Using 3D to make comic books part 5

Using 3D to make comic books is a process that can be both rewarding and frustrating. Too often you’ll hear “3D isn’t art!” or similar. I’ve even heard “You should use Poser because Daz Studio is a crappy freebie!” Personally, I laugh and walk away from both.

To the “3D isn’t art” people, (if I were to bother arguing, which I don’t!) the question would be simple: what is it, then? Okay, I’m not putting pencil to paper, but even drawing in Photoshop isn’t putting pencil to paper. Does that make it not art, too? Movies are very much like 3D. I have to think like a director. Where do I want the lights, cameras, actors, props and even special effects? So, if 3D isn’t art, what are movies?

As for the “you should use Poser” bunch, I can simply say “to each his own.” I’ve played with Poser and frankly, didn’t like it much. I found the UI clunky and difficult to navigate, but that’s just me. I could easily say “Poser is expensive and has a crappy user interface, Daz is better because it’s a freebie!” To counter both, I could argue Blender is better or Zbrush. It’s merely a matter of personal preference there. For me, there’s features I like from many different programs that do different things. For example, there’s things I prefer doing in Gimp over Photoshop and vice versa.

Using 3D to make comic books has many challenges. The learning curve, the harsh (and sometimes stupid-sounding) critics and a whole lot of other things. Is it easier than putting pencil to paper the traditional way? No. You might not have to worry about proportion and shading, but you will have to worry about camera angle and lighting, which can be just as hard to figure out. Just like traditional comic book art, using 3D to make comic books is far from being easy. It might make a few things easier, but other things easily make it harder.

True, having a complete library of ready-to-go characters makes them easier, but that’s only one small piece of the puzzle. The comic book would be awful boring with an empty scene that only has a dressed character in a T pose and no lighting or cameras, right? Just because the characters and a few other things might be ready-to-go, doesn’t make it ready-to-render out of the box.

Take Blue Nite Soldier in the render above for example. That took about two hours to setup. The background and lighting were covered by an HDRI and yes, that makes things a little easier, but he originally popped out so brightly that it looked like he was a paper cut-out simply pasted on the background instead of a character in the scene. Even his sword blended into the background. Safe to say, there was a long list of problems that made the scene look awful.

For him to look like he belonged (mind you, this scene was simply for practice) he needed a counterpart that already looked like he belonged. Sorry, Zelda fans, but I’m not posting the renders that include him, but I will say he helped our boy Blue Nite Soldier look better. Link happens to be similar enough to Blue Nite Soldier that a pose that looked good for one, looked good for the other. He also already looked like he belonged in the scene, so using him for reference to tweak Blue’s appearance worked nicely.

Now, I’m well aware that Blue’s cape has the “stiff” complaint as a possibility, but hear me out on this: for practice, dynamic cloth isn’t really worth the trouble. Even on a faster computer, it takes time to drape and get the wind forces just right. Where a morphing “stiff” cape lets me focus on practicing the pose and camera setup instead while still looking reasonably decent. I call it his practice cape. If I want to practice with his dynamic cape, I’d be doing that, but I wasn’t in this case. True, it’s possible for me to use either one in the books. If he’s in the background doing something, he’s more likely to have the morphing cape, but if he’s in the foreground doing something, the dynamic cape would look much better. For him, it’s a situational piece of his outfit.

Looking once again at that scene, there are a couple flaws: he’s got a bit of poke-through on his leg and his right hand (the one not holding the sword) blends in with the background so it’s harder to see. So, as you can see, it’s not a perfect scene. Were I to move his right arm a little and adjust his pants (or shoes), it would be potentially an excellent book cover or poster. He’s photo-realistic with a cool pose, interesting camera angle and good background.

Is using 3D to make comic books hard? Absolutely. Especially since learning to use the programs can be the hardest step of all! Finding the right program for your preferences alone can be a major challenge. I’ve tried a good variety and usually find myself coming right back to Daz Studio. That doesn’t stop me from learning about others and maybe find a niche where they can help my workflow. Carrara’s a great example of that.

Carrara’s best described as Daz’s “big sister” program, though it seems to have been abandoned. Sadly, there aren’t a lot of tutorials for using it (that I’ve been able to find) but I’ve found it a wonderful niche in my workflow: creating HDRI renders. What would take Daz potentially days, Carrara does in about 20 minutes. Even better, they share the 3D library that houses all the scenes and props. True, Carrara doesn’t always like loading these things the way Daz does, but a little tweaking goes a long way and the result is worth some argument. There’s plenty still to learn about Carrara and more often than not, I find myself fumbling along in the dark through trial and error. Yet, things like this:

Allow for both fun and practice. Sometimes, also for special effects in the books, as well.

As difficult as using 3D to make comic books is, it’s not really any harder or easier than traditional media. It might make some things easier only to make others harder, so saying it’s easy isn’t true at all. That simple video clip of the blocks falling? It’s a blooper. It wasn’t supposed to do that until something hit them. The scene above that’s a kitchen? That’s a straight-out-of-the-box setup except for my making the lights into light-emitting surfaces and even that took a good amount of time to get just right.

Is it easy? No. Can it be fun and seem easy? Sure. There’s plenty of basics that, once learned, can become like second nature and to a complete novice seem easy. Again, the same can be said of traditional media. An artist that’s been painting for, say, 5 years, looks like an expert to someone that’s been painting only a week. The person that’s been at it longer makes it look easy because they’ve been practicing for a much longer time. So, is 3D art? Yes. Can it seem easy to someone who hasn’t used it? Definitely.

It’s easy to be discouraged by haters and doubters. Just know this: when 3D catches on as an accepted media (and it will eventually catch on!) for comic books, remember who the haters and doubters were. Then watch them change their opinion in a hurry when they see how much better you’ve gotten despite their hate and doubt. The real takeaway here is simple: never stop practicing!

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