Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Layout help from Carl Barks

There's more on the "pretty girls" to come, but this blog is all dusty old pages smelling like cigarettes (trust me) and no color! Bleech. Time for some color (and layout help) from the man, Carl Barks!

A big key to drawing anything is to have a simplified approach, a way of organizing the information so you can tackle it. You don't think of every rib as you draw the rib cage, you think of the overall shape of the rib cage.

I came from animation into story, so I could sort of draw characters, but I had no experience drawing layouts. I would always work on a character drawing until it was perfect and then timidly sketch in a background around it. The crappy background would always overwhelm the character and the overall effect was always stinky. After YEARS of this it finally hit me -simplify your approach and divide your layouts into 3 levels: Foreground, Middleground, and Background. It creates a nice sense of depth and makes it easier to compose if you're thinking of it in three chunks, and not trying to draw every blade of grass and leaf.


Lyndon said...

Whenever I try to draw pictures, my background always looks lame compared to the rest of the picture. Never thought about dividing it up into three parts. What a great tip! Thanks.

RoboTaeKwon-Z said...

It's always great to hear this stuff again. And again. And again. I have to try to remember this stuff.
Thanks Mark!

countfunkula1 said...

This is it folks! If you wanna work in the story biz, this is THE stuff. Mark, superkudos on posting this. For all of you hopefuls out there, this is like CalArts for free! Damn, I wish the internet was this big when I started there. Maybe I wouldn't still owe $45,000. But hey, it was worth it. But I digress... pay attention to this blog kids. Mark knows his stuff!

Mr. Scribbles said...

Mark! Your blog is the ish! Very good info. I made a very similiar transition from animation to story and I ran into the very same problems. With the help of the master Mr. Bob Camp himself, I picked up this very same advice, but in different words. This approach simplifies things even more, and you can bet I'll be incorportating it into my work soon. In fact, I'm going to go do it NOW!!

Thanks Mark!

Cedric said...

Your blog is terrific! Lots of great info here for beginners and "professionals" alike. I've given you a plug over at my blog,

mark kennedy said...

Thanks guys! To connect with people who appreciate this stuff is the whole reason for doing it. It's so gratifying to see people digging it like I still do!

rickart said...

I will echo the other comments! This is wonderful stuff. Skribbl pointed me over here from his TAG blog. Keep up the great work!

DanO said...

can i be the voice of dissent here?

its not that i disagree with the three level depth approach, its that it is used TO DEATH in the industry today. the problem is that it is also a staple in another industry - comics.
(as per your examples)
the thick line foreground, centralized midground, and shaded or washed out background are something you can find in every single comic you pick up because it is the most effective way to build depth on the printed page.
thing is, comic book artists need that technique with their panel size and tight deadlines, but storyboard artists do not. storyboard book work is not comic book work- its film, and when execs and misguided directors and supervisors think the industries are one in the same they are severely handicapping their shows potential.

i have always had an appreciation of compositions that lead the eye into the distance with different points of reference that recede into space. children's illustrator Chris Van Allsburg is a master at this. Other famous practitioners of it were Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.

i think that without a carefull awareness of how you use the three level background technique you can end up with something that has all of the depth of what one would see in a "Viewmaster" toy viewer.

here is a great example of drawing a line into the distance with objects:

this one too:

there is four or five levels of depth in each of those.

mark kennedy said...

Of course you can be the voice of dissent. That's why there is a section for people to leave comments. I am glad you posted, it gives me a chance to clarify my point-of-view on the matter.

As you know, there are many ways to create depth in layouts. The example I posted and the examples you posted are but two ways. I can't wait to post about some of the other ways. But the one I posted about FG, MG and BG is a good starting point so I thought I'd start there. Some of the visitors to this blog may be unaware of this concept and it's probably a good starting point to begin a discussion of the subject. I, myself didn't really figure this out for a long time, I must admit. It was a revelation to me.

Every situation is different and every one calls for a different approach. The one of the lady on her balcony seems like a perfect use of this technique. The story point is: Donald sees a pretty girl and screeches to a stop. To carry the eye away in depth is sometimes desirable. To me, it wouldn't add anything. Making the lady big in the foreground heightens her impact and is the only way to sell the idea that she is beautiful. You an't say that if she's tiny in the frame. The space division of Donald being off to the right is a nice unequal division and all that negative space behind Donald's car emphasizes the idea of speed coming to a quick halt. The use of the lady's roof, railing and plant in the front yard to "point" at Donald and the use of the front gate to frame him and the use of the far left house to keep your eye in the picture seem sophisticated to me. And the curve of the road gives the picture a nice flowing curve you wouldn't get if the street was parallel to the frame.

So to me it all depends on the story point you're trying to put across and is a simple approach does it then I don't like to get complicated. The story point is king. That said, I have a lot of great composition stuff I've found that I can't wait to post and get your reaction to.

If you are saying that animated films should be staged, composed and edited like great live-action films then I agree with you whole-heartedly. Animated films should have a visual language that is just as sophisticated as Kubrick's work. And I think you are saying animation hasn't risen to that standard - again I agree. That said, let me repeat that I am focusing on the basics for right now and I will be talking about how sophisticated you can get by building on those basics. I would say that staging and drawing are my focus on this site. I don't really have the technical know-how to do frame-grabs and so although I study film all the time I would be more inclined to recommend DVDs I have found with great commentary than try to convey a sense of film here. Plus I've got so much drawing stuff to post I will never get through all that!

I have never had an executive tell me how to draw something or stage something, that's for sure. They wouldn't even realize I was using the technique I mentioned, let alone the one you discussed, so that has never been a problem. But I have been working in features for most of my time, and maybe TV is different.

The last thing I want to say is that, personally, I actually don't see a lot of people using this technique. This approach is a great default if you have to do a quick sketch and are trying to organize your thoughts quickly (we've all been there!). I see a lot of people who are struggling with layout and get too complicated when this works well in many situations. And I personally tend to disagree that certain drawing conventions get tired - as I said in my previous post, I believe there are a few truths in drawing and it's just how you use those truths over and over again to do more and more sophisticated things. I personally believe that many great principles of Illustration were discarded in the past because people thought they were being used too much. And then basic drawing skills fell by the wayside.

Certainly that was my experience in Art School. I was taught some of this stuff but I didn't listen, so now I'm learning it and sharing it with anyone who wants to check it out.

Anyway, that's just my feelings on the matter.

Steve said...

I'm just glad anyone is taking the time to share any of the info all of you are sharing =]

I for one attended art school, but was so overwhelmed having just graduated high school that by the time I graduated college I was just figuring out how to hold a pencil, so all of this info, beginner, or advanced is an incredible help to me =]

By the way Mark, would you mind listing the 10 to 12 principles I should be trying to apply to my drawings??? I now know silhouette value is one, what are the others??? =]

Thanks again for all the great info, it's petty late, but I think I will stay up and draw...

DanO said...

Mark, thanks for the informative reply.
(a chilling vision of things to come!)
what went unsaid in my initial post was that the examples in your post are not anything like the phenomenon i elaborated upon. i very much like the "slant" to those panles and in fact i think they strongly suggest more than three layers, which is a giant compliment to them.

i'm talking about the overly graphic comic book style that as been injected into cartoons in the last five years. where there are painfully thick line elements laid onto a scene in the foreground(this usually means the lower left or right hand corner), a slanted perspective ground for the midground, and a silhouette plopped down for the background.
its become a crutch for a lot of cartoons today and my nails dig into the couch as i watch it used on scene after scene of so many shows(ahem...Nick... ahem).
i'm eager to read your thoughts in future postings.
love your philosophy on the silhouette.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

Last week, I went to a lecture by Studio Ghibli genius Isao Takahata, about certain differences between Japanese and western animation. I thought I'd put it on a temp blog because the first part of the lecture kind of talks about the creation of depth by different planes. Hope you find it interesting:

Once again, great blog! I hope you can keep it going for a looong time!

mark kennedy said...

Oh, Dano, I get it! I'm sorry, I misunderstood you, which I sort of suspected was happening...sorry about the rambling reply, I can't believe you read it all!

I totally get you. I think those Nick shows would be so much more powerful with a few injections of filmmaking technique..

Come back and discuss stuff anytime! We all learn a lot more when different points of view are represented.

mark kennedy said...

Sorry I didn't respond earlier - I wish I had more time to post - but I don't know how to answer your question simply. I'm sure you already have "The Illusion of Life" and Preston Blair's book on animation, if you're interested in the subject. If you look at everything Blair is saying - for instance, line of action - and then see how artists applied this to their work, it can be quite revelatory.

I will post more and more stuff about the 10 or 12 things, but I don't really have them on a list or anything, I just meant that all this stuff seems complicated and overwhelming sometimes but the more you work with it the simpler it becomes and the more you realize it's all related. More to come on this stuff - stay tuned and always post comments to ask about stuff I may have been unclear about!!!

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akira said...

cool you guys debating something even if you over reacted makes me think about this stuff a lot more clearly!

marry said...

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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