The Basics of Animation Style Guides

Illustration of man with different facial expressions
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 As we all know by now animation is all about drawing and creating things out of nothing. So how does a whole team of people make something that looks cohesive and not like a billion different people drew each frame or scene? That's where a style guide comes in.

Style Guides Help a Team

When you're working by yourself it's easy to know what to do and not to do with your characters and how they are drawn or animated.

After all, you came up with it so you know the rules. But what about when you have to get someone else involved to help you out? That's where things can start to fall apart if you're not prepared, luckily we have style guides to keep us from descending into a Mad Max type scenario.

A style guide is a rule book for whatever animation you are working on. More often than not, they are more prevalent in animated TV series since the team of people animating each episode varies so wildly. Let's check out the King of the Hill style guide as an example. This style guide is the top 60 things that go into making King of the Hill what it is. You can see there's a huge range throughout the style guide, how to draw the characters, backgrounds, how to animate the characters, set up camera shots. Its extensive in making sure you know how to get your drawings to look like King of the Hill.

Here's another example from Batman the Animated Series.

 Again they go through explaining every possible question that might come up when animating the show. What color is Batman's suit exactly? It's in the style guide!

Ways to Utilize Style Guides

Style guides are a great way to keep everyone on the same page as you go through and animate your cartoons. It's also a nice way for the creator to work out the rules of the world and his style.

When you're making the style guide you have to pay attention to what you're doing way more than usual. Am I drawing every tile on the roof in King of the Hill?

Style guides are also a nice place to start putting together a pitch for an animation. For the most part, you want to put together a document that lays out the style and tone of the show and where you would take it in the season.

A style guide is a continuation of that pitch, where you're fleshing out the characters and creating rules for your world. Even if your rules are insane, like in Adventure Time. They're crazy rules, like Jake can change size but not Finn, but the rules still exist.

Style guides are a great way to bring together a group of people to create one cohesive style for animation. Even if you're not working with a team of people, thinking about what your style guide would look like is a great place to start really developing your animation. Any question someone would have about your cartoon you should be able to answer, and creating your own style guide in your head is a great way to get yourself thoroughly engrossed in the world you've created.