About Curves and Lines

-By Serge Birault

My students are very surprised when I tell them it's very difficult to do good stuff with few lines. Indeed, most of them are more impressed by very "technical" pictures and they think simple linework is very easy to do. They quickly understand they're wrong.

After several attempts, they realize it's very complicated to find the good shapes and the right curves.

Most of the students in digital art schools want to work for video game companies, so they only want to do "speed paintings". For them, it means it has to go fast and be dirty (and they are wrong). So when I ask them to do very clean outlines with nice curves, it's a real nightmare.

It's a real nightmare for me too. I'm a painter, so I always think about my volumes. And it's sometimes impossible to paint logical volumes and keep a good and simple shape in the same time. I try (under the influence of my good friend David Dunstan) but I fail very often.

Ten years ago, I worked a lot with Flash. Flash was (and is) an incredible vector software for web animations. I did a lot of "flat" characters without any respect for volumes. It was ten years ago, I forgot how to do that. Indeed, I only do character designs for 3D animated series now, so the volumes are the point.

Animation industry is now full of 3D. It's a bit sad because 2D animations have so much to offer. A lot of 2D characters would be impossible to do in 3D. For example, Mickey Mouse's ears... No wait, it's not a good example, you can cheat in 3D too, but you know what I mean ...

By the way, what is a good curve or a good shape ? I don't have the answer but I can try to explain a little bit.

Here's a (not so good example). I did a very quick sketch of this Little Red Riding Hood character. Her body is not very interesting because the volumes are quite logical. Her face is not so bad ...

I tried to simplified a lot all the curves without any respect for the volumes. In order to do very smooth curves, you have do mathematics. No, it's not a joke... Please stop screaming!

So you think mathematics have nothing in common with "Art"? You're wrong. A good curve is usually a Bézier curve. You don't believe me ? Take a look on this :

We use to see this kind of curves everywhere : design, 3D, fonts, ... When you draw a nice curves, you draw a Bézier curve, even if you don't know what it is. By the way, a line or a circle are a Bézier curve too.

A Bézier curve has control points. A lot of softwares have this kind of tool, even Photoshop.

But let's try with a vector software, Flash (or Illustrator) for example. I just put my sketch on it and redo the outlines. It's quite easy to use and it's a very good exercice. Just try to have very few control points.

Ok, it's not so simple. You cannot do a good design only with mathematics. You sometimes have to break the curves, to do stright lines and angular shapes. But I think, it's a very good training.

You can easily find some free vector graphics editor on the internet , like Inkscape : http://inkscape.org/

And now some few helpful links. It's, of course, not a complete list. A lot of this artists work for animation industry but not only. I think you can find some inspiration for your future curvy picture :

Guillaume "El Gunto" Poux
French (but kind) illustrator

Alberto Ruiz
Curves and angles genius/ Publisher

Robin Mitchell
Concept artist/Traveler

Spanish illustrator and very good dancer

Shane Glines
The Boss/ Probably-The-Best-Drawing-Skills-On-Earth

Craig McCracken
The Legend

Stephen Silver
I'm sure you know that

Otto Schmidt
Damn russian !
(And yes, girl and tentacles... this picture was a gift for me)

And some links for character design and animation :