Saturday, August 15, 2020

TIP: Use a gaming mouse with Poser and Daz Studio

A "gaming mouse" is a useful tool for using Poser and Daz Studio, as well as Clip Studio Paint. 

My mouse has a feature on it that lets me adjust its sensitivity (i.e. dpi) with small buttons next to the track wheel. I normally keep it at 4800, which lets it whip around the screen at a nice speed that is pretty much synced to my hand movements. In other words, it moves at a nice speed and it's easy for me to track my mouse. At the max setting of 12,000 dpi, the mouse accelerates very rapidly so that a small movement on the mousepad will send the pointer on the screen zipping almost across the entire width of a 27-inch monitor.

BUT, when I need to be more precise (like just a few minutes ago when I was trying to get make some tiny adjustments to a camera placement in Poser), I can decrease the sensitivity of the mouse with two clicks and suddenly large mouse movements equal small movements on the screen. This enables me to get more precise results. All with the click of a few buttons right on the mouse. This is much easier than going to the Mouse settings in the Windows Control Panel.

This is the mouse I have, but there are lots of others available with similar features.

Below I'll link to the mouse I have (Win 10), but this one has features that it turns out I don't need (the replaceable side panels and macro-enabled buttons turned out to be something I just couldn't make myself fit into my workflow – in other words, I just couldn't get the hang of it). But the sensitivity settings are VERY easy to use and are very helpful.

Havit Gaming Mouse 12000 DPI Computer Ergonomic Wired Mice with 14 Programmable Buttons Interchangeable Side Plates (8 Buttons/ 8+6 Side Buttons), 2 Replaceable Right Plates for Laptop PC Gamer

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The bias against 3D Comics

Over at the Daz3D site, we were discussing comics in general and 3D comics in particular. Here's a highlight from a conversation that I thought might be of interest to others.

 I've spoken to a lot of traditional comics artists (professional, semi-pro and amateur) and have been writing comics for fanzines since I was a teenager. Back then, as a lousy artist, I had no choice put to work with other people who could draw but couldn't write as well as I could. I also found out that I was better at doing breakdowns/page design and panel flow than a lot of the artists I worked with. Just because you're good at drawing the figure does NOT mean you're automatically good at pacing the story and knowing what to show and where to add emphasis. I also knew a lot of artists who didn't know when to break for the end of the page. By that, I mean they didn't realize that you could build dramatic tension by making the reader wait to flip the page. The typical use of this is the last panel showing the hero turn and gasp, "You?" and then flip the page to see the villain holding the damsel in distress with a gun at her head. Or in the Captain America page below, note how the action is all building up:

  1. Cap is desperately outnumbered
  2. Teeth gritted, Rick is reaching for the gun, expressing self-doubt in his mind...
  3. Even as Cap runs, we seen some cues that remind us we're in a graveyard
  4. We see the horde in silhouette, the cycle is clearly visible (and that's why Cap is bent low, btw, because if he were standing up he would cut off the cycle and his height cutting through the plane of the cycle and possible the back horizon would make everybody seem closer than they are). And note how this page ends with us waiting to see what happens next. We have to wait to flip the page to see what happens when Rick pulls the trigger.

© 2020 Marvel Comics Group

But back to making my own comics... So I started doing my scripts as page breakdowns and worked with artists who liked it that way and would build on what I sketched out (Steve Addlesee was great at this, as he would change camera angles and move figures around a bit – he said it made his work better because when he started bringing his vision to it, the work was already more than halfway to where it was going to end up). Steve and I were great collaborators. (BTW, I found out recently that when Jim Shooter was a teenager writing the Legion of Superheroes for DC, he would sketch out the scripts as full breakdowns for the artists; his editor would then rip them to pieces and Jim would have to fix things based on what the Editor wanted). I'm not sure how many comics I did breakdowns for, but it was probably in the range of 250-300 pages, many of which were finished by artists and published in fanzines.

Let's get back to 3D and the discussion at hand.

Now with 3D art, I can cut out the middleman and try to do it all myself: take the images in my mind (and in my thumbnails) and bring them to life. 3D also lets me experiment with subtle changes to the pose and expression and camera angles and sometimes I have a "happy accident" and discover something even better than what I originally imagined.

But, this brings us to the unfortunate fact that most "traditional artists" think that 3D comics are crap. And I have to say that, for the most part, they are right. Not just right, but "100% right." But the traditionalists are almost completely wrong as to WHY. 

3D is not the culprit as to why the finished products seem dull and lifeless. The problem is that most 3D comics are not good comics.

It has nothing to do with the use of 3D tools, it's just that too many 3D artists don't actually read comics on a regular basis, or if they do, they're not reading them to learn anything. @Diva, you kept saying in that example above that it was an EXTREME example. You're partly right, but I also must counter and say, "No, it's not really extreme. It's a standard action page by Jack Kirby." Kirby, of course, is one of the masters of the medium who instrumental in inventing most of the modern tropes of comics as know them today. Do you want to frame a page of dialogue the way it was set up in that page? I hope not! But as far as action goes? Yeah, this is a great page. (If you want to see great dialogue pages, go look up Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore, Bone by Jeff Smith or look at Tomb of Dracula by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colon.)

Anyway, back to my point. Most of the 3D comics I've seen are not well done in terms of storytelling. The artists don't have a grasp of the basics as to when to include an establishing shot, when to allow a scene to play out slowly over a few panels, when to use close-ups and how to frame a scene with dialogue. In short, even if the artists are good at setting up their scenes and getting good lighting (not a lot are, btw, I see LOTS of 3D scenes that are not properly lit to show faces or reactions, or that don't know when to use a silhouette to simplify the composition, like Kirby did in that last panel of the page above). I've seen too many 3D comics that don't tell stories well. The next time you look at a page done in 3D, look at it and ask yourself, if a pro artist of the top caliber were to redraw that page, would it still be a good comics page? Unfortunately, the answer is almost always "no."

So, the solution to getting past the bias of the traditional artists? MAKE GREAT COMICS WITH 3D!

Write a good strip, block out your scenes, arrange your panels well, have good lettering, and above all else, do something in 3D that you cannot do better with hand-drawn comics.

As for something more concrete? Okay, here are some tips for 3D comics creators:

  • Thumbnail your pages before you start setting up your scenes. No movie director would ever start a shoot without storyboards, and almost every professional comics artist does thumbnails or breakdowns, so why wouldn't you?
  • Don't be afraid to tilt the camera (straight on shots are dull – we all know that, so why do I see so many of them?).
  • Change the focal length on your camera (I cannot tell you how SHOCKED I am that most 3D artists tell me that they almost never change the focal length to get different results for different shots). Photographers may use 35mm lenses as the standard, but professional portrait photographers use lenses between 50mm - 100mm. 
  • Don't be afraid of shadows (let figures be in silhouette sometimes).
  • Light the heroes faces enough so that we can see reactions.
  • Think about Character Design like a pro: Even in silhouette or at a great distance, you can easily tell Batman and Superman apart. If you have a group of soldiers, then use some bit of color or something on their uniforms to help us tell them apart. No, you don't have to be as vivid as the Power Rangers, but those crazy costumes make it VERY clear who's who.
  • Don't be afraid to edit. Sometimes you can put a lot of work into a panel or page and it just doesn't work. Don't be lazy and keep it – toss it out and start over.
  • On the other hand, don't cripple your output with perfectionist tendencies like I do! Sometimes you've gotta just cut your losses and move on to the next page or the next illustration.
  • Above all else, read comic books done by great creators!
  • Anyway, I hope this gives you guys something to think about. And I hope I didn't come off as a preachy jerk.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Insectoid [Galaxy Prime]

 Here's the final illustration that I created for the Sector Treks anthology being published by Epic Age Media. The deadline on this one was super, super short (in other words, I was behind schedule again). So I repurposed an older character study and updated it to fit the format for this book. The problem was, all I really had was an alien standing menacingly in front of a starfield. 

I thought about adding another ship back there, but I really didn't have anything ready and none of the ships I had available looked "alien" enough for this race. So, I opted to do something simple that would harken back to the 1970s and 80s: The giant head floating in space.

© 2020 Mike Mitchell

As you can see, it's really just a simple render with the shadows being set to vanish (I used the Screen Blending Mode in Clip Studio Paint – this makes the solid blacks disappear). All in all, pretty good for a quickie (definitely less than an afternoon's work).

Monday, July 6, 2020

Claim Jumper [Galaxy Prime] selected as a Poser Staff Pick of the Week

I did five illustrations for the interior of the upcoming Galaxy Prime: Galaxy Treks rpg supplement. And I'm pleased to say that one of them has been selected by the staff at Renderosity as a "Staff Pick of the Week." In this case, it is the one that gave me the most trouble: Claim Jumper.

© 2020 Mike Mitchell

As before, this is a nice honor to be recognized from among the many great illustrations that are posted to the Renderosity website. This week they selected six illustrations, and as usual, I'm the only one working in b&w. Although this time there was another "artistic" render in the mix, which was rather nice. 

If you'd like to see my illustration at Renderosity, you can find it here:

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Why do I love comics?

The other day, someone on Facebook asked this question:

What is your philosophy? Why do you do comics? Whats your biggest motivator, and why do you choose the genre you do?

This is my reply:

I do not have a philosophy, but I love the medium because it is the perfect fusion of word and image. You can show things faster than you can describe them in a novel. Likewise, you can go deeper into thoughts than you can with film. A perfect comic book story cannot be told only with pictures or only with words: It takes both.

As for genre? I don't work in only one genre – that would be too limiting. I have too many stories to tell to be limited to just one.

I certainly could have gone on longer, but I didn't feel the need. I think I summed it up fairly well.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Hot Pursuit (Galaxy Prime)

Here's the next illustration created for the Galaxy Treks book coming out by Epic Age Media. This one is another reworking of an earlier piece I did for a sci-fi comic I'm working on. I had a bit of fun with this one, and once more I fell back to using what is fast becoming one of my favorite celestial bodies (at least visually): Jupiter's moon, Ganymede. It just has a really cool look to it (especially when I used a posterize effect on it).

In this one, the thing that gave me fits were the laser pulses.

Rather than just draw them in postwork (which, in retrospect, would have been easier), I wanted them to have a realistic rounded edge to them. So, I set up two rows of about 15 little "pills/capsules" in Poser and parented them to the pursuit ship. This gave me a great prop to work with that maintained the proper position and aspect ration as I put them into the scene.

Of course, this turned out to be a problem and I had a lot of issues with them. I tried all sorts of experiments to get a good look out of them, and they just didn't work. I even spent about two hours applying little, feathered motion lines after each pulse. That was a colossal waste of time!

I finally fell back on semi-transparent fills with a slight gray glow effect. All in all, it works well enough. And I am pleased with the dramatic effect of moving the lead ship off the page: it just screams of action.

© 2020 Mike Mitchell

Standard workflow applies: Poser Pro 11 and Clip Studio Paint.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Space Station Sector 4 [Galaxy Prime]

The second completed illustration for the upcoming Galaxy Prime RPG supplement: Galaxy Treks. On a production note, this will be printed in b&w on a 6x9 page. I'm working at 900 dpi so – if needed – this could be blown up to a cover or poster. I'm creating a series of 5 illustrations: one per chapter in the book. I've got a great deal of artistic freedom on this project. I was given a one-sentence description of each chapter, and this one simply said "This one takes place on a space station."

As usual, my workflow consists of creating two renders in Poser Pro 11 and then combining them (and doing additional touch-ups) in Clip Studio Paint.

© 2020 Mike Mitchell

And I owe a special thanks to Bob Keck. He saw an earlier version of this illustration and suggested pulling the entire space station out of the frame (previously, the station was smaller and the wheel was inside the circle). This suggestion really helped make this illustration work on a whole different level.

I also thank Divamakeup from the Daz forums. She provided some great tips about where to place the motion lines for the shuttle. 

Both of their contributions made this a much stronger illustration.