Class 2 - Week 9 - Hand Tips

Hands... A large combination of joints and digits in a small space,
capable of expressing almost as much emotion as the face, and as much
action as the rest of the body combined. Their complexity has been the
bane of both art and animation students alike. So why do we need to
worry about them so much?

The reason that hands are so important to both art and animation is that,
as humans, we are programmed to look at 2 things first and foremost on
other humans. The first is the face, which allows us to "read" the
person, find out if they're friend or foe, see what they're feeling, and
listen to anything they have to say. The second is the hands, because our
hands are our tools, and are another way of expressing how we feel, even
in simple actions like waving or picking up an object.

Now onto how they are constructed. Hands are actually pretty simple in
all their complexity. As you can see in the picture below, the average
hand is basically a block with 4 fingers made up of 3 segments with
socket joints restricting their movement to only one axis, though the
base joints have a bit more freedom in their rotations, and a thumb with
2 socket joints and one ball joint at the base that allows it to rotate
more freely, all connected to the wrist by another ball joint. So that's
a total of 16 joints in one hand. Lucky for us, Stewie's hands only have
two fingers and a thumb to worry about!

Hand Posing

Next, let's get into the basics of hand posing. The one thing you want to
avoid like the plague is "paddle hands", or hands that haven't been posed
at all. Even in your first pass of blocking, it's always a good idea to
think about your hand poses, adding them in early so that your shot looks
better and reads more clearly. As I mentioned before, hands are a way of
expressing your character's emotions and objectives, so always be aware
of what they're doing. Here are some examples of good hand poses versus
some weaker ones.

As you can see even in these sketches, the best way to get a strong,
smooth, and organic feel to the hand is to give it curves and to offset
the fingers. I know the first one is a bit hard to do with Stewie's brick
hands, but by simply giving the fingers a slight curl, a bit of a roll to
get the fingers "cupping" slightly, and some spread to give the hand some
variety is key to adding that extra bit of life. Hands in a relaxed state
are never straight, but curl slightly, usually with the index being the
straightest finger, and each finger curling slightly more as you go
towards the pinky. It also helps to visualize hands as a simple shape
instead of concentrating on a mass of fingers and joints, which will help
you to get an idea of whether or not the shape it creates is appealing or

And remember, just like the body, the hand has it's own silhouette and
line of action. Make sure that your hand poses read clearly, and try to
keep the fingers and thumb working together.

Opening and Closing Hands

In this next topic, we'll talk a bit about the mechanics of opening and
closing the hand. Opening and closing your hand doesn't just mean going
from a flat palm to a fist though. It can mean everything in between as
well, from a nervous hand twitch, to a "come hither" gesture, to flexing
your fingers.

Your first instinct when opening and closing Stewie's hands might be to
curl/uncurl them uniformly, so that both his fingers move at the same
time, and all the joints have a uniform curl to them. While doing this
will get the motion across decently, it doesn't have that really nice
organic feel to it. If you take a look at your hands and slowly curl and
uncurl them, you'll notice that your fingers generally curl from the
middle joint first, followed by the tip, and finally the base. This gives
each individual finger a nice overlap.

Now let's figure out how to add some overlap to the fingers as a whole.
There are pretty much two ways to curl your fingers in or out. Either
your hand starts with the pinky and you curl each finger consecutively
towards the index, or you do the opposite and start with the index and
end with the pinky. It's almost impossible to start with any other
finger, and if you do, it looks and feels pretty unnatural.

So now that we know how fingers curl, which do we use, pinky to index or
index to pinky? This all depends on if you're curling your fingers
inwards or outwards. For the inward finger curls, it's more natural to
start with the pinky. It gives a nice fluid motion to the fingers.
Starting with the index finger usually causes the fingers to ball up as
they curl, giving the gestures a more aggressive feel.

For uncurling the fingers, both starting with the pinky or index works
equally well, though starting with the index is the more common of the
two. The big difference here is what kind of gesture you're going for.
Are you doing a huge overlapping action, or very slight? Study your video
references, act it out, and pay special attention to which way the
fingers uncurl. It may not seem like an important difference, but when
you're doing a shot of a magician performing tricks, the way his fingers
curl are crucial.

This animation by Antoine Antin is a great example of what we've just
been talking about:

Holding & Touching

Next on our list of hand tips is the act of holding and touching objects.
The most common issue you see with grabbing or touching objects in
animation is a lack of proper inbetweening, where the hand kind of slides
into the action and the fingers already moving into their final position
before even getting there. Just like how you add overlap on a walk with
the heel contacting first, followed by the rest of the foot contacts and
then by the toes, the hand works in much the same way.

When grabbing an object, the palm will generally contact first with the
fingers open, then the fingers will wrap around the object. And the same
goes for touching or letting go of them. Of course, you can always have
the fingers contact first, or many other varieties. It all depends on the
situation, so be sure to study your video reference or try it out

The Thumb

And finally, let's talk a bit about the thumb. This is probably the most
difficult digit to pose because of it's position and relation to the
other fingers. The thumb is extremely dextrous and nimble compared to the
other fingers, allowing it a wide range of angles and positions. To pose
the thumb properly, you have to be sure to use a combination of curl,
spread, and roll attributes to get it where you want. Here are some
examples of the range of poses you can get out of a thumb:

And lastly, here are some great references for hands and various poses.
Feel free to check them out!

Byron Caldwell's hand gallery
Toby Shelton's hand gallery
Drawn in Black hand tutorial compendium
CharacterDesignNotes hand references

Once again, the best way to find out exactly how your hands should work
is to study reference, or do the action yourself. Your hands are right
there, so don't be afraid to use them! If you take the time to study and
plan the hand positions beforehand, it will make your shot look and feel
more dynamic, and will also make your job a lot easier down the line.

And that's about all I have for this week. Thank you for taking the time
to read my post. I hope it's been helpful, and as always, if you have any
comments, questions or suggestions, you're more than welcome to send
either Beau or me a message on AM.


  1. thanks for this! I´ll take some notes hehe.


  2. Huge amount of great information, thanks. Those links are great as well. I think I might quit AM and enroll at Twins & Tangents.