Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Backgrounds Part 1 - A Happy Medium

In a couple of earlier entries I described the process of constructing sets in a 3D CG environment. This was back when I was still contemplating 3D computer animation as a viable option, before reconciling myself with the fact that the shaky, crude visuals of the hand-drawn concept art suited the film far more. Now that I'm soldiering on with the 2D animation process I've come to the point where I can no longer run from the stage of production I've been putting off: backgrounds.
After analysing the storyboard I've determined that there are roughly eighty (that's not a typo, the 'y' is indeed supposed to be there at the end) background drawings required for the film in its entirety. It brings fucking tears to my eyes. My chief concern is that, while with a fair deal of practice I can create character designs and poses which are consistent with one another, I positively suck at backgrounds if any spacial geometry is involved. Have another look at this kitchen from the concept art:

The colour palette, the wobbly lines and the irreconcilable proportions make it akin to the demented scrawling of an infant drawing with the pen between its teeth. Interestingly, our course leader has consistently argued that such a lack of ability is, in its naïveté, endearing, and fitting with the aesthetic of the characters. Frankly I'm not having any of it. I mean, there's 'charmingly naïve' and then there's just 'patently rubbish'. The other extreme would be the equally unsuitable, shiny-looking 3D background.

This time it's naïve but in an entirely charmless way, though it at least makes sense in terms of proportion. So, what to do? The solution I've decided to go with is pretty obvious - to meet in the middle; Retain the crappy, shaky lines from the concept art as well as the geometric perspectives of the CGI set, discarding the polished textures of the latter and the haphazard, nonsensical alignment of the former. To do this I still get to put my CGI set to good use (so hey, it wasn't a waste of time after all!). Rendering the same image of the CG environment as line art, I print out the result and use the lines as a guide to keep my proportions in check.
That's right, I'm tracing, bitches! And all the while that notorious scene from 'Chasing Amy' is playing in my head. Admittedly it's a bit of a cheeky shortcut, but have a look at the result:
It pretty much does exactly what I was hoping for from the start. It's not too cluttered, the colour scheme is more subdued and it doesn't dominate the frame when there are characters in the foreground. Really, it's there to not necessarily be looked at, but just to let the viewer know where the action is taking place. The best part about using this method is I can then keep using my set and just render out stills from different angles so that the accompanying backgrounds maintain continuity. Here are a few examples:

Technically this background actually messes the continuity up some as the blender has disappeared. Let's just say it's been put away somewhere...

The last background has obviously moved the action on to the adjoining dining room, where the interiors are noticeably different. The next entry will feature more of a look at the cabin's ever-so-manly, rustic interior.

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