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
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.
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.
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!