Thursday, July 10, 2008

Background Design

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!


Renee Kurilla said...

So, here is my question now...How do the characters come in to play? Do you think these background artists stuck specifically to the original storyboard - or did they elaborate at all?
I'd be intrigued to go back even a step further to the storyboard and see how the characters are worked into the scene in the sketch.
The backgrounds shown here stand alone as beautiful illustrations. I think the staircase is just amazing, I'd totally hang that framed on my wall.

Bob Flynn said...

Wow, really good question. I guess we wouldn't know for sure unless we got a peek in on the production art. You know, Michael Sporn does a good job of setting up the full picture on his blog. Check out the section just on storyboarding:

Story & Storyboards

You can compare it to your memory of the films, or cross reference with the art from the Animation Backgrounds blog. Actually, that might be a fun post to draw up.

My hunch is that the background artists stay VERY strict to the storyboard, considering character placement BIG time.

For a direct example, I noticed they have a clips of the movies on the blog when possible. You love that staircase, its from "Hyde and Hare", which you can watch here:

Hyde and Hare