’s Worth – Andrew Loomis (recommended)
- Keys to drawing – Bert Dodson
- The Silver Way – Stephen Silver
- Drawing for the Absolute and Utter Beginner – Claire Watson Garcia
- Force: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators – Mike Mattesi
Remember, these books won’t instantly make you a great artist but they will guide you towards becoming better at drawing so you could implement the techniques you learned from these books into your animations to make them absolutely stunning.
The reason I’m recommending these books to you is that you won’t find good beginner tutorials online and even if you do they won’t be structured properly leaving you more confused with different techniques.
I was always a little talented in my drawing ability so I didn’t have much trouble learning from YouTube videos but if you have no idea how to draw I’d recommend you get at least one of these books, they’ll help you out a lot.
In conclusion, you don’t need to know how to draw in order to become an animator or create animations whether that be 3d animations or 2d animations. However, you should definitely try your level best to improve on your drawings as we had looked above how drawing and animation are closely related and how better drawing skills are shown in your final animations.