Saturday, June 14, 2008

Who Is Rocket Johnson? (part two)

The frustrating thing about talking about our new comic book is that I can't show you any of my favorite artwork from my story....I want the reader to experience the story in a certain way and if I post my favorite stuff it will give too much away. Anyway after July maybe I will post some of the stuff I like better. Also keep checking the official website for updates and (hopefully) soon there will be a peek at other people's stories.

So the challenging and scary part about doing the comic book was that doing it involved doing a lot of things that I don't have much experience doing, including doing final cleaned-up artwork (see precious post) and using color. I don't really know anything about color or have much experience playing around with it, so right from the beginning I planned to keep the palette simple. It's not an exaggeration to say that I honestly can't tell you off the top of my head what all the complementary color groups are (shameful, I know), but one that I can always remember is blue and orange, and that just happened to be perfect for my story which takes place at night on Halloween.

I always like stories with limited palettes so I wanted to do that anyway. The next problem I faced was: how was I going to know what my colors would look like when they were finally published? My Cintiq certainly isn't calibrated to show exactly how it will look when it's printed. So a friend of mine (who was working on a certain project of his own and facing the same problem turned me on to a life-saving solution.

He showed me the "Color Index" books, which are great because they not only show how different colors will look when they are published, but they arrange the colors into different combinations so you can pick a color scheme where you know all the colors will work together. And not only that but the book provides all of the numbers you need to find exactly the colors listed in the book within any digital graphics program you might be working with.

Bear with me if everybody else already knows this, but here's how it works for Photoshop. All you have to do is take the numbers listed either next to the RGB values or the CMYK values and then type them into the Color Picker in either the RGB columns (the green rectangle, below) or the CMYK columns (the blue rectangle, below). Then you know exactly what it will look like when it's printed.

A sample book page from "Color Index" by Jim Krause

The Color Picker window from Photoshop

The only other thing I know about color - and, luckily, it's the most important thing to know - is that value is the key to creating great color. If the values work then you're halfway there to a great picture. And, of course, when you're coloring in a computer you can easily turn the image into a Black and White version and check you're values while you're working. Some artists even work in Black, white and gray first and then convert the values into color after the values are all figured out.

The other thing that I enjoyed about working with Photoshop is that you can turn off the ink lines and see how the color looks without it. I actually prefer how it looks with just the blocks of color. Some of the pages look almost like nice abstract paintings without the ink lines. Maybe if I ever do this again I will avoid an ink line and just describe the forms with tone.

I will show you more of that stuff after July when the book has come out and people have had a chance to read it. Even though this isn't some of my favorite stuff from the book I do like the way the visuals seem to work well at telling the story, even without the dialogue.

I somehow managed to avoid learning much about color because it was never really integral to anything I was doing, job-wise. When I was in Art School I never felt like I knew enough about drawing and I didn't want to start tackling the world of color until I felt like I had a good handle on knowing how to draw. Of course that's a silly way to think and you should always be learning everything you can about all aspects of art....there's no excuse to keep from learning anything and everything you can. Everything you learn helps inform the other aspects of art as well.

If there's some point to all of this it's that you should always tackle projects that force you to grapple with things you're not comfortable with. It's the only way to get better at those things you're not good at. People tend to stay in their comfort zones and play off their strengths as much as they can, and it's hard for us to force ourselves to stretch, artistically, and work on our weaknesses. But it's the only way to get better and, just like working out, it can be painful and uncomfortable at first but it will definitely provide great benefits over time.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Who Is Rocket Johnson (part one)

For the past two and a quarter years I have managed to blog without ever plugging anything for you to buy. Over the next few posts I will talk a bit about a comic book that some of us at Disney have created called "Who Is Rocket Johnson?", but I don't consider this "plugging" the book because I don't think the book needs any promotion. There will only be 1,000 copies printed and they will only be for sale at the San Diego Comic-con. If you are headed to the Con and you want one, head on over and grab one as soon as you get there. For booth information and updates on the book please visit here.

Several guys at work put this thing together and there are a lot of great artists who contributed work for it. Paul Briggs deserves a big kudos for putting in a lot of the elbow grease so if you get a copy and you like it drop him a line and tell him how much you enjoyed it.

Working on that book took a lot of time away from blogging so I suppose it's only fitting to blog about it now. I actually learned a lot doing it, because doing your own thing is so different from working on stuff that's for your day job.

One of the first things I learned was something I am already painfully aware of, and probably 90% of all artists are used to experiencing: that cleaning up my rough drawings was a miserable and tedious process because I could never capture the life and energy of my rough drawings in the cleaned-up finished drawings.

This is the case at work as well, of course, but at work we rarely have much time to devote to clean-ups and we work under such intense deadlines that there's not really time to dwell on the quality of the drawings. Also there's a difference when it's your own personal work of art, and it's probably the only thing the world will ever see of yours and judge you by, and you may never get another chance to be published again in your life, so there's a lot of pressure to do something that you will be at least partially proud of.

The reason roughs are easier to do, I guess, is because you're not feeling as much pressure when you're doing them, because in the back of your mind you're thinking "well, nobody will ever see this drawing anyway so it doesn't have to be perfect". Also you're really thinking when you're roughing it out, you're experiencing the action and the acting of the drawing for the first time and you're trying to get all of it on paper which gives it a wonderful energy. Then, when you go to clean it up, you're at a terrible disadvantage because you're trying to remember that original feeling and recapture it and preserve it, so it's not as strong to you and now you're experiencing a little bit of fear because now you have something to lose: if you goof up the clean-up, the drawing is ruined and you destroyed the great rough you had.

Also when you're drawing the roughs you're thinking about big shapes and how they move in space. Once you're cleaning it up, it's too easy to focus on lines instead of shapes in space, as well as wrinkles, buttons and all of the other fussy details that can destroy the overall feeling of the drawing and reduce it into a mess of pointless lines.

So I was paralyzed for a while after I completed my roughs. I was miserable about having to start cleaning up my drawings, and unwilling to let the roughs stand as the final artwork, because they were just too rough to tell the story.

What finally saved me and lifted me out of my funk, allowing me to continue, was that I had a realization: I don't ever like an artist's cleaned up drawings. Whenever I see an artist's roughs, I always like them better than the finished final product, no matter who the artist is, and that actually helped me quite a bit. It helped me accept that I am just like everybody else and that we all tend to lose a bit of something in the cleaning up least in my opinion, anyway.

It's a shame that we rarely get to see the rough unfinished work of an artist, that everything is so refined and polished before we get to see it. Did you know that there's even a magazine devoted to the rough drawings of comic book artists called "Rough Stuff"?

Anyway, I don't have any brilliant solutions to offer about how to clean up your drawings, but in general it is easier to clean up a drawing if you don't focus on the lines as you put them down but distract yourself with other considerations, above all thinking about design: how to use a good variety of small, medium and large shapes, how to strengthen the poses of your characters, how to arrange the backgrounds to better frame the action, etc.

Anyway, here are some examples of my progression, from rough to final color. I wish I could show better examples but I don't want to give anything away before anyone's had a chance to read it...

The original roughs were done on paper; the clean-ups and the color were done on a Cintiq.