Setting the Stage: Environments Part 1

We’ve spent the last few weeks very much focused on creating character designs. Character design is, for many people, the most compelling element of our visual development project. However, crafting a visible world for your characters to inhabit can greatly enhance the work you’ve done so far by giving your character designs context and greater authenticity.

The GIF at the top of this post is from the 193x Silly Symphony Little Hiawatha. The main reason I chose that image to feature is because, at this point in the school year, we can all use an adorable bunny break. Just take a minute to observe their repetitive hijinks.

Are you back? OK, the other reason I chose this image is because the bunnies are depicted in an environment. In the context of the film the center baby bunny has just been spared by a young Hiawatha who was out hunting. The setting for this story is a forest. The artists depicted trees, bushes, moss covered rocks, fallen logs, streams, and an assortment of other features that helped to establish the environment.


Let’s take a look at some nice examples of environments.

Peter van Dongen, illustration for Vrij Nederland:


The illustration above is a great example of the Ligne claire, or clear line style, made popular by Tintin artist Herge:

Ligne claire (French for “clear line”) is a style of drawing pioneered by Hergé, the Belgian creator of The Adventures of Tintin. It uses clear strong lines all of the same width and no hatching, while contrast is downplayed as well. Cast shadows are often illuminate. Additionally, the style often features strong colours and a combination of cartoonish characters against a realistic background. All these elements together can result in giving strips drawn this way a flat aspect. The name was coined by Joost Swarte in 1977.[1]

From Jim Woodring’s Frank:


Note how Woodring uses the tree cropped on the right with the bit of plant life in the lower left of the image to serve as foreground and framing. The other tree, along with the plants that surround it help establish and define the pathway that the creatures are traveling on.

Indivisible (video game) Production Art:


Traditional (old school) video games featured environments that were set up for left to right movement that was almost like a theater stage in some ways. More on Indivisible environment art later in another post.

This Peanuts Sunday strip by Charles Schulz from the 1950s features similar stage-like settings:


Art by Sumi

The next set of drawings are by an artist that calls herself Sumi (Link). Her bio reads:

26 year-old french female 2D animator and illustrator, graduated from Gobelins in 2012. As either character designer or 2D animator, I have worked mostly for several feature films such as :

“The Little Prince” directed by Mark Osborne

“Song of the sea” by Tomm Moore

Laika 5th feature film

and lately, “The Big Bad Fox” by Benjamin Renner.

And did some freelance order for commercials.


In the image above we can see the artist Sumi exploring subtle variations in costume for her character.


In this image we get to see her character (Lucy) in an environment. There’s a ghost behind her! :O


Simi wrote about the images above:

I notice my dreading about perspective, so I’ve decided to overcome it by making backgrounds as much as I can !

At last, I feel more at ease on it ;u; I hope to gain more confidence in the future.

Anyway, here are some researches for a shoujo project. I feel like scattered with all the projects I have on mind, don’t know if I can make all of them. I hope I can though.

Art by Michelle Hiraishi


In the image above by Michelle Hiraishi notice how big and detailed the trees that are in the foreground are. As they get farther away the trees get smaller, lighter and less detailed.

The next set of drawings by Hiraishi feature a concept she is working on about a girl and her dog. She writes:

Drawings of a girl and her dog!  I really want to make some sort of short story for these two.



Art by Man Arenas

Man Arenas (born Jacinto Manuel Arenas on 25 April 1966) is a motion picture production designer, art director and a comic book creator. He worked as a production designer on the animated films Help! I’m a Fish and The Gruffalo, as well as Laura’s Star, among other films. He was born in Brussels, Belgium, and lives in Llanes, Spain.

Arenas has done visual development work for Disney Animation studios over the last few years:




Arenas writes: Zootopia visual development . 3 more illustrations me trying to find  a good balance between a mammal made world, very organic and the 1960′s retro interiors design that the directors wanted back then beginning of 2012. I took an extra care to find the right details on the wobbly and mismatched furnitures. a fancy balance between nature and manufacture. I had great fun on those.


You can also see a great deal of art nouveau influence in this work:

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Here’s a batch of visual development work from Arenas for a project called “Rabe Socke”:


For this piece Arenas shows his visual development drawing next to a finished piece of built set (perhaps for a stop motion animated film?).