From Script to Art: Taking Spacepig Hamadeus from an idea to reality

At some point during the early stages of creating the Spacepig Hamadeus and the Ambush at the Hourglass Sea prequel, I decided it might be interesting to document the artistic process that goes in to creating a book, from idea to finished files sent off to the printer. Read on to see what was involved in getting this book done, using the third panel on the third page as an example!

Art Process

1. Plot and Script

This first step is possibly the most time consuming in the process – coming up with a story that’s worth the effort of going through the five steps that come afterwards! Once the story is plotted out, with attention given to timing, pacing, and making the thing entertaining, it’s time to be scripted. Scripting is the process of creating dialogue, or the words that will eventually fill the balloons. Some creators like to leave the scripting to the end, but I like to know how my story is going to flow before I start laying down the artwork.

Here is the relevant portion of my script that relates to the panel I’ll examine for the rest of this blog entry. I’ve greyed out portions of the script so that they don’t spoil the story that’s being told in upcoming issues!

2. Blueline and Pencils

Once I’ve completed the rough layout in my sketchbook, it’s time to start working on the art board that will become the final scannable artwork.

Here, we see the panel in question. I started out drawing it loosely in blue line pencil – this stage can still be seen in the hologram figure on the right, as well as the word balloon labeled “3”. Blue line pencil is a great tool for doing layouts, as it doesn’t tend to show up in the scan of the artwork, and if it does, it’s easy to eliminate it later in Photoshop. It’s also a softer lead, which allows me to draw in really thick likes allowing me to build each form easier than if I had to cover the same amount of space with a thinner lead.

Because it doesn’t show up on scans, it’s also handy for making notes in the margins. Interestingly, I made a note to myself that the outside of the XT-47 cockpit should be “Space w/ stars”. As you’ll see in the final drawing, since Hamadeus is already on the planet, the finished art shows the shoreline of the Hourglass Sea. My mistake, which is exactly what blue line pencils are good for!

The rest of the panel has had the rough blue lines tightened up by using a regular graphite pencil. I tend to do an initial line with a lighter, harder lead, like a 6H, and my final pencil lines with a thicker, darker lead, like a 4B.

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You’ll notice that even though my initial idea in the script called for the speaking hologram to be only a head, I made a decision once I started laying down the pencils to make it a full figure.

3. Inks

Next, the penciled artwork is further refined using India ink. I use a combination of brushes and markers – brushes give a more fluid and varying width in the lineart, while markers are good for a line of more uniform thickness. Keeping that in mind, I used markers for the panel borders, as well as for most of the interior of the ship. Characters or things that aren’t metal or machines get rendered with a Sable brush.

One neat little trick I gleaned from staring at far too many Bill Sienkiewicz artwork, is employed in the mountains in the background. In order to try to give some semblance of motion, I used a brush to paint spatters and streaks of white paint over the background art.

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4. Flats

The artwork is then scanned in to the computer, and the colouring process begins. The first step is called “flatting”, which is just the process of laying down the base colour composition in flat colours. The general rule of thumb is darker, warmer colours pop forward and are thus used objects closer to the viewer, and lighter, cooler colours recede, and are best used in backgrounds. So Hamadeus’ base colours are red and bright, while things that are past him are a cooler, lighter blue.

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5. Digital painting

Once the flats are complete, it’s time to use Photoshop’s tools to do some digital painting, also called modeling. My style on this book uses brushes for the backgrounds (see the interior of the spaceship), and flat colours on characters (see Spacepig Hamadeus). It’s a style that’s inspired by numerous Disney cartoons. Check out Bambi for a great example of flat coloured characters on lushly painted backgrounds.

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6. Special effects

As a final step in the colouring process, some special effects are added in Photoshop, in this case it’s a light green glow on the instrument panels of the spaceship, and the eyes of Hamadeus’ robot friend, 6-ELA. Also, a white glowing effect is added to the man appearing in the hologram message to the right.

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7. Lettering

Finally, the dialogue written in the script is added to the artwork. This is done using Adobe Illustrator, and this page in particular was lettered by veteran pro Bryan Senka. Here, he’s chosen to differentiate the word balloon for the hologram from the traditional oval, white balloons in order to give the text a different ‘voice’.

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Once the lettering is complete, Bryan Senka gives me the finished files for printing in .eps format, and it’s off to the printers!

Boy, this makes it look so easy!

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