Background Layout Animator

If a character is walking along through the air, the audience probably won't buy it. Thus, we have discovered the need for backgrounds. Now, how does the job of doing backgrounds differ from the backgrounds created by the designer? Simple. For every shot in the cabin of the designer's monorail, the angle will be different, and the background must reflect that. The background artist, then, has to take the master shot design and extrapolate what the scene should look like from the side or looking up.

For Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, doing backgrounds (or BGs, as they're called in the industry) is all a matter of perspective. His experience prior to doing animation was three years of drafting classes in high school and college plus a bit of theater. This proved to be just the right combination because, as Swampy puts it, "The BG guys are just set builders for animation." They have to make the background look like what's happening in the scene.

Specifically, what Swampy does is take the key poses from the animator and, using the BG design and the storyboards for reference, draw the appropriate background. However, in some cases, the background is also the foreground. For that shot in the monorail cockpit, if the director wants to see a character's hands on the dashboard from the point of view of outside the front of the monorail, then the dashboard falls to the BGs. The general rule is that if it's not going to be animated, it's a background.

Swampy has to make sure the relative size is correct as well as the vanishing points and horizon lines, which is why his drafting background is important. If a vanishing point (a mythical point used for perspective drawings where everything would be unrecognizable and disappear into the distance) is wrong, then the entire sequence will look odd. Looking odd is not necessarily bad, but if the viewers think something is wrong but can't figure out exactly what, it will nag at them, destroying the mood and credibility that directors like Jeffrey Lynch strive so hard to build.

Swampy's library consists of several dozen art books as well as shelves of architecture design and rendering books, and he is constantly referring to them to make sure he gets it right. BGs might not be as glamorous as actual animators, but they are just as important.

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