A great story has the ability to capture your attention and a great storyteller has the gift of holding it.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”? I remember hearing this many times as I was growing up and often find myself relaying that same message to my own children. It’s a simple truth that not only applies to how we respond and react to others, but is also a great lesson for us as artists. “It’s not what you paint, but how you paint it.” How you tell your story is as important as the story, itself.

There are many different mediums in which an artist can choose to work in order to convey his message to the viewer. Whether you prefer charcoal, pencil, watercolor, acrylic or oil is up to you, but the principles of art remain the same, regardless of the medium. You are still working with Drawing, Values, Color and Edges to one degree or another. By understanding these principles, you are able to push the medium to its full potential and force it to give you the results that you are after.

I recently came across an article that combined these timeless principles of art with the modern day medium of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and wanted to pass it along.

As the father of two young girls, the subject is actually one that I am very familiar with: Walt Disney’s animated movie, Tangled.


Rapunzel, the main character in Tangled.

In order to help draw the viewer’s attention and emphasize her important role, notice how complimentary colors are used in Rapunzel’s dress (Purple) and hair (Yellow).

Here are some excerpts from an interview with Disney animator, Glen Keane:

The film was made using computer-generated imagery (CGI), although Tangled was modeled on the traditional look of oil paintings on canvas. The Rococo paintings of French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard, particularly The Swing, were used as references for the film’s artistic style, a style described by Keane as “romantic and lush.” To create the impression of a painting, non-photo realistic rendering has been used.

Fragonard Tangled The Swing2

The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard was used as inspiration for the film’s artistic style.

Glen Keane wanted the film to look and feel like a traditional hand-drawn Disney film in 3D, and held a seminar called “The Best of Both Worlds”, where he, with 50 Disney CGI artists and traditional artists, focused on the pros and cons of each style. Due to limitations in computer technology, many basic principles of animation used in traditionally animated movies had been absent from earlier CGI films; but technological advancements have made it easier to blend the two, combining the strengths of each style. Keane stated repeatedly he was trying to make the computer “bend its knee to the artist” instead of having the computer dictate the artistic style and look of the film. By making the computer become as “pliable as the pencil,” Keane’s vision of a “three dimensional drawing” seemed within reach, with the artist controlling the technology.

 “I want to bring the warmth and intuitive feel of hand-drawn to CGI.”

Rather than focusing on realism, the 3D team used an aesthetic approach. Robert Newman, the film’s stereoscopic supervisor said that “We’re using depth more artistically than ever before, and we’re not as concerned with the literal transcription of depth between camera and projector as we are the interpretation of it.”

Tangled floating lights2

“My sketch books and the figure drawings are the source for everything I’ve ever animated. It’s all these observations, the little things that make a huge difference. You don’t see it unless you are drawing it, and you have to draw it. In order to draw it, you have to have observed it. You can see it, or you can really see it.”

Rapunzel Tangled Frying Pan

“What I’ve spent my time doing is taking what I like about hand-drawn, and putting it into the computer.”

“See, the computer always tries to do everything symmetrical. Asymmetry is beauty. Symmetry is cold, and lifeless. “

Tangled Flynn Rider

“In CG, there are so many other artists that can’t draw, but thanks to this medium they found an art form to express themselves in. What I can give is the same things I learned from Frank [Thomas] and Ollie [Johnston]. I mean, I was constantly teaching and drawing and just reminding them of the same principles. And they apply; they crossover.”

Tangled is just a recent example of how the timeless principles of the past can be applied to today’s technology. But, remember, a medium is simply a vehicle which is used to express the principles of art. Instead of just learning how to use one particular medium, learn how to use the principles that guide the decision making process and then apply them to whichever medium you choose.