The Animated Life

animation |ˌanəˈmā sh ən|
1 the state of being full of life or vigor; liveliness : they started talking with animation.
• chiefly archaic the state of being alive.
2 the technique of filming successive drawings or positions of puppets or models to create an illusion of movement when the movie is shown as a sequence : [as adj. ] animation techniques | animations as backdrops for live action.
• (also computer animation) the manipulation of electronic images by means of a computer in order to create moving images.

Several years ago, in the earlier days of my full time modeling career, I was approached by a very nice young guy named Tom, a student in Dan Gheno’s painting class at the National Academy. We had a conversation in which Tom asked me if I’d be interested in modeling for life drawing sessions at his workplace. Eager for all and any kind of work in those days I blurted out, before he even finished his sentence, “Yeah! Sure!”. I knew nothing about the gig, mind you. When Tom told me that I’d be modeling at Blue Sky animation studios in White Plains, NY, I was momentarily perplexed. Intrigued, but perplexed. Life drawing? For animators? They do that? Tom explained that it was a weekly event for him and his coworkers – every Wednesday night at 6:00. Sounded good to me. I gave Tom my contact info and soon I was booked for modeling at Blue Sky Studios.

I vividly recall my first impressions. A great big facility with a palpable creative energy in the air. Computers everywhere. Darkly-lit screening rooms behind every door. Loungy. Informal. Clean and modern. Lots of cushioned chairs. The drawing session was well-attended, with animation artists gradually filling the room, sketch pads and pencil sets in hand. I couldn’t help but notice that the atmosphere was male-dominated. I say that not to provoke some sexism argument. Just making an observation, one with which I have no problem by the way. Another noteworthy observation about the group? Young. Or let’s say “youngish”. I’m not certain, but I don’t think anyone was over 35, which meant that the model was probably the oldest person in the room! Dammit 😆 But I did my thing in front of the fellas – my audience of polite, respectful, casually-dressed laid-back guys. Glasses, jeans, sneakers, backpacks strewn across the floor. Smiles. No easels, no tables. Drawing on their laps.

But the most significant observation I took away from my first time modeling at Blue Sky was this: those guys can draw the figure. Oh man, can they draw the figure. That this was even a revelation to me makes me feel like kind of a jerk. When I strolled around the room on a break, sneaking a peek at the sketchpad pages, I was blown away. Gorgeous lines, beautiful proportions, stylish, fresh. So artistic. So full of movement and life and spontaneity, and a kind of effortlessness you don’t always see in traditional fine arts classes. They had requested for the session mostly short poses – one minutes, twos, fives – and after looking at their drawings I understood why. To those guys, gesture poses aren’t just “warm-ups”. Gestures ARE drawings.

Among the many things I have learned in my art modeling career is that life drawing is, and has been, a respected practice for people who work in the animation field. I owe this discovery to Blue Sky. I recently came across an excellent article about acclaimed Disney animator and director Art Babbitt, and the life drawing sessions he organized at his home during the 1930s. Babbitt, who won 80 awards for his work, was the animator of the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Gepetto in Pinocchio, and the character Goofy, just to name a few.

Life drawing class for Disney Studios animators, taken from the above linked article:

The article is a terrific read. Babbitt, who served as monitor for the life drawing sessions, hired models from the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, paid them 60 cents an hour, and made sure that the animators -again, all men – didn’t misbehave or act inappropriately.

The Blue Sky Studios job is not a frequent modeling gig, but an enjoyable, quality one. They have since moved to a facility in Greenwich, Connecticut, have many projects in the works, and of course, continue to hold life drawing sessions. They pay the models extremely well, cover our Metro-North train travel expenses, and treat us with great respect. As for sweet Tom, the guy who referred me to the job in the first place? He has since moved to California to work at Pixar. We haven’t kept in touch, but I hope he’s having a marvelous time out there 🙂

9 thoughts on “The Animated Life

  1. I agree. Gesture drawings ARE an art form. They can capture a feeling of life, energy, movement.

  2. Bill says:

    I think that animated films provided many of us with our first drawing lessons. I remember watching Mighty Mouse every Saturday morning and, after the show, re-creating my own version of the cartoon on paper. I guess you could say he was my mouse-muse 🙂

    So — can you picture yourself as the model for a particular character? Maybe some Hollywood actress would provide the voice . . .

    • artmodel says:


      Mighty Mouse was awesome 🙂

      And now you’ve got me thinking about a cartoon character of myself! Hmm. Maybe something along the lines of Betty Boop? 😆


  3. joe says:

    There’s no question, any good animator must to have a solid foundation of life drawing. There’s no other industry where you have to draw a figure nearly every angle and in motion. The characters have to to feel as though they exist in that environment, they have to have weight.
    I was surprised that a mostly 3D animation studio would have life drawing classes but then again they probably need it more then any other. Computer animation can be kind of rigid or sometimes seem to float if not done well. Computers can only interpret movement so far, its up to the animator at the desk give the rigging some weight and a more fluid motion. I loved drawing the quick poses. Quick posses are incredible practice for an animator.
    lol I wouldn’t be surprised if any of them actually scanned in their drawing and started playing them in sequence

    • artmodel says:

      Is this my pal Joe from Oyster Bay? Why yes it is!!! So nice to hear from you! You made great points about how life drawing practice can enhance an animator’s work.

      Thanks for posting a comment Joe!


  4. Jennifer says:

    Fascinating! I agree, you really have to admire the ability of illustrators to be able to draw almost anything, and, in most cases, to have an incredible understanding of drawing the human body.

    • artmodel says:


      It really is fascinating. The average person probably doesn’t realize how complex the animation process is, and what well-trained, well-rounded artists comprise the field.

      Thanks for your comments!


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