One of the first posts I wrote was a very simple trick for storyboard artists dealing with layouts and backgrounds.
First, some history: I started out as an animator, and so I was always more focused on learning how to draw characters, expressions, and poses. The idea of drawing layouts or backgrounds was not something I ever thought about at all.
But after being an animator for a few years, I transitioned into storyboarding. Suddenly, I had to deal with drawing backgrounds and layouts. I was very intimidated at first...most of my boards featured a character in the center of the frame, with just a slight suggestion of a layout sketched in timidly around the edges.
Pretty quickly, I realized the limitations of this approach. When you don't feel comfortable drawing backgrounds, you're limited in how much you can move the camera and utilize the environments to help tell the story.
So I went in search of help with layouts. I wasn't able to find a book on the topic (although I know there has been one published since then--someone let me know if it's been helpful to them). I learned to do layout by looking at what some of my favorite comic book artists had done with their layouts.
So one of the first simple techniques I discovered (and the subject of one of my first blog posts) was a way of organizing layouts to make them less intimidating. And that's to divide layouts into three levels: Foreground, Middle ground, and Background.
Carl Barks used this technique quite a bit, and very effectively.
The great thing about this technique is that you can stage your action on any one of the three levels, depending on how much emphasis you want to give each element. There's something that I always found so overwhelming about trying to abstract the whole world into a stage and backdrop for my characters and action...the idea of reducing all of that into three distinct levels really helped make layouts more manageable. And the best part is that when you do it right, the viewer isn't aware of the separation of levels...it just feels like a spacious world, full of depth.
Some more examples from Barks from around the web:
This may not seem like a super exciting or helpful tip...but that's true of a lot of drawing advice that I have found helpful over the years. Sometimes all you need to create better drawings is an organizational tool to help arrange your design elements and keep them from being a disorganized mess.
I'll talk about a couple of other layout thoughts in the next post.