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How to Draw Background Characters

ben marvazi 2020

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"Backgrounds are often the unsung heroes of animation. They can really help to set the scene and create a sense of place and atmosphere.”

John Lasseter

Understanding How to Draw Background Characters

In the world of animation, knowing how to draw background characters is an essential skill that adds depth and realism to your scenes. Whether you're a freelance animator or a studio owner, mastering this skill can set your work apart from the rest. 

But what exactly does it mean to draw background characters, and why is it so vital to the animation process?

Background characters are more than mere fillers in a scene; they are the subtle storytellers who breathe life into the environment. They create a sense of place, time, and context, allowing the main characters to exist within a believable and engaging world. 

From bustling city streets to quiet rural landscapes, background characters provide the texture and nuance that make a scene feel real and lived-in.

For animators, the challenge of drawing background characters means striking the right balance. They must be detailed enough to contribute to the scene without distracting from the main action. 

They must blend seamlessly with the overall art style and have enough uniqueness to feel authentic. This requires a deep understanding of animation principles, artistic techniques, and storytelling concepts.

In this blog, we'll explore techniques and insights on how to draw background characters, enhancing your animation projects and bringing them to life. We'll delve into the importance of scale, perspective, simplification, color, consistency, and motion. We'll also look at the tools and resources that can make the process more efficient and enjoyable.

Cover GIF by mamafih via GIPHY

Understanding the Importance of Background Characters

a girl poking her head out of a sea of gray lines, only to be pushed under again by a large gray hand

GIF by Maremonstrum via GIPHY

Background characters are the unsung heroes of animation, providing context, depth, and realism to the scenes. They fill the spaces, add texture to the environment, and contribute to the overall storytelling. 

Learning how to draw background characters is not merely about artistic ability; it's about understanding their function and how they fit into the bigger picture. They help set the mood, enhancing the main characters' presence, and creating a cohesive visual experience.

Techniques for Drawing Backgrounds and Characters

Scale and Perspective

Understanding perspective is crucial when learning how to draw background characters. As a basic rule, objects appear smaller as they recede into the distance. Using vanishing points helps create depth and guides the eye, placing characters accurately within a scene. 

Paying attention to the proportionate scale of background characters helps preserve realism and avoids distortion. This understanding of scale and perspective is foundational to creating a believable space within your animation.


Background characters don't need intricate details. Focusing on general shapes and forms suggests their presence without drawing attention away from the main characters. Too much detail in the background can clutter the scene, so simplifying by using basic lines and shapes conveys the character without overwhelming the viewer. 

Color and Shading

The use of color and shading for background characters requires careful consideration. Muted or less saturated colors ensure they blend into the scene without competing with the main characters. Soft shading helps background characters recede into the space, adding depth without drawing focus. 

The color and shading should harmonize with the overall color scheme and lighting of the scene, enhancing visual coherence. This technique adds richness to the scene without detracting from the primary action.


Background characters should align stylistically with the main characters and the environment, maintaining a cohesive look. Repeating similar shapes or themes with slight variations can create visual interest without distracting from the main focus. Consistent proportions among background characters contribute to a believable space and support the scene's realism. 

This consistency in style, theme, and proportion is vital for creating a seamless and engaging visual experience. maintaining a consistent style with the main characters ensures visual harmony. This approach allows the background characters to support the scene without stealing focus.

Motion and Interaction

If background characters are moving or interacting, their actions should align with the scene's context, mood, and story. Subtle movements can add life to the scene without detracting from the main action. 

How background characters interact with the environment can add layers to the storytelling, whether they're engaging with objects or other characters. This attention to motion and interaction brings vitality and depth to the scene, enhancing the overall narrative.

Tools and Resources on How to Draw Background Characters

a person painting an animal with a face on a canvas

GIF by tobycooke via GIPHY

Using the right tools can make drawing background characters a lot more efficient and enjoyable. Whether you're using a drawing tablet or specialized software, you can elevate your skills by investing in the right equipment, showing you how to draw background characters with finesse.

Drawing Tablets

Modern drawing tablets offer pressure sensitivity and a natural drawing experience that can significantly enhance your ability to create background characters. They provide a tactile connection to your work, allowing for more precise control and a more intuitive creative process.

Specialized Software

Animation software like Adobe Animate, Toon Boom Harmony, or Blender offers specialized tools designed specifically for character design and animation. These tools can automate some of the more tedious aspects when learning how to draw background characters, allowing you to focus on creativity and expression.

Brushes and Textures

a painter's palette against a light green background

GIF by arts of GrIeF via GIPHY

Experimenting with different brushes and textures can add depth and individuality to your background characters. From rough pencil sketches to smooth ink lines, the choice of brush can influence the style and mood of your characters. Textures can add a tactile quality, making the characters feel more tangible and real.

Online Tutorials and Courses

There are countless online resources available to help you learn how to draw background characters. From YouTube tutorials to specialized online courses, you can find guidance and inspiration from professionals in the field. These resources can provide step-by-step instructions, tips, and insights that can accelerate your learning process. 

Community and Collaboration

Engaging with a community of fellow animators can provide support, feedback, and inspiration. Collaborating with others can expose you to different styles and techniques, broadening your perspective and enhancing your skills. Online forums, social media groups, and local meetups can be valuable resources for networking and growth. The Animation Business Accelerator program offers such a community of like-minded animators.

Libraries and Asset Stores

Many animation software platforms offer libraries or asset stores where you can find pre-made characters, backgrounds, and other elements. While creating your own characters is often preferable, these resources can be valuable for inspiration or for quickly populating a scene with diverse background characters.

Elevate Your Animation Skills by Learning How to Draw Background Characters

a hand flipping a stylus between its fingers

GIF by David Sousa via GIPHY

Mastering the art of how to draw background characters is more than just a technical skill; it's a creative endeavor that enhances storytelling and adds depth to your animation projects’ stories and overall appeal. It's about understanding the subtle nuances that make a scene come alive, the delicate balance between detail and simplicity, and the artistic choices that create a cohesive and engaging visual experience.

Drawing background characters is not merely about filling space; it's about creating a world. It's about building environments that feel tangible and real, where main characters can interact and where stories can unfold. 

Background characters provide the texture and nuance that make a scene feel real and lived-in. They are the silent narrators who set the tone, mood, and context, enriching the story without uttering a single word.

If you're an aspiring animator or studio owner looking to take your skill and passion to the next level, consider joining the Animation Business Accelerator Program. With on-demand video lessons, live mentorship calls, and a supportive community, you'll gain the tools and knowledge to thrive in the animation industry. Check out our Animation Business Accelerator Program and our blog on How to Start an Animation Studio to kickstart your animation career today.

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