How to Draw Stylized Fire and Flames for Animation and 2D FX

concept art tutorial Oct 14, 2022
How to Draw Stylized Fire and Flames for Animation and 2D FX - Featured

Illustrate stylized flames with these tips and tricks for 2D animations and video game FX. 

Have you wondered how animators, illustrators, and FX artists create stylized fire and flames for animated series and games? 

In this series of drawing concept art, we look back at the popular Alight animation. You may recall one of our original mascots, Sparker. In this tutorial we are going to learn how to draw the fire and flames that make up Sparker's body. 

You can follow along directly, or you can just download the free coloring book page and experiment with your own designs and looks. The goal is to give you the fundamentals in drawing flames that have a stylized look ready to be colored and animated. 


Download FREE Coloring Book

Follow along with this tutorial and download a copy of Sparker's body that you can either print out and follow along with pen and pencil, or open a digital copy and illustrate in your favorite drawing app. 


How to Draw Stylized Elemental Characters - Fire

Let's dive into the tutorial, where VFX artist Daniélle Viljoen shows you how to draw stylized fire for characters and visual FX. Dani is a VFX artist working at Sumo Digital, the studio working on games like Sackboy, Hitman, and racing series like Forza, Team Sonic Racing, F1, and Hotshot Racing. She creates a variety of 2D FX for animation and gameplay real-time fx. 

She recently helped us reimagine our VFX Apprentice mascots, doing polish work on the new look for Sparker and the rest of our cast of characters. 



Tips for Drawing Fire and Flames

There are a few things you should take into consideration when drawing stylized FX. Here are 5 quick tips and tricks for drawing your flames with a stylized and animated look and feel. None of these tips require anything more than your imagination, a pencil, and building upon some fundamentals of animation. 


1. Fire and Heat Travel Upwards 

A core element to understand about drawing fire is that fire is composed of heat. Heat rises, so flames move and flow up. Fire has a strong base, and as it flows up it often thins and tapers. Explosions on the other hand may mushroom and expand, but traditional stylized flames flow up just like the đŸ”„ fire emoji. 


2. Wind Influences Shape

As fire rises, it is influenced directionally by wind. So in still environments you'll have a soft flame flowing straight up, but fire is traditionally seen interacting with wind and dancing in the air. Wind will also vary in strength, so some gusts are stronger than others, which will cause flames to dance back and forth. This creates the traditional fire flicker look, where flames seem to dance in the air. 

When you start your flame blockout or outline, it's best to begin with an S-swoop that can influence the look of the wind and overall shape of your fire. 


3. Stylized Fire is Composed of C and Hook Shapes

As you decide how you would expect wind to interact with your flame, you can start removing parts of the body outline with a C-shape. This will make sure your flame doesn't look like a glob of toothpaste. As the edges of the C interact back with the main blockout, you can use a hook shape to accentuate sharper points. 

The edges of each hook and C do not have to be precise, and you want to add some wobble or breathing space in random areas to prevent the flame from looking too perfect. 


4. Create a Stylized Look with Dimensional Lines 

With your blockout locked, you can now move into the inside of your outline and build upon your shape with more swoops, hooks, and c's. This will help accentuate each flowing curve and build out a stylized 3D flame.  

You don't have to go overboard here. Sometimes it's as simple as extending a few lines, or following existing curves to add some more depth. 



5. Use a Variation of Sizes

To prevent your fire from looking too perfect, it's best to use a variety of different sized hooks and c-shapes throughout. This not only helps break up the character and add more depth, it feels more natural and is often more visually appealing. 


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