Thursday, 26 March 2009

Heads Hands and Eyes

Today I've been working on the roughs for episode 24 (we still think in DFC episodes, even after it's sad demise), that's about 115 pages into Mirabilis. I've done a little over two pages of roughs today, not great progress, I can sometimes manage 5 pages a day, but this scene is complicated with several characters in the same space. I thought I'd post one frame (that's not important enough to give any of the story away!), and briefly go through my process and thinking. Incidentally, I don't think this is a an especially good frame, it's just what I'm doing right now.

Actually, the process is rather vague, which is get it done as efficiently as possible any which way I can. I take Dave's thumbnail sketch as a good starting point. Dave is brilliant at taking on a lot of the leg work in arranging the elements of frame. Sometimes I change his perspective or viewpoint, but most of the time he's already sorted out the basics in the best way possible. It's where the writing and drawing phases mesh.

I'll then very roughly sketch in the characters and as little of the background as is necessary at this stage. Heads first, then vague body positions then hands. In fact, the heads and the hands often drive the whole process, they are the expression that carries the story and the dialogue. I move them around and have arms, shoulders, chest, etc. follow them, just like inverse kinetics used in 3D animation software.

At this stage I refine the overall positions of everything using the fantastic Transform tool (I'm doing all of this in Photoshop btw). When I used to draw on paper, (the last 20 years!) I would have to rub out sketches and redraw to make even small adjustments. I find scaling characters in their space something that I often get slightly wrong at the first pass or two.

Once happy with general positions I then draw in more detail, but only to the minimum level I will need to ink the final black line. I concentrate on faces and eyes, wanting to pin down the emotional connections between characters. I'll keep working on this aspect however long it takes, because it's critical. The reader will immediately look to the eyes, as in any interaction in real life, to try and gauge their thoughts. I then work on hands. With Jack's hand I experimented with a more forceful pointing, but what I wanted was a hesitant gesture, a half formed attempt at stopping the rushing Gus. It's like acting, I guess. I'll even get up up from my desk and test the pose. (I hope the postman doesn't catch me!)

I thought about Mentello, the guy on the right with the hammer. His left hand is slightly supporting him on the tips of his splayed fingers. This was to emphasise the kind of personality I imagined he would have. A precise man acting out a well rehearsed entertainment routine, where even leaning on a table is done with a practised flourish.

I'm not entirely happy with the positioning of Lady Whitmead in the background, her eyes need widening in anticipation of the hammer coming down and her head turned directly to it. She's a simple soul, totally engrossed in Mentello's trick. It'll do for now, I can give her a boost at inking. I just saw something unintentional, but sort of cool. Jack's hand mirrors Gus's pointing hand. This is good, both hands emphasis the Gus's need to hurry out of the frame. The fact that Jack's hand is accidentally sort of pointing emphasises his failure to react fast enough to slow Gus's advance. May be that last bit is a bit of guff-to-far. I don't usually take my work apart like this, there isn't time.

In the background of my studio I have on Radio 4, or a listening book, but miss big chunks as I try to figure out the drawing. It's quite irritating. Perhaps I'll listen to music. I'm constantly interrupted, my wife telling me not to forget the onions, and the boys asking where the Airfix is. On one level annoying, on the other a gladdening reminder that I'm still alive in the real world. Also I love 'em.

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