Monday, October 29, 2012

Lowlife: Saudade Part Three: Sharkitecture, or Slaughter Your Darlings

Luna-2 from Lowlife: Saudade part three. The most complex drawing I've done since the end of Leviathan (2003).
Lowlife Saudade copyright Rebellion Developments Ltd/2000AD.
Lowlife created by Rob Williams and Henry Flint.

I'm very lucky working with Rob Williams, as he's always on time with script. Over the years, I've often been kept waiting (the clock ticking away but my deadlines not shifting…) or received script in dribs and drabs as the writer's working on it (which can be a minefield for continuity). But Rob? Always prompt. While I was working on Lowlife: Saudade part three, he even got me the script for part four in advance, which is very unusual. I hardly ever get to see what will happen next when I'm working on an episode.
What's even more unusual is, this was the only time in my career when getting a script in advance caused me a whole load of extra work… but without it, the double page spread of Luna-2 (above) would have looked very different…

(Before I start this story, I want to say this isn't intended in any way as a criticism of Rob Williams, who really saved my butt by turning out scripts for me at very short notice after I'd had scheduling problems with another project.)

There's no such thing as foolproof. However carefully you specify something, there'll always be someone who can get the wrong end of the stick. And, dear reader, that someone is usually me. Take a look at the description of the double-page spread shown above from Rob's script:

Pages 3 and 4 (Two panels)
Panel One
Double Page Splash, effectively (panel two’s a small indent bottom right). Now we see what’s being built at the bottom of this HUGE moon crater. And it’s LUNA-2. It’s a brand, shiny new GOD CITY. Unsullied by industry or people living in it. If Mega City One and Luna-1 look old and lived in, this looks not yet out of the box. And it looks better and more modern and more hi-tech than any Dreddworld city we’ve ever seen. It looks like an idealised representation of a future city. And the Overdrive Inc logo is very overtly on lots of the city blocks etc. Its scale if simply enormous. Workers are working on it, as you’d imagine. That’s who the people were coming in on the transport we saw last episode. The city’s not quite finished yet. There’s small transports carrying workers whizzing around. In the far left foreground of this shot we can see the viewing window with Frank and Overdrive in it, staring out at this simply extraordinary sight.

Now, that certainly conforms to the image you see above, a big wide shot of the city. Frank, after all, is in a spaceport, which you'd assume would be at the edge of the city. So now take a look at these two panel descriptions from page 6 to see where I went wrong:

Panel One
We’re on the ground of LUNA-2 here looking up at its spires high overhead and, in the sky above, high above the crater, in the distance, we can see the EARTH.

Panel Two
Frank now, in a viewing area, alone, it looks out over LUNA-2 and has a glass ceiling to allow him to look up at the sky. 

What's actually intended here is that we have one shot inside the city and then another one outside; but reading "looking up at its spires" and "look up at the sky," I added two and two, made five, and placed Frank's observation dome inside the city. I then set about designing the sequence accordingly.

Designs for Luna-2 architecture. To make the city look a bit different, I hit on the idea of using shark forms; tails, fins, snouts with open jaws (I like to think of this as "sharkitecture.") On the left are layouts for the first version of the double page spread, with the observation bubble set inside the city.

The first, incomplete version of the double page spread, set inside the bounds of Luna-2. Halfway through work on this I received the script for part 4, which indicates that Frank's location is in fact some distance outside the city with a view of the whole thing.


Now, I could have gone back to Rob and asked for a rewrite, but this business was really my fault… and then, looking at the action from the following episode, and seeing the possibilities of a big wide shot of the city… it would be a real pain in the arse to re-do the spread, but there was just time, and it could be really brilliant…

Sometimes it's just worth making the effort. Back to the drawing board.

In my 3D program, I made up a simple model with the plan view of Luna-2 inside its concealing crater. Following the "sharkitecture" theme, I made the city plan a sort of fat shark shape. I used 3D because we were going to see the city at a low angle and the perspective of the complex curved shape was the key to showing the scale of the thing. It's easy enough to draw something so the reader knows it must be big, but I wanted them to feel how big it was. I wanted this to be a real "money shot."

I generated this view in 3D, using a wide-angle virtual camera to create strong perspective effects - this is the key to the sense of scale. I've only made a flat outline as it's easier for me to draw in the rest of the city than try to model it - this view is just a guide.

The 3D rendering pasted into the double page spread in Manga Studio EX 4. I've used the Perspective Ruler tools to add a perspective grid over the top of the image, though it's hard to see at this scale.

Rough "pencils" over the top of the 3D rendering. I've "rescued" the foreground bubble containing Frank and Overdrive from the previous version.

"Pencilling" added in bright colours over the rendering and rough pencils. Though I often use colour coding to indicate different parts of the drawing, in this case the bright colours are just to help the drawing show up against the brightly-coloured rendering.
 Because I'd already spent time on the abortive first version, I was running a bit late, so I pencilled everything very loosely with the idea of doing most of the drawing at the "inking" stage. With fantasy architecture, I'm pretty confident at just doodling in buildings, especially at such a small scale. Note that I add a bit more detail to key landmarks - the tower at the top of the hill, for example.

The "inks" over the pencils and rendering. This was a couple of days' work on its own. With this sort of repetitive detail work, patience and stamina are much more important than drawing skill. I find the best way to do it is listening to something absorbing on the radio - a good drama, say, that occupies the attention - and then it's almost like doodling. I also broke the fine detail work into chunks and interspersed it with work on other pages to give myself a bit of variety.

The spread with greys added, ready to be exported from Manga Studio. The striking false colours indicate areas where I'll drop in subtle gradations in Photoshop, which handles grads much better than Manga Studio. The blue on Frank's face is a mask where I'll drop in a "grot" texture.

The finished piece, with grads added in Photoshop. I'm pretty happy with this, but there's a reason I only do one of these big spreads every decade :-)

Luckily, there weren't that many other changes needed; I had to tweak the views out through the bubble on page 5, but that wasn't much work. The biggest change was re-drawing the background to page 6 panel 2, taking Frank's observation bubble from the centre of the city to the crater wall. All of this was made easy not only because I work digitally, but because I have the habit of drawing foregrounds and backgrounds on different layers - I could erase the cityscape in one go without touching the bubble itself.


Andrew Judge said...

Great insight into the process. Thanks for sharing. Really enjoying the story too.

the comics expert said...

Hi, Looking amazing as always. It is very hard for me to keep up with the 2000 AD progs, but I was wondering: is any of your recent work collected (Lowlife, Vort?)
I don't seem to find any of it...
Thanks, a fan

David Rees said...

Loving these latest posts just as much as I'm loving the latest instalments of Low Life (i.e. very, very much indeed). Always entertaining as well as educational, Matt!

Jim Campbell said...

'Ere, Matt… isn't this a bit of a spoiler for 1807, which doesn't hit the newsagents until tomorrow…?

(You don't need to publish this comment -- I was going to plug this post on Twitter, but then thought I'd probably better wait until tomorrow, when the non-subscribers will have their prog…)

Unknown said...

Jim - that's a good point. Because I work for 2000AD, I get a subscription, so my Prog usually arrives on a Saturday. I try to time Blog posts for Monday morning, assuming that's given people the weekend to read it, but maybe I should leave posts with spoilers till later - or at least flag them as such...

james newell said...

what 3d modeling tool do you use for the city & space ship, its lovely inspiring work.


Unknown said...

James - I use Carrara 3D, but to be honest, I only use that because Google Sketchup wasn't around when I was starting on this stuff. Sketchup is simpler to use, free, and there's a huge catalogue of free models available.