Creating backgrounds

The first thing I established before beginning to plan backgrounds was the dimensions. I would do my animating in 'Adobe Animate cc' where I'd create all of the moving images, mainly characters. I would create all of my flat images, backgrounds and static props using hand drawn methods, which I would neaten in illustrator and colour and apply textures in photoshop. 

Photoshop is ideal for this as I have much more knowledge in using it compared to animate and it has much more tools to create textures etc. such as the bitmap brushes. 

The downside to using these multiple programmes are:
  • Many, many files will be created - will use alot of memory on my computer
  • Amount of files could cause confusion 
  • Creation process could become tedious and frustrating
  • Photoshop images use pixels not vector graphics meaning they cant be re-sized without losing quality

To avoid these issues I would:
  • create my work in managable chunks in allocated timeframes
  • Make sure photoshop graphics are created in the correct size to avoid re-sizing and loss of quality
  • Organise files into folders and name
Photoshop provides a feature of being able to save a canvas template meaning I could take the animate stage dimensions and give myself a template to work with within photoshop. This meant files would lose minimal quality as they would be created in the correct size.
Having taken some heavy inspiration from 'Rick and Morty' I decided to adopt some of the techniques from their background styles into my own work. These included:

  • Handrawn linework - linework should all be in (rough) perspective, enough so that depth can be described to the viewer. However, dead straight lines are kept to an absolute minimum in favour of slightly jittered hand-drawn lines, this gives a less serious feel to the cartoon.
  • Linework colours - Black is the standard colour used for lines, but this is used slightly sparingly, and the less dominant objects in the scene or objects that need to appear 'softer' can use a coloured line (usually a slightly darker version of their own colour) to create a less dominant feel. 
  • Textures - background elements often use faint texturing to describe textured surfaces like material, enivronmental surfaces like grass, dirt, sand etc. They also are used to describe light and dark - luminesence and shadows. This is often used in wall corners and the meeting of ceiling and walls. this provides a contrast to flat coloured elements, which characters often are.
  • Effects - transparency etc.
I would start the process of creating the background by drawing out some rough initial sketches based off of my animatics. I would then search the internet for an image of something similar to my thoughts. In some cases I would research camera angles from existing cartoons to create the linework entirely free-hand. On other occasions I would find a real-life photograph of a building or setting and print the photo out to then cartoonise by 'tracing' the image using a lightbox, firstly using a pencil followed by inking with a 0.1 fineliner pen.  I often referred to the main points of design I had gained through my research of other cartoons, mainly the idea of replacing straight lines with jittered hand-drawn lines. Also eliminating unesecarry details.
Linework before and after:
I streamlined the original image simplifying areas like the bricks for indications of brickwork through horizontal lines. I simplified everything, such as the trees, swapping the detailed branches of the photograph for curved lines and internal lines indicating depth. straight lines on the building i replaced for hand drawn jittery lines to help convey a more cartoon-like feel. Windows were simplified to uneven handdrawn rounded rectangles with a quick sweeped line to indicate light reflection. I also removed alot of the details like extra fencing, doors, as well as adding a ventalation system based on some other cartoon backgrounds I'd seen as I felt this would add an industrial feel. I also included a smashed window, to show the building was run-down, this was to help build a miserable atmosphere - which would suit the introduction of Terry and his workplace.

I used photoshop on this initial linework scan to remove any pencil lines or errors, using the levels tool to brighten the white and darken the black (eliminating any grey pencil lines or blurs). I then took the resulting linework into Illustrator which I performed an 'image trace' on to vectorise the lines meaning they could be resized however or whenever I liked as well as smoothing out any unwanted jitters and errors. I also removed the white at this stage to leave simply the black lines, meaning once I returned the lines into photoshop, I could colour underneath the lines.
I took the linework then added colour in a variety of ways in photoshop. I kept the colour scheme dull to portray a miserable atmosphere, and used a combination of flat colours and textures. I created tone using textured brushes and flat colour - This gives a feeling of depth to the image past it's flat cartoon style.
I extended the skyline in the image with the animation in mind. Although the screen will actually only cover half of this image (width), this means I can create a pan effect from the sky to the building. I also planned to add a wall and sign that may come up in the foreground which would be added seperately. Obviously being an image the background cannot move, Therefore anything I would like to move would have to be placed over the top - this means If i wanted something to move behind something static, then the static object at the front of the animation would have to be added seperately. This background scene however, is simply a basic atmosphere establishing shot and the only movement planned currently would be that of the camera - meaning no movement within the actual drawing. 
The creation of these backgrounds I discovered to be quite a long process if I wanted them to be as detailed and stylistic as I wanted. Therefore, within my storyboarding and scripting I managed to reduce the amount of different backgrounds I needed and instead opted for larger backgrounds i could re-use, and zoom and pan within. 

After the outside of the office, I created the inside, I followed the same process as I did with the previous background, creating a hand-drawn style. This background I found more of a challenge as it worked heavily with a dynamic perspective so the direction of the lines was very important.
I used a brush texture again to describe surfaces as well as light and dark.
I decided within this background the sheer amount of black lines were very harsh on the eyes.  To combat this i used some coloured lines (a darker version of the colour) to draw the eyes away from the lines and make it appear much softer and less distracting. The method I found easiest to do this was to duplicate all of the orginal black linework, addinhg a colour overlay (changing the colour of all of the line) and rubbing out the areas I didn't want to appear that colour.

This was a much faster and efficient system than attempting to re-colour each line.

This definitely added a lot more depth to the background:
Erasing the layer of lines above to reveal the coloured lines.
comparing the initial black-lined office printer to the second using blue/grey lines, I think there are clear and positive differences. The black-lined printer is much more dominant whereas the the second printer is much less distracting and softer on the eyes. Standing alone it's relatively hard to absorb the full effect of the lines, it's within an entire background this effect is much more apparent:
The image on the right uses coloured lines in the place of a selection of black lines where the focus of the scene isn't. The less important features of the background use these lines so not to distract from the more intergral parts of the background. In my opinion the image to the right using the coloured lines is much better and I will continue to use the coloured line technique throughout the background designing process.
I didn't work necessarily in chronological order. In this case, the third background I decided to create was the 'car scene'. I chose this as, for one, it was a bit different to the other scenes I'd already drawn so there was a bit more of a fresh impitus there. But also as I felt it would be a challenge as well as a scene I knew I was going to drag out so i wanted it to look right!

This scene would be particularly challenging as I knew it would be the first scene I had to build up in layers. Terry would be driving the car meaning that he would sit infront of the inside of the car and the seat he was sat on, but behind the dashboard, steering wheel and other potential factors like windscreens and the front of the car depending on the shot style I decided to go for.

I found finding an image to work from particularly hard this time around, nothing was quite how I invisaged the scene in my mind, there were elements in each design, but some glaring differences like there being more than one person in the car for instance. Obviously, this meant i'd have to manipulate my drawing much more and remove the characters if I was to take influence from that particular scene.

I gathered a selection of car scenes from films:
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I felt as though I gathered a good range of camera angles here. I knew I wanted the shot to be strictly head-on. I have toyed with the idea of adding in other shots such as side profile views and long shots of the whole car, but at this stage I feel I'm best dedicating time to shots I feel are most important.  Within these shots something I noticedwas recurrent was the blurring of the background through the windows. within the film industry car scenes are often created by placing a stationary car infront of a moving background created with a green screen (in older movies mainly) I would replicate this effect by only moving the car in jitters to show uneven bumps in the road and creating a moving image in the background to simulate movement. Something I noticed in all of the scenes the natural or induced blurs to the background image through the windows - this is a very effective way of focusing the audience on the inside of the car as well as eliminating the need to over-detail the background, which definitely works to my favour as a creator as i won't have to create an extremely high-detail image. Some scenes also use bluring around the foreground to draw complete focus to the character driving however I think this would step too far away within my cartoon style.
I created this very basic linework free-hand, taking inspiration from each of the driving scenes above. This first drawing when coloured will simply be the area that sits behind Terry whilst he is driving the car, minus the background outside the car (will be scene through window) as it will be a moving image therefore, seperate.
This basic line actually represents the hump of the dashboard. This will sit on top of the animated Terry who sits in front of the car background. I decided not to include the steering wheel, as that may need to move (which will be placed in between Terry and the dashboard). 
So, in total this scene will consist of 4-5 layers: Scenic moving background, Car inside, Terry, Steering Wheel, Dashboard.
Having done some resarch into 'conversational table scenes' I created this shot of the table, which could (if all went to plan) pan from side to side or zoom tp cover every member of the family sat at the table - which meant i didnt have to keep producing new angles. I table scene however is very complicated to produce, as like the car scene, it would feature multiple layers: Background, Chairs, characters, table. This scene would be the most complex of my animation as it features all 5 characters at once, as well as having to animate them in time with elements of the background which had been created in a seperate software. Smoothly animating a moving character with a static object is something from experience I learned could look very unnatural if done wrongly.
Having had an extensive look online for an image of a table conversation scene for inspiration, I decided it would be much easier to get the angles i was after if I took a picture of my own table! I thought this would also be a nice reference to myself as the creator of the cartoon and something my parents and close family might also enjoy. I took these images, with certain shots of my storyboard in mind, and printed them out and used my lightbox to trace and 'cartoonize' them as I did with my previous scenes.
I created the background and scene props as seperate drawings, with the animation in mind.
I created just two chair drawings. I planned to duplicate the side-facing chair and mirror it to create four chairs from it.
The table I also created similarly, as the table actually was cut off in the photograph so was my drawing, I hoped this wouldnt effect the capabilities of this shot as i started to realise (perhaps too late) that my scene was very narrow where as the screen I'd use in my animation was landscape.
I used a watermark effect in this scene to blur the background through the window. this added depth I felt, this was a technique i noticed in the backgrounds of Rick and Morty.
i used a variety of teh techniques I had picked up in this background, including brown coloured lines on certain elements to create a less dominating feel (wood flooring and elements of the window). As well as blurring in the background behind the window glass as well as the inclusion of some light grey coloured swipes to indicate glass. I used textural tone to effect in most parts of the scene with it applied more heavily at meetings of wall to floor and ceiling, where shade would naturally gather - however this was also something I noticed was done in Rick and Morty to great effect to liven-up the background slightly and make it appear much less flat. I also used flat tone on the curtains and radiator to add some diversity.
Icreated the table and chairs in seperate documents, where I used, a similar colour pallette (which i gathered from the background I created prior using the eyedropper tool) I also used a both flat and textural tone again. it was important that these elements blended in with the background and didn't appear unnatural. I saved each file as a PNG, meaning they could support transparent backgrounds, so they could be imported straight on top of the background.
I used the 'stroke' feature within 'layer style'(s) to add an outline around the table and chairs, this gave them a bit more presence compared to the background. i did this as they are in direct with the characters and are pivotal to the scene. Also, the characters will use a slightly heavier outline so this helps to ease the contrast between the characters and background.
I used the 'duplicate layer' tool as well as 'horizontal image flip' and resizing tools to take the one sideward-facing chair and multiplying it by 4 to create 3 more chairs which i placed around the table. I resized the chairs further away from the camera, making them slightly smaller to show perspective - working in photoshop, images are made using pixels rather than vectors so can lose quality if enlarged, so it was better to shrink them.
I created this Jpeg file to see how the images all sat together minus the characters which would be added inbetween the layers. I'm pleased with how it's turned out! I think the colour scheme is very homely and the tonal work and textures work well and share the style of the previous backgrounds.

HOWEVER, the main problem I noticed at this stage (far too late) was that the scene was a long portrait shape compared to the landscape shape my screen would be. Which was fine in a sense, as I always planned to use the scene zoomed into different areas, but this image was perhaps slightly too limiting.

I used crop to try and dictate how it would fare within the confines of the animate screen.
I used a canvas I created in photoshop which perfectly matches the dimensions of the screen in animate. I then moved and resized the background file roughly to dictate how it could be used in different ways and how it could be used to show conversation between characters.

I noticed that some of the angles worked well before noticing a problem...
The ability to use the background to show conversation between the two characters on the sides of the table was very limited, therefore, in order to fit them on to the screen, The chair at the top of the table (Terry) would have to be present in these scenes - which i thought could work, as it could be used to show his emotional involvemnet as the story draws on but it definitely was not how I planned, which was very annoying considering the time that went into creating this background! 

At this stage I am unsure whether to try and extend the background or just bare with the idea of involving Terry in every scene. Of course another option being create a seperate background for each side of the table - which I intially thought would take up far too much time, but realising i had already created a front facing chair which could be duplicated, it may not take as long to create as i first thought. i also have to create a similar style scene later involving Sharon's dad alone on one side of the table so perhaps there would be shortcuts to be made here. 

Shortcuts like duplicating and mirroring and definitley pivotal to me creating these backgrounds in time of the looming deadline! I aim to decide how to resolve this situation as quickly and effectively as possible.
Knowing I had to create a sideview table shot anyway I decided to create this very quick background which only consists of a few lines and a duplication of the front facing chair from the previous background! i think the texturing and colours will work smoothly with the last scene. I think I will recycle this background between both sides of the table. Making some subtle changes to differentiate past the change in characters, such as making the wall slightly darker or lighter or adding some decorations like a clock etc.

All of the table scenes will also include cutlery, drinks and spaghetti in bowls, which I will add at the end due to the fact it may need to include animative qualities and/or interact with the characters.

I'm glad I managed to create this background so quickly, especially as it is potentially re-usable. Although creating more backgrounds is very time-consuming it creates much more diversity to the animation and helps the audience to gain their bearings with the setting. Even though this background only took me about 20 minutes!
having been created so quickly this scene lacked quality at first i felt, in particularly in terms of showing depth. I managed to create an effect, I used my own initiative to deploy, where I created  a shadow effect by duplicating the chairs and placing the duplicated image slightly behind the originals. I then used a colour overlay to make the entire chair a solid black before editing the opacity to create a translucent effect resemblant of a shadow.

The shadow I edited in size to try and show the distance between the chair and the wall, without this effect i felt the scene looked very flat.
I created the remaining backdrops applying the same techniques I had throughout. I felt I was beginning to develop a good understanding of the style and making it my own. I did use some style references for certain elements but I felt my confidence and independence growing the more backgrounds I created. 

The complexity of the backgrounds varied, especially the table scenes. The building of layers was frustrating and tedious and I started to grow very tired of creating all of these backgrounds but I felt strongly that I didn't want my standards to drop as each and every second of my animation my drawings would be judged from an artistic standpoint. This said, I began to think up ways my scenes could be recycled and re-used for different areas of the animation.
For Sharon's Dad's gangster flashback scene I decided to take inspiration/ humourously rip-off my all-time favourite gangster film, Goodfellas. The opening scene shows the 3 gentlemen disposing of a hostage held in the boot of a car deep in the woods at night. 

I pondered for ages when deciding on my storyboard, how I could create a gangster flashback sequence without having too many challenging movements and keeping the overall difficulty down. This idea of a hostage screaming in a boot then panning to a gangster and his henchmen was perfect, it meant all I would have to animate for the car would be some potential shaking in time with some banging and screaming noises. followed by three characters laughing infront of a similar forest backdrop (which i have realised I can recyle). The laughing characters will be a complex animation but I think the basic movement could be mimiced and looped etc.
Staying true to the style I'd worked with throughout, I created this car from the photograph of the still i captured from the Goodfella's sequence.
Taking some heavy stylistic influence from 'Rick and Morty' and the 'tree people' episode, I created this backdrop using a variety of textures which I think worked well to create depth. I also altered the colour balance from the original artwork, adding more blue and red, creating more dark purple tones which create an eerie and dark atmosphere. The mist I felt worked well in this background and was a new use of translucent texturing I hadn't used up to this point. I also used different coloured outlines around the leaves of the trees to add more depth.

This scene I plan to use for both the car shot and the three characters talking shot, I may alter the colours slightly or perhaps mirror the image to add some difference but i don't honestly believe it would be noticed by the audience if the exact same scene was used. Also, I may experiment with some more zoomed shots which might create much more difference between the two backgrounds - at this stage of the background development I was really beginning to feel the pressure of time so shortcuts like this were ideal.
The scene featuring the car.
Next, I created this scene, yet another angle of the table. At this stage I was getting very aggrivated drawing the same subject over and over but it had to be done! This scene in particular featured the most layers of all of my settings - 8 in total! I started to try and organise my computer files much better at this stage as organising these numerous files was beginning to be a challenge in itself. 
A selection of the pen drawings scanned. Each layer was drawn and scanned seperately, added to photoshop to adjust the 'levels' (black and white contrast) before 'image tracing' in illustrator, then applying colour and textures in photoshop with a huge amount of layers, layer masks... exhausting, boring stuff!
This is two seperate drawings - the seat and back of a chair. This had to be seperated to allow a character to sit ontop of the seat but behind the chair back. Creating elements like this seperately was driving me insane! 
I added an archway to the scene which i created using basic line tools in photoshop - I think this definitely looks a bit too rigid  but I was losing my cool at this point - yet another layer! This scene accomadate 4 characters, the placement of the archway/wall meant that one character would be cut out to save me some time. 

Textures and colours all added i think this scene is probably the worst yet, this style I have used throughout definitely isn't precise with it's proportions and angles but the difference in the archway, floor, wall, table and chairs is quite unsettling to look at. gladly the scene isn't too long, so this won't be on show for too long. Which in a sense, makes the pain-staking process of creating it all the more annoying. 

Oh well.

Following on from my descent into madness i decided to draw a scene I was both dreading and looking forward to, Terry's house. I knew the house of famous cartoons like, The Simpsons, Family Guy, The Flinstones and Spongebob Squarepants, were all really iconic and recognisable. The houses tended to be iconically American and would feature bright colours or were really wacky and particular to the character.

'Family Guy' and 'The Simpsons' houses are very typical American suburban homes, they match the more grown-up humour of the shows which follow families.

'The Flinstones' and 'Spongebob Squarepants' houses are much more out-there. The Flintstones house is obviously a take on how prehistoric houses may have looked. Where as Spongebob houses are very heavily influenced by the wacky character's as well as the underwater nature of the show. 

I toyed greatly with the idea of making Fish Terry entirely below water, but felt it limited my character choices - such as Flash the sloth who would need a helmet or air suit to breath etc. (yes, I know it's only a cartoon)
I felt as though the styles of Simpsons and Family Guy fit my character much better as I wanted the cartoon to have more grown-up humour. I toyed with the idea of using a much more British-looking house but I decided that the American style would fit the cartoon better. I wanted a house shape that was a bit strange so It could have a bit more identity compared to others. I also wanted to use a unique colour that would show Terry's personality.

I found this image online and thought something like this was perfect! I cartoonised this image and emphasised the green tones hoping it would create a very iconic cartoon home.
Below is my result. I think in hindsight, the line work is perhaps too basic. I think I should have added more compex elements as well as the lines being too thick. It's okay but not quite to the standard I'd hoped. I liked my use of more subtle lines in a dark green colour to describe the cladding on the building as well as the texturing work on the grass and gravel but there is defnitely room for improvements if the time would allow it!
The idea of this scene was to show Terry arriving in his car up the drive, I felt animating the car driving was going to be a real challenge so I created a straight drive, meaning the car would only need to move directly upwards and perhaps shrink slightly in size as it grew further away and closer to the house - but a relatively simple animation.

I created the car from a Ford Escort image I found on the internet:
I was pretty pleased with how the car turned out, considering I was reaching the end of my patience at this stage!
I took the car which i created as a PNG image with a transparent background and added it to the house to assess how it would look in practice:
I added a shadow under the car to help it appear more a part of the image. However, one of the issues with creating all of these images seperately is the risk they may not look natural together - usually down to complexity and thickness of lines.  One of the benefits of the modern photoshop is the ability to place a smartobject meaning which I the placed the car as, meaning I could edit all of its features and quickly see how it would look agasint the background. I used the stroke tool to thicken it's internal lines as well as adding a thicker outline to the entire car. I think this helped it to blend slightly better but I still feel it looks a bit odd compared to the background - I think given the time adding more complex and fine detail to the backgroudn would help the car to blend better. Sadly, this is a result of my methods of creating everything seperately - but one I may have to live with - it's not TOO bad, I'd like to think...
Finally, in the same day I'd created Terry's house, car, sharon's dad's car, a forest and several elements of a table scene I created my final scene of the day, the school setting of Dylan's flashback of his bullies. I used American-style school lockers as well as a bin just for an element of decoration to create this very basic scene. I used textures similar to every scene so far. And some coloured lines and light swooshes to soften the linework and show some reflective, metallic qualities to the lockers.
This scene is very basic, the most detail went in to the choice of coloured lines - it was quick to produce, which was ideal after a long day of creating several backgrounds. but, this scene will feature 3 characters who will dominate the stage so it really didn't need to be too distracting and bright.
Next, I created the TV scene - the final scene. I was looking forward to this scene and experimenting with use of light and dark. However, I realised that it would need to use a few layers again which was furstrating, I created the drawings seperately before scanning and neatening and colouring seperately:
The basic background and the television set which would sit at the front of the scene were simple.

However, I realised that creating the sofa would be slightly different as when sat in the sofa in the scene, Terry would sit on top of the sofa whislt being behind one of the arms. As such, I had to split this front arm away from the rest of the sofa:
I used my now 'tried and trusted' method of showing light by using the textured brush. I aimed to show light shining through from the dining room into the dark lounge Terry was now sat in. I wanted this to show the contrast between his misery and the families joy (I will add laughter noises etc.) Within cartoon I think visual representations of mood and atmosphere are important.

To show this light shining through into the dark lounge I used a shaped vector mask to give the light some shape and direction whilst maintaining a rugged textured edge - which worked well against the background, particularly on the carpet floor to help describe its texture and contours.

I plan to add flashing light shapes coming from the TV but these will variate in size and colour and will be specific of how they land in relation to Terry as a character partiuclarly as he may be moving - Therefore the compexity means I will need to create them within Animate. Which means I will not have acess to a textured brush, which I hope will still work stylistically - I'm confident it will. I don't plan for too much movement in Terry as a character through this scene anyway - So I don't think it will be too complex to create, I think my audio ideas such as funny dialogue for TV adverts will be the main part of this scene and having minimal movement in Terry will help draw my focus to this.
The final scene I created was the 'front door scene' which would show Terry slamming open the front door as he comes home from work. The front door is linked to a hallway, like most houses - the following scene shows Terry within this hallway looking into the dining room. I tried to retain a sense of position within the house, as although of course it is fictional, I didnt want it to be confusing to the audience and flow better.

Continuity was something I thought about thoroughout the background process, I often referred to previously created scenes, especially if they were in the same room, and used the eyedropper tool to match the colours. With this scene, I was viewing the outside of the house from within, so I referred to the shot of Terry's house in full to help decide where the outside elements should be placed, such as the bush at the bottom of his front garden. 

The outside features I used a more subtle brown line, to soften its appearance and help show a sense of perspective and stop the image looking flat. I used a black line in the foreground as it is closer to the camera. When you think about a hallway its alot harder I found to think of decorations, and props, luckily for me this shot is half cut-off meaning the floor isnt in shot, which means Terry's movement will be easier to animate as well as less decorations were necessary. I opted for a coat rack - I wanted this to be an indication to family life, so I included a school bag as well as a THE brown jacket the original Terry wore in my first attempt at animating before his design was streamlined. I thought it would be nice to include a little easter egg, even if it was almost definitely only me who would notice it.

The door, I created from the shape of the door archway lines, so that I knew it would match up perfectly. Obviously being opened, the door would flip horizontally so I tested this, as well as adding a subtle shadow line. the stages between being opened and closed fully I thought i would represent with a motion sweep which I would draw in animate, but If necessary I could return to to photoshop to create a mid-stage option.
The background creation process has took me about 2 weeks in total, working to perhaps varying levels of intensity where I definitely could've improved my work ethic and speed but overall, I'm happy with all my resulting backgrounds, I think the styling is consistent and it's relatively clear the effort that has gone into details throughout.