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A Pro Animators Guide on How to Draw Backgrounds

ben marvazi 2020

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Your Cheat Sheet on How To Draw Backgrounds

Background art in animation is more than just a backdrop; it's a vital component that shapes the narrative and sets the emotional tone of a scene. 

For professional freelance animators, understanding how to draw backgrounds is key to creating visually stunning and narratively compelling pieces. This art form requires not only technical skill but also a creative vision to breathe life into each frame.

a gridded gradient background

Cover GIF by GIPHY Cares via GIPHY

This blog post is tailored for animators who are adept at animation but are seeking to deepen their expertise and learn how to draw backgrounds. We will guide you through various techniques and insights on creating engaging and dynamic backgrounds. 

From understanding the basic concepts to applying advanced techniques, this guide aims to equip you with the knowledge and skills to enhance your animation projects with beautifully drawn backgrounds.

Understanding the Basics of Background Art

When diving into how to draw backgrounds, it's crucial to recognize the transformative power they hold in animation. Backgrounds do more than just provide a setting; they're a canvas where stories unfold and emotions are conveyed. 

In this section, we focus on the fundamentals that form the backbone of drawing compelling backgrounds.

The Storytelling Power of Backgrounds
two eyeballs bouncing against an animated background

GIF by Originals via GIPHY

In understanding how to draw backgrounds, remember that each background is a silent storyteller. Whether it’s a bustling city street or a serene forest, the background sets the context and mood for the scene, often becoming a character in its own right. 

This storytelling aspect is what makes understanding how to draw backgrounds essential for any animator.

Crafting Mood and Atmosphere

A key aspect of how to draw backgrounds is using them to affect the emotional tone of a scene. The choice of colors, the play of light and shadow, and even the texture details can evoke feelings ranging from joy to suspense. Here's a video if you want to delve deeper into creating atmosphere with animation.

Video by Howard Wimshurst via YouTube

Fundamental Principles for Background Art

As you refine your freelance animation skills and learn how to draw backgrounds, there are several principles to keep in mind:

  • Perspective: A deep understanding of both linear and atmospheric perspectives is vital for adding depth and realism.
  • Composition Techniques: Effective composition in background art ensures harmony between the background and the animated characters.
  • Detail Balance: Knowing how to draw backgrounds involves striking the right balance in detailing. Too much can distract, and too little can underwhelm.

Studying how to draw backgrounds is about more than just technical skills; it's about understanding their role in storytelling and emotion conveyance. 

Tools and Software for Background Creation

A significant part of learning how to draw backgrounds is understanding the tools and software that can bring your visions to life. 

Whether you prefer traditional mediums or digital platforms, the right tools can make a substantial difference in the quality and efficiency of your background art.

Traditional Tools for Background Drawing

For those who appreciate the tactile experience, traditional tools like pencils, inks, and paints are indispensable. 

Each medium offers unique textures and effects, crucial for certain styles of animation. While learning how to draw backgrounds traditionally, experimenting with different materials can unlock new creative potential for animators. Here's a video that demonstrates just that:

Video by Design Cuts via YouTube

Digital Tools: Revolutionizing Background Art

Software like Photoshop, Procreate, and Adobe Illustrator have revolutionized how to draw backgrounds. These programs offer incredible versatility and precision, allowing freelance animators to add intricate details and easy modifications. 

They also provide features like layers, customizable brushes, and a vast color palette, which are invaluable for drawing complex animation backgrounds.

Choosing the Right Tool for Your Style

When deciding how to draw backgrounds, consider the style of animation you’re working on. Traditional tools might suit organic, hand-drawn animations, while digital tools are ideal for crisp, clean lines often found in modern animations. 

The choice also depends on personal preference and the specific requirements of the project.

The Art of Composing Backgrounds

shapes interacting in a gridded 3D background plane

GIF by GIPHY Cares via GIPHY

Teaching yourself how to draw backgrounds requires more than just technical skill; it's an art form that involves thoughtful composition to create engaging and harmonious scenes, whether you’re an up-and-coming or established freelance animator. 

This section explores the key components of effective background composition.

Understanding Composition in Background Art

Composition is the arrangement of elements within a background to create a balanced, visually appealing scene. 

It's a critical skill in learning how to draw backgrounds, as it influences how viewers perceive and interact with the animation. Effective composition can guide the viewer’s eye and ensure the background complements the foreground elements seamlessly.

Techniques for Balanced Composition
  • Rule of Thirds: This principle involves dividing the background into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and placing key elements along these lines or their intersections.
  • Leading Lines: Using natural lines within the background to lead the viewer’s eye to focal points. This is a subtle yet powerful tool in how to draw backgrounds.
  • Depth and Layering: Creating a sense of depth by layering elements and using perspective can add dimensionality to backgrounds.
  • Focal Points: Identifying and emphasizing focal points in the background to draw attention and add interest.
an underwater animated background

GIF by Originals via GIPHY

Balancing Detail and Simplicity in Animation

One of the challenges in learning how to draw backgrounds is balancing the right amount of detail. Too much can overshadow the main action, while too little can leave the scene feeling empty. 

Striking this balance is key to creating backgrounds that enhance the overall animation without dominating it.

Color Theory in Background Art

A deep understanding of color theory is fundamental when learning how to draw backgrounds as a freelance animator.

Colors have the power to set the tone of a scene, influence mood, and even affect audience perception.

The Importance of Color Choices

When considering how to draw backgrounds, color selection is crucial. The right palette can bring a scene to life, evoke specific emotions, and enhance the storytelling. 

For instance, warm colors can create a sense of comfort and energy, while cool colors might evoke calmness or melancholy.

nine squared overlaid by alternating colors

GIF by partyonmarz via GIPHY

How Colors Affect Scene Perception

Colors play a significant role in how viewers interpret a scene. For example, a background with subdued, desaturated colors might suggest a flashback or a memory, whereas vibrant, saturated colors could denote the vitality of a present-day setting. 

Understanding these nuances is key when trying to learn how to draw backgrounds.

Using Color to Create Harmony and Contrast
  • Harmony: This involves using colors that complement each other, creating a cohesive and pleasing visual experience.
  • Contrast: Utilizing contrasting colors can help in highlighting certain elements of the background, drawing the viewer's attention to specific areas.
Tips for Effective Color Usage
  1. Experiment with different color schemes to find the right mood for your scene.
  2. Pay attention to color psychology and how different colors can evoke different emotions.
  3. Consider the time of day and lighting in your scene, as these can greatly affect color perception.

Here's a simple, yet effective introduction to color theory to get you started:

Video by Simple Art Tips via YouTube

Techniques for Different Animation Styles

As you refine your skills in how to draw backgrounds, it's important to adapt your techniques to fit different animation styles. 

Each style, from traditional 2D to modern 3D and even stop motion, has its own unique requirements and aesthetics.

Adapting to 2D Animation

In 2D animation, backgrounds often have a flat, illustrative quality. Focus on:

  • Line Work: Clean, expressive lines are crucial in 2D backgrounds.
  • Flat Colors and Shading: Understanding how to use flat colors effectively, with minimal shading, can help maintain the 2D look.
Techniques for 3D Animation

3D animation requires a different approach to backgrounds:

  • Depth and Volume: Utilize 3D software to create backgrounds with realistic depth and volume.
  • Lighting and Texturing: Advanced lighting and texturing techniques are key to making 3D backgrounds look lifelike.

As a bonus, here's a great tip for combining 2D and 3D feels in animation by OtaKing Animation on YouTube:

Video by OtaKing Animation via YouTube

Elevating Your Animation By Learning How to Draw Backgrounds

As we've explored throughout this guide, it's clear that background art is much more than just a setting for your characters. It's a powerful tool in storytelling, capable of setting the mood, enhancing the narrative, and bringing depth to your animation. 

Whether you're working with 2D, 3D, or stop motion, the right background can transform your animation from good to extraordinary.

Embrace the process, explore various techniques, and don't be afraid to try new tools and styles. 

Looking for more information on taking your freelance animation business to the next level? Check out our blog on How to Start an Animation Studio and GET FREE TRAINING to kickstart your animation career today.

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