Cre­ate dy­namic fight scenes

Ev­ery­one’s favourite adaman­tium-en­hanced mu­tant takes on a horde of katana-wield­ing nin­jas in Mukesh Singh’s ac­tion-packed art­work

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Mukesh Singh’s ac­tion­packed Wolver­ine art­work.

There was some­thing about the rip­pling, con­fi­dent en­ergy in a draw­ing that opened a gate­way of pos­si­bil­i­ties to the seven-year-old me. It was the front page of a Su­per­man comic book drawn by the inim­itable Gil Kane. The dy­namic pose, the taut mus­cles, the sheer be­liev­abil­ity of what was just ink on frayed paper sparked a flame that guides my work to this day.

In this work­shop I’ll show you how I de­velop an im­age of a fight be­tween Wolver­ine and nin­jas be­long­ing to The Hand, a su­pervil­lain or­gan­i­sa­tion based in Ja­pan. The un­der­ly­ing guid­ing forces will be the essence of the char­ac­ter, the su­per­hero genre and a clas­sic comic book splash page that fea­tures mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters. I’ll go through the ba­sics of my work­flow, and look at my de­ci­sion­mak­ing process while paint­ing the scene.

Com­pos­ing an im­age with mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters is of­ten a chal­lenge. My so­lu­tion is sim­ply to treat ev­ery fig­ure as the hero. They’re not just a bunch of pix­els and inks and graphite. They’re a liv­ing be­ing. Be­lieve it yourself and your draw­ings will, too. On­wards!

1 Stream of con­scious­ness

With­out wor­ry­ing about ac­cu­racy, I scrib­ble a few sketches to ex­plore the char­ac­ters and the lay­outs. The aim is to vi­su­alise the ideas as they de­velop in my head as fast as pos­si­ble. I look for force and dy­namism, but also clar­ity. Be­cause the im­age will fea­ture mul­ti­ple fig­ures, I start with Wolver­ine’s stance to main­tain the fo­cus on him, and then work out the re­ac­tionary poses of the nin­jas around him.

2 Bring­ing things to­gether

I re­fine the doo­dles and de­velop colour keys for the thumb­nails, roughly work­ing out the over­all colour scheme, mood and light­ing for the im­ages. For­tu­nately, Wolver­ine’s cos­tume colours are dif­fer­ent to those of the nin­jas, so this will help to make his fig­ure stand out. De­cid­ing on an im­age’s colour scheme be­fore­hand, how­ever loosely, will help you to make ap­pro­pri­ate de­ci­sions come draw­ing time.

3 In the palm of The Hand

The first thumb­nail of the four I draw works out the best in my eyes. It fea­tures an eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able, front-on pose of Wolver­ine at the cen­tre of the im­age, strik­ing out at one ninja, clas­sic Lo­gan style! You might no­tice that some of the nin­jas are ar­ranged like the fin­gers of a hand. I say might, be­cause it’s meant to be a sub­tle fea­ture.

4 Main­tain­ing en­ergy

I de­cide to re­visit the lay­out. Once again, I scrib­ble Wolver­ine’s fig­ure first and then ar­range the nin­jas around him. I try to keep the en­ergy of com­po­si­tion con­sis­tent with the thumb­nail.

5 Time to get se­ri­ous

I add an­other layer on top of my sketch, es­sen­tially light-box­ing it. To bet­ter see the re­sults I con­vert the red of the sketch into cyan us­ing the Hue/ Sat­u­ra­tion tool. I draw Wolver­ine with­out his cos­tume to check his anatomy. I keep his tra­di­tional short and bulky frame, ex­ag­ger­at­ing his fin­gers to al­most twice the size of those of the nin­jas. I want to ob­scure Wolver­ine’s feet be­cause show­ing them kills the im­pact of his ac­tion. I re­dis­tribute the other nin­jas while try­ing to avoid tan­gents, which can be a prob­lem for an im­age with mul­ti­ple fig­ures.

6 Re­fin­ing the draw­ing

I redo the ninja near Wolver­ine’s feet be­cause his hor­i­zon­tal pose kills the main ac­tion line go­ing from the bot­tom left to the top right of the im­age. I could fix this dur­ing the colour­ing stage be­cause his cos­tume is red and will blend in with the rest, but I re­draw him all the same. I ar­range the weapons of the nin­jas in a way that com­ple­ments and draws at­ten­tion to Wolver­ine. Sim­i­larly, all the nin­jas are look­ing to­wards his di­rec­tion, which adds one more layer of fo­cus to his fig­ure.

7 Nar­ra­tive de­tails

Be­cause I’m work­ing dig­i­tally I treat the pen­cil and ink stages in­ter­change­ably, tweak­ing de­tails here and there. I show some tear­ing in Wolver­ine’s cos­tume to in­di­cate that some time has passed since the fight started. I over­lay it on top of the anatomy draw­ing, which helps me vi­su­alise how the cos­tume and its de­sign el­e­ments flow over his body. 8 Di­vid­ing up the com­po­si­tion Wolver­ine’s inked draw­ing is on a sep­a­rate layer, while the nin­jas are inked as three sep­a­rate groups on dif­fer­ent lay­ers. This will help save time dur­ing the colour­ing stage.

9 Split the work­load down the mid­dle

I thicken some of the fig­ure out­lines to de­fine them more strongly. I ink the back­ground el­e­ments, as well as fill­ing it up with less-de­tailed ninja fig­ures. I nor­mally don’t go this heavy dur­ing the ink­ing stage (even this level of ink­ing is con­sid­ered mid-level by in­dus­try stan­dards) be­cause my cur­rent style uses colours for the heavy lift­ing. For this art­work I split the work­load 50/50 be­tween them.

10Flat­ting my colours

Us­ing the Lasso tool I se­lect each fig­ure and ap­ply a flat colour on a sep­a­rate layer, sav­ing them as a se­lec­tion. I then col­lapse the flat colours into two lev­els: fore­ground and back­ground. I add a layer group for the ninja groups, Wolver­ine and the back­ground. Then I se­lect the saved Al­phas and add them as masks for the group fold­ers. This will en­sure that the colours won’t show up be­yond the white por­tions of the group layer mask. I then dis­card the su­per­flu­ous flat colour lay­ers.

11 Rough colour pass

Us­ing a large grunge brush I add some colour splotches as a rough pass. Think of it as us­ing tinted pa­pers for your pas­tels and pen­cils or lay­ing in the first, big wash of a wa­ter­colour paint­ing. Be­cause a large por­tion of the im­age will fea­ture the nin­jas’ red cos­tumes, I de­cide to use some shades of reds rang­ing from crim­son to ver­mil­ion for this pass.

12 Colour­ing on the can­vas

I quickly add trans­par­ent colours, be­tween 30 and 60 per cent Opac­ity, to Wolver­ine’s fig­ure us­ing Pho­to­shop’s stan­dard Pen­cil thick brush. I layer in the colours, es­sen­tially mix­ing colours on the can­vas it­self. Then I quickly lay in a mid­neu­tral tone of red for the shadow parts and a light red­dish-or­ange tone for the lit por­tions of the nin­jas. I use the an­gle of the light to gauge which parts will ei­ther be in shadow or light. This stage gives me a good idea of how the over­all colour scheme and the val­ues will look in the fi­nal im­age.

13 Coax­ing the forms

I con­tinue to push to­wards light tones for the lit area and dark tones for the shad­ows. Part of Wolver­ine’s face and up­per torso should be in shadow, but be­cause he’s the main fig­ure I ig­nore it. To dif­fuse the fo­cus on his fig­ure so that he doesn’t stand out too much, I dis­trib­ute his cos­tume colour scheme else­where in the im­age. I use the dull blue shade for the gear por­tions of the ninja cos­tumes as well as their skins. I fin­ish the spiked ninja first and then use the tones and colours from his fig­ure for his com­pan­ions.

14Fur­ther re­fine­ments

I add an­other pass of tweak­ing to the fig­ures, go­ing over each to re­fine the strokes, shades and high­lights. As in my orig­i­nal thumb­nail I use dull, dark tones in the back­ground to add punch to the sat­u­ra­tion of the fore­ground fig­ures. I use the reds of the nin­jas as the over­all ba­sic mid-tone of the im­age, the yel­low of Wolver­ine’s cos­tume for the por­tions fac­ing the light, and the blue of his cos­tume for the shadow por­tions.

15De­tail­ing mi­nor el­e­ments

I add colours to the swords, chains and other miscellaneous el­e­ments in the draw­ing. I ap­ply some blood splat­ter to Wolver­ine’s cos­tume, which adds one more touch of drama to his fig­ure. Us­ing a Curves Ad­just­ment layer, I then tweak the high­lights and the shad­ows to bump up the con­trast. This is es­sen­tial be­cause what­ever colours I see on my screen will print about 20 per cent darker.

16Fin­ish­ing up

As a fi­nal step I add some at­mos­phere to the im­age us­ing a large wispy brush. This helps re­cede the back­ground and pops out Wolver­ine and the fore­ground nin­jas. And now my one-sided fight scene is com­plete!

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