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I'm a freelance background artist and I'm on Newgrounds to make cool things and collaborate with people!
Stuff I've worked on include Jazza's The Tale Teller, One Week Ultimate Werewolf and Shopkins: Wild

Greg Bartlett @zeedox

29, Male

Background Artist

Adelaide, Australia

Joined on 2/8/06

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zeedox's News

Posted by zeedox - 3 days ago


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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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


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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


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Posted by zeedox - 2 weeks ago


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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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


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Posted by zeedox - January 20th, 2021


Welcome to my first in a series of posts I’ll dive into a bit of behind the scenes of a project I’ve worked on.


Back in 2019 I was the lead background artist at Studio Showoff on the short ‘HBO Backstories: Watchmen.” This was a pretty intense project as it was my first time in a lead role.


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The bulk of the backgrounds were done over a 3 week schedule. I started several days earlier than the rest of the background team. I needed to prepare so that I was ready to instruct the background artists on how to paint in the style and have work ready to assign them.


My first step was to figure out actually how to replicate the style from the Watchmen comic book. This was a reasonably kind style for a first go a being a lead as the comic book provided a wealth of reference material, and the colouring only dealt with flat colours and a limited palette, removing a few variables. I sat down one sunny afternoon in the park looking through the entire book, making note of style features I want to replicate and taking plenty of photographs.


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The next part of the puzzle was finding the right brushes and processes to mimic the style, but keeping the instructions as streamlined as possible so it’s efficient and not confusing to explain to the background team. I modified a brush to create a brush that quickly paints in striped shading as seen in the Watchmen style.


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I then painted the first test background and put together a rough background design document with all the instructions for layout and paint. With the background artists starting in a just a couple of days I didn’t have much time to second guess my decisions and I had to trust my gut feelings on a lot of things.


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One big decision I made was to split up the background pipeline into both layout (roughs) and background paint meaning I could check layouts and assign each step to a different artist. On smaller projects (and on a couple of previous Showoff projects) it’s common for background painters to work directly from whats in the animatic, but I like the flexibility of having a separate layout stage and it’s how I organize my own personal freelance projects.


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As the lead, I had more of a birds eye view of the project with regards to things like continuity between backgrounds or what specific angles the camera meant to be facing on different shots, so it was often a time saver to do some of the layouts myself and then assign the background paint to someone else. I also got to to play to the strengths of my team: one of my artists, Jon, I’d worked with before on a layout team in a studio so I knew I could trust him with certain layouts. Another team member, Jackie, is a super talented designer I admire, so I’d often assign her backgrounds I’m excited to see her take on and I think she would come up with something cooler than I would.


One of the things I didn’t expect is just how much time assigning and checking backgrounds and giving notes to the background team would take away. It’s given me a newfound appreciation for any lead on a project afterwards plus I’ve thinking about how I can improve the skills involved in effectively communicating and instructing ever since.


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Another thing that stood out to me working as a lead is how much more trust the directors put into me and how much more hands off they were. Sean and Ivan did flag major things with me, but for the most part there was much less oversight compared to previous Showoff projects or productions at other studios. That makes sense of course, as my job is to save them time so they can focus on other things. Being able to approve your own backgrounds though, that is a time saver, heh.


The last notable thing about being a lead was whenever I was checking work deciding what to approve and what to send back for a revision was always tricky. You can’t be a perfectionist, so I always asked myself ‘Is this fix an efficient use of the artists time and my time?” It’s another thing I’ve been thinking about how I can do even better next time I’m in a lead role.


Watch the full video below:



Previous post: Animaniacs, Elton John, Smiling Friends & more: My 2020 Recap


Check out more of my work on Instagram or Twitter


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Posted by zeedox - January 4th, 2021


Hey Newgrounds, I hope you had a great new years!


It's been a while since I shared what I was up to. Even though I was fortunate to have plenty of work and a job easy to do remotely, 2020 was undoubtedly a challenging year trying to stay productive and positive amongst all the uncertainty and chaos.


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I started the year working on a really cool job for Studio Yotta back in January. I painted about 50 backgrounds for the anime fight sequence in episode 4 of the Animaiacs reboot which came out in November. At this time Australia was on fire and some days bushfire smoke blew over Melbourne creating an eerie thick fog and hazardous air quality. Little did we know things were about to get much crazier.


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When the pandemic really started picking up in March, I was renting a coworking desk at a local animation studio, Studio Showoff and doing my own freelance. Things went from 0 to 100 so quick that on a Wednesday, my friend Colin who was also renting a desk took his gear home which seemed overcautious at the time. But the next Monday was my last day I would work in the studio.


On April 1st, Smiling Friends came out! I worked on it back in 2019 as a background artist for Yotta.


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During the first lockdown I worked on some fun things: A music video for Studio Showoff for the song 'Learn to Fly' by Surfaces and Elton John, another Showoff music vid for the song 'Boxes' by Gavin James and some Flashgitz toons.

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Australia as a whole did a very good job suppressing the virus. Restrictions were starting to ease, there was talk of the borders between states opening up again and I finally could catch up with some friends one time. Here in Melbourne that didn't last long. The virus jumped from quarantined international arrivals into the wider community and spread quite far. While life was back to almost normal for my family back in Adelaide we needed even stricter lockdowns. Mandatory face-masks at all times outside your home, no visitors, only essential shops like supermarkets, can't travel further than 5km, 8pm curfew, the whole nine yards. It felt like my world had shrunk and I only ever left my apartment to go to the supermarket or a walk around the park. During lockdown 2 I did some work for a studio called Mighty Nice and I worked as a background lead on Mystery Skulls Animated: The Future.


HBO Backstories – Watchmen was also released. It’s a short I worked on back in late 2019 as a background lead at Studio Showoff.


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Now our hard work from the lock-downs has paid off. With very minimal covid transmission in Adelaide or Melbourne the last few months I've been able to travel interstate and I had a very normal Christmas and caught up with a lot of friends. It’s a very nice reset after 2020.


I recently updated my portfolio BackgroundArt.net with some of these recent projects if you want to check out more of my art from them.


I'm working on something really cool and very secret right now that I've called Project Codename "Fusion" and a few more exciting things are pencilled in for the future too. Happy new year and yay for 2020 being over! Have a wonderful 2021.


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Posted by zeedox - February 15th, 2020


Hey, I'm a background artist and I wanna throw my hat into the ring for the FF7 Collab.


If you're applying to/in the collab, and you want me to paint backgrounds for you, hit me up! I can work to any style you'd like me to.


I'm a background and layout artist by profession (Working in both local animation studios and freelancing for companies like Studio Yotta) and I've put a few samples of BG work below, or go to BackgroundArt.net


Don't hesitate to get in touch! These collabs are tons of fun and I'd love the chance to participate in this one.


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Posted by zeedox - May 24th, 2019


Hey Newgrounds!


Checking in with some updates on what I've been up to since it's been a while due to how busy things have been!


Four months ago I moved to Melbourne for a 3 month contract as a layout artist on a really cool show (can't tell you which one yet, sorry!). It was a super cool learning experience being trained in layout and it's a skill I'm hoping to use a lot more in the future.


Since that finished a couple weeks ago I've been back to working full time on a really big and exciting freelance project. I also decided to stick around in Melbourne a bit longer to see what other opportunities I can find here, and also since I've been having so much fun being around so many creative people here.


I'm also renting a hot-desk for the next six weeks inside an animation studio! I've always been interested in giving co-working a shot. Should be a fun change of pace from working out of my bedroom! Check out the view from my desk below:


I've also been posting weekly updates in Instagram stories every Friday for over 6 months now. They've been a really enjoyable way to let people know what I'm up to.


Planning on focusing hard on my freelance project (which I've been calling Project "Chocolate Cake") for the next six weeks, but after that I hope to find a little bit of time to do some backgrounds for something just for fun.


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Posted by zeedox - February 9th, 2019


What's up Newgrounds. I've got a big news update!


In my start of January post I mentioned I was in crunch mode on something BIG, something I've been referring to as project codename "Chocolate Cake"! It's the biggest and most exciting freelance project I've done yet. But just a couple weeks ago, things got a lot more crazy.


I got offered work in an animation studio as a layout artist!


The only way I could do it was by first negotiating a big extention on project "Chocolate Cake" which thankfully I was able to.


I didn't have much time at all to prepare, move interstate and find somewhere to stay. I started last week. I was pretty nervous starting last Wednesday as I've never done layout in a studio setting and there's a lot to learn in so little time. I'm excited to go back to work next Monday even if it will be very full on week. I'm excited because I'm gonna learn so much from it and layout experience will be super valuable on my quest to draw backgrounds.


Of course I'm also gonna have to put in the hours on the side on project "Chocolate Cake" I'm gonna be busy busy BUSY. But I'm excited about where I'm gonna be at if I survive these next 6 months. Working on those DREAM PROJECTS!!


also.....


3PM the day before I left Adelaide to go to Melbourne, look what arrived just in time! Finally got my copy of the board game I did art for, One Week Ultimate Werewolf. Now I just need to find the time to learn the rules!


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Posted by zeedox - January 11th, 2019


Hey Newgrounds, Happy 2019! Here's a little recap of my 2018. It's going down in history as a breakthrough year for me.

In January I finished up working my first studio job as a background artist on the film Shopkins Wild. It was only a short contract but it was a fantastic experience and a big step towards breaking into the industry as a background artist. I worked with a lot of great people and I left having learned a ton and feeling much more confident. I got to see my name in the credits in the cinemas at the premiere screening which was such a big moment.

 

Shopkins Wild DVD and Background Artist credit screen in cinema

 

The other big thing was One Week Ultimate Werewolf! I'd never imagined as a fan of board gaming that my work would end up on the shelves of board game stores! OWUW was also a project that I'm extremely proud of. It was a lot of unexplored territory for me as to how I did the design, colours and rendering in photoshop and I feel like I pushed myself to raise my own work by a substantial leap. I actually just went to the shops today and I saw it on the shelves for the first time!

 

One Week Ultimate Werewolf on display in my local board game shop

 

Freelance picked up significantly at the start of the year (after a really shitty 2017 too). For most of the year I was quite busy and never really found myself out of things to work on. It's also been a decent year for painting backgrounds for internet toons. I had the opportunity to work on The Real Pokebusters for Mashed and collab with JesusAcHe, who did the animation. I'm also thankful to JesseJayJones and Carbonwater for the chance to participate in both the Totally Tubular Collab and the Newgrounds DBZ Collab. Backgrounds for web cartoons are hands down the most fun to work on and I hope 2019 comes with more opportunities to do just that!

 

The Real Pokebusters background art

 

I'm starting 2019 in crunch mode working on something BIG! I can't say anything about it yet but I've been calling it Project Codename "Chocolate Cake" in my weekly updates on IG. It's quite possibly the most exciting thing I've done yet.

You can follow me on either Instagram or Twitter to hear more updates of what I'm working on.

 

Assortment of 2018 highlights


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Posted by zeedox - December 26th, 2018


I recently joined in this fun artist resolution challnge on Instagram after a friend tagged me in it. It got me thinking about all the sorts of things I want to work on next year:

Various goals for 2019

On the topic of instagram, I've been sharing recent art as well as updates on big secret projects I'm busy on. I only started using Instagram this year so I don't have anywhere close to the followers I do on NG or twitter, why not check out some of my recent posts?


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Posted by zeedox - August 4th, 2018


I've been doing at least one daily practice study every single day, and this week I reached a two year long streak! On average I've done 27 minutes and 3.8 drawings a day. I thought I might make a post to share with you all my method of doing it and sticking to it.

Some of my favourites out of recent studies

Daily art practice and working on my weaknesses was something I always wished I could do and I'd try it in short bursts, but was never able to stick to it for any amount of time.

Until I discovered a program called Anki.

Anki is a flashcard program that uses spaced repetition. It's an incredibly efficient way to memorize a whole lot of information (like, if you are studying medicine or learning vocab in a foreign language.) Essentially, every time you get a flashcard right the amount of time before ANki makes you review it again goes up and the difficult cards get seen more often.

Instead, I decided to try using Anki to make decks of reference images of things I wanted to practice drawing and then I challenged myself to do at least one drawing a day (although it's effectively two as I try do to one to improve my anatomy drawing and another related to backgrounds/environments.

Anki turned out to have a whole bunch of big advantages.

1) It tracks your time and amount of cards studied and gives you graphs and statistics. This is a great way of keeping myself accountable to drawing every day because if I miss a day it'll permanently be recorded under the days studied % stat.

Also I found that without Anki, doing studies of things I'm bad at was demotivating since I was struggling through the process of drawing something I’m not good at and it felt like that time was wasted. But with Anki, that time gets recorded and increasing the total hours spent/number of reviews gamifies it a bit.

Statistics from Anki

2) Anki manages my cards so that I can do more intensive practice on specific things but also keep practicing everything else. For example, if I decide that the thing I really need to improve most right now is drawing cars, I can add a whole bunch of car images and Anki will mostly show me cars to draw, but all the clouds I wanted to practice earlier still pop up occasionally as the cards do repeat themselves. Also, I can mark cards as hard or fail them if I’m struggling with them and feel I need to practice that same drawing again.

 

3) Anki makes it super convenient to start practicing. Removing as many barriers as possible is essential for being able to stick to making something an every day habit. I don’t have to think at all about what I’m going to draw, I just open a blank photoshop file and then hit study and Anki gives me something to draw. Of course, I do need to put time aside every now and then to add more images into as they start to run out but it’s not an extra thing I need to think about every single day.

This convenience and ease of starting is the key to sticking to it every day. I set my goal really low, I just need to do one mandatory drawing and I’m done for the day. There’s no minimum time limit, it could even be a 20 second scribble. I’ve done bare minimum half-assed studies many days, either because I was busy, on holiday or just unmotivated or lazy. However, the hardest part is just sitting down and getting started. Often, telling myself that I only need to spend a couple minutes and then I’m done with Anki for the day if I want leads me to keep drawing for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or even an hour longer than I thought I would. But if I don’t, that’s fine too.

Another convenience with Anki is you can create an account at ankiweb.net and sync it to there. That means I can do Ankis anywhere as long as I have a device with a web broswer and internet. I used ankiweb on my phone and did 1 minute sketches on paper when I was on holiday in Hong Kong.

More studies

Last year I used Anki to tackle a major skill I needed to improve. As I used to only using flash to draw backgrounds since 2011, I mostly stuck to using only that and rarely left my comfort zone to paint BGs instead in Photoshop. I realised that I needed to force myself to spend time painting in Photoshop. So I made an anki deck of images to do 30 minute timed studies of and set a new years resolution to do 240 of them. There was only one rule, I could only do a maximum of two a day so that I forced myself to spread them out somewhat over the year.

I ended up only making it to 200 (I got an in-studio job at the end of the year as a background artist and things got hectic), but it was a huge success and it made me a lot more comfortable in photoshop. I was certainly grateful I’d done it as I was a lot more prepared for the work I did on One Week Ultimate Werewolf, which involved painting detailed rooms entirely in Photoshop.

Some of the best 30 minute studies I did

I hope you found that interesting! If there’s any interest I could make another post about specific settings in Anki and other study tips. And, if you stay up to date with more of my stuff, my Twitter and Instagram are the places to go.


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