As an intern on the Venture Brothers, I was lucky enough to be exposed to many facets of the design and production phase of a cartoon show. It is something you CAN learn in school, but doesn't quite make sense until you witness it first hand. (One thing that didn't make sense is, as an intern, not being given credit for the artistic contributions, however, I digress...)
As an intern, I was given menial tasks, such as paneling story boards into a template (to help the production artists), to more important tasks, inking characters for the character designers, and creating "tonals" for the background artists (which in my opinion was the most challenging and took forever). However, at the time I was one of a few interns charged with creating these "tonals".
Incidentally, the first episode to air from the new season of the show was not the first in production (actually, the 3rd). The "Butterglider and the Diving bell" episode was the last one I had contributed any BG assistance before my internship ended and was officially hired onto Robotomy as a character design artist. (I did work on some later episodes, inking characters and props...)
This is how I fit into the pipeline of Background production...
First off, the background designer is charged with designing a bunch of BG's per episode and is often biting off more than he/shw can chew. consider all the revisions they might have to make to meet the creators vision. The artist usually does sketches to be approved first.
This first image, designed by Background Supervisor, George Fort, was the approved sketch (it might have been the second version submitted???)
Sometimes, when George knows his workload could use a little easing up, and trusts the interns skills, the artist will ask for help.
Given the above sketch, I began to build the BG in flash using grays to give form, and eliminate all the outlines.
The result is the following image.
This version is then passed on to the BG Painter and they turn this gray thing into an amazing looking piece of finished amazingness!
I believe this image was painted by the Color Supervisor, Liz Artinian, who added so much superb detail and color it blows my mind.
Every step is a refining process from the previous. So much hard work and talent goes into the show, it is quite astounding, yet no wonder why this show has garnered so much success.
Let it be noted that all these images are on loan and are the copyright and property of Cartoon Network.