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Backgrounds

Backgrounds are painted before work on the animation cels begins, so that characters and objects can be drawn to correspond with the background and to interact with it. Creating separate backgrounds, of course, prevents the animator from having to paint a new background for every cel of animation.

Digital Backgrounds

Digital backgrounds can be virtually any pictures that work with the style of the animation: photographs, 3-D renderings, scanned paintings, or completely digital paintings. It's common to create backgrounds that are actually several separate layers, a technique that allows characters to move in front of and behind the scenery. Another common approach is to use digitized, moving video as a background, to which you can match foreground animation.

Tip

Consider the size of the background image necessary to accommodate the motion of the characters or objects in the animation. Are they running, flying, or simply shuffling about more or less in one place? Another thing to consider is whether lighting will change in the scene during the course of the animation.


Day and Night

To create day and night shots of the same set, create a mask in Photoshop (or another painting program that supports masking) to define the scene's skyline or major outlines. You can also create a mask for windows, street lamps, and other areas that will change dramatically in lighting value. Use this mask in painting the parts of the scene, which greatly simplifies the different views and ensures that they animate seamlessly.


Background Perspective

A background painting needs be painted in perspective to accommodate camera moves. If your "camera" rotates to follow a character from ground level up toward the sky, for example, tall buildings appear to recede toward the vanishing point as you aim higher. On the other hand, if your view pans to follow the character, the painting should be a flat projection.

Tip

3-D modeling software can be used to create very crude 3-D models of a planned animation environment, and these models can be rendered to use as painting templates. You may want to create fully rendered 3-D environments as backgrounds as well.


Panning Backgrounds

Characters are commonly animated over a background that is much larger than the final size of the animation. This technique, called panning, lets the animator move the background while characters run, fly, or walk in place; another technique, called trucking, lets the animator zoom the camera closer to or farther from the artwork. The basic rule of panning backgrounds is that a character who walks or rolls across a background has to move the same distance as the background from one frame to the next; otherwise, the character will appear to slip or slide across the art.

Here's how to calculate the distance to move the background behind a walking character so that his feet don't appear to slip (the same approach works for running and rolling objects): In Figure 4.4. A walking character covers distance X in a single stride, which takes five frames in the example. In these five frames, the background also has to move distance X in the opposite direction of the character's walk. Otherwise, the feet will appear to slip, as though the character were walking on ice.

Figure 4.4. Character movement and background movement have to match.


Tip

For low-bandwidth animations, such as typical animated GIF files, keep in mind that moving backgrounds dramatically reduce the effectiveness of compression. Animations with motionless backgrounds and moving foreground subjects may compress many times more efficiently, depending on the compression used.


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