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December 26, 2014

Season's Bleatings!

I had the honor of drawing a holiday card for one of my favorite organizations this year, The Harry Potter Alliance.  HPA co-founder Paul DeGeorge sent me a couple of ideas over email, and then after a round of sketches, he decided on a depiction of the Dumbledores having a quiet Christmas at Aberforth's house, with all his goats:

I added the message "Season's Bleatings" inside, a pun that I lifted from an old Nickelodeon Magazine illustration that Aaron Renier did.  Nick editor Chris Duffy said it was okay for me to reuse this joke, though he couldn't remember exactly who came up with it.  So thanks to whoever came up with that pun!

As 2014 comes to a close, I'm realizing that I've done a crummy job documenting all the illustration work I did this year.  To rectify this, I'm going to put up some "2014 recap" posts over the next couple of weeks.  I'm also thinking about writing a series of posts about how my comics process has changed recently.  Anyway, there's a lot of new stuff on the way!  Until then, I hope everyone's 2014 wraps up well and that your 2015s get off to a good start!

November 8, 2014

L'employé du Moi Animation: Part 5

Okay, my animation for L'employe du Moi is done!  In my previous post I showed the final pencil test, so all that remained was to ink the pencils.  I did this with a Pilot Precise V7 "fine" ballpoint pen for outlines and an extra-fine Rotring Art Pen for crosshatching and details.  I had to spread the work out over a few nights to get it done without going crazy (inking the same thing over and over again).

Once that was done, I scanned everything in and started compositing all the pieces.  It took a bit of work to clean all of the intersecting points (like where Argus's hands hit the cart).  Anyway, here is the finished product, which is 2.9 MB.  It might take a few moments for it to load, depending on your connection:

Overall, I'm pretty happy with how this turned out.  There's a few things I would change if I had to do it over again, but for now I'm going to leave it as is.  I'm leaving this project with pretty much the same mindset I came in with: hand-drawn animation is a crazy amount of work for very little reward.  I have no desire to ever become an animator, but I'm glad I worked on this small project which taught we a ton of new stuff, which I'll definitely be able to bring back and apply to my comics work.  I'm very excited to get back to the world of static drawings and panels and page turns!

Before I sign off, I'll give you all one final reminder that L'employé du Moi is currently doing a fundraiser to have a 15th anniversary exhibit at next year's Angoulême festival.  Currently, they need less than 1,000 euros to push them over their goal, and 16 days to reach it.  It's all-or-nothing, so please consider chipping in if you can!  Thanks.

November 4, 2014

L'employé du Moi Animation: Part 4

In my last post I figured out the backgrounds, so it was time to finish up the character animation.  I did a few passes through the 16 frames of my character Argus (from Basewood) to fix some problems, namely:  1) I cleaned up his head shape 2) I toned down the counteraction in the dagger 3) I took out the blink and 4) I added details like his patches, and the straps on his boots.  Here is my final pencil test:

I can still see some things wrong with it, but at this point I'm going to chalk those up as "lessons learned" and keep moving forward.  This has been a fun little activity while I have been on break between issues of Phase 7, but I'm getting antsy to return to comics (where I belong).  I'm going to ink this up and then composite all the various parts.  I'll report back here with the final results!

In the meantime, check out another one of the L'employé du Moi walk cycles that has surfaced, this time by the incredible cartoonist/carpenter Bulu:

If you can't read the French (I can't...) it basically says that L'employé du Moi currently has a fundraiser so that these animations can be displayed at next year's Angoulemê comics festival in France, along with a bunch of other great stuff!  They've got about 2,000 more Euros to raise in the next 19 days, so every little bit helps!  If you are wondering, it is super simple to donate from the USA, the same as any other online transaction.  It took me about 5 minutes to chip in.  If you do so, thanks!  Or... Merci!  ;)

November 1, 2014

L'employé du Moi Animation: Part 3

After my last post, I took a break working on the character animation to work on the background for this animation.  I'm not even sure we're allowed to have backgrounds, but it's easy enough to export two versions (with and without the background) so I decided to use it as an opportunity to try out some new techniques... or at least techniques that were new to me!

I started off by setting up three looping frames of deep background, using some soft pencils and a layer of gray.  It's a pretty repetitive loop, but I felt it was okay because it'll have a lot of unique 16-frame animation on top of it.  Here's what that looks like on its own (1.4 MB animated .gif, might take a moment to load, depending on your connection speed!):

Next, I wanted it to be snowing in this little loop, so first I looked at some animated gifs of actual falling snow.  I noticed right off the bat that there is a little bit of parallax going on, so I decided to create my snow in two layers: 1) foreground snow, which moves very quickly (close up) and 2) background snow which moves a little slower (farther away).

The only way I could think of to do this was to mark out the picture plane and then make some "paths" that I could animate the snow down.  Here's what that template looks like:

The top box is for the background snow and the bottom box is for the foreground snow.  Along the top and right edge you can see various marks - this was me trying to stagger the entrance of the snowflakes.  In the top box, I tried to make a snowflake take 16 frames to go from top to bottom, in the bottom, it only takes 8 frames for a snowflake to go from top to bottom.  So in the top animation, once a snowflake was halfway down, I started another one on the same path.  In the bottom animation, I just had a new flake start as soon as the other one was done.  So with 19 paths in the top animation, with two passes on each, I did about 40 passes on 16 frames, or about 650 snowflakes.  11 paths on the bottom, getting approximately two snowflakes each (the shorter ends get more), on 16 frames that's about 350 snowflakes.  More than 1,000 total!  Enough stats, let's see how they move!  Here's the slower, background snowflakes:

At first, I had about half of the paths start in the same frame, so there is sort of a horizontal gap at one point, but I'm happy enough with this that I don't feel like I need to redo anything.  This was a crazy amount of work, but it really helped me wrap my head around the looping concept.  If a path had a snowflake introduced on frame 2 and 9 I would just reorganize the stack of paper so that loop started on the top.  Here's what the faster moving foreground snowflakes looked like:

The other thing I worked on by doing all of this manually was my sense of timing/spacing.  Just having to animate a dot moving along a path was a great exercise for this.  You can watch any one flake (easier to do with the background flakes), and it slows down slightly if it's moving horizontally (drawn closer together) and faster if it's falling down (drawn further apart).   

The final step was to composite all of these things together.  This isn't perfect, because these are just pencil tests, but at least you can see what I'm going for.  In the final, the foreground flakes will be white in their centers, with a black stroke around the flakes, whereas the background flakes will just be white dots (as they are here).  Again, this animated .gif is 1.4MB so it might take a little while to load, depending on your connection:

Now all I need to do is drop in Argus!  I still need to do one more round of cleanups on his pencils, which I'll post here before putting everything together in the final animation.

The L'employé du Moi fundraiser is currently about 75% of the way to meeting its goal!  If you are enjoying these posts, please consider donating a Euro or two.  They've got about three weeks left to raise the last 25% so that this animation can be displayed in L'employé do Moi's exhibit at Angoulemê next year, along with all the other animations by the rest of their authors.

October 26, 2014

Weezer EWBAITE Pinball T-Shirt

Last week I had the good fortune to design a t-shirt for my all-time favorite band, Weezer.  Some photos of have started to surface of the shirt (already on sale!) so I thought I'd do a quick post about this design, which was one of the craziest illustration jobs I have ever done.

At this point I've drawn a few things for Weezer, plus I recently completed my Weezer Fan Trilogy of comic books, so a few weeks back Karl asked me to submit an idea for a Weezer T-Shirt.  The design needed to focus on their (AMAZING) new album, Everything Will Be Alright In The End because the EWBAITE tour was fast approaching!

For a few years now I have been putting out a pinball fanzine called Drop Target with my buddy Jon Chad.  In the middle of each issue we have a "Dream Machine" section where we draw the playfield for an imaginary pinball machine that we wish existed.  There is so much great imagery in EWBAITE, I thought it would be cool to represent all of the songs in a single pinball playfield.

On October 13th, I sent Karl a little PDF that laid out my sketch and explained the concept, so that he could show it to the band and their management or whoever makes these decisions.  If you can't tell, I  based the layout on the 1984 Williams game Space Shuttle (a secret nod to The Astronauts for any Weezer Fan Club members out there).  Here's the page where I laid out all the features (click all the images in this post to see them bigger):

I really wasn't sure if Weezer would go for this design.  For me, it's the intersection of so many cool things that I love, it almost makes my brain explode to look at it, but I knew I wasn't seeing it objectively.  I love Weezer and pinball way too much, so I just left it up to them to make the call.

On October 20th at 10:30am Karl emailed me to say that the sketch was approved but also that the design was being "fast tracked" and that he needed it "tonight" if that was humanly possible.  I told him I might be able to get it in before the printers got to work the next day, so we set a deadline of 8:00am the following morning.  I canceled everything I had planned for the rest of the day, and started drawing at 11am.

It ended up taking me 20 consecutive hours of drawing to finish the t-shirt and do all the production work.  It was pretty brutal, (and honestly I don't think I would have been able to do it if I didn't draw a 24-Hour Comic every year!) but I kept telling myself "This is the coolest thing I have ever drawn!!! For WEEZER!!!" so I gave it my all, and worked through the night.

The hardest part was the lower playfield, which showcases the last three tracks on the album, The Futurescope Trilogy, which are mostly instrumental.  Luckily, this Weezer Fan Club member named TJ McDonald did a 5,000 word analysis of those tracks, which really helped me figure out some visuals to use (thanks TJ!).  By 5pm I had the lower playfield penciled in.  By 10pm I had the whole playfield penciled and then by 3am I had it all inked.  If you look carefully at the process pictures above, you can see me sneaking more and more stuff into the playfield - deep references from lyrics, or the packaging of the album, or the teaser videos that led up to its release.  I tried to put as much cool stuff in there as possible, for my fellow Fan Club members.

From 3am-6am I worked on digitally coloring the playfield and then separating out all of the files for the t-shirt printer.  My idea was to use a brown shirt and then print white, orange and black ink on it (colors from the album cover).  I sent off the final, print-ready files at 7am on October 21st, an hour before the deadline, and then finally went to sleep!

Last night Weezer played their first concert of the EWBAITE tour in Philadelphia, on October 26th and they already had my shirts for sale - "fast track" indeed!  Here is a photo of the merch table, by another Fan Club member, Nick Lombardo - you can see my shirt in the upper right corner (also, the epic Luke Pearson Rebel Weezer Alliance poster front and center!):

This was obviously a dream job for me, and I'm pretty pumped to see this t-shirt in person at the Weezer show in San Francisco a week from today!

UPDATE: You can now buy my pinball T-shirt in the Weezer online store!

October 19, 2014

L'employé du Moi Animation: Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, my French-language publisher, L'employé du Moi is currently raising funds for their 15th anniversary exhibit at next year's Angoulême International Comics Festival.  As part of that exhibit, each of their authors is working on a small animation based on their logo.

I was hanging out behind the table all day today with my wife Claire at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire, and I brought this project along with me.  I was able to tape my peg bar to a clip board.  I didn't have my lightbox, but I got on okay by just flipping really quickly between two drawings.  Here was my setup:

I was able to make it through all sixteen frames, cleaning up the rough animation.  There are still some problems with the legs, but at this point I think they are as good as they're gonna get.  I also tried to add some "counteraction," which I think was pretty successful in the tip of Argus's beard and his hood, but got pushed too far with his dagger.  I also added a blink which I'm gonna take back out. With a sequence this short (16 frames) it just happens too often.  I'm learning to "Keep It Simple, Stupid." Anyway, here it is:

I'm gonna blame the squishiness of Argus's head on the fact that I didn't have a lightbox.  I'll probably make one more pass to tighten that up a bit, and then also take out the blink, mellow out the dagger movement and add the final details. Then I'm going to ink it!

I took out all of the extra movement from the cart (swinging handle, bouncing carrots) and just inked four frames of this to loop on its own layer.  The jiggling you see is just natural human error in my hand, which I think looks cool.  I also moved the little lump of built-up snow in front of the sled to the ground layer (animated with Argus) so that it has a unique 16-frame pattern instead of looping every four frames, which I think would have been distracting.

I've probably already spent too much time on this thing, but I still have a lot more I want to do with it, so I'll continue posting as I work on it.  Onwards!

October 16, 2014

L'employé du Moi Animation: Part 1

Yikes, it's hard to believe I have not posted in this blog since April!  Ironically, I have been doing a ton of illustration work, I just haven't had time to post it.  Between my various teaching, comics, freelance and relationship obligations (ie having a big wedding celebration!) it was a busy Summer.  Fear not though, I'll do some posts at the end of the year (or early in the new year) to catch you readers up on all the stuff I have been working on.  In the meantime, I wanted to post about a side-project that I'm really excited about...

My french-language comics publisher, L'employé du Moi will be celebrating their 15-year anniversary at next year's Angoulême International Comics Festival.  If they can raise enough funds, they will have a big exhibit at the festival, showcasing some of the work they have published over the last 15 years, including two of my books!

As part of the exhibit, they are trying to get each of their authors to do a small animation loop of the L'employé du Moi logo, which looks like this:

The idea is to edit a bunch of these together and have them on display at the exhibit.  To aid us, they sent along a photoshop file that had a simple walk cycle template drawn into it.  Here's what it looks like, exported as an animated .gif:

There were blank layers built in so you could draw directly into the file, but I don't draw digitally, so I actually printed out all 16 of the frames.  Here was my set-up, using a $15 Plastic Lightfoot Ltd. Round Pegbar taped down to my lightbox, a bunch of copy paper punched with a standard 3-hole punch, a copy of The Animator's Survival Kit, an lead holder with some HB lead and an eraser:

My previous attempts at animation were all pretty rudimentary, so even this tiny project presents a huge leap in complexity for me.  Also I haven't done any of this stuff in about two years, so it felt like starting from scratch.  Initially I punched the holes in the bottom of the template drawings but after working for about two minutes I repunched them all across the top because I didn't like how it felt.  I was learning already! 

I started by tracing my first frame off of the template drawing.  Then, by constantly referencing the Richard Williams book, I was able to add a bit more up and down movement to the walk cycle and to try and get the feet right, which were a bit more detailed in my drawings than in the template drawings.  

I've got a bunch of projects going right now, so it took me about two nights to just rough in the 16 drawings of the character (I decided to use Argus from my graphic novel, Basewood).  Although this was a lot of work, I was having a ton of fun.  At one point I actually felt like I was getting into the flow of things, and I started being able to "see" the movement and what I wanted to do next.  Pretty exciting stuff!

After the drawings were done, I took the plastic peg bar and taped it to the edge of my scanner (not on the glass).  Yes, I have a very nice scanner (thanks, James Patterson).  This was so much faster than setting up Claire's camera and taking photos like I did on my previous animations, and the results were much cleaner as well!

It also meant that all my scans would come into the system perfectly registered.  I just set the scanning software to grab a rectangle where all the action took place and then changed the file name for each drawing as they came in.  Here's what that looks like (click to see bigger):

Once I had all the files in the computer, I ran a quick Photoshop action to rotate them and to darken the line art a little.  Then I used this Script...  I can't remember if this comes with Photoshop, or if I had to install it at some point.  Anyway, it's under File > Scripts > Add Files To Stack... (click to see bigger):

That'll take you to a window like the one below, where you can point it to your folder full of files.  Make sure to name your files with an increasing numeral at the end! Mine were:A_00.jpg A_01.jpg A_02.jpg etc.

That'll create a Photoshop document where each drawing is in its own layer.  Then if you open Window > Timeline (or I think it was "Animation" on previous versions of Photoshop) you'll get a new timeline window.  In the top right there is a little dropdown menu where you can select "Make Frames From Layers":

That'll create one frame in the timeline for each layer.  Usually it brings them in backwards, so you can select "Reverse Frames" from that same menu to get them in the right order.  Once that's done, you have your little animation that you can play with!  Here's how mine turned out -- keep in mind this is just the rough layout!

I'm actually pretty happy with the walk cycle! I can see lots of stuff wrong with it, but for my first one ever, I feel pretty good about this.  I only drew the sled three times on separate sheets of paper, so that I could add it afterwards.  I wanted to have it bumping around a bit, but I'm still playing with it.  My first attempt had it vibrating, so for now I just have one bump in the middle.

Anyway, that's as much as I've done so far.  I'm excited to fix the animation a bit, and to start adding more details (his beard and clothes flapping around, etc.)  It's also been really fun to see some of the other L'employé du Moi artists do their animations.  People are already taking this simple concept in some unexpected directions!  

You can already see Max de Radiguès's animation (with a horse instead of a cart!) over on the L'employé du Moi Kiss Kiss Bank Bank campaign page. That's like a French Kickstarter, where they are trying to raise some money for the exhibit.  If you're able to, please chip in a few Euros!

I'll keep posting revisions of this animation as it gets more flushed out, and I'll try to share any other tips I pick up along the way.  I hope by posting some of my steps above, I'll encourage someone else to try out some hand drawn animation.  I'm also documenting all these steps so that when I attempt this again, two years from now, I'll remember how to do all this stuff!

April 3, 2014

Middle School: Ultimate Showdown

Guess what? I illustrated a chapter book!  It came out this week and it's called Middle School: Ultimate Showdown by James Patterson and Julia Bergen.

This is book five of the Middle School series, starring Rafe and Georgia Katchadorian.  The series is in a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" style, where the first-person narrator is also supposed to be making the drawings in the book.  In reality, Rafe's drawings are illustrated by Laura Park and Georgia's drawings are illustrated by Neil Swaab.

Well, the series is pretty popular, so Laura was busy drawing the next Rafe book and Neil was busy drawing the next Georgia book, so I was hired to draw a crossover book with both of the sibling characters!  This meant that I had to carefully match both Laura and Neil's drawing and lettering styles for alternating chapters.  Luckily, I was able to talk to both Neil and Laura to get the inside scoop on which drawing tools they use and what size they draw, etc. etc.

Here's an example of me drawing like Laura/Rafe (click to see bigger):

And here's an example of me drawing like Neil/Georgia (click to see bigger):

This was by far the biggest illustration project I have ever taken on.  There were over 200 illustrations and I only had four months to draw them all.  Pretty much everything else I was working on had to be put on hold from July 15th-November 15th of last year.  Here is my chart for this project - the line on the left was for pencils, the line on the right was inks and the straight blue line is the goal.  This really helped me stay on target and made it possible for me to hit the deadline exactly on the nose.

Tonight I went down to my local bookstore (Books Inc. in Alameda!) to pick up a copy in person.  I have made a lot of books but this is the first time I could just walk into a bookstore and it was there on the shelf.  Exciting!

It was also a pretty good feeling, seeing my name on the title page.  Wahoo!  I'm hoping this will be the first of many books that I illustrate.

Anyway, this book is everywhere, so look for it at your local bookstore!  It's a really fun series - I would have read these books like crazy when I was a kid.  It's amazing to think that there are probably kids all over the place reading it right now!

January 22, 2014

Highlights Hidden Pictures #2

Another issue of Highlights Magazine showed up in the mail a few weeks back.  If you see this issue on the newsstand, check it out, it's got one of my illustrations in it!

Most of the hidden pictures I have been drawing are for the "Gaby's Journal" feature, in which Gaby and her family travel the United States, seeing all kinds of historic buildings, museums, national landmarks and parks.  This time it was the dinosaur exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

Since these illustrations are based on real places, I usually start out by collecting a bunch of photo reference.  The internet makes this extremely easy!  I usually find some general "official" photos on Google Image Search and then try to find some more personal first-person photos on Flickr.  I've even found some 3D models in the Google SketchUp 3D Warehouse so that I can position a building just how I want.

My next step is to mash up all this reference in photoshop to work out the composition of my drawing.  Since illustration does not have to perfectly mirror the real world, I can grab one element from a photo that I like and flip it, or draw on top of it to extend it, and then drop other photos in the background or foreground, etc. etc. etc.  Here is an example that I made for this illustration, which uses three or four photos and a lot of digital drawing.

I decided I didn't like that one very much, so I made a second composition, which I ended up using instead.  Once I settle on the composition, I print this out and lightbox the general shapes onto my bristol board.  Then I can finesse the drawing, and make everything look consistent.  This digital "comp" technique saves me a lot of time, so that I'm not trying to figure out all of the perspective and angles of things from scratch.

The last step, of course, is to add the hidden objects!  ;)

January 14, 2014

Today in Weezer History

One of my favorite things on the internet right now is the Weezer instagram account which is run by the band's archivist, Karl Koch.  Every day he goes back through the Weezer archives and finds something interesting that happened with the band on that date.  With over 20 years of material, Karl has a lot of really cool, behind-the-scenes stuff to share.

The other day I got an email from Karl, asking if I would be interested in illustrating the infamous "Rhino Lad" story, which had no photo to accompany it.  As you can see below, I said "Yes!"  You can read the story of Rhino Lad in the official Weezer instagram post.

Karl and I both had a lot of fun working on this, so hopefully I'll get to do some more of these in the future!

January 1, 2014

Not in Harry's Name! Chocolate Frog Card #10

Happy New Year!  Here is my final design for the new round Chocolate Frog cards.  When I first got this assignment, I was asked to focus on members of the Order of the Phoenix.  I decided right away that I would draw Professor Snape!  I decided to draw him at the end of book six, right after he killed Dumbledore.  Initially I got a bit of pushback from my art direction team at the HPA.  "Snape?  Really? Of all the characters you could draw?"

I stood firmly by my decision.  Yes!  Professor Snape!  Harry himself states at the end of book seven that Professor Snape was "...probably the bravest man I ever knew."  This scene depicts not only his bravery but one of the biggest sacrifices made by any member of the Order of the Phoenix.

As a reminder, you can get one of these wizarding cards by ordering cruelty-free chocolate frogs from the Harry Potter Alliance!  I hope you guys enjoyed checking these out.