This is a fun illustration I did for Nickelodeon Magazine, currently featured in the June 2009 issue. It's purpose: to give you all sorts of weird ways to creep out the person sitting next to you at the movies. I hadn't done a group shot like this in awhile, and of course it was a great opportunity to come up with some interesting characters. The above image is the file they sent back after they added text to the speech balloons (though it says pages 8 - 9, it now appears on pages 4 - 5). It has great placement in the magazine, too—spanning a full spread!
Here's a close-up of my two favorites of the bunch, only because I love that grin.
In other news, you should hop over to the Creative Juices blog to see what the crew came up with for this week's WTD? (What the Doodle?) The word was "PLOT." Here's my contribution:
What d'ya know?...another deranged kid. I'm sensing a pattern.
This may come as a surprise to those of you who've been following my Flash tutorials, but I really enjoy inking the traditional way as well—the ole dip the pen in the bottle of ink approach (maybe you've heard of it). I talked about my process in an earlier post (My Little Corner of the World) and how I use various pen nibs to ink my comics. I can get a varying-width with my nibs by applying pressure and it works perfectly for the level of detail I want in my comics, but the line width is limited to the size of the nib. This makes is harder to ink at a larger scale.
I recently purchased one of those Pentel Pocket Brush Pens (if you're interested, check out Jet Pens), which unlike felt-tip brush pens (markers, really) has actual bristles. It's known in cartooning circles as one of the best brush pens around. When you first get it the bristles are completely white until you load the cartridge and the ink flows in. As long as you keep the cap on, it never dries out.
I've been playing with it a bit, but it's a little hard to control as I'm not used to inking with a brush, period. But I'm beginning to get the hang of it, and I'm hoping that with a little more practice the transition to inking with a true brush will be easier.
I just finished a couple drawings for an art trade with my talented blog buddies Chris Houghton and David DeGrand. And I inked them with the brush pen, which I am wielding here in this photo.
My end goal is to be able to create the same cartoony line I get out Flash, but on paper with real ink. I learned digital before analog, as odd as that seems. The biggest downside to inking in Flash is that you're not using real ink (INK is so much fun to work with) and you don't have a physical piece to hold in your hand when you're done. The computer is amazing, but it sure does a good job of trapping your original artwork in binary code.
I had a blast inking these drawings. Soon, I'm going to buy some brushes and give the real deal a try. Until then, the brush pen is doing the trick.
Might work him into a comic, or a game. I have a possible story in mind. Cute, huh?
In other news, I'll be heading up to the first Maine Comics Arts Festival in Portland, Maine this Sunday. Seems like a fun event! Mike Lynch has a list of the cartoonists and writers who will be attending.
Also, another reminder that I'm on Twitter these days (@bobjinx). So look me up!
This post is in response to general questions people had about my personal approach to drawing and inking in Flash. I've mentioned that I'll be doing animation-focused tips soon, but I thought it would be a good time to address those questions and any new questions people might have as they've started drawing in Flash.
A number of you were curious about how I achieve my line quality in Flash. It's a hard thing to describe, but I will do my best. I should start by saying that I hadn't mastered inking with a real brush (still haven't) before I began drawing in Flash. And in many ways, inking with the Brush tool in Flash has turned me on to becoming skilled with a traditional brush. Most cartoonists will tell you that it takes years to become fully adept and confident with a brush—the learning curve in Flash is hopefully a bit shorter. It takes a couple months to get past the initial frustration (if you started back when I did my January post I hope you're well on your way). Like any tool, you have to learn all of its quirks and subtleties. Each version of Flash is different, not to mention all the settings you can choose. You might even find it feels different if you hop to another computer. I know I prefer my setup at home to my setup at work. So many things come into play—whatever they are, you'll eventually get used to them.
Drawing in Flash actually changed my line style a bit, as I've switched from mainly using a single-width pen line to a varying-width brush line. Here are two doodles before and after drawing in Flash: (be sure to click on all images for larger versions)
I immediately found I could create something akin to the brushy cartoon line I love so much. Which is something I would have discovered if I'd picked up a real brush to begin with, but Flash offers a certain amount of control—not to mention the Undo button so you can get your stroke just right. I still think of it as cheating in some ways because it's so easy once you get the hang of it.
Most people I know have been able to transfer their natural drawing style into Flash once they get comfortable. If you're the kind of person that wants to create lines with perfect precision, Flash will let you do it and the manual Smoothing tool will help you get there. If you use a rough scratchy line, you should be able to achieve that in Flash, too. If you like something in-between, perhaps a wobbly line that skips along the page, you'll figure that out in no time. If you don't want any varied weight, just use the Pencil tool. Most line-styles are do-able in Flash.
Whatever your line-style, practice it in all it's various iterations. Here I just opened up a file and started making lines of all types and shapes.
To Smooth or Not to Smooth
One of the things that either concerns you in Flash or doesn't is how perfect you want your line to look on the closest possible inspection. This is often called "optimization" —technically, how many points make up your vector shape, how smooth it is, and if it has any bumps along the way. The most common style in Flash animation is a perfectly optimized line, which you rarely get when you put down a stroke with your pen and tablet. This is where the tendency arises to tweak and retweak your line until you get a geometrically perfect curve free of imperfections. I would argue this is what frustrates people new to the program who want it to look that way from the beginning.
Here's a case where I drew a picture of Drip with Smoothing set to 30, meaning the vector edge is certain to have little jaggies. Still, at 100%, you don't really notice any imperfections—except on his head. So you zoom in and go to work, manually selecting and smoothing as described in FlashTip#1. You smooth out most of the drawing. But wait, what's that on his nose? GAH! You get the point...you can keep smoothing to the nth degree. But the first drawing looked pretty good. It's all up to you, and how much this kind of stuff annoys you if you don't go in and smooth it.
For whatever reason, I've been able to get around smoothing by laying down quick, confident strokes. I naturally get a pretty smooth looking line when I draw in Flash. But if I abuse anything, I overuse Undo. I rarely need to use the manual smoothing tool unless I want to iron out a blatant imperfection. I find over optimization tends to flatten the drawing and sterilize the life you put into it. But it's a look a lot of people seem to prefer. Just remember that if you ink a drawing on paper, scan it, and zoom in on it, you'll see all kinds of little bumps from where the ink seeped into the grain of the paper.
The beauty of Flash is that you can draw in vector and still have a line that looks hand drawn. All those little bumps and imperfections contribute to that handmade quality. So, if I could give any advice it would be to not obsess over vector perfection, let your line live, and have fun drawing.
A Few More Parting Tips
Inking versus Drawing
Inking and drawing are normally two different aspects of image-making for me. I would define drawing as building up forms in a gestural kind of way, whereas inking is deconstructing those forms into distinct line segments. Normally drawing comes first and then you ink, but in Flash it's tempting to do both at the same time. You'd probably be less apt to whip out a brush and start drawing with it on paper because ink is permanent. But on the computer, you can draw as if you're inking because Undo is there whenever you need it. If you're new to digital inking, this can feel amazing! You think "Wow, look how fast I can draw! And it's already inked!" While it's fun to see your doodles look amazingly crisp, I still find it good practice to gesture something loose underneath if you're about to tackle something complicated. Or scan in a sketch.
Keeping Your Line-weight Consistent
Because of the "zooming-in" issue in Flash (your brush doesn't scale proportional to the zoom) you may find that your line-weight varies across your drawing. Try to stay at the same zoom level with the same brush size as you work (say, 200% with the largest brush size) when you're doing the majority of your inking. Zoom in for detail and change your brush size as you need to, but remember to go back to the default you set for yourself.
One trick I use when I notice one part of my drawing is thinner or thicker than another is to use the "Expand Fill" command under Modify-->Shape. You only need to apply in decimal amounts (0.3 or 0.5). It will uniformly thicken or thin your line. Don't overuse it though, because it can completely glitch out your drawing. But it is a good weapon to have.
Exporting Your Artwork
I mentioned it in Flashtip#2, but it's good to address it again here. Especially because Flash isn't always the final destination of your artwork. If you want to retain the vector format and continue working in a program like Illustrator, the best way to export is as an EPS. Because here's the bad news: exporting as Illustrator completely cruds up all your color. Amazingly, they still haven't fixed this oddity. Worse still, they completely got rid of the EPS option in CS4! Which means you should keep an earlier version handy if you have it.
The best way to save out raster art (especially with transparencies) is the uncompressed PNG format. This is my favorite way to bring artwork into Photoshop or any other pixel-based program (Painter, ArtRage). The bad news is that you can't export to layers (they really should add an export to PSD feature). You can however export one layer of your drawing at a time by turning every other layer to a guide layer—repeating this step for each layer your want to export as PNG.
There is one more thing I will say about saving out as EPS. It is also a good workaround for a bug in Flash that limits how large you can export a raster image. The colors turn weird and start banding or repeating on the edges when you try to save out a really large image (like 6000 pixels wide). In this case, save out as EPS (vector) and then let Photoshop convert it to raster for you.
The weird export glitch
Even though I haven't talked much about animation tips, this bubbled up in the comments of another post so I thought it fair to mention here. Quicktime is the recommended way to go in Flash versions 8 and earlier. Simply Export as Quicktime Video, choose your resolution (traditionally 720x480—which will squash the proportion for NTSC), bump up the quality and you're good to go.
Both CS3 and CS4 have an extremely buggy export engine which often mucks up your file with dropped frames and other oddities. I do not advise using the Export to Quicktime feature in these versions. We've been experimenting with exporting as a PNG Image Sequence. Which you can then load into a program like After Effects or Quicktime Pro to string them all into a movie file and add your audio track. That is the best way of ensuring every frame gets in there and plays without any hiccups.
And that's where I leave you. Animation prepping tips are to come. I encourage any comments or questions you might have. Have fun drawing and inking!
We tried something new over at Creative Juices this week. We used a random word generator which spit out the word "vinyl", and then a bunch of us created artwork to go along with it. We're calling this exercise WTD? (What The Doodle?). Hop on over to see what my friends at FableVision came up with.
This is just a quick blurb for everyone out in L.A. (I'm talking to all you west coast animators!) that the documentary The Powder & the Glory is airing this week on Thursday May 7, 2009 at 9:30 PM on KCET (Channel 28, I believe). The film features several short animations I created at FableVision, most of which you can view at this earlier post when it premiered nationwide in most cities on PBS in March. This is the first airing of the documentary in Los Angeles.
In brief, it is "The story of how two pioneering entrepreneurial women—Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein—created an industry, became global rivals and cultural icons, and changed the way we look at ourselves." The animations re-enact often humorous and interesting moments in their lives.
For more info, visit the official PBS website (which features one of the animations in a trailer)