Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Above is the layout pencils for page 9 of Border Crossings. I thought I'd make this into a whole start-to-finish series of posts, so hopefully somebody gleans something from all this.

My process back in college was pretty varied, and fluctuated as often as the tide does. Early on, I used to do thumbnails, followed by roughs (on 6 X 9), followed by blown up roughs that I would tighten (11 X 17 at this point!), followed by lightboxing the whole page to clean it up.

I hated it, to say the least.

It took too long, and involved too much running around (popping out to Kinko's to make copies is never a good step to have...it just seems to slow down everything.) Once I got to drawing the actual page, I hated the page, and felt like I had drawn the damn thing several times over (which I did, more or less.)

So I switched it up in my Junior year. Two big things changed in my process that I kept with for a while: I penciled entirely in blueline (used to do tight blueline, then clean it up even further with a dark graphite pencil,) and I dropped doing the 6 X 9 roughs.

I was happy with it, it gave my work some much needed life in it, and kept the whole process fun for me, which was important.

There was a drawback though, which was the fact that lacking those roughs meant that I jumped straight from 2 inch high thumbnails to 11 X 17 comic board. Yikes.

Needless to say, I often erased and redrew stuff a lot. And I had some occasional problems with perspective.

Anyway, moving on. When I first started penciling Border Crossings, I kept it entirely digital, which was great! It brought back the rough pass on my pencils, which meant I could refine stuff without getting too detailed on everything. I blew up my thumbnails in photoshop, then started to refine right on top of them. My compositions were in place, I had rough perspective lines in (so I could lay down perspective that was right according to my original camera angle,) and all that other good stuff.

Unfortunately, after doing a few pages entirely digitally, it was tough. The pen felt really slippery against the tablet surface, so I didn't feel like I had too much control, which meant there were times of "Eh, it looks alright. It's not great, but it might work."

So, here we are. To be honest, this is the first time I'm doing this new step, but it worked out fine, and I think it's a good blend of all the pros of the old techniques:

I took the thumbnail of page 9 and scaled it up to 11 x 17 (remember how the thumbnails were already accurately proportioned? This is why.) From there, I ruled out the panel borders, and loosely defined the staging a bit better. If you notice in the second panel (it might be really hard to see, I think the opacity was turned down a bit too low,) there's some perspective lines gridded in there. These were done using the paths tab and the line tool to make sets of perspective lines for the left, right, and top/bottom VP. This allows me to accurately get perspective lines in there quick and painless, and to start to lay in some basic environment ideas. I actually have a digital template saved that has all these lines ready to be used, so I don't have to spend time recreating them for each page. I just select the right workpath, and set it in place.

You might notice the bottom right panel is different from the thumbs. This is another great part about the layout stage, I can change around some stuff and still keep it loose, and see if it'll work. In this case, the original idea in the thumbnail didn't seem to stage the reveal too well, so I altered it to bring us down near Venetia's viewpoint.

I should note this whole stage is done digitally. The point of it isn't to refine, but define some areas that were a little iffy in the thumbnails, and get things locked down that I know will be vital, like perspective lines.

From here, I flatten the whole image, and to make it easier to pencil over, switch it to grayscale mode, then to duotone mode. In Duotone mode, I set it to monochromatic, then give it 25% cyan only. This gives it a really light blue color that I can still see, but when I pencil, won't show up much in the finished pencils.

From there, I sit down at the drawing table and get started on actually drawing...


Charlie said...

Great post Andrew. I hope you don't mind me opening your process up to discussion for further learning purposes. I know that there is no wrong or right way for any of this, but we all learn new tips and tricks from each other to piece together to our likings when we sit down to get busy making our passions come to life.

I like your process, and I too have considered doing my layouts digitally to help speed up the process after penciling my thumbs. The digital layout is for sure going to be part of my process too starting tonight. However, I find it intersting that you blow up your thumbnails to 11x17 to pencil over in PS rather than using it as a reference to pencil a cleaner ruff before printing. You explain that you are taking care of some perspective aspects at the digital stage, what about anatomy etc? Do you skip a middle rough because you think it is going to filter your line choices too much at the final pencil stage? Your thumbnails, my thumbnails, most artists's thumbnails are a mess that the artists themselves can only really see what is going on in them. It just seems like some ink will be wasted on your printer keeping all that in the digital rough stage. Not to mention what is left under your inks. Thoughts?

There are several ways to skin a horse as they say. I work in CMYK mode. After flatting my image layers I go into Hue/Saturation (ctrl+u), choose Colorize, set the Hue to 180, sat to 50, and brightness to 80. This gives me a good light blue cyan line too without having to switch modes before printing. When you talk about changing your line art to cyan in PS before printing, is there an advantage that you know of with your process over my process above? It is probably just a "to each, his own" thing, but if your process saves ink or something that would be helpful.

Want to share the digital perspective template? hehe :P When you say right work path, what do you mean? Horizon line? I have the book called "Perspective for Comic Book Artists" and it has several perspective grids in the back I have thought about scanning in to use. Another digital perspective process I found in ImagineFX that was real helpful.
Use the polygon tool and make 99 sides. Choose star as the shape and set the indention to 99% or it might be 0%, I dont have it front of me right now. Create a horizon line on your picture plane and place and stretch the polygon to your liking at each vanishing point. This will make your grid really fast, IF you don't have a template already made up. :P

Just out of curiosity, what brush size do you use for your digi panel borders? 3,4,5? I assume it is the basic PS brush, hard round. I will probably have more discussion topics as you go along with plotting out your process on your blog. Again, I know nothing, so discussing process just helps me learn so please dont take offense for me questioning your use of the thumbnail at the digital ruff stage.

Drew said...

Aw man, Chuck, you're cracking the eggshell here! Lemme see if I can answer all your questions...

Changing the image mode from rgb to grayscale to Duotone is just quick for me. It takes all of three clicks, and since the color is saved, I just hit "OK" three times. Heck, I could turn it into an action and save myself .00001 of a second, probably. I think the way you described it probably achieves the same effect, but if anything, I'm always looking to streamline steps down to be as quick as possible.

I think my original post was a little too convoluted, so hopefully this can clear up some stuff: I use the layout stage primarily as a tool to solidfy staging and perspective. The thumbnails have the general idea, the layout stage is used to bring it closer to the realized finished pencils. I really want to leave as much drawing as possible for the finished pencils, so it won't look too labored. So stuff like anatomy, specific shapes and all that, I leave for pencils since

A) I already have a pretty good idea in my head what the poses will be
B) No sense wasting time drawing it twice over.

I like using the thumbnails since the composition for the panels are strong there, why bother redrawing it when I can just refine what I already achieved? Using your thumbnails as part of your finished product is something I think a lot people starting out overlook. Why bother referencing it when I already have it right there? I might as well incorporate it and refine the idea then redraw it and muck it up.

The brush size I use? I think it's like 8 or 10 for borders, and 6 or 8 for the rough pencils (I figure it's a good size to keep stuff loose and prevent noodling.) It's based off of the basic hard round, just size turned off, and dynamic opacity turned on.

As for the perspective thing, I'll do a new post for that, since images will explain it a lot better than words will.

Charlie said...

I love talking shop. So you aren't out of the woods yet buddy. Unless you just ignore me. :P More to come later.

Charlie said...

Andrew, drawingboard.com is down right now, I was going to post this in the drafting table thread but figured I would go ahead and send this to you here.

The table linked below is very similar to the one listed in the ongoing thread on db.com. You said you were having a hard time finding the techmaster one, I figured this would probably be a better deal while meeting the same desired requirements.