Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Layout Question - Composition 21

I'm just curious, Is anyone using the BG manual I posted? I'm wondering if the concepts are sinking in.

I wonder if anyone would care to analyze the concepts of design, layout, composition you find in these frame grabs?






Paul said...

Thank you, Mr. Kricfalusi, for saying what a lot of young artists need to hear. I'm always fascinated when I hear people talking about quality and tradition... as good things! I like hearing that training and skill are not incompatible with imagination and experimentation, but that they are necessary for each other. It's refreshing hearing that time is a necessary factor in honing a craft, longer than the four years we spend at a college. I hope, one day, to be able to be part of a team that makes a true piece of animated art, beginning to end. Thanks for the instruction and inspiration.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, I've definitely been absorbing them. The color theories, composition stuff...the whole works. I'm still not awesome, but I'm working on it...

-they weren't drawn with a ruler -they have man made and organic shapes (the floppy umbrella over the flat windows)
-the shapes are well composed and frame the main action and leave space for the characters (dolls in the foreground I assume will frame the character in the background...the words on the window and the car in the background leave room for the character...)
-the perspective has been slightly altered, but in a controlled way (the filing cabinets...the fifties swinger pad)
-the colors are greyed,"realistic", earthy and undistracting
-there's contrast, everything doesn't just blend together in a calm pastel world of blandness
-there's interesting and varied shapes (the angular stylish fifties pad beside the weird curvy organic tree)

How am I doing?

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, I forgot clear sillohettes of major shapes, and a lack of symmetry.

greg said...

I am an environment artist in the gaming industry and I am constantly checking your blog for inspiration and knowledge about backgrounds. They give me a lot of freedom here on my backgrounds (I am able to go from concept to completion of the 3d environment) and I have to admit I have made a lot of poor choices due to lack of expertise. This blog has helped me greatly in my layouts as well as using contrast to push the emphasis of the BG. I have been using your suggestions for backgrounds with much better results (although I still have a long ways to go) and I eagerly look forward to your posts.

Ted said...

"Why Play Leapfrog?" available at


Kevin Langley said...

It's funny that you posted this. I've been watching those John Sutherland films a lot lately. They're some nice looking cartoons. I have to admit your BG notes are pretty thorough and I haven't really absorbed it all yet.

JohnK said...


you're doin' great.

Are you applying those ideas to your own cartoons?

pumml said...

I think Josh should get a gold star! I'd also add, they use varied texture and color to establish depth, and use directional cues (lines, shapes, etc) to visually encourage where the viewer's eye will travel, which further helps to frame the action. Interesting use of negative space as well, which goes with what Josh mentioned about balanced asymmetry and organic shapes.

JohnK said...

Hey Kevin

yeah some of those Sutherland films are great.

It's interesting that the BGs are "modern" but the characters are bland versions of 40s style.

Do you know who did the BGs in this cartoon?

JohnK said...

Thanks for the link Ted, I added it to the post.

Clinton said...

I see the construction of shapes in picture 1, squares and rectangles. frame 2 kind of confuses me, I don't know exactly what to look for there. pictures 3 and 4 are readable. I can see that there is space in the background for the character to interact. In frame 3, i reckon that the blonde will move towards the doll. The arm touching her hair may not get cut from the scene. In frame 4, the character already notices the car, so he'll turn his whole body around that direction. pictures 6, 7, 8 are those flat layouts. I think those are used to establish the setting of the film. I don't know what picture 9 is doing, the silhouette....shaving a sheep? picture 10 is the broad, detailed kind of layout showing minute characters interacting with the background. It reminds me of those cityscape layouts. picture 10, i guess this layout was used to focus on the stack of hay since the bull is looking at it. in picture 11, i guess that the focus is on the butcher since we have a full shot of him cutting the meat. the butcher might be the main character and the woman the secondary. the last pictures, i think, all relate to space and what the character can interact with in the scene since he is drawn pretty small. I have your Layout notes form animation meat, John. Layout is one of many things I am working to improve on.

Anonymous said...

Here's a thing I'd like to add. In some of the BGs (such as 3), the details don't look evenly spaced. I was originally going to post what concepts each screenshot used (it was kind of long), but Josh and Pumml already stated most of the concepts.

Anonymous said...

"you're doin' great.

Are you applying those ideas to your own cartoons?"

I sure am. I'll post some in a couple of days.

Adam H said...

I enjoyed that little short! Had some really fun music in the beginnning too.

Josh hit a lot of the points, so I only have a few to add:

*Harmonious color palettes, rather than the crayon box effect. Most evident in 4,5,6,7, & 12 especially. Lots of subtle shade differences instead of a primary & secondary-color vomit pool.

*Even though a lot of the bgs are very stylized, there's form in them still. The tree in 12 is wayy stylized, but still feels like it has volume.

*Not a single symmetrical shot. 8 could have very easily been centered & boring, but the artist used the slight skewing with varying sizes of the wooden boards to make the sheep sheering hut fun & interesting.

I like these quizzes John...you should ask more often! It's fun for us learning & (hopefully) reassures you that your efforts aren't in vain...

NateBear said...

Josh got most of what I was gonna say. However, I would like to add:

-Besides the BG having muted tones they also use limited palettes with emphasis on a single color family (esp 4-7. 12). In 7 the grey building panels aren't even really grey but very neutral warms.

-Most of the BGs have a main color family but with a single compositional form from a different family to emphasiz that shape. In 11, for instance, most of the BG is greenish except for the wall and chopping block in the butcher shop that frame the two figures. In 8 most of the BG is dark earthy and greenish tones, but the pleasantly light pink sky emphasizes the shed's silhouette.

-I'm not sure if this is in the manual but i seem to recall something about keeping BG shapes simple, yet organic. I notice in these BG there tends to be a single shape (+ negative space) to frame the subject. Then all the bg details are added around that shape. In 1 it's the window box around the dolls. In 11 it's the interlocking of the counter+outside and the wall+chopping block. In 10 its the the negative space from the hills that frames the bull. Same thing in 6. In 3 it's the lighter half of the filing cabinets+ the counter that frame the fox and the doll.

The more I study these BG the more I realize how sophisticated they are since the BG and FG overlap several times.


R said...

Seeing these backgrounds spurred me to check out other Sutherland cartoons. It looks like this background artist did a number of other films for Sutherland.
Just as an historical aside, it seems to me that he was inspired by Constantin Alajalov. If you're not familiar with Alajalov's work, I highly recommend you check it out.
Aside from doing a Google image search, you can go to the New Yorker's web site store and search "Alajalov" for all of his covers.

JohnK said...

Good eye there, Adam!

everyone seems to be growing.

So I should keep putting up lessons and theories about cartoon art?

Adele K Thomas said...

I read ya stuff JOhn! I even printed it out! suck up, suck up...

In regards to the posted images: What Josh said.

BUT! I never feel comfortable when there is an object smack bang in the middle of a layout, like the doll on the counter. But we all do it and there are exceptions I guess? HECK, I did it with a recent image...but it wasnt a layout.
I also feel squashed with the 2nd shot, the foreground dolls seem like there are just too many...but as I havent seen this clip Im assuming like most scenes that the dolls move outwards as the camera moves forward?

Sorry to go against the rest of you, but what do I know...Im a young woman, shouldnt I be just be inking and painting? :D

Adele K Thomas said...


flashcartoons said...

I start my 'Watercolor Landscapes' class in 2 weeks and im excited, im going to take what i learned here and apply it to my paintings

eventually i want to use those bgs to animate over!

Daffodil said...

I am a grad student interested in animation. I am looking for some images showing squash and stretch effects in characters like Mickey mouse and any simple character. I basically need successive frames of the motion depicting squash and stretch for working on my research. It will be great if you could suggest some source where I can get such images.

Thanks in advance,


Kali Fontecchio said...

"So I should keep putting up lessons and theories about cartoon art?"


clint said...

Yep. Please do keep putting up lessons and theories on cartoon art - I am graphic designer that fakes a lot of cartooning in interactives. With the background stuff you posted on your site I went from a dribbling, limp flesh puddle without direction to a strapping man with a visual purpose. Thanks and please keep posting all that good stuff.

Matt J said...

Keep on with the theories & lessons for sure!! It's helping us ALL!

Whit said...

The images smack dab in the center of compositions is a bad habit everyone learns these days from TV production.

Rafi animates said...

Damn, I really would have liked to get in on the discussion earlier - haven't had internet access all week, so been playing catchup. Here's my 2 cents anyway:

1. The blonde doll is pretty much in the centre of the image, the other dolls face in towards her. They're also drawn in darker colours, contrasting her bright colours. The sign above her keeps your eyes from wandering off upwards amidst the murky inside of the shop. The bright blue of the shop pops out against the comparatively muted tones of the surrounding shops. What you see of those shops work well as a framing device, as does the facing window pane. The upper wavy flaps of the shop point downwards, again, leading your eye. The red rectangular shape behind the blonde doll helps direct the eye - working with the "dollies" sign to draw your focus.

2. Great example of grouping similar objects together. Great sense of depth too - the foreground is much more saturated than the background, yet all the colours used in the whole picture are harmonious but never confusing - i.e. objects don't blend into eachother confusingly. I think this may be down to contrasting detailed areas with simple areas - eg the solid wood of the shelf against the pattern of a doll's clothing or the white box behind the doll with the ribbon. Overlapping shapes also help give the impression of depth eg. scissors on peg, ribbon behind it. The two dolls in the bottom left. Notice how they're not fully in frame - implying there's more in this world beyond the four edges of the frame. The perspective line of the base of the shelf also add depth. Good picture design with bold shapes - if you colour the foreground black and the desaturated background white, they form great shapes! all-round, balanced and asymmetrical.

3. Awesome use of perspective lines to show depth, but not boring because it's not done like an architectural drawing! Take that desk for example. The upper left corner perfectly points to the doll - which is also centred on the frame, but as the desk comes towards us, instead of widening, it narrows. This is sweet design that keeps it all organic and serves the presentation and point of the shot. Stylised design with a purpose. The blonde girl has an appealing pose, balanced and facing the primary subject. The filing cabinet in the back also points down to the doll, and as it recedes in perspective, leads our eyes around the picture with the help of the curtains that stop us from wandering too far right. in fact as the pink curtains take us down, we're back to the edge of the table top that's free of texture and patterns - the perfect stage for the doll.

4. Muted walls, tiles and outer walls of the window. The car is saturated so pops out as important. The dude in the foreground is staring right at it! His colours are in perfect harmony with the environment and not as saturated as the car, because the car is more important. The half cut-off tree implies there's more beyond the picture frame, and it's leaves draw you back towards the car. Essentially, this implies the man and tree are similar-sized objects in the world and the invisible line of perspective between them help frame the car again. Not to mention that halo around it! :)

5. Simple and effective use of tone to imply depth. That mill is so dark against the muted city/sky, that you just know it's closer to us. Apart from the rail tracks, there are no parallel lines - keeping it all organic, but not wonky.

6. WOW. how warm and inviting does that world look? Same notes on foreground/background implied through contrast. I love the organic shapes of the mountain and the clear space to the left to frame the foreground elements. BREATHE!

7. Amazing colours again. It would have been easy to place the shack right in the middle of the frame, but that would have flattened the composition completely. This way, your eyes stay on it and it's supported by the horizon lines and shape of the interweaving hills. They're almost forming a criss-cross pattern. The vegetation creeping in from either side of the frame again imply more beyond.

8. Beautiful organic framing. Firstly the wooden paneling is in good contrast to the silhouette. then there's the wooden beams that are pretty much acting like the frame of a painting, with that dark base running along the bottom. Nothing is parallel, it's all organic. Then there's the background - simple. Two complimentary colours in perfect harmony, with a sweeping line to keep things asymmetrical, organic and....fun!

9. The side of the building with repeated windows in perspective adds depth. The further an object is, the more muted less detailed it is. eg. the skyline compared to the watertower, compared to the ship and waterfront. I like how the supporting beams of the dock is also cut off, as is the ship - if they ware all in frame, the picture would appear flat. The cars pop out coz they's saturated. All colours are amazingly in perfect harmony. The lines from the red bridge on the left and the water tower in the top right all lean towards the main building. This main building is designed perfectly to show that bright sign "Assembly Plant". It's as though it's placed in perspective to have that sign spring out at you!

10. Organic hills, the bluey-greeny colours compliment the warm sky. The light-pink fence compliments the grass/hills, the saturated bull pops out, along with the hay - presumably the focus of the shot, as they are also framed by the fence - a nice ring in perspective. The cow's face and hence expression is also key, as comes towards us in perspective. Everything is kept fun and organic and free of clutter, yet never flat through well placed framing devices and implied perspective.

11. That window/doorway is a perfect framing device for the main action. The muted desaturated street doesn't interfere with the characters. Warm walls balanced by the cool cabinets and table top. Use of perspective lines to keep your eyes on the action. I probably don't need to repeat that cropping the weighing scale on the right, the coat on the left, the ham in the bottom left corner and the picture frame on the wall in the top right...all adds to the feeling of a bigger room/world.

12. Harmony harmony harmony. oooh and contrast with the main character, right in the middle of all this organic goodness. The design of the grass itself even frames him. Astounding. The tree is at an angle that points inwards, towards the subject.

13. Saturated objects pop up against what is now a muted background by comparison. So it's never too busy or confusing. The careful placement of the furniture keeps our eyes on the man. That car is gorgeous - simple, fun design, in perspective to keep it feeling like a real car. Awesome. Also, it's made of flat colours - contrasting the blended colours of the background. Goof contrast that also implies material - like it's manufactured, just like the fridge and cooker. They're flat colours too.

14. More of the same, great framing with the converging roof tops and curtain/doorway. The curved path on the right leads us back to the dude. Perspective can be kept organic and flowing.

Dunno if that's what you wanted to hear John, but I must say your posts are always really inspiring and essential material for an aspiring cartoonist / animator / layout artist. I've said it before, you've got great insight and while very vocal about your observations, it's always backed up by well-chosen examples in abundance. That's what makes reading this blog every day so great. So please, do keep posting.

I have been trying to apply the stuff I read in your posts to my own work, to varying degrees of success. To give you an idea, I used to do stuff like this:

but now I'm doing more of this:

and this:

Got a looong way to go yet, but I think some of what I've been reading is starting to have some effect. I find I re-read a lot of the older posts to remind me of the principles.


R said...

The uncredited background artist in this cartoon seems to be the same as in WHAT MAKES US TICK and A IS FOR ATOM. Neither of these films gives specific credit for background painting. Instead, they list "art direction" or "production design".

TICK gives credit to Gerald Nevius and Edgar Starr.
ATOM gives credit to Gerald Nevius, Lew Keller and Tony Rivera.

Nevius was a background painter. I'd guess that he was the lead artist and was assisted by the others.

Tibby said...

Your lessons help me oodles and ooldles Sensei sir! I read your lessons all the time. And yes they are sinking in. It just takes a few itterations to get it right. I have a basic color wheel taped to my desk front. That also helps a lot. It was for sign painting - but it reminds me of my color basics now and then.

A lot of it relies heavily on the personal style of the artist. Some artists like lots of color and composition and others can be minimalist or modern type artists. That doesn't mean they don't know anything - it simply means they have a much different personal style from the next person. And it all depends on the viewer's personal likes and dislikes about art. It is definatly true to be said that no 2 artists think alike. Just look at how varied all that old style animation is - Bugs Bunny in the most early cartoons is not the same Bugs that he became and certainly is not the same Bugs now.

Your lessons are sinking in - it all depends on who wants to listen to them - or take offence to them. The open minded artist will take it all in and apply what he/she has learned and the non-open artist will get all mad and continue on his/her path because his/her style may be very different from these old examlpes. It all comes down to personal tastes. Not because we're not learning anything.

Jim Rockford said...

"Do you know who did the BGs in this cartoon?"

Shot in the dark,Maurice Noble? I'm probably wrong.

Chris E. said...

I must've missed the BG manual.

gonzobird said...

I think everything I would have said about the images has already been covered more in-depth by other fans, but I will happily add my voice that the tutorials and whatnot that you posted were incredibly useful to me and I'd love to see more.

Actually, I started watching your blog after someone posted a link to a wikipedia article on you that had useful links specifically to your technique posts, separated by topic such as backgrounds, color and whatnot. I admit I was rather disappointed to go back to the article later to find the links had all been taken down. It did encourage me to start reading your blog more thoroughly, but it had been nice to have that resource as a starting point. =)