I want to make 3D animation films. Not as hi-fi as Disney and Pixar of course, but as close to them as an indie animator can get.

I'm good (not enviable, just plain good) at drawing things on paper but I haven't really delved into digital art much.

Is there any correlation between the two?

Do I need to hone my drawing skills further before going digital or can I just dive right into the digital world?

  • 1
    Retracted close vote after Scott's edit. Instead I'll say you may want to look into this thread as well: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/19794/…
    – Ryan
    May 9, 2014 at 12:53
  • @ryan That thread was helpful in deciding which program I should choose to start my training with. Thanks!
    – Zaid Tariq
    May 9, 2014 at 15:23

5 Answers 5


First, any animation studio will want to see that an artist has solid drawing skills. The ability to communicate ideas through sketches or storyboards can only help you in developing your own stories.

Is there any correlation between the two? Yes

Computer (3D) animation and traditional animation both attempt to achieve one thing, the illusion of life or movement. In order to properly convey that illusion, you need to be able to apply certain principles into your work. Learning to draw using these principles will help you visualize and quickly adjust poses or "keys".

A little history:

When computer animation was first hitting the industry in the late 70s and early 80s animation was stiff, and not very believable by today's standards. John Lasseter, a brillantly talented, traditional animator, was contracted by Industrial Light and Magic to do a short film called André and Wally B. This computer generated film was the beginning of a movement that brought traditional animation methods and techniques to computer generated films.

Do I need to hone my drawing skills further before going digital or can I just dive right into the digital world? Both.

I say that because you can work on both in order to build your skills up a little faster. Take some figure drawing classes, or just get outside and sketch people quickly as they walk by. Take note of the shapes of certain poses. Learn the basics of your 3D software of choice (I use Maya).

Blender is a popular one because it's free/open source and there's a pretty large community.


"Drawing" is really comprised of two main aspects in my opinion:

  • The ability to see things as shapes, lights, colors, etc. ("see" can mean imagine or envision, it doesn't have to be literal)
  • Muscle memory (hand-eye coordination) to transfer what you see to your fingers/hand/toes/whatever in order to create it.

Swiss school designer Inge Druckrey created a video about "Teaching to See" which may help explain. (It's a long video and apparently has trouble loading if you are using Google Chrome as a browser [at least on my Mac - but Safari works fine).

The ability to actually draw on paper is very helpful, but I don't know I'd say it's mandatory. What is mandatory is the ability to "see". You need to be able to interpret things which are often intangible into tangible aspects of a creation - wherever that creation is happening.

If you are struggling with seeing things, then sketching on paper can help explore that aspect and not just help with the muscle memory.

If you have the ability to "see" then what tool you use is your choice. Drawing by hand on paper simply builds the hand-eye coordination to become proficient at that method of creation. However, if you use a mouse, trackpad, trackball, stylus your hand-eye coordination will adjust to that manner of working. And the more you do one, the better you'll get at transferring what you see to any medium.

  • Agreed that you have to be able to "see" what you want to express, no matter what the medium. If you have no idea how to put it down on real/virtual paper, it ain't gonna work. Now, actual physical drawing skill isn't so vital -- you could have severe Parkinson's Disease and still possibly be able to work at a computer, but not draw anything (on paper) recognizable. That aside, it's still useful to be able to sketch something on paper before spending time and effort on the computer.
    – Phil Perry
    May 9, 2014 at 16:54

Yes there is a correlation.

Drawing is more about observation than about coordination. Observation skills are useful, because it enables you to do better results.

Most people know how to draw. The just dont do it for obscure reasons. Atleast all 4 year olds i have known knew how to draw. Being better than normal adults is by no means nessesery. So just get used to not being overly self critical (Another useful skill)

The main benefits are:

  • increased ability to communicate
  • Faster testing and idea refinement
  • Better understanding of what you want to do as opposed to what the tool happens to do easily.

Ps: most of the disney and pixar stuff is by no no means unatainable for a indie animator, dont sell yourself short.

Pps: Blender is not my choice for beginners.

  • Hey joojaa, out of interest what would your choice for beginners be?
    – OGHaza
    May 9, 2014 at 12:48
  • anything other than blender. Blender is so quirky that youll most likely just give up.
    – joojaa
    May 9, 2014 at 12:51
  • ha fair enough, it was the first option I stumbled upon when I decided to give 3d a go a while back - cranked out 1 or 2 so-so models and gave up ;)
    – OGHaza
    May 9, 2014 at 12:53
  • the other options, Maya or 3ds Max, are too expensive for a beginner. is there any other good+free/cheap choice out there that you could recommend?
    – Zaid Tariq
    May 9, 2014 at 14:59
  • @OGHaza Modo, anyway animation is a bulk product, you will be sitting a lot in front of your 3d appkication.
    – joojaa
    May 9, 2014 at 18:06

I'm not into 3D animation, however I am really into 3D design with engineering and architecture. In my CAD classes I was considered by everyone there, even the teacher as the best at 3D modeling. What makes me great at it is that I'm good at visualizing what I want to make and how to do it. 3D design requires quite a bit of problem solving and spatial reasoning skills. As far as being able to draw, it can help if you are going to design 3D human models. Being able to draw people will help you with the proportions of body parts. Also, understanding lighting and shadows can help you with 3D rendering when you are trying to achieve a certain lighting or shading in a 3D scene. Drawing will help you in these regards. However, the process of making 3D models needs good spatial reasoning and problem solving skills. If you want to see if 3D design is for you, get the free 3D modeling and rendering program Blender. Try making models of things to see if you have the skills to be good at 3D modeling. While your at it try rendering an animation in Blender so you can get a feel for things to see if this is what you want to do with your life.


Drawing is a good skill to have but it's not really necessary. In 3D you have tools that makes modeling easy but there are more important aspects you have to give a though. Animation is difficult. You have to know a lot about the program ... tools, physics, math, materials. Rendering is really slow. You need an extremely powerful machine to have a reasonable creative flow. Animating a scene with a character + smoke + water and stuff takes so much effort. Every single aspect is an art of itself. Cloth materials have tons of options. Particles have tons of options. Physical interaction is achieved through a lot of plugins and stuff. Hair takes a lot of resources to create and render. One second is 30 frames and each frame could render in few minutes. If you make a small mistake it could cost you hours or days to fix and adjust. These are some points I figured out about 3D:

  • You must have a workstation grade computer

  • Endless hours in front of the computer

  • Constant learning is a must

  • No money or appreciation for your work

That last point ruined it for me. Let's say you spent 3 months producing a very nice and funny animation. People would just watch it and say "Awesome!" and move on. You must have some very big motivation other than fame or money. In general you must have a team. Let's say 1 artist drawing story boards/characters, 1 modeling/rigging, 1 animation, 1 texturing/materials, 1 particles and special effects, 1 post production. IMHO 3D animation can't be learned by a single person. There is just too much to be learned and mastered. I am not trying to disappoint you but overall you have to dedicate your life to this craft.

  • 1
    I agree with the time and money aspect, and i did have those qualities back then. But i dasagree with the cant be done by one guy. You just need to be really really motivated. And nobody will care or believe.
    – joojaa
    May 9, 2014 at 13:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.