Use a char­ac­ter to tell a story

Ken­neth Anderson cre­ates a fun, char­ac­ter-based il­lus­tra­tion with an an­i­ma­tion vibe and an em­pha­sis on a clear nar­ra­tive

ImagineFX - - In Depth Tell A Story -

Draw­ing char­ac­ters is a pas­sion of mine and I try to tell a story with them in ev­ery il­lus­tra­tion I do. It can be sub­tle or forth­right; as long as there’s some nar­ra­tive in there, the au­di­ence can re­late and it brings an art­work to life. This is im­por­tant in the world of an­i­ma­tion – ev­ery char­ac­ter de­sign I do for a client has to have a sense of story be­hind them.

When ImagineFX asked me to do the cover for an an­i­ma­tion is­sue I knew I had to get an el­e­ment of this sto­ry­telling in there. I threw a few ideas on the ta­ble, but this is the one that stuck. I’m glad too, be­cause it has some sub­tlety – a story that re­lies on re­ally look­ing at the piece. Why is this girl not scared of the thing cast­ing that omi­nous loom­ing shadow over her? Her sketch re­veals it’s just a goofy, friendly mon­ster.

My back­ground in tra­di­tional an­i­ma­tion def­i­nitely in­flu­ences my il­lus­tra­tion style. It’s stylised and ex­ag­ger­ated, but I like to keep the colours and forms grounded in re­al­ity. I knew paint­ing this would be tricky with the grassy back­ground and heavy use of green – I find colour a chal­lenge ev­ery time I paint. So I took it one step at a time, get­ting the el­e­ments I knew I could han­dle out the way and fig­ur­ing out the dif­fi­cult bits as I went. My work­flow is sim­ple but not com­pletely lin­ear, so this work­shop is a rough guide to how I work.

With all that said, let’s get started!

1 Think­ing, re­search and sketch­ing

At the start of any new il­lus­tra­tion, I mull over the brief and con­sider how I’m go­ing to ap­proach the work. I re­search any­thing I’m un­fa­mil­iar with and have a look at other art­work for in­spi­ra­tion. With the notes from the ImagineFX team in mind, I rough out some sim­ple sketches, try­ing to find a dis­tinc­tive idea and char­ac­ter in each one.

2 Re­fine the idea

There’s a bit of back and forth be­tween my­self and the team while we de­cide on a di­rec­tion and lock down the image. It’s im­por­tant to get the char­ac­ters and com­po­si­tion right at the ear­li­est stages. If the char­ac­ter doesn’t feel alive in a rough sketch, then no amount of paint­ing will fix that!

3 Colour and value rough

Once the team is happy with the sketch I do a rough colour pass on a Mul­ti­ply layer, switch­ing to greyscale to check my val­ues. I know the most prom­i­nent colour is go­ing to be the green of the grass, so I base my colours around this. Red hair and dark clothes should make our char­ac­ter stand out.

4 Pre­pare the can­vas

Af­ter some tweaks to the com­po­si­tion the colour rough is ap­proved. I like to paint at a higher res­o­lu­tion than needed so I dou­ble the re­quired image size. I cre­ate ref­er­ence lay­ers with the bleed ar­eas and the logo in­di­cated, so I can switch them on and off to get a feel of how ev­ery­thing is work­ing in con­text.

5 Cre­ate grass brushes

Be­fore paint­ing, I cre­ate some quick grass brushes. I want to use my own so they’re con­sis­tent with the over­all style of my art­work and have a more hand-drawn ef­fect. They don’t need to be per­fect – just good enough so I can quickly lay down some tex­ture and then paint over the top. I have supplied these brushes with your re­sources – see page 65.

6 Red un­der­paint­ing

I start paint­ing from scratch with a de­fault Pas­tel medium tip brush and us­ing my colour rough as a guide. Be­cause green will be a large per­cent­age of the image, I plan to paint on top of a red­dish un­der­paint­ing. I want the red to shine through so the green is less harsh – a tip I learnt from James Gur­ney’s book, Color and Light.

7 Back­ground block in

Us­ing my cus­tom brushes and a de­fault Pen­cil brush I layer in the grass. I’m care­ful about where the grass is in re­la­tion to the mag­a­zine cover text and where it leads the eye: I want the viewer’s at­ten­tion to be on the char­ac­ters and not on the blades of grass, af­ter all! I use Hue Jit­ter (in the Color Dy­nam­ics sec­tion of the Brush di­a­log) so that the colours vary. I’m keen for some yel­lows and blue-greens to be in there.

8 Bring in the char­ac­ters

I copy the char­ac­ters from my colour sketch and put them on sep­a­rate lay­ers. I have to be care­ful I don’t lose their en­ergy as I paint them up. Us­ing the rough char­ac­ters as un­der­paint­ings, I start to block in their forms on a clip­ping mask. This en­ables me to paint with­out de­stroy­ing the orig­i­nal layer in­for­ma­tion, merg­ing the lay­ers when I’m happy.

9 Con­tinue the block-in

I do a rough pass of ev­ery­thing, fo­cus­ing on good val­ues and get­ting colours that work to­gether while avoid­ing too much de­tail. I throw stuff out there and see what works, paint­ing un­til things start to feel right. I sep­a­rate el­e­ments on to dif­fer­ent lay­ers: the flow­ers, shoes and jacket have their own lay­ers. It makes them easy to move things around.

10 Treat­ing the shad­ows dif­fer­ently

I keep the main char­ac­ter and mon­ster shad­ows on sep­a­rate lay­ers and start paint­ing in cool hues to sug­gest the re­flected “off screen” blue sky. I min­imise de­tails in the shad­ows and en­sure that they’re strong enough to sug­gest a sunny day. I set the main mon­ster shadow layer to Mul­ti­ply, but the girl’s shadow is painted on a Nor­mal layer be­cause it doesn’t need to in­ter­act with a com­plex back­ground.

11 Ren­der­ing de­tails and colours

With ev­ery­thing roughed out I start to ren­der the forms, us­ing the Color Picker tool to choose colours from the can­vas. I try to bring the colours to life by adding sub­tle reds into the face and hands, re­flected light from the grass and more cool sky re­flec­tions in the shad­ows. This is an on­go­ing process through­out the rest of the paint­ing process.

12 Over­lay some yel­low-greens

Once I have most of the el­e­ments in place, I add an Over­lay layer on top of all the lay­ers and paint in some yel­low­greens. I find this helps to bring to life the glows and tran­si­tions be­tween shade and light. I switch this layer on and off while paint­ing, so it doesn’t in­ter­fere when paint­ing on other lay­ers.

13 More ren­der­ing and tweaks

By this point the ma­jor el­e­ments of the scene are mostly com­plete. I just need to tighten up forms and de­tails and change any bits that I’m not happy with. I in­tro­duce more grass de­tails, work into the flow­ers and ad­just some colours in the faces of the girl and her dog be­fore send­ing it to the ImagineFX team for fi­nal feed­back.

14 Fi­nal pol­ish

I get stuck into tight­en­ing up the de­tails and mak­ing the changes re­quested by ImagineFX. I’m care­ful not to get too car­ried away with de­tails be­cause I want the image to main­tain a loose­ness. I re­fine my Over­lay layer and cre­ate a colour cor­rec­tion layer: my image is very green and I want to bal­ance things out with some sub­tle reds. I also ad­just the sight line of the girl’s eyes so that it’s clear she’s look­ing at the tip of her pen­cil to help her com­plete the sketch of the friendly mon­ster.


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