5 Pro Tips on Drawing Stylized Water and Liquid FX

concept art tutorial Oct 25, 2022
5 Pro Tips on Drawing Stylized Water and Liquid FX - Featured

Learn how to draw stylized water and liquid effects for 2D animations and video game FX. 

Have you wondered how animators, illustrators, and FX artists create stylized water effects for animated series and video games? We’re going to look at the importance of understanding the transparency and reflective qualities that come with water and all its characteristics. 

This drawing and concept art series takes a look back at the popular Alight animation. You may recall one of our original mascots from the short film, Aquanna. In this tutorial we are going to learn how to draw the different shapes and liquid textures that make up Aquanna’s water-based body. 

For our fire character, Sparker, be sure to watch the drawing fire lesson here


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 Water

VFX Artist Danielle Viljoen walks us through here step-by-step approach for how to draw water-based characters like Aquanna. 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. 

Let's dive into the tutorial. 


1. Know the Four Principle Details of Water

When you set out to draw water-based characters or FX, it's important to keep in mind the four most important details of the physical appearance of water

  1. Transparency
  2. Reflectiveness
  3. Bubbles
  4. Ripples

Keep these elements in your drawing will help communicate to your audience that this is a liquid-based character. This gives your animation depth with three-dimensional qualities, while keeping the character two dimensional. 


2. Use Ripples and Bubbles to Show Flow

Ripples are a great way to show which direction the water is flowing. This tells a story and gives detail about the overall design of your character. Dani talks a bit about keeping your shapes dynamic, as in, changing the size of each bubble to keep the image more visually interesting. This is a good way to add life to your drawing. 


3. Varying Bubble Sizes and Foam Edges add Negative Space and Depth

Water and waves consist of ripples, bubbles, and foam that flow in a uniform direction with varying sizes and shapes. While individually these elements aren’t visually striking, when put together they provide key characteristics for a character entirely made of water.

Also, this goes without saying but be sure to stay away from hard edges - this is water we’re talking about so expect round edges only. 


4. Use a Vortex to Create an Eye-Catching Water Flow

To create the vortex of water that Aquanna stands inside, we need to draw a simple single-lined swirl at the base of the character. Remember earlier when I mentioned the importance of staying away from hard lines? In this scenario you can use straight lines to provide groundwork. This will act as the rough outline for what you’ll be drawing upon.

You can use this simple line to build off of for the rest of the action. Then you’ll create the flowing water around it. This will be the perimeter that will help create the beautiful, flowing, water-esque shapes that make up the bulk of your drawing. 

5. Water Dissipates the Farther Out Towards the Edges

It might seem simple but, one important thing to note about water is the further you get from the center of it, the more it dissipates and breaks up into bubbles that progressively get smaller the further away you go. So keep that in mind when drawing bubbles around the central action of your drawing. 

Also, remember to draw bubbles facing in the same direction, moving alongside the water's flow. 


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