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Homesthetics

9 Best Layout and Background Painting Books for Animation

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Humankind proved itself to be the true masters of all races when it first invented animation. 

Millions of artists all over the world were thrilled to express traditional painting through a digital platform which transformed art itself. 

Not only did this open up one of the most defining prospects of art ever in the field, but it also provided these millions of talented artists to create absolute visual magic on the screen!

Well, the all-father of animation, Walt Disney, might have cried tears of pride and joy on beholding the evolution of animation. However, artists know the real grind of behind every single picture that they put out there. And the most important part of creating the motion picture is to set it on a definite background.

The background of every picture is the foundation that defines, and in animation, it gets all the more important to achieve the statistics right while creating the background.

Background painting books are a complete life-saver in this regard and a must for every aspiring animator or whoever wants to learn a thing or two about creating backgrounds.

So, if you’re looking to get your hands on some really useful books for painting stunning backgrounds for animation, this is going to be just the read for you!

Best Layout and Background Books for Animation

  1. Layout and Background

And it’s only fair to start off with something for the ardent Disney fans and their love for creating spectacular Disney-like animated marvels. So, if you want to get some precious insight into work-in-progress projects and a depiction of some of the coolest and famous Disney themes ever!

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Layout & Background (Walt Disney Animation Archives)
  • Disney Editions
  • Disney Book Group
  • Publisher: Disney Editions
  • Hardcover: 274 pages

This book contains more than 300 pieces of absolutely unique artwork that will cover of a classic range of notable Disney project, dating as early back to Snow White and up to favorites such as Tangled!

Not only do you get some brilliant tip and tricks alongside the brilliant artworks and their mechanisms that this book is going to decode, but it consists of suggestions and advice from some that iconic background painters along with their works that are featured in this book.

And only a few would know that this but this book is the first of a series of books that were released by Disney’s archive collection. This makes it a rare gem of its kind and incredibly valued amongst people who do know about it.

The quality of the print is undoubtedly awesome, and the directions are pretty easy to follow. The page material of the book is thick enough to prevent the colors from seeping or bleeding through to its edges or sides.

This is, however, not a “how to” book and wouldn’t give much practical advice.

  1. Setting the Scene | The Art & Evolution of Animation Layout

This is known to be one of the best animation books that come loaded with rare facts and background paintings from decades of animated films.

Setting the Scene: The Art & Evolution of Animation Layout
  • Chronicle Books (CA)
  • Fraser MacLean
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books
  • Edition no. 0 (11/16/2011)

The entire book almost consists of 300 pages illustrated magnificently with background paintings and production work.

However, the single most fascinating thing about this huge book is that it contains a ton of the unpublished artwork from studios such as those from Warner Bros, Disney, and Pixar! Yes, you read that right!

This massive book also comes with scribbled ideas and interviews of some of the absolute legends of the industry. The book discusses the brilliant talent of such artists and decodes their techniques and approaches towards background art. 

You could find numerous tips and tricks shared by these absolute geniuses and their take on an all-around approach towards animation as a whole explaining the essential elements that constitute it. This covers crucial topics such as setting the scene, the fundamentals of animation (how to animate) and painting a layout that fits appropriately with the rest of the elements.

This book takes you out on an extensive voyage down the ethereally lit waters of the animation realm, enlightening you about its history and the layout structures of different films. It offers some of the most awesome tips on the craft that could help any aspiring artist immensely!

“Setting the Scene” is an incredibly useful and equally captivating read for all budding animators.

  1. The Noble Approach

So if you’re a budding animator or a nerd in this department, there’s absolutely no way in any world that you didn’t know about Maurice Noble. He is unquestionably one of the legends who belongs to the generation of old-school painters who had worked with Warner Bros and MGM cartoons. Noble’s career that stretched over the span of 60 years in animation has yielded some of the best works on background the world has ever witnessed in his wake.

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The Noble Approach: Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation...
  • Chronicle Books
  • Tod Polson
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books
  • Hardcover: 176 pages

The Noble Approach is a book consisting of 170 pages replete with dozens of classic cartoons created by Maurice Noble himself!

And this includes none other than the Lord of Mischief: Bugs Bunny himself and the lightning-fast Roadrunner hoodwinking the Wile E. Coyote and so much more from this lot! The book provides you with a detailed insight into his styles and approaches to developing his definitive layouts for such characters.

Apart from a ton of such incredible pictures, the book also offers several excerpts from Maurice’s writings which were once meant to be published as a memoir.

This book educates you on everything from Maurice’s approach to animation and his concept layouts and designs to the final frame of every picture.

The original designs contained in this book include Maurice’s sketches, work in progress and production concepts that meticulously details the process from start to finish.

  1. Layout and Composition in Animation

The Layout and Composition in Animation is a beautiful book that discusses the constituent elements of animation and the creation of foundations or backgrounds that supports the entire structure of animation. However, more than being a hands-on, practical book, this is more of an inspirational read which would give you a valuable idea about how to lay scene and get all of the vital aspects to fit in accordance with the rest of things in the frame.

This is an exceedingly uncomplicated book to read and to understand. It does provide you with you a lot of production art and background paintings along with several other pieces from some classic animated movies.

This book gives you a detailed insight into the procedures of sequential storytelling, serving as a referential handbook that educates you all about the creation of animated stories.

One of the things that this guide provides is a comparative study between the correct formats of the steps to creating animation and the usual mistake that amateurs make when they start out with the process. This gives you an incredibly useful idea to avoid making these common errors as well as a genius way to rectify them.

This book also goes in depth with spotting the problems that usually crop up while arranging a particular scene. It tutors on how to manage and rectify these problems by adapting to creative solutions for your projects.

It presents famous examples such as that of the Beauty and the Beast and the Simpsons for you to learn how to draw character layouts as well as background layouts and finally, how to coordinate them in perfect balance.

  1. Set The Action!

So here we have a book that covers backgrounds of literally everything from animation to games, graphic novels and comics. Set the Action!, with its 240 pages of richly illustrated examples, discussion slots, and exercises come forth as a brilliant book for all aspiring layouts designers everywhere.

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Set the Action! Creating Backgrounds for Compelling...
  • Focal Press
  • Elvin A. Hernandez
  • Publisher: Focal Press
  • Edition no. 1 (07/15/2012)

This book focuses on the structural development of the character and its association with the background, teaching you how to create a cohesive, vital link between them which brings them together, making a spectacular, definitive scene.

The book is huge and contains a ton of well-explained examples. This book is especially useful for understanding the story behind each scene that comes together to create a unified visual plot-line.

You also get to learn a lot on the props that are used in the scene and about techniques and texturization. It discusses some of the crucial aspects regarding perspective and shading along with some immensely useful tips and tricks which helps you to develop your personal style regarding composition and layout design. This exceptionally helpful for storyboard artists.

Authored by Elvin A. Hernandez, Set the Action!, establishes itself as an incredible practical guidebook for intermediate and professional artists alike who could have some really great tips to create backgrounds and develop characters.

  1. The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation

So what we have next up is considered to be a Bible for all animators who are ardent fans of Disney. Composed by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation is what through and through, magnificently illustrated and detailed practical guide-book that goes to the deepest depths of the universe of animation to teach you all about vital aspects of the craft.

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The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas
  • Publisher: Disney Editions
  • Edition no. 0 (10/19/1995)

It takes a good look at some of the crucial elements that go into creating the foundation of an animated scene that includes a concrete study of forming the background and the overall layout of the tiniest sequence in a story.

The book goes into greater detail about some of the most loved and celebrated Disney characters and how things work in the animated world of Disney. It consists of about 600 pages that tells you all about the history of Disney: both creator and his bewitching world of a thousand different wonders. Apart from that, the book opens up a plethora of amazing anecdotes on characters, sounds, story development, voice recording, and, essentially, the creation of backgrounds.

Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas are two of the legends out of the “nine old men” of Disney, who are known to be some of the most incredibly talented animators in history! 

The creation of background is one subject that the book attaches prime importance to. It discusses the creation of layers, the merging of all key factors, and the compatibility of a character with the elements that form the rest of his surroundings. It makes an in-depth study of the creation of every sequence that constitutes the bigger picture on the screen. 

Apart from learning a lot about how exactly to animate, the book provides you with the scope of developing your own artistic techniques for the procedure by giving you all the tips and tricks used by popular animators. You get to pick these up from each and every chapter that comes with an extensive history and personal writings of such celebrated artists.

  1. The Animator’s Eye

Written by Francis Glebas, The Animator’s Eye is, in all fairness, could be called the ultimate guide to the basics of animation. The topics discussed extensively by the book literally covers everything from animatics, sound, and coloring, to thumbnails, storyboards, backgrounds, timing, and so much more!

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The Animator's Eye: Adding Life to Animation with Timing,...
  • Focal Press
  • Francis Glebas
  • Publisher: Focal Press
  • Edition no. 1 (09/24/2012)

This is a fantastic book that teaches you the fundamentals of creating a character and the background of the story-line and remains to be an incredibly useful read for all story-board artists.

The author discussed the importance and essential role of animation and the numerous different ways it applies to the traditional term of the word “story-telling.” He goes at length discussing what exactly is required to create a single sequence in animation, how is it actually created and, most importantly, how it could be perfected and mastered.

  1. Magic Color Fair

Written by John Canemaker, the Magic Color Flair: The World of Mary Blairprovides you with detailed insight into the life and works of Mary Blair: one of the most exalted and celebrated concept designers and background painter who worked for Walt Disney.

Magic Color Flair: The World of Mary Blair
  • Walt Disney Family Foundation Press
  • John Canemaker
  • Publisher: Weldon Owen
  • Edition no. 0 (05/06/2014)

She was a significant figure in the creative head of the empire and was involved in their busiest days, creating sheer magic for classics such as Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.

The book not only celebrates her works that have given us all memories of a lifetime but also gives you a number of essential tips and advice from the professional animators at Disney.

John Canemaker, the author of this book, is himself an award-winning animation director who becomes Mary Blair’s mouthpiece and autobiographer, sharing her life’s story both professional and personal, in his own words.

This is again, more of a guide on the subject rather than being a practical workbook. Nevertheless, you do get an in-depth analysis on what was the beginning of an era in animation and the sheer genius of the woman behind it.

We all have a spot for Disney, and when it comes to background painting, you know there could be but little competition with Disney. And this is what the book strives to explain through its marvelous content.

  1. Dream Worlds | Production Design for Animation

Hands-down, one of the absolute diamonds in the rough, Dream Worlds: Production Design for Animation whirls up a deluge of Disney’s magical characters and settings for you to know how they are actually created.

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Dream Worlds: Production Design for Animation
  • Focal Press
  • Hans Bacher
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Library Binding: 208 pages

The book provides dozens of examples from the legendary movies such as Lion King, Aladdin, Mulan and Hercules amongst so many others. The book consists of a total of 220 pages that is replete with information about layout design and the development of backgrounds as well as a detailed study of all the sequences that go into the development of production designs.

The book is a beautiful combination between an inspirational production art compendium and a resourceful guide for all budding artists and aspiring layout designers and animators.

It primarily concentrates on the different aspects of animation that comes together to create the magical animated universe. This includes factors like composition, the fundamental rules of handling the camera for beginners, laying out a background to create a sequence and tips on staging and composition.

These all affect the resultant outcome of background paintings and are crucial for all sorts of layout design animation.

  1. The Nine Old Men

The Nine Old Men is one book that documents and celebrates the works of those nine animators that brought the science and craft of animation into existence and wrote a new page in the history of art.

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The Nine Old Men: Lessons, Techniques, and Inspiration from...
  • Focal Press
  • Andreas Deja
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Edition no. 1 (09/23/2015)

Although Disney started out slow in its initial days, it is today known as The Empire that created animation on screen and that which is unparalleled when it comes to the degree and details on animation.

And this was made possible by the unending hard work and sheer genius of these nine animators who made Disney (both owner and his studio) what it is today. And they are:

  • Les Clark
  • Eric Larson
  • Milt Kahl
  • Ward Kimball
  • Wolfgang Reitherman
  • Marc Davis
  • John Lounsbery
  • Ollie Johnston
  • Frank Thomas

The book holds the deepest discourses regarding the works of these absolute legends in each of its chapters that dedicate 20-25 pages to their history, the contributions they made during their careers to take Disney to the ultimate heights of success and fame, and their utter creative genius. This book offers you a metric ton of their original drafts and artworks that span around 400 pages in total.

These are immensely inspirational in spirit and content probing into the historical events and milestones achieved by the world of Disney, tracing right back to the early days when Disney was just a fledgling, struggling enterprise which the world knows nothing about.

However, this isn’t a guide book, but it does teach you a lot about how the most important things in animation work.

Conclusion

Books on animations are still difficult to find, especially if one doesn’t know where to look and what to buy. We hope we were able to provide you with some useful recommendations and wish for your endeavors to be a success!

Will be back with more such stuff soon!

Till next time!

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