The background painters were experimenting, too. trying to capture in water color or tempera1 (mediums easy to change if necessary) the same effect the stylist had achieved with chalk or inks or some special build up of paints. Taking the layout suggestions as scenes that actually would be in the picture, and surrounding himself with the original sketches that Walt had liked, the background painter searched for ways to duplicate an elusive effect.
These painters are not the same as easel painters, even though they share many of the same talents. The background painter must know color very well, possess a good sense of design, know how to pull a picture together, and be able to handle his medium extremely well. He may even have some reputation as a painter of landscapes or abstractions, but here at the studio he has a very special assignment. He must stage the character and support the action. That comes before anything else. His work may be dramatic, startling, powerful, or thrilling, but it must still be only a background for the action.
There should be nothing behind the animated figures that distracts in any way. Too much detail, busy shapes, eye-catching forms are all confusing; too much color, too much dark and light pattern, colors that conflict with the figures are all disturbing. The background artist is asked to paint a woodland glade, but not to have any trees or bushes in the middle where the characters will be working. He is told also to keep the handling very simple on the left side because a horse will be standing there, not moving much but still occupying the space. And the grass at the bottom cannot be harsh or realistic with individual blades, because that will draw attention away from the actors; nor can the grass be too soft and fuzzy either, or it will appearthai the characters are standing in a cloud. There must be a solid plane for their feet to match, and it must be green because it is grass, but it cannot look like grass or bea major part of the design. The areas where the painter can show the leaves and branches and the beauty of this romantic spot are along the top. down the right side, and in a tiny patch over on the left beneath the horse's belly. It is not easy.
If the background has been designed around the characters and the action in the first place, this maybe all that is needed to give a great effect. Subtle tones (close in value) behind the figures and along the "path of action" can suggest much while actually showing very little. This is possible to do. but a definite challenge.
Another way to keep the character completely clear at all times is to hold down all the elements in the background so that they frame the actor as if he were spotlighted, or working in a "pool of light." This will not give the excitement found in a strong design, but it will insure that the animation reads well throughout the scene.
The background man is particularly frustrated by
close-ups. There may be a long shot with a busy brick wall behind the figures or a shelf full of toys, and on the next scene a close-up of the character. The painter thinks. "Ah! Now I can show all the texture and the bumps and scratches on these objects." There is really no need to keep the same background on such a cut.
and the painter will ruin the scene if he tries. A plain colored card would be far better, or just the faintest suggestion of the things seen in the long shot. Actually, a live-action camera moving in this way probably would have the background out of focus, and that would be the easiest solution.
artist: Al Dempster—The Jungle Book.
the background pt the busy forest m conflicting vis-the animals by, ing his painting e overall mood n show blades of :ond, keeping a action'9 clear of \ drawing; and. ling a feeling of 'e the characters ting.
mely simple back-The Jungle Book enough detail to the idea of the thout conflicting r the character or
A very effective scene in The Jungle Book showed the panther sitting on a tree limb with only the luminous mist of the tropical night behind him. In the foreground was a small cluster of leaves and a flower drawn very crisply, but with just enough individuality to give the scene realism, beauty, and character. It took years of experience to know that this would be best, but, literally, only minutes to paint.
Painting backgrounds is a challenging and complicated assignment, but one that offers vast opportunities to the artist. Successfully done, the backgrounds contribute much to the audience's enjoyment and, like music, can create a depth of feeling in the mood and enhance the dramatic quality of the whole film. Walt felt this was so important that he asked the background men to try several different paintings of the key scenes with a variety of colors and techniques to stimulate their imaginations and help them find the best approach. These were shot in color and judged from the film so the artist could find the most successful handling before facing the restrictions of supporting the animation.
The background painter works closely with the layout artist: Al Dempster—The Jungle Book.
A background is painted three different ways as the artisl searches for the most effective appearance for the desolate, black pool where the young Mowgli. friendless and miserable, will meet the vultures.
man. from the early experiments that develop the color key and style to the design of the effects animation that will surround the characters with all manner of natural forces. But adapting the style and the color on a flat piece of paper is only part of the problem. There is still the matter of getting it to look right in the finished film on the screen.
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