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Animation Layout: Graticule, Field Guide and Labeling

Author Mike S. Fowler explores and defines layout support material in this excerpt from his new book all about animation background layout, which includes many illustrated examples and exercises.

All images are from Animation Background Layout: From Student to Professional by Mike S. Fowler. Reprinted with permission. © Mike S. Fowler 2002.

What is a graticule? Many students and people in the industry mistakenly call this the field guide. The graticule is based on a grid system that has a ratio aspect of 1:3/4. Horizontal measurements are blocked in inch sections, while vertical measurements are blocked in three-fourths of an inch. Why? This is the size and settings of most television and theatrical movies. (Widescreen and all its variations are based on a simular measurement)

Several different types of graticules can be purchased through animation suppliers with different qualities. I suggest spending the extra money to buy a professional quality graticule that will last a long time over the cheaper student guides available. Both work equally well, but the more durable of the two will last.

What is it for?

The grid system of the graticule is used to accurately create field guides in the layout department. These field guides are what the camera will see in the scene. The graticule grid system can be purchased at a 12 Field (FLD) maximum, a 16 FLD maximum and at a 32 FLD maximum sizes. There are larger units but they are rarely used in traditionally drawn layouts.

This is an example of a typical 12 Field Graticule.


A Field guides are created for each scene of the show using the graticule to explain how much of the artwork environment the camera will see.

B There are two portions to the field guide. The outer line shows the field size while the inner line shows the television cut off. This will be explained later in the chapter. fowler03_fieldGuides.gif

Field guides are created for each scene of the show using the graticule to explain how much of the artwork environment the camera will see.

There are two portions to the field guide. The outer line shows the field size while the inner line shows the television cut off. This will be explained later in this chapter.

The field guide contains other scene information about where the field guide center is, levels to use, hook-up notes and even character pose positions. The reason for different sizes of field guides is to maintain consistent line weight and production time.

Here are two examples.

If the scenes were all drawn at 12 FLD and then we cut to the same drawing only closer, the line would appear thicker to the viewer.


Try looking at the edge of a book page from two feet away. Now move within six inches of the edge. Note the difference in what can be seen?

The line quality of an animated show has to be consistent throughout. Any line weight change, as previously illustrated, the viewer would stop viewing the animation story and concentrate on the individual images. Not a good thing.

Time is the other reason. The layout artist must consider the animator who receives the scene next. It would be a waste of time to draw a close up shot of a face at a 12 FLD when the same shot could be easily drawn at a 9 FLD.

The larger the drawing field size, the more pencil mileage must be done to complete it. The reality is, time is money for the layout artist and the animator.

Layout labeling must clearly show all required elements of the scene. In the next example I have included the first pose and camera pan directions.

Further information on camera moves is explained in the chapter on Camera Moves.

One important factor in labeling that is standard in most animation studios is the use of only CAPITAL LETTERS. This is for ease of readability. There is nothing worse than a beautiful layout package that has printing so illegible it could be best described as chicken scratch. If you are not accustomed to printing in only capital letters, start now.

Try to block all of your letters similar to that of the architecture or draftsman print.

NOTE: If your supervisor can not read your name, what are the chances that the production coordinator can read it? By the way, most studio production coordinators are also the people responsible for completing your pay sheets. Think about it.

fowler06.gifA Camera Information must be present for all camera moves and must contain: What is happening? What is moving? Where does it start and where does it end? This information is placed in the upper left hand corner INSIDE the television cut off box.

B Level Sketch.

C In the same color as the field guide color, clearly number the FIELD SIZE followed by FLD, then the position of the field guide.

The example above is: 10 FLD ¢

Meaning it is a ten field and the field guide is centered at 0,0 on the graticule. The 0,0 is not required.

Another example is: 8 FLD 3W 2N

Meaning this is an 8 field. The center of the field guide is three lines west from zero and two lines north from zero on the graticule.


The level sketch is used in various forms, in different studios, but the purpose is to show the compositor where the artwork is pegged and in what order the levels must be shot under the camera, from the bottom, working up. Level sketches are normally in BLACK.

To best understand what a level sketch is, and where it came from let us look at an animation disk. As seen in this diagram, there are two sliding rulers with square and round pegs.

fowler07_levelSketch.gifA Top sliding ruler

B Bottom sliding ruler

With the disk lined up so that the rulers/peg bars are horizontal, one is now on the top and one is on the bottom.

fowler08_bottomPeg.giffowler09_topPeg.gifBottom pegged (left) is when a sheet of animation paper is placed on the bottom pegs.Top pegged (right) is when a sheet of animation paper is placed on the top pegs.

Carefully lay your animation disk flat on a table and look at the edge so both ends of the rulers/peg bars can be seen. Using the same positions, top and bottom, this is how the level sketch was created.

As production time decreased and speed increased, the level sketch was reduced to a square with a vertical line running straight out from the top. In the level sketch examples below, the order of elements is the same. The difference is that one is top pegged and the other is bottom pegged.

How do we know which is top pegged and which is bottom pegged?

The direction of the level words in relation to the line will tell us. If necessary, the letters TP and BP can be added for extra clarity.

TV Cut Off

Television cut off is the portion of the field guide known as the safety zone. From the storyboard, the layout artist draws the animation poses and background elements to visually fit and work well within this safety area. Great effort is placed on keeping elements and poses from straddling the TV cut off or being just visible near it. Either it is in the picture, or it is out. The rest of the background elements, outside of the cut off area, are drawn to the paint line. (See the chapter on Background Layout Elements and Camera Moves.)

Shown below is a standard boxed safety zone/TV cut off. The safety margin can be summed up as: 7 field and under one field block wide, 8 field 1-1/4 field wide, 9 and 10 fields 1-1/2 fields wide, 11 field 1-3/4 fields, and 12 field 2 fields wide.

1-1/4 FLD
6-3/4 FLD
1-1/2 FLD
7 1/2 FLD
10 FLD
1-1/2 FLD
8 1/2 FLD
11 FLD
1-3/4 FLD
9 1/2 FLD
12 FLD
10 FLD

More than one field guide may be required within a scene. To differentiate between them, the layout field guides are colored in order from BLACK, to RED, then BLUE, then repeat as necessary starting again with BLACK.

Peg Bar

As explained in the level sketch section, the animation paper is secured by way of three pegs: a square, a round then a square peg. When the paper is secured to these pegs, the term registered is used. If the paper were loose, the measurements would be guesswork and far from being exact.

What are all of the numbers on the peg bar? Can I use a regular ruler to measure my work?

The animation peg bar ruler is measured in 20ths of an inch. Every half an inch, is divided into 10 parts. A typical ruler measures in 16ths, or 32nds of an inch. Why not metric? Some studios do, but most utilize the 20th of an inch measurement. This is why you can not use a standard ruler to measure or calculate layout movements.

The peg bar ruler has one additional unique way of measuring inches. Starting at zero at the center round peg, the numbers increase (1, 2, 3, 4) on the right side. Also starting at zero at the same round peg, the numbers increase (1, 2, 3, 4) on the left side. This allows measurements west or east of zero to be easily explained.

From a square peg to a round peg, the distance is four inches. From a square peg to another square peg is eight inches.

Camera Information

A Within the top lefthand corner of the field guide, all camera direction must be labeled.

There are different terms and directions used, but the format is generally the same at each studio.

In all CAPITAL LETTERS the information consists of:

The type of camera move;

The element to move (BG, OL/UL, OL, ANIM);

The direction of move: LT (Left) or RT (Right);

The word FROM followed by the peg position circled with center ¢ or inch from nearest start peg POS;

The word TO followed by the peg position circled with center ¢ or inch from nearest end peg POS;

To explain other moves use: WHILE, THEN or DURING.

Pan Details

A pan is long piece of artwork that has more than one 12 FLD page in length. As stated earlier, the camera can move anywhere north, east, west and south, provided the field guide being used can fit completely within the one 12 FLD sheet.

A pan allows the camera to move the field guide north and south. For movement east and west, the artwork must now move, not the camera. Labeling in the field box does not show E or W in the field size. To move east or west, the pan must rely on the pegs, and the peg bar ruler, to measure the distance needed. This is covered later in this chapter.

Camera directions for a pan movement must be documented on the first field guide in the top left hand corner. The information shows what direction the pan will move, where it starts and where it ends. (See previous page for more details)

Pan/Camera Directions

A First FG is BLACK pencil BLACK lines B Second FG is RED RED lines C Third FG is BLUE BLUE lines

NOTE: the use of different field guides and colors. Whenever a new field size is required or position of the field changes, a new field guide must be created. In the above example the field guide changes three times.

A single field sheet of animation paper has three holes, (square, round and square). Pan paper continues this pattern to the papers end, with a new round peg followed by a square peg. It does not matter if it is a horizontal, vertical or diagonal pan, the labeling of each of the round peg holes is the same.

In order from left to right, the round peg hole is labeled with CAPITAL letters starting POS A, B, C, D until the pan is complete. Even if the pan is top pegged, the naming of the round peg holes start with an A on the left side of the paper. The peg letter following POS is always circled to avoid confusion with other information labeled on the pan paper.

This is an example of top peg labeling. Note the position of where the POS is placed. Never write over, or allow division by the peg hole, as crucial information can be lost when adding peg reinforcements or when photocopied. Peg reinforcements are designed to protect the peg hole from being ripped or worn during normal production. Most studios require them on all artwork; it is not an optional item!

As seen in the previous pan examples, the other segment of information required is a start and an end position.

The start and stop information of a pan is very useful to do exactly what the name suggests, start and stop.

In black pencil, on the left side of the red center line, the word START, or STOP is printed. The red center line is created by drawing a vertical line from the center crosshairs of a field guide, to the bottom of the page. Only an inch is drawn at the page edge. A field guide positioned directly over the round peg will have the red center line drawn through the round peg hole.

When the START or STOP position line does not line up with a round registration peg (center of the field), measurement must be taken from the peg bar ruler and labeled in the CAMERA DIRECTION area of the field guide.

In this example below, the STOP line is not on the round peg hole at POS C Using the peg bar ruler, (not a regular ruler), we can find the distance the STOP line is from the round peg.

In this example, the STOP line is one and a half inches away from the round peg.

Transferring this information to the field guide is written as:

POS C 1.5" ¢ or POS C 1-1/2" ¢

The problem with how the information above is written, is we do not know which side of the round peg hole it is on? If we were to simply look at the line, you would logically state that it is on the right of POS C wrong.

Most of the animation work completed today is compiled on various computer programs. The animation and layout levels are scanned into the system then adjusted as required to make the animation work. Using a traditional production method of shooting (photographed one frame at a time under a camera), the artwork would move along the peg bar, not the camera.

Let us use the same example with the STOP position at one and a half inches away from POS C. We have learned that POS C is a round center peg. To get to the full image at the STOP position, we must move the artwork left, while the camera remains in place. This STOP position is a new center; the round peg hole at POS C is the original center. Therefore POS C is one and a half inches left of the new center STOP position.

The label acronym would read as LO¢, (left of center) of the closet round PEG hole, POS C. Transferring this information to the field guide it would be correctly written as:

POS C 1.5" LO¢ or POS C 1-1/2" LO¢

For many students this section of layout can be painfully difficult to grasp. I primarily attribute this to how it is taught. I prefer to keep the explanation of this simple. When this was first introduced to me, honestly I was confused. There appeared to be no reason why it was done this way, it just was. It was not until a few years later that I was provided a trick to help understand.

The trick was: Look at where the line is in relation to the closest round peg hole. If it looked like it was on the right think of the opposite. If it looked like it was on the left, think of the opposite. My students agree that this method works!

NOTE: A pan uses a directional sentence such as POS C 1-1/2" LO¢ . When writing the field size in the field guide, only the field number and direction N or S can be used. There is no use of east or west in the field guide.

Artwork Information Box

The bottom right corner of any layout page is an information box. Be it a circle, a box or a line separating the details, the information that is found is fairly standard. It states the PRODUCTION NAME, SHOW NUMBER, SCENE NUMBER and ELEMENT TYPE.

Some show names are not always possible to print it all in such a small box, so abbreviations are commonly used. A few examples of this that come to mind are shows I have worked on, such as Nelvanas Bob and Margaret, which was shortened to BM, and Nelvanas Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, which was reduced to MFB. It just makes sense for the production time.

Many animation schools modify this box format to suit their own grading requirements. Production Name is replaced with Project, Show Number is replaced with Assignment Number. Even in the animation industry, the variations are endless. Whatever the difference, the information shown, describes what each particular drawing is, and what it is used for.

Below is an example of an animation college version of the information box. The top line explains what the shows name is and what episode it is. The second line describes what element is and what the scene number is.

NOTE: Get familiar with field guides now. It does not matter what position you have in the animation industry; animation, layout, storyboard, director or cameraman; an understanding of what field guides are and how field guides are labeled, is essential.

Additional Poses

All layout poses are drawn in blue. Most studios prefer that all construction lines be shown, while other studios want the poses taken to a cleaned-up state. Either way, the layout artist is creating a suggested guide for the animator.

Field guides often have the first suggested animation pose drawn directly on them. When a storyboard shows more than one panel, more pages need to be added. For poses two and onward, the additional sheets must be labeled to clearly show what pose number it is.

The POSE number on the field guide, and subsequent ANIM drawings, correspond to the storyboard pose number of the current scene. Depending on the studio, the layout artist may add, or remove, poses to sell the action clearly. The label of the information box changes from FG to ANIM. This tells the animator that this level is to be used for animation.

On the previous pages we saw how to label the field guide and other technical information. I have reprinted the first field guide for you to look at how the pose was labeled. In the top lefthand corner there is a label of POSE 1. This tells the animator that on the field guide, which is the first pose of the scene.

fowler20.gifA To call attention to movement, red arrows are drawn near the pose or action. They are primarily used as a guide for the animator. Another feature of all layout poses is the naming of B props and C characters. The purpose of these labels is to help the animator quickly find the exact model and prop sheets to animate on model. The names are listed in BLACK directly on the page clear from the artwork.

Here is an example of a second layout pose. The field guide has not changed size, or position, so it is not necessary to redraw the pose on this page only corner marks are required to show the television cut off edge. If the field guide had changed size or position, a new field guide would have to be created using the appropriate color: black, then red, then blue.

The numbering of the pose changes to correspond to the panel number of the storyboard. The format is: POSE followed by the # circled all in BLUE.

To call attention to movement, red arrows are drawn near the pose or action. They are primarily used as a guide for the animator.

Another feature of all layout poses is the naming of characters and props. The purpose of these labels is to help the animator quickly find the exact model and prop sheets to animate on model. The names are listed in BLACK directly on the page clear from the artwork.

Animation Background Layout: From Student to Professional by Mike S. Fowler. Caistor Center, Ontario, Canada: Fowler Cartooning Ink, 2002. 168 pages. ISBN: 0-9731602-0-9. $35.00. Buy it online at Mikes Website.

Do not miss this chance to meet Mike Fowler at this years SAFO 03 in Ottawa, Canada. Mike will be signing copies of his book, Animation Background Layout: From Student to Professional on Sunday October 19, 2003 at 3:00 pm. His book will be on sale throughout the SAFO 03 Animation Festival.

Mike S. Fowler has a passion for art and animation. His animation abilities as a supervisor, layout artist, poser, storyboard artist and fun pack designer are showcased in numerous shows. Credits include: Bob and Margaret, Neds Newt, Hoze Houndz, Elliot the Moose, Little Bear, Eckhart, Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, Rainbow Fish, Anthony Ant, Franklin, Redwall, Ace Ventura and Blazing Dragons, to name a few.

In addition to being a published political and panel cartoonist, graphic artist and classical animation graduate from Sheridan College, Mike has supervised various Flash Web series, promotional bumpers for major television shows and segments of an educational Flash-HTML based University learning program for U.S. and Canadian markets.

Mike has developed, from concept through to production, several critically acclaimed montage/demonstration films, artists showcase books and educational promotional material.

Fowlers educational background covers Graphic and Advertising Design at Conestoga College, a diploma in Classical Animation from Sheridan College, Management and Human Relations at Conestoga and Sheridan Colleges, and a Certificate in Adult Education from the University of New Brunswick. As the lead animation college instructor, he teaches animation, layout, storyboard, Flash and computer graphics.

With the release of his first book, Animation Background Layout: From Student to Professional, Mike adds being a published author to his list of achievements. Read more about Mike.