Monday, December 1, 2014

Animation Backgrounds

Beginning animation students tend to stage their shots as if you were watching their characters on a stage from the back row. The character enters in profile from the left and walks to the center of the field of view. This is usually all done in one establishing long shot. We then cut to a front view, usually a closer shot to see the character looking or reacting to something. Then we cut back to the same profile long shot as before. 

There is a lot of this Side,front, Side type of cutting, because its easier to animate a 2D character in profile than it is in a 3/4 view or in perspective. I try to have my students start with the profile walk in, but then have them cut to a 3/4 view and not to return to the same profile long shot again if they can help it.

While working on my own short, I discovered that I needed help with making backgrounds since I tend to prefer a simple white background, so I didn't have to deal with making one. This type of non-background can be seen here from a short I did years ago.

The best way to become an animation background artist is to study old cartoons to see how the backgrounds were made . I found an excellent blog source for animation backgrounds by Rob Richards' called simply, Animation Backgrounds. Rob has selected still frames and removed the animated character to show only the backgrounds making it easier to study the framing, the tones, the lighting and all those other details.

Here's an interesting and very dynamic view from The Alley Cat (1941), where our hero is trying to impress a feline in a window ledge high above. This is a vertical image with a background pan from left to right as the cat dances on the fence and the girl cat above is also moving in a simple dance cycle. When I first found this image, I thought the background artist had added a still pose of the girl cat. If you scroll down, you will see the original cartoon this shot came from.

But first, let's take a look at how perspective lines and shapes help direction our attention to what is important in this scene. Beginning with vertical lines from the fence, up the building and to the sky.

Next, we have angled horizontal lines, showing a second vanishing point from screen right. Together both vertical and horizontal lines create a frame around the cat in the window above.
Also, The girl cat is in the top one third area, while our dancing Tom is in the one third area to the left. All this makes for a nice composition.

The Background Artist also has created a spotlight of light effect to draw our attention to the tiny character above to make sure we see it. Notice all the lines of window frames and other shapes also are used to point towards the same small character.

Even our hero has an eyeline aimed up at the other cat to help the audience notice the other character and to show how far apart they are not just in social class, but in physical distance.

And then there are all the other details. The closer the object, the more detailed and in focus, but the farther away, the color gets lighter in tone and the details are thrown more out of focus.

And so, start collecting interesting background images and add them to your reference file. This comes in handy when you are trying to create a background for your next project. If you have any background tips, please forward them to me. 

Until next time, enjoy this classic MGM cartoon and then study it by watching it again without the sound. And be careful, you might learn something new...


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