Moebius's photo reference

Originally published at:


A coupe of years ago I saw an exhibit of Lionel Feininger’s phoography, much of which he had done to use as photo reference in the studio. So it’s not really new. How is it different really from using live models? You’re still painting a thing you’re looking at.

The Alice in Wonderland stills look a lot like a motion capture setup, with everything done by hand.


In an unsourced interview reposted at Ragged Claws, Jean “Moebius” Giraud discusses his use of photo reference (more) — a popular topic of late among amateur numpties who think it’s "cheating."

Those guys are dumbasses. Especially since even a casual glance can tell you that he was using them as a starting point and not tracing like some professional artists I can name…

*AHEM *gregland *HEM *


Some images here of Disney’s use of live actors for rotoscoping for their classic animations:

Like most early animation breakthroughs, this came from Max Fleischer.


Those pictures are charming. I guess Roy Moore wasn’t on hand?


Disney will often create elaborate real life reference for it’s animation:

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So that’s how they do their magic…

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I use photo reference all the time - sometimes freehand, sometimes drawn in Photoshop, sometimes even tracing parts the old-fashioned paper way and scanning it later. I see nothing wrong with that at all. Pretending you don’t use the best reference material available is just bullshit.
There’s a good book out there somewhere by David Hockney about how some “Old Masters” used pinhole projections and mirrors to help them sketch out paintings.
Artists have been “cheating” for years, if by “cheating” you mean “using tools.” :wink:
Oh yeah, here’s a Dick pic.


We used to call ours a “morgue file” and all actual, working creative/ad agencies had one. Ours was sorted by clipping category - cars, houses, people, animals, etc. IDK what they call it now, probably “google image”.


Reference is not the same thing as rotoscoping. They very rarely actually drew on top of photostats from live-action footage, and when they did it was so stylized (i.e., the Sleeping Beauty fight scenes) that it didn’t have that traced-live-action look that rotoscoped Ralph Bakshi films have.

One cool example of Disney rotoscoping was Cruella deVil’s car from 101 Dalmatians. They built a little model, filmed it, traced it frame-by-frame, and then combined it with her animation to get a realistic 3D look for something that would’ve been incredibly hard to draw freehand.


I LOVE artists’ reference photos. Robert McGinnus is all about that and you can see the same model used multiple times. Hell, even the King used photo references from time to time and who’s gonna knock the King?



That is a pretty awesome model too, it really does look like a 3D cartoon. I would have expected a less stylised reference.


That’s a neat pic. Do you mind if I reblog it? I’ll link to your web page if you like.

I too had this sort of stigma with using references and tracing. I know Tim Bradstreet who has some amazing work with Vampire the Masquerade, Constantine, and Punisher cover (and The Shadow!) mentioned in his book that he has gotten flack from other comic artists.

ETA - oh and Alex Ross - who is fucking amazing - uses models all the time. It’s how he gets the light soooo right.

Then I took an Illustration class. As someone who struggled with a lot of the technical aspects of art (I don’t have the inborn talent to draw the smooth, perfect lines some people do), I was pretty worried about doing well in the class. But I learned a few things from my instructors.

  1. Illustration doesn’t mean it has to be photo realistic. It can have style. If your style is broader strokes or more impressionistic, one can carry that over to illustration.

  2. Illustrators do whatever it takes to make their work good. He showed me some of his work for a calendar for I think Sikorsky helicopters. Awesome looking collages. He was like, “Do you think this just came from my head? No, I had references for just about everything on every page. If we picked this apart and found the weakest elements, they will be the stuff I just made up.”

His work was pretty damn good, I thought. So it really shattered this misconception for me.


IDK what they call it now, probably “google image”.

I wouldn’t have been able to draw this Legend of Zelda picture without it.

I’ve never played the new game… at $400 I never will because no game is that good… and there’s no way I could have drawn the monster or Link’s current look without having Google open in another window.

Web page unavailable One day I’ll get it fixed… :thinking:

Feel free to share that image; I did it a couple of years back as part of a college project so it has already served it’s original purpose. :grinning:


I really love the work of Arthur Ranson, my all-time favourite Judge Anderson artist, and probably my favourite comic-book artist overall. He was once quoted as saying something along the lines of “Comic book drawing isn’t about drawing in a comic book style, it’s about drawing as well as you possibly can,” which stuck with me and stopped me trying to “invent” my style; your style turns up all on its own if you keep drawing.


I recently visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge MA, and they proudly display tons of the photos he shot of family and friends as reference; Rockwell chose people for their expressive faces and then enhanced them, but even so, it’s amazing to see the real humans behind these pictures we’ve all seen a thousand times. Rather than somehow take away from the result, it does a good job of showing how crazy talented he was.


Not familiar with his work, but that is really good.

Oh yeah, Rockwell was primarily an ILLUSTRATOR whose work had enough appeal to be considered fine art.

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I’ll defend Land. Who cares if he’s tracing? You’d be surprised how many comic artists trace. Creating comics is more than making a good drawing. It’s telling a story. Land uses his reference well. Plenty of pro comic artists can make pretty pictures, but have no idea how to compose them into a visual story.