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Glenn Vilppu: Using The Idea Of Atmosphere

This is the twelfth in a series of articles on drawing for animation. In these articles I will be presenting the theory and practice of drawing as a "how to" instructional series. The lessons are based upon the Vilppu Drawing Manual and will in general follow the basic plan outlined in the 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

Atmospheric Perspective

In the last chapter, we discussed direct lighting, and in chapter 10 the modeling tone. 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.

Illustration No.1 All drawings in this article are by and © Glenn Vilppu.

Illustration No.1 All drawings in this article are by and © Glenn Vilppu.

In Illustration No.1, notice how the tone expanded upon the basic rhythm of the figure. Compare diagram A and B in the illustration. I refer to this usage of tone as amplifying the action. The tone in "B" emphasizes the action and makes it feel stronger. The use of "atmosphere" in this 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. In "C" you will notice that the "core" part of the dark and light pattern is also an element in making the action stronger.


Illustration No.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.

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.


Illustration No.4
Illustration No.5

Illustration No. 4 (above) 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. Illustration No. 5 shows how the overall tone is wrapped around the form, giving the feeling of form emerging from a fog.


Illustration No.6
Illustration No.7

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. 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. This next series of examples, done with various materials, uses the ideas discussed so far. Study them and see if you can discover which concepts were being used.

Closing Words of Advice

One of the most important ideas that I hope you have acquired in these twelve lessons is something I have not given to you: a set of rules. Though artists as a whole have more thinks in common than separate them, it is the differences that are more often noticed. All artists, in a sense, have the same list of elements that they must deal with in their creative work. It is the hierarchical arrangement of these elements that creates the differences.


These lists, made up of the elements that we use, are not only visual but intellectual and emotional as well. To one artist, shape is the most important; to another, color or tone; and a third may feel subjective implication or symbolic relationships are the most important. It is the priorities chosen when putting these lists in order that later constitute the differences between one artists and another, as it does for one epoch or culture and another.

Using The Idea Of Atmosphere

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This course has focused on the fundamentals of describing forms and basic procedures. It is important to keep in mind that these fundamentals, i.e. boxes, cylinders, spheres, atmospheric perspective, etc. are tools. As tools, these basic elements can be used in many ways in the service of your needs. As the tools and basic procedures become part of your thinking pattern, you transform them into a personal language of communication. A basic drawing course is, in essence, a basic visual-thinking course.

This manual was designed as a twelve week course in basic figure drawing. When I teach in the classroom, my students take this course many times, some even taking the basic course for a number of years. My goal is to give you the tools to keep studying whether in a class or on your own.

For many disciplines it is a simple truth that the more advanced you become the more important the basics are. It is no different when you learn to draw.

Remember: knowing the basics provides the tools for expression.

Using The Idea Of Atmosphere

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This concludes The Vilppu Drawing Manual, however, in two months time we will continue with bi-monthly installments of Glenn Vilppu's newest instructional guide, Sketching on Location. Come back then to continue your education from one of animation's masters!

Glenn Vilppu teaches figure drawing at the American Animation Institute, the Masters program of the UCLA Animation Dept., Walt Disney Feature Animation and Warner Bros. Feature Animation, and is being sent to teach artists at Disney TV studios in Japan, Canada and the Philippines. Vilppu has also worked in the animation industry for 18 years as a layout, storyboard and presentation artist. His drawing manual and video tapes are being used worldwide as course materials for animation students.

Glenn Vilppu first wrote for Animation World Magazine in the June 1997 issue, "Never Underestimate the Power of Life Drawing." His drawing manuals and video tapes may now be purchased in the Animation World Store.