Thursday, April 24, 2008

2D Animation in Flash – Part 5: Painting the Backgrounds

[Part Five in multi-part series about “Link’s Prize,” a 2D animation done in Flash. See the bottom of the post for the rest of the series.]

Previous: Animation Preplanning and Animation

Materials used:

Painter 8+, Photoshop, wacom tablet


-Prepping the Drawing in Photoshop
-Entering Painter
-The Base Color
-The Lights
-The Darks
-The Colors
-Back to Photoshop

Prepping the Drawing in Photoshop

Remember when I drew the backgrounds? For each shot, I made a drawing, scanned it in and used a black and white version as the basis for animating. I saved two versions: a small 720x480 version for the animatic, and a larger, 300 dpi version for use later. The latter is what I'll be working with now.

Here's the background again from Shot Three:

Preplanning for Zelda Animation

There's not a lot of prepping to do. First, you want to make sure the drawing layer is not the lowest layer. The reason being that Painter will lock the lowest layer so you can't move it. That's no good because eventually the drawing layer will need to be on top. So, make the last layer a simple white-filled layer. That's the only real prepping you need to do.

In this particular animation, I have window in the scene, with light pouring in quite strongly. In order to make sure that light came through as strongly as possible, I used a soft-edged eraser to erase the inside of the window. This got rid of the paper texture, exposing the completely smooth whiteness of the lower layer. You can see the difference in the drawing above. The paper texture adds a wonderful quality to the paintings, but its not as appropriate for distant or blurry parts of the image.

Entering Painter

Next, I bring the drawing into Painter. I use Painter version 8. I can't guarantee that all versions of Painter will have the same results .... I hope they do ... I can't use version 8 forever ...

Anyways, this is what, eventually, my layers are going to look like:

Preplanning for Zelda Animation

All the backgrounds were done in the same way, with the same layer system. All except for the first one, which was an exercise is crazy working and reworking and crying and tearing my hair out and then reworking again. If I hadn't been on a crazy high of diet coke and green tea I could have written about it.

This system is simple, and I think it works well. I'm sure I'll be using it more in the future. So, the first step is to take the drawing layer ("Layer 0" in the picture above), and set it to "Gel" in the blending options (where it says "Normal" in the picture above). "Gel" is almost exactly like "Multipy" in Photoshop, but I think it's a bit nicer. That may be a completely baseless bias.

The Base Color

Below the "gel'd" drawing layer, at the very bottom, is the blank white layer whose purpose is to satisfy Painter's need for an immovable first layer. Then, above that is the "base" color. The base color will be, for the most part, seeping through the whole painting and tying it together. I recommend using a color that will be most present in the final picture. So pick a color, then just fill in the whole image with it. I used the same color for all subsequent shots to help unify the look of the shots.

Here's what it looks like so far:

Preplanning for Zelda Animation

The Lights

Here's an important detail: I work with the Oil Pastels - Chunky SOFT Pastel. That's the only brush I use. It has an amazingly soft feel and blends like magic. I LOVE this brush. I toggle the size of the brush using the [ and ] keys. This is amazingly helpful. I also use the [g] key to switch to the hand to move quickly around the scene while zoomed in. The [b] key brings you back to the brush tool.

The next step is adding the lights to the scene. Make a separate layer for your lights values. Then, I select a color that is appropriate to the light source. In this case, the light was from the sun, so I used a pale yellow light very close to white. Using the oil pastel brush, I added the light values. Afterward, it looked like this:

Preplanning for Zelda Animation

All of the lights were added with same color; the variation in the strength of the color comes from the varying pressure I put on my stylus. For example, I painted the inside of the window very hard, and tried to make the color very solid. Conversely, for the walls, I painted with an extremely light touch, and allowed it to be a little messy, going along with the paper texture.

The Darks

Where there's light, there's dark. The darks will make another layer. This time, I picked a color only slightly darker than the base. Too much very dark areas could really ruin a drawing like this. In the past I've overdone it with the darks. Just because you make a ton of light areas does not mean you need a ton of dark areas.

Here's what it looks like now.

Preplanning for Zelda Animation
In this case, the difference is barely noticeable. That's good.

The Colors

I've always had trouble painting. I think I'm more of a black-and-white, pencil on paper kind of girl. Painting, with all the colors and tones and values is really a lot to handle. Light and values I can deal with, but colors ... that's a whole other ball game. The reason I like this technique is that it allows me to focus on those light and dark values and then add the color later, instead of the other way around.

So, of course, there's a color layer. It goes above the light and dark layers, but not above the drawing. In this animation, the lighting makes the backgrounds quite dark and the colors aren't so strong. I still think however, this approach will work on more brightly colored backgrounds.

The color swatches layer:

For this sequence, I really only used about six colors or so, including the dark and light colors. I choose a color for the dark wood of the bed, the light wood of the bed, the pot, the pot's design, and the floor. That's about it. For each of those colors I kept a sample swath on a separate layer called the "colors" layer. I only had this idea halfway through painting the drawings, but anyway, saving your colors is really important for ensuring the color continuity between shots.

When I color, I set the brush to a lower opacity, like 10%. Even then, I still color very lightly. You want to build up the color very gradually, making sure not to overtake the value you made underneath. You're just washing color into the base of values you made earlier. For example, if you paint too hard in a dark area where the color should be faded and barely perceptible, then it will look really out of place. However, there are places where strong color will be appropriate.

Here's what the painting looks liked with the colors added:
Preplanning for Zelda Animation
You can also see the swatches of color I used for reference, stored up on a separate layer.

To really make the backgrounds look nice, you could add color layers above the drawing and subtly build on the color while toning down the black lines. I did that for the very first drawing, and vowed not to do it again in the interests of my sanity. Coloring both above and below the line drawing is great and highly recommended, but not if you have many many scenes to finish in a short time.

Back to Photoshop

That's about it for coloring in Painter. Next I brought the drawing back into Photoshop. For whatever reason, I am convinced that the 'multiply' in Photoshop is not as good as the 'gel' in Painter . So, I don't open the psd directly in Photoshop. I save a jpeg version from Painter and open that in Photoshop.

Note: For some reason, when you open jpegs made in Painter, they come up as with the same height but only a fraction of their original width. This has something to do with the Aspect Ratio, but I'm not sure exactly what's going on with that. If this happens to you, you can correct it in Photoshop by clicking, Image > Pixel Aspect Ratio > Square. Maybe it's just me. I'm not sure.

The last thing that I do to these paintings is add the glowing light around the windows. I'm sure there are many ways to do it, but this is what I did:

First, I made a new layer for the glow. Then, using the selection tool, I drew a 0-feather selection around the exact inside of the window (not that exact, just a quickie selection). Like this:
Preplanning for Zelda Animation

Then, I made a bigger 80pixel-feather selection, holding shift to add it to the original selection. In the picture below, the selection looks much smaller than how I actually drew it. When I made the selection, the lines went just past the borders of the window.
Preplanning for Zelda Animation

Finally, I selected white as my foreground color and used the Fill tool to fill in the glow. Like so:
Preplanning for Zelda Animation

And here's the final piece:
Preplanning for Zelda Animation
(If it looks smoother, that's because the previous shots were screenshots of a zoomed out, high dpi file, where the large amount of data doesn't look as good zoomed out.)

And that's all for that! Once again, there's a lot more thought and effort that goes into the painting besides the practical steps. I'll try to get to those in future posts. Stay tuned and check back often! Also, if there's some topic you would like me to go into more detail about, shoot me a comment or email. Thank you!

Next: Coloring the Animations

Part 1: Idea and Storyboards
Part 2: Making an Animatic
Part 3: Drawing the Backgrounds
Part 4: Animation Preplanning and Animating
Part 5: Painting the Backgrounds
Part 6: Coloring the Animations


  1. Great work! I highly appreciate everything you've done so far!

  2. I can't thank you enough for this tutorial - I'm in the process of making an animated short film in Flash for a school project, and since I'm a complete animation noob your guide helps me immensely. Looking forward to the last part!

  3. does this work in Macromedia Fireworks? only I don't have photoshop...

  4.'re really great, sir..
    owhh, im just nothing here..*sobs*

    but it's okay.. ^_^

    and i still wanna become an animator..


  5. [...] I painted this yesterday with the intention of making a short animation on top of it. The drawing was based on one of my photos from Panama. The process of painting is similar to the one I discuss here. [...]

  6. [...] Then for the dark layer, I did a bit more sculpting of the ground, added many many more trees and silhouettes of foliage. I definitely used a lot more dark on this painting then in my last painting tutorial. [...]

  7. [...] ← 2D Animation in Flash – Part 5: Painting the Backgrounds Background Painting/Animation Practice → [...]

  8. [...] 2: Making an Animatic Part 3: Drawing the Backgrounds Part 4: Animation Preplanning and Animating Part 5: Painting the Backgrounds Part 6: Coloring the Animations This entry was posted in Animatics, Step by Step Tutorials. [...]

  9. [...] 2: Making an Animatic Part 3: Drawing the Backgrounds Part 4: Animation Preplanning and Animating Part 5: Painting the Backgrounds Part 6: Coloring the Animations This entry was posted in Animations. Bookmark the permalink. [...]