Bring 3D tools into your 2D art

Tom Fos­ter in­cor­po­rates 3D pos­ing soft­ware.

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

Peo­ple of­ten lament that the ‘magic’ of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try, a mar­ket in which comics re­side fairly per­ilously, dis­si­pates when you be­come aware of how it is achieved. In­deed, draw­ing pro­fes­sion­ally is a bit like be­ing a ma­gi­cian: it’s an in­stantly im­pres­sive skill; it takes years of soli­tary, thank­less toil to master; and it of­ten re­quires you to pull some­thing out of your arse at a mo­ment’s no­tice. And yes, when the me­chan­ics are ex­posed, it of­ten seems con­sid­er­ably less su­per­nat­u­ral – but, just like magic, the end re­sult re­lies en­tirely on the deft­ness of its per­former. Man­age­ment of re­sources is sim­ply part of the craft, not a way of cheat­ing.

3D pos­ing soft­ware is of­ten sim­i­larly mis­la­belled as cheat­ing. The knowl­edge that it’s been used shat­ters the il­lu­sion that ev­ery­thing on the page has come purely from the imag­i­na­tion: the in­fer­ence be­ing that, so long as they had the same soft­ware, any­one could achieve the same re­sults. Not so. The use of a me­chan­i­cal tech­nique in art only be­comes an is­sue if the artist’s lack of skill be­trays it. It all comes down to the per­former.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the ways to make the most of to­day’s ad­vanced cre­ative re­sources, with­out giv­ing away the pres­tige.


I use Daz 3D to com­pose my scenes and there are a lot of time-sav­ing tech­niques that eluded me when I started out, so I’d ad­vise fa­mil­iaris­ing your­self with the ba­sics. Look­ing for an­swers to prob­lems on a case-by-case ba­sis usu­ally works, but there are al­ways short­cuts you would never even think to look for. A few on­line in­struc­tional videos, a bit of a play around to get a sense of the UI, and you should be good to go.


One thing you may no­tice when us­ing pos­ing soft­ware to cre­ate scenes is that the as­sets avail­able for pur­chase rarely fit your script re­quire­ments per­fectly. Even Daz 3D’s many cos­tumes, props and sets won’t cover ev­ery sce­nario, be­cause the way a scene plays out of­ten re­quires spe­cific topography or ar­chi­tec­ture.

So, rather than build­ing cus­tom ge­om­e­try in a mod­el­ling pro­gram, I try to find el­e­ments that re­sem­ble what I need and then cob­ble them to­gether. My 3D scenes are just a start­ing point, so de­tails don’t al­ways have to be per­fect.


It can be tempt­ing, with the abil­ity to ma­nip­u­late the cam­era at will, to make ev­ery panel wild and un­usual. This tends to lead to im­ages that look good on their own, but are al­most un­read­able as a story. Dra­matic shots work well for dra­matic mo­ments, but with­out the bal­last of con­ven­tional vis­ual sto­ry­telling, they lose any im­pact or mean­ing. Old-fash­ioned, prosce­nium-style sto­ry­telling still has its place, and sub­tle vari­a­tions on this will usu­ally serve bet­ter than go­ing all out with your com­po­si­tions.


Even though I’m able to cre­ate com­plex back­grounds, the power of neg­a­tive space can’t be over­stated. Neg­a­tive space is ba­si­cally just any space that’s fairly free of de­tail. As such, it di­rects the reader’s eye to any­thing that in­ter­rupts that space, and is usu­ally found ei­ther around or ad­ja­cent to the im­age’s key el­e­ments.


Some­times I have to jug­gle a lot of el­e­ments in one rel­a­tively small panel. 3D pos­ing can help find com­po­si­tions that bal­ance all the es­sen­tial in­for­ma­tion, with­out scenes seem­ing crammed and un­nat­u­ral. I also usu­ally move el­e­ments of my en­vi­ron­ments around a lit­tle, to make for a bet­ter im­age. If Canaletto could tweak the ar­chi­tec­tural topography of Venice, it’s prob­a­bly okay for me to shift a pipe in a fic­tional base­ment.

The power of neg­a­tive space can’t be over­stated


The ren­der­ing of vir­tual light­ing in pos­ing soft­ware also af­fords op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­ter­est­ing use of shadow. They can be ma­nip­u­lated to cre­ate sym­bolic shapes, sug­gest fore­bod­ing or even dic­tate com­po­si­tion. When overused this can be­come visu­ally frus­trat­ing and bring the reader out of the story. How­ever, if ex­er­cised with care it can en­hance a dra­matic scene. When light­ing the fig­ure though, I have to be care­ful that I don’t give my­self a tricky draw­ing ex­er­cise when I get to the pen­cilling stage. Draw­ing fig­ures in com­plex light­ing can be a supreme test of anatom­i­cal un­der­stand­ing.


Just as a film­maker would change lens sizes for a wide-shot or an ex­treme close-up, I change mine for dif­fer­ent panels. The cam­era op­tions in Daz 3D en­able me to do this pretty eas­ily with a Frame Width slider. It can help cre­ate nat­u­ral-look­ing estab­lish­ing shots, spa­cious vis­tas or claus­tro­pho­bic in­te­ri­ors. I can also use it to cre­ate a sense of un­ease or odd­ness.


Draw­ing group shots can be pretty un­for­giv­ing. In one panel, I may have to fig­ure out pro­por­tions and anatomy for over a dozen char­ac­ters, and I can find my­self get­ting tired or, even worse, los­ing time. Throw in an un­usual cam­era an­gle, and all the fore­short­en­ing com­pli­ca­tions that de­mands, and things start to look a bit bleak.

Us­ing 3D to com­pose these types of panels can help take some of the pres­sure off, en­abling me to fo­cus on the vis­i­ble de­tails, rather than strug­gling with whole forms that will be par­tially ob­scured.

9 For­mal­is­ing lay­outs

The fact that I’m com­pos­ing my panels in­de­pen­dently of one an­other can, if I’m not care­ful, have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on my over­all page. It’s of­ten help­ful to start with a strong, thumb­nail sketch of the full page so that the prin­ci­ples of com­po­si­tion and lead­ing-the-eye can be ob­served, even when deal­ing with one panel alone. This is one of the big­gest pit­falls of work­ing in 3D, so I try to stay as mind­ful of it as pos­si­ble. Many’s the time I’ve lov­ingly crafted a panel com­po­si­tion, only to find that it doesn’t quite fit with the oth­ers.

10 Vis­ual con­sis­tency

Given that the end re­sult will al­ways in­volve some level of draw­ing, it’s im­por­tant for me to be able to keep all the el­e­ments look­ing like they be­long to­gether. Since I’m us­ing re­al­is­tic mod­els, I need to strive for verisimil­i­tude in the draw­ing. Equally, those el­e­ments that aren’t drafted from scratch must at least have the ap­pear­ance of a draw­ing. To this end, I ink ev­ery­thing by hand on Bris­tol Board. This way, my com­put­eraided el­e­ments don’t jar stylis­ti­cally with those I’ve ren­dered in­de­pen­dently.

It’s im­por­tant to be able to keep all the el­e­ments look­ing like they be­long to­gether

12 Re­tain­ing depth

Two-di­men­sional vi­su­als are in­her­ently flat – so, to give my vi­su­als a sense of di­men­sion, I have to com­pen­sate for this in my art. It helps to think of things in terms of three dis­tinct planes: fore­ground, mid­dle-ground and back­ground.

To dis­tin­guish each from the oth­ers, I’ll usu­ally make one pre­dom­i­nantly white, one mostly black and one a fairly even bal­ance of the two. The mid­dle ground will usu­ally con­tain the pri­mary fo­cus of the scene and so will usu­ally re­quire the most de­tail. This usu­ally ends up be­ing the plane with the great­est bal­ance of tones, the other two serv­ing to frame it by util­is­ing neg­a­tive space.

13 Economis­ing on de­tail to save time

It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of se­cu­rity with pos­ing soft­ware. Of­ten I’ll get to the ink­ing stage and re­alise that my back­ground is full of la­bo­ri­ous de­tails that now have to be care­fully de­lin­eated by hand.

Ow­ing to the fact that not ev­ery­thing has been drawn that way to be­gin with, I’ve fre­quently lost any sense of how long an im­age will take to ren­der. So I now try to think as care­fully as pos­si­ble about how much I will re­ally have time to ink. I also try to build in ar­eas of solid black to help cre­ate a bal­anced page.

14 draw on your Tra­di­tional skills

Of all the tools at my dis­posal, none is more valu­able than my fun­da­men­tal draw­ing abil­ity. It rep­re­sents ev­ery as­pect of my vis­ual un­der­stand­ing. It’s the ar­biter in de­cid­ing which re­sources will help me most and my safety net when­ever other re­sources fail me. It dis­tin­guishes me from those who use a sim­i­lar process and en­ables me to com­mu­ni­cate visu­ally with flu­ency and at­trac­tive­ness. It re­quires reg­u­lar cul­ti­va­tion and is the prod­uct of decades of ap­pli­ca­tion. With­out it, I would have no ca­reer. And wouldn’t that be dread­ful?

15 Mark-mak­ing for sto­ry­telling

Oc­ca­sion­ally, par­tic­u­larly with shad­owy panels that only in­volve back­grounds and props, I’ll find that I’ve achieved a near-com­plete im­age with Daz 3D and Pho­to­shop. In these in­stances, how­ever, the lack of any­thing re­motely or­ganic can lead to a static-look­ing panel.

Thank­fully, there’s al­ways some­thing that can be done at the draw­ing board to help. Here, I’ve used some white spots to sug­gest fall­ing de­bris, il­lu­mi­nated by the lights of a crashed ship. As well as liven­ing up the im­age a lit­tle, this tells the viewer that the crash was re­cent, as well as lend­ing a sense of en­vi­ron­men­tal con­text and mood.

16 In­cor­po­rat­ing other forms of ref­er­ence

Daz 3D can be great for deal­ing with is­sues of com­plex fore­short­en­ing or com­po­si­tion, but the niceties of anatomy, hair, drap­ery and count­less other el­e­ments may re­quire an al­ter­na­tive.

Photo ref­er­ence and anatomy books can help nail those nu­ances, and ba­sic mod­el­ling pro­grams such as SketchUp can help build cus­tom el­e­ments quickly (al­though these will have to be ex­ported separately, be­cause they won’t be com­pat­i­ble with most pos­ing soft­ware). Some comic artists even mould mod­els of re­cur­ring el­e­ments out of clay to use as live ref­er­ence.

Of all the tools at my dis­posal, none is more valu­able than my fun­da­men­tal draw­ing abil­ity

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