Sunday, August 25, 2013

New Wacom, New Portfolio Goals

Well, I made the crazy move. As in, literal, physical relocation of my physical self. I'm now in North Hollywood, just minutes away from...everything (Disney, WB, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Universal, Paramount, etc.).

After talking to some people already in the animation biz, I've learned that one of the best things I can do to strengthen my portfolio is to put some storyboards together. I've definitely dabbled with screen storyboards before, and I've done a handful of thumbnails and experimenting with graphic novel storyboards, so this seemed like a good idea.

And, for my birthday I got a brand new Wacom! The Bamboo Create. Not as fancy as an Intuos, but it does what I need it to. And it's SO MUCH bigger than my old 4 inch Wacom. Life will never be the same again.

Here's a sneak peak of me using it to do some thumbnails for a screenplay I wrote, METAL, that takes place in my Lower Knight universe:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Making the World

So, I don't do this very often, but I wish I did. I'm going to give a visual walk-through of how I composed one of my pieces. This one, the archaic-style map of Atanoah, took an extremely long time to finish, so it seemed a good subject.


Back in 2002, I drew two pictures, one of each hemisphere of the world:

Now, this wasn't the first map I'd drawn of the world, but it was the first set of full-planet maps. 

Using these and a few other maps I had drawn over the years as a reference, I made this more- detailed map a couple years ago:

But, for the new map I wanted to start from the original drawings (and also use some very detailed regional maps I'd drawn), but I still referred to this ovalish map a lot because it had some details the round maps were missing. 

I used the original drawings and the regional maps to build a simple 3D model of the map in SketchUp. That way, I could get a real look at how the layout of the islands and continents look. 

So, that was done. At some point I went around the Internet looking for inspiration, what kind of style I wanted to go for. For the most part, I settled on a map made in Amsterdam in 1689:

For the top and bottom mini-maps, instead of the northern and southern hemispheres, I was going to instead do a solar system layout on top and a terrestrial system on the bottom. 

So next, I did a layout study, trying to figure out how to orient everything exactly. I used an image in Photoshop with exactly the same dimensions as the piece of paper I'd be drawing on, so I could use the measurements on it to precisely outline everything (that's what all those crazy guides are for):

So, now all I had to do was figure out how to draw something like this. I knew I wanted to draw the Three Dragons, representing the Lower Knights' godhead, for the margin art, but I knew all a long that would be the "easy" part. The big issue was giving myself a solid set of references.

So, aha! The solution came from messing around with that 3D model, cutting it in half, spinning it around...finally, I realized what I needed to do was look at each half from the inside:

It turns out, this is almost the perfect way to get the map to look like this (where all the divisions of longitude and latitude are about the same). 

The next step I took was to figure out how to figure out reference for the three dragons. This was interesting, because it had been almost ten years since I'd even tried to do a drawing of these characters from the books (the dragons, that is). I had ideas for how I wanted them to look, but I still spent a few hours looking over the Internet for references. 

The Dragons:

For Abbanosh, I wanted it to look very serpentine. Most of the references I found were based on what you see mostly in Chinese art. Basically, a snake body, short lizard legs, and a crocodile-ish head (but I usually give dragons more of a Canis head, because I like the sleeker look and the range of expressions I can get out of them). 

I played around in the idea of giving him wings, but it just looked better for him to only have legs, but to still be flying somehow. 


Designing Chamanosh was fairly easy, because the Mananosh dragon mechs, which I'd done lots of art for, were supposed to be based loosely on what Chamanosh was supposed to look like. The original idea was to have it look somewhat like a European dragon, which usually look very much like dinosaurs with wings on their backs. However, the Mananosh and the Chamanosh both are different in that the the upper arms look almost human-like. Here's one of my most recent drawings of a couple Mananosh mechs:

I wanted the Chamanosh to look more organic, since the Mananosh are basically just giant robots. The hard part with this was actually getting the posture right. I was limited in my choices because I needed to fit the monster into the space in the lower-left corner of the map, but I had to fill that corner as well. 

It took some trial and error (and even more so when I started drawing the dragon on the actual map.


I wanted Shuanosh to look very different from the others. I had made some very specific descriptions of what Shuanosh looks like in my novel Imperfect, and wanted to have it remain true to those descriptions. 

In the novel, the monster is described as having black, uneven, rough skin. After doing some digging online, it seemed like a perfect candidate was, well, a dragon. The Komodo dragon, to be precise. 

I found some images of some more plump Komodo with some great folds in its skin, which gave me the uneven, deformed look I wanted. Basically, the only thing I changed was that I added wings and gave it a different head (I wanted something a little more "monstrous" and unreal):

Now, after drawing this, I immediately decided I didn't like having him facing outward like that. So I decided to draw him looking backward on the final drawing. 

Drawing Begins

So, eventually, I had to actually start the drawing. I started by using rulers and compasses to position everything (using that Photoshop reference I mentioned earlier). 

And, by the way, it took FOREVER to get the longitude and latitude lines to look good. Lots of light sketching and refinement and more refinement and more refinement. And then some more. And a little more. 

So began a many, many week process of scraping every spare hour I could find each week to work on this drawing. It slowly came together:

A big milestone in all this was adding "shadows" for the continents and islands. This is a common trick done on maps to help differentiate between land masses and oceans on maps (since maps usually have a huge mess of stuff on them, and it can easily get confusing). 

You'll notice that the language I'm drawing and writing on the map is, in fact, NOT English. It's a script I designed for one of the nations in the stories. It's a syllabary, a type of alphabet that works similar to how Katakana and Hiragana work in Japanese (each character is a vowel or a consonant-vowel combination). But anyway, with a goal of making the map feel very alien, not of this world, I painstakingly wrote out the names of all the major landmasses and nations and oceans using this script.

Then, I had to actually write all that nonsense on the map:


Now, when I finally did have a finished sketch, I had a decision to make. Do I try and ink this original penciled piece, or do I do something else? Do I scan the pencil work and ink and color it in the computer? If I wanted to make a copy, how would I do it?

I talked with a friend on Facebook who's a professional comic book artist, and he said that for very large drawings, he prefers to use painting tape and simply tape up the original, with a fresh piece of paper over it, to the window. Then, he traces. 

This sounded like a good idea, considering the weeks and weeks I'd put into the original pencil (where there'd be no going back if I tried to ink it). Also, the penciled original had a lot of scaring from sketching, erasing, correcting, and such.

I worked on this for about 10 straight hours, taking lots of breaks to rest my arms (lots of lactic acid build-up in my wrists). 

Then, there was nothing to do but ink the copy. In this stage, it was easy to fix lots of little imperfections, since my penciling was light and still really close to where it needed to be. 

The inking took longer than I expected, but it was worth it. 


For this stage, I was very nervous. I may have spared the original by making the tracing, but it still took a couple dozen hours to make the copy and ink it. Meaning, if I ruined it in the coloring, I would probably want to cry. And burn things. 

So, I did some color test studies. I colored the reference sketches of the dragons. I drew quick pretend continents and islands on other pieces of paper and played around with different color combinations for everything. 

So, to make a long story short, here's what it looked like when it was done and scanned. 

Also, I do not recommend doing a scan for something this large and detailed at FedEx Office. Ever. The people working there are not used to high detailed artwork, and their scanners may not be properly calibrated. They're also expensive. The scan they did for me had inconsistent, terrible contrast and was out of focus. Now, it was only just barely out of focus, so I was able to fix or hide these problems, but that took hours of work that I shouldn't have needed to spend on this. 

Then, I decided to make it into a poster, which resulted in this:

Now, after sharing it on Facebook and asking for some feedback, it was decided it was too "clean." Everyone said that it needed texture in order to give it some more energy or personality or emotion. 

So, I assaulted a blank piece of paper. I walked on it, poured tea on it, crumpled it up, punched it, scrubbed graphite carbon on it, and some other things. 

Then, I took a picture of it (because I wasn't about to have FedEx Office ruin this too):

Once I had the image of the distressed paper, I mostly just used that as a multiplication layer in Photoshop, placed over the scan of the map. A multiplication layer makes Photoshop basically turn anything in an image that's white transparent. Anything gray is half transparent, and so on and so makes more sense when you see it than when someone tries to explain it.

More or less, the multiplication layer makes it look like the smudges and folds and marks are all actually on the map. 

And! Last but not least, here is the final piece, with the texturing:

(and, you can even buy it on Zazzle!)