Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Model Building:
Like many artists, I find it easier to draw something, if I have a visual reference for it. Even if you have imagined a wonderful setting or room or style of architecture, it can often be complicated to imagine that same image from a different perspective or under different lighting.
When working on Issue #6 of Mouse Guard Fall 1152, I had a tricky few panels that showed the portcullis at Lockhaven's main gate crashing down. I built a model out of bristol scrap stock I had laying around. Using an x-acto, some rubber cement, tape and a pencil to sketch in some panel details, I had a nice little model of Lockhaven's gate.

The trick proved so useful that when it was time to create the town of Barkstone for the 'field guide' portion of the Fall 1152 hardcover, I found several free paper-models used by gamers to use in tabletop miniature games. Julia assembled a doze of these or so and taking multiple pictures, I was able to make a rough layout for all of Barkstone.

At the start of the Winter series, the mice arrive in Sprucetuck, which was in my mind, to be an apartment style town of Ewok technology mixed with Brian Froud's design sensibilities. I was worried about showing the perspective of the various balconies, elevators, railings, etc. without some model help. I took a day to build a multi-floor section out of cardboard, bristol, rubber cement, and pencil drawn details. Using multiple photos and rotating the model, I was able to see a more full version of Sprucetuck, without having to build much of it at all.

Knowing that Gwendolyn's office was going to be a repeated setting, I made a model of half of her office in the Fall series. It was one of the fastest I have made, and I'm really looking forward to making a better one with the full run of her office. However, even this little crude version can instantly help me visualize a scene from a different angle and give me reference for what details will also be seen or not seen.

The repeated arches in in Darkheather, seen in the Winter series, were driving me nuts. I printed out a drawing of the arch pattern and tacked it to 1/2" insulation foam board (available at any Home Depot). I cut the shapes out with a jig saw and drew in the details with a pen. I used the same technique of shooting the model several times while not moving the camera, but moving the model, to create an elaborate maze of them.

Lockhaven's Larder is proving to be another frequently used location. Unfortunately, the model is out-of-date by the way I started drawing one of the walls in issue 3 of Winter. I thought about reworking the model, but this one is pretty small, and I'm afraid I'd ruin it and have to start over if I tried altering it. I just use it for a quick "pre-viz", as the move folks call it.

For the bone chamber that Saxon falls into, I knew I wanted the architecture to be grand and spooky. For this one I took photos of an arch pattern I liked and printed it out. I glued the printout onto bristol scrap and cut the parts to form the vaulted ceiling. The dome was tricky, but I made it using a paper model plan for a globe. There is a cut-out section of the floor so I could get an up-shot view and the dome is removable for a down-shot view.

This last model was the trickiest. With some of the models, I was dealing with rooms with simple shapes, or geometry I could easily get patterns for. This one, which is part of the mouse prison/tomb of Darkheather, was built from scratch. In bed one night I was thinking about the architecture of this space and thought that the floor plan could imitate the 6 sided patterns (a stylized heather bloom in most cases) I used to decorate the weasel home. I could imagine the columns from a top down perspective, but I couldn't imagine what the space would look like, especially at mouse size. I started with the central column and worked outward.

All the models hang around my studio (with the exception of Sprucetuck witch came all apart and is mostly stored in a bag in my filing cabinet). I really find that the models help with the visualization and composition of a scene, they can help with perspective problems, and force you to stop drawing and do something else productive with your hands and time (which can be a great gear-shift to give you a break when you are stuck in a rut).

2009 Appearances:
Here is list of the confirmed shows I am doing next year.
New York Comic Con: Feb 6-8
WonderCon: Feb 27-Mar 1
Emerald City Comic Con: April 4-5
Motor City Comic Con: May 15-17
Heroes Con: June 19-21
San Diego Comic Con: July 22-26
Wizard World Chicago: August 6-9
Baltimore Comic Con: Oct. 10-11
*more to be added soon*

Fan Art:
Thanks to the wonderful Katie Cook for sending me two awesome mousey-doodles.

I really love Katie's work and how she's never afraid to mix cute with gore.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

From the Vault: TOWER!

Tower: The Board Game

I'm opening the Petersen vault (as I did with Jesters) on a game project. It started while playing the old TSR board game Dungeon. My pal Seyth and I were complaining about the flaws in it and how we would fix the flaws. It ended with a year long (not full time, we were both still in college) development of our game: Tower. Having played it on assorted game nights I can attest that it's not that much better than Dungeon, but because we made it, it has a soft spot in our hearts.

One of the first changes we made was to have more diverse characters. Dungeon had 4 (?) types of characters but multiple copies of those types. We decided that if there are two magic using characters, they should have differences. We made 15 characters and based a lot of them on our own D&D characters (My elven thief and Seyth's Dwarven Berzerker were first on the list). Here's another post where I go into more info & art about the characters

Tower uses three different kinds of cards. Treasure cards can be either worth gold or have a use in gameplay. They are separated into 6 levels (one for each floor of the tower) with level 1 being least valuable and 6 being the most. Spell cards help magic users keep track of what spells they know and which they have used. And after years of playing we decided to help balance some of the characters who weren't as well off with hand-drawn item cards. Each character gets 1 item specific to them at the start of the game. Unfortunately, this didn't completely balance anything, but made for other quarrels about how fair/unfair someones personal item is.

The game is played on three separate boards each showing 2 floors of the Tower. I layed out the boards in Pagemaker and have since lost the files (and my copy of page maker...good riddance). I originally wanted to have the boards stack and pivot out of the way to access the lower sections, but the design proved too tippy or heavy. This photo also shows the 'Monster manual" that is indexed as to which monsters appear on which levels. I id most of the artwork for the manual, but Jesse Glenn (Kenzie) provided several of the creature art pieces. Some of his are the most loved/memorable in the game (like the Owlbear).

In addition to making the characters all unique in the game, they all needed artwork and miniatures for gameplay. I customized Lego figures, drew portraits of each character, and fabricated character cards that could stand up to drunken use. I added sculpy to the legos and baked them in the oven at a low temp, so as not to distort the lego plastic too much.

To randomize which monsters appear in which room, I made lettered tokens 'A'-'E' & 'X'. I rolled out sculpy, stamped them with a rubber monogram stamp and then cut them into chips with a piece of thin walled brass tube. It was when I was fabricating these pieces that Julia and I were dating and getting serious. She still says this game fabrication was a bit scary for her and she wondered if I was stable enough to be a good boyfriend.

So there it is. A huge amount of work went into the game when I should have been studying harder or paying more attention to my girlfriend (especially when you consider how flawed it still is). But on New Years eve, it's the game that everyone wants to drag out and play.

Other Work:
I have turned in my dummy copy of Snowy Valentine's Day to Harper Collins. I have a while to breathe and tweak the sketches before doing the final work, but I am very happy with the results. Obviously, I can't share too much of the book, but here is one of the pieces/scenes I am most proud of. Jasper Bunny, looking for the perfect Valentine's gift for his honey bunny, visits the porcupine children who are knitting scarfs for their mother. Jasper learns he can't knit and that porcupine tots find that funny.

I also got an opportunity to do some work that will be featured on products for comic book artists (not sure if I can reveal who/what yet). I was asked to do a few sample panels in my style, but without being something already under copyright etc. The Ladybug with the top hat and moustache still cracks me up a bit.

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