Movement & Form with Samantha Youssef

Wed 1st Apr 2015, by Diego Rojas | Peoplestudios


Samantha Youssef is the founder of Studio Technique, an artistic training studio specialized in the training and development of industry artists.  She is the creator of the Youssef Drawing Syllabus, a unique drawing program based on various schools of academic draughtsmanship, her experience as a feature animator for Disney, as well as her background in classical ballet where she draws upon principles of movement and posing.


Samantha is a feature film character animator and visual development artist.  She is a former animator for Walt Disney Animation, and has animated and directed for Ubisoft cinematics. She is also an award winner at the Toronto Film Festival for her animated short film La Fuga Grande.  Feature film, VFX and gaming animation studios employ her to train their artists, and she has done masterclasses for animation studios, colleges, events and conferences around the world.  Samantha has been featured in the media, including Chatelaine Magazine, Musique Plus, and Wired Magazine.



How did you develop the Youssef technique?


When I started teaching I was forced to address drawing techniques that I had done as second nature, or developed naturally through my experience, and find a way to articulate them so that they could be passed on.  I didn’t realize it at the beginning, but it became apparent that my career in classical ballet had trained my eye to know what to look for in poses.  I took this for granted when I was studying animation in college, I did not realize it was something that my subconscious mind had been trained to do and had been practicing since I was three years old.


Once I made that connection, drawing and posing fell into place.  As dancers, we were trained to see an invisible connection and relationship of parts in the body, to create strong poses, and to tell the proper emotional story of the pose as it needed to be portrayed to best express the character in the narrative we were dancing.  We need to create silhouettes that are readable and tell the story of that pose to audience members in the upper balconies of the theatre.  We were always told not to copy the shape of the pose, but to feel its inner workings and draw upon that.  Looking to the outside shape was misleading, and could lead to stiff poses that did not breathe and feel alive on the stage.  The outside shape has no substantial meaning to the pose, it is what the audience will see but not the magic behind it.  A pose is not limited to physical forms, but is what positions them.  I realized through my consulting with many different studios, that many animators have a misinformed approach to their reference.  They analyze their reference making the mistake of looking for the wrong things.  They are copying the shape but not the magic behind it. Or in certain studios using motion capture, have the inability to confidently isolate the essential elements of the action and create the key frames that are needed.


Several years ago I was approached by a major CG animation studio in Montreal to help train their artists in figure drawing.  The goal was to help the artists integrate a more organic approach into their work flow of animating CG characters.  At this time my experience was primarily in 2D but after directing and consulting in a CG studio, gaining insight into the 3D process, working directly with modellers and riggers, and learning to animate in 3D, I understood the specific needs of the CG artist, and where they would most benefit from classical training.  Concepts of design and silhouette, storytelling and emotion, physicality and body mechanics are common to all figurative and character oriented artists.  These are some of the main tools of what make up figure drawing.  The program proved to be successful and over the next couple years I was contracted by the majority of studios in Montreal, as well as studios across Canada, the US and Europe.


After several years of artistic training and consulting with professional artists, I integrated the concepts I observed that were most beneficial, drawing on my academic art training from Eastern European schools of thought, Western academies and turn of the century approaches to draughtsmanship and design, and principles of design and movement from 2D animation.  Incorporated as well with concepts of posing, movement, and the understanding of body mechanics taken from dance, translated into a language to break it down for the visual artist.  I have always been passionate about investing in my learning, and have studied around the world.  Looking back, it has all led to creating this program.





What makes the book unique?


There are no gesture drawing books out there for animators that apply both to the 2D and 3D artist. There is a disconnect between applying gesture to the rendered image and misunderstandings of how to push and control posing. There are strong gesture drawing programs out there but they do not connect to structure, and there are strong programs of structure and rendering but they do not bring a sense of life to the drawing. This program bridges the gap that has not been addressed in any book.


Movement & Form creates the link between the gesture and the rendered image (whether that rendered image is a drawing, painting, sculpture or a character rig). The system described in the book is unique, because it is based on principles of movement in the human body taken from the study of dance. This is why the program described in Movement & Form has been popular with industry artists and studios in both 2D and 3D animation (including animators, concept artists, modellers and riggers) as well as academic artists (painters, draughtsman and sculptors) because these principles of movement are based off understanding a pose in the actual human body which means it will translate to both 2D and 3D, as it is drawn from the source of the artists' reference, not the medium that interprets it.


The professional artists I have worked with have displayed incredible results due to this program in their work, and I constantly receive positive feedback from it.


The market for this book isn’t limited exclusively to the animation industry, it also benefits artists from classical art academies, fine artists, illustrators, and any character or figurative artist.





Is it just for beginners?


Not at all, it’s for all levels of artists. It is an asset to professional artists, art students, amateur artists who are interested in developing their figure drawing language, essentially anyone who is passionate in their pursuit of drawing.


All levels will benefit from Movement & Form. It is a redesigned syllabus that deconstructs archaic habits and rebuilds a solid foundation. Most of my own students are professional artists, yet regardless of their level of experience, they will be in the same class as an art student still attending school. Everyone rebuilds their language through this syllabus.





What can we expect in the book?


Movement & Form brings a greater understanding of gesture and body mechanics of a pose, and trains the artist to maintain those qualities all the way through the design, aesthetic and structure of the figure in their drawings. The Youssef Drawing Syllabus has been a successful program that has produced excellent results in professional and amateur artists alike. The concepts in Movement & Form are explained in a clear and structured method that is easily understood and absorbed.


Drawing is a language. The tools acquired in Movement & Form give you mastery of the grammar and vocabulary of drawing so that you are able to express the full range of your ideas in your work.





How will it aid in other disciplines, like character design or cg animation?


This program helps the artist create stronger poses with clearer visual storytelling. It enables the artist to observe the movement and the mechanics of the figure in a way that no prior publication on drawing has shed light on.  It also trains the artist to develop their graphic eye, in order to achieve aesthetic, design and composition in their figurative work.


For the CG animator using reference, the understanding of how the figure works, its body mechanics and the nature of how a pose is designed, allows for easy analysis and translation of any reference footage used.  This helps to see the reference with greater awareness and allows the animator to analyze it properly, not visual photocopy it.  It’s important to understand the reference from all angles, not just the camera. It’s about understanding what is going on in the pose, how to translate it to the character and redesign it to accommodate the character’s model (which is generally not proportioned in the same way as the recorded reference might be).  Because of these techniques, it becomes easy to understand what is happening, instead of blindly copying it. Blind copying of reference without a full understanding of the inner workings, risks things being left out and neglected without the animator even knowing that they did so.



How does your technique for gesture drawing help you in the planning process for animation?


Because my approach to gesture drawing techniques is purposeful, those techniques can be isolated, extrapolated from, and exaggerated. I can redesign the pose to be more effective towards my animation because I know specifically what to look for to create and push the effect I have in mind.


Having drawing as a tool is a valuable asset for an animator.  Obviously it is absolutely essential to the 2D animator, but for all animators being able to work out their animation in thumbnails gives a wonderful overview of the scene in order to get the most from it.  This allows for more “out of the box” thinking and can help to discover the best choices that can be made for the scene.



How do you use it when you do character design?


The tools I take from drawing to apply to character design are both gestural and visual.  Gestural in its application to the poses I will put the character in, how to tell the best story through the pose, and create credible, believable, poses.  Visual in that there are techniques in drawing to help expand your graphic shape language and develop your eye towards the aesthetic of the figure.


By being trained in these things they help develop sensitivity to caricature, proportions and shape design.  This also helps with maintaining character consistency and keeping the character “on model”.





Do you find it helped you to observe movement and body mechanics better?


Because of ballet, and working with your own body, you learn to understand how far the body can be pushed, and also where it has limitations. Having a kinetic awareness of the construction and design of the human body is the only way to truly understand how it works and maintain physical credibility in ones work.  How to understand weight placement, the difference in the breakdown of a relaxed or active body, all these things make a huge difference in a pose.  Obviously not every visual and/or media artist can devote themselves to extensive dance or athletic training, but that is why the techniques in my book are translated for the visual artist from these different disciplines, to help communicate and expand that physical awareness and thoroughly understand the range available in the human body.



How does it apply to the CG world and CG artists?


What all CG artists, or any artists, need are fundamental concepts of drawing.  Every artist needs to be able to develop their eye.  Drawing isn’t just about putting pencil to paper.  It is the visual note taking of the artist.  It’s training to observe and translate, expanding knowledge and understanding so that this can then be applied at a higher level in their work.  These fundamental concepts of drawing are integral to every artists’ work, especially those in the industry.


The understanding of the body mechanics of the figure, what to push in a pose, how to create pose designs, silhouettes, master weight distribution and placement, and ultimately create believability in a pose, these are essential figure drawing concepts that are addressed thoroughly in this book. These are exactly the techniques that the CG animator, character modeller, concept artist and all other CG artists need to have mastered in their figurative or character work.


I have had concept artists, animators, sculptors, character modellers and riggers, all take my drawing program, in order to create stronger and more believable work.





What does the books contain?


This first volume, of my complete figure drawing syllabus, focuses on techniques of gesture drawing, posing, movement, body mechanics, and form. It is the foundation course used by professional artists in the animation industry.


The first part of the book addresses the theory of how to approach drawing and how my syllabus works.  It is about how to perceive, observe, understand and maximize your learning curve.  The second part is about gesture, body mechanics, weight, posing, movement and energy in the figure.  The third part of the book addresses the concepts of the form of figure, silhouette, design, composition, proportions and structure.


This book will help the artist understand gesture, so that they can bring more life to their poses. It will break down the body mechanics of the figure, shedding light on the incredible range of motion capable in the body as well as its limitations and restraints. It addresses the form, structure, design and aesthetic of the figure, providing the training necessary to improve the artists’ ability to control proportion, without having to rely on measuring tools. Most importantly, it addresses the disconnect between gesture and rendered images, and bridges the gap where other figure drawing methods have not been able to . These tools are essential to all artists who work with the human figure, from academic drawing to stylized character illustrations.



Related links


The Youssef Drawing Syllabus - Movement & Form Kickstarter

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