Using Atmospheric Tone

Atmospheric Tone Expands on Rhythm of The Figure
Atmospheric Tone Expands on Rhythm of The Figure

Atmospheric Perspective
Atmospheric perspective is normally discussed in conjunction with landscape painting since its true effect is primarily seen in nature in conjunction with great distances in space. The figurative artist has taken this sense of atmosphere and developed it as a strong tool of expression by abstracting the main elements and learning to use them while describing form. In the last two chapters, I have already indicated some of the main elements involved in atmospheric perspective.

    • First, the graying and loss of detail as objects recede in space due to more atmosphere coming between the viewer and the object.
    • Second, the use of this phenomenon in a formulaic manner by artists to separate forms.

In this chapter, using the idea of atmosphere will be expanded upon to include its use as a basic element of design in the drawing to enhance the action of the figure and to clarify the three-dimensionality of the form.

The use of “atmosphere” in the first illustration would generally be referred to as “just tone.” The main point here is that the atmosphere around the figure is being manipulated as a compositional element to enhance the action. You will notice that the “core” part of the dark and light pattern is also an element in making the action stronger.

Using Atmospheric Tone 2
Using Atmospheric Tone 2

Let’s look a little closer at our example. Illustration No. 2 is a close-up of the hip area. Now you will see that the tone from the background actually moves over the hip and in combination with the accent and fading of the line separates the forms of the hip from the waist.

Using Atmospheric Tone 3
Using Atmospheric Tone 3

Illustration No. 3 illustrates the same point and is also an example of using alternating tones of light and dark to give depth and separate forms.

Using Atmospheric Tone 4
Using Atmospheric Tone 4

Illustration No. 4 is a more standard use of atmospheric perspective. The shadow areas have been combined by bringing the values closer together and simplifying detail. Notice how the core and cast shadow have been used to show the roundness of the forms and to contrast the sharp accents with the subtleties of the shadows and reflected light, thus giving a luminosity to the whole.

Using Atmospheric Tone 5
Using Atmospheric Tone 5

Illustration No. 5 shows how the overall tone is wrapped around the form, giving the feeling of form emerging from a fog.

Using Atmospheric Tone 6
Using Atmospheric Tone 6

Illustration No. 6 is an example of strong usage of tone as atmosphere. The tone is not realistic but gives a strong feeling of form. Remember that we do not copy the models but use them for information. This drawing, though drawn from a model, is primarily conceptual in the use of tone, relying on concepts of rendering and analysis that we have been discussing.

Using Atmospheric Tone 7
Using Atmospheric Tone 7

Illustration No. 7 has an even stronger sense of atmosphere than No. 6. Notice how you feel the tone coming between the shoulder and the hip, making them both come forward while pushing the waist in. The same is true for the head and shoulders.

By Glenn Vilppu

Glenn Vilppu teaches life drawing at the American Animation Institute, the Masters program of the UCLA Animation Dept., Walt Disney Feature Animation, Warner Bros. Feature Animation, Dreamworks and Rhythm & Hues Studios. Vilppu has also worked in the Animation industry for 18 years as a layout, storyboard and presentation artist, most of this time was spent working at Disney. His drawing manual and video tapes are being used worldwide as course materials for animation students. Glenn Vilppu has, in effect, either through teaching them directly or teaching their teachers, trained an entire generation of professional animators.

This article first appeared in Animation World Magazine April 01, 2000. This is the twelfth in a series of articles on drawing for animation. The lessons are based upon the Vilppu Drawing Manual and will in general follow the basic plan outlined in the Vilppu Drawing Manual. This is the same material that I base my seminars and lectures on at the American Animation Institute, UCLA, and my lectures at Disney, Warner Bros. and other major studios in the animation industry, both in the U.S. and their affiliates overseas. If you have not seen the previous lessons starting in the June 1998 issue of Animation World Magazine, it is recommended that you do. The lessons are progressive and expand on basic ideas. It is suggested that you start from the beginning for a better understanding of my approach.

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