When I first started to research how to keep a cohesive art style, I wondered how animation studios do it. Turns out, studios like Pixar and Dreamworks document their art style in an art bible.
An art bible is a document in which an art director establishes the visual style of a project (usually an animation movie/series or a video game). Art bibles, also known as style guides or design guides, are especially useful for stylized art. It contains key aspects that fit the visual style of the project.
Since hundreds of artists work on an animated feature together, they can’t just do whatever and guess what the director wants. They need key aspects to keep in mind when creating concepts. Keep reading to find out what makes a good art bible and how it may come in handy for individual artists like you!
Who is an art bible for?
Art bibles are made for artists working on the same project. They are most commonly used in big animation/art studios to ensure the visual style of the project is maintained during the making of it. An art bible ensures their artists have a handy guide to use as a reference. Sometimes there’s so much information to be shared, different departments have different art bibles.
The character department might have a separate guide known as a character art bible. The environment department might have a separate guide known as an environment art bible.
Art guide for the individual artist
Art bibles actually come in handy for individual artists like you and me. One of the most common things artists ask is: ‘’How do I find my art style?’’ The thing is, everyone has an art style whether they realise it or not. If you find you don’t have one, chances are you just don’t like the way your style is now.
You should make an art bible to make sure your style is cohesive throughout every piece you make. Your personal art bible makes sure you have a document to reference on how to draw in your style. Most people have their art bibles in their minds. They often don’t realise it’s there!
You can wait until you finally settled on a style (truth is, we are always evolving so this may never happen!) or just make your art bible and update as you go along.
The difference between an art bible for a featured project versus for personal style is that the visual style for a featured project should be established before creating the art bible. When making an art bible for personal use there should be room for updates as personal style often evolves.
What does an art bible typically include?
An art bible typically includes…
|Artistic Guidelines||Technical Guidelines|
|Color Palette||Scale Reference|
|Stylization (Shapes, linework, etc.)||Aspect Ratio|
|Render quality||Values for back-, middle- & foreground|
|Picture references||How to deliver artwork|
|What not to do||Naming conventions|
|Key aspects to take away||Proportions|
Dreamworks Ice Age art bible example
Since one of my favourite art styles is that of Dreamworks Ice Age, I’ll show you what an art bible could look like using this movie as an example. I just love how they designed the environment. I made these examples myself by studying the trees in the movie:
Here I painted a close up of a tree branch. Note how the branch consists of curves and angles; adding interest to a simple branch. By adding in helpful notes things will be a lot clearer to the viewer.
Sketch vs rendered illustration
Silhouettes examples and some ”do’s”
Example of a finished tree
These are pages that could appear in an art guide or art bible. The goal is to explain the visual style and help other artists recreate that style. Another fun design guide is the Simpsons one. Check it out here!
Tips on how to make an art bible
- Make sure the visual style has been established
- If you’re making a personal art bible make sure there’s room for updates as personal style often evolves
- Document in an easy way to use
- If the art bible is for personal use consider making a one or two page guide which can be either digital or analog
- If the art bible is meant for a project involving multiple artists consider making a more elaborate PDF
- Have a practicle layout for an easy to read overview
- Keep your layout non-destracting
- Don’t over complicate its design
- Include key aspects that are needed to replicate the visual style
- E.g.: Shapes, linework, poses, silhouettes, render quality etc.
- Include real life references vs stylization
- Show a side by side of real life reference and stylization
- Show examples of existing artwork
- Nothing works better than to see finished artwork in the desired style
- State specifically what not to do as well
- Show ”Do’s” and ”Don’ts” right next to each other for easy comparison
- Include technical guidelines
- E.g.: Scale reference, Aspect ratio, Proportions etc.
- Write notes to specify why and how certain things are designed
- Give reasoning for certain aspects to understand why somethings is designed that way
- Make your team signs a Non-Disclosure Agreement to keep the art bible from being distributed
- NDA’s are great for big art bibles that need to be kept within the team
Art bible alternatives
Making an entire art bible can be a huge undertaking and is simply not worth it if you’re not a multi-million dollar company with thousands of employees. But, if you still like the idea you can also make an art bible alternative:
One page guide
An alternative to an art bible is a simple one-page guide. Let’s say you primarily draw characters. Simply put down key elements that define your character style, like:
- Character views
- Do you only work with 3/4 views or also front views? Some animation shows like The Simpsons never do front views!
- Key Poses of your style
- Do you have standard poses your characters assume?
- Render quality
- E.g.: textures, certain brushes etc.
- The order of your process
- E.g.: 1. Sketch 2. Linework 3. Base colors etc.
- Expressions of your characters
- Including some of your most used expressions
… and more!
Steal an art bible from an existing project
If you like a certain style, you can steal it. I don’t mean just copying it. But you can take certain elements and incorporate them into your own style. This is not wrong, this is what I’ve learned to do in college and it’s what artists do all the time. Just don’t take it too literally! Let’s say you find an artist and you really like how they use their lines (E.g.: the kind of brushes they use). You can ‘’steal’’ their lines by applying their technique to your own original characters!
Use your own premade work
Gather work you already made and analyze it. If someone has to draw in your style, what should they definitely include? Use these elements to build your art bible. See if you kept your layers if you worked digitally. You can use them as a step-by-step for an easy explanation!
Have fun creating your own art bible!
P.S. Here is one of the best realistic portrait brushes I’ve ever used in Procreate. I’ll definitely include these in my personal art bible!