Tuesday, March 8, 2011

HOW IT'S DONE: Re-creating Digital B/Gs

I frequently get questions about how I actually recreate these backgrounds. Today I was working on refining a B/G for one of my Mary Poppins Penguin cels, and I thought I'd show the process, step by step. There were actually eleven layers. Here I am sharing the major steps only.

On rare occasions, a background will appear for a frame or two by itself, before a character enters or leaves a scene. They are the exception, however. Usually the animated character(s) move all over the scene.

So then, the concept is (with DVD screen caps) to look for the places where the character is NOT. I layer these in Photoshop like a jigsaw puzzle, blending the seams where the pieces meet, and eventually I have a completed background. As an example, here is a montage of just a few of the background fragments this POPPINS piece required.

I darkened the underlying original frame cap, so the background pieces really stand out. This shows exactly how the process works. You can clearly see in each successive frame a different piece of the background, with which I can cover the penguins, thus re-creating the entire original background.

It's a painstaking process. This one took about five hours. I was lucky here, the colors matched perfectly frame to frame. The really tough ones are long pans where the various sections' colors actually change hue, brightness and/or tint. All this can be adjusted, but it compounds the complexity of the process exponentially.

Since this POPPINS setup has people in it, there was one more step than usual: they had to be digitally erased on each layer so their original key frame position remained.

Remember, you can always click on the images to see a larger version.

This first image shows about half of the left penguin removed:

A few layers later, most of the left penguin is removed:

Again, a few layers later, most of both penguins have been eliminated:

Here's the finished background. Notice there is a slight artifact of the left penguin's flipper on Mary's dress. This is good - it will help with exact placement of the cel overlay. It will disappear underneath the cel, as will all the re-created B/G art. But at least we got to see it, first!

And just for fun, I took an earlier view of Mary turned toward Bert, and overlaid that, so you could see a finished image of Bert and Mary at tea, with the table set, no penguins, no flipper artifacts, and a beautiful unobstructed view of the background art.

"Ain't it a beautiful day?"