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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Tangled Ever After"

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Tangled Ever After", a short film (and a sequel of sorts to "Tangled") that is opening this weekend along with the 3D version of "Beauty and the Beast". It'll be shown on television in the spring as well (at far as I know).

The short has an interesting past: there were a lot of people who wanted to see (SPOILER ALERT) Flynn and Rapunzel get married at the end of "Tangled". We didn't do that for a number of reasons, the best one being that Rapunzel's journey is about much more than just meeting a man and falling in love; she gains her freedom, discovers her true identity, escapes her life-long oppressor and reunites with a long-lost family. So a wedding seemed like not-quite-the-right ending for the movie.

But apparently there were people interested in seeing Flynn and Rapunzel get married, so the idea came up that maybe we should see their wedding and give people just a little bit more of the world of "Tangled" with a short.

Obviously, it was pretty clear to all of us that just watching Flynn and Rapunzel get married would be a pretty uninteresting short. So Director Nathan Greno had an idea that would give a wedding to people who wanted that, but also have a layer of entertainment and comedy that would give some more screen time to Maximus and Pascal, who seem to be perfect characters to have their own comedic spotlight in the form of a short.

Nathan's idea was to have Maximus and Pascal be the ring bearers for Flynn and Rapunzel at their wedding, but during the ceremony they lose control of the rings and they roll out of the church. So while Flynn and Rapunzel are performing their vows, Max and Pascal are out chasing after the rings as they bounce through the town (without Flynn, Rapunzel or anyone in the church realizing that they're gone).

The beauty of this idea is that you get to have the sincere wedding of Flynn and Rapunzel while the comedic aspect takes place outside, away from the ceremony. As opposed to trying to make the actual wedding ceremony wacky and funny, which would take away from the satisfaction of seeing Flynn and Rapunzel have a nice wedding and finally tie the knot. But if the short was just concerned with the wedding, it would be pretty dry and not fit the comedic and fun world that we established in "Tangled".

Also, I'll be the first to admit that I find weddings rather boring and uninteresting. So this idea has something for people who like weddings as well as something for those who don't.

So Nathan pitched the idea to Byron Howard (the other director of "Tangled" and the other director on the short), Byron liked that idea and the ball started rolling.

Nathan, Byron and I had a brainstorming session early on with some of the story guys and they gave us some great material that helped us figure out the idea. The three of us boarded the whole thing and worked with it and shaped it in editorial. It turned out great and looks every bit as good as the movie, so I hope you'll check it out in theaters if you can or on TV when it's shown later this spring (although it's only in 3D in theaters, of course).

One other interesting side note for me personally was that when I first heard about the short I was really looking forward to working with the "Tangled" characters again. I love all the characters and I know them so well by now that it's really second nature to get in their heads and know what they're thinking and how they act, which is always the part that takes a while to get used to when you're developing new characters.

As much as I loved working with Nathan and Byron and everyone else on the short (and as proud as I am of the way it turned out), I realized that the thing I love the most about my job is the challenge of inventing new worlds and discovering new characters as you build a story from scratch. So even though it was a blast to return to the old characters and their world and work with guys that I enjoy working with, I'm more excited about the prospect of inventing a new world and discovering whole new characters as I work on the next thing that I'm going to be a part of.

So I hope you'll get a chance to see it and, if you enjoyed "Tangled", I hope you'll enjoy the short just as much and enjoy spending just a little bit more time with the characters and their world.

Monday, January 09, 2012

A Good Comic Book Resource

As I've said before, I didn't really get interested in superhero comics as a kid. Mostly I read Disney and Looney Tunes comics and comic adaptations of movies like "Star Wars". I read Mad magazine religiously too.

Anyway the point is that my knowledge of comics and their "rules" is pretty non-existent. When I decided to try and create my own graphic novel I started looking around for resources to learn more about comics and how they're put together. One great free resource I found is all the articles on Nate Piekos has written a few helpful pieces, including this one on grammar in comic books, which I found pretty fascinating. I am ashamed to admit that I had no idea that comic book grammar was so regimented and specific.

And yeah, I know there are probably other schools of thought, and more than one way to do it! But what Nate says makes sense to me (and looks right) so I'll stick with it.

He also wrote an article about designing a logo for your comic that I really liked. The same advice could apply to designing any kind of logo and I found it helpful. It's not something many people write helpful advice about, and I always enjoy that kind of thing: analysis of a topic that I never thought about before.

The full page of article topics can be found here.

Blambot also offers some free comic book fonts and sells some as well. I bought the "Hometown Hero" font to use for my comic because I really don't have the patience to write out my own dialogue, it was more reasonably priced than most other font sites and because I really like the font.

Anyway, I really like the site and I found it very helpful. If you're interested in that type of thing, I hope you will enjoy it too!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Changes Coming

 In March I'll have been posting for six years and it's been amazing - thanks for all your great comments and kind words. I wanted to take a moment to mention some changes that are coming.

This is kind of a long post so here's the tl;dr (too long; didn't read) summary: I'm going to put ads on the blog this year, and also in 2012 I am going to start posting my graphic novel online for free.

Here's the long explanation:

Originally I had a different plan. I've been working on a graphic novel for over a year and a half and my plan was to always post that in installments on a different website online and put ads on that website because I've always wanted to keep this site ad free. But the more I looked at online comics the more I realized that having ads on a comics site really distracts from the experience - it's hard to get involved in them and get wrapped up in the story when there are ads flashing all over the page. So gradually I realized that I didn't want to put ads along with my graphic novel....I just wanted to post my story so people would read it.

So eventually I'll be posting my graphic novel for free. It's turned into a massive undertaking and I can't quite start posting it yet. I need to get farther into it before I can start sharing it. And my work schedule is always changing so I don't know when exactly I'll have enough done to start posting. Sometime in 2012 for sure.

I would leave both sites ad free if I could. However, my children are getting older and, of all the things that keep me awake at night, one of them is that I'd like to set more aside for their college funds. So it seems appropriate to take any money I might make off this site and apply it towards their education. I appreciate your understanding on this and I hope the ads won't negatively effect the experience of visiting the site.

Working on my graphic novel has definitely cut into my blogging time over the last year and a half or so, but I am excited to get to a point where I can post it and I hope you will all check it out when I do.

Best wishes for a happy 2012!