Perspective & Backgrounds – Episode 6

Drawing Perspective & Backgrounds transcript

Hi and welcome to lesson 6 of this learning program about making comics. In this episode we’ll go over the basics of designing backgrounds and perspective drawing.
I’ll be honest with you; I don’t particularly like drawing backgrounds. That has a lot to do with perspective drawing. I never felt I was very good at it. Like math, it’s too logical, too many rules.
One of the basic elements of perspective drawing, is the horizon line. You need to figure out where the horizon is, because that’s where your perspective lines are all going.
Here’s a classic example of the road in the middle of nowhere.
Notice how all the lines are going to the same point on the horizon? That’s what we call the vanishing point. The same goes for a city, a forest or a room with lots of people in it.
The problem is, you can get lost in all those lines, trying to figure out where – and how – to place your objects, or more importantly, your characters.
As in any story, your comic book is about people. Or dogs or aliens, doesn’t matter. You have some main characters, and they should be the focus in most of your panels.
So instead of drawing the surroundings and getting every line right from the beginning, I tend to put my characters in the shot first, and THEN figure out where the horizon is.
Let’s say I’m doing a shot of these two characters walking down a street.
I want the man to be walking a little bit behind the woman, and the woman to seem bigger and more determined. Because of the story. Your panels should always be about the story, what you’re trying to say.
So, I draw my two characters, largely on instinct. Now I want them to be walking down a street, so how do I do that?
Like I said, we need to find out where the horizon line is. To figure that out, I need to see my characters in full and then I pretend they’re standing on an invisible line. I trace the top their heads and the bottom of their feet, and those two lines go back towards… The horizon line.
As you may notice, I’ve set the angle a little low. The reason for that is just what I said, I wanted the woman to appear bigger in front of the man.
I tend to think of my drawings as if I was seeing it through a camera lens. Where would that camera be? Up high? In eye level? Down low?
Had I set the camera in eye level, my drawing would look something like this. Notice that the horizon line is always where the camera is!
I just place my characters first, because they are who the story is about, and if I start drawing lines and thinking in boxes, it takes the fun out of drawing for me right from the beginning. So I start out with the foreground and kinda work my way around it that way.
The trick is never to draw more than two characters before figuring out where the horizon is, or you could end up placing everything wrong.
If we want to understand how perspective works, let’s analyse a real picture, instead of a blank piece of paper. That tends to work better for me.
You can take any picture, really, and just trace the lines, see where they’re going. That point is called the vanishing point and it’s on the horizon line.
As you can see, it’s quite possible to have more than one vanishing point, it all depends on how the objects – cars, houses, milk cartons – are placed. Real life tends not to follow a grid like this.
So, what if you want to draw a room from above, like this, or you can’t see the horizon line in the picture? Well, you can add more paper to your drawing, and have a vanishing point placed three feet out of the frame – Or, you can cheat in a way.
Same as before, we need to find something we can get the vanishing point from.
Take the two characters, for example. But instead of tracing them all the way to the vanishing point, we find somewhere along the way, and end with a line parallel to a line in top here.
We now have a nice square in perspective, see? By the way, I recommend doing perspective lines, or help lines like these in a different color pencil, or maybe on the back of the board, so you don’t loose your way in all the lines criss-crossing across your drawing.
This square is going to be our guide in constructing the entire room around these characters. You start out by finding the middle of the square, by doing an X between all four corners.
When you’ve found the middle of that square, you can find all the other perspective lines you need, by continually dividing your squares in half. You can also measure the top and bottom, or in this case front and back, of your square.
If you divide by 5 in both lines, you get 5 help lines etc.
Here’s another classic example of a perspective drawing. As you can see, the trees by the side of the road appear smaller as they approach the horizon line. And they also appear to be closer to each other.
To find out where to place those trees, again we need a square that we can divide in two. By finding the middle of that square, we now have a midway between these two trees, where we can put a third tree. You want to put in a fourth and fifth tree, you find the midway between these, and so on.
Here’s the same exercise with a street. Instead of constantly dividing in two, I divide my height into 10, because that gives me some more help lines right away. Notice that even though the vanishing point is way off camera, I can still get the right perspective.
If you really want to learn the art of perspective drawing, I suggest you spend days, weeks even months practicing the tedious work of drawing boxes, dividing them and tracing the lines to the vanishing point. I promise you it will pay off, but unfortunately there’s no quick fix in this.
Unless of course you just trace a picture! But even in this case, you need to know where the camera is, or you could wind up placing your characters 4 feet in the air! Or even worse, one of your characters four feet in the air, and the other two feet in the ground!
I won’t go into two-point or even three point perspective, but trust me, it’s really not as complicated as it sounds, as long as you understand the ground rules.
And the only way to really do that is through practice.
If I could just leave you with one final trick about backgrounds, before we go on to lesson 7 about sketching and inking, it would be to put something in the foreground of your picture.
In example, if you drew this nice picture of a park in your first panel as an establishing shot, make sure you put a tree or a bench in the foreground. Objects in the foreground help cover up your background, so there’s less to draw, and it also gives off the illusion that it’s all part of a bigger picture, a real world that expands beyond the panels.
If we stay in the park, a branch extruding from the side of the panel gives us the illusion of an entire tree just outside the frame. Even just shadows from leaves above can give the same effect!
We need to know where we are, we don’t need a full background drawing in every panel. In fact, that can take our attention OFF the story!
You get the little details right, like a few vertical lines in the grass, a tree-line in the background, you don’t have to draw the entire picture. Less is more!
That’s all I’m going to tell you about backgrounds for now. Hope this was helpful to you. Thanks for watching and see you in episode 7 for tips on sketching and inking!

9 Responses to “Perspective & Backgrounds – Episode 6”

  1. Zachary Kish December 10, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    Very helpful! Thanks!

  2. Kelly Kennedy February 24, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    So helpful. Thank you, much!

  3. Benny_builder May 1, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    Incredible Palle! Thanks a lot!!!

  4. Xavier December 2, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    Man, this info was GREAT!!!!!! Thanks a lot!!!

    • Palle Schmidt December 2, 2014 at 8:15 pm #

      Glad to hear it, Xavier.

      As I say in the video, backgrounds and perspective are some of the things I struggled most with in my career. Hopefully that enables me to explain it in a simpler way than people tried teaching me! After all, the only way to really learn perspective is through practice – but if it seems overly complex, it can be daunting to even start.

      Glad you found this helpful.

  5. Paul Fernandez April 7, 2015 at 9:21 pm #

    Hey Palle,
    I always come back to this tutorial series because you make it look & sound feasible. My question is, in this Perspective episode, you mention that perhaps you will go into more detail, i.e. 2 pt. Perspective, 3 pt. Perspective in another series. Any chance of another tutorial demastrating those other perspectives that I mentioned above? I’ve read many books on perspective but they always rely heavily on lines & math like you said in the video. Maybe a quick video to explain Bird’s Eye View or Worm’s Eye View. Thanks Paulie

  6. Karolina Alexiou January 5, 2017 at 3:29 pm #

    Hi! Thanks for the perspective intro, I actually had never thought to do this X in boxes… seems like once you get the one box you can make it expand (as you show around the 5:00 mark)

    I do have one question though – you show we do the X in the initial box, but then also do a cross in it. How does one figure out the locations for the four points that make this cross?
    I made an edit on your screenshot to clarify my question: (red points: how to get these?)
    Are they just the midpoints of the sides of this polygon? Or are they a bit more skewed? I think if the polygon were to be more skewed it would have to be like this, where the yellow squares denote an 90 degree angle?

    • Palle Schmidt January 7, 2017 at 9:29 pm #

      Hi Karoline, thanks for your question!

      To find the middle of the box, you do an X. To identify the four points you illustrate, you need to measure the sides and find the midpoint. You just need the midpoint on one side, because when you make a line from the middle of the side to the middle of the X, you can just continue that line. And that’s how you you can continue to create new boxes and build your perspective drawing without the horizon point in sight.

      Hope this makes sense! It’s easier to show than to describe.. Btw, there is a couple of articles in the VIP section you might find helpful too, like this one:

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