Just make it look cool.
Not really…Just get as many characters on thee as you can.
Yes today on the blog, one slightly vague choice of words leads to the most characters ever on one of my mats. Not by a small margin either, especially if you include vehicles (Which I do, objects are objects in programming) I’ll be going over the phases of the mats design from concept to colouring telling stories as I go. We’ve got a lot to get through, so lets jump right in to my latest Star Wars mat.
0 To 30
Thirty is a nice number, I’ve done mats with around that before, there should be enough space for everyone and more importantly it should be enough slots to cover all the main hero’s and villains.
Step 1: Lets make a list.
If your playing along at home it’s at this point you realise there might be a few more than thirty people in the Star Wars universe. It’s Ok we can deal with this, we just have to organise everyone into some sort of hierarchy, most popular to least well known. OK, wow, yeah still quite a few people in category one.
This is where I was at. Making lists. I’ve been making mats a while now, you get an instinct for how many and how large the components of the design need to be. Thirty wasn’t an arbitrary number, it’s what I considered the upper limit for readable characters to be. In first panel bellow that’s how many names I finally settled on. There were many brave souls that fell by the wayside though and to be honest I wasn’t happy about it.
|Yeah your going to have to zoom in for this|
31 To 60
Writing the names on a scrap piece of A4 set the trend for the majority of the sketching phase. Usually I would draw thumbnails, four to eight images on one piece of paper but in this instance I needed to go bigger sooner. The second panel shows the most readable of my early sketches. All the previously names characters are there plus I’m starting to think that if I can get them all in at this size with extra space to spare there might be room to add a few more. Circles for heads is all they get right now but it might work. It just goes to show though. Until you actually start on something properly you cant know how its going to turn out.
The next panel is a more comprehensive redraw, more thought gets given to the layout and how the eye will flow around the image. While the rest of the design process is one of refinement and addition it.s here where the design mostly comes together. That’s actuality one of the nice things about doing these blog posts. Looking back and trying to explain your thoughts and processed to others gives you insights on your own work you might never have noticed, I recommend people try it
Next up. Working on a light-box in pen gives me the opportunity to add even more detail. For some people this might not be the case but having that extra contrast and a finer point than most pencils really helps me out. The other nice thing about changing medium is that it alters the art style slightly. I’m making quicker more precise marks and it leads to a more dynamic atmosphere. The real trick will be trying to preserve that feel though the rest of the production
60 To 80
A different style again as I go digital. I’m using the airbrush tool and am less interested in line than I am the shape and weight of each object. It’s also an early chance to test where the light should be coming fom. Where I’ve placed the vanishing point is causing a few hiccups. Triangular spaceships are especially hard to get right and a lot of their final placement has to do with that.
The silly thing is I could add more elements to the design. There’s still plenty of room, think of the final total!. But no, at some point you have to take a step back and say ‘this is a silly amount of work already and adding to it is going to do more harm to the design than good.
80 To,.. Who the heck knows.
I stopped counting at this point, didn’t really want to know. We are almost there though. Most lines are either vertical, horizontal, or pointing at the vanishing point, I’ve got piles of spirals, and grievous’s arms finally look right. Although Obi-Wan needs some work if they are going to duel. There are still questions to answer though. Things like what colour Lightsaber should Starkiller have and why is Luke’s head not attached to his body. Enough sketching though, lets get started on the colouring,
Balancing the Force
I say colouring. What I mean is ‘lets use a light grey to work out the lighting’. The grey will be easily overwritten so we have a bit of room to experiment and it keep me from doing the outlines first. Another option would be to use yellow, it just comes down to what tone you want your image to take on. There’s a lot of ships and metallic in this piece so I went with the grey.
Notice how the left half of the image is always darker? Tha’ts intentional. By loading up on characters there’s just going to be more dark there. Why have I done this? Because it offsets the big blob of dark on the right that is the Emperor and Darth. Basically I’m looking to balance the force. Its also why Luke and Leia are in white. That and so they are the main focus of the image I want the ye to start or end thee.
It’s a Trap
I don’t want to be using that many colours on this piece. With all the different people and objects here the composition could easily start to break up if everything got its own pallet. This stage then is about making sure that doesn’t happen, all the blues are the same blue, all the browns likewise. I think I even managed to stick with this rule all the way though which is good because it can be so tempting to just think, hmm what if I just add a smidge of this colour here?
I should really have added the ships at this stage though. You can already see how areas of the image I’m less sure about are falling behind the others in terms of how far along they are. (keep an eye on Darth for example)
I was tempted to stop here.
I don’t normally do pastel shades but this was working, all I had to do was come up with a background and…
… Yeah, no, space is dark, I’ve designed myself into a comer so we will have to keep going.
If you have been wondering about why characters are where they are, beyond the timeline aspect, there were three other considerations.
1. Are you a bad-guy? If yes your probably a big floaty head the rest of the cast can anchor around.
2. Are you a hero? If yes, you probably have most or all of a body, good job you.
3. Are you someone I like? I’m colouring I don’t know how many people and have free reign, naturally your going to find that my preferences bleed into the design.
Yes that is why chopper is font and center.
I found these glitter gel pens. No idea if they would wok on this material but if they did it would make colouring stars way easier. Not particularly economical, I used them up just on the background but the nice thing about them is that the glitter breaks up the colours and gives a sense of depth to areas that would otherwise be large and flat. Time will tell if the stars stay on the mat, But you have to experiment right, how else do you learn new things?
I gave it an extra few layers of sealant just for go measure.
Back on topic. I might have gone a little hard on the quantity of red in Maul’s face, it’s started to spread. Luckily Thawn has darker hair so it’s an easy fix but it’s still a reminder not to get carried away.
Hey Darth finally has arms, The pose took some time to get right to be honest. It had to fit the existing upper chest and head and align with the vanishing point since its so close. In the end I fond a one that had the Lightsaber out horizontal and after that it was just a case of getting the other arm right. I went back and forth on the city scene, easing the buildings then adding them back in. something needed to be there to contrast with the stuff in front but I just wasn’t feeling it. turns out they just hadn’t been dark enough and making them practically black with little window lights was the way forward.
Almost everything is in now, but as usual I still have the eyes on most of these people to add. I also need to do something with the Emperor. He’s the biggest thing on the mat, he needs a little more respect/detail than I have given him so far.
Add clouds to the planets atmosphere, make the stars and Lightsabers glow in the dark (glow under UV light actually) and just generally go around tiding up. I’m just about done here. OK applying the sealant and taking pictures comes last but close enough.
I guess I should actually count the number of things on the mat then. Just a sec…
110ish! Give or take. That’s quite a big number, and not something I think I’m going to be beating anytime soon. Probably…
Next time, lets simplify things a bit huh.