Tips For Drawing Backgrounds

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Backgrounds, are important for storytelling.  They create atmosphere, mood and help ground the viewer. We can establish certain expectations about a scene by the location, and we can use them to frame our characters.  To push the story forward using ENVIORMENTAL Story telling.

In this episode we explore tips for drawing backgrounds. We take a look at how environments tell stories by looking at real life sets.

Then we do a basic exercise to strengthen your observational drawing skills.

A Basic Background Exercise.

Instead of thinking about backgrounds in terms of complex buildings and cars, we can practice, with simpler shapes.

Grab some things from your house and place them on a table. And try to stage them in a way that create an interesting composition.  where we have a foreground, middle ground and background, and maybe a space for a CHARACTER.

The key to drawing these objects, is understanding how they relate to the HORIZON LINE. this is the line at which at which the receding edges of objects merge towards.  Try to draw the horizon and scene from your point of view. Practicing this will strengthen your ability to observe objects in perspective. And speaking of which, you can also do this exercise with a PERSPECTIVE GRID. which we did an entire video about HERE. so go ahead and watch that when you get a chance.

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Notice that Most of the objects converge towards the same point, and objects that are rotated have their own vanishing points. it’s possible to have an infinite number of vanishing points!  

How Big is a Background for Animation?

Although we are designing for an HD Screen, We actually want our backgrounds to be made much larger.  Otherwise, for raster art, there just isn’t going to enough pixel information, And the paint edges and lines will get all weird.

I haven’t seen a standard size for animation backgrounds but they are usually around 16 by 9 at 300 dpi. With bleeds on all side in case they need to reframe the shot in post.

and If you need to do a PAN, you can just extend the shot out for whichever way the camera is moving. Click the image to download the Bam Animation Background Template

Donut Shop

Jedi sent us this angsty looking teenage character.  I chose this guy because we have all met someone like him, He has sort of a don’t care attitude, he looks like hangs around mall parking lots and scoffs at you for not being able to do an Ollie. He has a lot of sarcastic remarks about your taste in music.  To me this character screams:

  • Parking lots
  • Skateparks
  • Convenience stores
  • Not quite a city. Not quite a suburb.

Drawing a Fantasy Village

Joey Submitted this drawing of a wolf, who looks a bit like he could be in a DND game or some sort of fantasy setting.

For this environment, I wanted to reference some of the buildings from the Texas Renaissance festival. I love the 70’s cartoony theme park aesthetic of these fantasy buildings. and then maybe some Skyrim locations as well. there is something about these Norse inspired roof shapes that I like.

Don’t leave your backgrounds Empty! this is animation,. We can add more! We can put things closer together than in real life, and we can CHEAT them towards the camera, to make it more interesting! I love the I SPY Books, those are great examples of this!

Alien Landscape

Arturo Sent us this Space Cadet! I want to put her on an alien planet. Like a serene landscape from no man’s sky. I’ll start off by drawing in a valley, with a low horizon line to emphasize the tall shapes.

MAX:  The pros and cons of low vs high horizon lines are well explained in this manual for drawing comics the Disney Way.

  • With a high Horizon line. often have empty ground spaces.
  • High horizon lines can make it more difficult to show shapes in perspective
  • Character size relationship can be more difficult.
  • Low Horizon Lines, can be simpler because things can be draw head on, you can get maximum use of space, and can achieve a greater feeling of depth.
  • And that’s not to say that high horizon lines are bad but they should be used when there are interesting things to look down at.

Backgrounds ARE Characters!

There is a reason why we don’t just trace photographs or 3d models for backgrounds.  And it’s because in animation, we can exaggerate shapes and make them more interesting than their real-life counter parts. Animated characters are Exaggerated, and the environments they live in should be as well.

If you want to get better at backgrounds, Practice Sketching out your surroundings, and you can make it cool. Lots of people have drawn their living spaces in interesting ways, and you can too.  I challenge you to start by drawing your own environment or something close to you. You need to put in the line milage before any of this will click.

If you want to see us redraw your art, Send it to