Bam Backgrounds feature image

How to draw backgrounds for your animation project, with BaM Animation

October 28, 2023

Animation is a complex subject, and some aspects of it are better covered than others. In this fun and informative tutorial, industry veterans Brent Noll and Maximus Paulson from BaM Animation break down what you need to know to draw a background for your animation — something apparently only 4% of the viewers who send in work to them actually bother to do.

Thinking about backgrounds

To draw a background, or any environment, you first need to stop thinking about it as something that is behind the character. Rather, an environment is a character. It makes you feel something. It could be fun, or sterile. Inviting or intimidating. Different environments convey very different feelings and contextualize your characters differently.

Bam Backgrounds 1

A simple background exercise

Here’s a great way to get started — practice with simpler shapes. Grab some random items from your house and place them on a table. Try to stage them in a way that creates an interesting composition — foreground, middle ground, and background, and maybe even space for a character.

Pay attention to how the objects relate to the horizon line. Draw the horizon and scene from your point of view. This will also help you with perspective. Dropping in a layer of simple shading will really help sell the forms.

Designing backgrounds for fan-submitted artwork

Donut shop background

Jedi Roman sent in an angsty-looking teenage character. He looks like he hangs around mall parking lots, not quite urban or suburban. The first step in drawing a background is gathering references. A semi-urban donut shop seems to have the perfect vibe we need.

Bam Backgrounds 2 Donut Shop Character and reference

An establishing shot is an overview shot of the entire location, which gives the audience a sense of time and place. To begin, roughly block out the buildings and streets and try to find the horizon line. Starting with rough shapes is best, but eventually I’ll want to bring in a perspective grid to help nail down the buildings. Remember that even though you’re using references, you don’t have to make the proportions realistic or consistent. Go for dynamic shapes and silhouettes.

Remember to utilize plenty of detail to where you want the viewer to look, but keep things simpler the further away. This helps focus the viewer’s attention. Finally, add some value by selecting areas and adding a flat fill or gradient.

Bam Backgrounds 3 donut background

Fantasy village background

This drawing of a wolf looks like he could be in a D&D game or some sort of fantasy setting. For reference, I used the Texas Renaissance Festival and the video game Skyrim. Repeated shape elements help unify the feeling of a design. In our last background, we dealt mostly with rectangles and straight lines, but here let’s use triangles and curves.

Bam Backgrounds 4 fantasy reference

I’ll draw a curved road, because medieval villages formed more organically than modern ones. This will set the design apart from our suburban design. I tried to keep adding in more stuff to make the environment seem more lived in.

Tip: don’t leave your backgrounds empty! This is animation — we can always add more, cheat things toward the camera, etc. to make everything more interesting for the viewer. It doesn’t have to be completely realistic.

Bam Backgrounds 5 fantasy background

Space cadet background

For this space cadet, I’m going to draw an alien planet. I’ll place her in a valley with a low horizon line, to emphasize the tall shapes. The pros and cons of low and high horizon lines are explained well in this Disney manual for drawing comics. High horizon lines can often make it more difficult to show shapes in perspective, and character size relationships can be more difficult. Low horizon lines, however, can be simpler because you can draw head on and get a greater feeling of depth.

Bam Backgrounds 6 space cadet reference

The alien landscape is completely original, so I won’t use references, but using rounded shapes is best as it’s natural rather than constructed. However, Sketchfab is a great resource for references for the spaceship. It’s a gallery for 3D artists, and people have uploaded all kinds of models you can view right from your broswer. It’s super userful when you’re drawing things like complex vehicles.

Tip: avoid tangents. A tangent is when compositional elements overlap in confusing or unsettling ways, like when two shapes overlap just barely and create confusing lines. It’s better to have your shapes and character silhouettes be clear.

Bam Backgrounds 6 space cadet background


There is a reason we don’t just trace photos or 3D models for backgrounds — primarily because we can exaggerate or otherwise design backgrounds to be more interesting when we create them ourselves. Backgrounds are characters, and the feelings they convey add important elements to your work.

Bam logo

BaM Animation was created by Burbank-based professional animation industry veterans Brent Noll and Maximus Pauson. They launched their popular YouTube channel in 2017 and found a unique and playful way to deliver informative and educational animation content in an engaging and memorable way.

Max draws the characters for BaM and is usually the live-action director and script supervisor. In his non-YouTube life, Max is an Emmy award-winning character designer who has worked on shows, including Rick and MortyFutureWormDisenchantment, and Nico, and the Sword of Light.

Brent is in charge of backgrounds, animation, and many technical aspects of the show, including filming, audio, post-production, visual effects, and general troubleshooting. He also manages BAM’s social media presence. When he’s not working on BaM, Brent is a background and prop designer for shows including Rick and MortyFutureWormTroll Hunters, and Final Space.

A popular feature of BaM is that they ask viewers to send their original art to the show so it can be featured in upcoming episodes. If you want to submit a piece for consideration, you can do so here.

For more from BaM Animation, check out BaM Animation on YouTube, their Website, their Discord, or their Instagram. Also check out Brent Noll or Maximus Pauson‘s websites, or Brent’s Twitch.

Save up to $100 on Wacom Intuos

Related posts:

Drawing confidently: Why Sam Yang always draws with references

Drawing confidently: Why Sam Yang always draws with references

How to “magically” remove glare from glasses in Adobe Photoshop, with PiXimperfect

How to “magically” remove glare from glasses in Adobe Photoshop, with PiXimperfect

How to draw a dragon, with Monika Zagrobelna

How to draw a dragon, with Monika Zagrobelna

How to magically change the focus of photos in Photoshop with Colin Smith

How to magically change the focus of photos in Photoshop with Colin Smith

Connect with Wacom on social media

Curious about which program is best for drawing vector graphics in 2024? Visual artist @studio_viv has you covered! 🙌⁣
Head to the #WacomBlog to see how Vivienne designs a book cover in Adobe Illustrator vs. Affinity Designer using Wacom One M. ✍ ⁣
Link in bio!⁣
#wacom #design #designer #graphicdesign #vector #digitalart #artprocess⁣
221 8

Learn how to customize your pen and change the brush size in just two  steps ✍️

Discover all the amazing features about your Pen in the link in bio!

#WacomOne #WacomPen
439 3
For a creative professional team like @parasolisland , efficiency and productivity is key to deliver the best results to their clients 🚀

For years they were using pen tablets and pen displays in combination with high-end monitors, and today they can reduce all of that into one single device: the New Wacom Cintiq Pro.

Thanks to the excellent colour accuracy of the Cintiq Pro 27, this makes a big difference on their workflow.

Get in touch with our enterprise team in the link in bio.

#WacomCintiqPro #Animation
191 5
Exciting news for all creatives! 🚀

💫 Join Wacom at Playgrounds for a celebration of design, animation, and gaming craftsmanship! @tad.playgrounds @weareplaygrounds 

💡 Dive into artist talks, demos, screenings, and live sketching sessions.

✍️ Swing by our booth to test out our cutting-edge pen-displays and tablets, meet Wacom experts, and pick up some pro tips!

Meet us in:
📅 Eindhoven (April 18th-19th)
📅  Berlin, DE (May 25th-26th)

For more info visit @tad.playgrounds 💫

#Wacom #Playgrounds #CreativeCommunity
166 2
🌀 City Doodling: Amsterdam edition 🚲

This time creativity strikes us directly from the Amsterdam canals in the hands of @fragileart 💫

#Doodling #Creativeinspiration #MadeWitjwacom
501 0
Two ways of scrolling in the same display ✍️👀

Which one is your favourite move? 👇

Customize your Wacom One and see where it takes you!

#WacomOne #WacomPen #CreativeInspiration
464 3
We chat with @adansilvart, illustrator and artist who has been working in branding & illustration projects for different brands. 🚀

Join us while Adan shares insights into his creative journey and the vital role Wacom products has played in his career. ❤️

#ArtistInterview #illustration #DigitalArt
341 40
Today, we celebrate World Pencil Day 🎉

Wacom has been at the forefront of innovation, creating a digital pen that allows you to bring all your creations to life and have thousands of colors and textures in a single pen. ✍️

One of the features we love most about our Wacom One is that you can use any Wacom pen or any compatible pen with it.

Have you tried any of these? Let us know in the comments. 👇

Check out our special offers in the link in bio!

#WorldPencilDay #WacomOne
580 15
Friday with F like Finished work 💫

We want to see your finished pieces, feel fry to join our artwork chain using the hashtag #MadewithWacom 🚀

How are you ending the week?

#MadewithWacom #CreativeInspiration
324 1
Bedtime stories by @nlanzillo 📚😴⁣
It’s so cool to see all you can do in 3D and animation using the #CintiqPro27 🚀⁣
#MadebyWacom in a #CintiqPro27
199 4