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:

 https://www.daz3d.com/forums/discussion/comment/2734311#Comment_2734311

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 SmithMicro.com

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.

http://www.jurn.org/dazposer/?p=5347


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: https://www.renderosity.com/mod/forumpro/?thread_id=2914383

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

Friday, June 9, 2017

My Video: Sir Guy and the Beast

The topic of computer animation came up the other day, so I thought I would share my personal "epic" film... all 1-minute-7-seconds of it. I made this waaaaaay back in 2002, using Poser 4 (current version is 11). And it took me weeks to sort this out, creating each file separately and then stitching them together. 


That is, of course, my voice. And the armor clinking was made by tapping a fork on my desk and then syncing it to his footfalls. All in all, a bit of fun from the past.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Ms. Marvel Illustration

Here's something I doodled up recently using Poser Pro 11's Live Comic Book Preview. I spent more time on it than I should have, but not enough on cleaning up the hair (if I'm being honest).

This was just for fun, so I'm not going to worry about those details. All postwork in Photoshop (for a change – if I had planned to complete it, I would have gone to Manga Studio so I could get more control over the linework).

Ms. Marvel © 2017 Marvel Comics
Figure is V4, the Ms. Marvel costume is by Terrymcg (he makes a lot of cosplay costumes, many of which can be found for free at ShareCg.com).

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Texas Ranger [WIP]

I wish I could say this was a quickie, and in some ways it was, but I did spend a bit of time on this image. I recently purchased this cool Texas Ranger outfit form Daz3D.com, and just couldn't resist playing with it, even though there is no way this will ever make it to print in any of our books.

Texas Ranger - © 2017 Mike Mitchell
The primary reason for that is his knees. The textures on this model just stretch, making the denim pattern look absurdly stretched, and the seams at the bend don't fold correctly. This is one of the faults of confirming clothes. That is to say, 3D models that bend with the figure, but don't include soft-body dynamics simulations (or cloth simulations). These are the computations that actually treat the 3D model like fabric, and make it bend and behave like real fabric.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not disparaging this product, or its creator. That's just the nature of conforming props. They don't bend like real cloth, and that's why I can't actually use it in one of the Western books I illustrate for Hawgleg Publishing.

But, this really has a nice texture set and I wanted to play around with it, so here it is. A bit of fun for a weekend (and hey, I got this on sale!). An updated version of this will definitely appear in some future book or project.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Manga Studio Brush Sets Worth Considering

I just spent money on some cool brushes for Manga Studio 5 (aka Clip Studio 5), so I want to use them before I buy more. I want to see if they are actually going to help me create art before investing in stuff just because it's new and exciting.

That being said, I did find some other cool brushes out there while I was shopping, so I have decided to list them here so I can come back and get them later.


  • Deviant Art Listing: Just a cool list of brushes, including many of those listed below.
  • Manga Studio 5 300+ Brush Super Set by Frenden: This set is $15, so I'll need to look it over closely before purchasing.
  • Comic Book Inkers Set 3 (not the official title, but I chose this name because it has pens named after Kirby, Sinnot, Mobius and Wood. I think this includes Flashtools for Manga Studio and Clip Studio Paint: Cost $5.50

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Video: Import Multiple Brushes Into Manga Studio 5 (by Brian Allen)

I'm posting this video here so I won't lose track of it. I just purchased a cool set of 200+ brushes for Manga Studio 5 EX from artist Brian Allen. Total cost: $7. They look cool (I may review the set after using them), but now comes the hard part: Installing them.

Installing a lot of brushes is definitely one place where Photoshop is better than MS5, but Brian took the time to create a cool video on how to speed up the process.


BTW: This video is cross-posted without his permission (he seems like a nice guy, so I doubt he'll mind). If you do buy his brushes, please mention that you saw the video here. Thanks!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Video: Manga Studio 5 vs Photoshop

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I'm a big fan of both Photoshop and Manga Studio 5 (aka Clip Studio 5 – same program, different names). As of late, though, I've been doing more of my final comics illustration in Manga Studio because it has tools that are better suited for creating comics. Now, don't get me wrong, I still love Photoshop (and it's an important part of my workflow), but I do my final work in Manga Studio 5 EX.

A few people have asked me why, but except for one or two artists who found the comic panels and text balloons to be exciting additions, they haven't been sold on learning a new tool. And I can't blame them.

But...

Here's a review by professional artist Brian Allen that I found interesting, and he explains a few cool things (like Reference Layers) that might help some artists decide to give this a try.



By the way, Brian has a collection of 200+ Manga Studio Brushes available on his site for only $7. I bought them and, depending on how useful I find them, I'll try to write up a review in the next few weeks.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Sketchy Behavior, Part 10

This illustration actually dates back to September of 2016, and it was created for a detective story I wrote which appeared in the Collectors' Club Newsletter #118. I had a lot of fun writing a traditional whodunit mystery, with all the clues provided to the readers. The story is actually part of a larger story arc, and I'll collect it with the Moon Wolf material some time in the future.



As with the other work in this style, I worked with Victoria 4 with Poser 11's Live Comic Book Preview and did my finishing in Photoshop. I started using Manga Studio 5 EX, but I find working with type is just easier in Photoshop.

My technique on this one was a little different, in that I didn't use a tone or the sketch effect – this time out I just relied on the color to provide accent. Part of the reason for this was that I was worried about reducing the tone (that tends to make it muddy and look bad), and I didn't like the way it was playing across her face. When dealing with a classy dame like this one, you wanna keep the lines clean and simple. All in all, I kinda like the way this one came out (and thanks to my friends over at the Daz3D forums for their help; I actually created multiple versions of this before selecting this one).


Monday, May 15, 2017

Sketchy Behavior, Part 9

The digression I had with Akvis Sketch and Daz Studio was fun, but so far I haven't gotten the solid results from it that I've achieved with Poser 11 and its Live Comic Book Preview mode. I think its more than familiarity – it's just that, with the proper set-up, it's easy to get consistent good results.


This title illustration that I created for a short story in the Collectors' Club Newsletter #120 is an example of something that didn't really take me that long to do, but came out as a very solid piece of work.

The figure is actually the same one I used for the Lance Worthington illustration last year (and if you compare them, it's obvious). But, since it's unlikely that the two characters will ever appear in the same issue of the CCN (or elsewhere), I don't mind repurposing my work in this way. If you do compare the two images, notice that Lance is more buff than Truman. I actually filled in the muscles apparent in Lance's jacked so that this guy, who is a little more modern and less "pulpy," wouldn't have quite the super-heroic build that Lance has.

Also, in case you're curious, this is the story for which the Bobby E. studying character sketch was created. That's another reason I wanted to use my "sketchy" style for this illustration. Here's a close-up of Truman, so you can make out more detail.



Next time, another story title with a noir feel!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Sketchy Behavior, Part 8

As I said last time, I needed an illustration for the table of contents for the Collectors' Club Newsletter #120. So I decided to use the club's mascot, Captain Epistle (it's an inside joke, folks, that stems from the club's past wherein members would write letters to the magazine, where they would be printed).

Captain Epistle flies into action...
In the magazine, there were boxes of text appearing in front of him with the details
about this issues art, comics and features.

As before,I stayed with Daz Studio because the figure was already set up properly, and I set about changing the pose and cape flourishes. Once I had a basic pose ready, I whipped out three or four renders, including a toon render. This time I checked the pose to make sure it fit with the text elements (which are not shown here), and once I confirmed that I would actually be able to use this one, I composited the various renders in Photoshop so I could adjust the blending modes and run individual layers in Akvis Sketch.

Once I had the base sketch layer, I would adjust it with the Levels tool, or even the threshold adjustment. Anything to make the faint strokes sharp (after all, this was for print, and distinct lines would work better).

Again, this is a nice start, but I don't think it's ready for production use, yet. I am getting there, and the inclusion of the gray toon render layer really helped add some definition to the final image. All in all, not a bad job for a quickie.



Monday, May 8, 2017

Sketchy Behavior, Part 7

I needed an image of this superhero (he's the mascot for the Collectors' Club Newsletter) to use on the table of contents, so I decided to revisit Akvis Sketch. There were two major reasons for this:


  1. The character was already set up for use in Daz Studio, and I didn't have time to transfer him to Poser 11.
  2. Creating the image in DS meant that i couldn't use the stark, noir render style I've been using on the recent images I've shared with you. 
Genesis base figure with a variety of shaping
morphs applied. Finished in Photoshop and Akvis Sketch.
As before, I decided to keep the original colors, but in this case, they came out so light I actually used a non-processed layer as an overlay to pump up the colors. All in all, this was a relatively successful attempt. I'm not 100% happy with it (I don't think it's ready for production work, yet, which is too bad because I really would like to use this style for an upcoming project). 

But, it was good enough for my needs... except for one thing. The final composition was wrong and it didn't fit the page. So, as you'll see next time, I had to do it again.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Sketchy Behavior, part 6

3. Toned Lines + Wash
I really liked the close-up of the illustration from Wednesday, so I thought I'd post the larger versions of some of the other treatments I did for this character (whose name is Bobby, by the way, and yes, the sharp-eyed among you will probably recognize that this character is a thinner version of the guy studying from a while back).

Days Gone is a short project I'm working on. A few weeks ago I was up late, and just whipped out a short 8-page comic book story. I sketched it out by hand and am now going to use this as one of the characters in it.

The title, Days Gone, actually comes from two mini-comics I wrote and illustrated (by hand) in the late 80s and early 90s. While cleaning them up for inclusion in a future issue of Fanzine Flashback, I got the bug to create a new story in that series.

More on that at some future date.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sketchy Behavior, Part 5

2. Sketchy + wash (or, in this case, actually a tone, but I'm calling it a wash)
When I saw Monday's post, I decided that you couldn't really make out all the detail in the Sketchy + Wash look. So, here it is, a lot bigger. 

I think this makes it clearer why I'm leaning toward this look. For a simple character, it looks really nice. But now I've got to expand and see how this works with backgrounds, which might just need a different but similar treatment.

And, by the way, not to toot my own horn, but as this came to be, I started getting a classic Al Williamson vibe from it. Definitely something I like!

If you're not familiar with the light, clean lines of Al's work, you really owe it to yourself to go take a look.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Sketchy Behavior, Part 4

Treatment in Costume: Poser 11 Pro & Manga Studio 5 EX

I was a little more thoughtful on this illustration, spending more time exploring the effects and seeing where they would take me. As before, you really should view these at the largest size possible to make out the details.

I posted this over at both Daz3D.com and Renderosity, and the general consensus came back again that the second one (Sketchy (+wash)) is the favorite. I definitely like it, but still have a few reservations about it because of the control issues, and the fact that I have to be more mindful about image size when I create it because of scaling issues – the lines can easily get too close together if I have to shrink it. The simple tone will automatically scale, thanks to the cool tone support built into Manga Studio.





Saturday, April 29, 2017

Sketchy Behavior, Part 3

Bare-knuckle boxing: Treatments created with Poser 11 and Manga Studio 5 EX
I'm still at it, trying to sort out what I like. For this experiment, I did not use Akvis Sketch, but instead relied on the pen & ink look I created in Manga Studio. This was VERY quick. After I had the renders created (usual method, see earlier posts), I only spent 10-15 minutes creating all three of these treatments.

I've posted these elswehere, and the general consensus is that the first treatment is the favorite. It is my favorite, but I definitely think this needs more work, especially on the scale of the ink lines.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Sketchy Behavior, Part 2

On Monday I showed you some of my latest work with Manga Studio and Akvis Sketch that demonstrates some of the sketch-like effects I'm experimenting with. The goal with these techniques is NOT to create a single illustration that looks good, but to create a workflow that I can repeat so that I can achieve the following:
  • Create images quickly
  • Maintain a consistent style
  • That print well (usually in b&w, but sometimes in color)
So far, both of these approaches appear to hit most of the marks, at least on technical terms. However, like all artwork, it comes down to combining artistic skill with technical competency. In other words, I think I need more practice with both of these techniques.

Bobby E. Studying: Poser 11 and Manga Studio

Here's my next iteration on the Guy Studying sketch I showed you on Monday. I have a feeling this might be the one I actually use (I'm illustrating a short story written by a friend, Roger Keel). 

One of the things I like about this is the inclusion of the brown, and the addition of blue to his tie (my wife suggested that). The brown was actually a happy accident – I was originally playing around with two shades of blue, then I inverted the color and got this cool sepia effect. One of the nice things about this particular sketch effect is that it's not super-precise, which means it takes on a more organic and rushed look that I usually have in my art. In this case, I think that's a good thing.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sketchy Behavior, Part 1

The other day I mentioned that I was trying to fit some clothing to a heavy/stocky figure. In this case, it was a shirt and tie to a morphed Michael 4 figure. There are trousers, too, but they are below the desk so we can't see them.

Sketched Effects: Top effect created in Manga Studio 5,
Bottom effect created in Akvis Sketch
For this illustration, I used my standard technique of rendering the figures in Poser 11 with the Live Comic Book Preview and then played with the lights to get two views that I liked. I then layered them in Manga Studio, where I applied a variety of touch-ups and effects to get the look I wanted..

However, this time I also sent one of the images over to Akvis Sketch and created a pencil sketch look.

As with my previous attempts, the lines it produces are too thin and fine for the type of look I'm after, so I worked with that image at a smaller size than it would be printed, and then blew it up to match the dimensions of the ink lines. In this case, the final illustration was 2000 pixels wide, and the Akvis Sketch image was 500 pixels wide.

In both cases, I used a simple sketched effect from Akvis Sketch to make the background.

I think both versions of the image have something going for them, although I must say I think I personally prefer the hard ink lines of the first one. In both cases, you should probably look at a larger version of the image (click on it) to see the details more clearly.




Monday, April 17, 2017

How a 17-Year-Old CD saved me $20

I have many binders of old CDs and DVDs on my bookcase. Some of them include backups of personal files, but most are old software CDs that range from Windows 95 installations to 3D software that won't install on a modern system (like Deep Paint and Amorphium, both of which which I would really like to have a working version). More than one person has asked me why I keep them.

All those black binders hold many
a CD and DVD from years gone by!


The honest answer is two-fold:

  1. It's really not worth the effort to go through and clean them out
  2. And every now and then, they have something that comes in useful
The latter one definitely happened today.

Time to start editing video again

A client called me up and said he has some video he wants me to edit for him. He wants me to tighten up some training clips we created a few years ago (and, I think, update the titles and some text). Not a problem. I've done it before and I can do it again. 

But of course, when I did that for him, it was on my old i5 laptop, and it was a little slow processing the video and converting it from HD down to something that can stream on the Web. So, it's time to move this project over to my new laptop, which is an i7 powerhouse with 32 GB of RAM.

Over the years, I've used a few different video editors, and of course one of the very best is Adobe Premier. But... let's just be honest, it is expensive and has a lot of overhead in terms of space, requirements, and (mostly) cost. I definitely do not use it enough to justify subscribing it it. I mean, yeah, it's awesome, but it's a lot like paying for a Ferrari just so you can drive it to the store to pick up groceries. In other words, it's got more features than I need for the fairly straightforward video editing that I do. I mostly make talking head training videos and convert my father-in-law's VHS tapes to digital (they make FANTASTIC Christmas gifts!).

So, stepping down from the premier tool, I frequently choose Pinnacle Studio. It is a nifty little editor that does 99% of anything I want from it (in fact, there's really only one thing it doesn't do, and I'll cover that at another time with a workaround that can trick it into doing that, too). And it does one thing that Premier doesn't do out of the box (and again, I'll cover this another time).

The latest version is 20.5, and I've been using it since version 9. I recall selecting it because, at the time, it was the first (at least I'd ever heard of" to use a thumbnail/storyboard system for editing, as opposed to the standard timeline. I also recall that – waaaaaay back in the day – it won a technical Emmy award because it was the software of choice for editing America's Funniest Home Videos.

But I digress.

I compared the many versions of this software, and decided that I did want/need the full version with all the bells and whistles: Pinnacle Studio Ultimate 20.5.

I shopped around and found the slightly older version at amazon.com, but decided I'd rather deal directly with Pinnacle and be sure that I get the latest version, rather than something a half version old that requires an upgrade. So, this retails for $129. The sale price today was $99. And the upgrade from my ANCIENT copy of Pinnacle Studio DC 10 knocked off another $20 (yup, I had written the serial number on the product CD that I found in one of my binders -- I had dated it from June 2000).

A quick search online found me a coupon for 15% off that actually worked, making my instant download price only $68.97 (that includes tax, folks).

Not bad for a few minutes of shopping, searching for the old CD and finding the online coupon.

After I get into the project, I'll write talk about the workaround and the cool feature that hinted at today.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Poser: Fitting Clothes to a Heavily Morphed Figure

I did not write this, but it's important to remember, so I'm copying this from the Renderosity Forum so I can find it easily. This was originally written by 3dcheapskate.

Select the figure you're trying to conform to, do Figure > Spawn Full Body Morph..., and give the morph a name starting with an exclamation mark (e.g. "!MyFBM"). A new morph will be added to the figure's set to zero. Don't touch it.

Load the clothing item and conform it, then do Figure > Copy Morphs From..., and select ONLY the FBM you just spawned (starting the name with an ! means it appears at the top of the list - that just makes it easy to find)

Dial the newly added "!MyFBM" morph on the BODY actor of the clothing to 1.0, and it should fit much better. Note: If the clothing has already picked up some super-conforming morphs from the figure you may have to dial those back to zero.

More details on the "Tips/Tricks/Tools for getting the best fit of clothes to the body - Suggestions and help with general ways of getting the best fit of clothing items to the bodies" thread over in CGbytes Poser forum, post #20 onwards - here's a link to post #21 of that thread http://www.cgbytes.com/community/forums.aspx?g=posts&t=115158&p=2#post125269

Monday, March 20, 2017

First test with Akvis Sketch

As I said last week, I finally took the plunge and invested in Akvis Sketch as a post-processing tool to create images that look like they were hand drawn. I have a project coming up and I think this would be a good look for it.

I paid for the commercial license, which runs $154 -- but I was able to get %15 off by posting links to the software on my blog and then requesting a coupon code. The software publisher responded overnight, and i got the software for $130.90. BTW: The non-commercial license is less expensive, so you can buy it and then upgrade later. It won't save you any money (the upgrade will cost the same as the full commercial license, but you do get the benefit of trying the software out before you pay for the commercial license). And, of course, there is a 10-day trial so you can test drive it before you buy (and make sure it runs on your hardware).

Copyright 2017 Mike Mitchell
Render from Daz Studio, converted to line art with Akvis Sketch


These are my first "serious" tests with the software. As usual, it's a composite of multiple passes. I created multiple layers of the image in Photoshop and then masked out the different parts I wanted to work on. You see, I wanted a darker pass on the dress, lighter on the face (I also turned off cross-hatching on the face) and a different pass on the hands and gun. The background is also on a separate layer -- I just splashed some colors around and then ran Akvis Sketch on it. I wanted bigger strokes, so I actually scaled up the background about 200% so I could get nice, big strokes on it. I also added some touch-ups along the edges and some extra lines (her elbow bend and chin, for example) to give it more definition. All in all, not bad for something I'm just playing with at this moment. I think this could be a useful tool in my production artwork and I'm looking forward to working with it more.

Copyright 2017 Mike Mitchell
Render from Daz Studio, converted to line art with Akvis Sketch
then converted to b&w.

I worked in color and then converted to gray scale so we could see what it would look like in both formats. What do you guys think? Which is your favorite? (NOTE: these are worth clicking on to see at a larger size – you'll get a better look at the line work).

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Delving into Akvis Sketch

I'm finishing up my behind-the-scenes tests with the trial version of Akvis Sketch, and will soon have some art to share with you. In the meantime, I thought this video might be of interest to anyone thinking about adding sketch tools to their repertoire.



This is a cool video, but I think it barely scratches the surface of what you can do with this product. I hope to demonstrate that to you all shortly.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Akvis Sketch to my Digital Toolbox

To be blunt, there are so many programs that "convert photos to sketches" that I consider them to be a dime a dozen (although most hardly charge that little). Photoshop has plenty of tools that all do a decent job of outlining the figure and adding sketchy lines. The problem is, none of them produce production-level work. By that, I mean they all come out looking like a photo that has been run through a filter.

While that's fine for hobbyists, it doesn't fly when you're trying to create something for print that actually looks like a sketch instead of a photo that's been run through a filter.

Anyone who follows my art at all knows that I'm a big fan of the India Ink Photoshop Plug-In by Flaming Pear (I use it to create the woodcut/engraved art used in my Western illustrations), which does a fantastic job once you get a handle on how to use it.

I've spent a long time looking for something that will give me control similar to what is available in the Sketch Render Designer in Poser, where I get a lot of control of edges, angle, density, and all of the little tweaks that make it look more organic and less procedural (in other words, more hand-drawn and less computerized).

With a few tweaks, Poser can turn the crisp line art render
of the Live Comic Book Preview into something
that looks hand sketched... almost.

I'm not bashing the other tools like Filter Forge or any FotoSketch or any of those items. They do a good job – just not the job I need done. 

Anyone who knows me is fully aware of the fact that I do not just jump in and buy new software. I test it... and test it again... and test it again to see if it's going to get the job done. That's why I'm a big fan of free trial software. I need to shake something down before I will spend money on it. One of the tools I've downloaded multiple times (one of the bonuses of having multiple computers) is Akvis Sketch.

This is a commercial tool that includes settings for edges, angles, midtones and things like that. In other words, it offers a degree of control that I need to attempt getting professional results. 

I have used the demo version for a few samples, and have decided that it is worth the $154 business license (I did consider buying the Home License while testing it and then upgrading later, but I think I've seen enough to know that this could wind up in my professional work very soon). 

I will post new artwork, using Akvis Sketch, as soon as I've got something worth looking at.

BY THE WAY: Sketch is just one of the many cool filter packages available. If you're at all interested in taking your digital art to the next level, you really should check out the other fine tools available from www.Akvis.com.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Something Sketchy

I'm actually not a fan of artwork that looks overly sketchy. By that, I don't mean dodgy or shady, but just having lots of uneven lines and a rough finish.

Harry Kirchner, 1935
www.pulpartists.com/Kirchner.html 
I know several artists who love the look, saying that it contains a dynamic energy. And I agree – when done correctly it can look great. But, most of the time it isn't done correctly (at least not to my eye). In those cases, it looks sloppy to me.

Now, I'm a huge fan of many of the interior illustrators from the old Pulp Magazines (like this Harry Kirchner illustration below). But illustrators like him maintained control of their work that I find missing in many modern "sketchy" artists (and I'm not going to name any because I'm not slamming them for being bad artists, I just don't find it attractive to my sensibilities).

I'm not being wishy-washy or trying to protect anyone's feelings, it's just that I recognize the difference between not liking something and claiming that thing is not good. It's a matter of taste, and in this case, it's very subjective.

That being said, however, there are times when I need to achieve that look in my own digital work. Sometimes the source material calls for me to recreate a work-in-progress or something rough, rather than the more-crisp noir style I've been experimenting with.

To that end, I've been playing around with some new tools, which I'll debut later this month. In the meantime, though, I thought you guys might be interested in taking a look at how I expanded the noir style by using the Sketch Designer in Poser 11. BTW:, the Sketch Designer is available in both the base version and the pro version of the software, and even goes back  several years. I think it's even included with the Poser Debut software, but I won't swear to that.

Officer looking at a notebook.
Illustration for the Collectors' Club Newsletter #120

This is okay, as far as it goes, but the edges are still far too crisp for this type of work. This is a nice stepping stone toward the look I'm going for, but it's just that: a step on the path to creating a look that is closer to hand sketching.

I'll cover more about this (and the Sketch Designer) next week.



Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ultra has arrived

It only took about 35 years from start to finish, but here she is!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Book Covers: Resizing Images (Pixels vs Inches)

Copied from a post over at the Daz 3D forums.
[Can] anyone else who can answer this question.  I was watching the book cover webinar that _manne_ did and I'm trying to wrap my head around the idea of rendering at 72 ppi inside DS and increasing the resolution to 300 ppi in a 2D program.  Let's say that the final image size I need is 10 inches by 13 inches and I set my render image to those dimensions and render at 72.  Do I understand correctly, then, that PS can increase the resolution to 300 ppi and that will work fine?  Or do I need to render larger at 72 ppi inside DS and then increase the resolution and then scale down the image?  How do you know that you have enough pixels to in an image size to increase the resolution like that?
I'm not sure I'm explaining my confusion exactly.  But, I'd like any info on this that anyone can tell me.
Sorry that this is complicated, but printing terminology doesn't really sync up with the terminology used in 3D. As I would tell my students (and this is a generalization that I know will annoy some people who would rather speak in more precise terms about screen angles and image resolutions), but, simply put: A pixel is a dot and a dot is a pixel. Don't worry so much about pixel-per-inch or dots-per-inch. In very simple terms (and I don't mean to be insulting in any way), but at your technical level you can use those terms interchangeably. If you dive deeper into the topic, you can learn the distinctions later.

Now, here's what you need to concentrate on: Always focus on the final, printed size of your image. If you need an image to be 10 x 13 inches and you plan to print at 300 ppi, multiply those dimensions by 300. This will result in a final-target sized image of 3,000 x 3,900. Now, when you open Photoshop (GiMP, or whatever app you use), you are in for a shock. The image details might tell you that your image will print at 41.667 x 54.167 inches. Yeah. That's humongous. The reason it says that is simple: PNG and JPEG graphics do not automatically store the information needed to print the image. In other words, Daz Studio always outputs 72 dip. You can actually ignore this, if you want. It has no bearing on anything, other than your sanity. So, if you want to add the printed size to your graphic (thus returning it to the realm of the reasonably sized graphics), you may do so by opening the Image > Image Size... menu in Photoshop (I know this is also in GiMP, but don't recall where). You will see the following.



This is where you will change the Document size.

  1. Make ABSOLUTELY SURE the "Resample Image" box is NOT CHECKED.
  2. Then change the 72 to 300.
  3. You will see that the Pixel Dimensions do not change, but that the Document Size does (see image below). 
  4. The save your image again (probably as a PSD or TIFF).




And that's it. I cannot stress how important it is NOT to resample the image. You can destroy your work by resampling at this stage (it's okay to do it later, but not here).


Friday, January 27, 2017

Melee Publications: Something BIG is coming soon!

I've been silent on this for too long. Something BIG is coming – and I'll announce it next Monday, Feb. 6, 2017!

It has nothing to do with the Super Bowl being played here in Houston, but nevertheless I think you're gonna like it!