Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Deltrada Cover

Just a quick update for everybody - the pitch materials are coming together excellently, with character profile pics, fully-completed pages, and some very cool mock-up issue covers to demonstrate how the comic would look sitting on a shelf in a store.

I wanted to share the progression of one of the covers with you - specifically our second issue "Deltrada" cover featuring protagonist Quinlan's battle against the blind Ermehn swordmaster, Red. While I won't go into much detail over the specifics of the scene, enough can be inferred from the cover image itself to say that in issue 2, Quinlan finally confronts the Sratha-din Ermehn threat and finds himself in his very first life-or-death fight. Because of this, we wanted the cover to capture that intensity - this isn't just some ordinary fight scene, this is the first time Quinlan's had to fight for his life, and so the cover had to capture the menace and raw power of his foe.

To start, Rachel sketched out a series of thumbnail images so we could see which scene layout we liked the most. There were four initial concepts (shown above), each one showing a different angle/tone/etc. The first sketch got Red's size and strength across well enough, but it felt a bit too crowded and the title text up top would have obscured about 99% of Red's sword. The second sketch, showing Quin from the front with Red swinging away from the camera, just felt awkward. Having Quinlan as the center of attention also put him on a higher footing than his foe - the idea behind the cover was to downplay Quin and make him seem less powerful than Red, and showing our protagonist so prominently elevated him a bit too much. The third sketch featured a similar problem - it elevated Quin a little too much, making him seem as powerful if not moreso than Red. The angle is also a little too straight-on, so we nixed that one.

The very last sketch ended up being the one we went with - it put Red front and center, sword in the air, bearing down on an evasive-looking Quin, who is shrinking back defensively. Rachel took the thumbnail and cleaned it up a little bit, sending it over in the form of the sketch to the right.

From here, Rachel was able to take the sketch and expand on it. In the script for this scene, the two characters are fighting in the pouring rain, so a lot of time was spent on Rachel's part looking into how water acts on various surfaces. There was also quite a bit of effort spent on his sword - bloodied from a previous encounter - and how said blood would be affected by the downpour.

With these directives in mind, Rachel went about creating the first pass at the cover using the appropriate page dimensions and flat colors - no rain or special effects, yet.

In general, we were both pleased with the layout of the characters, the angle of the shot, etc. Rachel also had to remind me that Red's elaborate tattoos, which give his character a lot more visual dimension, had not been added yet - so I was okay with the general absence of detail on Red's body and clothing.

A few things needed tweaking at this point, however - Quinlan's demeanor and pose being the big ones.

In the original sketch, he seemed a lot more animated, like he was actively trying to avoid the inevitable sword swing. In this first pass, he seemed a bit surprised, like he'd let his guard down a moment before. This, along with the various minor tweaks and environmental/special effect additions would be reflected in the next few passes.

In the next pass, Quinlan was altered to look more like he did in the original sketch, and the special effects were added, along with Red's tattoos. The title text was also added! The final pass is below. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

An Update! Also, Sunsgrove Architecture

Wow, three months between blog posts! Clearly this is what I meant when I said we'd be posting more stuff! We're hard at work putting together all the content for the pitch - from fully-completed pages to character portraits and beyond. Stephen Christy, Director of Development at Archaia Studios Press, put together a spectacular commentary on a pitch that was presented to him for the upcoming series "Feeding Ground". Essentially, this was a step-by-step look at a successful comic pitch, and it's been a superb resource throughout our pitch creation process. You can view the images (with Stephen's commentary) right over here.

Currently, we're working on getting the "Characters" section of the pitch completed. I'll show some of the artwork for that as it comes through, but I wanted to share some of the material Rachel's put together for the recently-completed pages that are going into the pitch. Specifically related to the Sunsgrovian architecture style we ended up using for the pages.

To start with, the scene in question is a playful sparring match between protagonist Quinlan and an egotistical Tesque trainer named Crim. In the background, we can see the Tamian dwellings surrounding the training area where the match is taking place. The problem was that we didn't really know what the dwellings should look like. All I'd really given Rachel was that the Tamian have a tree-based city, and that I didn't want it to look like a copy of the Ewok Village from Return of the Jedi, Tree-Top Town from Donkey Kong Country, the Elvish cities from Lord of the Rings, or Sprucetuck from Mouse Guard. In other words, I'd told her what it wasn't - but not what it WAS.

So we worked out the following four rules for the Tamian architecture:

1.) Inverse class/height tropes. What does this mean? In most fantasty tales (and in real life), the rich people live high up, while the poor people live on the ground level. In Sunsgrove, where the entire race is vertically inclined, the tops of the trees offer more living space for the unwashed masses. Countless communal hammocks line the treetops, offering even the poorest Tamian a place to sleep.

With Sunsgrove's relatively recent diplomatic focus with the land-bound Lutren, Canid, Vulpin and Felis, the upper-class Tamian began building ground-level accommodations. Diplomats and royalty began to grow accustomed to living on the ground, and the ground-level living quarters became the most valuable properties to own.

2.) Open, open, open. The middle and lower-class Tamian (ie the majority) live in the treetops. They've been leaping between trees for countless generations, so I wanted their architectural style to take that into account - it would need to be open and spacious, with lots of open archways and no doors whatsoever. Heavy curtains would keep the cold, rain, and snow out, and at the same time afford a wide open view to the majesty of the Western Deep - the forest that surrounds the Tamian capital city.

This resulted in a lot of research into various forms of "open" architecture. Archways, latticework, all sorts of things. Rachel pulled a variety of inspirations from all over the world as she pieced together the look of the Tamian city.

3.) Preserve the trees. Since the trees of the capital city are revered as sacred relics, hollowing them all out willy-nilly would feel strange. Because of this, most homes that are built up the tree trunks only partly go into the tree. Homes on the trees are generally small, as Tamian don't spend much time within them, so there wouldn't be much need to hollow out the trees that much anyway.

4.) Avoid uniform angles. This is a similar rule to one that I'd heard from the making of features in Lord of the Rings - the Elvish architecture didn't use many, if any, straight lines. Everything was naturally curved to emphasize the Elves' harmony with nature (which also doesn't feature straight lines).

While I wanted to avoid comparisons to Elvish cities like Rivendell or Lothlorien, it's a good general rule when trying to make a city that looks "natural". These rules coalesced into a pretty cohesive style for the Tamian city, focusing on circular ramps, wide arches, and generally a "vertical" feel.

That's all for now, but as the character portraits and other pitch assets come together, I'll try to get some stuff on here.