Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Second Verse, (Hopefully Not) Same as the First

I’m visiting my wife's family in Seoul for a couple of weeks, which means I’m temporarily Cintiq-less. We timed this trip to coincide with preproduction on issue #2 of Nonplayer, so I’ve been concepting, writing, and doing some rough layouts on a “pad,” which is a non-digital wood-pulp-based substrate for graphite residue. I think it might be broken, though. The undo button doesn’t seem to work.

I skimped on the preproduction for issue #1, and everything took twice as long because of it. Driven by a desire to show pretty pictures to my friends as quickly as possible, I hung my final artwork on some very flimsy layouts -- sometimes they weren’t much more than stick figures. No surprise, then, that I ended up redrawing a lot of finished panels because of botched camera angles and bad poses.

Here at the beginning, it turns out you have to go slow to go fast. A little extra clarity, especially during the layout phase, can give you a lot more confidence going into the final artwork. It doesn’t hurt that when you finish clean layouts you’ve got the bones and muscles of your finished book, and you can recruit friends and family to catch storytelling errors (which, at my level, are plentiful).

When I commence final artwork, I’ll be trying out a new Japanese illustration program called IllustStudio. I still haven’t dug too deeply into it, but here’s what makes it cool: it has the UI of a raster-based art program, but the linework is vector-based (actually, raster-based is also available, but meh). The interface is not such a far cry from Photoshop -- you’ve got brushes, a palette, fill tools, that sort of thing. Using the Cintiq, you make the same kind of varied, tapering linework that’s possible in Photoshop. But underneath it all, there are vectors instead of pixels. This means the following:
  1. Linework can be modified after the fact, either by dragging the line or modifying its thickness.
  2. Image resolution is immaterial -- you can blow your image up to the size of a building without any blurring or pixelation.
  3. The line can be auto-smoothed as it’s drawn, cancelling out shakiness and freeing me from one of the most time-consuming rituals of issue #1: redrawing long, curved lines again and again until my wrists exploded.
There are lots of other promising functions -- I’m particularly interested in an auto-masking tool that prevents color from crossing adjacent linework. There are some nice perspective aids, as well. Here’s some mind-altering video of IllustStudio in action. As I get deeper into issue #1, I’ll post some more reactions to the software.

Finally, I’m trying to figure out if I want to set up an online store for Nonplayer merchandise. I’m not really sure what kinds of things people would be interested in finding there. I think poster-sized reproductions of individual pages might be fun. T-shirts, maybe? The thing I’m really excited about is figurines -- with 3D printing technology in its current state, there are some ridiculously detailed collectible sculptures making the rounds. I wouldn’t mind having a nice little sculpture of the guy on the cover riding his steed. Would you mind having that?

It sure would be swell if Nonplayer could start helping out with some bills. Heck, I’d settle for one bill. Nonplayer, please pay our Netflix bill. Thank you.

As always, an official publishing announcement is right around the corner. Man, this sure is a long corner.


  1. Holy bug balls, Batman... That program looks amazing.

    Have a great trip!

  2. Interesting, haven't heard of IllustStudio before - I will have to investigate. I've seen great work done with Manga Studio; have you tried that, and if so how do its line features compare?

  3. I hate to ask, but how did you buy IllustStudio? Aside from importing an actual CD, I can't figure out how to buy it.

  4. Lack of free rotation and drawing vectors are the two major gripes I have with Photoshop. Painter has free rotation, but no vector drawing.

    Does IllustStudio come in an English flavor?

  5. I love me my action figures, but finding an affordable way to produce them will be a bugger. That section caught my eye cause I've recently tried to get into some basic prop reproduction as a side hobby. Do you have access to a 3d printer through a friend or university? Otherwise, all the places I've seen charge gross sums to knock your design out for you. Might get lucky and find a cheaper one, but then you gotta figure out how to turn the prototype into multiple figures. Would you mold and cast them yourself and do the whole thing independently?

  6. Eagle - Thanks! Yeah, that program looks sweet. The only question mark for me is how it'll handle high line-densities. I hope my machine doesn't bog. We'll see!

    doubleclicktf - I've heard a lot of people sing Manga Studio's praises, but I haven't tried it myself. If someone else around here has tried it out, I'd love to hear how their feature sets compare.

    Craig - My friends and I did a group buy through an import company (one of us is Japanese, and he had a connection). We ended up paying a hundred bucks per copy (it retails for 70 in Japan). Otherwise, your best bet is to have a friend in Japan buy it for you. There may be other quasi-legal methods of obtaining the program...

    kingworks - There is an English UI file that you can plug in after you install. It can be found all over the net. It's a little spotty, but good enough that you can find your way around.

    Theora - My friends at Uber Entertainment just did a bunch of large-run figures through It sounds like limited runs are gruesomely expensive (in the mid- to high-hundreds for a single figure) but once you move to large-scale production the costs come way down. It takes a bit of capital (I think they sank several thousand into their first run). If they sell, they'll make their money back. If they don't, I guess you end up with a couple of warehouses' worth of very expensive paperweights.

  7. Very interesting insights, indeed!

    I too have noticed how well some adept pre-production can affect the efficiency of producing the final artwork. Basically, speedbumps are a lot less frustrating early on, even though they may take about the same amount of time to work through. It's a lot more stressful (for me) to correct a notable mistake during the actual production of a final page than it is to do a few rounds of trial-and-error on thumbnails and roughs.

  8. I have used both Photoshop and Manga Studio and although MS has some amazing features it really doesn't do half of what appears to be possible on IllustStudio. It's great for inking digitally mostly due to the pen selections and the auto smoothing feature (which works extremely well) but I found everything else cumbersome to the p[oint where I dropped using it altogether.

    Nate, I am very curious to see how you do with IllustStudio, looking forward to further comments on it... I still draw my graphic novel entirely by hand for lack of a decent tool (pre and post production are all in PS) so if this one actually works...

  9. What you describe in IlluStudio is exactly how lines behaved in USAnimation, the software we used when I worked as an animator. I'm so glad to hear there's now an art software with htose characteristics! Is it only in Japanese, or do you know of an English-language version?
    I so wish I could afford ZBrush, I've been looking all over for a way to make figurines for my comic, at least on a small scale. It's a whim but it would be SO much fun! In your case, you simply MUST make posters of your pages, I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd like to see those details nice and big on my wall!

  10. Michael Mayne - Yep, exactly. Though I find it much easier to tell others to take preproduction seriously than to actually take it seriously, myself. Impatience will be my undoing.

    tripierjean - I'll be doing another post about IllustStudio now that I've played with it a little. Short version: it's amazing. Unless there's some bugaboo waiting in the wings (stability issues, maybe?), this is going to be my drawing program of choice for a long time to come.

    Joumana - IllustStudio is only officially released in Japanese, but there's an English translation file that's floating around on the internet. Not a perfect translation, but close enough that you can figure out what does what. I'll be posting again on this topic -- I think you'll find that it's a very, very cool program.

    And thanks for the poster advice! I do believe I will follow it.

  11. Did you say $70 in Japan? Sounds like a pretty good deal. I'll definitely consider trying that one out. On the other hand, I've had the free MangaStudio demo on my HD for a while now, and still haven't gotten around to trying it. :-/

  12. colin - Definitely worth a try. I've never used Manga Studio -- I'd be curious to hear how it compares to IllustStudio. Lots of big MangaStudio fans out there!