Tag Archives: backgrounds

A Couple of Layouts & Backgrounds

While fossicking around the studio, trying to find an old colour photocopy of the mystery Hawaiian project posted here a few days ago, I came across some old layouts for a direct to video production based on the Lion King.

The film was called “Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable” and much of the animation work was outsourced to the Uli Meyer studio in 1994-95

I can’t remember exactly who did these layouts, but the style reminds me strongly of Clive Hutchings‘s work. Maybe they were by Uli Meyer himself; the writing looks similar to his. (Answers in the comment box, please.)

thumbnail of Forest layout 01
This layout consists of a background and two foreground overlays. The background is referred to in the writing below the main picture as “UL-1″, meaning Underlay 1.
(Click to enlarge)
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thumbnail of Forest layout 02
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The film was a spin-off from the 1994 Disney feature “The Lion King“, and the next couple of pictures below show background artwork from that film.
These pictures were used as style reference images, and I’ve had to do a fair amount of restoration to them because the original photos had been badly scratched. (Yippee for Photoshop’s Healing Brush!)
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thumbnail of Lion King background painting 01
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thumbnail of Lion King background painting 2
Personally, my favourite part of these paintings is the mysterious distant areas in the top left and right corners of this last picture.
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Wall To Wall Wallpaper

If there’s any truth in the slugline of this blog: “The Art that feeds animation“, then I think these images of historic wallpapers are excellent examples of the aesthetic river that has flowed uninterrupted into the deep pool of animation art.

Paper Panoramas

This post focuses on a small but important product of the wallpaper industry in France from just before the beginning of the 18th Century. Shortly after the French revolution (1789) when a new monied bourgeoisie emerged, the wallpaper industry began to offer some novel wall coverings that were an immense change from the simple repeat pattern papers that their customers were used to.

Their inspiration is believed to have been the large painted Chinese screens that were beginning to be imported into Europe.

The art form that arose from this combination of cultural influence, an emerging market and a new mass production attitude to traditional art, was the panoramic wallpaper. It provided an (almost) instant gigantic 360 degree mural painting of endless exotic vistas. It was a sensation.

The panoramics formed only a small percentage of the wallpaper factories output, but they upheld the brand values of the time, much as couture fashion collections drive the sales of ready to wear clothes in the high street today.

They were far too expensive for the common man, and they required some novel manufacturing techniques to produce them profitably.

thumbnail of Eldorado panorama panel 1
(Click these images to enlarge them, as usual)
This section of a panoramic is from a huge set called “Eldorado” that was designed by Eugéne Ehrmann, Georges Zipélius and Joseph Fuchs for the Zuber company of Rixheim, Alsace, France, in 1849.

thumbnail of Eldorado panorama panel 2

The pictures below will give you an idea of the scale of these mural size wallpapers, even though they have been insensitively butchered cropped to fit the low ceiling of this room in a house in Birmingham, Alabama. (USA)

If you have the money, you can still buy these panels from Zuber, the original manufacturer, and still in business. Prices start at around 30,000 dollars.

thumbnail of Eldorado installation 1

Compare the photo below with the printed image at the top of this post –

thumbnail of Eldorado installation 2

Several technologies have contributed to the manufacture of wallpaper. The earliest technique1 was to print with inked wooden blocks using a simple registration system to apply the colours accurately in a repeatable way.

The woodblock printing process is very labour intensive.

It starts with the designer producing a full size painting. The painting is transferred bit by bit onto pear wood faced wooden blocks. Each block must be carved so as to transfer a different area of colour. The 1000 or more blocks needed for just one scenic could take 20 engravers close to a year to complete.

The softly gradated skies were painted by hand using large blender brushes.

Given that the number of wooden blocks was large, and that they needed to be applied with exactly the right colours and strictly in the correct sequence, it was small wonder that some of the printers went mad. A dozen copies of a popular panoramic would take up to a year to print.

More pictures:

thumbnail of Japanese Garden
The Japanese Garden, designed by Victor Potterlet in 1861

thumbnail of Hindustan
Hindustan, designed by Antoine Pierre Mongin in 1807

thumbnail of Isola Bella 1
Isola Bella, by Eugéne Ehrmann, Georges Zipélius and Joseph Fuchs.

thumbnail of Isola Bella 2
Isola Bella, by Eugéne Ehrmann, Georges Zipélius and Joseph Fuchs.

You can see some ingenious cheats in this sample, used to try and reduce the amount of labour involved in producing these huge handmade prints. Have a look for all the clever repeats in this conservatory window below, and how they have been integrated into the unrepeated elements.

thumbnail of Consevatory Window
Consevatory Window, printed by the Jules Desfosse company.

thumbnail of Trompe L'oeuil Ceiling
Trompe L’oeuil Ceiling, by Zuber
This cunning design could be extended with sideways insert panels to achieve a race track plan.

These last two pictures are from a panoramic by the Zuber company, called “Views of Brazil”. Design by Jean Julien Deltil in 1828

thumbnail of Views of Brazil 1
The caption reads “The Virgin Forests” and shows indigenous naked rainforest people engaged in hunting pursuits.

This last picture below uncannily prophesies the later arrival of Northern farmers who want to cut down the rainforest and introduce cattle for the lucrative burger trade. 2 You can see the cattle eagerly rushing in from the left.

thumbnail of Views of Brazil 2

If you take the time to feast your eyes on these wonderful pictures, you’ll soon recognise similar elements shared by these decorative printed panels and the scenic compositions that typify the backgrounds seen in animated feature films.

  • Stereotyping of locations
  • Simplified colour schemes
  • Bold shapes
  • High chromatic content
  • No obvious focus point

In their time, these panoramas were all enveloping in their sensual richness and highly exotic too. They fed into people’s desire for the mysterious and the fantastic; just like cinema, really.

In fact, I believe that it’s the very cinematic quality of these panning printed landscapes that so strongly appealed to my animation eye.

I’d contend that these 18th and 19th century artefacts qualify as clear cut precursors to the dominant 20th century animation aesthetic. I’ll try and pull up a few examples and show them here. Please share your thoughts and links in the comment box.

Links:
The Wallpaper Museum.
Massive list of historical wallpaper info. (Take a reel of cotton with you!)
Zuber.
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Footnotes for this post:____________________________________
  1. From around 1740. []
  2. Just kidding! []
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Nocturna Meets The Light Of Day

thumbnail of Nocturna Poster
Do please click the little thumbnails so as to see large versions of the pictures.

The long awaited animated feature Nocturna, from Animakids and Filmax, has had its debût in Spain this weekend, and cinemagoers in France will be able to enjoy it next week.

The film boasts some beautiful artwork, especially in the backgrounds department.

thumbnail of Nocturna rooftops

thumbnail of Tim
This is Tim, the hero of the story.

thumbnail of The Directors
Adrià García and Victor Maldonado, the directors of Nocturna.

thumbnail of More Nocturna rooftops

thumbnail of The Cat Shepherd
The Cat Shepherd (left) offers to help Tim discover why the stars are disappearing from the night sky.

The French distributor is Gebeka Films, and the Spanish distribution is handled by Filmax.

Here’s the link to the IMDB entry, and you can find the synopsis here.