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Developing Characters, Environments, and Story Boards

Lesson 8 of 13

Creating Compositions with Perspective and Dramatic POV


Developing Characters, Environments, and Story Boards

Lesson 8 of 13

Creating Compositions with Perspective and Dramatic POV


Lesson Info

Creating Compositions with Perspective and Dramatic POV

Now creating compositions with perspective and dramatic P.O.V. P.O.V. just means point of view. And perspective as I said, if you don't understand perspective you need to learn it in order to create environments that are convincing. Even if they're really characterized they still need to be based on something we recognize. Now this is a former student of mine. She's graduated. Amazingly talented. She again was only engaged in environments. She didn't wanna do characters. She just wanted spaces. And so, she wanted her spaces though to be like a character. To tell a story. So this is a junkyard. And she was like, I want it to look like people have lived there before, you know, like they spend time there. So we talked about how you could suggest that someone might have just walked away from the scene. And how to, you know, have things strewn around that feel like a human being lives there. And how to organize this space. But yet again, the point of view is sort of bird's eye view so that ...

we can see more information look down in on this world. And so I thought this was really well constructed as a junkyard space that you can imagine someone actually spent some time in. And it's not, it's junky. But it's not gross and unpleasant. Right? It's still a place that has some kind of charm. And that was her goal as well. And it's also, there's some things I want you to think about, which is the term middle ground, excuse me, foreground, middle ground, background. Foreground is whatsever right up front. The things that are closest to the viewer. Middle ground is somewhere like middle distance in a space. And, conceivably, you might also have background. And in this case, this is what's really far away. Or perceivable far away from the viewer. It's an illusion. There's no space. Its a flat picture. But to our eye, this makes it believable. And so, it's an interesting thing to play with those three things. Now this is also the same student. And again she used perspective to look as though we are moving into this space. Imagine the horizon line is about here. We're looking slightly down on this, but not as dramatic as the other scene. And she moves us with a really limited palette. It's night time. It's meant to be all lights off. Nobody's here. But the space still feels really alive. I mean, kind of, what do you think, what do you think is in the space? Like who works here or lives here? Or is engaged in this space? I would say some kind of mad scientist. Mm hm. For starters. Mm hm. Is this a truly evil doer or maybe a dabbler? Um, it doesn't feel evil. To me. Yeah. Why doesn't it? It could be the cool color tones. It doesn't have, it's not as harsh. It's more kind of bubbly. Kind of cartoony. Yep. It's not, it's not as contrasty. So when you say it's, more cartoony, what are you referring to? I guess the shapes. Yeah. The shapes and style of the line work. It does, it's not hyper realistic. Remember we talked about style like, we perceive it to be less serious because it's stylized more like a cartoon. So, this is very consistent thematically. It's just, and it doesn't matter who you are. This is just the way we perceive things. So, the kind of roundedness. Nothing is rigid. Even with spaces well defined in terms of perspective there's a lot of rounded shapes. And the palette is a lot of purple and turquoise. The light is turquoise. Like your shirt. And the shadows are much more purple. So it feels more playful and magical than dark and evil. Extremely well done too because she's organizing information, props, in a way that isn't just scattered everywhere. And this you might not notice right off the bat. But I want to point it out. She paid attention to what I call the cluster of grapes. Clustering things together to create one larger shape. And she did that pretty consistently. So it wasn't just, here's an object in a space. And here's another object in a space. Another object. When people do that, the space becomes very boring. So clusters of content, things at different angles, and a dramatic diagonal sort of use of perspective are all things that make this really strong. And, the light is not on everything. There's light here, here, and here. The things off to the side are visible, but they're not as important. If this whole scene was lit, with a bright light, totally different feeling and emotion. So utilizing light to tell us about story is a really important issue. And something to think about. Especially with a scene with a lot of stuff in it. This is the same student. Again, this is a different space. But I want you to pay attention to, you know, we've got the point of view sort of above to capture more of the sense of the space. But there's a thing what I call paralleling. And that's here's your main subject, right? You know, it's lit. There was probably someone in that boat minutes before. And they've just left or they're coming back. But if you notice the tree is on the same angle as the boat. We look at the boat first, and we look at the direction it might go in. But this shape in the foreground parallels the main sort of element. And paralleling is really good as a kind of support system. That the strongest element is going in a particular direction. And other things are supporting that same directive. This is where we want the eye to go. So, you have these vertical trees. Which create a nice counter balance. But you have other elements that repeat that same angle. For the main object. I would say character. The boat sort of is a character in this scene. So it's an interesting thing. There's also a beautiful use of perspective so that we feel as though we're moving back into the space of this. The trees back here are much lighter and softer. Everything up front is crisper. Harder lines. Thicker lines. So stylistically, it's another thing that people do with line. They make the line light the same through the whole picture. That does not create a sense of space. This thick line right here, counterbalances the difference between the thin almost invisible. The line is gone for things back here. That creates a illusion that this is closer because it's thicker. It's more contrasty. It pops forward. This is soft. Less contrasty. The line is gone. It's just back in space. So this is another student who is creating the same kind of thing. Visual development for environments. And so one of the exercises that I recommended besides you know color studies, was to really go bird's eye view. Like look directly down into this city space that she was inventing. And try to figure out what does this city look like if you pull far back? How are the buildings arranged? And when I design a space, I'm often thinking about, like for wind of the willows, or willow buds, where do the characters live? How close are they to each other? Who's by the river? And I'll map it. And draw it out. Even if I don't use it in the book, it gives me a sense of where are they. And I think this is true of a lot of people. And if you don't do that, it's kind of loose in your mind. So for her it helped her to know, oh, I'm gonna have like, a centralized square in this, or square, circle in this city. And all the buildings ring around it. And then she started to think about the variation of the buildings, again like characters. They are meant to feel really different one from the other. And then this scene is more of expression. Just sense like what is space like? What is this world like? This is more of an emotional lighting piece. This is more concrete and practical. And this is the city up close. This is one of her final images. But she did all of the other preliminary work before to land on a kind of narrative piece that tells you about the world. She's using light, and color, and style to tell you about where these characters might live. And so, it's a really beautiful translation. But, she didn't do this from the start. There's no way she could land on this until she'd gone through the other steps. It's just, it's the only way. And here's a cut away. Again a common devise in designing environments is to see the slice away to kind of step inside. What are all the parts and pieces in this space? And if someone's designing this for more elaborate, an animation or a game, they need to know that. So it's a really helpful tool. And also seeing it, like a turn around, from different points of view. These are also scenes from that same story line. This took 12 weeks for the student to develop. So there was a lot of material that I called out. But, she spent a lot of time trying to understand all the different regions in this world. And what I think she did that was really exquisite is she changed that point of view. Here we're above, looking down on this cave. And here we're below looking up at this magnificent sort of skyline. And this bridge. And this is like a huge creature. That's its skeleton. And so at first you might just see it as a building. But it captures the imagination. What is this world about? Who lives here? Who interacts with this space? Even this has a suggestion of an earlier civilization contrasting with this cave. Might not see it right away but these little tiny dots indicate something that's mechanized that's been grown over. So there's a lot of interesting little tells in this environment that I think the exploration of that made it more interesting that just, you know, okay here's a wintry cool scene. Here's a mountain. She did an excellent job. So this is a piece, two pieces I want to show you, that integrate character into the scene. And, what I think is really interesting is that, there are a couple things that are going on here that I want you to think about in terms of perspective and angle. I've talked about that dramatic diagonal. So in this space, would you, do you think, would you want to be sitting where this character is sitting? Absolutely not. And what's the reasoning? Well, there's jaws coming at me. It's not a safe space right? So part of that comes from, we are anticipating, this character is gonna move forward, right? Just based on the action. It's back there. But it's, it's literally, its nose is pointing up and its jaws are facing us. We can imagine it moving forward. And this character is on an angle. You know, foolish artist painting the picture. Well, you better move soon. But, there's this tension between what this character is doing and what's happening here. And that dramatic tension is really exciting. And it's reinforced by the fact that the character is on this diagonal plain, which sort of crosses over this angle of all the buildings and the shark. So creating a kind of x marks the spot makes you also focus on this character. There's another issue tied to color, which is warm versus cool. Which makes you really look at this character. Obviously we know it's the main character. It's the reddest thing in the whole cool scene. It's very vibrant. It's also a person. We tend to focus on people in scenes because we're people. That's common. If there's no people, we focus on the creature. If there's no creature, we look for signs of humanity. Why is this? We are very self-interested. So, I think this is a really well constructed scene and I was really pleased to show it. But I also love the humor of this as an artist. That yes, we'd just be oblivious painting the shark. Not thinking about what's about to happen next. Now this is also a really well constructed scene. And it's interesting because, this student, he chose to put the main character on the right side. And again, we read from left to right in the west. And so we tend to imagine a character looking at a scene looking this way into the direction of the scene. So, initially that was kind of a problem compositionally. And that was because it felt so weighted on the right side that the picture felt imbalanced. And so I told this student, you need to give us some color cues and action to, and horizontal bands of shape to get us to really go from here and move around. Like circle around this scene. So initially these shapes were not here, with these fighter pilots. They were not in the scene. And this was much less emphasized. But as soon as he put the bridge in it helped connected this vertical shape with all the stuff that's happening over here. And this also helped to sort of counterbalance the action and keep your eye moving around the scene. When you have a character in an environment your job is to get the viewer in, and keep them in. And so, balancing the composition, creating these directional things. We're looking where she's looking. Then we follow this shape. We loop around. We look at this. We maybe catch this boat. And then loop back here. That's a critical, kind of, thinking about composition that will keep you in the scene and not have you leave. So I think this is beautifully done. Yes. Before we move on there's kind of a conversation going on in the questions area here for folks online, talk about are people, are your students designing these sort of by hand first and then going into, whether it's Photoshop or some other? And are they starting with the line drawings and then adding color? Or is color part the initial drawing out? So typically, and I'll just explain this how, typically, you have people starting with a pencil drawing, a line drawing, or could be on a tablet. Some students have gone, they draw a line drawing right on the tablet. It typically starts with thumbnails, gestures, like what I showed before. Almost always. Sometimes some students, and I encourage them to do this, will do also little color studies. Once they've mapped out what they think looks good, then they'll take it to the next level. And some are rendering traditionally with pencil. Again that fine tune drawing. Others are using the tablet. So it goes both ways. And then once students, some students who've done traditional drawing, they might scan it into Photoshop. And then render it. And the students who are already on the tablet, they're just continuing to work, either on, in Photoshop or some other program. But mostly Photoshop. But many of these students are drawing, hand drawing first. And I think one of the things that, this is just my little soap box and I'm just gonna say it, is that the school that I teach at, and a lot of schools, you know you start with traditional materials. Drawing from the model. Drawing with traditional tools. And then segue to using digital and Photoshop. It's a lot easier to go from traditional materials and drawing from life and drawing with a pencil to digital. Than the other way around. And the reason why is because the digital realm of media use is based on traditional tools materials. It's all founded in that. That's one reason. The second is, the theory is there's nothing more satisfying and amazing and people try to replicate this actually on the Wacom tablet and I'll tell you how, but touching a pencil or a crayon or something to the surface of a paper, it's visceral. It's tangible. We're humans. We love that. So, if you get away from it, just go back to it to help you wake that up again. Because it's really weirdly important. There are actually, and I found this fascinating, people that have tablets and they do elaborate, beautiful work in, on a Wacom tablet, have surfaces that, have texture to them, they literally put it on their screen and it feels like they're touching paper. So it's creating, recreating that sense of that tactile connection. So, why would people do that unless it somehow mattered? So I say, that's a cool way to resolve it. But also go back and forth between the screen that you're drawing on and your pencil and your paper. I think it's all connected. So, just to explain, yes, they, two different ways. They start traditionally some of them. Some of them on the Wacom tablet. But it's always use line, shape, thumbnail, more finish sketch, and then the finals can be done traditionally or in Photoshop. A lot of these are Photoshop.

Class Description

Instructor Mary Jane Begin is an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s picture books, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and professor in the Illustration Department.

In this course, Mary Jane will help viewers learn about the components of developing a visual narrative and learn about best practices for creating more believable characters, authentic worlds and compelling, dynamic visuals that tell a story.

She will cover the following topics

  • Creating a cast of characters
  • Developing characters through multiple iterations
  • Creating a turn-around
  • Inventing environments
  • Designing images/storyboards
  • Layout and understanding light, stylization, and overall pacing of imagery.

Mary Jane will also guide viewers through developing compositions, creating depth of field and merging real and imaginary worlds. The course will come to life through real-world projects both from Mary Jane and from other masters of the industry.



I have to say, this class and the companion class were very humbling. I assume I am not like most people who would watch this class in that I have no such artistic talent. I cannot draw at all (limited to "Spike" from TED Talks), but I had no idea such thought, imagination or ideology went into creating these designs. Professor Begin has an amazing presentation style, she is clear, concise and thoughtful. The subject matter was amazing and I can only see it helping me in evaluating my own work and taking a whole new perspective on art, light and evaluation. I highly recommend this class whatever no matter your creative bent. Thank you Creative Live for hosting this wonderful speaker.

a Creativelive Student

This course is well organized, very informative and goes into great detail regarding the best way to develop character(s) and how they should relate to their environment. Mary Jane articulates her points through art fundamentals, color theory and the power of strong research - as well as her extensive experience in the creative industry. I highly recommend this course for anyone interested in advancing their career or pursuing a career in animation, game design, or children's book publishing.

Nancy Morrison

Excellent!! This is a course that I will review over and over for there are so many great bits of information extremely well explained embedded in the broad concepts of composition and detailed illustration both in her own pieces and that of constructive critiquing her student's work. MJ is an excellent teacher! I am looking forward to her other classes! Nancy