Colour a crazed comic character

Dave Wilkins shows how to go from tonal ren­der­ing to colour im­age us­ing tra­di­tional comic-book colour­ing tech­nique and a flex­i­ble process

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Contents -

Dave Wilkins uses tra­di­tional tech­niques.

tarting with my fi­nal tonal

Sren­der­ing of ev­ery­one’s favourite psy­chopath, the Joker, I’m go­ing to take you through my comic colour­ing process, step by step. This is a sim­ple, straight­for­ward ap­proach to colour­ing a tonal or greyscale work, us­ing var­i­ous tools, layer modes and the like, all within Pho­to­shop. The process is very flex­i­ble and en­ables me to ma­nip­u­late and con­trol the hue, value and sat­u­ra­tion lev­els at each stage of the paint­ing. When ap­proach­ing a character as out­landish as the Joker, this will prove ex­tremely help­ful.

My goal is to ap­ply colour while still pre­serv­ing the tonal ren­der­ing, so that I can solve each visual prob­lem sep­a­rately. Once I’m happy with the base colours and light­ing tem­per­a­ture, I can smudge and paint on top to unify the im­age.

Be­ing asked to do the Joker was like vis­it­ing an old friend; the crazy one who al­ways got you into a mess while he walked away un­scathed. So let’s go back to Gotham and see what trou­ble we can get into, shall we?

1 Tonal ef­fects

Once my greyscale val­ues are in place, I con­vert the greyscale to RGB. Then I make the im­age fully sepia tone, so there’s a blended-earth tone in the back­ground as op­posed to pure black, which has a ten­dency to get muddy. I open the Color Bal­ance menu (Ctrl+B) and ad­just my mid-tones to achieve the sepia tone ef­fect.

2 Flat­ting the im­age

I take the Poly­gon Lasso tool, carve out in­di­vid­ual shapes and fill them with a tone to rep­re­sent the fi­nal coloura­tion. Us­ing the Magic Wand tool I click in and out of se­lected ar­eas, ad­just­ing parts with­out disturbing suc­cess­ful ar­eas. This is help­ful later when the full im­age is merged down and blended to­gether and I need to make fi­nal tweaks.

3 Colour selections

I set that layer to Over­lay. This gives me an in­stant snap­shot of colour, where the flats are work­ing and what will need fix­ing. I can see the begin­nings of the colour selections that will tran­si­tion through­out the piece. The Joker’s sig­na­ture pur­ple suit and shock of green hair aren’t quite on the mark yet, but I have the ma­jor land­marks.

4 Con­trast and shad­ing

I se­lect cer­tain flat ar­eas, and us­ing Over­lay and Mul­ti­ply modes, I start to see the con­trast and shad­ing within the forms. I used to use Ctrl+ C and Ctrl+V to copy and paste and almost al­ways it would paste off cen­tre and lin­ing up the off­set was frus­trat­ing. Last year a col­league asked, “Why don’t you just use Ctrl+J?” Thanks Evan – I use it all day ev­ery day now!

5 Per­sonal tastes

This process is re­peated and over­layed and mul­ti­plied. Copy and past­ing the lay­ers, and then util­is­ing the Over­lay or Mul­ti­ply op­tion quickly re­sults in deeper val­ues and more sat­u­ra­tion. I then erase out what’s too dark and keep what’s most suc­cess­ful. I’ve al­ways loved the red in­flamed-eyes of Dave McKean’s Joker, so I aim to em­u­late that dis­tinc­tive look.

6 Hatch­ing colours

Us­ing the Eye­drop­per tool, I pick colours from the face to hatch and blend, for a clown’s makeup foun­da­tion. I build up the forms, keep­ing it co­he­sive. I hold off us­ing bright or hot colours. When do­ing a character as gar­ish as the Joker, it’s easy for colours to over­power and the val­ues to lose out, so I save the rim-light hotspots and high­lights for last.

7 Ref­er­ence search

I con­tinue the process of se­lect­ing from the flat layer, re­peat­ing steps two, three and four through­out the en­tire body, in­clud­ing the suit, bow tie and hair. I cruise the in­ter­net for suit­able photo ref­er­ence. When I have the time, I like to shoot my own ref­er­ence for folds, wrin­kles, light­ing and such-like, as well as sculpt char­ac­ters in ZBrush that I can light for the tonal and val­ues stage.

8 Bright­en­ing it up

I use the Polyg­o­nal Lasso tool to carve out shapes that will rep­re­sent high­lights on the lapel and sleeve. And I then use Ctrl+J to drop that layer with my se­lec­tion in place and turn the layer to Screen. This bright­ens that area and the more I use this tech­nique, the closer my colour goes to white.

9 High­lights in­for­ma­tion

My bright­en­ing tech­nique gives the paint­ing some harsh, faceted edges, but I’ll deal with them dur­ing the next stage. This is just an over-sim­pli­fied bright shape that gives me some high­lights in­for­ma­tion on the top of the sleeve.

10 Blend­ing shapes

I se­lect the Smudge tool to smear and blend the harsh shapes to­gether for a more co­he­sive piece. I con­tinue this blend­ing method through­out the im­age, un­til the de­sired look is achieved. Once I start to mimic the ma­te­ri­als that I’m go­ing for, I know I’m on the home stretch.

11 Re­fin­ing the scene

I con­tinue to re­fine edges and forms, clean­ing up edges and fix­ing any­thing glar­ing or that looks off. This is the te­dious part of the paint­ing process so it helps to have some de­cent tunes (I pre­fer 80s and 90s an­ime) to push through this part… ugh!

12 Mak­ing the fig­ure pop

With light­ing, the forms must read no mat­ter what. Does my sil­hou­ette punch out well? Do fab­ric folds show clearly? Once they do, I set­tle on the light­ing and start the rim-light to pop the fig­ure for­ward, like the film posters I grew up with. Richard Am­sel’s awe­some Flash Gor­don and Mad Max posters, and pretty much ev­ery­thing Drew Struzan has ever done.

13 Con­trol­ling the light

When us­ing such flam­boy­ant colours, it’s help­ful to use a layer with a colour gra­di­ent over the scene, which en­ables me to erase ar­eas that are too sat­u­rated. I use the adage: warm light equals cool shad­ows, or cool light equals warm shad­ows. I’ve given him a warm rim-light, which dic­tates the cooler shad­owy ar­eas be­low the door han­dle and in the back­ground.

14 Mak­ing my fi­nal tweaks

On the rim-light layer I put a Layer Style on, use Outer Glow and ad­just it to an earthy orange. For fi­nal tweaks I use the Lasso and Warp tools to nudge things into place. I do this as a last re­sort – I usu­ally make ad­just­ments along the way, re­draw­ing and re­work­ing, so I’m con­stantly learn­ing and re­in­forc­ing tra­di­tional skills. Re­mem­ber, Ctrl+J all day!

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