Renée came to me the other day with a question about background design...mainly that she wanted some inspiration to look at, so I pointed her in the direction of Rob Richard's Animation Backgrounds blog. I'd seen it referenced before on John K's blog as a one-stop depot for animation backgrounds of all styles, minus the characters! There's even a handy list on the side that helps organize them into films and periods. Well, a day later, John K. is blogging away about backgrounds. Check out his post here, as I'm referencing only a few of the images he pulled from Rob Richard's site.
I'll be the first to admit that I have a difficult time with backgrounds. John K. does a good job breaking down the key principles of composition and hierarchy—how you frame a shot and how you organize elements on a page. Like with everything else in image-making, it's always key to consider things like contrast, positive and negative space (you know the laundry list)...all the things you would consider as a designer of anything. Here are two "stylized" backgrounds that really excel (from Warner Brothers Cartoons of the 1950s):
Breathtaking! I can recall a recent film we did where we had a scene with a park bench —notice the frame of reference here. I know I fall into the trap of keeping the horizon at a flat 180 degrees. See how much more dynamic these compositions are because of the angling of forms? They still adhere to a system of perspective and logic. Here are poignant words from John K:
"Some modern layout artists see a license for anarchy in these stylized images. I see very slightly distorted perspectives and stylistic interpretations of reality, but with still great planning and organization of all the graphic elements into a quickly readable statement that has a purpose in the scene and story. Each element does not follow its own physics ; it is subservient to the overall composition. Every detail follows and helps define the larger object it is part of."
Check out this fire red background from 101 Dalmations:
Here's a random shot from The Jungle Book. You can tell right away where Mowgli is supposed to go, and the background is balanced as to not overwhelm you with jungle:
Or a house fit for a mouse! This is from "Jonann Mouse", a Tom and Jerry cartoon that won an Oscar. This is the full pan...low to the ground (notice the chair leg in the foreground):
Anyway, that's just a small sampling. Definitely check out this invaluable resource!