Using some of the ideas gathered so far, I wanted to try putting together a scene that includes a beautiful retro backdrop.
I recently purchased the book ‘The Noble Approach’ showcasing the work of Maurice Noble, a layout artist for Disney and Warner Bros. His beautiful use of colour and simple yet highly effective backdrops are iconic and reminiscent of the approach used by Steven Universe that I documented in a previous blog post. The book showcased a range of his work and documented the approaches he took. Noble mentioned (Colson, 2013, p. 65) that as an artist, he considered effects such as wind, rain and smoke early on it the process. I wanted to ensure I considered the lighting and overall feel before committing pencil to paper, rather than having it as an after-thought.
I decided to set myself the challenge of depicting a forest scene as I imagined it to be a challenge due to the repetition of colour and also as I would need to represent the vast depth of a forest using numerous planes. This would allow me to experiment with translucent planes in ‘Issun Bôshi’ as documented in a previous post to help and portray depth and interest.
One of the characteristics of the retro style is the abstract gouache backdrop. Also, I like the previously mentioned offset colour and line work which adds movement and interest without overpowering the scene.
Another characteristic of the classic style popularised by Maurice Noble, Mary Blair and Al Dempster is their use of colour. Fig. 3. shows my initial test with colours and the subsequent lack of impact generated. In-keeping with the American retro theme, I looked to ‘Roadrunner’ cartoons for inspiration; one of Noble’s more recognised pieces. The contrast of the purple palette with the yellow of the sun I wanted to have shining through the trees is reminiscent of the classic Roadrunner cartoons I used to watch as a child.
Fig. 4. shows a common ‘Roadrunner’ backdrop. The offset colour and line work adds interest in an otherwise barren setting with little change in weather, light or indeed action of any kind. The exaggerated colour scheme adds further interest.
I also wanted to see how I could use linework in the backdrop yet omit it from the main characters that are the usual focus of the illustration. This is in stark contrast to the approach taken by the majority of cartoons and illustrations I have researched thus far, and to some of the articles and literature studied as part of my FAT1 project.
Fig. 5. is my initial approach, using outlines on the characters. Whilst the characters stand out from the backdrop, they almost float on the plane and have the same feel as traditional cel-based animation. This apparent floating on the midground is a confirmation of Nakagawa’s description of Mamoru Oshii’s anime approach “…as if the characters were floating on the midground” (Nakagawa, 2013, p.68) . Whilst this was an effect clearly favoured by Oshii, I wanted a more subtle effect suited for a children’s storybook. His detailed mid ground in comparison to the simplistic foreground gave a similar effect. Rather than having the feeling of inhabiting the forest, the animals appear to be simply placed there. By removing the lines as shown in Fig. 6. the animals now seem to have a home in the forest. The whole scene has a softer, more retro approach.
At the top of the scene, the overlapping, translucent layers are more prominent. I feel this adds to balance the picture out, where obviously the action is taking place at the foot of the image, the extended space above, and interest in the overlapping lines and colour give the impression of tangled boughs and twigs as the eye approaches the top of the trees. It was my initial intention to have the greater amount of offset in the more distant layers/planes, akin to blurred vision / depth of field when looking out on a scene. However, this got lost amongst the overlapping trees in the distance and so didn’t really work. I think the sunlight weaving through the trees helps add to the perceived depth. As cooler colours are deemed to recede, these were applied to the furthest planes, with warmer colours at the front. I also ensured the animals were facing the left, thus (apparently!) giving the impression of safety and the ‘known’, rather than fearing the woodcutter.
I went for a retro typeface for the text. I admire the work of Colt Bowden immensely and love his retro sign writing. As the picture is set in a U.S. forest, I felt that a classic American typeface would fit well. I liked the idea that Goldstone (2008, p. 118) suggested text is no longer segregated from the images but can used as props within the space it inhabits. I thought I would experiment with using the text in a more graphical form rather than a rolling text, simply narrating the story, adding to the stylisation of the piece. Each page could stand on it’s own as an artwork.
Overall, I am pleased with how the unconventional use of line works to complement the background and constructs a believable and interesting piece with many of the qualities I was aiming for.
Figs. 1 & 2. Maurice Noble, illustrations from The Noble Approach, 2013 (San Francisco: Chronicle Books)
Fig. 4. Philip DeGuard, Scrambled Arches, 1957. https://www.pinterest.com/pin/492510909223693284/
Fig. 7. Colt Bowden, Handwritten sign, 2015. http://coltbowden.com/MAC-Sign-Painting-1
Goldstone, B. (2008) ‘The Paradox of Space in Postmodern Picturebooks’. In Sipe, L. R., & Pantaleo, S. (eds.) Postmodern Picturebooks: Play, Parody and Self-Referentiality. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Nakagawa, M (2013) ‘Mamoru Oshii’s Production of Multi-layered Space in 2D Anime’. Animation: An interdisciplinary journal. 8 (1), 65-83 Available at http://anm.sagepub.com/content/8/1/3.extract [Accessed 29 October 2015]