Saturday, January 21, 2012

Using Tones and Values, and Your First Homework Assignment!

Kidding, there's not really homework, but an exercise at the bottom that you could try if you like (but I'm not looking at them, there's no prize for doing it, and no grades involved). First, some background...

At work, on of our story trainees were asking about working with tones and values in story boarding (basically, adding black, white or grey to a story sketch).

My friend Nathan Greno suggested an assignment: give them a complicated line drawing and have them add tones to it to get practice in using values. He suggested that we have them do it two ways: pick one drawing and shade it using only white, black and one grey value. Then, pick another drawing and shade it using as many grey values as they wanted.

The point, of course, is to show how keeping your value scheme simple can give you a clean uncluttered result that works great. Once you start using too many grey values it quickly gets muddy and hard to read.

There's an old post here that I wrote about using tones and values. The simple overview on using values for story sketch is that values can be useful for:

1. Mood, and for

2. Readability

When it comes to using tones to create mood in a sketch, I'd say that drawings with darker, heavier tones tend to feel more somber, dramatic and heavier. Drawings with very light tones (or none at all) seem more fun, exciting and lighter. That may sound like an oversimplification but there are a million variations within that idea.

Some examples (from Bill Waterson, Charles Schulz and Quentin Blake) to show how simple line drawings with little or no tone can feel fun, light and comedic (depending on the drawing style and subject matter, of course):

A couple of Howard Pyle drawings that have heavy tones, and feel somber and weighty as a result.

When using tones for readability, you're basically using tones to either separate things or group them.

A group of businessmen without tone:

 The same group, with tones to separate them from each other and suggest depth, as well as add clarity and readability. Here, the use of tone enhances the idea that they are five separate individuals:

This is the way I use tone in story sketch about 90% of the time. Most scenes aren't heavily dramatic scenes so they don't call for heavy tones (in fact dark heavy tones would work against the feeling you want for a light humorous scene, or even a sincere character scene where two people are interacting). So usually I just throw some quick tones onto a drawing for readability: to separate things from each other and make sure everything in the sketch is clear.

Here are some story sketches from "Tangled" I did that show the kind of quick tones I sometimes use to both clarify and group things in my boards:

So here are the businessmen again, but this time they are all colored the same tone to make them all one group. As opposed to the previous example, here they read as a group of businessmen....and not as individuals.

And when talking about readability, never forget that the eye will always go to the area of greatest contrast first. Usually that means where black is set against white. Then use greys to sublimate the rest of the drawing where you don't want the audience to look. Like so:

So anyway, after Nathan gave me that great idea for an assignment, I searched out some complicated line drawings to hand out and have people add tones for clarity and/or mood. But there was never a good time to give the assignment and I never handed it out. However, if you wanted to try it yourself, here are some high quality jpegs that you could download, open in photoshop (or print out on paper, or whatever) and try adding some tones. Some are by Belgian artist Franquin, the rest are by Jack Kirby.

So do with them what you want (If anything). If you're interested in actually doing this as an assignment, here's how I'd approach it:

Pick one drawing and, using only black, white and ONE grey value, make the drawing read clearly. I'd pick ONE center of interest where you want the viewer to look and put your highest contrast there. Then use greys to create hierarchy with the other elements so the eye will go to the intended center of interest first. Also try using greys to create space and depth and clarity to the elements.

Then take a different drawing and use black, white and as many grey values as you'd like to use, but with the same purpose: pick one area to make the center of interest or the most important and create contrast there, then sublimate the rest. See if you have trouble controlling that many greys and whether you can keep the drawing from getting muddy and mushy.

You could also take a drawing and try creating TWO different centers of interest. Usually in story sketch we only want ONE center of interest because, when your storyboards are cut into a story reel, they may be on screen for only a second or two. They have to read very quickly, and there should only be one thing happening at a time.Two centers of interest is more likely to be appropriate in an illustration, where you have more time to examine the drawing and absorb it, finding hidden nuances as you do. So if illustration is more your emphasis, you might like trying that approach.

Then I'd take another drawing and try to use tones to make it seem like a heavy, dramatic scene (like the Pyle paintings).

Also, if you teach a class where this kind of exercise might be useful, feel free to use these drawings and assignment (or alter it any way you like).

My only request is to please not post your version online. I may end up giving this assignment one day and I don't want anyone to be able to cheat!

There's no right or wrong way to do the assignment. Each one could be done a thousand different ways. The point is to have fun and learn by experimenting and tweaking to get the best result.


Kyrstin said...

Awesome insight, and great examples. Will definitely give this a try!

SparkyMK3 said...

Wow...this is really insightful! God bless you! Thanks for this helpful lesson!

J├Âran Aerns said...

Great stuff, very valuable!

Priscilla said...

I love your posts and always learn so much from them. I will definately be trying that exercise one of these days.

Being Belgian myself though, I do feel the need to point out that Franquin was Belgian, not French. We're very proud of him over here :)

Andy J. Latham said...

What an excellent idea for an assignment! I think I'll have a go at this, thanks!! :)

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone! Glad you liked the post.

Priscilla-I am very, very's been fixed. I knew that, just very tired when I wrote the post....thanks so much for the correction!

Wouter Bruneel said...

We are indeed very proud of our fellow compatriot, a giant in European comics. Great exercise!

Tyler Williams said...

Hey, That was a fun exercise. Thanks


This is a great exercise... Thanks for sharing it... I think I'll muck about with it for a few days..


Salmon Leap said...

I remember seeing your 3 tone storyboards for "Tangled" when they were first posted and, to be honest, it got me pretty energized for my own storyboarding. I might give a couple of these a try later on.

Always glad to see new posts coming, thanks so much for them!

Brant Moon said...

Cool idea! I'm going to give some of your samples a whirl.

Rodney Baker said...

Great post. It's amazing what a little tonal value can bring out in an image.

J.K. Riki said...

This is something I know I personally struggle with, mostly because I've never really had any sort of training in it before. We discussed contrast in school many moons ago when I attended, but it was never very hands-on. I think they expected you to just "know" what they meant. So thanks for the valuable lesson!

I'm going to try out the exercises today. See what I come up with. It would be great if anyone doing this could share their examples and discuss what works and what doesn't. I'm sure you don't want to run a full-on forum for such a thing, but if there's a way to work out the artists trying this to share them (or some place already set up that I don't know about) let me know. Or I'd be happy to help set one up! :)

ARichardi said...

TKS for the wonderful post. I'am learning a lot with the examples. It's only a shame you have requested not to share. I'd love to see the solutions and interpretations given by others and can be able argue with them.

mark kennedy said...

Wouter - thanks for the comment!

Tyler - glad you liked it!

GOGO - great, have fun!

Salmon - no problem, thanks for the kind words!

Brant - cool, good luck!

Rodney - very true.

JK - yeah, as far as I know there's no real place to share them. I wish I could look at them and offer feedback as well as post my own...but as I said, I'd like to avoid people posting theirs so that I can continue to use it as an assignment.

ARichardi - I understand your frustration. But it took quite a while to find those ones and scan them and clean them up to be used for this assignment. If they're posted on the web, I'll have to start all over again to find adequate samples. Hope you'll try it anyway.

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