Painting an Animation Background in Satori

By Michael Hirsh




This tutorial will take you through the painting of a simple cartoon background with Satori.

In the process, you will plunge into the core of the program and emerge with a solid grasp of the power of object-oriented, resolution-independent painting.

We’ll be painting a "Road Runner" style image, chosen for its graphic simplicity, although Satori is capable of producing a wide array of painting styles from digital matte paintings to lush Disney-style imagery, and a lot more besides.

We’ll use Satori to help structure this picture using layers, customize its large selection of brushes, exploit its object editing facility, and make use of masks to achieve a picture that can be exported at any resolution you choose.

Let’s dive in....


This scene contains a zoom out from the left hand area of the picture to full frame, so we’ll be saving the finished picture as a .TIF with a resolution of at least 144 dpi so that the TV image does not appear pixelated when it’s seen in close-up. While you’re working in Satori’s native canvas file format (.CVS) you don’t have to worry about resolution issues, so choose a small size that’s proportional to your eventual image size. (Such as D1 PAL, for example) Call your canvas "RR.CVS".



The scan of the layout drawing is placed on the top layer of the canvas, and is used as a painting guide all the way through the process.

You can adjust the transparency of this layer as you paint. To do this, click on its thumbnail in the Layers List Palette, which will then be outlined by a red box, and adjust the Transparency slider at the top of the palette.

You can also make this layer invisible by clicking on the little lightbulb icon to turn the layer on or off while you are painting on active layers below, but don’t delete it until you’ve finished the whole painting.!

It’s a good idea to first save a copy of this "Layout" Layer for safety, with a separate filename like "RRsafe.CVS"

Should you accidentally delete the original, it’s easy to use the Load To Layer... command from the File menu, to restore the painting guide.

Now it’s time to plan the painting process itself.



Just as with traditional opaque media, it makes sense to use Satori to construct paintings by going from the back of the picture plane towards the front.

So take time to stare at the layout and think how many layers the picture needs.

Ask how the picture’s elements overlap those underneath, and how you can use Satori’s moveable layers to save yourself work.

Remember, it’s much easier to paint over something than to paint around it.

This tutorial image has been split into seven layers, but you could add more if it gives you added flexibility.

It takes a while to get used to thinking in layers if you’re coming straight from normal painting on paper or canvas but it is one of the more powerful features of Satori and it’s a jump worth making early on in your learning process.

We’ll be using some graphic textures created with very big brushes, so the layers that contain this wild brushing will need User Masks to protect other parts of the painting from splatter.



User Masks can be difficult to get your head around at first, but when you have that sudden "Satori" moment and realize that masks are just like stencils which only constrain paint information within their own layer, and allow everything in the layers above or below to remain visible, you start to unlock some of the power of the program, and life gets easier. And faster.

As a general rule you’ll find that If you’re painting something on a layer and it contains within its outline brushstrokes which are smaller than the silhouette of the object you’re painting, you won’t need to create a User Mask, but if the layer contains brushing bigger than the thing you’re painting, it makes sense to use a User Mask.

So if you want to use a big airbrush, say, right on the edge of a shape like a sphere, it would make sense to create a User Mask.

Fortunately, creating User Masks is very easy in Satori, and a mask can be made out of anything you like that’s already in the painting, or created from scratch: A wild rough-edged chalk mark, or a precise razor-edged geometric object can be made into a mask, just like that. The process will be described when we deal with the layers that need masks, so hold on....



The point of all this forethought is that even though Satori works at terrific speed and uses very small file sizes to contain what in effect are databases of instructions of how to recreate an image at any resolution, it still requires RAM to keep all those instructions visible on screen.

Down at the bottom of the screen in the Status Bar, you’ll see a boring looking box that tells you how that RAM is being eaten up.
Look at this little box occasionally as you work, it will tell you when you are running out of RAM and indicate that you are about to start using Page File (or Virtual) memory, and things might soon slow down. We’ll deal with how to use this information later, but when you start work on any picture, make a note of the figure in Megabytes given in that dull little box first.

While you have your pen and clipboard out, make a note of the pixel width and height of the canvas as well. This stuff is useful later.




Create seven new Layers and name them as you go, by using the Layer List Palette.

Click on the word "Layer" at the top of this palette, and choose "New". A little dialogue box will offer a title such as "Layer 2", but, click in the title area and call the first layer "Sky". Do the same again to create six more layers, naming them: "Ground", "FarButte", MidButte", "Arch", "Cactus", and finally; "Outlines".








You can always add more layers later if you want to separate out some features of a picture element for
special treatment, or subtract layers if you find you can condense details on to fewer layers.

Drag the "Layout" layer to just above the layer you are painting on, because you will be turning it on and off a lot. To move a layer, just click on the layer in the Layer List Palette and drag it downwards to the new position.

If it makes good sense to "Block Out" a picture when painting with opaque paints, it makes even more sense in Satori.

The Block-out acts as a rough color sketch that speeds you toward the finished version of the picture by hiding big daunting areas of white, and gives you a basis for an edit-as-you-go approach.

This saves time, because it makes you take the big, chunky decisions first, and allows for more effort to go into continually refining your painting, rather than slowing you down by having to make basic color decisions late on in the process. Composing the broad strokes of an image in this way frees you up. You can get your color and contrast composition working right from the start. You might even feel so satisfied with this Block-out layer that you call it a day and save it as the finished Background, but you’ll miss out on a lot of painting possibilities.

Do this blocking out by following your layout / painting guide, and fill in large areas of the picture using Geometry / Shape / Irregular Polygon / Box Corner.

Fill the box with colors by holding down the cursor in each corner.

This is a rough, so be rough with it. Avoid any tendency to be too precise, and fill in the big shapes from front to back of the picture. Overlay the shapes. Use Feathering on the polygons, maybe a value of 3 or more to keep your thinking nice and loose.
Look on this layer as a sort of underpainting whose information cannot be lost under physical layers of paint, as it would be if it were a canvas underpainting. You will find it useful to create Swatches from the colors you put down at this stage. Use the eyedropper button in the lower left hand corner of the Color Palette, to pick colors from your Block Out, and drop them into an empty swatch. Save these swatches using the "Save..." button beneath the Swatch, and give them the same names as the layers of the painting.

These color selections will come in very useful later.

Once this rough is complete, either drag it down in the Layer List Palette to the bottom layer and paint on the layers above, or drag it right to the top so that you can toggle it on and off for comparison with your painting as it progresses.


Now, go into the Actions Palette and click on the Object button. Move the slider down until the "BlockOut" layer shows in the window, and you will see all the various Objects used in painting the layer:

There will be Polygons, Rectangles and Brush objects. The buttons on the right of this window give you the opportunity to Select for Edit, Rename... or Apply Current (This last is not a way of electrocuting objects, it merely applies the settings that you are using at present to an object in the window.). Click on the bottom-most object (probably the Rectangle you used to create the sky,) and it will be highlighted in blue.

Now click Select for Edit and look at the main screen. You will see tiny gray points at the edge of the object you have selected. If it is a rectangle you’ve chosen, it will have the points at the corners, connected by thin gray lines. Click on the Abort Current Selection button on the Edit Toolbar to quit the editing process.
Now you have associated the part of the picture with its default name in the Object List, you can use the Rename... button to give it a sensible name, such as "Sky".

The point of this renaming is to enable you to find the important ingredients of your picture later on, without being bewildered by scores of identical looking brushstroke names in the Object List. You won’t want to name every single object, just the important ones. It’s good to get into the habit of naming significant objects directly after creating them, and so avoid having to hunt through the list.

Once named, Objects can be freely moved up and down the list so as to hide or reveal different parts of the picture.

The ability to edit Objects and change them long after they have been created, without affecting any of the other hundreds of elements in a picture is what gives Satori its power and flexibility. It makes so-called History palettes, er... history.

At this point your Layer Palette should contain, working from the top down; "Layout" at the top, then seven empty layers going from "Outlines" down to "Sky", and then either on top of the stack or right underneath it all should be your color sketch called "BlockOut".



Paint in the sky using Geometry /Shape / Rectangle, and then under the Color tab, choose Box Corner.

Refer to your Blockout for colors to drop into the four corners of this control, or use the eye-dropper tool to select colors from the corners of the Blockout sky.

You can use the Object List to help with color selection. If you have named the sky rectangle with an appropriate name, you can easily select it for Edit, and watch the colors you originally chose reappear in the four corners of the Box Corner boxes.

If you have also saved a Swatch for the sky, make sure you have this loaded in the Color Palette by using the Load... button.

PAINTING HINT: Skies look monotonous as simple two color gradients.

Put four different hues in the Box Corner for more interesting results.

Greater subtlety can be achieved by using a series of non-parallel bands of color, using Irregular Polygons combined with Box Corner fills. Use lots of feathering on the overlap areas, and extend these fills beyond the side edges of the canvas.

When you are happy with the colors, stretch the Rectangle to cover the whole sky area.

This will produce a very smooth sky. Paint into the brightest and into the darkest corners to increase the contrast curve. We’ll customize a large Airbrush for this by first adjusting its default properties in Brush Setup....

You have two ways to enter the Brush Setup... menu. Click in the thumbnail that shows the size of the current brush, or use the button marked, you guessed it: Brush Setup... Only two of the five tabs concern us here, Profile, and Parameters. The Profile tab allows you to change the outline of the brush. Change this by dragging the square tag on the line in the right hand window.
For this sky we'll use a very soft edge airbrush, so drag the control square to the right and gently downwards.

You can add further tag points along this line. The preview window on the left shows the effect your changes will have on the brushstroke.

If it all goes pear shaped, or even banana shaped, press Reset. The Parameters tab allows you to change the elliptical shape of the brush, and its rotation. Use the Aspect slider to alter the thickness and thinness of the brushstroke, and the Rotation to adjust its slant.

Remember to hit the Apply Now button for your changes to take effect and then close the dialogue box.

Paint the large arcs in the sky with a big Airbrush, and a light color. If you like the results but the brushstrokes are too heavy or need to be moved, use the Edit toolbar, click on the Select Object icon, and then click on the object directly in the image to select it for edit.

Then either alter the Transparency Slider which appears on the Size tab
of the Paint palette, or move the brushstroke itself, with the little arrow.

Make the layer called "FarButte" active by clicking it in the Layer List Palette.

The buttes are created using the familiar Geometry /Shape / Irregular Polygon / Fill with Box Corner turned on. Make your "Layout" layer visible to the degree that suits you, and carefully click your way round the outline path of the butte, making a click at every change of direction. Then, right click when you’re done and click on "Join" in the little pop-up menu which appears. Right click again, and hit "Render". Toggle off your Layout layer, to see the colors in true relation to the sky. Ask yourself if it is worth renaming this object in the Object List. If so, it’s easiest to do so now, when it will be the topmost object within the layer in the list.

Carry on and paint the second butte in the same way, varying the colors in the Box Corner. Use lighter tints at the base of the buttes to suggest heat haze.


The "MidButte" Layer. This feature contains some graphic textures, so it will need a User Mask. Construct the butte’s outline and body color as before, but use warmer colors.

Rename the shape in the Object List.

We’re going to make a User Mask for this butte so that we can do some big brushing within its shape.

In the lower left of the Actions Palette, click on the Mask button.

Answer "Yes" to the pop-up dialogue box that asks you if you want to create a mask for this layer, then immediately click on the Color button in the lower left hand corner of the Actions Palette.

Use the Edit Toolbar to select the outline you’ve just created, and when all its points become visible, click on the yellow plus sign (Copy Edit Selection).

A dialogue box will pop into view, asking you where you want to place the copy of the butte.
Click the lower drop-down list and click "User Mask".

Click on the green tick to finish the edit, and the silhouette of the butte will be copied to the mask. The butte will then disappear from your picture, which can be worrying at first. Stay cool, and select the Layer tab on the Actions Palette. Hit the Mask tab and press the button marked Invert.

The butte will re-appear, and in the Layer List you’ll see the butte, its alpha channel, and a red mask with a butte-shaped hole punched in it.

This is a good thing.

You have just copied an object and turned it into a mask of itself. It’s worth doing this a few times over to get the hang of it, because it’s a technique that’s often useful in Satori, and has no real life equivalent.

It’s important to realize that the mask is a reversible stencil until you begin to paint with it. After that, it serves to hide the "overspray" from view, and expose the painting.

Should you invert the mask again, it will show the overspray but hide the painted area. Again, it’s worth playing with this aspect of user masks until its behavior becomes second nature. Try it out on a temporary canvas.

Now use your mask to paint some big splattery texture into the butte’s shape. Try using the Chalk, Pastel, or Spatter brushes, set at more than 300 pixels.




Do a couple of strokes that are darker than the average color of the butte, and a couple that are lighter.

Place a few Irregular Polygons full of Box Corner fills on the highlight side of the butte. Use Feathering on these shapes. Extend the polygons beyond the outside edge of the butte, the mask will give a clean outer edge and the inner edge of the shapes will have a soft fall-off. These shapes can sit flat on top of the textured body of the butte.




Think about which of the remaining layers might need masks, and how that might affect the elements you want to place on those layers. Remember that once a mask has been created, you can always edit it or alter it, just like everything else in Satori.



Create the "Arch" layer in the same way, making a User Mask from the silhouette to contain the textures. Once again, put some abstract sunlit shapes on the top rock and upper surface of the arch.

You'll need to place the shadow cast by the Arch on to another lower layer.


You could save a layer here and combine the "Sky" layer with the "Ground".

Place a Box Corner filled Rectangle over the brushing on the "Sky", fitting it just up to the horizon line. Use a big Spatter or Crayon brush to fill the foreground with a two-tone texture, then, use the Geometry tools to build up the road and the white line down the middle. Then either paint the shadow color on top of the road using the Shadow brush, or if this gives too "dirty" a color, use the Geometry / Irregular Polygon / Box Corner fill, using the Opacity Slider, for better looking results. If you do paint the ground onto the Sky layer, remember to delete the empty "Ground" layer.



If at any point in the painting you find you're not getting the same speed from Satori as you were at the beginning, particularly when you’re using the Hi-Rez button on the Zoom Palette, it's time to take measures to get back up to speed.

Keep an eye on the RAM indicator on the status bar, and listen for disk thrashing, which tells you your virtual memory (Page File) is in heavy use.

The best remedy is to flatten the parts of the image you are happy with so far, and re-import them on to just one layer.

  1. Turn off the layers you don't want to flatten.
  2. Save the canvas you are working on with a .CVS file type, but don't close it yet.
  3. Then use Save As... from the File menu, and choose .RIR as the file type in the drop down list "Save as type :" Name your image "RRsofar.RIR". And then close it as well as the RR.CVS canvas.
  1. EITHER you can start a new canvas called "RR2.CVS" (using your safety copy of the Layout,"RRsafe.CVS"), import the "RRsofar.RIR", create new layers for what still remains unpainted, and then carry on painting, OR, you can open up the closed "RR.CVS" canvas, import "xxSoFar.RIR" using the "Load to Layer" command from the File menu, and delete the layers you have painted so far.

It is vital to save and close the two files you are working with before re-opening the .CVS file and then importing the flattened .RIR, or you risk setting up a loop which will deny you access to both files!

You now have bags of working room to keep on painting quickly.





The "Cactus" layer contains the foreground rocks as well. For the cast shadows, use the Freehand Polygon in Geometry palette.

The cactus itself requires some freehand painting of its ribs and spines. Ensure your graphic tablet's response is set to give maximum pressure sensitivity. One of Satori's fun features comes into its own here, it's the painter's friend; The Brush Undo. Use the keyboard shortcut : Ctrl + Z to access it, or go to Edit and choose Undo [Remove Top Object].


It allows you to undo your last brushstroke as little or as much as you like. If you make a goof, you can wind back to the last good part of the stroke without erasing the whole stroke, as with so many other paint programs.


A distinctive aspect of the style of "Road Runner" backgrounds is the use of loose outlines which are out of register with the painted elements.

Use a combination of freehand painting and the two line tools in Geometry. Choose a color that contrasts well with the shapes, without dominating them.

When you are satisfied that the painting is finished, it's time to save the canvas. If you have had to flatten layers in order to gain working room, you ought now to have three files containing parts of the picture. Make sure they are all saved and closed. Then re-open the first canvas you started, RR.CVS, and then open the second canvas, RR2.cvs. Now use the Layer Button on the Actions Palette.
Select the Copy Layer button and a dialogue box will ask you about the origin and the destination of the layers you wish to copy between the two open canvases.

It's obviously quicker to copy the fewest layers, to make up one final canvas with all the required layers in it. Don't bother copying any flattened layers. Close the canvas you have been copying the layers from, and then save the final version with all the layers present.

The point of re-building your canvas in this way is to have a master copy that is fully editable if you want to make changes to it later.

You may decide at this point to delete the layers containing the original layout drawing, and the block-out, as these are no longer required. Save this with a name like "RRFinal.CVS"

Satori offers a wide range of file types as output options. Converting your .CVS file will take a while, because this is when the final rendering of the canvas occurs.

Of course, being Satori, you can choose any resolution you like for this final render.

Keep all the .CVS and .RIR images in the same folder. You can move the resulting bitmaps anywhere you like of course.