Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Environment Building

What do you do if you have a specific set of scenery that's going to show up frequently in your pages?

That's something I ran into this past weekend as I was prepping thumbnails for more pages of Border Crossings. Throughout the (eventual) 5-issue arc, the main characters travel on a Nautilus-like submarine called The Rhizome. Before I could start penciling any pages involving the interior of the Rhizome, I had to lay out a floorplan.

If you're faced with a scene you know you're going to visit frequently, or if it's a very specific place, you need to make sure you have the floorplan of the set planned accordingly. Otherwise, you'll run into the misfortune of drawing randomly placed things in the background, which throws off the disbelief of the artwork, and eventually you'll be called out for your laziness or ineptness (Not really, but considering how some readers are, you never know.)

This isn't a new idea by a long shot. Illustrator Frank Hampson used to construct scale exterior and interior models of the spaceships seen in his strip Dan Dare, ensuring that everything was properly in its place. It also provided him with a means to see how the ship would be affected by lighting schemes, so it provided a double-use.

Modern-day comic book artists like Paolo Rivera and Lenil Yu use similar techniques, using a program called Google Sketchup. It's all the frustration of making a scale model, without the cost of materials or storage! And it makes it incredibly easy to set up your shot, save it as a jpeg, then use it for reference or lightbox drawing, depending on your workflow.

TV and movies have been doing stuff like this for YEARS. Look at the floorplans for the Millennium Falcon, or the Serenity from Firefly. These were all designed so you wouldn't have reality inconsistencies. Looking at the blueprint above of the Serenity, how weird would it be if the characters left the cargo room and immediately showed up in the bridge?

I haven't reached this stage yet with the Rhizome, but here's what I have so far. The exterior needed to be tweaked a bit in its design from its days in the promo comic (which means when it comes time to ink that splash page, I'll need to ensure that I adjust the drawing,) but you can see what I have planned out for the interior. For me, this isn't enough. I still need to make more detailed floorplans of key areas (Engine room, Bridge, Holding Bay, etc), and I also need to design the interior aesthetics. But once all that hard work is out of the way, I'll have a very concrete set I can stage all my action on, which helps the believability of the story.

1 comment:

Dustin said...

I read that this is what Dave Gibbons had done for Watchmen. Can't wait to see how this turns out.