Often the question of why it is necessary for animators to utilize nude models during their training is asked. Since animated characters are often simplified cartoons, the general public often assumes that this formal training is not as important to animators as it is to classical artists. Or they will argue that the same knowledge can be gained if the model wears a leotard or swimsuit.
Unfortunately, the simple truth is that animators need this training more than any other single group of artists on the planet. The reason stems from the nature of the goal of animation. Animation is the illusion of life. It is not the illusion of motion.
We all realize that a fuzzy toaster can’t sing and dance. Yet, we are willing to suspend our disbelief for the right set of circumstances. When you watch a piece of animation you engage in this suspension. This suspension will continue until an artist’s ineptitude forces you to acknowledge that you are looking at a drawing. The moment that this occurs, the animator has failed. You are no longer engaged in the story.
Any adult realizes that animation is created through a series of still drawings projected in rapid succession. This projection yields the appearance of motion. Yet, we are also very sophisticated in our knowledge of how the world works. This is particularly true of our knowledge of humans.
How many people have you seen today? If you live in an urban environment, you may see a few hundred humans by 9 a.m. Normally, we’re not even aware of the exposure. Yet, exposure it is and it makes us very astute observers of the human condition. An animator must create a deceptively sophisticated tapestry to lull our sophistication to sleep. Granted we want to be lulled, but no one likes a strident lullaby. Animators accomplish this feat by having the audiences respond to their work emotionally, not intellectually.
Creating a controlled emotional response is not as easy as it may appear. The artist must possess an inherent understanding of how a human would respond to any situation. This is not just psychological knowledge in our profession. It is also visual, spatial, and kinetically temporal. And they must know how to create an illusion of that response using a drawing. A drawing that can’t be viewed as a drawing.
Animators must know which parts are important and what is extraneous. They must be able to project the physicality of any human, animal, or anthropomorphic object onto a drawing and make you believe it viscerally. This knowledge is earned with thousands of hours drawing from the living form. (This is a literal number, not a figure of speech.) And it is the pursuit of a lifetime. Drawing is not something we do. It is a part of who we are and how we process the world. There is no other way to acquire the level of integration necessary to accomplish our goals.