Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Seated Lady - Page 16

New Portfolio Site

I created a new portfolio site for my work. It's a bit warmer, cheerier than my last one. I got to do a lot of hand drawn elements for it, which I enjoyed. I think this site represents me personally more than others I've had.

I also bought the domain "larkanimation.com". So now they both larkanimation.com and larkinheather.com point to the same place.

www.larkinheather.com (or larkanimation.com)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Seated Lady Page 15 and Panel Composition Notes

Seated Lady page 15 is complete! yaaaay. Another 12.25 hours for this one.

While I was working on the sketch for this page, I made some notes about my thought process in setting up the panels. Maybe you'll learn something you didn't know!

Here we go:

Before I start any of the pages, I do a bunch of thumbnail sketches to work out the placement of the characters in the panels, and the panels on the page. It's a trial and error process. You can see something of a progression of ideas ... 

... to the rough sketch in Photoshop:

(I'd like to mention that those sketch pages above were not the only thumbnails I did for this page. When I was prepping to make Seated Lady into an animated film, I sketched out most of this scene's particulars. I mention it because there's probably twice as much sketch material as I've shown here. It's really a trial and error process - throwing down ideas, slightly changing them, giving rise to new ideas, and so on. And I continued to revise the composition as I work on it.)

How do I decide what to put in the panels? Or how to arrange them?

To make panels that flow, and with energy, the important question: What changes from panel to panel?

I'm going to focus on the changes in the two-dimensional panel. A panel usually consists of some characters standing in 3D space. But that panel is actually a closed rectangular space on a 2D surface. How the eye reads the 2D space makes a big difference to how the action of the panels feels.

Imagine all the panels divided into thirds, horizontally and vertically. In each panel, where is the focal point? Where is the eye drawn within the frame. If it's always in the center, then the eye doesn't have to move around as much, and the page feels static.  

On what axis is the action taking place?  Meaning: if there are two characters, or focal points, on stage, draw a line between them. That's the axis the action is on. For example, here's the king and the unicorn, and the line of action between them:

Now imagine placing cameras around the characters, for each of the different panels.

Notice that I put all the cameras on one side of the line of action. In film production, that's known as the "180 degree rule" By not crossing the line of action when you change camera angles, you keep the actors on the same side of the screen. For this comic page, this means that the unicorn always stays on the left side of the panel, and the king on the right. See:

Keeping the characters on their respective sides makes it easier for the eye to keep track of them. If you suddenly add a shot with them on switched sides (without any reorienting shot in-between), then it'll mess up the flow. It won't feel right.

Understanding the panel as having a grid, lines of action and focal points ... that's key. Next, I'll talk about some examples.

Here's the script of the action happening on this page:
  1. Figure emerges from under the gate as the unicorn hurdles toward him.
  2. The man looks regal, tough, brave, not to be messed with.
  3. But the unicorn is huge. Threatening.
  4. With pomp, the king figure raises his sword and demands the unicorn to retreat
  5. Before he can finish, the unicorn grabs the sword out of his hand.
  6. Before the king can react, the unicorn reaches for his crown
  7. And steals it off his head
  8. The unicorn mounts the treasure on his own head with glee.
In the first panel to second panel, the camera dollies in toward the characters. The king's position in the grid shifts to the left, and the unicorn's position shifts to the right. The line of action between them gets shorter. The unicorn is advancing on the king.

Also in these two panels, there's a big change in the position of the king. In the first panel, he is in a crouched, submissive position. And in the second panel, he's standing tall, proud, defiant. His eyes go from being in the lower third of the frame to the upper third. We know that in the first panel he isn't really submissive - he's just going under the gate - but the visual change in position makes the second panel all the stronger. It's all about contrast!

For the unicorn, I wanted to have him appear big, threatening (so the last panel of him being silly would be funnier). So in panel 1, the unicorn fills up about a 1/3 of the panel. Then in the second panel, he entirely fills up almost half of the panel. Then in the third panel, he's huge, filling up like 5/6ths of the panel.

For the third panel, I wanted the unicorn's eyes as high up as possible, to lengthen the distance between the unicorn's eyes and the man's. A bigger distance means the audience has to flick their eyes a longer ways between them, emphasizes how much bigger the unicorn is.

There is a temptation to try to fit as much of a character in a space as possible. Like in the above frame, there's a temptation to fit the unicorn's horn in the frame. But it's not important! What's important are his eyes. Those tiny, angry eyes, elevated way up in the panel. If I had tried to fit the horn in, it would have weakened the focus on the eyes.

For panels 4, 5, 6 and 7, there's a few movements in the focal points that strengthen the feel of the action. For example, in panel 4, the king has a sword in his hand. In the next frame, the sword is gone. His hand has also traveled to the left a bit, suggesting that it was tugged that way when the unicorn stole his sword.

In frame 6, the king has his hand in almost the same position, except it lowers a bit. I was tempted to have a wilder position for his hand in this frame. Like more of a clenched, cowering position. But I chose to keep his character's posture closer to the one in frame 5 because I wanted it to seem like they follow each other very closely in time. When you change the actor's position a lot, the mind fills in the intermediate steps. The more intermediate steps, the longer the time between the frame feels.

In frame six, the camera tilts up, following the stolen crown. This shifts the king's eyes down to the lower third of the frame. His eyes start in the upper third in panel 4. This helps reinforce that the unicorn got the better of him.

In these panels, the unicorn fills up most of the left side of the frame. We can't see his eyes. So in frame four, the clenched hand becomes a focal point. If you see the hand as representing the unicorn, and his snout as representing him in panel 7, then the unicorn changes from being in the lower third to the upper third, conversely to the king.

My main point is that contrast is important. 

Here's another example using the king's expressions, in order of appearance.

There isn't much difference between expression a and b. He looks tough, angry. Having a sequence of two similar expressions sets up expectations in the audience's mind. It says, this is how the character is. Once you set up that expectation, then you can surprise the audience by revealing a different side of the character. In c, the character is confused. Then timid in d. Then shocked in e.

(I will talk more about acting in another tutorial!)

Some note about arranging the panels.

I chose to do this comic in a horizontal format. I feel that the horizontal format is more cinematic. Closer to storyboarding and film-making, which I love.

One thing I often do is have 'strips' of panels, one stacked on the other (or side by side). In this case, I have two strips, one on top of the other. To separate them mentally, I shift the top strip to the left, and the bottom strip to the right.

Your eyes come in at the extreme top left of the page, and leave at the extreme bottom right. Feels right.

Within those two groups, there are sub-groups. A sub-group tells the audience : read this area first, in standard order, before moving on to the next panel. To set that up, I put thicker gutters between sub-groups. Like the gutter between panels (4,5) and (6,7) is much thicker than the gutter between 4 and 5, or 6 and 7.

It's a tricky business. This page is especially complex because there are eight panels. That's a lot for this format. There's a lot of temptations to arrange the panels according to other criteria - like what's fun to draw, or whether you want a panel to be taller or wider - but checking to see if the eye flows naturally in the right order is important. I don't want to take the audience to get out of the experience of the story because they weren't sure which panel to read next.

Some more random notes:

Size of the panel doesn't have a lot to do with the content
If you are excited to draw a particular thing, there is a temptation to give it a bigger panel. But I find that doesn't give you the nicest flow. For me, the size of the panel is most closely related to TIME. How long doe you want the audience to linger on this frame? Although there is more 'action' happening in the last five panels, the first three panels are the biggest. This is because I wanted the audience to linger on them longer, so they feel longer in time, so they feel more dramatic. The funny bits move fast, so I made them smaller.

Perspective and humor
3D perspective tends to feel more dramatic than a flatter, 2D perspective. So the first three panels, the camera angles reveal the perspective of the landscape. You can imagine where the vanishing points are.

Flatter perspectives are funnier. They make them feel more cartoony, less realistic. In panels 4-8, you're not sure where the vanishing point is. But it doesn't matter. The character's are doing funny things. :)

Reading List
The best book on this subject that I know of is "The Visual Story" by Bruce Block. It's fantastic. It  describes all the different dimensions that a 2D frame can change on. It changed my whole outlook on storyboarding and composition.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bird Statue Painting

Another Photoshop painting, using the same method as the Iceman painting. Based on an ancient statue from Panama, Nat Geo Jan 2012 issue.

Iceman Painting and Tutorial

It's the weekend - time for some free play painting in Photoshop. I recently got a subscription to National Geographic. I really wanted to paint this guy from the November issue on an "Iceman," who was murdered thousands of years ago in the Alps. He's a hard core dude.

At first I tried painting without using layer style, but it didn't have the glow of the skin that I was looking for.

So then I decided to experiment with how I could build the skin using layer styles:

1 - layer 1, a plain ball of skin tone
2 - clipping layer above the skin tone, redness blended in, dark red texture splattered on
3 - another clipper layer, set to multiply. Used a red-orange hue, mid saturation (52), and then lowering the brightness three or four times as I created darker and darker shadows
4 - another clipping mask, set to overlay, using the same red-orange color, with high brightness, and very low saturation.

That worked for me. So I did the same buildup for the whole thing.

Base colors laid down

Skin redness blended in

dirtiness texture splattered on

first layer of red tinted shadows placed on a Multiply layer

Another layer of shadows, brightness of the color lowered

And again

 Highlights sketched in, on an Overlay layer. Used same color as for shadows, but lower saturation and greater brightness. After that's done, the color sketch is essentially finished. From here I can refine the details more zoomed in.

On a new layer above all that (not a clipping layer), start to refine the painting. Use the color picker and a smaller brush, zoomed in, to try to sculpt the features to be more fine.

More of the same. 

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Mind Map

My Mind Map 

I made this mind map a few weeks ago and I'm pretty excited about it. (I made the map using a program called MindNode [link]). It describes all the areas of the work I do as an artist (or want to do). Making a map like this was suggested in "The Profitable Artist."

I divided my work into four main components that are important to me:
Original Content Creation - Writing stories and telling those stories through art. This also includes creating educational material.

Free Play - Learning about the world, practicing, experimenting. Discovering inspiration to fuel the creation of original content. 
Marketing and Networking - Dissemination and promotion of my work to the public. Connecting with fans. Connecting with artist communities. 
Fundraising - Raising funds necessary to continue the other three components. 

Because all of these nodes are important, I try to make sure I'm working on all of them every month. I also made a year calendar with monthly important tasks. I'm just dogging it up with the organization!! >_<

What do you think? I would be very interested to your mind map!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Seated Lady Page 14

Yay! Another page! This page took 12.75, same as last page.

Then there's this:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Eros" Storyboard Animatic & production notes

I'm working on a short minute film called "Eros." I finished a draft of the storyboards (here) and talked about my storyboarding process here.

After finishing the storyboards, I worked on what's called an animatic. It's a video sequence of the storyboard drawings. Here's the animatic I have at this point (no sound):

I'm going to talk a little about my process:

Scan the Storyboards

First, I scan in all my storyboards.

Here's a photo of my pile of boards. There's 212 storyboards (a), and over 150 poop boards (b) that I drew or started to draw and didn't make it into the final cut. In the photo is also a pad of the type of paper I use: a CVS brand 4x6 inch blank paper pad (c). In the background is also a notepad (d) where I record the hours I work on the project (and others) and a coke zero for caffeine (e). :)

And here's my trusty (dusty) little scanner, a Canon LiDE 200.

So I scan all 200+ little pieces of paper in. It's a tedious and boring process.

I want to be able to batch process these images, so I try to scan them so they are all the same position and size. I scan them one at a time, trying to put them in the same place each time (there are little page size markers on the inside of the scanner that help with that)

In the scanning program, I make an outline around the preview image. I leave a little room for variation in where I put the next one. Then I press SCAN, replace the image, scan again, until all are scanned in. I write down the size info so I can use the same size for any revision boards I scan later.

Process Images in Photoshop

The images I scanned need to be rotated and darkened. I created two actions in Photoshop to do just that. Photoshop processes them in a few seconds. No fuss, no muss. Below I show the actions I created and their exact settings.

These two actions take the image above and turns it into this:

Why two actions and not one? I don't know ... I just felt like it.

Assemble Images in Premiere

I do video editing in Adobe Premiere. I import all the images into the program and lay them out in 1920 x 1080 pixel, 24 fps sequence. I start out giving each image about three seconds of screen time. Then I watch the resulting film and see how it flows.

It doesn't flow very well. So I then go back and make some parts shorter and some parts longer. It's a trial and error process. The action is sparse and there are no sounds, so I try to imagine the missing action as it's playing and edit accordingly.

Invariably, there are some boards that don't work or aren't clear, so next I do revisions. I make notes of which areas need work and redo those areas. I can't say how many revision boards I did, but it was a bunch.

It's really nice to see the story come together in this way. I can get a really good sense of what the final film will be like without doing months and months of work. 

And that's it! That's what I have right now. Next I want to add some temporary sounds and maybe even music, but I thought I'd share the sound-less version first. If you are curious to know anything else about this process, let me know!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Seated Lady Page 13 & WIP shots

Yay! Page 13 is finished. This page took 12.75 hours. 

I was all over the place with this page. I had trouble with the perspective on the tower, so I prepared a model in Google SketchUp (3D modeling software). In the past I've gotten frustrated with SketchUp because of the unique controls, but this time I managed to pull together something I wanted without pulling my hair out. 

I put below a sequence of work-in-progress shots. I spent a lot of time working and reworking the sketches and drawings ... which is usually the part which takes the longest. 

At some point, I was really not happy with the second panel and marked my displeasure accordingly.


 The following 12 shots show the addition of 4 Multiply and 7 Overlay layers to define the values of the panels.