Using 3D to make comic books part 4

Using 3D to make comic books, as I’ve said, is quite the challenge. There’s a lot to take into consideration and I’ve only scratched the surface so far with these little postings. It’s definitely recommended you read parts 1, 2 and 3 before this one.

Okay, you’ve rendered awesome scenes, put them together in Comic Life and made them into a cool book. Now what? Well, this is actually the hardest part: getting it to sell. See, 3D is more widely used for porn comics, which makes it tougher to sell to other people. Add in the common complaints about it that I’ve read about and you’re going to find a lot of very harsh critics that won’t even give you a fair chance.

What are those common complaints? One is “stiff, lifeless figures.” Well, this one is harsh on rookies with the medium. Unless you are a fast learner especially with lights, cameras and textures, figures are going to look awkward while you’re learning. The same can be said of hand drawn characters, too though!

Ask for comments to learn from and ignore the ones that are blatant put-downs. You’ll probably be asked if you modeled the characters yourself. Odds are, you didn’t but don’t let that bother you! You’re still learning! So am I! So is anyone that can call themselves an artist. If they claim to be a master and don’t think there’s anything left to learn, they’re never going to grow as an artist and their work will go stale.

Another complaint is stiff clothes. On this one, I’m willing to agree, but only to a point. If you’re like me, your computer’s limits are where you have to draw the line. Realistic cloth simulation is possible and looks incredible, but uses an unbelievable amount of power from the computer!

Using 3D to make comic books part 3

STOP! Before you read part 3 of Using 3D to make comic books, you should read part 1 and part 2! If you’ve read them already, do feel free to continue reading!

Using 3D to make comics scenes rendered on my tablet while still out and about means I can pull the render into GIMP if I need to do post work, too. Literally, my work can go with me anywhere. Sure, the tablet can’t do everything the computer can, but it does a nice job of getting things started for the computer, which saves some time. Then I’m able to open the file in the computer and pick up where I left off while I was out.

Okay, that’s putting together the scene and making sure it’s a real eye pleaser, what about making it into a comic book? I wouldn’t doubt there’s other programs out there, but Manga Studio served me well for a long time before I discovered Comic Life. Now, you’ll notice all these programs have no links attached. I’m not affiliated with them, merely recommending them.

For my purposes, I wish I could combine the two into one program, but that seems quite unlikely. Manga Studio is indeed meant for hand-drawn comics and especially manga with a staggering array of tools and goodies for that purpose. I especially loved its layers palette, but it had its shortcomings for me, as well.

When I found Comic Life, I was struggling to create extended dialogue balloons in particular with Manga Studio. I didn’t have the expensive version of the program and couldn’t afford to get it anyway. I’d found a trial version of it and thought I might be able to setup my 3D scenes inside it, but found nothing for importing my own 3D models and accessories and its library limited to what it came with.

Comic Life offered the dialogue balloons I wanted and a nice assortment of other tools. It’s proven to be more intended for importing images and even fixing them in the program, which suited me far better as a 3D artist. I could just drag and drop my renders into the panel frames and if they needed fixing, I could do it right there without any headaches.

Using 3D to make comic books Part 1

Using 3D to make comic books is a challenge in many ways, but don’t let that discourage you. If you love 3D and love the idea of making comic books, nothing should deter you from it.

Let’s look at some harsh realities to be sure you’re determined to follow this path. First of all, the comic book market is cut throat. These fans in general are hard core about how comics are written and drawn. Plenty of them just aren’t ready to accept comics rendered using 3D software.

If you’re like me, your hand drawings aren’t bad, but just not up to industry standards for some reason or another. My shortcomings include proportion and shading along with perspective and foreshortening. My drawings are good, but not impressive in the comic book world, yet I love making them. The solution to my problem became using 3D software to make up the artistic difference. This led to a whole new set of problems, though.

While characters, props and sets are consistent and look good, new problems arose. These included lighting, camera angle and composition like in the two images above. How then, to solve this problem? Study, practice, constantly scrounge around for tutorials to learn as much as possible. That’s still pretty much fumbling along in the dark, isn’t it? I’ve found that a good many movies have special features on the DVDs and frequently include featurettes talking about how the movie was made.

Using 3D is similar enough to making a movie that these lessons have been extremely valuable to me. They discuss lighting, camera angles and movement, ways to setup a scene for dramatic actions and all sorts of other related things.
Okay, it doesn’t have to worry about sewing costumes or anything along those lines, but making props, making up the actors, dressing actors, setting up a scene, placing the lights and cameras for the best effect and things like that? Definitely!

So, will it someday be accepted by the comic book industry? Probably. I’ve got a couple how to draw comics books that already discuss using these programs for background elements. I’ve seen others on the market and at the local library that use it for the cover or a photograph, even. It’s a slow transition so far and for 3D artists, it’s not going to be easy. Still want to make your own comics using these programs?

 

Signed book + character plush bundle?

A signed book and character plush bundled together for one price? Am I seeing ears perk up? Well, the price might even turn a few heads. The price that’s being settled on is $25, including shipping.

So, how will the bundles work? Well, Dream Angel is getting the bundling first. So, here’s how it’ll go:

  • Dream Angel #1 + Dream Angel plush action figure
  • Dream Angel #2-20 + fan’s choice character plush action figure
  • Some books between might have a particular character paired with them, but most will be fan’s choice

In other news, Dream Angel #21 will be released on Thursday, January 28, 2016! Since the site’s acting up about images, unfortunately, those will have to wait, but the product page will be live that day. I’ll also be able to order the proof copy of the printed version which soon after will appear on indyplanet with the books that came before it. As for adding Dream Angel #19 and Dream Angel #20 to indyplanet, there have been some setbacks with that process beyond my control. As soon as the problems are worked out, I’m sure they’ll be live as well.

For those still awaiting news on Techwarrior #3, that one ought to start production soon. How soon, is hard to say, but when it’s green lighted, I’ll make sure you know immediately! A small teaser for it would be that the action gets more intense and soon new characters are introduced. It’s a book worth anticipating, so keep an eye out for news on it!

What makes 3D so difficult?

What makes 3D so difficult to handle is that it has a very steep learning curve more often than not. I’ve found people that assume because the computer does a lot of the work that 3D isn’t art and it’s lazy to use. Let me assure you: nothing is further from the truth!

True, some programs, like DAZ Studio or even Poser are good for beginners or hobbyists and make setting up a scene reasonably easy to do, but that doesn’t mean the rendered art will be good quality. Like pencil and paper, there’s basic techniques and much more advanced ones. It’s the difference between a stick figure with dots for eyes and a line for a smile and a fully detailed anatomically correct figure that’s nicely lit and realistic.

Anyone can draw a stick figure, but that much higher quality figure with all the details and lighting? That can take years of practice. The very same holds true of 3D art.

First and foremost, it’s very much art. If it isn’t, it shouldn’t be in movies as a special effect since it takes special effects artists to use it for movies. What are they using if it isn’t art? Secondly, it’s constantly changing and improving, so just because some amateur hasn’t yet mastered even the basics isn’t a reason to tell them to use pencil and paper.

Four years ago, I knew next to nothing about 3D art. I posed bald, nude figures in Poser with default lighting and painted hair and clothes in Photoshop. As I learned more, my methods changed. Figures began having clothes and hair, I began experimenting with lights and camera angles.

Being a 3D artist is a lot like being a movie director. You have to be able to work with all the various departments to get the scene just right. Actors, wardrobe, hair, makeup, lights, cameras and other things have to be prepared for the scene to be complete. Finding, creating and effectively rendering the scene elements is more complicated than some might imagine. Even when you think the scene looks the way you want it, it doesn’t mean the final render will have the desired result. That means post work, which can get almost as complicated as setting up the scene in the first place.

The truth is there’s a million ways a scene can go wrong. True, pencil and paper mean you can simply erase the part that’s not the way you want it, but what if it’s already inked? That means hours with white-out or something similar to correct the problem.

Lots of ways to mess up, lots of ways to create incredible art. It’s a matter of time, patience and a lot of practice.

Signed books available right here?

I’ve considered it for a while, and I’d like to hear thoughts on having signed books available right here in the shop. I know people have reported having trouble with IndyPlanet’s checkout system or would rather get a signed copy from the artist, so I’m opening the idea for discussion.

To clarify, I’d have to markup the price of the books even though I can get them at cost, which is a little over $6, generally. Including shipping to me, that’s not bad. Now, think about it this way: to break even, I’d have to markup the books to about $12 on individual sales. To make a profit, we’re talking $18 – before my own shipping cost is added on. Fortunately, if I can order a bunch at a time, the cost is driven down for me.

This would mean I could do an unsigned book for about $6.50-$7 and a signed book for $7.50-8. A fair price, all things considered. Individual shipping to you via flat-rate (My preferred method because it’s insured!) comes out to $5.75. So, we’re talking $12.25-12-75 and $13.25-13.75 with shipping. Still pretty fair, all things considered.

Why would I reveal the prices? Well, I like letting people know what they’re paying for. I was taught early on “Honesty is the best policy” and I’ve stuck to that consistently for years. I’m being honest with you concerning the prices of these books, but for those who want printed copies and don’t want the hassle of IndyPlanet’s checkout system or want it signed by the artist, well, this would be a golden opportunity, don’t you think?

The other consideration I’ve put out before for discussion is doing a signed book and plush action figure combo pack for $25. I’ve had people agree that would be an extremely good deal, but I’m opening it for discussion again. I really do want as much input as possible on these ideas.

The ups and downs of HDRI

The ups and downs of HDRI might as well be a roller coaster. Permit me to share a story.

For the longest time, I thought I couldn’t use the fancy new render engine DAZ rolled out with 4.8: Iray. I longed to play with the photo realistic render engine, but having an AMD video card instead of the NVidia the specs called for, I thought I couldn’t.

Fast forward to just before Christmas 2016 and DAZ 4.9. I made a curious discovery about the list of installed stuff in the install manager: a public beta build of DAZ 4.9. So, I tracked it down among my programs and opened it. Played with it some and got curious about the render settings. What should my curiosity behold, but that NVidia Iray was available to play with!

So, I explored, dabbled and started tracking down tutorials. Fast forward again to about mid March 2017. After multiple not-so-good attempts at making my own HDRIs with Carrara. I still have trouble with the lighting in that one. I was exploring a favorite group for 3D artists on Facebook and stumbled across an image that could be rotated 360 degrees. To go with it, a youtube tutorial video on how the trick was done!

Well, again, I dabbled and played. Made a neat city 360 followed by a scene from Techwarrior #5 and put them on Facebook to a very receptive reaction. I realized I could convert that city 360 to an HDRI and use it as a background for renders. Well, you won’t catch me using 3Delight anymore! Scenes with an HDRI background render very quickly even on my older computer and they look amazing!

HDRIs are wonderful as both light and background, but – and this is the downside – they take a long time to render! Smaller size and resolution just won’t work with these bad boys. The ratio suggested in that tutorial was 2 to 1 with a size of about 4000 by 2000 pixels. Be ready for a long wait unless you’re able to despeckle and sharpen effectively in Photoshop. Here’s what I mean:

Not the greatest picture I’ll admit, but this one’s been at it 14 hours and it’s still pretty grainy.

Personally, I set the render time to 24 hours so it would have plenty of time to render as cleanly as possible. Know how many seconds that is? 86,400 seconds! Now, as I’ve pointed out on Facebook, once this is rendered, it can be used time and again as a background and light source without bogging down the scene I’m trying to render. So, when it comes down to brass tacks, the occasional 24 hour render like this isn’t too horrible, right?

The trick is a simple one, but only available in Iray. Setup a scene with lights but without characters if you want it to be a background HDRI – the one in that picture is a dungeon lit only by fire – and add a camera in the center of it. Go into the camera’s parameters and pick on the lens type. Set it to spherical. Then go into render settings and set the size ratio to 2 to 1 and the pixels to 4000 by 2000. For my 4-year-old laptop, there’s no acceleration from the video card, so I setup the render time at 24 hours or the 86,400 seconds I mentioned before. From there, hit render and walk away for the duration of the render.

It’ll take its time rendering considering the size and and how complicated the scene is, but when it’s done finally, it can be converted to an HDRI and used as a background/light source without being so slow with characters. So, it balances out, wouldn’t you say?

Where do ideas come from?

Where do ideas come from? Well, there’s a broad subject. To help explain this, let me share a story with you.

I must confess I’m quite a bit like Dad. I read Shogun in high school and fell in love with Japanese culture and history (the stuff that’s not taught in school!). I have a good respect for Edgar Allen Poe (read Telltale Heart in high school and more recently tracked down The Pit and the Pendulum on DVD) and more importantly, I’ve found a firm appreciation for Ray Bradbury. I grew up watching The Halloween Tree each year and more recently found The Ray Bradbury Theater on DVD (We tend to frequent the local library’s movie section and find all kinds of interesting stuff). I was a bit surprised when I saw the opening sequence for that show, because it showed I’m a lot like Bradbury himself. The room he works in is full of stuff he gets ideas from, and my room is certainly no less crowded than his.

Where he gets ideas from the objects around him, I often find myself getting ideas from cartoons, movies and various TV shows we have around the house. That’s not to say I don’t also get ideas from objects around me. Ideas come from anything and everything more often than not. For me, a great many of my ideas come from stuff made in the 1980’s or older.

Let me share another story now. I was 4, we were moving from San Francisco to a small bedroom community and a bigger house, but just before leaving the preschool I was in, there was a little “graduation” ceremony and I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was so tired from the moving that I didn’t answer, so my preschool teacher Girtha said “She’s going to be a comedian!” Well, she’s not too far from the truth. There’s plenty of comedy to be found in my work. Dream Angel is intentionally lighthearted and humorous and even Techwarrior, which is a bit darker has its moments. Know where I find inspiration for the jokes? Classic comedians. Red Skelton, The Three Stooges, Jack Benny, Abbott and Costello and a long list of others that were mostly dead before I was even born.

So, where do ideas come from? Anywhere and everywhere. It’s about that simple. Of course, making the ideas work is an entirely different matter. It helps to keep a notebook and pen close at hand even when I have my tablet nearby. Often, it’s faster to simply write the idea down than wait for the tablet to turn on and get into the right app – by that time, the idea could dissipate like a cloud.

Chime in! Where do your ideas come from?

Anatomy of a plush action figure

All the human plush action figures in the shop mention having a wire armature, but I’ve come across people who don’t know what that means. So, let’s explore that and learn what it means, shall we?

If you haven’t explored the shop, I suggest you do. The plush action figures are an impressive sight. The question is, what do I mean when I say they’ve got a full body wire armature?

I’m sure you’ve seen a normal rag doll – limp, soft, cuddly – right? Most people know about Raggedy Ann and Andy. They’re prime examples of rag dolls. What’s that got to do with the plush action figures and what’s the difference? Let’s analyze that.

A doll (stuffed, of course) is limp, soft and cuddly. This one isn’t stuffed yet, but quite limp. If stuffed as it is, it would still be pretty limp, soft and cuddly, but not capable of being posed. There’s our key difference.

Looks like a stick figure, doesn’t it? Well, in place of a full skeleton, this wire gets to play the part of one. This goes inside that limp body and makes it stiff but still flexible. Sure, there’s still flexibility limits – how far the fabric and thread will stretch with the wire – but with this wire inside, the figure becomes more than a doll. It starts to become a plush action figure. Okay, in doll making terms, that would translate to art doll, but since we’re talking comic book characters, plush action figure sounds better, right? Moving on to the armature inside the body now.

Not so limp anymore, but kinda flat, right? Let’s finish the job, but pardon the nudity! We’re not done yet.

From here, underwear is sewn on. Along with hair. The face is sculpted and painted. Even some body details are sculpted. Once dressed, this character is ready for his close up! Carefully posed, yes, he could possibly stand on his own, but having a stand to help is always better. Let’s take a look at some finished examples:

The ever-charming Dream Angel looks beautiful, doesn’t she? Yep, she’s got that wire inside and if you look closely at her knees, they’ve been needle sculpted and so has her face. Yep, she’s in the shop and quite available for purchase as Arora with her Dream Angel outfit also available for purchase.

This gentleman and his two brothers are quite the spectacular sight. Like Dream Angel, they sport the wire in their bodies, but in his case, it’s that stunning red dragon on the back of his shirt that’s the real eye-catcher. He’s in the shop along with his brothers. This fellow’s Restu Sazaisaki.

Miss Pink Hammer here demonstrates just how interesting the wire armature can be as she holds a cool pose to show off her hammer. She’s also in the shop.

As you can see, these plush action figures are a lot more interesting and full of surprises than an ordinary doll. On top of the wire, they have one more interesting feature that’s available, though: magnetic hands.

This feature is more for older collectors than kids, though, because the magnets are powerful and the accessories they enable the figures to hold quite small at times. For example, the weapons available in the shop are frequently small.

Small, and yes, can cause harm despite being soft like the figures that can hold them.

Fascinating, aren’t these action figures? Can plastic figures boast half as much flexibility? Perhaps larger ones might, but can they be hugged at night? No. Can they be washed when they get dirty? Not too easily. Well, there you have it. This should unravel the mystery of the plush action figures. Awesome, aren’t they?

What makes 3D so difficult?

What makes 3D so difficult to handle is that it has a very steep learning curve more often than not. I’ve found people that assume because the computer does a lot of the work that 3D isn’t art and it’s lazy to use. Let me assure you: nothing is further from the truth!

True, some programs, like DAZ Studio or even Poser are good for beginners or hobbyists and make setting up a scene reasonably easy to do, but that doesn’t mean the rendered art will be good quality. Like pencil and paper, there’s basic techniques and much more advanced ones. It’s the difference between a stick figure with dots for eyes and a line for a smile and a fully detailed anatomically correct figure that’s nicely lit and realistic.

Anyone can draw a stick figure, but that much higher quality figure with all the details and lighting? That can take years of practice. The very same holds true of 3D art.

First and foremost, it’s very much art. If it isn’t, it shouldn’t be in movies as a special effect since it takes special effects artists to use it for movies. What are they using if it isn’t art? Secondly, it’s constantly changing and improving, so just because some amateur hasn’t yet mastered even the basics isn’t a reason to tell them to use pencil and paper.

Four years ago, I knew next to nothing about 3D art. I posed bald, nude figures in Poser with default lighting and painted hair and clothes in Photoshop. As I learned more, my methods changed. Figures began having clothes and hair, I began experimenting with lights and camera angles.

Being a 3D artist is a lot like being a movie director. You have to be able to work with all the various departments to get the scene just right. Actors, wardrobe, hair, makeup, lights, cameras and other things have to be prepared for the scene to be complete. Finding, creating and effectively rendering the scene elements is more complicated than some might imagine. Even when you think the scene looks the way you want it, it doesn’t mean the final render will have the desired result. That means post work, which can get almost as complicated as setting up the scene in the first place.

The truth is there’s a million ways a scene can go wrong. True, pencil and paper mean you can simply erase the part that’s not the way you want it, but what if it’s already inked? That means hours with white-out or something similar to correct the problem.

Lots of ways to mess up, lots of ways to create incredible art. It’s a matter of time, patience and a lot of practice.