And now, page two…

Here is page two of my FutureQuake strip. Pencilling them is taking longer than I thought (I had hoped to do a page a day, not a page every two days), but I’m getting faster as I go along, so hopefully I can back on track. It’s a long time since I did any comic book illustration, but I’m slowly getting back into the groove.

Page 2

Jellied Eels Page 1

Finally, some progress with the comic book artwork

I have really been struggling to find time to work on my FutureQuake comic strip, but I think I’ve finally managed to make some headway. I’m currently still at the “design phase”, trying to solidify a look for the main character (Psion) and some of the hardware that features in Neil’s script.

Psion’s ship features quite heavily, and I created a design which I liked, but which would have been an absolute sod to draw repeatedly. As we’ve recently started experimenting with using Google SketchUp for creating rough 3D mockups of environment concepts at work, I thought creating Psion’s ship would be an interesting learning experience. It has the added advantage of allowing me to pose the 3D model for each frame of the comic strip, so that I can quickly trace over it to create the complete panel layout. This should save time in the long run, as the ship has a complex geometric shape, and it would have been time consuming and difficult to get the perspective right each time. SketchUp has the further advantage that it can create quick and accurate shadows, which should improve the look of the finished artwork too.

However, as is always the way, creating the model took longer than I had hoped. I’ve done very little 3D modelling (read: almost none), and SketchUp is quite different in concept and execution to the only other package I’ve used (Autodesk Maya PLE 2008), so there were a few false starts, and quite a few bad words uttered. Once I started to understand the principles though, it was very rewarding to work on, and I’ve ended up adding much more detail than I originally intended. Still, I’m very pleased with the results, and the time and effort invested in creating this model should add to the quality of the finished strip. It’s also taught me some useful SketchUp tricks that should make my next foray into 3D modelling quicker and less sweary.

Below as some 2D exports of the model. I haven’t bothered colouring or texturing it; I’ll be overpainting the renders, so there is no point. I have added a quick SketchUp style to the model to make it look a bit swankier though.

Flight Mode

Terrapin in Flight Mode.

Hopefully it’s evident that I designed the ship to resemble a terrapin. It’s not as flat or wide as I originally envisaged, but once I started constructing it in SketchUp, it looked a bit too much like a Pop Tart, so I steepened the angles of the fuselage.

Low Altitude Flight

Terrapin in Low Altitude Flight.

The outboard engines function as manoeuvring and landing thrusters, as well as landing gear. The design mimics the legs and toes of a terrapin (hopefully).

On the Ground

Terrapin in Low Altitude Flight.

Once on the ground, the flaps that help direct the thrust from the manoeuvring motors form the “toes” of the terrapin, and help to give it quite an aggressive, taut appearance. I’ve also added vents that open to cool the engines.

There are lots of details I’d like to add if I have time; the ramp that forms the door under the chin of the ship could be fleshed out so that I can show it open, and the inside of the cooling vents needs some work (fins, mechanical gubbins, that sort of thing). But now that the model is finished enough to pose, I need to crack on with getting the panels started. I’ve added these images, and a few more views of the Terrapin from different angles, to my Comic Book portfolio page.

After all that work though, I just hope that Neil likes it.

Getting to grips with some comic book art

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be commissioned to illustrate a story for the next issue of Futurequake. I’ve been given a great script, written by Neil Merrett, and I’ve recently set about designing the main character, Psion. In his script, Neil describes her as follows:

A heavily armed woman with long auburn hair is seen standing with her back to the reader. She should be covered in weapons that include grenades, tools and guns. Most visible though is a serrated sword positioned in a sheath or holster on her back with a [REDACTED] as a handle.

Here is my first completed sketch:

Psion, Fully armed

Although I’m quite happy with the image (I have no idea yet if it fits Neil’s idea of the character), what I’ve realised creating this image is that I’ll have to tone down the complexity of the design considerably if I want to be able to reproduce it in several comic book panels. It’s not that I can’t draw something this complex over and over, it’s just that I simply don’t have time to keep reproducing it.

As I expected, moving back into comic book illustration is a bit of a gear change from videogame concept art, and it’s going to take me a little while to adjust to the demands of a different genre. It’s fun though. So far I’m really enjoying myself.

More changes to Image Engine (significant ones this time)

I’ve made some important enhancements to Image Engine, and bumped the version number to 4.0.2. Significant changes are as follows:

  • Introduced improved handling of missing or incomplete HTML elements.

  • Made a change to the method used to capture the slide description. Instead of trying to step through the child nodes of the <dd> element, the entire innerHTML string is captured. This enables the use of anchor tags and other formatting within the image descriptions.

  • Added support for unordered lists – <ul>, as well as definition lists – <dl>. Using unordered lists means that there will be no image description; only the image title and the slide number will be displayed.

  • If no alt attribute is supplied for the slide thumbnails, then an attempt will be made to parse the filename from the image path.

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Minor changes to the Image Engine pre-caching policy

I’ve made a small tweak to the Image Engine Javascript that drives my portfolio browser. In the initial release, the script automatically started pre-caching all the full-sized images as soon as the page had finished loading. Now only the first 5 images are pre-cached; after that, images are loaded on demand as they are selected. This reduces the bandwidth hit that a visitor would suffer when visiting a page with a lot of slides.

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Introducing my brand new portfolio pages

This evening I am very pleased to be able to announce the launch of my brand new portfolio pages, featuring more than 100 samples of artwork from the last 15 years that I have been working as a professional artist.

This is made even more exciting for me as I’m using new slide show software that I have designed and written myself. For the last few years I’ve been using an open source solution called Gallery to display my artwork. Despite being an impressive piece of software, some time ago I came to the realisation that it’s not the best fit for my needs. It’s very feature rich, and with that comes a level of complexity that isn’t justified by the number and type of images that I want to display. It also uses a lot of hacks to maintain compatibility with older browsers, and despite my best efforts I haven’t managed to set it up so that it produces standards compliant HTML, something that is very important to me.

Some months ago I had the seed of an idea for creating a very simple, lightweight browser image viewer that can be configured just by editing very clean, simple, standards compliant HTML (or XHTML). This seed has grown to become Image Engine 4.0, and sees me returning to a home grown solution for displaying my images after nearly 5 years using Gallery.

I’m very pleased with the results; I think it looks nice, and it has made adding more than 100 images very simple indeed (it only took me a couple of hours to add all the images, including typing all the descriptions). I’m so pleased that I’ve decided to make the Image Engine available as free to use software. It’s still in the early stages of development, and there are a number of features I’d like to add as time goes by, but at the moment it works, and works well. I will be adding content to the Project Page over the next few weeks, so if you would like to use this software on your own site, please check back soon, or contact me.