You’ve spent time developing your characters, created your style, and come up with your storylines. Now is the time to make the environment for your characters to inhabit. But since it’s only the background, is that really important?
In short, yes! Whether you’re creating a video game, movie or a TV commercial, the background gives your animation a look and feel that is instantly recognisable. That also means your animation background will need to be styled perfectly to fit the theme of your story. Your character designs are unique, and the world they inhabit should fit in with that style too.
The background will also help set the mood and tone of your story. Imagine the characters of Scooby-Doo solving mysteries in the brightly-coloured world of The Simpsons — it just wouldn’t work. Not only would there be an apparent disconnect for both the characters and the mood of the show, but it would also make Shaggy and the gang’s interactions with their environment unappealing for the audience.
To understand how background creation and animation layout works, we need to take a look at the differences between the main jobs related to this aspect of animation: Layout Artist, Background Designer and Storyboard Artist.
A storyboard artist is someone who draws individual scenes in animation, each of which will depict the characters in varying poses that are inspired by the concept and script phases of creating the animation. The storyboard acts as a blueprint for the later stages of developing the finished product.
Storyboard artists may need to complete drawn panels to ensure that they are in the project’s correct style. These panels may include basic background shapes like squares, circles, triangles to represent individual items or environments. Alternatively, they may need to fill in more detailed backgrounds to give the background designer more to work with.
Background designers will complete the process begun by the storyboard artist, and have all of the scenery in place for where the action happens. Some scenes will occur in the same environment, and the background designer will need to make sure that the scenery looks suitable from all of the correct angles.
Using colour, texture, and light will give the background depth and add some realism. The background designer will then examine how objects in the scene will interact, and make sure they align correctly so that nothing is too visually distracting from the focal point of the scene.
Once the designs are given the go-ahead, the layout artist will then refine them with lines and tones, making the animation’s background fit seamlessly within the story.
Once the storyboard is complete, the layout artist will begin the animation production process, determining the depth and perspective of the events on screen.
If the animation is in 2D, then the layout artist will use 2D perspective techniques to give the impression of distance from the action at the “front” of the scene. This involves drawing objects which are smaller to make them look like they are further away. In 3D animation, the layout artist takes on a similar role to the director of photography (DP) in a live-action movie, making all of the decisions related to lenses, camera angles and movements.
3D layout artists follow the director’s instructions in terms of understanding the style of virtual photography. Tidying up the rough storyboards, they work out timings and placement of characters in each shot (a process known as blocking), aiming to have a consistent scale within the frame, and determining how best to tell the story.
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