When watching an animated film, do you ever look at the background? You know, like REALLY look? Probably not. Your eyes are typically on the characters or the action. But the backgrounds and the scenes in an animated film can be just as detailed and complicated as the characters that inhabit them. The background can be an important part of conveying the emotion of a scene and can really give the acting an emotional framework.
Getting your background ready for rendering is more than just throwing down a bunch of props and cluttered background elements and calling it a scene (although that actually works if your film is centered around a junkyard – or my office). You need to think about character placement, camera angles, lighting, and so much more. And more often than not, you need to come up with some tricks and tweaks to get the most out of your assets. A lot of the time you will need to think outside the box and come up with solutions that may seem like you are using a tool in a completely foreign way than what was intended. DO what it takes to deliver the best background possible. You are, in essence, setting the stage for a successful shot (get it? Setting the stage? Thank you. I’ll be here all week).
In Animal Facts #164, we wanted the environment to match our Production Art as much as possible, just like with the chicken model. To do so we had to find a way to accurately translate the original 2D piece into a 3D space. We sat down and looked at the painting so we could break it down into more digestible pieces. We decided to split the painting up into three major sections, the background, the midground and the foreground, and tackle them one at a time. And since we currently have a contest running, this might just give you a leg up on working with the chicken scene.
We used the background layer of the painting as the background for our environment. To make sure the background felt alive, we decided to animate some of the little bits associated with the farm. Rather than model out a lot of small pieces that would be hard to see, we extracted the sheep and the windmill and created alphas from them. This allowed us to animate them separately from the painting itself and have those little moving pieces breathe life into the background.
The midground, which was a simple ground plane, provided an interesting challenge since in the concept art it was painted in perspective. The solution was straightforward though; since the camera was in a fixed position, we could project the UVs of the ground plane in Blender from the camera, and then simply overlay the painting of the ground on top of it and not lose clarity.
When tackling the foreground, we knew that we wanted to use it to reinforce that there was life in the environment, as well as the main character. We did this by extracting the plant shapes like we did with the sheep and the windmill in the background, and again animated the flat planes. For the plants though, we added bones to the geometry and then Jason applied a slight noise to the bones so the movements felt natural and unobtrusive.
When taking on a complex or stylized background, it’s important to remember to break everything down into smaller pieces and plan out ahead of time how you will tackle each one. By attempting an entire piece all at once it is easy to get overwhelmed by every little detail, rather than working through it in chunks. Breaking down a complex piece also allows you to use unconventional methods to make something work how you want it to. By thinking outside the box and being unafraid of trying to use a tool in a different way, you can find new and exciting methods of working that let you make your art quickly and beautifully.