Behind the ‘toons, part 1: Backgrounds

Some folks have asked about the process behind the look of my recent scenes, the Bee Chase and the Stair Fall. I’m starting a series of posts to answer those questions. I’d like to start with the backgrounds, even though (as you’ll see from this post) they were created after the animation was done. I animated those scenes as part of my APT sessions with Keith, so there was no time to work on backgrounds. I knew while animating that I wanted to make backgrounds to match the animation, but I also knew they would have to wait. Since the animation in both scenes follows the classic Looney Tunes mold (more on that in a future post), the backgrounds had to fit. I looked at frame grabs from those classics, some good old Hanna-Barbera ‘toons, as well as some “Cartoon Cartoon” shows like Dexter’s Lab and Jonny Bravo, since their BG style is heavily influenced by the classics. On to the nuts and bolts! Both these scenes involved camera pans, so the BGs had to be much larger than 720X540. Here’s how I built them up. note: Click on any image to see the full-sized version.

The Stair Fall Scene

I started by taking screen caps of my viewport at different points in the animation, and lining them up in Photoshop so it looked continuous. The stairs really helped with the alignment.stair_fall1_LG Screen captures (click to enlarge) This decided the final size of the painted background. No way was i going to start painting without knowing that! My screen captures were a bit bigger than 720X540, so I knew I’d end up with a bigger BG than I actually needed. Better to scale down a big BG than the other way around, right? Here’s the base color layer. Ouch! hurts the eye, doesn’t it?stair_fall2_LG Base color (click to enlarge) It’s painted in Artrage, a great free software that simulates natural art media. That’s how I got those nice brush strokes you can see in the enlarged image. I then overlaid some high-res concrete wall textures, played with the blending modes, and adjusted the colors. Adjustment layers are my friend.stair_fall3_LG Textured and color-adjusted (click to enlarge) Finally I painted some grid lines for the floor — just the part of the floor we’ll see in the finished scene — and overlaid a rough paper texture to break up the shading and make the colors slightly warmer.stair_fall_bg_LG Final background (click to enlarge) Here’s the painted stair itself. Even though I had modeled a staircase in Maya (If you can call a flat plane with some faces deleted a “model”), I ended up using this painted one in the final After Effects comp.stair_texture_LG Stair texture (click to enlarge) In After Effects, I had two layers of stairs (one in the foreground for him to run up, and a blue one in the distant background) and one layer of the main background. I hand-animated them to match the animation, moving them at different speeds to create some illusion of parallax. Tedious, but it’s all I knew!

The Bee Chase Scene

For this scene, I wanted a very minimal background, to let the animation be the star. I chose a watercolor look for its subtlety. The wet media brushes included with Photoshop worked great for this effect. Once again, I started with a series of screen caps. Here the alignment wasn’t as easy, because the perspective on the grid lines keeps changing from one screen cap to the next. I used his foot positions to help me guess the alignment. For the final pan in After Effects, I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about perspective. If a flat pan worked for those old classic ‘toons, it would work for my little scene. bee_chase1_LG Screen caps (click to enlarge) Here’s the sky, made up of three layers — each painted with a different brush.bee_chase2_LG Sky layer (click to enlarge) Then the ground and foliage. The foreground and background foliage are in different layers, so I could sandwich the animation between them in After Effects. bee_chase3_LG Ground and foliage added (click to enlarge) Finally, a layer of random splatters and another with a paper texture overlay at reduced opacity. Here’s the final BG: bee_chase_bg_LG Final background (click to enlarge) As with the stair fall scene, the BG pan was hand-animated in AE. Not much parallax in this scene, though. It may sound from this post that I knew exactly what I was doing when I made these backgrounds. In reality, my process wasn’t a straight, simple sequence like I outlined above. There was a lot of trial and error (and plenty more error!). I had to go back and forth between the different “steps”, changing things on the fly. The breakdown above is just a simplified guide, and it’s all I can remember! I’ll write some more posts about these scenes, going over the shader and other things. If you have any questions, or ideas about what you’d like me to elaborate on, please leave me a comment!

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7 responses to “Behind the ‘toons, part 1: Backgrounds

  1. Very nice. Although I had a pretty good guess on how you did the backgrounds, I still have no ideas how you got the shader on Moom like that. I’ll be waiting for that reveal 😛

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Pingback: Behind the ‘toons, part 2: The Shader | Yi Studio Blog·

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