So I've been so busy with SmART school, that I've barely had time to turn around, but for those of you who are wanting to know how the rest of the semester has been, I'll be writing about it shortly, after my final class with Iain this coming week. If it's already appealing to you go sign up now, as registration has just opened for Spring term.
In the meanwhile, here's a write up of the Art Director assignment that i did as part of the semester's program. For those unfamiliar, every semester, a number of Art Director guests are invited along to set the students an assignment. This time round we were given our choice of AD assignment, and the lineup was pretty awesome. Karen Berger (formerly?) of Vertigo Comics, Doug Gregory from Blizzard, Andy Navarro of Fantasy Flight Games, Susan Sherman of Charles Bridge and as a bonus choice, Dawn Murrin of WotC. You could only do Dawn's assignment *if* you finished one of the others, and you only got feedback from the AD if you finished their assignment too. It's probably going to be a no brainer for anyone who knows me which one I picked. I'd been playing Diablo and was looking forward to Warlords of Draenor once the course had finished, so Doug's Diablo based assignment was an immediate draw. There were some cool assignments too, but it's been a real dream of mine to do some official wok for Blizz in some way. So without further ramblings, have the step by step of a traditional Diablo-themed comic book cover.STEP 1: Thumbnails! These were the 6 finished thumbnails I picked out after scribbling out some other thumbs that would have been unintelligible for anyone but me. Done in pencil and white Conte on toned sketchbook paper. I was looking to go for a more graphic approach, with the story elements combined in a more metaphorical way that would allow for the hero to be the dominant form in the painting.
STEP 2: Line work! Even though the thumbnail wasn't as punchy as the others, I'd been immediately drawn to the concept of the monstrous mad barbarian's mouth being a red cave that the hero, Jacob was facing into in thumbnail no four above. But Iain really liked number 3. So I worked both up, still internally convinced the one I liked would give me a stronger, more unique take on the story imagery. Working things out in this line-detailed fashion allows me to figure out if there are elements that don't work so well. Like the pose of the hero in number 3's thumbnail looking like he might have a nasty accident straining and crouched like that. Once the line work was done, Iain agreed with the fact that the mouth-cave idea worked too, and actually needed less feedback, as it happened! I have also included the photo reference I used to create the linework. Lightboxing ref is something I've done in the past, but was surprised how openly the teachers at SAS use it, if it gets them a better end result. Rebecca paricularly was a great proponent of frankensteining reference together to get the image you want, rather than relying on one image. You still have to know what you're drawing, but if it makes the process a little faster (and I was on a 2 week deadline for this), and your drawing is more accurate for it, then why not? I still had to work up the lighting and bring the image together as a whole, but light boxing over these frankensteined ref pieces made the linework a lot faster to do.
STEP 3: Value study. This part's fairly self explanatory. I actually used a hastily hacked together blobby blutac model to figure out the overhead lighting for the figure. It also helped me figure out that I didn't want the skull mask to be overly brightly lit, as it started pulling focus away from the hero. At this point I wasn't sure if the sword hilt's tip poking out form behind his head would work like that, but I loved the 'angelic halo' aspect it gave Jacob. Sometimes you've gotta just paint these things and react to them on the fly.
STEP 4: Colour studies. By now I'd seen the reference Doug had given us, including some of the existing comic covers for Sword of Justice, and I loved the bold colour choices. It's not something I typically do, but I really wanted to make use of the strong red, as it was a recurring theme in all the other covers. it also fed nicely into the Blood plague element of the story we'd been given. So given the strong red was a definite, the rest of the colour choices were going to be fairly limited for me unless I wanted to go down a very graphic route, which I'd decided against, as it's not something I have much experience in, and wanted to play to my more realistic rendering strengths. So it was mostly variations on muted tones of greens, blues and browns, and in the end I actually picked something close to number 4 on the right, with more neutral browns in the light and greens in the shadows.
STEP 5: More Linework! At this point I hadn't been sure if I'd have enough time to go traditional with it,as the digital colour roughs were already quite far on. But I'd been hugely inspired by the results Rebecca's students had been getting with their traditional media, so I figured what the hell. The pencils were transferred from the digital line work using a grid, at 12 x 18 inches. I use grids rather than just printing out and sealing with something like matte medium, or using transfer paper as I get a cleaner linework with it and it also gives me chance to iterate the designs one last time.
STEP 6: Underpainting. This isn't something I've ever really done before to this kind of degree. I understand the principle of it but it was kinda scary putting the value study down without knowing if painting over it would work. I deliberately left the red area white, as I wanted the colour to be as pure as I could get it. The underpainting was done in a slightly blueish green, to make the red really jump and to give me a consistent colour base for all the other elements in the image.
STEP 7: Painting. This was the part I was least sure of, but it turned out to be quite satisfying, laying washes of thing paint glazes down, much like you might do with a multiply layer in PS. The sword was remarkably fast to paint with the values already laid in, but there were a few areas where my values were a little darker than I'd have liked them. I definitely learned that if you want a really pure colour, even if it's dark that you should probably lay that colour in without much underpainting, at least with acrylic. I'd love to try this method with oil paints sometime in the future, as the ability to just lay colour over colour with thick paint would be awesome. It was also as this stage that the sword hilt tip just kinda fell into place and worked better than I could have thought. Note with the image above that only the lower half of the image is fully painted - the skull only has the first couple of glazes over the blue.
STEP 8: Digital touch ups. With the painting done and scanned in, I worked into the values a little digitally. I could have done them traditionally, but was running short of time, if I wanted Iain's feedback before submitting it for review with Doug. I'd always known getting the very vibrant orange in the centre of the red would be tricky and I adjusted things like the line weight around the teeth to bring back the slightly more graphic look the digital color rough had had. Cleaned up a few soft edges and put a little bit of darker gradient in along the top to push the skull back.
STEP 9: The final so far. I implemented feedback from both Iain and Doug - Iain to add the darker slopes at the sides and more of a glow at the boy's head, and Doug's suggestion of adding in the left hand arm (as we see it) - which had been the only aspect of the image I'd been wondering over how to do. I pushed values a little more in the beard at the sides, and added the blood-like rivulets in the ground like the digital rough had had. All these amends are currently digital, but the end goal is to go back and make the traditional piece look as close to this final as I possibly can. All in all, I'm ridiculously happy with how the final thing came out and how positive everyone who's seen it has been. It even got a feature on the SAS front page! And to think it was done in just under 2 weeks, alongside my day job is quite eye opening for me. I genuinely think doing it traditionally actually sped up the process.
So I'll end this by saying that I absolutely think SAS is worth the money and time. I feel like I've come out this so far ahead of where I was in terms of understanding narrative imagery. I can't wait to share the fruits of my labors with Iain's class with everybody, but that'll be a little while in the making, as it's turned into being a fairly ambitious little project. I honestly think I would have learned as much with any of their tutors. In the meanwhile, enjoy the Diablo art!