Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Dragons Revisit Part 1

For the fourth episode of THE PLOTMASTERS PROJECT, Jesse Glenn & I revisited an old project of ours from 1995 called "DRAGONS". Well...we called it "DRAGONS" But that was a placeholder name at the time. Recently I redubbed it The "Last of the Dragons" -or- "The Last Five of the Dragons"...AND this project demanded a 2 part episode. Part 1 deals with only the human characters. (Feel free to go watch the episode before reading further)

To the left you can see my new finished piece for the first DRAGONS episode of THE PLOTMASTERS PROJECT, and below I'll break down who the characters were, and how I created this updated image for the podcast.

Our original inspiration for this project was to create a team like Voltron or Power Rangers that had humans in color specific armor that have incredible mounts, and who work best together with their unique abilities focused together. Here I started by ditching some of the past sleek sci-fi anime-influenced armor to play to my strength of doing more fantasy/period designs. I focused on giving each character's clothing a sense of culture, society, and region. I'll get more into what I was thinking on that topic for each character further below. These are pencil on copy paper.

I then scanned the sketches and placed them into a group composition digitally in Photoshop. I tinted each character to help me see where each started and ended, where there would be overlaps, and tangents. At this stage I also made tweaks to proportions (characters eyes, overall height, weapon size/placement) and added in a bow reference (it's from Skyrim I guess).

At this stage I also toyed with the notion of flags to represent each character's region as a backdrop.

To ink the group as I had them layed out in my composition proved to be problematic. The size that would be comfortable to ink would have been 22" long. I tested shrinking it down to something more manageable (and that would fit on my scanner in one pass), but the faces got small enough I thought they'd be too hard to ink and not loose something from the pencils. So I split them up again to ink individually. This way I'd have nice stand-alone imagery of each character, but I could re-compose them into the group shot if I wanted to. Below are the inks/flats/colors with some notes on each character

I made his armor fairly standard in terms of design. As the captain of the guard for the largest province of the king, I thought he should have a square jaw, wide stance, and utilitarian armor. He's a leader, and I wanted his clothes and his facial expression to convey that. Since I drew Pierce first, I established that each character should have some type of chest-plate, cape, hip & groin covering, boots with a ankle piece, bracers, and shoulder pieces. I replaced the '95 double beaked hand axe with something a bit longer and more believable could have been issued to a guard captain. For his palate, I went with all earth-tones. Even the armor is a green-grey.

Hailing from the snowy northern mountains, I fashioned Gwen's design on norse fantasy tropes: large braid, furs, and quilting. While that sounds like an easy google reference search, it wasn't. A lot of 'sexy' norse fantasy images pop up that don't help design anything useful for protection or against the cold. I looked to illustrator Even Amundsen's work for a better starting point. I wanted her to exude rugged individualism, survival skills, & independence. The quilted/woven top was inspired by Princess Leia's costume from Empire Strikes Back, and the skirt was unwittingly nabbed from various Wonder Woman designs. For Gwen's ice-whip, I inked the bulk of it on the back (using a lightbox to see it through the surface of the bristol) to more easily isolate it at the coloring stage. While Gwen's color is 'white' I had to go with creams, greys, and neutral browns.

The region Cornelius comes from is supposed to be a dusty, rocky, impoverished, desert...Somewhere between The Old West and Mad Max. I wanted his armor design to reflect that, and still be imposing. Every bit of his costume is made to look as though it was scavenged, repurposed, and assembled by him: from the hammered looking leg, chest and shoulder pieces, to the wrapped undergarment, the tattered capes, bird skull belt buckle, and the chain cloak.  As with the '95 design I kept the spike motif on his costume. I made the character larger than he originally was drawn by Jesse, I wanted him to be a gentle giant. A patient and compassionate soul in a toweringly strong body. All his colors are muted, dark, & drab (other than the spikes)

Felix is meant to come from a prosperous, regal, and elegant province. He is the youngest member of this team, recently graduated top of his class from that societies academy. Some of the fabric-elements of his design are meant to look like a uniform. I echoed those long pointy shapes throughout the design as much as possible, the shape of his sword, shoulder armor, boot-tips, and the scales of his tunic armor. I wanted Felix to have the outward personality of a cocky private-boarding-school fencing champ. His coloring is all warm, but I didn't want to overwhelm with the red, so I played with trim and undergarment tones. Because the sword flame didn't overlap any part of Felix's body, I didn't need to ink them on the back, I could just isolate them easily enough as I colored. 

Nigel is meant to be a ranger-theif type character in the vein as Robin Hood from a lake/sea-side province of this fictional world. I gave him the most swashbuckly-type costume I could, pirate boots, thief satchel, leather armor, and fancy striped pirate pants. I did give him ring mail under his leather chest piece, partly because it felt like it worked thematically with how chainmail flows and ripples like water, but also because it was a design choice I hadn't yet used on any of the characters. The bow, I tried to disguise away from the Skyrim details to make it look more like shaped driftwood. For the lightning bowstring & arrow, I did the ink-it-on-the-back trick, and then played with various effects and transparencies to give it the right look.

Once I had the characters done, I decided to tap back into that regional flag concept. Instead of using different shapes like I'd roughed out, I opted to make them uniform rectangles (giving the background all the same weight with no odd negative shapes between flags). I thought more about the themes I was trying to portray with each character, the personality of the place they came from, as well as the element their weapons/dragons are charged with. The red is a mix of flame shapes and elegant floral sweeping lines; the white has a celestial motif for the snowflake-star and an even coating of falling snow with a fringe on the bottom to echo Gwen's fur cloak; the green has a crowned tree with the royal trappings of gold trim and compasses; the black is a patchwork, tattered at the bottom with a spiky runic symbol that reminds me of a toxic warning; and blue keeps the playful stripes, but with an echoing bow/lighting rune that also look a bit like waves.

Below is the final composition, characters assembled, flags inserted, and title/logo added.

I really enjoyed getting to revisit these characters for the Plotmasters Project. Where I didn't push the designs very far away from the original source material with previous Plotmasters episodes, I took these characters as an opportunity to flex some redesign muscles. I tried to not be too precious to the original armors and designs, and to pay more attention to the original concepts & inspirations for the characters rather than the surface tropes of what Jesse & I did in '95.

And to add to the 2017 Plotmasters revisit, I added a villain: KALLOVELHO, a Litch (an evil wizard so powerful he raised himself from the dead.)

I wanted to stretch and not use typical 'evil' colors for his color scheme and I went with gold. I imagine this powerful undead sorcerer has enough power and backstory to keep the five characters above rather busy.

You can watch the first DRAGONS episode of 
The Plotmasters Project on YouTube:

And follow us on Facebook & Twitter

2018 Appearances coming soon...

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Mouse Guard Model Video: Upper Port Sumac

At the end of The Black Axe, Celanawe visits Conrad in Upper Port Sumac (they'd met earlier in the book in the Lower portion of the city), I built a model of the exposed part of the town out of commercially available gaming papercraft kits and then kit-bashed them together

Below you can watch  a video where I talk about these models, how I built them, what the materials were, and why I built them in the first place.

Another post about Upper Port Sumac:
Model Blogpost:

2018 Appearances coming soon...

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Family Mouse Commission Process

Several years ago, I did a commission for a family of Mouse Guard fans, when an engagement was about to happen. They wanted the piece to have a mouse lovingly proposing to another with the date included in the piece (though I swapped out the date for the word 'LOVE' when I colored it for a sketchbook) Then later, the family commissioned me again when the 1st baby of that union was expected. You can see both of those pieces colored to the left...but today's blogpost is all about the third piece I did for them this summer...

The couple now has a 2nd child, a daughter, and they wanted an updated family portrait. Although I wasn't accepting these types of inked commissions any more, the loyal fans & patrons, wanted this last piece to round out their collection. They requested the same characters of the parents, as well as the house with the balcony shown in the previous two, and ultimately their children enjoying the flowers. I sketched out these elements on sheets of copy paper.

After scanning the sketches, I was able to assemble a composition I was happy with in Photoshop. By having all the characters drawn separately, it wasn't difficult to mirror, resize, overlap or shift around each mouse as well as the background. I tinted each character's linework a different color to help me make more sense of the jumble of lines.

Once this was done, I could print it out to prep for inking...

I taped the printout onto the back of a sheet of Strathmore 300 series bristol. Then, on a light-pad, I could see through the bristol to the printed lines to use as guides as I inked on the bristol's surface with Copic Multiliners (the 0.7 & 0.3 nibs mainly).

Most of the grass and the flowery background I improvised in ink as I worked.

Because this piece would work perfectly in a Mouse Guard sketchbook, I decided to get started on the 2018 book now. I flatted the colors for the piece to prep it for final color. Flatting is basically just coloring within the lines and organizing the layers of a color file so you can quickly isolate each area for rendering...establishing the fur colors are different spaces than the clothes and trim, and grass, and flowers, etc...

The colors for the parents and the house were somewhat already established, so I just had to focus on color choices for the kids.

Then last week over on Twitch, I did the final rendering for this piece so it's ready as a page for the 2018 sketchbook (It won't go to the printer until June). Below you can see the final colors after I rendered the piece using the Dodge and Burn tools mainly, with a little assist from the freehand lasso, color balance, and a few screen layers to help push the background further back.

2018 Appearances coming soon...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Legends of the Guard characters revisited

To start on the 2018 sketchbook and to make sure my portfollio was stocked with original art for San Diego Comic Con, I had the idea of doing Mouse Guard pieces based on specific characters & stories from the guest contributors in Legends of the Guard. For those who don't know, Legends is a spinoff anthology series where guest artists write and illustrate tall tales, fables, and folklore set in the Mouse Guard world. The 3 volumes of Legends are now available in a nice boxed set.

Below I'll show a bit of the original artist's tale that I used as reference, and the inks and colors for my homage:

by Sean Rubin (a) & Alex Kain (w)

In Volume 1, Sean and Alex told a tale about a mouse named Eskel who visits Barkhamstead to stop a bear who has gotten too close to the town. To get the bear where he needs to perform the slaying, Eskel opens a locked canister filled with some special blend of herbs, pollens, etc that will lure the beast right below him.

For my version, I just wanted to focus on that moment where there is no turning back, where the elaborately decorated and sealed canister is opened, the contents blow to the wind, and the bear's arrival is imminent. 



The Mouse Generals
by Eric Canete

In Volume 2, Eric illustrated a story about three mice who, to be recognized as leaders, build and wear elaborate headdresses. Unfortunately, like in the Aesop story this is based on, the crowns become their undoing.

For my version, I copied the very pose Eric drew and the color palate Scott Keating painted. The designs for these mice are so wonderful, and I loved getting to translate each adornment and texture for this piece.



The Shade
by Jemma Salume

In Volume 2, Jemma did a Mouse Guard ghost story! Two Guardmice, Fila & Aaron, visit an uncharted town where a cursed tree's shadow transports those in the shade to a horrible place haunted by a ghost owl.

For my version, I redrew Aaron & Fila (I cribbed details from Jemma's initial character designs that were refined for the story) and studied a few owl skeleton photos for the ghost.



When Moles Around
by Charles Paul Wilson III

In Volume 2, C.P. Wilson III contributed a story about a mouse and a mole become unlikely friends, especially since burrowing moles would ruin the foundations of mouse dwellings. The mole ends up using this trait to foil the plans of a marauding group of mouse bandits & pillagers.

For my version, I drew a hero-shot of the Mouse and the Mole burrowing out to save the day.



Oleg the Wise
by Alex Sheikman

In Volume 1, Alex adapted a Russian folktale about a warrior/king who is told a prophecy that his mount will be the death of him. For the Legends version, Oleg gives up the weasel he rides due to this prediction (seemly wise as a weasel is a natural predator) only to be struck down years after the weasel is dead and buried visiting its grave.

For my version, I kept the color palate and layout of a banner in Oleg's castle (again expertly colored by Scott Keating) but with the armor designs of the 'real' Oleg



My hope is to do more of these Legends homages so that the bulk of the 2018 Mouse Guard Sketchbook is Legends of the Guard related. You can still order the 2016 & 2017 sketchbooks in my online store: https://mouseguard.bigcartel.com

2018 Appearances coming soon...

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