Drawing backgrounds and different angles are often challenges for artist, which include animators, storyboarders, comic artists and mangaka to name a few. I’ve come up with 3 easy ways to help and take your art to the next level. Using Dolls and Toys, Making Paper background Models, and Using Digital 3d software and games
This article is accompanied by a video tutorial:
Using Dolls and Toys
When wanting to draw characters from different angles, it’s useful to use posable dolls as reference. In the example below, I wanted to draw a cut where a knight was charging towards another knight on his horse. I also wanted the ‘camera’ to pan around the character as he ran to make the shot more dynamic. Drawing the charging scene itself is a challenge, because horses are difficult to draw for most people. However, drawing a camera pan really adds another layer of complexity to the design.
I got a posable Harry Potter doll and sat him upon a horse statue with a pencil in his hand, placed them on top of a Lazy Suzan turn table and took videos from different angles and positions. I then used a dragon shaped piggy bank over to the side as scale reference.
This is solution is extremely easy and cheap to re-create. I didn’t need reference for details, so it didn’t matter to me what kind of toy I used as long as I could move the limbs to the position I liked. Artists are known for using the wooden mannequins as pose reference. However, some toys have a lot more articulation and have the added benefits of coming with face, hair and clothes, which gives you more points of reference.
After that, I can import the footage to my computer and watch it in slow motion to study the poses. Depending on your artistic style, you can copy the poses in your own style, or draw directly over the videos and rotoscope it.
Making Paper background Models
When I was a little kid, I remember making paper doll houses with my cousin Stephie. The process was extremely easy, all you had to do was fold paper to make boxes and trays. This became the inspiration for the next process.
Drawing backgrounds to scale is a real skill. I’ve read plenty of books and know the formular of how to draw perspective, but let’s face it, drawing accurate perspective is BORING. Haha, (soz background artists :p). Here is another very easy way to create reference that you can use multiple times for backgrounds and settings.
In this example, I wanted to draw the inside cloister of a cathedral. The architecture is very repetitive in that there are arches, symmetrical windows and columns. While it is possible to copy photos and have a still background image, what if you want to walk down the halls or see the corridors from different perspectives? The answer is having a 3D model where you can go around it from all angles!
To do this, I went into photoshop and made an A4 canvas (the size of my printer paper), and on the long plane, I drew the basic shapes of the corridor. I drew an arch with symmetrical windows and columns and copy and pasted them next to each other. Using the ruler tool, I made rectangle and square shapes as guides. That way I could print out the shapes, cut along the dotted line and glue the parts together. I made several of these rectangular cuboids and placed them in the position I wanted. I placed the models on top of my cutting mat, which had a grid on it. Using the grid can be useful too because it shows the lines moving towards the Vanishing Point, which can be an extra point of reference. After that I used a Go-Pro type camera with a warped fish-eye lens to go down the corridors. (You can just as easily use your phone or webcam to do the same thing.)
In the same method above, you can export the footage to your computer and use the shots for reference by copying the footage or rotoscoping it.
BONUS TIP: If you want to draw a scene in different times of the day, or with special lighting, you can position desk lamps around your models and study the way light and shadow hits them.
Using Digital 3d software and games
This method is a bit more difficult, because it depends on having extra skills and computer software. If you know how to do it, you can create 3D models on a digital animation software and use that as reference. I personally, I can’t use 3D software, because I get motion sickness. Instead, I use the Sims 4 to help create scenarios. In the Sims you can create houses and buildings and have your Sim character perform actions like dancing or eating. You can either take screenshots or using a screen capture software, record what’s happening. This can be useful for everyday life scenarios. However, if you want something more complex, like a plane taking off, you wouldn’t be able to do that seeing as there are restrictions within the game. Though, if you are making a fantasy type story, you could always use a fantasy style 3D game as reference too.
WARNING: I’ve noticed that a lot of Webtoon/ webcomic artists have been using Google Sketch Up in their comics. However, instead of using it as reference, they have been tracing over the shape in such a precise way that the backgrounds end up looking very boring. I would suggest that you use these methods as guidelines, but to
This last year I became more serious about publishing more videos on my youtube channel. For the time being I’m more comfortable publishing speed drawing videos of my digital art. That is because it is easier for me to do screen capture recordings on my computer. In contrast, making progress videos of real life art projects have been a challange, such as changing light (day light and indoor lights), getting phone calls when I’m using my phone as a camera, the table shaking when I move and more.
To solve these problems, I decided to design a camera mount that would allow consistent recording for traditional art. The frame is made of PVC pipes that are strong, light weight, and can be taken appart for easy storage. The top part has X and Y sliders that allow for easy repositioning of the camera, and the open frame structure allows room to add fabric to be used as a potential photo box.
While it can be used to film progress videos, I feel as though it also has the potential to be used for animation as well. By attaching a webcam, and having Dragonframe installed on a computer, this frame can be used for stop motion animation as well. So if you’re the type of person who likes more organic, textured artwork this can be an easy solution to a faster work flow for digitise your traditional artwork.
In the video below I talk more indept on how I came up with the idea, and I show how objects look when they are positioned within the rig.
For the last few months I’ve been working on a music video for a folk musician called SONiA disappear fear, and I am happy to be able to share it now.
I first met Terry, SONiA’s wife and manager, serendipitously last year at Sydney airport when I went to pick up my boyfriend, Edu, who came to visit me for Christmas. We chatted a bit in the arrival lounge about flights and arrival times, and learnt that she and SONiA were in Sydney to perform for some music festivals. I said that I was an animator and we exchanged details. A month or so later, I met up with SONiA and Terry again and we agreed to make some music videos together.
The first one being a trailer for SONiA’s new retrospective album, Love Out Loud, celebrating 30 years of her career. From our conversations and listening to her musics, I learnt that SONiA was the first openly gay folk pop musician, in both her music and her lifestyle, (as opposed to artists who came out later on in their careers). She has been a great advocate for LGBT+ rights and fair treatment of marginalised people. SONiA’s lyrics and songs are quite illustrative and are often drawn from her life experiences of being Jewish and owning and embracing her identity of being gay despite living in a society that doesn’t always approve.
Despite her demure appearance, I could tell that SONiA was a real bad ass, and I was incredibly impressed to meet someone who was so sincere and brave to not only live out her truth, but also be positive and kind enough to share those experiences in order to inspire others and create positive change in the world.
It was a lot of fun creating this album trailer. SONiA was supportive of my art style, and very generous about giving me free rein to experiment and design creative cuts, which was aided a lot by her colourful and illustrative lyrics. While it was important for it to look good cohesively, I also had to navigate a delicate balance of highlighting each song’s message, while keeping the snippets short and fluid. Over all, I’m proud and pretty happy with the overall video.
Please check out the animation & making of videos below =)
A few months ago, I started creating Youtube videos. Previously, I only used my account as a viewer, or to upload little animations. However, I’ve been researching how some people have used their channels as their own private TV station in order to make video as their full time jobs. Curiously, I figured that I would give it a go, though I wasn’t sure what kind of videos I should make.
In my research, I learnt that there is a Youtube Animation Community. However, the irony is, not all of them can actually animate, at least not in the same capacity that I can. So what makes them so trendy online?
The way people are able to generate an income on Youtube, is often by ads. Every time you’re forced to watch another annoying ad on a video, the channel earns a percentage (a few cents). Therefore, with more views and subscribers, one is able to turn cents into dollars, to potentially thousands or millions.
I remember in 2009 when the kids at school watched “Charlie the Unicorn“. The story was ridiculous, however you could really see the time and work put in by the creator, Jason Steele. Yet, what happened between then and now to cause the qualities of videos produced online to change from animations to moving comic book style?
Footofaferret‘s explain the reason very clearly in his video about the History of Youtube Animators. It turns out that the Youtube algorithm greatly affects the materials people make, and the ways that they do it. When the Rick Roll meme was popular, a lot people started creating misleading Click-bait videos, causing Youtube to change their rules. The website started to reward the creators who produced more longer videos with a greater view retention. In other words, viewers who watch the whole video as opposed to clicking and leaving.
This affected the animation community greatly. From my own experience, an animated project can take months or longer to create off screen, such as the planning to the laborious task of production. Meaning that one could no longer upload an incredible 3 minute animation every few months and expect to earn.
These new earning regulations caused the Youtube animation community to adapt and change their mode of production. In order to create more videos, the quality of animation was sacrificed with more emphasis on storytelling and anecdotes. sWooZieis probably the most notable ‘Youtube Animator’ (I’m using the term Youtube Animator to refer to this particular style of youtube videos as opposed to animators in general.) In this early video that he produced, sWooZie uses DeviantArt Muro (a free drawing software), and a video editing program, which I think is incredible seeing that Muro isn’t suited for animation at all. He then uses his expressive personality and storytelling to bring the piece to life.
Since then, many other people have jumped on board creating their own ‘storytelling animations’ for youtube. There are some mixed opinions about it. Some people really enjoy these types of videos, while others feel that it’s unfair that these people to get more recognition than more skilled animators.
For me, I don’t grudge these people for their online success. However, it does perplex me, since I am a traditional animator who likes to create quality hand drawn works. It’s hard for me to judge what will work or not, since I am new to the Youtube scene… as a creator, as opposed to a viewer. So I figured that I’d just give things a go and see where it takes me.
As a way to learn how to produce quality videos faster, without disrupting my usual work flow, I’ve been creating Speed Drawing videos and Tutorials showing my work process.
As well as a drawn series about how I walked the Camino de Santiago while handling type 1 diabetes. The production for this is slower, since I’m hoping to find funding and support from relevant medical parties to help produce it. That being said, I have already heard feed back from some people saying that the discussed topics have been helpful and interesting. I really hope to continue creating more videos.
The benefits of using Youtube is that it is the 2nd biggest search engine in the world, meaning that as long as some one uses a search term relevant to your content, they can find your video, as oppose to Facebook or Instagram, which are formatted as feeds based on time relevance. (Meaning that your posts will get buried and lost.)
That being said, I don’t know anyone personally who is an experienced Youtube creator to ask for advice. The Youtube website itself doesn’t have an online forum neither, (that I know of), to ask for advice on how to expand my brand awareness and connect to more people. If anyone has any advice on growing an authentic audience, without paid promotions, I would greatly appreciate it.
For you, the reader; do you have a youtube channel or know someone who does? Let me know your thoughts below in the comment box.
I work as the Assistant Director at the “Melbourne International Animation Festival“, which just ran for 10 days last week. Out of over 4000 submissions, we screened +400 films in 45 curated programs. MIAF is the greatest hub for screening independent animation in all of Australia.
My role was to lead the crew and run the festival, which included organising special presentations from Filmmakers and industry professionals, liaising with special guests, Filmmakers and festival attendees, general administration, and more.
Looking at the current state of animation in Singapore, in terms of independent animation, a very eclectic yet still Asian style has emerged, simply because Singapore is just so cosmopolitan and that really shows in the work of the students. One could say that nowadays there isn’t a localised style anymore, because everybody on the web could look anywhere they want, but I still firmly believe that your own real lifestyle not only the online world severely influence what you’re doing. – Hannes Rall
Last year in October, I had the privilege of flying over to Singapore for a week to visit the Arts Media and Design department (ADM) at the Nanyang Technological University(NTU), on behalf of the Melbourne International Animation Festival, which was this year’s school of focus for the festival. I also had the privilege to meet with Associate Professor Hannes Rall, notable German independent animator, and one of the founders of the animation department.
The whole week was an intense experience absorbing and experiencing the rich diversity of cultures, religions and languages compacted in this dense cosmopolitan, and literal jungle, that is Singapore.
I was met at the airport by Assistant Professor Bernhard Johannes Schmitt, stop-motion animator from Germany, and together we crossed to the opposite side of the island to NTU. The campus itself is in its’ own town within a humid rain forest and home to between 35,000 – 40,000 students and faculty.
The ADM building was an impressive architectural structure.A popular site for wedding photos, this modern structure appears as though it was carved out of the hill, blending its metal beams and glass walls with a grass roof and the surrounding forest. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well equiped the inside of the building was, especially for an art school, housing a Motion Capture Lab, Stop-motion studio, recording booths, and drawing spaces among other specialty creative rooms within the greater design department.
Through out the week I was also guided by Bernhard, Hannes and Associate Professor Gray Hodgkinson, New Zealander CGI teacher, where I learned more about the history of school and the direction of Singaporean animation. I also had a chance to interact with several students, witness their art practice and review their works. Notably, on the ground floor is a small cubicle village, reminiscent of those at PIXAR. Final year students are allocated a space where they are able to work on their end of year projects. I saw shower curtain doors, pots and pans, mattresses under their desks, and shoes and slippers lined up outside their little corridors. It was funny, yet interesting to see the dedication of the student where their life was in the studio. There they’re able to focus as individuals, yet be close enough for open communication amongst their teams, which certainly shows in the excellent quality of films produced.
One afternoon I had the opportunity to interview Hannes about the evolution of the animation course and the Singaporean animation scene.
You came from a history with graphic design before moving into animation. How did you first get into academia from there?
At the time there was already a kind of pioneering class at the State Academy of the Art Institute in Germany – there I studied under Professor Ade who also founded the Stuttgart Festival of Animated Film. He was teaching in the framework of graphic design with a class already specialising in animation. And so I did the program and then started a career which combined and consisted of independent animation as well as taking commission work in comics, animation, illustration, storyboarding, quite a wide range of things.
At some point towards the late 90s, about a decade of professional experience under my belt after graduation, I felt it would be a good time to venture into part-time teaching. So I did that with two institutions in Germany until 2004. In 2004 I saw an advertisement on Animation Blog Network which was looking for full-time faculty to start a new school within the University, NTU here in Singapore. I thought that sounded pretty cool because I would be able to participate in really building a program. So I thought okay let’s give it a try. I did my first two semesters, really liked it and I think my work was really appreciated here, so I decided to stay.
Since you were starting the school from scratch, who were you teaching with and what were the main focus points that it started off with?
The starting point for the school was to bring for the first time the idea of teaching design and animation and film and so forth, all of these so-called applied Arts to University level, which didn’t really exist before in Singapore. For that reason it was important to create a curriculum which brought together all the aspects of university, so-called well-rounded university education with a specialist approach also in the various disciplines so that the goal was that the students will have a good academic general education but to really be able to later on be hired and employable in the industry. The idea was also to create a school that would focus on the students finding their own artistic voice.
We always had the idea to bring together the traditional and the digital and create a seamless combination and to enable the students to choose their emphasis or their focus during their studies according to their own interest and strength. In the beginning we were about 5 people in the animation faculty. Through the years some people come and some people go, but overall, I think we always try to keep a balance between the more traditional side of animation – people who are very experienced and good in drawing design production design, character design and so forth and people who are strong on the technical side who are very capable of implementing things in CG and in different technologies.
It was always very clear to us that we wanted to basically offer the knowledge of all major disciplines in animation and techniques to our students, so – including stop motion including drawing animation, but also all the various computer techniques. We have been confirmed by our industry partners that a strong artistic foundation is very important.
We spoke yesterday about how in high school the students have two routes to go down which is the JC and the Polytech routes. Could you explain a bit on that?
Hannes Rall: During what could be the equivalent of High School in the US, there is a split of the students into various schools according to their academic level of achievement and also to their choices in order to go into a more vocational training, which would be the Polytech. The JC route is where normally the academically higher achieving students will go. The major differences between these two types of students who are both coming into ADM is that the Poly students frequently will be familiar particularly with the technological aspect like specific software, for example, Maya for computer animation. The JC student wouldn’t have that technological background. Sometimes the JC students bring in smart new ways of thinking and new ways of looking at concepts. They can be very smart and capable on either side in each way. It cannot really be said that one type of student would outrank or kind of be better than others, so it seems that over time it levels out somewhere. It is very often the case that there is a slight majority of Polytech students that would be going into more technical specialised effects like visual effects for example. For our program a specific challenge because we need to be able to close that gap as much as possible by ideally providing a pedagogic environment where you can challenge the more experienced students a little bit more and also create some interactions there where the more experienced students can help the less experienced ones. I think it’s quite unique to Singapore and university education in these fields in Singapore.
Talking about collaboration, a lot of the students prefer to work in groups for their final-year project, can you talk about the dynamics of that?
Usually they do graduation films, though we also allow the exceptions to do related projects like graphic novels, or concept art related to a specific topic. We don’t force them to do either single or individual or group projects, it’s up to them in the end. In terms of group work; its a very good training experience for something which happens on a macroscale later in the industry. The dynamics are very interesting. Ideally naturally one person evolves as a director of the whole group and in the same way other members of the group would find their respective roles as technical director or like more producer holding the whole thing together. I think that has been a very good rehearsal in many ways for them also to figure out their later possible roles in the industry. We had one person several years ago who was very good at doing the producing of a group. She was not the person who did the major artistic input, but she moved on to become an assistant producer first with Lucasfilm in Singapore and then went on to be very successful with her career as a producer. There’s not a clear inclination of group projects being better than individual projects or vice versa because I think we have seen really extremely good projects over the years as well as very successful individual projects. The big advantage of individual projects is that there is no discussion in that sense. There is a focus there and no artistic vision needs to be discussed, at least not amongst the larger group. The downside is if you’re working on your own and you’re not really in control of what you’re doing and the scope of your project, it’s easily can become overwhelming. We as professors and as mentors try to prevent this as much as possible from happening, by always keeping close watch over the project. We meet on a weekly basis during the semester with the student which allow us to track the progress and also alert the students if their plans are a bit too ambitious.
As far as the working environment, you have really impressive studios here, quite noticeably, the students have their own cubicle village downstairs. How did that kind of community culture start?
In the beginning we had a more conventional environment for our final year project, so the cubicles are exclusively for the final year. That happened around 2010/2011 where we completed a big renovation of the area which also included the addition of the motion capture studio and the motion studio. So we thought of this idea of having all of these cubicles for the student which would be very good to create a friendly atmosphere. I think the final year projects really took off and improved a lot since then, I mean I would not say that’s the only factor; hopefully, but that’s really some parts of it. This particular animation is such a laborious and focused effort, in terms of workload I would sayit exceeds in many other disciplines so we thought it would be very good to have an environment for the student which allows them to focus on their work but also as a community which allows communication and collaboration so groups can have their cubicles close to each other which is actually very often the key to the success of group project; because they need to communicate constantly so the artistic vision stays on track and that it doesn’t get lost. The students always get very excited to get their cubicles and it’s something which we’re really happy about to have that environment.
Where do you see the future of Singaporean animation within the Asian context of the animation scene?
I think actually what has emerged since we started the school here and also our other major government initiatives and other schools here in Singapore is that the skill level is continuously increasing because people are educated better.They’re learning more things, they’re more open to all kinds of influences. I think it would be safe to say that ADM has played quite a crucial role in forming and building the foundation for thriving independent animation seen in Singapore. I think it is quite natural that this very open worldview has kind of wrapped up in a positive way the works that are being done.When I came here for my own research and with my artistic background I took a huge interest to learn about the different cultures here, the difference Asian cultures which are existing peacefully in Singapore and to see what other artistic traditions there are, and how could the students integrate that into their own work.
On the commercial side of things or industry-related side of things. Some animators are fillers for the industry while doing their own independent films, whereas others go full-time into the industry.Since I came here in 2005 two things have happened; I think there’s a wider range of international and local companies that are being present in Singapore. There are also a lot of our alumni who are working in these companies, which is a very good development because a lot of our graduates are now in positions where they could also introduce our current graduates ways to find work.
After our interview, I asked some of the students and alumni about their experiences studying at NTU. These are their responses:
Current student Jasper Liu specialises in preproduction. He loves the medium of animation and chose to study at NTU for its variety of subjects such as storytelling, character design, motion and drawing, its’s also a great environment to meet like minded people.
Giang Do is an exchange student from Vietnam specialising in 2D hand drawn animation. Giang chose to study at NTU for its great facilities and notable teaching staff, and sees animation as a medium that is able to blend illustration and Fine Arts with narration.
Graduate, Darren Lim, said that a decade ago there wasn’t any other opportunities to study animation at a university level and is really grateful to have had the chance to study at NTU. He favours a “2.5D aesthetic” and works as a creative designer at Finch Company GoBear making digital graphics and animated ads.
Ronald Fong was so amazed by the CG effects in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man that he chose to study at NTU as a 3D artist. He has since gone on to work as an animation lead, storyboard artist and director at various companies and has since co-founded his own animation company, Masonry Studios.
Within the week, I had further opportunities to meet the students and discuss their work. I presented a few talks about the animation climate in Australia plus notable highlights and films from the Melbourne International Animation Festival (MIAF) 2017. The rest of my time was spent going through the archives of student films from the past 10 years in order to curate this year’s School of Focus program. Though intense, I was very satisfied with things that I’ve learnt, and the warm hospitality that I received.
For the last 2 days of my trip, I left the self contained town of the university campus, and went to the city centre to explore and see more of Singapore. The area that I stayed in was called Little India. During the day I ventured out exploring the streets. The narrow and crowded sidewalks somehow managed to squeeze in kiosks and booths ranging from electronics to dried flowers. In an arcade I met some locals who recommended me their favourite food stalls (Indian, Thai, Sri Lankan and Chinese), though the thing that stood out the most to me was being able to buy coconuts bigger than the size of a child’s head for the equivalent of 2 dollars.
On the other side of town, I visited a Cat Cafe, China Town and the harbour where I saw Singapore’s iconic Lion fountain and Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The luxury of that area was overwhelming, where I accidentally found myself in a high name brand shopping centre with a river running though it like Venice. What really stood out for me was visiting the Gardens By The Bay, especially the 2 massive green houses in a shape of a bra. The rainforest dome houses a man made mountain with different climate controlled areas for different types of plants. It was an amazing contrast to the metropolis outside.
As I reflect on this trip, I think back to Hannes’ words in the opening paragraph, that the Singaporean experience is a unique eclectic collection of cultures mixed and coexisting on tiny island. Though situated in Asia, it takes many western influences as well that are as much a part of its evolving culture. After seeing the excellence of the work produced by the students of NTU, and speaking with Hannes and the faculty, I look forward to seeing the continuing growth of the Singaporean style within the world of animation.