Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 5 - Process At a Glance

Base Figure Image created in Poser 11, post work in Manta Studio 5,
Background created in Manga Studio 5
© 2016 Mike Mitchell, Hatta Mari TM 2015 Mike Mitchell
Looking back, I can see that I really haven't put these sections in the proper order. Or, at the very least, I should have included an overview of the workflow when I discussed the required software.

But what's done is done.

At long last, here is a very basic overview of the procedure that I'm calling the Anomaly Process: 
  1. Figure Set-Up (Select & Pose Figure)  [Poser 11]
  2. Turn on Live Comic Book Preview  [Poser 11]
  3. Edit Materials  [Poser 11 & optionally Photoshop]
  4. Set up Lights  [Poser 11]
  5. Adjust Lighting  [Poser 11]
    1. Sidebar: The difference between light types in Poser
  6. Render Settings [Poser 11]
  7. Creating Render Passes  [Poser 11]
  8. Cleaning up Renders  [Photoshop]
  9. Combining Renders  [Manga Studio / Clip Studio]
  10. Image Clean-Up / Hand-Work / Post Work  [Manga Studio / Clip Studio]
    1. Sidebar: A quick tip on adding contour lines to your figure [MS/CS or Photoshop]
  11. Saving Your Final Image
Sounds like a lot, but some of those steps are pretty darned easy, and the first 6 or 7 should be second nature to all Poser users.

NEXT TIME: Step 1: Figure Set-Up

Friday, July 14, 2017

Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 4 - Inspiration

I'm going to take a quick detour in this post and discuss my inspiration for my noir style. A lot of people have compared my work to Frank Miller's seminal work, Sin City. I cannot deny that he's an influence on the look I'm striving (and usually failing) to achieve. But truth be told, he's not my main inspiration. That would fall on other artists like the groundbreaking godfather of modern comics, Will Eisner. Eisner was a true visionary – someone who pushed the bounds of what comics could (and eventually did) become: a legitimate art form.

But as much as I love Will Eisner's line work, amazing use of lines, shadows and soft panels, and as much inspiration as I draw from him, h'es out of my league. I'm not that good. I know that. I accept it; it doesn't bother me. But even though I can't actively copy from it, it does inspire me to always seek to do more with my art, to somehow strive beyond my (very) humble skillset to TRY to achieve "art."

Will Eisner, A Contract With God © 1978
"More than any other book in my collection, A Contract With God transports me to a very specific time in comics history: the late ’70s, when the art form of comics felt alive with possibilities to me but dead as a doornail to Americans in general — a musty, decaying relic of a bygone era. Eisner’s book connected with me as a sign of what comics could be. It wasn’t a product of its time, nor did it seem to rebel against its time. It existed in its own continuum, patiently waiting for the rest of its kind to quietly arrive — by the thousands as it turned out — on the shelves of North American bookstores... The style was cartoony, the body language and facial expressions nearly operatic in their intensity, but there were odd narrative turns and moral ambiguity at play too. The cityscapes and interiors created a strong sense of place, with the authority of a sharp and vivid memory; yet somehow, whatever nostalgia they might’ve evoked, the human drama at the heart of it all felt fresh and new..."
- Introduction to "A Contract With God" by Scott McCloud
So, I think about pose. I think about light. I think about creating pages that move the story forward.

Another influence for me, and probably a more visibly direct one, would be Alex Toth, who is someone who's work I've always been aware of and respected, but I didn't develop a sense of awe for what he accomplished until I was well into my 40s. Despite his use of heavy blacks, he mastered negative space and created a sense of focus that just leaves me in awe. Actual awe. It takes me forever to "read" one of his comics because I keep stopping to admire the lines and brushwork for so long that I lose track of the story and have to go back and read it again.

Recently, I purchased his amazingly fun book, Bravo for Adventure, and I still haven't finished it because I keep stopping to admire the art. This is just such a fun book, and many historians consider it to be Toth's most important single work. I mean, just look at this cover: His body language just conveys a sense of strength and swagger, which is amazing because he's standing still. And notice the single eye and sweet rump of the woman walking by, who is obviously checking out his backside. The bi-planes and his clothing instantly let us know the time period. And his outfit and proximity to the plane tell us he's a pilot. And, dig if you will, that scarf. If this were realistically lit, it should be half in shadow. But Toth uses it as a design element to lengthen his body. That is a LOT of information conveyed in a single image. (Buy it at Amazon; you can get it for $18 - $25 and you'll love it!)

And these are the sort of mindful details I'm trying to bring to my work now. Poses need to advance character or story. People don't stand, they POSE. Shoulders and stance need to convey emotion.

© Alex Toth 1980
I'm not interested in naturalism, I'm interested in STORY. Even if it's a single panel, like the one above, I want to convey something about what's going on. Who is there (and at a glance you should be able to tell who's who). And, of course, there are the shadows. Deep, rich shadows that frame the action and guide our eyes to the focal point of the action.

Finally, and this may come as a surprise, I draw so much inspiration from the man who is without peer as the premier illustrator of the 20th Century: Norman Rockwell.

© 1958 Saturday Evening Post
I've read Rockwell's amazing "autobiography" (if you ever read it, you'll know why I put it in quotes), been fortunate enough to see his work in a museum, and have really enjoyed reviewing it online. The man knew how to tell a story in a single illustration, probably better than anyone else from his era (and, for that matter, he still has few peers). Just look at this classic cover from The Saturday Evening Post.

Even without knowing the painting is titled "The Runaway," we can see that from the iconic bundle-on-a-stick that's lying beneath the kid's stool. And notice that the kid is clean, has a nice haircut, and good clothes. He's not homeless or an orphan. Even the plumpness of the cop gives him a non-threatening "dad body," which means he's probably got kids and knows exactly how to talk to the boy. And that's what's happening here, he's talking and the kid is listening. Oh, and take a look at those motorcycle cop boots. The kid probably made it to the edge of town before the friendly peace officer picked him up and took him to the diner for a soda and a chat.

And look at that bemused expression on the counter man. The story is all here: middle-class kid ran away, friendly cop found him, and you know it's going to be okay. He's going to get home and everything will be okay. And we get all this from a single picture. Note the even more subtle details: bright lights make this a non-threatening location. All the shoulders are slumped/relaxed. No one is yelling or scared. Even the text, "Special Today," tells us something special (or unusual) is happening here at the diner today. These are all subtle indicators that tell the story, and we pick up on them, whether we know it or not.

Even though I'm not trying to imitate Norman Rockwell's style in any way, he is definitely a source of inspiration for me.

NEXT TIME: Process At a Glance

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 3 - Figure Limitations

Before going any further, I need to mention a few important things about this workflow and how it will be addressed in this tutorial.

  • This is an intermediate tutorial. You already need to have a basic understanding of Poser before you will benefit from the material we're about to cover. Specifically, you need to know:
    • How to load a figure
    • How to find clothing/items in the Library
    • How to open the Materials Room and select/edit a texture
    • How to adjust render dimensions
    • How to adjust render settings
    • How to move lights and modify their properties
    • How to render an image and export it as a PNG
  • You also need to understand the basic limitations of selection a figure for use in Poser. Simply put, you cannot use any of the Genesis figures and their derivatives. Although there are scripts and workarounds, I'm not going to address them. For my work, I am limited to using the following figures:
    • P4 Male ("Dork") and P4 Femal ("Posette")
    • Michael 1 - 4 (and all derivative characters, including Elite)
    • David 1 - 4 (and all his spawn)
    • Hiro (thru version 4)
    • The Kids 1-4
    • Victoria 1 - 4 (and all her related figures, including Stephanie, Aiko and The Girl)
    • Poser Native Figures like: Paul, Pauline, Rex, James, Ben, Jesse, Katie, various toon figures like Rex, Alpha Man, Beta Boy, Gamma Girl, etc. 
    • Hivewire Figures like Dawn and Dusk, Baby Luna, etc.
    • LoRez figures by Predatron
    • Apollo Maxiumus
    • A wide variety of animals, toons, robots, and assorted figures
    • In other words, I'm "limited" to using a huge assortment of figures that are POSER NATIVE. Genesis figures are by Daz3D, and they require a lot of work and tweaking to use properly in Poser.
  • The same thing applies to props, although the Daz Studio DSON importer plug-in usually does a pretty good job of converting Daz clothes and scenery for use in Poser.
  • You can also use FBX (that is to say, game props that were designed for use in Unity and other game engines)
  • Likewise, you can import a lot of OBJ, 3D Max and Lightwave props.
Poser Males - Image created for me by Seliah (Childe of Fyre)
in 2014 as a favor and used by permission.
As you can see from the picture above, I'm hardly "limited" by my options. I have dozens of figures to choose from and thousands of clothing and prop options available.

Now, those of you who have been using Poser and Daz Studio for a long time might be tempted to immediately stop right here. After all, even though Michael 4 and Victoria 4 were immensely popular figures and people are still creating new content for them, they are more than 10 years old and lack modern features like weight mapping and other fancy stuff. Truthfully, if I were creating photo-realistic renders, I would move on to Daz Studio and focus on the latest Genesis figures. But we're not working with photorealism. We're working with the more abstract, and far more forgiving, realm of geometric shapes. 
Michael 3 is an old figure, but with a few morphs and some
texture work, he still creates a stunning noir comic figure.
As you will see, geometry is king and the output format of comics/line art is very forgiving. So, as you experienced Poser / Daz Studio users move on, you're actually going to have to unlearn a few things about textures and bump maps and dare to follow me into the shadows of the noir comics world.

UPDATE [08-16-2017]: I started researching the age of some of these old figures, and got a lot of help from people over at the Daz 3D forums. If you're interested in following our discussion (and hopefully, future updates, you can do so here:

NEXT TIME: Inspiration

Friday, July 7, 2017

Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 2 - Tools of the Trade

The technique I am using to create my noir comic look requires the use of Poser 11. I'm sorry to say, I have not been able to replicate this approach with Daz Studio. I think this might work with Carrara, but I have not tested it sufficiently, so I cannot attest to that.

Even so, many of the general principles I will discuss can be used with Daz Studio. But if you are intent on using Daz Studio, I strongly suggest you subscribe to John Garrett's YouTube Channel and sit through his incredibly detailed, and very thoughtful video on what he calls "The Ambient Method." There is also a text write-up here. He gets very solid results, and he uses entirely free software. My method uses software that is purchased.

Required Software:- Poser 11 (pro or base)
- Photoshop CC (any version will do)
- Manga Studio 5 (base or EX, also called Clip Studio)

A few words about the software: Either version of the most current version of Poser will work. It just needs to list "Live Comic Book Preview" under its features. If you're not familiar with Poser, I urge you to get the less-expensive version until you find out if this is something you're going to use on a frequent basis. The Pro version has neat features, but we don't need them for this technique. You can get the base version of Poser 11 for $80 - $130. They have frequent sales, and even though the retail price is $130, you can almost always find it on Amazon for $99. Their main site is

I've been using Photoshop professionally since the 1990s. I have no interest in learning how to use GiMP. That being said, GiMP is a great tool and if you're on a budget (or just a fan of open-source software) then you should get it. As you'll see, almost any image editing software will do the small job I require of it.

You can use almost any version of Manga Studio (it is also called Clip Studio). There is a debut (simple) version and an EX ('extended) version. The biggest difference between them is that the EX version lets you build books, whereas the other version limits you to one page at a time. Honestly, this is not a very important distinction because you can make each page separately (including 2-page spreads) and then combine them in another program, or just save the pages as TIFFs and email them to your printer. This is another Smith Micro product, and retails between $50-$210. There are frequent sales, though, and you can get this for $40-$130 pretty easily.  BTW: When I started this, I only had Manga Studio 4, and it worked perfectly. I only upgraded because I wanted to make sure it would work with my new Windows 10 computer. A friend of mine was interested in digital inking and I found a copy of version 4 for only $20. MORAL OF THE STORY: Shop around.

NEXT TIME: Figures & Textures

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Noir Style Tutorial, Pt. 1 - Introduction

I've been working with a dramatic noir style for a while now and a few people have asked me to write a tutorial on my workflow. I do think this would work better as a video, but I really don't have the time to commit to making the four or five parts I predict it would take to do it justice. So, for now, I'm going to outline the process here and (hopefully) get around to the video late this year or early next.

My noir style, based on
Brian Haberlin's process.
First and foremost, I need to give credit where it is due: This style is based on the work of a very talented and generous artist, Brian Haberlin. He is known for his work on Witchblade, Spawn, Anomaly, and Faster Than Light. Brian is very forthcoming about using Poser and other digital tools like Z-Brush in his work. I was fortunate enough to attend an online webcast he did for Anomaly Productions, which focused on using these tools to create comics.

There are very few single incidents that I can look back at and say, "This changed the way I work." There are a few teachers and classes in college, one particular issue of a fanzine (I was editing the Collectors' Club Newsletter, and I abruptly changed from just trying to get it finished on time to being very mindful of the way I approached it to create something as good as I could possibly make it). The Anomaly Webcast was one of those events.

After this event, I completely changed the way I approached digital comics and using digital tools to create line art. I found a combination of tools and an approach for using them that energized me and my art. And, at the risk of blowing my own horn, other people noticed a change in my work and began to comment favorably on what I was doing.

And that's why we're here – so I can share with you what I'm doing and how I do it. With all that being said, I'm not going to pretend or delude myself into thinking I'm an expert. But this is my workflow, and it works for me because it is relatively fast and repeatable. In other words, I have been able to get consistent results so that I can combine the images into a comic book, which has been my goal ever since I started down this particular path.

NEXT: Tools of the Trade

Friday, June 30, 2017

Tutorial Link: Poser 11 Live Comic Book Preview

One of the most useful tools for creating digital line art (i.e. comics!) is the geometric edge tool in Poser 11. It's called the Live Comic Book Preview, and it offers the most versatility of any of the commercial-grade 3D tools that I have tried so far.

Just so I don't lose track of it, here's a useful tutorial on how it works.

Generally, I don't agree with what he says about lighting, but that's just because he's working in limited color and I work in black & white.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Rendersotiy: Ms. Marvel was selected as a "Staff Pick" for the week

I got a surprising honor today – my "Ms. Marvel - Blue" Illustration was selected by Renderosity as a staff pick of the week! I'm blown away, especially since I considered it to be a minor image, really little more than a doodle. I definitely didn't put the usual amount of work into it.

I doubt any of you can see this without a Renderosity account, but here's a link to where it is included in the forums. And, if you do scan the images:

Interestingly, out of the 13 images selected, I was the only working in (mostly) black & white.