Friday, January 18, 2013

Elmer Man

Elmer Plummer was a brilliant artist.  His watercolors are in the National Gallery in Washington, DC. He designed the roustabouts sequence in Dumbo and the mushroom dance sequence in Fantasia among other films during his 30 plus years at Disney Studios. But to certain artists in the industry today, Elmer Plummer was known as their life drawing instructor.  
Elmer Plummer caricatured as one of his Elmer Men.  He was not amused.      
Photo courtesy of  Gary Conrad
Elmer taught life drawing to the Character Animation Department at CalArts from 1977 to 1983. He developed a system of learning the proportions of the human anatomy known by students as "The Elmer Man".  At the start of every class, he would stand before a chalkboard and create a boxy figure while lecturing on relative proportions of the body.  We  drew along.  Then he would introduce a live model to draw, applying this box-man system.  There was nothing sexy about this system.  Advanced students found it dull and repetitive.  For novices like me, it was educational and repetitive.  

Effects animator Al Holter kept his notes from Elmer's class, and shared them with FLIP (and you!):

"I had been looking for Old School Figure Drawing - the approach that Abstract Expressionism had driven out of art training in the 40's and 50's to come into a class like Elmer's was a cool drink on a hot day. At last, somebody who could explain how to plan a drawing so that you don't run out of paper toward the bottom. "

"From Elmer's Head turn-arounds showing the half-circle and triangle from ears to pit of neck."

"...This is not in art stores or most art books"

Elmer had been working on an anatomy book featuring his system.  There was a former student and somewhat odd character named David Tubbs who was supposedly helping him with this.  Elmer died in 1986 without seeing the project to completion.  This FLIP post, to my knowledge, is the closest thing to publishing there has been for The Elmer Man.  

Thanks, Al, for keeping great notes.  


  1. For some reason, I always love reading Al's notes, and this is no exception. It answers the question "How does he do that?"

  2. I saved all my note's from Elmer's class too ; )