This week I’m going to go over how I put together some FX. Part of this blog is a preview of Friday’s page. Everything I do is with Photoshop CS5.
Danny’s script for this page involved a conversation between Becky and our friendly apparation, William Bark, as they walked through the Maestro lab. Because of the specific style I went with when portraying ghosts, I have to draw the full backgrounds behind them.
I then turn that layer off and draw Bark on a separate layer. In the layers I have a ‘Ghost’ group that contains the line-work, the color fill and the color rendering.
I add a Layer Style glow to the fill layers. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to mask off where the glow leaks into other panels. Does anybody have a solution for this?
Because I can’t figure out how to mask off where the glow leaks into other panels, I rasterize the fill layers and just chop off the excess glow.
I then use a couple of grey multiply layers and a 20% opacity white layer to do some color rendering. I use color fill layers a lot because it allows me to easily change work I’ve done and I don’t have constantly check a color palette because the palette is engraved in the layer.
Here I’ve brought back the rest of the panel.
And here I’ve reduced the opacity of the entire Ghost layer group to 85%.
Jesus, that’s a lot of yakking on Page 22. How the hell does Brian Bendis do it? I wonder if he uses a metronome like David Mamet does. But I don’t want to talk about Bendis or Mamet. I wanna talk about me and how I write dialogue.
I’m a pretty dialogue-oriented guy in general. I’m pretty quiet in person, but I put a lot of emphasis on conversation. I crave having a good conversation like some people crave drugs or fried food. I crave it like I crave coffee. The meaningful exchange of ideas and possibly jokes? That’s my shit, y’all.
As such, the stuff I write always tends to have a lot of talking, which some might tell you is the antithesis of visual storytelling. Obviously, the stuff people do in conversation tells a certain kind of story (like I said in a previous blog post), but oftentimes it seems like talky = bad in many readers’ eyes. That’s probably not the case, though. More likely it’s that talkiness without sufficient payoff is bad, whether that’s dramatic tension or conflict or what.
As a kid, I hated Peter David’s X-Factor because it didn’t have all the punching of the other X-Books of the early ’90s. As I grew up a little, I came to love that issue where Doc Samson gives every member of the team a psychiatric evaluation. Issues like that are great because you spend some time with the characters outside of fighting and hopefully learn something about them — if the writer has done his or her job.
My approach to writing dialogue is this: don’t be boring. Make sure it feels natural enough (or not, depending on what you’re going for), and pepper in some jokes and specificity to let the reader know that these aren’t just ciphers who exist to move the story along, but attempts at creating people that feel alive.
Let’s look at Page 22:
The layout we came up for this one isn’t all that dynamic or anything. Two tiers of repeating panels that mimic static camera takes — something you might find in a Matt Fraction comic like The Order or Invincible Iron Man. Basically, I wanted the interrogation scenes to have a different flavor from the other parts. More rigid repetition, focus on what they’re saying and how they say it, considering they’re just sitting in chairs and blabbing in a grimy green room.
Scripting dialogue-centric pages is relatively easy — technically, at least. Start out by write out all the dialogue, the back and forth. Don’t concern yourself with the panels just yet. If the dialogue is the point of the scene, then you have to let that drive your scripting of the page. Let yourself get carried away if you must. Write to your heart’s content. Go nuts. Then, you edit. Cut out the fat, figure out how many pages this will take, divide it up into panels in a way that makes sense. Kill your darlings, cut out lines that don’t need to be there if you’re pressed for page space.
Then, you keep editing. Your dialogue scene’s three pages? That’s too much? Figure out how to compress it into two. Or better yet, one.
It’s different if the scene is more complex than just two people talking. In that case it’s a matter of scripting out the action of the page (whatever that means to you — punching, walking across the room, tying somebody up) and then writing in the dialogue.
Extreme example, but peep Page 21:
On this page, action (Becky sneaking into the museum) comes first, with dialogue acting as a secondary element of the scene. She sneaks in, fights some robots, flips past some laser tripwire and gets caught. The dialogue jazzes up the scene by further establishing the relationship between Becky and Bark and offering a bit of both characters’ backstories through off-handed jokes and comments. It’s totally secondary and the page could ULTIMATELY do without it (up until the bottom tier) but I think it offers a degree of pacing to the page where a completely silent page encourages most readers to rush through.
Pacing. That’s a subject for another blog, isn’t it?
Color flatting is the process of creating base colors for a comic book page before doing final renders. It’s the most boring, uncreative and technical stage of creating a finished page and takes a couple of hours on average to do (depending on the detail of the page). Because it’s a time suck and doesn’t require much creativity, most professional colorists in the industry outsource the job. From my understanding, the average going rate is about $10 a page.
I use Photoshop for everything I do on this comic. I don’t have much training in the program, so this blog is likely going to sound like a layman explaining how to use it. For flatting, you can either use the lasso tool by slowly filling in every section or you can speed up the process by using the bpelt plug-in.
This is my process using the plug-in. The example I’m using is for a cover image for The Ghost Engine.
This is the line art for the cover. I created this in Photoshop CS5 with a Wacom Cintiq 21UX. What’s helpful here is that the page is already a digital file and the line-work is already separated into individual layers from the white areas. In some cases, you’ll be dealing with a scanned image and you’ll need to find a way to get rid of the white areas. (I would just use Select > Color Range)
Because I’ve done this enough, I prepare for the flatting during the drawing process by putting things that will get in the way later on in separate layers. At this point I turn those layers off. They include Becky’s hair strands and fishnets and Price’s stubble. I also turn off the energy effect layer because I plan to do it separately so I can affect it’s transparency. I copy this flattened image into a new file. I’ll eventually come back to the original file, but this new one will eventually become a page of blocked out color areas that I’ll bring back into the original file as a new layer.
In order for the plugin to work, the file needs it’s color mode to be RGB (or CMYK). There also needs to only be black and white (no greys) in the file. To get rid of all but the black and white, you need to turn it into a bitmap file. You then need to turn it back in to an RGB file so that the plug-in can work. Unfortunately when it comes to changing color modes in photoshop, you have to do things in order. You can’t go from color to bitmap directly. You first need to convert color to greyscale to be able to then turn it into a bitmap. so basically when you start with this file you need to convert it from RGB to greyscale, from greyscale to bitmap, from bitmap to greyscale and then from greyscale back to RGB.
This is what my file looked like in the beginning before I turned it into a bitmap. Every line has a soft edge to it, which are blacks transitioning to the white.
This is what the file looks like after I’ve turned it into a bitmap file. There’s only two color types here: black and white. All the greys have been destroyed. This ruins your linework, but it doesn’t matter because when we’re done with this file, there will be nothing but sections of color.
Make sure you’ve installed the Bpelt plug-in, which includes ‘Flatten’ and ‘MultiFill’. Go to filter > bpelt > multifill and then press okay on the window that pops up. How the plugin works is that it fills different colors into all the white spaces in between the blacks.
This is the file that you’ll end up with.
From here you can test out how filter > bpelt > flatten works. The flatten plugin basically gets rid of all the black. If you just stop here and use this file, though, you’ll end up with a file that isn’t quite as easy to work with as you want. Becky’s hair is about 20 different colors, when I want it to be just one.
Undo the flatten plugin to bring the black lines back and you can see that Becky’s skin is a couple of different colors. Also, under her eye, her eyelashes are holding a couple of colors as well.
Undo the Multifill to go back to the black and white image and start breaking up the lines so that paths can be created for the colors to leak into areas that you want them to be in. I took the pencil brush (remember that we don’t want to use any brush that will create greys) and cut the line for the nose bridge with a white brush. I also broke up the eyelash lines under the eye.
From here, I use the Multifill plugin again and now most of her skin is the same blocked out color area. Now I just need to do this for the entire page. Use Ctrl+F (CMD+F for Mac users) and undo to go back and forth constantly to see what you’ve missed.
As you can see here, I’ve circled some problems that occur all through a page. Because the pixels are so close together, new colors are created for these small spaces. You need to train your eye to look out for these. You’re always going to miss sections, though. (hell, I now notice that I missed circling a spot between her cheek and hair)
Here I took a brush to open up those spaces a bit.
And now when I re-do the Multifill (Ctrl+F), those spaces are fixed. (except for the one I missed)
This is what your final file will look like after you’ve gone over everything. I’ve broken up lines in Price’s hair and throughout his face and mouth.
And this is what it looks like when I use the Multifill plugin. Compared to when I first used the Multifill before I started breaking up lines, this is a lot better and saves a lot more time later on.
From there I use the flatten plugin to get rid of the black lines and I notice that it wasn’t as clean as I’d hoped.
Here I’ve circled all the bits of color that I need to get rid of. Just use the selection tool (with anti-alias off) to grab those areas and make them the color they should be.
And this is what it looks like cleaned up.
Here’s what the final file looks like when I’m done with it.
From there I copy and paste that color image into my original file from the very beginning of this exercise. I place it under the line art.
I then use the selection tool to make all the colors exactly what I want them to be.
And this is what it looks like with the line art on.
And here’s the final image. This is the most streamlined process for flatting that I’ve come up with. If anyone knows of any steps to make my process better or faster, please let me know!