I got a new tutorial up on YouTube, it’s about how I color my lineart in Clip Studio Paint. The intro is a bit silly and has terrible audio but the actual tutorial is pretty watchable.
One thing I forgot to show in the tutorial is the topmost layer: I always have a Hue/Saturation/Luminosity layer set to -100 Saturation on top. That way I can turn it on and off to check if my values are working.
Because if the values don’t work the colors will never look quite right! That’s why when you’re very new to color and light it’s highly recommended you practice in grayscale first. And I still always like to check, and I usually find my contrast could use a little push.
Characters! The people that inhabit our stories. The people that take us on a journey, show us their feelings and generally do stuff to keep to the story moving.
This lesson Kris discussed how best to write and board characters that an audience cares about. He goes through some basic character attributes and how they fit in a typical story structure. Though he mostly discussed ‘The Hero’s Journey’ as outlined by Joseph Campbell in ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces”.
That book is a Hollywood staple but personally I find this structure a little too limiting and predictable. If you want more alternatives I suggest checking out John Truby’s ‘The Anatomy of Story‘ – it contains great analyses of lots of famous movies and gives you the tools to create a structure that suits the story you want to tell.
Anyhoo, Kris goes on to show the several ways we can position the camera on our character to emphasize their mood.
one of Kris’ examples on how to shoot your characters. in the first the character is looming and feels powerful and in the second the character is dwarfed and feels vulnerable
So for this lesson the assignment was to write and board a short sequence to introduce a character. It didn’t need to be a full story, just a sequence that let the audience know who this character is and what their motivations are.
I have to admit I really struggled with this at first. What kind of character should I introduce?
I was watching a lot of Clint Eastwood movies at the time so at first i wanted to write a hard boiled character about to kick some butt. But everything I came up with was something I had actually seen before.
For a while I toyed with the idea of creating an unflappable British officer type that would calmly walk around a battlefield giving orders while the bullets whiz about him and everybody else is ducking for cover.
“steady on old chap”
But I couldn’t quite flesh it out beyond a single scene and I wanted include some ‘inciting incident’ that would show how the character would respond when challenged. Since my imagined officer wouldn’t alter his behavior in any way (at least not on the battlefield) that meant he was out.
I then thought of a plucky dwarf that would spring into action if his village was in danger.
Better. I could imagine him friendly in his day to day life but standing firm when his friends and family were in danger.
But then I thought: what if the village defender was a mother? To me that makes it more powerful. The two sides of her character as loving mother mother and fierce protector would both contrast and enhance each other!
After that I quickly sketched out the cottage where she lives and even went so far as to sculpt a bust of her head in Sculptris.
Using that bust as reference really helped me draw this character from multiple angles. But I’ve since tried it with other characters and it didn’t work so well. I think it has something to do with how solid the initial design is but I will have to investigate further.
After I finished the first draft of the sequence I had a feedback session with my mentor Dirk van Dulmen.
He had a lot say! I got tons of feedback on screen direction and character focus. His notes were of great help, sometimes he would annotate existing boards:
And sometimes he would suggest entirely new shots that would work better with the story:
That was just before Christmas last year and right after that I had an offer to work on a student film so I put the revisions for this sequence aside. I can’t show you that other sequence right now but I’m glad to report it went a lot better than this one! The director was very pleased and even Dirk had very little points of improvements. I can’t tell you how happy I was to have my first client gig go so well!
But after I was done with that I returned to this sequence to implement Dirk notes and make it work better. It was slightly odd returning to this sequence after having learned so much on the student film. I fixed most of the really bad mistakes but a lot of it couldn’t get to my current standard without a complete redo. But at least I still like the basic premise and it comes across ok. But I look forward to the next one, it’ll be an action sequence and I have lots of new skills I can’t wait to unleash on that one!
I’ve been hoping that camera animation and audio tracks were going to be possible in Clip Studio Paint and last week they delivered! They work smooth as heck and for me mean I don’t have to add more software to my workflow.
Working with a script. Apparently when you do storyboards for film or tv they send you these pages of text that you’re supposed to read. And if that isn’t weird enough they expect your drawings to have things in common with all those words and stuff! It’s sheer lunacy!
So anyway, this lesson Kris showed how he would break down a script to hit the story beats and how he would deviate from the script to make things work better on screen. To illustrate his point he showed work he did on the show Jacob Two Two and as usual his drawings are super appealing!
Jacob Two Two storyboard page by Kris Pearn.
So for this assignment you could pick from three scripts with difficulty ranging from easy to medium to hard. I picked the hard one called “the golden cricket”. It’s a strange tale of two people exchanging a cricket in a diner. And it has Kris’ trademark mentioning of eggs. I picked it because it had some action in it and I was dying to try my hand at boarding that.
So first I had to make some designs. The script features two main characters called “Jon” and “the woman”. There was no mention of what they looked like so I had free reign to decide what they looked like. As “Jon” pretty much gets dominated by “the woman” I decided to emphasize that and make him kind of a weeny and her an impressive tall kick-ass kinda gal.
I really didn’t like Jon’s design eventually though, it undermined the eventual revelation in the script that he’s actually setting some sort of trap (spoilers!). I changed it for the final version of this assignment.
Next I did some location design. All the script mentions is that it takes place in a diner that faces a road. Now in my mind I pictured a remote diner by the side of a country road. It seems an ideal setting for some shady exchange between two characters that don’t really trust each other. But ‘a diner’ could also mean a Seinfeld style diner in the middle of Manhattan. Or any of a number of other varieties and definitions of ‘diner’.
The way it was written in the script it was written in the script it was really open to interpretation but I stand by mine, I think it makes the most sense in the context of the story. I assume that in production you would get a chance to run these things by the director or someone else giving you the assignment so you don’t set in the middle of the desert when the movie actually takes place in Alaska.
Big surprise: I overdid a thing. I fired up good ol’ Sketchup and started bashing together a set design. Most of it is just simple geometry but I also added some parts like the counter (which I stretched out) and the seating from the 3d Warehouse. Which is just a single click away inside of Sketchup!
The script also called for ‘the woman’ to drive off in a Mini Cooper. That too I could very easily obtain from the 3d Warehouse.
Now at this point I probably could’ve stopped but I also imported some drawings of trees into the scene. Then I used a plugin to scatter a bunch of copies of said trees to make some surroundings for the diner that wouldn’t look too jarring when I eventually put my drawn characters in front of them.
Then I used Style Builder and made a Sketchup style that looked like the loose linework I would do in Clip Studio. At this point I was truly off on a tangent…
To top off the overdoing I made a sign for the window and a big chalkboard menu for behind the counter.
I called it done at that point, having spent over a day on it which isn’t too bad. Especially not considering how long I spent on this assignment in total…
Storyboards round 1
Now after spending all this time on the designs for some reason I really half-assed the initial thumbnails and just scribbled down something on a notepad. I seem to have since thrown those sketches out but trust me they were very perfunctory.
I guess I was a little too excited about using my fancy set. I used Sketchup’s “Advanced Camera Tools” and 3d cutouts of the two character to block out the shots. I would then hide these cutouts, turn on the lighting and my custom made line style and copy paste the resulting shot into Clip Studio.
On top of each pasted background I would then add a white layer with the opacity turned down, pretty much adding tracing paper, and draw the characters. I was intending to eventually remove that white layer and add tones to the characters but this version never made it that far.
All in all I spent quite some time getting all the shots drawn in line but I was pretty darn pleased with myself. The backgrounds looked cool, I was really getting a handle on the quick sketch technique (all the characters are drawn in one pass) and the final scene with Jon getting hit by the car really worked.
Then I decided that before I laboriously put all the finishing touches on this one I would send the version you see above to my mentor Dirk.
I’m usually pretty thick-skinned when it comes to getting critique but I was so gosh darn pleased with myself this time that when Dirk ripped this sequence to shreds I was a little disheartened.
And rip it he did. And right he was too. The thing that stung the most was that when I played the sequence again I could totally see what was wrong with it: no tension, no acting. I still think the final hit with the car is pretty damn cool but all the other stuff was bland.
And this is also why you don’t half-ass your thumbnails and then jump straight into complicated 3d backgrounds and camera setups: revisions are a nightmare after that.
Nope the only thing to do was to start from scratch.
Thumbnailing all over again
Having thoroughly learned my lesson this time I wasn’t gonna take any chances. I would do proper thumbnail sketches and plan out each shot for maximum impact and clarity. The things that actually matter sunshine (I told myself) not all them fancy schmancy backgrounds and stuff.
I made this thumbnail template sheet that would cover the two most common aspect ratios. The dotted borders are 16:9 (widescreen) and the solid borders are 2.35:1 (cinemascope). If you would like to use this template here is the pdf: Thumbnail Template Sheet v01.
I took my time a sketched out the sequence again using ballpoint pen and a little tone with a stick of graphite. I also added some very simple overhead diagrams on post-its I stuck on the side.
I also did another design of Jon, I thought that a guy who deliberately gets kicked in the head and hit by a car to fool a scary demonic lady probably wouldn’t be a little weeny. So I made him taller and his face more angular.
After that I went on another possible tangent : I decided to do the rest in OpenToonz. OpenToonz is an open source animation program based on the commercial program Toonz that was used by Studio Ghibli.
I had used it before to put some final touches on other animatics I’ve done and I wanted to see how well it would fare at doing the whole thing. Honestly it was quite struggle and I intend to a whole separate write up on my quest to try out different software for storyboarding.
But struggle or not I worked out a new version of the sequence. I also decided to add to some sounds. For that I used Ardour. Now Ardour is a great piece of open source software with a not so great site hosting it. It basically tries to bully you into paying for downloading a working build before you’ve ever tried it out. Trial period guys, there’s a reason for it.
But as I said it’s a great piece of software and I really enjoyed using it. The cool thing is you load up a video clip and have all your sound effects line up perfectly with your footage.
The sounds I used are:
My own voice (my rendition of Jon is not great, too much grunting and sighing I’m afraid)
Some sounds I made at my desk like using my electric pencil sharpener and stomping about in my loudest shoes. Also hitting things.
A bunch of sounds I downloaded from freesound.org. I included a full list in the video description.
Some completely unskilled mashing of keys in the super terrific Ipad app Synth One! I love that app, I really do.
And so here is the final version, deeply flawed of course but I think after all these detours I did manage one thing: I took those words in the sample script and I put them up on the screen as best I could. And yeah it’s pretty weird but so was the script. I can’t wait to see how I fare with another one!
PS: Dirk gave another great crit session for this final version and I think I did a lot better this time because he agreed with most of my choices but had lots of notes on my execution. The main things were:
my drawing of emotions and eye directions still needs work.
I need to take another pass to “glue” a bunch of shots together/ this sequence could be done in less shots.
Its better to just draw camera moves instead of all this smooth zooming and panning.
I had resolved on good advice to not just simply make drawings with less lines, but also to ponder the question on what makes an animation good.
I’ll spare you having to look at further of my scribbly studies but suffice to say I did many a study of my favorite animations. Akira, Cowboy Bebop, Mononoke, Vampire Hunter D, the Sword in the Stone, Rock and Rule etc etc..
From doing that I started to get a handle on what I wanted the Demon Princes animation to look like. Some of the sketches I made of Kirth Gersen (the main protagonist of the series) were starting to gel:
And I also did a whole bunch of rough sketches of “final frames”, trying to get a feel of the camera angles and poses that would really sell the scifi noir adventure I want to portray:
(I said no more scribbly studies, didn’t say nothing about no sketches)
And this culminated in my first attempt at a visualization of the final look:
I’m very pleased with this look, I decided later that I had pushed the simplicity of his face a little too far but other than that I think it’s a good first step.
So after I finished this I met a man who along with Robin Keijzer I now consider my unofficial mentor: Dirk van Dulmen. He’s a professional storyboard artist who’s very good and also very passionate about the story craft. He also runs storybeard.net, a treasure trove of all things story related!
I met up with him and showed him some of my designs, told him about the books I read and how interested I was in becoming a storyboard artist. I asked him for some tips on how to get good at it.
“Well first you have to make a few storyboards so I can see what your strengths and weaknesses are.”
Ah yes. That makes sense. Now I had in fact made a storyboard of sorts for the opening sequence of the Demon Princes already… but just on post-its and it was very rough:
So I got right to it, the only thing I quickly bashed out were a couple of new designs for Gersen and Pankarow. The two characters I wanted to feature in the opening sequence:
I had an idea that it would be interesting to make Pankarow bigger than Gersen.
(which as you can see by the title is technically an animatic)
Showed it to Dirk and the verdict is: It’s not bad for a first pass. But I got notes. Many helpful and great notes about every single scene in this animatic. Wich honestly I’m so grateful for because that’s how you get good: by repeating the process until you master it.
Reference: along with imagination and the ability to simplify a powerful tool in any artist’s repertoire.
Heads: a somewhat essential ingredient to a successful character. Tricky to draw and light from certain angles.
So you get some reference. Your first port of call will probably be photos. Personally I consider photos an excellent resource for studying – but not so great for some on the spot reference.
Let’s say you have a rough sketch of your character in the angle you want to draw them in. Now you can find the right photo to help you if you take time to search. And maybe if you’re lucky it will have some interesting lighting as well.
But for me that process is too slow and too unreliable.
Enter the head sculpture: if you’ve ever seen a “making of” of a classic Disney film you might have noticed that they have these beautiful sculpted heads in the studio for their artists to reference.
These are also wonderful tools for solidifying the 3d structure of the characters so the artists don’t run into any ‘impossible’ angles down the road.
So how to get one of your own? Well certain well to do artists will send of designs to 3d modelers and get and a nice 3d model sent back. The price for that seems to start at about 200-300 dollars and upwards depending on the complexity of the model.
If you have the budget but are short on time this might be your best option.
But let’s assume like me you’re willing to put in some work and make your own. In that case you have two options:
Option 1 – ZBrush
If you can afford the software and take time get comfortable with it’s ‘unique ‘ interface Zbrush can give you great results:
two sculpts I did for the Demon Princes project
And if like me you use Clip Studio Paint you can just drop your sculptures straight unto your canvas and get them in the right angle. You also get some limited lighting options which may be of some use.
But honestly if you’re not already familiar with Zbrush this represents a major time investment just to get some reference. Might be a bit overkill.
Option 2 – Clay
This might not yield as slick a result as Zbrush – at least not when I do it – but it is way more fun! Plus you have the added bonus of having a little bust on your desk. And whenever you want you can just quickly grab it and turn it in your hand.
The clay I use is a cheap water based clay that dries in air. I like it because it’s a lot harder than sculpey and oil based clay and the short drying time forces me to finish the sculpt in a single sitting.
If I mess up a sculpt I just toss it away and make another.
My process is simple: to save clay I make a very simple armature out of thick wire and add some bulk with tin foil. I then knead on clay to form a basic volume using just my fingers. From there I use my fingers and a few basic tools to sculpt out the planes of the face. I rough in the eyes, my meaty hands just can’t cope with the finesse needed at this scale…
After that I add in the hair and ears and I call it done!
(apologies for the messy desk)
Besides drawing reference from multiple angles another thing I like to use them for is lighting reference:
I like to shine a very strong light on them to create very hard shadows that give me shapes i can use for cell shading my characters.
Yes my sculpts really aren’t the prettiest but they do the job. Personally I also find making them a nice break from drawing and helpful for visualizing in more than two dimensions.
Well one of those people was veteran animator Nanda van Dijk who took one look at the character designs and said:
Too many lines, that would be a nightmare to animate.
Whoops. I could see her point, what I had done was just use a line style inspired by the Belgian comics I love and slapped some cell shading underneath. Back to the literal drawing board!
At first I just started to strip as many lines as I could, with mixed results:
I then tried to ‘finalize’ Gersen’s design and do an attempt at an animation frame mock-up, the latter of which I didn’t finish.
It just wasn’t working, something didn’t look right.
During this time I also stumbled on an amazing artist called Ethan Becker. His work was everything I wanted mine to be: full of appeal but also energy and drama!
amazing image by Ethan Becker
When I put mine and his work next to each and showed them to another great artist Robin Keijzer, whose work I also really admire for it’s appeal and energy, he pointed out to me that you can be realistic vs cartoony not just in the way the characters look, but also in the poses they have and how the shot is framed.
And Ethan Becker’s work is such a great example of how you can use poses and framing to ramp up the intensity of a shot!
more amazing work by Ethan Becker – the framing and posing hit you where you live!
I decided to step back and start studying for a while, trying to get a feel for what makes a great animation frame.
crazy rough but i’m trying to capture the gestures
Ah Vance! I know no other author that has had a bigger influence on me. Settling down to read any of his great works is always a treat!
From his prose, to his characters and his wonderfully vivid descriptions:
He was a large man, surprisingly ugly for this age when a pointed nose or an overloose mouth could be repaired in a matter of hours.
He had made no attempt to camouflage his ugliness; indeed, it seemed as if his rather harsh blue-green skin dye, almost the color of verdigris, accentuated the coarseness of his features, the rather gauche brusqueness of his motions.
His head was the shape of a gourd; the heavy chin rested on his breast with no perceptible intervention of neck, the hair was dyed the color of wet moss. From knee to shoulder he seemed of uniform thickness, with a torso like a log.
Isn’t that just wonderful? It reads like a story told by a brilliant but mischievous storyteller spinning yarns by the firelight!
My favorite stories of his are the books that are set in what in some series is called the Oikoumene and in others the Gaean Reach.
The backdrop for those books is one where humans had near infinite space to settle and where interstellar travel is affordable and very common. Two things happen as a result of that: one is that humans have split of in to many different unique and sometimes isolated cultures and the other is that due to ease of travel beyond the boundaries of the civilized worlds there is a lawless zone full of pirates, slavers and all sorts of nefarious goings-on.
These books don’t have great galactic empires going to war, no chosen ones on whose shoulders rests the fate of the universe. These are all stories of people and their human-sized challenges and desires.
Of these the series the one I like best (the Cadwall Chronicles being a very close second) is the Demon Princes.
I first read them when I was about twelve when my mother brought the collected Dutch translations home among a stack of second hand books. It was one of those books that hook you in on the first page.
1068 pages later I had been on a galaxy spanning quest for revenge that took me to countless exotic worlds hunting down the Demon Princes: five crime bosses who participated on a brutal raid that wiped out our anti-hero Kirth Gersen’s village. Trained by his fanatical grandfather to be the ultimate killer he’s devoted his whole life to killing these five men.
Suffice to say I enjoyed it immensely when I was twelve and every few years I reread the series, in its original English now, and if anything I enjoy it even more.
When the time came to do a nice big project to build up my portfolio for visual development and storyboarding the choice of subject was obvious: designing an animated version of the Demon Princes! Ive been wanting to do something with the Demon Princes for years and this seemed a great opportunity to sharpen my skills and lose myself in the world of the books at the same time.
So a few months ago I made a preliminary sketch of Kirth Gersen and sent it in an email to Spatterlight Press*. Lo and behold only a few hours later I got any email back from John Vance, Jack Vance’s son! And It was incredibly friendly and gave me the greenlight to go ahead with this project, pretty much the greatest thing that ever landed in my inbox.
After that I immediately got started on fleshing things out, starting with the main characters and the two vehicles used by Gersen in the first chapter of the first book.
I liked the way they came out, but when i showed these designs to a veteran animator things quickly got a lot more complicated…