February 10, 2012

Chris Sanders' Sketch Process

I was wanting to do a drawing of a witch. This is the tenth sketch. Maybe the fifteenth. Some worked out better, but I kept pushing on this one. I filed the others and I'll get to them when I have more time. You can see that I just scribble ideas without much regard to a finished drawing. If I see something I like, I'll turn the paper over and draw on the back using a light box.

This is an important step. I learned a long time ago to turn drawings over and re-work them. On a light box, everything is reversed and thus you can see it as a fresh drawing. When it is reversed, all sorts of problems that you didn't notice before, show up. This drawing is on the reverse of the bristol board that drawing 1 was on. I was able to make some solid choices as to the position of the girls feet and legs.

Now the challenging part. For me, anyway. I tend to do lone figures, which has become a bit bland. So I decided to try and add another witch, sharing the broom. I'm not worrying about costumes, just trying to get a cute sexy pose without fussing with accuracy. I'm using good old tracing paper over the reversed drawing, and trying to crowd the broomstick as much as I can. I was adding a little cat to the front of the broom to use up more real estate, and try and excuse the way the second girl is pressed against the first. You can see that the rough head on the second witch isn't in the right place, but again, I'm not worrying about that right now.

Mainly, I'm still looking for something that will make this worth finishing, and at this point I think I may have found it...


I really like the way the second girl has her heel hooked around the first girl's leg. In the previous sketch I gave the first girl a bust reduction, and I like thew way it looks. I'll probably do that to the second rider as well.

More tracing paper, just stacking it up and taping it down. You can see the layers building up. I'm sketching with my favorite pencil, a Faber-Castell Polychromos. Black, number 199.

I tried a rough re-position with the second witch's head, and even though it doesn't quite work, it's good to begin trying some new things.

I'm adding a dog to the back, so that each girl has an animal with her.

So I decided to add one more figure, to make the original girl feel like she's stuck in the middle of a crowd. I figure the two outside girls will be friends, having some sort of conversation, paying little attention to the girl whose broom they hitched a ride on.

At this point I really don't like the way the two friends are posed, but the idea of sandwiching the first girl is working.

So now I'll refer to these girls by their position on the broom, from left to right, girl 1, 2, and 3.

Girl 1 should have a way more suggestive pose, and more relaxed at the same time.

Girl 3 lost all her appeal, and seems tense. She needs to relax.

I'm not sure if you can see it, but I'm just piling up tracing paper and taping it down so it doesn't move. You can see the faint cat one layer down. I actually cut out Girl 1 with an Xacto, because I wasn't revising Girl 2 or 3. So if you look closely you can see the cut edge of the new layer that Girl 1 is on.

The whole composition is getting better, but now there doesn't seem to be enough connection between Girl 1 and 3. And Girl 2 needs to be crowded from behind if she's gonna stay in that pose, which I'd like to try and make work.

Since Girl 1 is now in a more standard pin up pose, I want to make girl 3 much more casual.

Again, I'm not worrying about costumes, because it's more important to get the figures posed. The costumes will need to be minimal and simple anyway, and they'll need to work around the poses.

One more layer, this time a new sheet of tracing paper over the whole thing, because its time to bring the sketching to an end. Now I'll try and get faces and feet and tummies and such all in the right place for the next move to a bristol board for ink.

The big change is the new pose for Girl 3, which I think is finally working. Now she's using Girl 2 for something to lean on, and she looks relaxed. I decided against a bust reduction, and went bigger since it helps crowd Girl 2.

I'm also trying to place the cat again.

Same drawing, with a plain bristol board slid underneath the top layer of tracing paper so you and I can better see where this thing is at the moment.

I included some details on the sides - it is these critical over/under lines that will make this whole thing feel right. I'll have to be careful not to lose these as I go to the next step. I'm not at all happy with the dog and cat yet, and if I stay true to the idea that every witch has her own familiar, then there is one missing animal.


I'm also wondering if he broom handle is too straight, and not feeling like there is enough weight on it.

Okay, so that whole thing I mentioned before about how you need to look at drawings backwards so you can see them with a fresh eye? I held this up to a mirror this morning and noticed all kinds of stuff.

Even though the entwined feet are a massive cheat, there were some serious issues with where the feet were, making Girl 3 look like she had no calf length. I cut the feet out and glued them down in a different place, and I'm happier with them, even though they still probably couldn't really do what they're doing. And I do mean cut and glue, by the way. Most of the things I use to make a living are the same ones I learned to use when I was in kindergarten. You can see the holes where the feet used to be. As for the final position of the feet, something I've learned from watching animators do their thing - things don't have to actually make sense, as long as they seem to. In story and animation we use the word 'believable' a lot.

After all, none of this drawing would actually work anyway. One single girl couldn't balance on a speeding stick, let alone three. The point is to get it feeling like it could work, and after that no one cares. At least most people. The other ones we don't worry about.

Okay, back to the list. I didn't like the lack of contact between #1 chest and #2 face, as it wasn't feeling like there was any real volume, and I just wasn't happy with the position in general. So I tried a variation on it, and I think its better.

I tried a little thing with the hair on Girl #1, and having it free to blow around makes everything feel more like its moving, and it covers a multitude of sins with her neck and shoulder.

I added the cat, raven, and luggage. Luggage in the back, of course. Rather than have the raven fly, I stayed consistent with the overloaded broom idea by stacking him on the cat's head.

PS - For an idea of time, I didn't do anything last light as I got back from work after eight thirty, and I was pretty tired. Most of this stuff is being done before work - the changes you see here took two hours this morning. 

My tools. Faber Castell Polychromos. Staedtler Mars plastic eraser. Coffee. Music.

Never underestimate music in this mix. The right music will keep me at my desk for hours, and the right music can make the difference between a great drawing and a so-so drawing. I have playlists that I write to, exercise to, draw to, and ink to.

So the reason I don't care about all the cutting and gluing and such, is that I'll just make a scan of the drawing after I have it pretty close to the way I want to ink it. This is a print of the scanned drawing, and I did this so I could play around with some clothing ideas. This drawing is all about Girl 2, so I wanted to give her the simplest outfit. Girls 1 and 3 should be mega-naughty, And even though I'm not yet satisfied with either outfit, I'm heading in this direction.

By the way, I've found it more difficult to turn bats around the figures that I thought it would be. I guess this is why people have models. I'll do my best when the time comes to get the stripes, bats and such right.

Because I don't want to delay the inking any longer, I might ink the girls as they are, and add the outfits as another layer. This will pay dividends later as I can endlessly change their outfits depending on who the drawing is for, and it will keep inking fun and simpler.

And if Girl 3 is a cat, she won't be leopard-spotted. She'll be a proper black cat. I just couldn't help myself as I was scribbling on her outfit.

PS - I probably should have mentioned this, but this print was made just to try some outfits on the characters, the final version will include the animals and brush at the end of the broom.

So all of this work led to this last moment before I transfer the drawing to Bristol board for inking. I did some last minute changes that will be much easier to accomplish on the computer than to freehand them.

I noticed that Girl #1's head was a little bigger than the other two. So I took the opportunity to cut and paste the head from the costume sketch, because I like the way her hair came out. I reduced it by about 7%, and it looks better now.

I also noticed that Girl #3 had a very big foot, so I reduced it a little, and repositioned it one more time.

And I transferred the shoes from the costume Girl #1 to this one, because even though they need a little more work, this will get me closer.

 I print the drawing out in several sizes, even if I need to print it on multiple pieces of paper.

I decide on 125% as the size I want to ink. I take the three prints that together will make the entire drawing, and place them on a light table. I use the light table to tape them together so they are perfectly aligned. There will be overlap, which I want.

I then place the taped-together print on a cutting table and use a new Xacto blade to cut them each apart, trying to find a path that misses most or all the critical parts of the figures. I am sure to press through both the top and bottom page in one pass. I discard the extra paper, and am left with three puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together to make a complete drawing. I did this so that when I trace the drawing down there will only be one layer to press a line through. Sadly, I have a giant Epson printer that could print this on one seamless page, but I never have had time to hook it up.

I re-join the three prints, being careful to tape them together in the blank sections between and above and below the figures to keep the tape out of the way of the drawing. You can see how much bigger this final print is as compared with the original.

Finally I turn the drawing over, and using a scarlet Col-Erase pencil, rub a lot of graphite on the lines on the back of the drawing.

So I took the B&W print (the one I scribbled scarlet Col-Erase all over the back of) and taped it down onto a piece of Bristol board - plate finish. I then used the same Col-Erase to trace the image one last time. As most of you guessed, I'm transferring the drawing by pressure through the printout and onto the Bristol via the scribbled Col Erase.

This is a close-up of the front of the printout, so you can see where I traced the B&W lines. I use Scarlet again because I'm able to see where I'm going, and where I've been. This is one of the most critical steps, as I don't want to lose all the stuff that made the original sketch look like it did. The original sketch had such life and energy to it because of the frenetic nature of the lines and the variation of line weight, and those qualities will to some degree be lost in this transfer. The trick is to lose as little as possible. So as I trace this drawing I'm paying attention to every little thing I think is important to the energy of the image.

Also, notice how I didn't trace every line - some of them, like the hair on Girl 3 will be drawn directly on the final red tracing, as I think I want to fiddle around with it one last time.

So here is the tracing. I took my time with it as I didn't want to lose the essence of the original sketch. Even though this can be tedious, I try to relax and enjoy this step. Transferring drawings is something that goes WAY back, and I like the connection to the past I feel while I do it. Drawing and painting are crafts that are best enjoyed with real materials, I think.

I did a little re-positioning of Girl 2's screen right eye during the tracing - I'll work it one last time before I ink. In fact, I'll take a last pass at everything before the ink goes on. The eyes, and the feet and the missing hair from Girl 3. I'm still on the fence about the outfits, and weather or not to ink them in. The shoes would have to go, and I don't want to lose them, so I think I'll ink them with costumes on.

Since Girl 3 is basically wearing a body suit, she'll still be inked like this, so there will be a little something for everyone.

So now this whole thing is transferred in scarlet Col Erase onto the Bristol board. I can work it one last time freehand and get every last little thing the way I want it before I ink. Which is what I'll do now.

The biggest thing I ever transferred was an enlarged drawing onto the un-glassed surface of a shaped surfboard. Talk about delicate - the slightest push with my finger would dimple the foam. After I was done I returned the board to its owner and he took it to be glassed. So the painting was protected under a fiberglass and resin shell.

 This is one last freehand pass to get everything as close to correct as I can.

This is why I did the transfer in Scarlet Col Erase. I can touch up and sharpen the lines without any big impact to the clean drawing. I found that there were quite a few little things left to do. I adjusted Girl 1's leg. I worked on Girl 2's head, and I lengthened Girl 3's thigh. I also gave her a little more weight since she has more negative space to fill. Anyway, I'll be inking this one.

Next time you see it it should have a black line. I'll hopefully get a start on it tomorrow morning, since mornings are the best time to ink.

As I may have mentioned, one of the interesting things about this ink thing is that every line is inked more than once - the paper absorbs just a little bit of the ink, so to get a nice black line, multiple passes are in order.

Even though I have gotten through what I consider to be the most harrowing part of this picture - the girls - I still try to slow down and get things like this fellow right. Because he's not human, I can relax a little more on the animals, since they can be off by a little more and still look alright.

I try to thin the lines down when they intersect with a different character. The dog's lines lighten up as they pass behind the girl, and the girl's tail lightens up when it passes behind the dog. This helps keep the characters distinct, and keeps this looking like a collection of characters instead of a collection of lines.

Someone also had a great suggestion about posting some inking on YouTube, and I'll try and do that tomorrow. I also got a request for a list of materials.

Winsor & Newton sable brush - #1 or #2
(I use number 1)

Winsor & Newton black indian ink -
(The bottle with the Spider on the label, not the Dragon - they're completely different ink, and the Dragon is neither black nor permanent)

Well, I finished with the inking. I'd estimate that if I did this in one sitting it was probably about seven to ten hours. I purposefully stopped before I inked the little chain on the far-right purse. I knew I'd need to get it perfectly straight, so I might as well do it in Photoshop tonight. I'll also perfect a few things like the big ball in girl #3's hair, since I'll never ever get it round by hand. I'll also be policing other little things here and there, just to get it all ready for the last step.

I decided not to ink a costume on Girl #3, just because I'll be giving her a black bodysuit. so she'll essentially be wearing a coat of paint - so no linework necessary at this time.


So, now that I have a line I can be fairly settled with, its time to color. There are a lot of ways to approach this, but one of my favorites is to separate the ink layer and paint layer. This is my formula - it is for Apple computers, but I'm sure it works just as well for any Photoshop version. If you have better ways of doing this, by all means post a link to your particular formulas. I love learning different ways of doing these things.

These are the first steps. Next post will have the others.


Scan image at 300 DPI or higher in GREYSCALE mode. If the image is in color, you should convert it to GREYSCALE before proceeding

Optional step. You need a clean line against a white background. Pull down from IMAGE (top menu) and select ADJUST, then click on BRIGHTNESS/CONTRAST. Use the sliders to sharpen and define the line without losing too much of the look if it is a pencil drawing. Click OK when you are happy with the line work.

This is your big chance to perfect your drawing before getting into a mess later. Using PAINTBRUSH or ERASER tool, erase anything that you don’t want or add anything that is missing. Adjusting lines will not work well after this point.

Before proceeding, flatten your image. Label this single, remaining layer BACKGROUND.

Find the LAYERS box in the lower right of your screen. Click on the little black arrow in the upper right hand corner of the box, this will show a menu. Click on DUPLICATE LAYER… A box will appear and ask you what you want to name this layer, label it INK then click OK.

Be sure the INK layer is above the BACKGROUND layer.

Select the INK layer. Pull down from SELECT (top menu) and click on COLOR RANGE below it. The COLOR RANGE box will appear and a SAMPLED COLORS indicator will be apparent. Your cursor will now look like a eye dropper - use it to click once on any area that is clean white space: do not click on the line work. A little preview window will give you a rough idea which lines have been recognized. Now notice the FUZZINESS slider. Slide it back and forth till you are happy with the image in the preview window. (I usually slide it all the way to the right - Fuzziness 200) Click OK.

NOTE: After clicking OK in the last step, the lines on your drawing should now be stripey and moving - these will be the ink lines that float above the paint layer of your picture.

Go back to the LAYERS box and repeat the procedure in step 4. (The INK layer in the box should be highlighted before you click on DUPLICATE LAYER). When the box comes up and asks for a new name, label this one PAINT.

Now you have several different layers in the LAYERS box. You can click and drag them around to put different ones on top. It is necessary to keep the INK layer on top, then the PAINT layer under it, followed by the BACKGROUND layer that is left.

Highlight the INK layer in the LAYERS box and push the DELETE button on your keyboard. This deletes the white areas from the INK layer. I don’t know why but it does.

Notice the little human eyes to the left of each of the layers in the layers box. Click on the ones next to BACKGROUND and PAINT to make them disappear, leaving the only remaining eye visible next to INK. This gives you a weird gray checkerboard pattern on your image, this is correct at this point, it also reveals how your final line is going to look.

Go back to the LAYERS box, and with the INK layer highlighted, repeat the procedure in step 4 yet again, this time labeling this one CONTROL. Remember to keep the layers arranged with INK on top followed by PAINT then CONTROL and finally BACKGROUND on the bottom.

Now, while the CONTROL layer is highlighted, set your color palette to PURE WHITE. Choose the PAINTBUCKET from the picture menu, position it over any blank white space on the drawing. Click the PAINTBUCKET into any blank, white spaces. This should eradicate the little checkerboard pattern. Inevitably, the paint won't flow into every nook and cranny on the drawing, so use a big brush to wipe the whole thing thoroughly. Be sure no gray checkerboard is left.

Now highlight the INK layer in the LAYER box. Above it you will notice a little empty box next to the word Lock: Click in the box to put a check-mark in the box. This will lock the layer.

Restore the little image of the human eye next to the PAINT layer.

Now you are ready to paint, just highlight the ink or the paint level in the LAYERS box depending on which level you want to work on. The computer will refuse to paint in color, even though you are choosing colors from your palette. This is because you wisely scanned the image in Grayscale mode. To correct, pull down from IMAGE and highlight MODE. This will bring up another menu, in which Greyscale is highlighted. Click on RGB Color or CMYK Color. When it asks if it should merge the levels, choose DON'T MERGE! Now you can paint in color.

The picture I posted depicts a quick wiping-on of some BLUE just to confirm the ink layer is separated successfully.

 And just a quick shot of some color being splashed onto the PAINT layer, just to see that its working correctly.

Now that I have a clean and distinct separation between INK and PAINT layers, everything is much easier. I tend to like this because it's very familiar - this works a lot like cel coloring in traditional animation.

Giving the characters colored lines, even if its subtle, gives them so much more life.

Now I can color away with a lot more speed.

This tutorial is on Sanders' DA page.
He started the illustration during the final weeks of the How To Train Your Dragon production.

Here's a note from his site made the night after the Academy Awards celebration a year ago.
"...These animated movies cross into another realm, quite often, after a screening, people comment on how they didn't feel like they were watching an animated movie.  One of the interviewers on the carpet asked why these films have become so entertaining for an adult audience.  I said that I believe we've always worked to create stories and characters that will be entertaining to anyone of any age.  Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Lilo and Stitch, Mulan....all of them.  But now the look of these films has caught up with the storytelling.  We've been so limited in the past with what we could do with the light and the camera.

Now don't get me wrong, those films I mentioned are, to me, perfect.  I wouldn't want to change a thing about them.  But they were designed to work with the limitations we lived with.  You couldn't truck-in to a character or move around them without a massive undertaking to change the perspective of the background.  And you couldn't put more than a few spots on a character (hyenas in Lion King) before you'd break the bank.  We couldn't put a graphic on Nani's shirt in Lilo and Stitch because there just wasn't enough time and money to track it.  It was possible - anything is - but we had to be wise with our resources.  A coffee cup on a shirt isn't going to change the way you feel about a character, so it isn't necessary.   Incidentally, at the end of Lilo and stitch, the artists put the coffee cup on Nani's shirt just once.   Do you know where?

Those films were engineered to work with what was practical and available.  And I think they work great.  But with CG, we can adjust our expectations to include the sort of camera work and textures and light that you would expect to see in a live-action film.  We have many many more tools available to tell these stories, and the net effect is different.  More intense.  More immersive.

Anyway, I digress.  But I wanted to also say that I wished our category had had enough entries to have expanded to five nominees.  Despicable Me and Tangled should have been there with us as well.  The character animation in Tangled was a triumph - a new high ground in CG animation.  And from sheer brilliance in story telling, Despicable Me should get more recognition.  I have watched that movie ten times, and I watch it till the end every time.  That's what I go to the movies for.  A great journey, and a great story.  Well done."


Jeff Jackson said...

This is great, thanks for posting!

Aaron Dockery said...

This is amazing work. I love the rounded look of the girls. I'm looking for you on Deviant now!

topproactivator blog said...

Sketch 44 intresting post

zohaib anwer said...

keep it up fantastic post