Layout Artist (Animation)

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What does a layout artist do?

Layout artists begin their work at the start of an animation production, after the storyboard and the look of the project have been agreed upon. Layout artists determine the depth and perspective of what is displayed on screen. The way that this is achieved varies depending on the kind of animation being produced.

In traditional 2D hand-drawn animation, layout artists define the perspective of the animation frames by drawing the backgrounds. The relative size of the objects in the background of a flat image, as compared to the action in the foreground, influences how viewers perceive the scene. How large or small characters or other aspects of an animated scene appear to be influences how the audience feel. 2D layout artists base what will appear in the image on the storyboard, but they more clearly define what appears in an animation frame.

In 3D animation, layout artists are the directors of photography (DoPs) in a virtual space. A DoP in a live-action movie makes decisions about lenses, camera angles and camera movements. In a 3D animation, the layout artist makes the same decisions, but with a virtual camera within 3D animation software.

3D layout artists listen to the director to learn the desired style of virtual photography for the animation. Then they work from storyboards and tidy up the rough versions of the animation (known as animatics). They work out the timing and the placement of the characters at key points within each shot. This is known as blocking. They aim to keep a consistent scale to the elements within the frame, always working out how best to tell the story. They do a rough version of the lighting and produce the shots.

In stop-motion animation, there are no layout artists because this animation form is photographed by physical cameras and, therefore, there are actual DoPs.

Layout artists can be employed by animation studios.

What's a layout artist good at?

  • Art: be able to draw, have an eye for composition, know what looks good and why
  • Photography: understand camera and lighting techniques, know how to use them to affect emotions, know how to tell a story through a shot
  • Communication: work with the director, be able to pick up an idea from storyboard artists and share your work with other artists
  • Animation and art programs: be adept at using relevant programs such as Photoshop and TVPaint, as well as After Effects, Blackmagic Fusion, Maya, Mental Ray, Nuke, RenderMan and 3ds Max
  • Watching animations, feature films and media: have a passion for the medium of animation, a love of the industry and a broad interest in film and TV

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