22 October, 2008





Background Painting


While the characters and
special effects in an animated film may be altered every frame or every other
frame to create the illusion of action, the environment surrounding them is
generally held behind (or in front of) them for an entire scene. The
backgrounds, overlay, and underlay are masterfully rendered paintings, based on
the drawings created by the layout department. They create the imaginary world
that the characters inhabit, and through the subtle use of lighting and color,
serve to compose and spotlight the action, as well as give emotional impact and
continuity of each sequence. The paintings of the Background Department play a
vital role in creating a believable and moving world onscreen. The background is
the “set” or environment that the character or animating cell works over. The
background must always complement and enhance the character, never overpower it.
Thus, a specialized artist is required who is aware of different techniques
designed to work well with the character and effects animation.


Backgrounds generally are
painted “soft”, with a spotlight effect on the area to be the center of
attention. Certain areas in this spotlight need to be rendered sharply and more
distinctly. The Background Artist must develop an eye to recognize where this
has to be done. Often, the layout drawing will specify certain spots to be
emphasized, as well as “registration” lines where the character comes in contact
with the props in the background.


A layout drawing is transferred
using graphite paper, onto an illustrations board cut to the size required for
the scene. Then the board is wet, and a general light wash of color is applied,
following an accurate “color key”, or color sketch, of the scene. As the
painting progresses, darker values are put in until the painting is completed.
Then a color model or character cell is placed over the background to check for
readability against the painting. Any adjustment required is done at this time.



  • Illustration Board -
    surface background painting is done on a 2-play paper that will endure a good
    deal of water and paint without warping or curling.

  • Graphite Paper -To
    transfer the layout onto the illustration board.

  • Airbrush – Used to keep
    the board wet during the initial wash of color. Also invaluable in tinting the
    painting, or boosting color during and after completion. This is great for
    achieving foggy, soft atmosphere, and works well on cell overlays for clouds and
    fog effects, or glows.

  • Paints – Windsor and
    Newton Designer Gouache is similar to watercolor, but slightly thicker in
    consistency and more versatile. It can be used transparently or opaquely as

  • Brushes – #3, #4, and #6
    fine point brushes for medium and small detail; a 1 1/2″ brush for broad, large
    areas, and a fan brush for softening washes.

  • Palette – Surface used
    to place paints for mixing and application to boards. We find acetate cells work
    best for this.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *