Color flatting for Linux!

Hello everyone! If you’re like me, you’ve spent plenty of time thinking, “I wish Linux had an automated color-flatting tool.” Well, your days of wishing and hoping are over, because I have produced exactly the tool you’ve been wishing for. Behold:

For more information, check out the PyFlatter page, or just go download it on GitHub. Enjoy!

Behind the Scenes of The Non-Seen

As I launch into the exciting world of Chapter 2, I thought this might be a nice time to give you all a little peek into the process of making each page. Let’s take a look at the making of Page 1, start to finish.

The page begins as a script. I went back and forth a lot on what to open the chapter with, and ultimately decided to show Claire waking up on the first page, then cut to the parents talking on the second and third pages. Here’s what my script said:

We open with Claire awakening the following morning, happy at first and then transitioning to irritation as she thinks back to the events of the night before. She wants answers. She gets up.

Ruth is out at the shoreline, collecting marine life samples. Alan meets her with a cup of coffee on the way to the lighthouse. They discuss his dreams and his unsettled thoughts over the last couple days. Ruth mentions that she’s going on a trawling trip later.

As you can see, my scripts generally don’t include dialogue or any sort of blocking; I find that stuff easier to work out in thumbnails. Here’s how I initially broke down these three pages:
First draft- thumbnails for first three pages

As you may have noticed, these pages don’t really resemble that which I finally drew. These were a first draft and I ultimately scrapped them and tried again. (The slashes across the pages indicate that they are not for use in the final comic.) I eliminated the page with Claire because it seemed unnecessary and because I have a bad tendency to start chapters with characters waking up. Instead I decided to jump straight to the parents, and to merge their two pages into one, as it seemed a lot of that was filler. Here’s the final thumbnail (with this and all other images, I will display only the first panel. Click to see the rest):


As you can see, the dialogue and blocking are more or less solidified at this point, and the panel arrangements have been decided.
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Unity Test

I’ve been wanting to gain some familiarity with the Unity game engine, so I did a little test with some old assets from Into the Titan. This, as you may recall, is the darkroom and the hallway leading up to it. I baked some nice lightmaps, which makes it considerably prettier. Comparison images are below the jump.

Meteorite Research Center passageway in Unity

Darkroom in Unity

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Small Game Project #2


Texturing is not done, but it looks pretty nice already (at least I think so). I’m painting these textures by hand in watercolor. Most of the lighting here is dynamic (enabling a nice flashlight effect, not shown here), although the sunbeams on the floor are baked. More to come!

Small Game Project #1

Click to enlarge

What’s this? Apparently I’m making a small game, maybe. More details to come.

Justice Canyon Remix

Doing a little project to become better acquainted with Blender Game Engine features which have been around for an embarrassingly long time now. Here’s the Justice Canyon arrival area (from Into the Titan), by day and night. All dynamic lighting.
Justice Canyon 1 - Day

Justice Canyon 2 - Night

More to come…?

Using CGI in Vector Artwork

I’ve been making some vector icons for a client and one of them involved a slide carousel… not exactly something easy to draw in SVG! However, I took a quick shortcut through 3D which I’m now going to share with you. Take a look:

  1. I started by modeling a simple slide carousel in Blender, which took only a few minutes. I only needed the shapes, not the lighting, so I rendered it with some shadeless materials, thusly:CGI basis for slide carousel
  2. I then used Illustrator’s auto-tracing function to get the shapes from the render. Since the source image was very high-contrast, the tracer did a great job for once. At this stage I also drew in many of the simpler shapes, primarily circles.
  3. Finally, I imported the Illustrator file into Inkscape to apply gradient fills, because Illustrator’s gradient tools are a leading cause of brain cancer in graphic designers. (It’s true!) The slide dividers benefit nicely from some clever banded circular gradients, to give this final result:Final vector artwork, slide carousel

Not bad! Had I tried to draw this from scratch in Illustrator, I’d probably still be working… instead it took less than half an hour, and is about as photoreal as vector graphics can be.

Flattening Out

Perspective is always somewhat of a struggle for me, so I’m doing some experiments to see if I can come up with an elegant drawing style that might allow me to bypass the vanishing point entirely. These two drawings represent my first foray along these lines, so expect more as this develops. These are just based on some photographs I had on my hard drive; both depict the Willimantic Camp Meeting Association in Willimantic, CT. Fellow artists, please do weigh in on these.


Campground cottages

On Location (Digitally)

Perspective is always a challenge. This is doubly true when working with scenes that don’t exist. Some of the first scenes in Sunrise Issue 10 take place in an enormous hangar containing an airship. What’s an artist to do in this situation? Well, why not build an airship hangar?

Nefertiti In Hangar, 1

Nefertiti In Hangar, 2

Not a real hangar, obviously… a couple hours in Blender and I’ve thrown together this lovely digital hangar which has already saved me endless frustration. For those of you unfamiliar with the technology, this is a digital 3D model which the computer can render from any angle. Of course, the excitement doesn’t end with accurate perspective, because this is also a lit model! Take a gander:

Nefertiti In Hangar, rendered

My “people” are made of blocks, yes, but still, it’s nice to know where all the shadows fall.

With this in hand, I can go back to my paper and ultimately produce this:

Nefertiti in Hangar, complete

Accurate perspective and realistic lighting, with no cursing or sobbing required. Computers, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s give them a big hand.

Realm Builds Character

It’s time for me to say a few words about Realm. Realm has been the longest and most complex project I’ve ever worked on, bar none. Even the Zark comics and games, despite the fact that I worked on them for long periods of time, don’t approach the scope and complexity of this.

Some background: The first things I produced related to Realm were two pages of color vector-graphics comics. I made these the day after I first had the idea to do a humorous fantasy comic. Already then the title was Realm (the one factor which has never varied), but nothing else was remotely similar. As you can imagine, there was no planning whatsoever. I had the idea in the evening and I was vectoring (do you have a better verb?) the comics first thing the next morning. There were no developed characters, plot, setting, or anything that you might expect in any kind of quality production. As such, it only lasted for two pages, which is pretty pathetic when you remember that some of the comics I drew as a young teenager, such as The Terrible Troubles of Unlucky Freddy and Robin Hood 2002, got several times that. And Unlucky Freddy even got to go to space! What a gyp, huh, original Realm characters?

I rushed into the original Realm for a number of reasons: 1) that was how I started all my projects at the time, and 2) I wanted to start a webcomic. Sunrise was still a year away (only a year? jeez) and the idea of a fantasy serial I could plug various storylines into appealed to me. I was also reading a lot of old Bloom County comics at the time and I thought that I might be able to make it topical somehow. In retrospect, that was a terrible idea and I’m lucky that I didn’t try that.

So once the first attempt proved to be a disaster, I decided I had better plan ahead a little bit this time. It was then that I developed the first version of these thrilling characters:

Actual unretouched panel sequence

D and Harding. Zilch too. Harding was described with phrases like “Always looks like an idiot but doesn’t realize it” and “He thinks he is heroic . . . but he is not.” Beyond that his character was not developed. D was described as “evil, scheming,” “only trusts herself,” “takes advantage of everyone.” Beyond that her character was not developed. Zilch was described as follows: “Wants to be knighted more than anything. However, his cowardice, incompetence, and occasional recklessness prevent him from doing anything noteworthy.” Huh. Is that a motivation I see there? It just may be.

So what do you think happened next? Well, you can probably guess. I vectored two pages of Realm starring D and Harding (Zilch was introduced on page 2) and then stopped. Incidentally, they were practically identical to the original pages with the exception of the revised characters, so it should be no surprise that it worked no better the second time around.

For a while I stopped working on Realm completely, partly because I was working on Sunrise. The idea stuck with me, though, and little by little it began to develop. In 2009 I finally started to go about working on it the right way, with lots of rough sketches and story outlines. I didn’t start drawing again until I was confident that I had the whole storyline established. This was in stark contrast to before, when I was just trying to “wing it” with no storyline at all.

You know what happened from there. I drew the first issue, posted it online, and then this year I posted the second issue, the one with D and Harding in it. As you probably recall, I stated then that I wasn’t going to post any more Realm until I had the entire storyline worked out.

Well, writing is really hard, you can guess what’s been happening since then. I’ve been working on developing the storyline, as promised, but it hit two snags named D and Harding. (Did any of you predict this during my long introduction?) These “characters,” carried over from the earlier DOA attempt, were so vaguely defined that I was having a really hard time writing for them. Their introduction in Issue 2/Chapter 1 was dull and uninteresting (the only highlight being the delightfully insane Captain LaRusse) and highlighted the inherent problem of these characters: namely, that they were not characters at all. They had no motivations, personality quirks, flaws, definition… pretty much devoid of anything that qualifies as “character.” This made them almost impossible to write for, especially in a context of humor. Zilch, however, was still working fine, as he was the only one who actually had definition. He, by contrast, is very easy to write for and is usually pretty funny. So, to cut it short, D and Harding are history.

New Realm characters

So yesterday I began approaching these characters the way I should have the first time. I attempted to create characters who were similar enough to D and Harding that they can replace them while minimizing the amount of revision needed. This was challenging, in part because they must also be developed enough that they will, y’know, actually work. I’ve been studying the excellent webcomic Spacetrawler very carefully, because it is doing with science fiction what I am with fantasy. (Both are humorous stories about characters from Earth tasked with solving the problems of other worlds.) Spacetrawler‘s human characters each possess specific traits which define their actions. Pierrot wants to see equal rights extended to every species in the galaxy. Dmitri sees interstellar space as an opportunity to seek out new forms of pleasure. Dustin takes every opportunity to extend his own power and influence. It works quite well, and I’m learning a lot. (I’m also laughing a lot, because, as I’ve established, Spacetrawler works quite well. Full disclosure: I got sidetracked for nearly half an hour reading past pages while writing this essay.) So, in the above image you can see my early attempts at revising these characters. None have names yet (except the one on the far right, Sheila, but she’s actually slightly older, dating back to my embarrassing Bechdel test analysis a while ago).  I won’t go into their personalities right now, but suffice to say I won’t be writing any more until I’m certain that they are ready to handle it.

So, in conclusion, Realm has been an interesting experience. It’s taken a long time to reach the point that it’s at now, and there’s still a lot to be done. While things like this feel like setbacks, since it takes a lot of time to replace a character with another, at the same time they’re actually just an extension of the writing process. Realm has evolved a lot, and it will continue to evolve until I can finally declare it finished.

Will there be more online soon? I can definitively answer no. I shouldn’t have put it online to the extent I already have, and what you’ve already seen will undoubtedly change significantly in my revision process. In the meantime, watch this space. There will be more about Realm as it develops.

©John W. Allie 2018. | Contact?