Wednesday, June 11, 2008

BG Layout tips for Nate - talent, style plus thought

Here are some layouts by Maurice Noble that illustrate all the concepts I talk about in my BG design posts.

The layouts are not merely stylish, they are functional and carefully, intelligently planned out and organized.

Distortion-DO NOT DISTORT EVERYTHING, use careful decisionsThese boxes have backwards perspective. We are looking up at them, yet the vertical lines converge downwards. It makes no sense but looks dynamic. Note that all the details on the boxes-the boards and grain follow the same perspective. They don't go every which way. It makes the distortion of the box convincing and easy to read.
The rest of the background follows the basic rules. Lots of negative shape around the focus of the scene. Each form is distinct-mountains, ground, plants.

Details are varied and descriptive - and FOLLOW THE FORMS.
The main detail is on the cactus. It is an interesting squiggly yet controlled brush pattern that crawls around the form of the cactus. The rest of the BG objects have almost no details, yet each form is stylish, solid and descriptive of what it is: scrub, ground, hills, mountains.

Noble made a decision: he controlled an urge to cover every object with an equal amount of stylish detail and just chose one main object, so that we could easily see what is happening in the scene.

Look how well planned the scene is Wile E.'s head is perfectly framed in the negative space between the cactus and the mountain.

Divide your picture into few major forms.

This canyon between two cliffs is very easy to read because they are not tons of objects and details competing for our attention.

There is a ground plane split by the crevice and one rock formation in the upper corner of the frame, away from the action.

Use Negative space to make your positive major forms read clearly.

Do not completely cover your objects with details, and wrap the details around the form of the objects. And vary the surface physics of your objects so that everything isn't made up of the same substance.
Note how different the form of the rocks behind Wile E. are from the cliff side behind the rocks. This helps distinguish the two picture planes and makes it easy to see the picture. If the cliff side was rounded and had the same kind of sub forms as the rock, it would blend together like a cluttered wallpaper and we wouldn't see that is hiding behind the rocks.

Noble used two different types of rock forms and textures to separate the elements.

The textures do not completely cover the objects either. There is a lot of negative space within the object.

The painter followed up on this concept by using different color families and values for each surface.


Here is a drawing by my latest discovery: Nate

I think he has lots of promise. His BG studies have style and appeal but he could use some tips from the masters (not me but Maurice Noble, Robert Gribbroek and the great layout artists from old cartoons.)
The houses and tree in this picture have nice solid forms overall. The houses are slightly distorted and the details generally follow the same distortion.

We could bring out these attributes with some careful adjustments.

1 Use negative space to make the main objects read more clearly.
2 Even organic things made out of lots of little things should have an overall shape.

Like these Gribbroek layouts:
The shape of the pine needles are very clear as an overall form, that is then divide into layers of sub forms, on down to the individual needles at the bottom.

The conifers in the BG are not all different sizes and shapes at random.
Squint your eyes and you'll see that they form a wave behind the foreground trees.

3 Divide big areas of a substance into smaller sub forms that fit into the overall pattern.

4 Lastly, add the details - and make them small, so they don't break up the forms.

My attempt at leaves is plum pitiful and that certainly is not the only way to draw foliage, but I am just trying to make the point clearly. Once you have these concepts down, you can vary all your types of forms, substances and textures more artistically.

Just don't try to make a picture by starting with the details. Get an overall graphic statement first that tells the viewer what he's looking at easily, then break it up into careful sub-structures and textures.

A good exercise might be to take some of these muddy looking frame grabs I made from Rabbit Fire and trace them. You can't see a lot of the details, but you can see the major compositions and the second level of forms quite clearly.

Don't forget to copy the cursor.


Sven Hoek said...

Awesome background paintings and layouts by the forefathers of cartoons. And, as usual, great analysis by the master. So many decisions have to be made for good backgrounds and John really knows how to explain it. You know who one of my favorite background artists is....Bill Wray. Check out that guys stuff, he's fantastic.

Gary said...

Great post, John. I'm a long time fan, first time commenter. Your posts have really, REALLY helped me out. If you ever need a couch to crash on in Osaka, give me a shout.


JohnK said...

He's my favorite BG painter too Sven and thanks Gary.

Nate said...

FANTASTIC advice. Very clear. Thank you, John.

Drew said...


Your blog is a must view daily as I jump into flash animation from the world of daily newspaper work. Nate's BG work is just terrific. Thanks, John, for taking the time to give us such great information and insight. Can't wait to see your George Liquor project come to life.


pumml said...

Really great lesson, John. And I agree, Bill Wray's paintings are brilliant!

Gabriele_Gabba said...

Love this John! I never thought about how compositions can frame the action so well!! Gosh i feel like i've been flying blind! Anyway, i'm gonna post some backgrounds (i did for a short last year) up on my blog if you wanna spot round and see them.

PCUnfunny said...

I know this post is about the backorounds but this was my favorite era of Chuck Jones' style. It had a bit of 50's conservatism with a bit of the 40's spirit.

Brian said...

Hi John
I'm a beginner and I've been doing a lot of Preston Blair studies. I'd love it if you checked out some of my stuff -

Also, what do you think about that page from Blair's later book that I put at the top of my post.

Captain Napalm said...

It's funny how many background painters from that era -Noble and Lozzi especially- seemed almost fixated on skies that are the colour of air pollution, yet are ironically pretty and appealing for just that reason. Postwar pro-industrial propaganda, or just good colour theory? You be the judge!

SoleilSmile said...

Hi John,
I have a question regarding line work in BG's: how do you integrate line work in BG's with character line work? What are the rules? I would love your advice regarding this challenge.

Thanks in advance!

The industry should be thankful to you for discovering and cultivating new talent. Other studio heads refuse to invest time on their artist, save Disney Feature. It was a pleasure to work for you way back when.
These tutorials are great. Thanks for sharing and please post more.

JohnK said...

Thanks Ashanti!

It's nice to hear that. It was fun working with you on the Heartaches too.

Ted said...

Which cartoon is the odd cactus (below the shot of the bomb crate) from?

David Germain said...

Hey, John, what do you use to get screen grabs from dvds on your computer? I tried to do that once and I got the message "will not work while the DVD player is on".

Paul Bouchard said...

That was a great lesson. I don't think very many of the 80,000 animation schools currently in existence could offer anything as helpful.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wow! A great lesson!

Pseudonym said...

One thing I noticed about all these great background drawings is that everything that's important has something that places it in the scene.

The one of the TNT box, for example, has two plants framing it. The plants have pretty much no detail, but one is in front and one is behind. They anchor the box at a specific depth in the space.

The cactus, similarly, has a very narrow patch of dry ground that it's sitting on, something just out of frame to the right, and a very subtle shadow.

Unimportant things don't have these extra pieces attached to and surrounding them.

J. said...

Hi John

I have some new George and Sody drawings awaiting your wise critique.

They are here

thanks, meester!

HemlockMan said...

Amazing dissection.

You guys draw 'em and I'll watch 'em.

Marc Deckter said...

David Germain:

DUCK-WALK: It's a Snap!

tmachado said...

Very nice, amazing BG's! Tkz so much for the info.

El Siglo del Ruido said...

I cant believe i've never seen this blog, im gonna read it whole!
Thanks for sharing your knowledge John, Im a big fan. Ive been doing comic strips for some time but now im starting to try doing some limited animations.
This is gonna be of great help.

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Search it as "Gatin A Bordo (Kitty on Board)"
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Jim Rockford said...

Great lesson!
Its interesting to see all fundamental principals broken down along with those great background examples to analyze.
Those Maurice Noble backgrounds are very well conceived and skillfully executed.
Thanks for all the added insight.

What those art schools charge an arm and a leg for and still dont teach you give away for free!

Have to agree with the what so many have already said, Bill Wray is ultra talented.
His outer space backgrounds are especially dazzling.

Ted said...

To answer my own question, the background appears in Going! Going! Gosh! (1952). The layouts there are listed as by Robert Gribbroek (as they all were in all the RR cartoons up to that point). However, that's not where the screen comes from; Coyote doesn't appear that way with that background in that cartoon. Instead, it's from Zipping Along (1953), where the layouts are listed as from Noble. So, unless MN was doing unlisted layouts, it seems likely that one should be credited to RG.

Mitch K said...

GREAT post, John -- thanks a lot! :D

Tod said...

These are great John, Maurice started a sort of layout text book just before he passed on. I think you may have explained what he was doing more clearly than he did. I'm not trying to give your ego a shot... but Maurice once told me that you were the only person in recent memory still making cartoons.