Drawing with Light

The pages for the graphic novel are coming along nicely, and the illustration technique that I talked about on my last post is helping me achieve the “look” that I have in mind for “The Scroll of TAR”.

In this battle with the Stone Monkey, I have added an additional layer set to “ADD” mode, where I have drawn highlights from the distant fire in orange using a charcoal brush in Procreate. It gave it just a little more pop!

I had worried about the illustrations in this section, because it is at midnight in desert ruins–I thought I wouldn’t be able to use much color, and it would be boring… But the orange and blue contrasting colors make it seem more exciting!

I have a Patreon page for this project, if you would like to see more and help fund the production of the book-for only $1 per finished page.

A different approach to digital painting

When I started working on a graphic novel about TAR of Zandoria, I experimented with a few techniques in digital painting that I studied. For many comics, colorists start by “flatting”. This is basically filling in all of the color areas of a line drawing, then rendering shadows, highlights, etc above that color layer.

During my experiments with all of the various blending modes between layers in digital painting, I got an idea that probably has its roots in my years with CG animation and rendering. If I start with 50% gray on a layer set to hard light, it has zero effect on the color on the layer beneath it. But on that grayscale layer, when I draw with black and white ( and darker and lighter shades of gray), whatever is darker than neutral gray will multiply with the color beneath it, and whatever is lighter than gray will lighten the color beneath it.

The grayscale drawing can then control all of the values and lighting, combining with a color painting beneath it which controls the diffuse color everything. This is not the same thing as just painting on a layer set to “color” above a grayscale painting. If you were using that approach, you will find it difficult to control tints and shades of color, because the color blending mode is only using the hue information to color the values beneath it. With this new approach, you can just paint the object colors in their flat pure color and the hard light layer will render the correct shading in hightlights and shadows. When drawing, it helps me to think of of the objects form, not the final look.

Here is a stage by stage example, starting with just a rough layout. I have brought in my lettering from Pages and moved it into position.

My “pencil” drawing in blue gets more refined. This is on a separate layer that will be hidden later. It doesn’t need to be in blue, of course, since this is all digital. (This is just a nod to the past, when you would do layout in non-repro blue, and then ink with black. The blue pencil would be invisible to the process camera…)

On a new layer I start my “ink” drawing. This line layer is basically the contours of the drawing. I’m actually using a digital brush that simulates vine charcoal, rather than a pen. (just a preference for the “look”). This layer is set to “multiply” and will darken everything beneath it.

Beneath the line layer, I fill in all of the objects with 50% gray using a solid brush. And then lock the alpha transparency (this keeps me inside the lines, without having to think about it). I then start laying in the shading and cast shadows with a darker gray. I switch to a light gray to render the sunlit side of the objects. And lastly, I will draw with pure black and pure white to hit the deepest shadows and the specular highlights.

Now that I’m ready to paint the color, I make a selection based on the alpha of my last layer and fill a new layer with a dull brown, and lock the transparency. I do this so that I can paint the characters only, and then paint the sky separately on a layer beneath. The alpha lock saves time so I don’t have to keep making selections to keep from painting outside the lines.

I’ve made a custom palette, where I’ve saved color swatches of the different colors of the characters clothing, and gear to save time and to keep the color consistent page to page. Using a solid airbrush, I paint in all of the colors. Looking at a reference photo I sampled some colors from the sky, and loosely painted the sky background behind all of the other elements.

After I’m done with the color painting, I finish up the balloons with a black pen and fill them with white. This is done on a layer between the lettering and the rest of the artwork. Likewise, the panel borders are drawn above the art (in this case with a block charcoal brush)

I showed some of this to a local group of friends who are also working on their own comics, and since the layers and blending modes were a bit mysterious to them, I thought it would be a good subject for a tutorial…

This art was all done in Procreate on my iPad, but the technique would apply the same in all digital paint programs like Photoshop.

If this was interesting, and you would like to keep up with what I’m working on, please signup to my email list!

Caves of Chaos

KeepontheBorlderlands
Artwork from “The Keep on the Borderlands” by TSR Games

When I first played Dungeons & Dragons as a teenager,  the first adventure was the Keep on the Borderlands. The monsters were in an area of the map called The Caves of Chaos! I have a lot of great memories of those years, so when I started thinking about designing some 3D printable terrain for table-top gaming I naturally started think of those caves….

There are a number of kickstarted companies that are selling .STL files for 3D printing. I realized when I started checking them out, that the gaming community has eagerly adopted this technology, and there might be an opportunity for me in this area.

Before 3D printing, a company called Dwarven Forge was already making a very high-quality hand-sculpted and hand-cast resin terrain for gaming, but it is very expensive. What I noticed right away about the designs from these newer companies is that they were basically copying the designs of Dwarven Forge– The tiles were all 2″ squares, about a half inch thick, in all sorts of configurations to help you layout your dungeon.

However 3D printed PLA plastic is a lot lighter than Dwarvenite resin… So the 3D printed pieces have to be clipped or glued together so they don’t get scattered all over the table. I felt that the designers had failed to approach the problem from scratch with the strengths of 3D printing in mind. On top of that, the Caverns and caves were all rectangular and ugly….

I decided that I would start from scratch. One of the strengths of 3D printing is the ability to create complicated shapes that would be difficult or impossible to create through traditional manufacturing.  I wanted to build complete pieces that were ready to paint and play, with no assembly.  Instead of squares, I started with a hexagon and began to calculate the number of possible passageways that could come in and out of a 6-sided tile.

Photo Jan 27, 10 00 26 AM

The biggest tile that I can print on my Printrbot is 6″, though that is pretty small compared to a lot of FDM printers, which would be big enough to not get knocked over during play. Since it doesn’t have to attach to the other tiles for stability, That gives you the freedom to rotate the tiles and quickly reconfigure the game map.  Because the 3D print is starting from the ground, and there is no need for the additional structure to clip tiles together, I decided to make the floor 1/8″ thick–thick enough to be sturdy, but not wasting plastic.

I kept the 2″ standard for the openings of the passages, and the 2″ overall height (taller than that interferes with visibility of the miniatures).

My wife and I visited Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville Tennessee, which is the largest cave complex in our state, for some inspiration.

Once I was back home in the studio, I opened ZBrush and created a template for the tiles, ensuring that I could make all of the tiles mate up perfectly when printed.

Caves030

I ended up creating 22 Hex tiles, which could create and endless cavern across the tabletop. The tiles print with no support, and require no assembly.

Caves_set

Here is just a quick sample of the types of cavern layouts you can create:

Once I had the pieces sculpted, I decimated the models to create a high-resolution polygon mesh, and exported the .STL files.

Caves032

If you are a gamer, and would like to print your own endless caverns and caves, you can get the set of .STL files here:

https://cults3d.com/en/3d-model/game/caves

On Pinshape:

https://pinshape.com/items/42328-3d-printed-caves-set1-of-2
https://pinshape.com/items/42329-3d-printed-caves-set-2-of-2

On DriveThruRPG:

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/232472/Caves

On RenderHub:

https://www.renderhub.com/zandoria/caves

Bear Cub Martini Glass

This was a custom martini glass of 3 bear cubs climbing a pine tree. The client provided some photos for inspiration and specific volume requirements for the martini. Originally conceived as a 3D printed piece through Shapeways, I designed around the requirements for their process. However, because this was a luxury item, the client opted for using a traditional foundry and had the glasses cast in stainless steel.

Because of the need for precision for the glass, I modeled the basic form in Rhino. Then I exported that Geometry and brought it into ZBrush for the sculpted elements. I looked at a number of materials from porcelain to steel to give the client some options for materials, as each material has different specifications for minimum wall thickness.

Capture04

The basic bear cub was modeled in ZBrush, and 3 different copies of it were posed on the stem of the martini glass

Capture11

Capture12

The details of tree bark, branches, and roots were sculpted on the geometry that I created in Rhino

 

The foundry used a 3D printed pattern to create traditional molds and then cast the final glasses in stainless steel.

IMG_8741 - Copy

IMG_8740

I thought that this project was interesting because I was able to combine the precision of CAD, calculating the liquid volume, with the artistic freedom of digitally sculpting in ZBrush. I also liked how well it turned out, as an actual martini glass.

The client was also very pleased with the results. and says that the metal also serves as an excellent heat sink, keeping the martini cool!

The 3D Printed Alternative to Traditional Tabletop Miniatures

I was thinking about sculpting miniatures for tabletop war games, as an opportunity for freelance work, and I made a list of all of the companies launching new games or miniatures on Kickstarter. There were dozens of successfully funded projects, and the money raised was significant–it looks like tabletop war gaming is booming.

But along the way I discovered that the companies producing these games and miniatures are not paying very much for the original sculpts used to mass-produce the figures. Maybe it is the high-cost of traditional tooling for injection-molding or spin casting that makes the business model so lean, or maybe something else… For the producer, the sculpt is just one of the expenses, along with molding, painting a sample for marketing, etc. ( They pay about as much for the custom paint job as for the sculpt!)
This kind of blows my mind, because the sculpture is the whole product! Without the sculpt, there is nothing to produce.

If you want to freelance for a miniature company, you will be offered only $350-$400 for all rights to your work, and your native ZBrush file… No royalties, just that small amount of cash. If you spent a whole week on a miniature, you would be working for slave wages….

So I had to sit down and rethink… clearly there is a demand for tabletop miniatures, but the traditional approach is not going to work for me. I can’t see how it works for anyone!

When a traditional company wants to manufacture a mini, they will use a high-resolution DLP 3D printer to build a master copy, that they will cut up and prepare for molding. Whether the miniature is manufactured with spin-casting or injection molding, the customer will have to clean up the parts ( seams, flashing, sprue marks) and assemble the final product like a tiny model kit.

But there is an alternative to the traditional model. With Shapeways, an artist has access to the same high-resolution 3D printer used to print the master copy. Instead of making a mold of that master, you can sell those 3D prints directly. An artist maintains all of the control of their copyrights, and has a product that is superior to what can be molded. There is no need to cut it up into pieces. With 3D printing, you don’t worry about undercuts, or assembly, or seams.

The customer will still do a little bit of cleanup. There is a support scaffolding that is generated when the sculpture is printed, that has to be removed, but this is easily accomplished with a few minutes with an exact-o knife. Most of this support is cleaned-off by Shapeways.


The same DLP 3D printer that is used to make the final product, as is used to create the “master” copy in the traditional process.

Shapeways calls their black resin “BHDA” for Black High Definition Acrylate. I think they could come up with something catchier like “Dark Matter”.. But whatever you call it, this is clearly the way forward for producing a line of miniatures as an independent artist.

I’ve done a few pieces as tests, so that I can confirm the quality for myself. I will be adding more to my Shapeways shop as I move forward. Now I just have to let people know about them (marketing…)

Scroll of TAR Graphic Novel

I’ve been working on a graphic novel based on TAR of Zandoria. After developing a technique using Procreate and my iPad, been laying out the pages and script, blocking out the whole story. 

Here are a couple of pages that I went ahead and finished, to get a feel for how the style works on a comic page. I’m pretty happy with it, since I can draw it, letter it, and color it all from iPad. It is the closest feeling to working traditional–except I have LAYERS and UNDO! 


I’ve started a Patreon page where you can see all of the pages for the Scroll of TAR graphic novel as I upload them:

https://www.patreon.com/Zandoria