What is the difference between a Layout Artist and a Background Designer in Animation?

A background designer is responsible for two tasks: designing backgrounds for new scenery and drawing/painting those backgrounds for the final animation.

Some studios recruit background artists who are entirely responsible for painting the final backgrounds. Background painters may also take on the role of designer, creating new locations with the help of the art director.

All background painters and designers adhere to a specific style based on the animation.

When you compare the backgrounds of old Road Runner cartoons to those of modern TV shows like Adventure Time or Family Guy, you can see the differences. Every other cartoon has its own distinct style, and the background designer must create environments that are both realistic and blend in with the cartoon’s artistic style.

There isn’t much of a distinction between jobs for background painters, background artists, and background designers.

However, there is a distinction to be made between a background designer and a layout designer. For each shot of the animation, the layout designer (or layout artist) creates fully-rendered black and white versions of the final backgrounds taken from storyboards.

Individual scenes of the animation are drawn by storyboard artists. Character poses and backgrounds are included in each scene. This serves as a rough blueprint for the layout designer to copy and refine the background into the art style of the cartoon.

The layout comps are then critiqued by the art director. If everything appears to be in order, the layouts are painted and fully rendered.

It is also common for background designers to perform all of these duties. Because you’re imagining new locations, drawing them, and painting them for the final animation, background work can be exhausting.

Even though these tasks can be performed by the same person, they occur at different stages of the animation process.

If a new background is required for an episode, the background designer must first create that location. This design is given to storyboard artists so that they can use it as a reference in their boards.

The boards will then be handed over to the layout artist, who will refine each background with line and tone. And if the layout artist is fortunate enough, they will also be able to paint the background!

Because there is so much that goes into this process, animation typically costs more to produce than live action.

You’ll need to study environments and landscapes if you want to be a background painter. Painting from life is the foundation of creating a visual library that will assist you in creating new places that feel realistic to each animated world.

Because backgrounds use a lot of perspective as well as atmospheric light/shadow, you’ll obviously need strong fundamentals. However, you should also read a lot of art books on background and layout design to fully understand the process and terminology.

Most background designers begin as background/layout artists, drawing or painting an existing design. However, with enough practise, you can advance to the level of paid background designer or even art director.

Clarke Synder, a background painter for Cartoon Network, was interviewed on the Animation Network Podcast. It’s fascinating to hear his storey about breaking into the industry and how the background painting process works.

And if you want to learn more about background design for animation go here and sign up for free counselling!

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