Friday, April 18, 2008

2D Animation in Flash – Part 3: Drawing the Backgrounds

[Part Three in a multi-part series about "Link's Prize," a 2D flash animation. See the bottom of the post for the rest of the series.]

Previous: Making an Animatic

Materials used:

0.3 and 0.5 mechanical pencils, paper, scanner, Photoshop, Flash


-Sketching the Backgrounds
-Setting up the Frame
-Drawing the Backgrounds

With the animatic finished, I next moved onto the backgrounds. You want to have a background before animating so you know exactly where to put the character and how it will interact with its environment. On the other hand, I didn't want to color the backgrounds just yet. Just in case while animating I wanted to change the background, it's easier if you haven't labored over painting the background yet. Draw now, paint later.

Sketching the Backgrounds

To get a finished drawing of a shot, the jump off point is the storyboard thumbnail. Here's the storyboard sketch from scene 3, the pan down from the window to Link:

From that, I make a bigger, more detailed version. Then, I'll usually make a few more, changing small details here and there. For this scene especially, I generally knew I wanted a pan, but getting the best setup of the shot was tricky. I made several versions before feeling satisfied. Here are all the different versions I made, the last one being the best:

Backgrounds for Zelda Animation

Setting up the Frame

The whole movie is in the format of 720x480pixels. So, I need to make sure the backgrounds I drawn in those dimensions. To do that, first I made a sheet with rectangles in those dimensions in Photoshop.

To do this, first make a new white photoshop document using the preset, "Letter" or "A4" or whatever paper size you are going to print this out on. It doesn't matter what paper size it is since the proportions will remain the same. Then, on a new layer, take the rectangular selection tool, and set it to "Fixed Size" at width: 720px by height: 480px. Make the selection somewhere on the page. Then, use the Fill tool to fill the selection with white. So now you'll have a white rectangle on a white background. No problem. Then, double-click the layer to bring up the layer options. The last option should be Stroke. Check and click that option. I usually make the stroke black and not too thin or thick. Then, presto, you have your model box to be printed and traced.

I also like to make the box a little bigger than exactly 720x480, or have different sizes on the same page by duplicating and rotating the layer. Below are two pages I made this way. You can make your own, or even use these if you like:

Storyboards for Zelda Animation
a second version. I think the last one is generally the most useful:

Storyboards for Zelda Animation

The rectangles are either exactly or proportional to 720x480 pixels. The bigger ones are useful if you are going to be zooming in (making the background bigger) and you want to have lots of detail. So, I printed these puppies out and put them under blank pieces of paper. I roughly trace over the black lines, giving me a space to draw the background in that will fit perfectly into the movie.

This is really, really helpful. I used to just willy nilly draw backgrounds, and then have to do some reshaping in photoshop that wasn't fun.

Generally, it's a good idea to draw some bit outside those black lines just in case you want to zoom out or shake the camera later.

Drawing the Backgrounds

For the drawings I used a 0.3 mechanical pencil and a very handy-dandy eraser pen. I first sketched out the major items with a regular 0.5 mechanical pencil, then erased it and went over the whole thing with the thinner pencil. I also added small details, little nicks here and there, with the 0.3 pencil to make things look like wood. I think it worked out well.

Finishing up the drawing, I tried to make it as clean as possible. Make sure to get rid of those lines you traced to make the 720x480 rectangle. Get rid of blatant sketch lines. Some sketchiness is nice in the final product, but leaving too many sketch lines can ruin the overall effect. Also, It's harder to take them out with Photoshop than with an eraser.

Next, I scanned the drawings into Photoshop. I kept them at the size I scanned them, at around 300 dpi. Some basic Levels adjustments (Ctrl+L) makes those pencil lines a little darker (not too much) and whiten the rest. Here is the result for scene 3:

Backgrounds for Zelda Animation

I saved this file as my working file, to be painted later. Before closing, I crop the shot to be exactly 720x480pixels, and save a copy as a jpeg. Thus, I have my large working version for coloring, and my black and white version to be immediately put into the animatic.

As I sketch, draw and scan each shot, I put them into my animatic. I make sure I've drawn all the backgrounds before starting the animation. Once again, seeing the backgrounds all together in the animatic really gives you a sense if the animation is working as a unit or not.

Overall, I'm still experimenting with drawing and painting backgrounds, but as I make progress, I'll be happy to let you know! :D

Next: Animation Preplanning and Animating

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. I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

    Tina Russell

  2. Oh look! a blog!!

    wow, i'm learning so much from you! I cant wait for the next one!

    Jordan "Duchednier" Duchnycz

  3. [...] I started with my background. I looked through some of the pictures I took when I went to Panama during my third year of college. Once I found a good picture, I traced a 720×480 box on paper using one of models I made in Photoshop (described here). [...]

  4. [...] please check out the following series: 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 [...]

  5. [...] 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 [...]

  6. [...] ← 2D Animation in Flash – Part 1: Idea and Storyboards 2D Animation in Flash – Part 3: Drawing the Backgrounds → [...]