Rough Character Sketch with Grease Pencil

Experience the potential of rigged Grease Pencil characters

Often in cg,  2D animation and 3D animation exist as their own unique art forms, aesthetics, tools and apps. But in modern Blender, Grease Pencil merges them into the same application and even allows their tools to blend together into an extremely effective hybrid system.

In this short course, follow Wayne Dixon through this simple project that combines a hand-drawn 2D character with a 3D rig for easy animation.

Learn how to Draw, Rig and Animate a 2D Blender Character

  • How to draw a 2D Grease Pencil character: From rough sketch to refined lined art, learn about Grease Pencil's drawing tools like layers, fills, stroke sculpting and materials, including how to add simple shadow and highlight layers.
  • Adding a simple armature: Create a simple armature object featuring 2 bones that serve to move a character's arm. Also how to assign elements of your drawing to those bones.
  • Animate your character waving: Add a touch of life to your character with a looping hand wave. The final result is a beautiful crisp, smooth 2D animation with enormous potential in other applications and projects.

This technique was used to create a fun Holiday ad in 2018!

Lesson #1 Transcript

Here's a fun two-day drawing of our beloved Melvin character. In this tutorial, I'll show you how to draw this guy in grease pencil and also add two simple bones to be able to do the animation on his arm here. We'll be covering quite a lot but I'm trying to keep everything as simple as possible. So if you're ready to have some fun, follow along.

Getting Started!

                    All right. So I've opened up Blender. We're inside the 2.8 beta. Okay so we are going to do 2D animation so I'm going to go File, New 2D animation. It's not really going to be 2D animation but it's the closest layout, the best layout that we've got to do the job. 

Setting up Preferences

                    Now before I start, I'll show you my preferences that I'm using for this tutorial. So just over here in the input. I've been messing around with different ... I've been trying different settings for a couple of days and seeing how I'm liking it. So I'm still on right click select. I have this space bar that is operating with the tools. I am doing the old school select, deselect everything with ... just toggle with AE key and this the new option that I've tried today. So what it's doing is its going to swap ... if you hover over it, it will tell you, it swaps the tab with control tab. So I'm just trying this out for a few days to see if I like the settings. Make sure that you ... if you change them, just make sure that you hit save preferences. 

Naming Objects and Drawing

                    All right, so, before I start my rough sketch, let's name our object here, so we're drawing Melvin, so I'm going to call him Melvin and then I'm also going to make the data name the same thing. It's always nice to have the data name the same as the object. So let's draw. And I'm going to draw a new layer, and I'm going to call this rough and while I'm here, I'm going to activate the onion skinning just in case I need it because my default doesn't turn on when you add a new layer. Then I'm going to jump into draw mode, so I'm using my pencil. I have the draw tool here and the pencil settings up here. And I'm going to do a rough sketch of what Melvin's going to look like.

Roughing out the Shape

                    So he's kind of got a pill shape. And I'm also going jump into the camera view with num pad zero so I kind of see the size of that, so zooming a little bit. This is my frame. He's a little bit big so let me just undo those and let's try and get him roughed in a little bit nicer. Don't need to be neat 'cause this is my rough layer. So that's not what my hand wanted to do. All right. Here's my rough jelly bean shape. Also, where's his arm going to be? His arm's going to be roughly around here. So let's draw it kind of coming down, his thumb is there and that's kind of what his arm's going to look like.

Melvin's Foot

                    Now his foot, I'm going to draw the bottom of his foot so I'm imagining that it's kind of coming out of the shape here. So it's roughly, maybe there. We'll see how it looks when I draw the rest of it. So that's an imaginary kind of line there. So that's going be where the foot is connected. Now the other foot. Going to draw the bottom of the foot here, slightly bigger 'cause it's closer to the camera and then roughing the lines like that. Good. Its looking okay. 

                    Now his other arm is going to be ... I'm just imagining it on the back side of his body. So that's going to be behind, that's his shoulder and he's arm is going to come down here. I'm just going to draw a circle here for the elbow joint. This will become clear in a moment 'cause I'm thinking about the pivot point of where this going to animate from. So this is roughly where its going to be and then let's draw the rest of the forearm here. So forearm and hand is kind of got a big mitten. So that's not too bad. It's a good rough outline. 

Melvin's Arm

                    So the construction of this arm, let me just break it away a little bit. I'll explain it so it'll make sense. So I want the bicep to be drawn with a hard outline like this. So I'm just going to imagine that there's a circle here and that's pivot point. So that's going to be this point here and then the elbow is going to have the same imaginary point here. So there's going to be ... that's the pivot point there. And then his forearm and his hand which is going to be connected, it's going to be drawn a little bit like this. So this is what his thumb is going to look like. So there's going to be an imaginary pivot point there and this going to have a fill on it but its not going to be have a hard line. And so when these two points overlay each other, it's going to sit here and then his hand's going to be able to rock backwards and forward, making our animation a little bit easier. 

                    So this is the kind of the rough guild of what we want our ... it's almost like cut out animation but it's not really. Kind of is 'cause we're using grease pencil to do it but okay. That's enough of an explanation. I'm just going to erase what I've done. Get out of my view. Let's continue drawing.

Melvin's Face

                    So where is his face going to be? Remember this is behind so his corner of his mouth, is going to be about there. I'm trying to just pick the corners and then draw a nice D shape. Nice open mouth and the eyes are going to be kind of like that. And this one is a horn about here. So that I'll refine that in a moment and this horn is going to be over here. What is he missing? Oh he's missing the inside of his mouth. So let's draw rough tooth. There's going to be a tooth over here and a cartoon tongue, so something like that. Nice. 

Melvin's Belly

                    Now his belly, I'm going to imagine that there's like a imaginary center line. So let's draw his, he's got a light patch of skin in this area. So let's kind of roughing there. And lets have a look at this as a whole. Yeah, the proportion's a little bit off. I think his head's a little bit too wide so let's go into sculpt mode and mess with the proportions. So I got my grab brush, scale out with IF and just shrinking, oh there we go. He's looking a lot better already. Just grab his whole arm here and his face, I'm going to shrink this down. Just move his face a little bit over. 

Melvin's Markings

                    Yeah. Okay. That's looking all right. I'm going to rough in his markings so he's got like some dark patches on his head, so there's ... hopefully I'll get this right but there's about ... there's a spot around there. There's a spot here. There's a bigger spot that's kind of more on the top of his head and then there's a little one here. All right. What is he missing? He's missing his hands. So there's a little spot like that. And then this one here, this is the dark area and that's a bigger one and some spots like that. And I think that's all he's got. That'll do for this little demonstration. 

Rough Sketch Done!

                    All right. So that's the rough sketch there. Now if your rough sketches are anything is like really super duper rough, what you can do is you just jump to the next frame and then kind of refine it a little bit more and you get this grain layer there. You can kind of see where things are and kind of ... I'm still roughing it in. Do a little bit of a cleaner version. And once you're happy with this more refined sketch, what you can do it actually down here, delete the first one and then just drag that one back to frame one. Just imagine that you finished that. So just undo what I've done. 

Adding Final Lines

                    Now I've decided that this sketch is enough for me to do my final lines on top of so I'm going to jump over to my lines. I'm going to just lower the opacity of our sketch lay here so that's good enough. Jump onto my lines. Now what brush am I going to use for my outline here? Well I chose ink and I'll just give this one a go. Now that's just a little bit too fat so let me lower the brush size. What are we at, at the moment? We're at 60, let's go F and then I'm going to type in 30. So I know that's half the line distance. Yeah, that's looking about what I want now. Let's go to 35. So just a little bit bigger. Yeah, that's about what I want.

Stabilized Setting to Change Radius

                    Okay. There's also, if you have trouble drawing smooth lines, there this option down here called stabilized setting and you can change the radius. If you check this, it enable by default but there's a shortcut to enable it when ever you want. So just inside the view port, if I draw with the shift held down, you'll see that is giving me this line. So you can change the options in here. It's the same thing as just turning this on and now when you draw, that's always going to be active. But when you hold down the shift key, you can turn it on and turn it off. 

Drawing with the Stabilizer

                    Now one thing to note, when you draw with the stabilizer, I'll just jump into edit mode, and select this, you can see that's created quite a lot of these tiny little points here. Now it that's a problem for whatever you're working on, what you can do just with everything selected, just hit W for the specials key or if your a left click selector, I think you just hit the right mouse button. Then I want to simplify it and you see it's reduced the amount of verts there, simplify it again, that's enough density for what I want to do here. But now let's delete all those points and try and oops, what I'm going to do is lock all my inactive layers up here. So now when I select things, it's only going to select and edit this stuff that I am working. So everything else is locked. So let's delete up my points and try and draw this properly. 

                    So what I'm going to do is start up here, oops, make sure I jump back to draw mode. I've got my ink pen. I'm still drawing in his black ink and I'm going to use my stabilizer. Oops, I'm holding down shift but what I've done is I still have it active so it's going to reverse what I've done. So let me turn that off and then I can just undo that. Do that to back, ah, when I hit undo, it turned it back on. So let me turn it off. 

Drawing and Smoothing the Body

                    Here we go, hold down shift and try and draw a nice smooth line. I'm going to sculpt it into the position that I want. So yeah, that's looking okay. It's close. But lets jump into sculpt mode and let's push this line around. Make it a little bit bigger. This is what we want here. Flattening down to give it a little bit of flatter head and let's round this corner out just slightly. All right. Space bar. I'm going to smooth some areas, just give that a nice little brush over. And don't worry about these little lines that are overlapping. I'm going to delete those in a moment. So that's my body. 

Drawing Melvin's Arm

                    I'm going to jump back to draw mode and I'm going to draw his arm. Oops, that's way too big. Actually I'm going to go freehand. And all right. So now, I'm going to sculpt this a little bit better, so jump into sculpt mode. Well actually jump into edit mode first. If I select these lines and then link ... hit the L key to link select everything, and then jump back into sculpt mode, with this little option here activated, I'm only going to sculpt these verts that are selected, so I'm going to smooth everything out just slightly. Smooth it, smooth it, smooth it. Let's see if I can Simplify this. So hit W and Simplify, W Simplify, that'll be enough verts. I'll jump into edit mode and just grab these and position it more like where I want, back to sculpt mode and then just push my corner rounds, round that out a little bit. It's a little bit nicer and push this in.

Smoothing Melvin's Arm

                    All right, that's looking okay. Now it's time to smooth that. Smooth, just give it a nice tiny little smooth and I'm going to delete the line that's on the other part here. So let me select this link and zoom in, I will Simplify this. Simplify, Simplify and select this one, hit X, delete the point and then zoom back out, Control plus, all the way up to there and delete that point, X delete the points, so that's one way that you can delete the points that you don't want any more. So I'm going to do that for all of our different parts.

Fast Forward...Drawing and Smoothing the Rest!

                    So I'm going to jump into fast forward mode and you'll see me refine all of these lines doing the act same way. So I'm trying to do the neatest job that I can and I will go back and fix it with this sculpt brush just exactly like I did. But since recording this tutorial, or starting to record this tutorial, has actually been some cool new features added. So by the time you watch this, you'll probably see that it's actually easier to draw nice smooth lines with the new curve tool which I'll have to do a new video to show you how that works. So here you see me struggling. I'm trying to connect these things but it didn't quite work and I gave up. I'll explain that in another video as well 'cause the way the strokes work is got to do with, they're not pixels, they're not vectors, there's a specific way that they work and I'll have to show you in a different video how that works. 

                    All right just doing my final little tweaks here. Deleting all the left over bits. And then, yeah, just cleaning up as I go and then drawing the inside of the mouth. All right. Final little tweaks there and I think I'm back normal speed. 

Back to Normal Speed: Adjust the Shape

                    All right so now I'm back to normal speed. I'm nearly happy with the overall shape. I'm just going to turn off my rough layers and I think I'll just want to adjust the overall shape 'cause his head not quite over his belly. So I'm going to do that in edit mode. So tab, edit mode, select a point up here, make sure that I have every ... are not connected, just have everything enabled and then I'm going to and use my mouse for this one. So just going to grab it across and just scroll up my middle mouse to kind of get the shape that I want and rotate it a little bit as well and just a tiny little bit more across. 

Focusing in on Melvin's Mouth

                    And now I want to do the same thing with all these mouth parts. So select them then hit L, and I want to turn off enabled and just only affect these ones here. So let's make his mouth a little bit bigger. Scale on the X. How we looking? Let's jump into draw mode. That's looking good. Ah okay. You can see I've got a little tiny point here. So just in edit mode, you can see I've got one point selected. There's a handy little tool inside our strokes menu. If we go up to strokes and then down to clean up, we can chose loose points and that will delete ... it will go through the whole object and delete any kind of loose points like that. 

Layers for Eye and Arm

                    All right. So that's looking good. But you notice that I've left off the eye and I've left off the other arm. That's because we're going to do that in a separate layer. So let's label our layers now. So this is going to be our body lines. And let's do a new layer, plus let's call this one Arm Lines and we'll do our fills in a moment. So I want this to be underneath. Let's put it right at the bottom so this one, I might as well name it now 'cause I'm here. This one's going Body Fills. Let's our naming convention consistent. And I'll come back and do the other ones later. 

                    All right. Turn our rough layer back on. You can see I turned that off because now it's all skewed, it's not really helping me. But let's do my arm lines. So I'm going to go ahead and let's turn off my body and we will not fills, body lines. Still drawing on our rough layer here. I'll fix it if it turns out bad. So drawing in my ink and do my best to kind of draw a pill shape here. Going roughly of where this is but I'm going to do a tidy up job after I've drawn it. 

Fast Forward: Sculpting the Shapes

                    So I just jumped into fast forward mode, so you don't think I'm Superman, drawing super duper fast. Yeah now I'm just sculpting that into the shape that I want and drawing the forearm. Don't worry about the overlapping lines. I'll show you how to fix that a little bit later in the video. It's got to do with how we arrange the strokes. 

Let's Color Melvin In!

                    So it's time to color this guy in. So let's bring our lines back. Oops. I'll turn off those background layers. All right, so each material, grease pencil material has a stroke and it has a fill. Let me just show you what I mean. I'll jump into draw mode and I am going to draw just a line here. That's disappear because it's on the an invisible layer. So just make sure I turn that back on. So I've drawn with the gray material here. And I can just turn off our stroke. I can change the color of our stroke and I can also change the alpha of our stroke here. And I can do the same thing with a fill. So that's what these options down here do. 

Fill Styles             

       And in addition to that, I can change the fill styles, a textured, checkerboard, gradient and solid. And for this tutorial, I'm just going to go with the solid and the same thing with our stroke up here. So if I wanted to color this guy in, I need a specific colored material for each of the different colors that I'm going to use. All right, I'll just show you with the first one, so I'm going to call this skin base color. And I'm going to show what I'm going to do here. And then I'm going to import all the other ones which I've previous done just to say a little bit of time. 

                    So I'm going to turn off my stroke. It doesn't matter. I'm just going to turn it down to black but make sure that it is definitely off so it's not showing. And with our color here, I'm going to chose a nice orangy yellow, kind of a mid colored yellow, maybe something around there and that's going to be the base color for Melvin here. 

Paint Bucket

                    Use our paint bucket here. Now I have my little option here. That will show me the boundaries so when I click to do a fill, it's going to show me those red lines of where it's going try and fill around to. So I'm going to click on that and it's done a pretty good job of filling lines here. We're going to add another material to give it the shadows and the highlights but I'll just show you how we can clean up our little areas here. So I'm going to jump into sculpt mode for this. Make sure that our other layers are turned off and I'm just going to, oops, turn this off, make sure I'll use the right brush, [Wayne]. Space bar, push. I want to push this to be over those edges to get rid of the white and it's a matter of like pinching, pushing and just doing what you need to, to get the color kind of close to where you want.

Color in Other Areas

                    So that's good enough for what I want to do for this. Now I'm going color in our other areas. I'm actually going to go ahead and import these materials that I've already done in advance. So I'm going to go to File, Append, go down to my test file, grab my materials, all of them, except for the ones that I already have. So I don't need that one. I don't need that one. You know what, I will use my skin base 'cause I know its going to be the same color as before. But that's going to give me a duplicate. But I can import them now and so let's change this to be the skin base. So I know that is the color that I want. And let's populate our stuff here. So lets get our skin dark. So just speed up where I'm just assigning all these materials to this grease pencil object. 

                    Let's go skin light. I'm just going to use the paint bucket to fill in there. Let's go to the skin dark, and let's go patch it there, oops, oh it's escaping through the gap here. So what I'm going to do is hold down Alt and just draw over this line here and then click and it should not escape here. There we go. Now I'm going to continue just filling in the rest of it and I might jump into fast forward for this bit. 

Clean up, Move on

                    All right, we're in fast foreword, just trying to fill in here. And the fill tool is going escape here. So I'm going to try and zoom out because it's based on pixels but that didn't fill into the edges. So now I'm just using my Alt key just to draw an imaginary boundary line and just to try and keep it in there and then sculpt all my color in the right spot. I'm using the wrong material there. I want to make sure that I'm using the mouth color inside the mouth, the tongue and then I need to draw some imaginary lines to contain that here. So I just make sure I delete all my junk before I go and I'll pick this up in the next video. 

Animation Grease Pencil Rigging

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