Background and Layout Artist
Work includes: Smiling Friends, Hazbin Hotel, Helluva Boss, Koala Man, Animaniacs, Rick & Morty, Final Space & more

Greg Bartlett @zeedox

Age 32, Male

Background Artist

Melbourne, Australia

Joined on 2/8/06

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zeedox's News

Posted by zeedox - January 5th, 2023

Happy new year Newgrounds! Quite a lot happened in 2022, here's a little recap.


I started off the year by launching a discord community for background artists. I’m glad I did – it’s been a really nice and friendly place. I have some bigger plans for it this year.

Smiling Friends season one premiered on January 10, and the show was a hit! It's a series very near and dear to my heart, the pilot being the first production I worked on at Studio Yotta and season 1 being the first at Princess Bento Studio.


Two of the backgrounds I created for Smiling Friends

Also in January I picked up where I left off background supervising on the beast of a show that is Koala Man. The trailer just came out yesterday, make sure to give it a watch. Background supervising on a full TV show was a huge career goal of mine and I was lucky to do it on such a funny, quality show like Koala Man.

After wrapping on Koala Man I jumped on to another production at Princess Bento for a bit: Hazbin Hotel! This show is going to be a masterpiece, I'm so glad I got the chance!

After that I squeezed in what is perhaps THE COOLEST freelance job I’ve ever done!! Still a bit in shock I got to work for [REDACTED] (sorry it's still a secret!)


A few colour thumbnails I made for Smiling Friends backgrounds.

After I short break I helped on the FIFA Women's World Cup mascot reveal, where I helped set the background art style, painted some backgrounds and helped design the stadium.

Helluva Boss S2 episode 2 came out in October. I got the opportunity to design the pound location backgrounds, including the key.


My key background for Helluva Boss S2 Ep 2

A fun project I'd worked on the year before at Unlisted for Sustainability Victoria came out. I worked on it as a layout artist.


One of my layouts for the Sustainability Victoria project

Season one wasn’t the only Smiling Friends last year! The Brazil special aired in August. This episode’s a special one for me because I designed everything after the top of the escalator area. It's the new record holder for longest time I've ever spent on a background. Worth it though it's on screen for almost the entire episode!


Close ups of the restaurant area and the terminal area in my giant Smiling Friends go to Brazil background.

I also got to help out Halfgiant on a couple of things this year!

I wrote an article where I break down the freelance job I did for Animaniacs. I hope to write articles more frequently again this year.

2022 was a real roller coaster of a year. I felt like both the highs and the lows were more extreme than usual. I had some of my big achievements this year, but I also had to come face to face with dealing with failure in a way I hadn’t had to experience in six years. I had to overcome the effect that it has on your morale and confidence, and make the most of the situation I’m in. I worked harder than I ever had to meet a big freelance deadline while producing some of the work I’m most happiest with to date. And at one point last year, I was managing work for between 15 to 20 background artists!

I went back to the basics with my 2022 resolutions: diet and exercise. I cut a fair bit of sugar out of my diet and walked 2000km. These habits ended up becoming a critical part of my ability to work at my best and handle the tough moments of 2022. If there's one thing I'm most proud of last year, it's my grit and how I managed myself in tough situations.

I'm back from my holiday break, refreshed and excited to get back to work. 2023 is going to be a big one, and that's just looking at what I already have planned! I can't wait to see what else is in store this year.

If you’d like to see more of my work in 2023, I do weekly updates and share art most often on Instagram.

Or, check out my recap post for 2021.



Posted by zeedox - November 23rd, 2022

Back at the start of 2020, I got to work on a pretty special project. One that would end up as the very last 'normal' job I did before the pandemic.


Studio Yotta were animating a 90 second sequence for an Animaniacs episode in which the art style changes and turns into an anime fight scene. My job: paint all the backgrounds!


The total background count was 50 and I did both the layout and background paint. The time available was around five weeks – a very tight deadline for that amount of backgrounds. I would need to be fairly resourceful with my use of time, but there were a few elements that made it much more possible.

  • Half the backgrounds were abstract backgrounds such as zip pans and splash cards that would on average be much faster to draw.
  • All the backgrounds took place in the same location, so much less time will be needed for designing key backgrounds.
  • The backgrounds can be broken down into different elements such as clouds, ground plane, piles of bunnies, mountains etc. This leaves a lot of potential to build a library of reusable elements and create step by step formulas for how to paint different elements quickly and consistently.


Before I'm ready to start pumping out backgrounds, I have some preparation to do. Provided to me were two style frames acting as a rough indication of the art style and colour palette to aim for.

Looking at both the style frames and at reference I had gathered, including of anime zip pans/splash cards, I made a list of different sorts of effects I’d want to find suitable Photoshop brushes to match. I then went through brushes I already had, made a shortlist of which brushes could match my criteria and eventually ended up with the set of brushes I'd use.

I ended up with around 15 brushes I liked. If I was working with other background artists, I'd invest a bit more time cutting the total number of brushes down a lot. This is so that it would be simpler and faster for other artists to replicate the style. But since it was only me and I don't have time, I'll just remember which brushes I used for what.


(A few of the brushes used for painting the abstract backgrounds)

About a week and a half after starting I'd finished the first background. I put a lot of extra care into this one, since decisions about how elements such as the clouds, sky and ground are painted will affect how efficiently I paint the rest of the backgrounds.


I typically worked on batches of several layouts at a time or several background paints at a time in order to work more efficiently. For layouts this let me look at backgrounds in context of a sequence, and do my thinking and problem solving for several backgrounds at once. During paint I save time by switching through multiple backgrounds and repeating the same steps to paint something such as clouds for example.


I prioritized less generic backgrounds that were unlikely to be able to be built from reuse and left backgrounds that I'm more likely to be able to drop in reusable elements until later.

At around the three week point I'd built up a large enough reusable library of things like clouds, mountains, ground planes, bunny piles etc. that things began to snowball and I was able to finish off loads of new backgrounds in a week. After finishing all the backgrounds, now I just need to wait until I can see the final thing!


(All the clouds in my cloud reuse library)

Apart from being a real fun job, Animaniacs was a super valuable experience. I gained experience in learning where to allocate time with a tight schedule and practiced establishing and putting into practice an art style for backgrounds. I dived much deeper into painting abstract zip pans and splash cards than I'd done on any other project and discovered a few tricks I've used on many other things since. Plus I got to see my name in the credits of an Animaniacs episode - a surprisingly emotional moment when I saw a screenshot!


If you enjoyed this article, I also wrote one about the time I did a couple of backgrounds for Rick and Morty.

Keep up to date of more of my work on Instagram or Twitter

Previous post: 2021 Recap: Smiling Friends, Helluva Boss & much more!



Posted by zeedox - December 26th, 2021


Hey Newgrounds, hope you are all having a great holiday season.

2021 is coming to a close, and wow, it’s been a big year! It had an exciting start - 12 months ago I had just found out Smiling Friends was being made right here in Melbourne and I had been offered future work on it. I was also finishing up one of the coolest freelance gigs ever: illustrations of the game board and 3D buildings in Ravensburger’s Disney Gargoyles: Awakening board game.


In January I painted a couple of backgrounds for a Flashgitz toon ‘Charizard.’

After Gargoyles, I worked on layout for a really fun and stylish project with an amazing team of people at Unlisted that’s still under wraps.

I jumped on Helluva Boss as a background artist! Episodes 6 and 7 are out are the first ones I worked on and here’s some BGs I did:


After my last day at Unlisted, I started immediately the next day at Princess Bento Studio (A new studio formed as a partnership between Bento Box and local production company Princess Pictures) as a background designer on Smiling Friends. It was very exciting to be part of a brand new studio and also work on the full series of Smiling Friends after being involved in the pilot back in 2019 with Studio Yotta. Smiling Friends airs in just two weeks on Adult Swim on January 9th. Here’s two shots from the trailer with backgrounds that I got to design.


I helped out Studio Yotta on a few backgrounds for a yet unreleased project.

Tig Notaro: Drawn is an animated comedy special that was released in July. I had done some layouts back in 2020 for Studio Showoff, who worked on the Van Halen segment.


But the most exciting project of 2021 started later in the year. I got offered a background supervisor role at Princess Bento on a project straight after I wrapped on Smiling Friends. It’s a huge career milestone – a lead role on a full TV series was a long term goal I had set for myself. It’s been quite hectic being in charge of ten artists and I barely have time to draw, but it’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever done. The influence I get to have in shaping the entire look of a show and how every background and layout has my stamp of approval is just so unbelievably cool to me. Just you wait until you see what we’re working on – it’s one of the funniest damn shows ever made.


(The view at Princess Bento’s balcony. After almost 20 months working from home due to the pandemic it’s great to be back in a studio, especially one like this!)

I started writing some articles in 2021. The most popular was my one about what to put in a background art portfolio. I hope to write a few more next year.

I’m pumped for 2022! I plan on starting a background art discord sometime soon. I want it to be a place with resources and focused discussion on backgrounds and layout for TV animation as well as occasional challenges suited to anyone practicing or putting together pieces for a background portfolio. I’m also itching to get back and finish the animated series I’m on at Princess Bento and paint even more Helluva Boss BGs and any other cool projects I don’t know about yet. Happy New Year!

Also Smiling Friends trailer if you haven't seen it:



Posted by zeedox - November 15th, 2021

Hey Newgrounds! It's been a real busy few months that I've hardly posted much, so here's a quick update on a few recent projects.

Smiling Friends

I wrapped up on Smiling Friends as a background designer a few months ago. It's such a cool show and you MUST see this teaser if you haven't already! I got to design the original forest key background that the BGs in this teaser are based on.

Disney Gargoyles: Awakening

In August, Ravensburger released the board game Disney Gargoyles: Awakening in which I did the illustrations for the game board and 3D buildings. Really can't believe my luck to get to work in this, on both an animated cartoon and board game all in one!


Helluva Boss

I've been doing a bit of background work this year on Helluva Boss since episode 6. Here's some I worked on from the latest episode:



Background Lead!

But perhaps the most exciting project of all is that I'm currently working on a show as a background lead! Getting to be a lead on a full animated TV series has been a career goal of mine for a while so I am pretty excited! It's a Michael Cusack (co-creator of Smiling Friends) show and it's gonna be amazing!



Posted by zeedox - June 9th, 2021

If you’re looking to work as a background artist in the animation industry, your portfolio is by far and away the most important factor in landing a job. Perhaps you’re deciding on which works to include or maybe you’re looking to create some new portfolio pieces. Either way, here’s some of my tips based on my experiences getting hired in the past and what I look at when reviewing other people’s work.


The two most important things

Art might involve a lot of different skills, but a recruiter/art director/background lead assessing your portfolio will be asking themselves two main questions.

  • Do you know how to draw well in perspective?
  • Will you be able to match the style of the show?

With this in mind, it’s crucial to assemble a portfolio that will answer those two questions with as convincing as a ‘Yes’ as possible.

Perspective is king

Perhaps the most important skill for a background artist needs to have, your perspective skills will make or break a portfolio. It’s one of the more difficult things to master, so good perspective is solid proof you know your stuff. Amazing perspective will really wow people.


For this reason, it’s a good idea to include as many perspective examples as possible in your portfolio. It may be tempting to fill your portfolio with paintings of landscapes, skies, hills and forests if that’s a subject matter you enjoy most and you have pieces you’re very proud of, but they can be less useful for an employer trying to gauge your background art skill.

Even if you’re applying for a background paint job where you’ll have layouts done by someone else, strong perspective skills are still needed to understand the spaces you will be drawing and an indicator you’re someone who’s comfortable at drawing backgrounds already.


I’d recommend having at least 70-80% of your portfolio being interiors (or exteriors or buildings) rather than the opposite. Locations like a bedroom, a kitchen, a restaurant or a shop are all great choices. Include at least one outside background of a city street. Don’t ditch the nature stuff completely though, having at least one forest or jungle in there is essential!

Art styles

Backgrounds are often painted in a variation of one of two different methods: lined and lineless.

Lined background (such as these examples below I painted for HBO Backstories: Watchmen and Shopkins: Wild) first have line work drawn, then color fills are done underneath, and lastly lighting/shadows or highlights might be added.


Lineless backgrounds (such as my examples from Animaniacs and Mystery Skills Animated below) are drawn by first drawing shapes which have shading or texture added to them with transparency lock or clipping layers.


It’s a good idea to show a little of both in your portfolio. The lined backgrounds will be useful for demonstrating you can do clean as consistent linework while avoiding tangents.

If you’re stuck for ideas on how to include different styles, a fantastic exercise is to pick a few different shows and try and create some backgrounds mimicking the art style as closely as possible.

Put down all those brushes

Perhaps you’ve got a huge selection of custom brushes that you like to use. This may be true if you take a lot of inspiration from other types of art such as concept artists, who utilize many different brushes to quickly and efficiently render an idea. But an over-reliance on custom brushes can harm a background art portfolio particularly if all your work is also in the same style.

Most productions use a very limited brush set. This is to keep the backgrounds streamlined for mass production and simple enough for an entire team to paint in an identical style. You’ll be using specific brushes given to you by your art director or lead. Your portfolio should show you are a bit of a blank slate when it comes to style, flexible and adaptable to fit with any production rather than entrenched in your own individual style.


The ‘Life After Death’ pilot used 3 custom brushes in it’s backgrounds

Bonus points

Composition, color design and lighting are all other great skills to show too.

Consider including backgrounds lit at different times of the day such as day, sunset or night.


Lastly, if you can show you have an enthusiastic and passionate attitude towards backgrounds, that could be the cherry on top! This might be easier done outside your portfolio, such as painting lots of environments and sharing them to social media or participating and creating backgrounds for animation jams.

In other news, thanks for the user of the day today Newgrounds, What a fun surprise!

ALSO I'M WORKING ON SMILING FRIENDS!!! Been pretty excited about this for a while but had to keep it under wraps until the full show was announced just recently!


If you enjoyed this post, you might like my one about my process: How I make an illustration from start to finish.

Previous Blog: Designing Fog and Mist for Backgrounds

Follow my Twitter or Instagram to see all the new things I’m working on.



Posted by zeedox - May 2nd, 2021

On two different productions I’ve had a very fun and interesting task: designing a process for painting fog or mist to be applied to a large number of backgrounds.


(Stills from Mystery Skulls Animated: The Future and Shopkins: Wild)

It’s a deceptively simple task but it comes with a couple of challenges. It needs to:

  • Match an artistic vision set out by a director/art director/client.
  • Use as few steps as possible so it’s easy and fast to replicate
  • Look good in all kinds of situations. How does it look in both close ups and wides? How about when characters are in the foreground or in the background underneath some of the fog layers? How about when the ground is visible, how does the fog meet the ground?

The first time was for the feature film Shopkins: Wild that I worked on as a background artist at Studio Moshi in 2017. The opening sequence took place inside this dome filled with mysterious pink mist.


The design for this mist didn’t click until I experimented with a circular brush with softness added to the edge and the brush size affected by pressure sensitivity.


By giving the brush a set opacity, the volume of the mist could be built up with brush strokes. This was done across several layers, with each layer using a different shade of pink/purple and various amounts of blur to create the final look.

Following this method, it took 5-10 minutes to add new mist into a background. Very useful since this sequence had several dozen backgrounds requiring it.


The second time I had task was as background lead on Mystery Skills Animated: The Future. A large portion of the animation takes place after the fog has appeared. With quite a few background artists working on it, providing detailed instructions was key to keeping the fog consistent. Small differences in the look of the fog between backgrounds could stand out which is why consistency was so important.


(Background Paint by Huyen Ngyuen, layout by myself)

I put together these detailed step by step guides of how do draw each of the fog layers: foreground, midground and background fog.


There were a few other additional steps including dropping some pre-made adjustment layers on top of background objects to make the colours a little bit more purple and mysterious. Changing the colours through adjustment layers allowed lots of reuse to happen between the fog and non fog scenes.


(Background Paint by Magpie Raven Blackford, layout by myself)


Hope you enjoyed this post! Check out my last one: How I ditched Flash and learned to paint in Photoshop with a New Years Resolution

Follow me on Twitter or Instagram for more updates on what I'm working on.



Posted by zeedox - April 17th, 2021

I’ve taken a pretty unusual path to become a background artist, in the way that for over a decade, I used Adobe Flash almost exclusively to draw backgrounds.


One of my backgrounds created 100% in Flash

It all started in my high-school days when I discovered Newgrounds around ‘06 and this little program called Flash that we’d been introduced to in multimedia class. With these I could make something and show it to the world. The possibilities were endless! I spent a lot of my free time making flash project, always trying to improve every time.

Around the beginning of the 2010s I became interested specifically in pursuing background art as a career. I also started making money creating background and environment assets for flash games. This further reinforced Flash as my drawing tool of choice. This culminated in 2015 and 2016, when I painted almost all the backgrounds in Flash for an animated short ‘The Tale Teller’ by my friend and long time collaborator on many flash games and cartoons, Jazza.


Some of my Flash backgrounds from the Tale Teller (2015-2016)

I’d become a bit TOO comfortable with Flash and I had all my techniques and tricks I’d developed over the years to work around a rather unintuitive program for background painting, and I became known for the obscene amount of gradients I liked to use.


Another background I created entirely in Flash CS3

But now in 2016, in the real world, the flash game market was dead and 2D animation backgrounds are almost always done in raster programs. So it became vital to ditch Flash in favor of Photoshop to pursue a career as a background artist.

My plan to ease myself off of Flash involved a very smart 2017 New Year’s resolution. I was going to do 240 30-minute studies in Photoshop.

I had a few rules. I was going to use Anki, which is flashcard software I could re-purpose to show me pictures to draw that I’d saved earlier. Conveniently Anki also kept a record of my number of studies. I could only do a maximum of 2 studies in a day. This meant I could always catch up if I fell behind, but I still needed a sustained, consistent effort across the year.


The explicit purpose of these studies was to become more comfortable in Photoshop, not to make pretty looking studies. Meaning that if I spent a lot of that 30 minutes looking at a tutorial or changing my keyboard shortcuts or fiddling with photoshop settings, Great! That’s the point.

All of the studies I’m showing are cherry picked out of the best ones I did and all of these are ones I painted closer to the end of the year when I got a little better. I’m generally not a fan of sharing my studies on social media (unless I’ve specifically set out to make a pretty piece to share.) I find making something that looks nice and maximizing learning to be competing goals. I want to resist the temptation to add unnecessary shading or clean up to make something more presentable when doing so doesn’t add to the specific thing I want to learn from the study. And studies should be a bit cringe if you’re really trying things way outside of your comfort zone.


So how did I do?

I failed, but very successfully! I completed 200 out of the 240 by the end of 2017, but I didn’t make it for the best possible reason. In August I got my first studio job, where I worked on the film Shopkins: Wild at Studio Moshi as a background painter. I was very busy, particularly in November and December and couldn’t keep up with the studies. But as the entire thing was done with the goal of becoming a background artist, I can’t imagine a better outcome!


A Shopkins Background I did the final linework and color in my first studio job.

Today I’m even more at home drawing in Photoshop that I ever was in Flash and it seems crazy now to even want to paint backgrounds like that using Flash. But a part of me is proud of how far I managed to push that program in the end.

If you liked this post, check out my previous one: Q&As from Instagram

Follow me on Instagram or Twitter to see more of my work.



Posted by zeedox - March 17th, 2021

Every now and then through my Instagram stories I invite anyone to ask me a question. For this post, I’m going to share a few of the most interesting or my favorite questions people have asked.


I just got my first job as a background artist and I start tomorrow, I’ve already gone in for introductions and stuff and everyone’s really nice but I’m still super nervous! 😅 Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

Congrats on the job! Don’t worry about being new, everyone’s usually very understanding.

Always have a notebook handy and take lots of notes. You’ll never know what you’ll need to remember later on and don’t assume you’ll just remember every instruction you’re told.

The most important thing is following instructions. You might be instructed to do things in certain ways for reasons that won’t be clear at first. You’ll be popular with your leads/art directors/producers if you’re easy to manage and work with.


(Shopkins Wild [Studio Moshi] was my first studio job and everyone was very friendly!)

What’s your most and least favourite thing to draw/design?

The obvious answer: I love drawing background and I’ve got no interest at all in characters

But more specifically out of the things I do draw, I love doing interiors of interesting locations such as the plane below.

Painting lots of trees can be fairly tedious, especially if there’s lots of them and I’m trying to make them all look natural.


(This plane interior from Surfaces x Elton John 'Learn to Fly' [Studio Showoff] is the kind of perspective challenge I like most)

Best advice you ever got for pursuing art as a career?

Back when I studied at TAFE (a tertiary education institution here in Australia), everyone (both lecturers and industry people) stressed the importance of your portfolio, and also what really only counted is the initiative you took and the projects you did BEYOND just your class assignments and curriculum.

That turned out very true, a lot of my participation in making projects on the side that I would publish on places such as Newgrounds formed that initial experience and connections that started me on the trajectory of my career.


(A background I painted in 2010 for ‘Comet’ a personal project I was working on during my last year of TAFE. Publishing cartoons to Newgrounds meant I had valuable experience actually finishing projects)

Have you ever had to paint a background within a background?

Best example I can think of is this painting in the guest bedroom of One Week Ultimate Werewolf. I painted it first and then warped it into perspective!


If you inherited $15 million that had to be spent on a personal project, what would you make?

I’d make a 2D animated comedy show (a 12 episode season) that’s a variety show with lots of different characters and segments, maybe a bit of an Animaniacs vibe.

I’d recruit ideas for characters and segments from creative communities like Newgrounds and well as pay artists to come up with pitch ideas.

I know it’s not really my own ‘idea’ as the question might imply, but I’d rather find people with better ideas than me and hope that I bring enough to the table with my background specialty (plus a cool 15 million dollars in this example) to be a part of it.


(backgrounds I’ve made for Smiling Friends created by Michael Cusack and Zach Hadel, and Flashgitz. Great examples of content creators with great ideas I’m excited to have worked on)

If you liked this post, check out my previous one: Behind the Project – Rick and Morty

Follow me on Instagram to catch the next time I open up questions, or check out my Twitter.



Posted by zeedox - February 23rd, 2021

Back in 2019 I had the amazing opportunity to paint some backgrounds in the Rick and Morty season 4 premiere episode for Studio Yotta, who animated the ferrofluid sequence.



It wasn’t a particularly large job, Yotta needed me to paint five extra backgrounds for them. Four of those five backgrounds were very straightforward. If it weren’t for the fifth one, I don’t think this project would have made an interesting enough ‘Behind the Project’ post.

I was provided with key background PSDs for reference, so it was just a matter of copying the design of the sky, clouds and ground in my layouts and painting the backgrounds by replicating the structure of the key backound PSDs, layer by layer, colour by colour, blend mode by blend mode. About as cookie-cutter as background paint can get really.


Except for the fifth shot. Oh boy.

I was given this rough animation of Morty transforming, with the camera panning, rotating and zooming around to work from. How do I even begin? Fortunately for me, earlier that year I’d worked a large studio job as a layout artist and had some new skills to put to good use.


To start, I grabbed screenshots several frames apart from the rough animation and started lining them up to wrap my head around exactly how the camera was moving. It was easier to begin working off the animatic rather than the rough animation since it had perspective grid lines, giving me a better indication of the intended movement of the camera.


After placing all these screenshots, it became apparent that the resolution of the file would be too large to paint easy. I saw a solution. I could break it up into two backgrounds, and when the camera was zoomed in close on the sky, one of the backgrounds could be swapped out for the other one and it wouldn’t be too difficult to make these two backgrounds match up exactly in the transition area.


Next up was doing the rough. I noticed that one of the reference backgrounds was an exact match of the angle of background B (the left side). It was lower resolution than my background, but I can reuse it’s line work in my layout and trace over it when doing my final lines, saving myself a bit of work.


With the challenging part out of the way, time to do the final line and colour.



If you enjoyed this Behind the Project, Take a look at my last one about being a background lead on the short HBO Backstories: Watchmen.

Check out more of my work on Instagram or Twitter

Previous post: My Process – How I Create an Illustration From Start to Finish



Posted by zeedox - February 9th, 2021

In this weeks post, I’m going to show you my personal workflow and all the different steps I take to create a background or illustration from start to finish.


Before I begin anything I usually gather reference images from the internet and have them open on my side monitors.

Roughing out my illustrations is usually done in two phases. First is a step I’ve come to call the “rough-rough.” Using large brushes and erasers (sometimes several hundred pixels wide) I very loosely sketch out the composition. I’m also feeling out the perspective, especially where to place the horizon line. Even though I don’t draw them in, I’m also thinking about the placement of the vanishing points. My perspective is always going to be a bit off in this step, but the more practised I get in freehanding perspective, the easier job I have cleaning it up in the next step.


Up next is the rough. If it’s needed I’ll switch to Clip Studio at the beginning of this step to draw in a perspective grid and some details easier to do with the perspective ruler tool. I like to make my roughs reasonably detailed and leave nothing ambiguous so that the painting stage later on is as efficient as possible. The rough is usually the first step I send to a client for approval.


Sometimes at the end of the rough I’ll do a value pass to plan the main areas of contrast and lighting. I use a multiply layer on top of the rough.


In a 2D animation background pipeline, the layout stage comprises of the rough, plus technical setup of the background, camera placement and more. Layout’s something I’ll talk about in more depth in a future post.


Next up is my colour rough. My process for doing colour roughs involves drawing a bunch of flat shapes and quickly throwing down colours. Then I can see what isn’t looking right and slowly make adjustments until I narrow down onto the final colours. I often preview my colour roughs in grey-scale. Often if a colour rough is not working, it’s because the values are off.


A strong colour rough means I don’t need to think as much during the final paint, and I can work faster and focus on rendering technique and polish. Getting my colours figured out here means I can have a cleaner layer structure in the final illustration. This is super important for a key background for animation where many other angles also need to be painted. A minimal layer structure makes the background so much faster to replicate.

The colour rough step is most important for designing a new location and can be skipped if there’s an existing design/key background already. It’s usually the next step I’ll send to a client. Between the detailed rough and a colour rough there’s no surprises to the client how the final piece is going to look.


Time to paint the final illustration. I typically do this using a variation of one of two different methods, lineless and lined backgrounds. Lineless backgrounds are done mostly by drawing shapes and then shading them using transparency lock or clipping layers.



The lined background method involves two steps, the clean line and the final colour. In some studio pipelines they are both submitted separately for approval or may even be done by two different background artists.


When I was a less experienced artist I was a lot less structured with my processes and would wing it a lot more. Today my workflow is an influence of things I’ve picked up from working in studio pipelines and methods I’ve found to make higher quality work with a more predictable and consistent result, which is important when working professionally.

Previous post: Behind the Project: HBO Backstories - Watchmen

Check out more of my work on Instagram or Twitter