Tag Archive: Production Design


Some background under-drawings for a couple Happy Samurai pages I’m working on.

My rule of thumb is if the shot is about the characters then I draw them first, drawing the background in afterwards to frame them in the best possible way. If the shot is about establishing a certain setting or composing a shot in a very specific way, then I’ll draw the background first and tackle the characters second. Because I’ve been drawing everything separately (characters, props & backgrounds) and compositing it in Photoshop for the last couple of years, it really doesn’t make as much of a difference what I do first anymore as I can tweak and adjustment everything ’til I get it just right.

No pre-ruled grids or anything. I just lightly rough in the shot and then start plotting or ball-parking vanishing points. Actual vanishing points are plotted when they land on the drawing board. If they don’t, I’m at the point now where I can just eyeball in the grid and be more than convincing enough. All the nadir/zenith vanishing points are just eye-balled in as they’re always way to far way to plot.

You’ll notice that I make every shot a 3-point shot. Some angles pushed more than others. I do it because A) it avoids having parallel lines next to your panel borders—which is really static, usually flat and can sometimes be tangentially confusing—and B) it just looks cooler.

When drawing each background, I have a pretty clear idea of what I need for the panel, but I always draw beyond it a bit so I’ve got some wiggle room compositionally. In the finished panels, you’ll only see a third of most of these backgrounds. Most backgrounds like this take roughly 15-30 minutes to knock out.

Might seem like a lot of work (or maybe not), but the control it gives me over the finished composition means I can get the shot exactly how I planned it, and that’s all that matters to me at this point.

 

Happy Samurais issue #1 Layouts

Happy Samurais issue #1 Layouts

When working on a comic, I usually layout and draw one scene at a time. My fear has always been that if I laid out something like sixty pages, that my drawing, storytelling and layout abilities would improve so much during those first twenty or forty pages that I’d have to re-layout a ton of pages to incorporate all that I’d learned. I’m not sure if there’s any truth to that at all, but it made sense to me for a number of years.

Two things have recently helped change my thought process on that. One, during my time at the Atlantic Center for the Arts residency last year, I talked with Craig Thompson about his experiences working on Habibi. (Though Habibi just came out this September, Craig had finished it as of October, 2010, so I’d seen the completed book while I was there). Craig had laid out the entirety of the 600+ page Habibi at least three times (I wanna say it was actually more like five). Each layout wasn’t just a change of camera angle or adding another panel, it was completely changing the way he was telling the story or more often, changing the story itself. He felt laying out the entire book was the only way to really see how the story worked. You sat down and read it from beginning to end.

Craig’s group at the residency was working on longer form comics — stories with page counts at least 100 pages in length. Members of his group each had to have a huge chunk of layouts done for their story, which they’d then share with the rest of Craig’s group in a workshop type of session. Craig said he was more convinced than ever after his experiences workshopping with his ACA students, that laying everything out ahead of time was the way to do it.

The second thing that made me change my thoughts on layout was hearing details of how Pixar develops their movies. Directors at Pixar screen their films internally every 16-20 weeks for their “Brain Trust”. The “Brain Trust” is considered to be John Lasseter (Toy Story, Cars), Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo), Pete Docter (Up, Monster’s Inc.) and Brad Bird (Incredibles, Ratatouille) — though I believe other key people like Bob Peterson, Ronnie Del Carmen, Michael Arndt etc. are involved in some form as well. They “screen” the film in whatever form it’s currently in to get feedback on how it’s progressing. So during the first screening, the film is probably still an animatic (animated storyboards), the next version is maybe an animatic with temp voices/music, then onto a version with blocked in 3D models etc.

This screening process isn’t necessarily a straight line through to a finished film. Often times they get three or four steps into the process only to decide things aren’t working and go back to square one — both Monster’s Inc. and Up went through multiple false starts. Andrew Stanton has said, “I don’t believe in a scene until I see it on the reels.” As Stanton describes Pixar’s process, it’s essentially making the film three or four times to get it right. (Incidentally, Stanton feels that Pixar isn’t the best at making movies, but that they excel at re-working them). What Pixar doesn’t want to do is waste time making a story that doesn’t work. They want to, as Stanton says, “Be wrong as fast as we can.” So Pixar turns it into a movie (even if it’s animated storyboards) as soon as possible to see how it’s working out. Thus it only makes sense to turn your comic into a comic as soon as possible to see how it reads.

Before I can lay out a scene though, I need to know what the characters and environment for that scene look like. If you design a characters that’s super-wide, or maybe has some ornate costume detail that sticks out three feet off each shoulder, you’re going to compose a shot with that specific costume differently than you would a generic mannequin figure. Same thing with a location. The shape and design of the architecture is going to suggest unique angles, framing, composition and backdrops to set your characters against. The background should never be an afterthought to the characters.

I currently have about half of the triple-sized Happy Samurais #1 penciled (not all consecutive scenes, I jumped around a little). To apply my new strategy of laying out the rest of the issue, I had to finish off all remaining character and location designs. I like to make a reference packet for each character/location (see stack in the photo below). The packet will have printouts of whatever designs I’ve drawn and any other reference I might need. As of yesterday, I FINALLY finished off all the design work for issue #1 and this morning I start laying out the remaining scenes. The design phase always bogs me down (when I think back on many of the projects I worked on that fell apart, the design phase was almost always where it occurred.). It just happens to be the most time-consuming task for me. Super-happy with the designs I came up with, but honestly more psyched to be done with it and back to drawing and telling stories.

If you’re interested, I highly recommend checking out the following links to Pixar related podcasts:

Andrew Stanton – talks about upcoming John Carter movie & Pixar’s film-making process.
Pete Docter & Bob Peterson – talk with Jeff Goldsmith of Creative Screenwriting about Up.
Brad Bird – brilliant interview about Brad’s career and work in animation.

Design Work for The Happy Samurais Issue #1

 

Shanghai Expo 2010

More production design inspiration.  Some of the various pavilion designs from the Shanghai Expo 2010.  Good coverage of all the designs at Dezeen.  LOVE the Danish pavilion.

Shanghai Expo 2010

Shanghai Expo 2010

Shanghai Expo 2010

Shanghai Expo 2010

Shanghai Expo 2010

Shanghai Expo 2010

Shanghai Expo 2010

Shanghai Expo 2010

Shanghai Expo 2010

Shanghai Expo 2010

 

Came across a couple websites with a ridiculous wealth of production design inspiration.  Some samples from duldule.com and dezeen.com below.

The reference madness that goes on in my studio while working. That’s all for one building!

Gabe Bridwell Desk Shot, what's on the drawing table 8.22.11

Ming's House of Metal Recording Studio W-I-P Sketches

Iraqi-British Architect, Zaha Hadid.  The first female recipient of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.  Pretty obsessed with her work at the moment.  Some day I hope to make a trip to Zaragoza, Spain, just to experience her bridge pavilion in person.

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Zaha Hadid Design

Picking up where we left off last time then, my goals when planning out The Happy Samurais #1 were to try and do what the first issue of a good manga does:  introduce the world and characters, setup the status quo, introduce some story problems/conflitcts AND get across the series premise/hook.  On an even higher level, I wanted to craft a story so strong, that if someone picks up this new series from an unknown creator, they’d not only enjoy the first issue, but be compelled into picking up the ENTIRE series.

Now, that’s a damn tall order in your typical 22 page comic.

That’s why my plan was to do what I mentioned previously and go with a double-sized first issue.  Somewhere during the writing process though, that double-sized issue became a triple-sized issue and the final page count is pushing 60 pages. (Now whether a 60 page first issue is an idiotic idea or not is a discussion for another day, but I will say the whole point of making this comic is to make it exactly the way I want and fuck everything else.)

So The Happy Samurais #1 has ended up feeling somewhere in between a single issue and a trade paperback (most TPBs collect 5-6 issues, which would be 120-130 pages).  I’m used to working on 22 comics.  It’s familiar.  The finish line is always in sight and that’s a VERY comforting thing.

Doing a long form comic though presents it’s own unique set of challenges.  And I will admit that 60 pages BARELY qualify as long form –especially if compared to say, Craig Thompson’s 600+ page Habibi (which I had the privilege to read last fall).  But 60 pages is still half of a standard trade paperback and it feels radically different from a 22-pager to me.

And that brings me to the point of this post.

As I draw The Happy Samurais #1, I kinda feel like I’m only making progress on the project when I see the finished page count tally rise.  For whatever reason THAT and ONLY THAT seems to be how progress is measured (maybe because it’s the simplest quantifiable way?).  I might do six character designs, three location designs and five pages of layouts over a couple weeks, but because I didn’t add any pages to the tally, I feel like I didn’t accomplish a damn thing.

And feeling like you’re spinning you’re wheels (even though you know that’s not true) can depress the hell out of you.

One of the biggest factors in seeing things through to completion is handling the inevitable ups and downs that accompany a project that requires such a long period of work.  Day to day and hour to hour, you’ll go from believing you can slay dragons, to convinced you’re so awful that you need to find a new line of work.  For me, the surest way to feel good about myself again is to draw pages and add to that tally.

But making comics isn’t JUST drawing pages.  Well, at least for ME it’s not.  Even though finishing pages is the only way you feel like you’re getting closer to your goal, you can’t jump the gun and rush to start them.

You have to have something to say in your pages.

You have to build the pages on the foundation of your world and the story you want to tell in that world.

If you’re in too big a rush to draw the pages without laying the proper groundwork, they’ll ring empty and hollow.  You can’t just toss stuff out there.  If you want people to notice, if you want to them to give a shit, you have to world build.  And that means thinking how one character, one object, one prop, one location etc. is going to affect EVERY other thing in that world.

And to do that right takes time.

Don’t get distracted by things you WANT to draw (design that one character, setting or maybe that promo image that you’ve been dreaming about for years) and make sure they’re things you actually HAVE to draw in order to get the next page done.  That’s always a good test for me.  Do I HAVE to draw this model sheet super-tight to make the next page work?  Or can I just do it medium-tight and still have it work?  What’s the “endgame” for this piece?

The pages will come.

You’ll add to your tally.

Just keep plugging away.

Complete each step.  Move on to the next and stop worrying about how close you are to the finish line.

As discussed a few weeks ago, you’ve got to enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

 

Note: click here to read a couple of Craig Thompson’s thoughts on long form comics from my time at ACA with him.

Thought I’d give you a closer look at one of the production design sketches instead of another desk shot.  This is to figure out the street-view and adjacent buildings to The Happy Samurais loft.  I don’t worry about doing a super-tight drawing or making a “finished” piece.  It’s about planning things out ahead of time, so when the time comes to draw pages with this location, I’m not designing AND drawing.  I’m just drawing.  That keeps the page from bogging down in the middle of it while I design something.  Plus I’ll take these designs into account when doing my layouts for a given scene.  Knowing exactly what something looks like means I can chose the most interesting backdrop to set my scenes/shots against.

[Updated]

All finished with the production design (both interior & exterior) for the band’s loft.  Here’s a snapshot of all the designs.  I may show some of these bigger at some point in the future, but I’m still figuring out what to tease, what to show and what to save for the comic.  Now back to layouts and pages.

 

More production design work for The Happy Samurais.  Working on the exterior design of their apartment (building, rooftop, adjacent buildings etc).  Gave myself two weeks to do all the production design for this (both interior and exterior).  I’ll need today and possibly a little of tomorrow to finish it all off, but I’ll take it.  Part of me was always worried I’d get carried away and spend like six weeks on this.  Two weeks might sound self indulgent, but I feel it was absolutely warranted.  This location is the most important and prominent in the whole serious.  Gotta treat the design as such.


© Copyright 2002-2016 Gabe Bridwell. All rights reserved.