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> Comic [1084] - Hatching Without Hatching, how does it look?
Piro
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 12:47 PM
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Hey folks,

I'm pretty sure that i mentioned this in the past, but one of the most time consuming elements of a megatokyo comic is the hatching and rendering of the final drawings (er, well, it technically should be my dithering over dialogue or story development often takes longer, but that's another issue.) One of the reasons I got a cintiq (or rather, sarah got it for me smile.gif was to try experimenting with ways to speed things up by finding ways to hatch digitally if possible.

Hatching and rendering of the drawings is part of my style, part of the look and feel of my work, and is quite important, but the time it can take to render/hatch a page can be several hours or more.

I've experimented with it in the past, as can be seen in these comics:

http://www.megatokyo.com/strip/1027
http://www.megatokyo.com/strip/1028
http://www.megatokyo.com/strip/1029

The last one, 1029, being particularly awful ^^;; I experimented with a lot of techniques, most of which i was basing on trying to hatch large, even areas by hand and then scanning them in, using them as backgrounds to cut/paste and clean up over. My first efforts took longer to do digitally than by hand (which was stupid) and didn't look all that good (which was even stupider).

I know its hard to beleive, given the release schedule for MT comics recently, but the truth is that i am getting more efficient and quicker at getting the drawings done - working quickly actually results in better drawings (you can usually tell when i got stuck on a drawing and overworked it). Hatching, on the other hand, is not something that can be easily rushed, and when it is it tends to look terrible and sloppy. Also, hatching can be very inconsistent. Just look at this chapter, the density of the hatching varies a LOT.

The use of zip-tones and applied tones is a standard practice in the production of manga, any my thinking was that if i could develop a some sort of analogue to this for my style of work, it would amount the same kind of thing. I did some more digging, and figured out other ways of aproximating the look and feel of my hatching (liberal use of the motion blur filter seems to be the trick) as well as getting a better understaing of using patterns and building a library of them in photoshop.

Last night i posted
this screenshot of how things were looking in hatching friday's comic. About an hour ago, i posted the finished version to the site, and i'm actually fairly happy with how it looks.

It's not perfect, but i think that over time with some experimentation, widening my hatching library, getting used to the process and what i can do with it, etc i can achieve two things - more consistency with the look and feel of megatokyo pages, and less time in the production.

I actually have a lot to rant about in regards to the production process - i have COMPLETELY changed the way i work. My old habits were such that production was starting to become impossible, and it was time for a very long overdue overhaul. Such a thing does not come together overnight, and it has also forced me to address a lot of things up front that i usually tried to avoid until it was time to finish the comic (namely, the hard work of fully working things out and refining them as opposed to my rather seat of the pants writing style).

I think MT is a pretty decent story, but it has suffered from my lack of will to improve and improve the way I work. Iím rather pathetically a creature of habit ^^;; Now that all of these changes are in place and Iíve been learning to work with them, the comic will start rolling along at a more acceptable pace.

So, all that said, some feedback on how the comic looks with this hatching approach would be welcome. I know that many (im almost thinking most) will prefer the hand-hatched method, if for no other reason than it is more pure than using photoshop to Ďcheatí, but the goal here is to tell a story, and Iíve been letting obsession over the art slow the story for way too long.

True cheating, and it is something I AM considering as a potential source for the beginning of more accurate backgrounds, is to use some available plug-ins to go from photographs like this:

user posted image

To this

user posted image

(That was using just two filters, one of them being Alien Skinís Snap Art and the other just Find Edges.) I would never use such an image as is, but I might be able to use such a thing as a base to build upon (cranking back the pencilings drastically and lining things myself where I can) but thats not really much of an issue right now - there are few photos that capture what I want to show anyway, and I like drawing backgrounds smile.gif

Iíve been debating asking MT fans to share and post pictures of various areas which they would give me permission to use as a base for this kind of thing (i donít like using images from the web, no matter how modified they are, even if they are just used as drawing reference, I always change the actual POV) which I could use from time to time to add some more realism to the sense of place in MT, but thatís in the future a little perhaps.

BTW, this Photograph is from Christopher Butcherís blog entry on his trip to Ikebukuro. Itíll give you a good sense of Otome Road, Sunshine City and the other areas in this block.

(Sheesh. This forum post could be a rant. Oh well smile.gif

fredrin
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Gai_Daigoji
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 01:09 PM
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I love the way the new comic looks with the digital hatching. It keeps that "sketchy" look while making it smoother and more finished at the same time. Definitely a keeper, in my opinion. And hey, if it saves you time and effort, I'm all for it!

I've been a long-time reader (though I just joined the forums) and it's been great to see your style evolve and solidify through the years. I've also been following your tweets for some time now (xtopher_robin), and as a first time father of a 5 month old son, it's been incredibly cool to keep track of Baby Jack too. I'm glad to see that of late you've gotten a bit more balance in life and gotten back to more of a solid schedule on the comics. Enjoy the infancy; he'll grow up WAY faster than you expect! I can't believe mine is 5 months old already!
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Kinda_Mayvelle
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 01:21 PM
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Ish beautiful this way, Fred. I couldn't resist the siren-call of CGing when you posted the finished comic. wub.gif
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Piro
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 01:23 PM
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The other benefit is that i will now have hatch-free versions of all my comics availible to me if i need them for any reason.
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Kalium
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 01:35 PM
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Maybe it's just me, but I find that the largest red flag is when the hatching pattern is continuous despite some disruption in the object. A lot of the hair in 1029 is a good example of this. The gradient of the shading in 1084 make it less problematic here, but it's still visible to an extent in panel one on the 'zilla.

Another thing that sticks out is when there's a repeating pattern in the hatching. Some small irregularity that sticks out when you see it multiple times in one area. This could probably be addressed by either some amount of randomization (dicey at best, I think) or larger hatching samples to work from.
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Artemi
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 01:35 PM
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Wait, so I think I'm slightly confused. [1084] is cyber-hatched while [1083] is not, correct?

Well, from my first impressions, [1084] looks a lot... cleaner and shinier, mostly around Yuki. I'm guessing from the work-in-progress picture that is where you were working mostly. It's most noticeable in [1084.8], where her hair especially is cleaner then in strips past. Her glasses are notable, too. Mainly, it looks like whatever program you are using is a little better at staying in the lines then you are. *laugh* Also, Yuki's colors seem a lot darker then usual, to the point where the hatching isn't as noticeable and doesn't carry as much of the picture as it has before.

That said, I don't think that is a bad thing, mind you. The cleaner look DOES have its own appeal, and does look more 'professional'. I certainly think it would be easier to CG. NOt bad, though it looks like you have a little more to go. I don't really know enough about 'shop to offer any technical advice, though. *shrug*

This post has been edited by Artemi on Feb 3 2008, 01:37 PM
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el Igore
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 01:41 PM
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To quote myself from the MDT:
QUOTE
It looks quite nice, but I think I like the hand-shaded comics more. Yeah, I'm a pencil-fetishist! wink.gif

But like Gai_Daigoji said, if it saves you time it will work for me. But please don't remove all of the pencil-ish sketchy stile from the comic!
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Wave Master
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 01:46 PM
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Yeah, the digitial hatched looks a lot cleaner (not to dis Fred's hatchwork, the computer will always do better with keeping even and staying in the lines). To me, though, the shine on the hair seems less natural with the digital hatching, maybe because it's too perfect.
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sayt
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 02:03 PM
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First thought on seeing [1084] hatched went something along the lines of "ohhhh, Shiiiiney....."

Overall, I think this hatched version is much cleaner, and much nicer to look at ((not that the unhatched version wasn't, this one is just better)). Also, I have to say that I love the shading on the 'zilla's eye brow, and the building on the far left of panel three
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spoonifur
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 02:14 PM
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Jesus Christ. Fred, for the first time your comic looks neat! As in, not messy.

If your comic looked like this from the beginning, you wouldn't get as much shit. It's still very much your own style, but much cleaner. I was wondering when you were going to start putting that Cintiq to work, and this would be it. Without the usual mess of hatching, your drawings become crisper, much more detail is seen. Keep this up pls.

Cheating for backgrounds though? That's going to drive you under. When you draw backgrounds, they're good. We all know that, so why cheat us out of it? You said you wanted to concentrate on the story more than the art you fret over so much. That's a good thing, this new hatching leads to a cleaner comic anyway. But fake backgrounds? There has to be a balance of art and writing. The verdict is: Computer hatching, makes for a clean comic. Fake backgrounds, looks fake and is a cop out.

You tend to use only one or two comics for your expirementing. Keep this exact style for 3 or 4 comics and see how it works out in different situations.

Edit: I think what's best about this new style is how messy hair got when it was hatched. If you've ever tried to CG it you know hair is the worst. The lines all criss cross creating a birds nest on your characters. Look at the comic right before. Sayuri's hair has all those floating white bits, and it just looks BAD.

You also have more tones now. Sometimes you would drown out your lines with a scribble of "black" but it would just look messy. You have much more tones now with Photoshop aiding you. Making for a much more flexible comic. This is a good move. >:|

This post has been edited by spoonifur on Feb 3 2008, 02:45 PM
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AllanO
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 02:16 PM
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Personally I kind of like the messier drawing it seems more emotive to me, more organic. On reflection I don't think tihs is an issue of the quality of the drawing, I think it just changes the style of the artwork slightly.

However, the difference to me is subtle. I'm certainly not going to complain if that is the way the comic is done from now on. Probably inside of two weeks I would be finding it normal and the older technique slightly off.

Anyway, interesting to hear more about the making of MT, interesting stuff and inspiring dedication.
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Con
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 02:38 PM
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I think this is great! If it's a time saver go for it. I'm certain with a little practice and experimentation you'll even be able to simulate the roughness of hatching by hand. Good thinking Fred, keep up the progress. happy.gif
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mylemonblue
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 03:14 PM
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I've drawn all my life but I don't do it much because I never had a story to draw and found it exceptionally time consuming and draining to do. I can really appreciate the need to find ways that make things go easier or faster. This new method looks like a God send and it seems to keep the character of your style. I like that! I can't wait to see how it continues to develop and evolve. I've totally fallen for the way this looks. It's gorgeous!

biggrin.gif

This post has been edited by mylemonblue on Feb 3 2008, 03:18 PM
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Eternal Density
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 03:58 PM
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I think this effect looks quite nice.
It's about time I changed my avatar: panel 8 is my current candidate.

This post has been edited by Eternal Density on Feb 3 2008, 03:59 PM
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Refugee
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 04:19 PM
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QUOTE (Kalium @ Feb 3 2008, 02:35 PM)
Another thing that sticks out is when there's a repeating pattern in the hatching.

The 'Zilla in frame one is very good example of this, as is Yuki's hair in frame 4. There's a kind of banding effect, which I suspect is a kind of aliasing.

It's present to a lesser degree in the 'Zilla's brow in frame 2; the border between light and dark areas is a bit more zig-zaggy, which obscures it somewhat.

However, even manual shading introduces light/dark variations unrelated to the subject; see Sayuri's hair in [1083.8].

Overall, though, my first impression is, frankly, that I don't care. I didn't notice any of this, Fred, until you told us it wasn't manual. The shaded version is clearly superior to the unshaded version, but the tradeoffs between the manual and digital shading, for me, are six of one, half-dozen of the other.

I think 1084 is still clearly your style; it gains its organic feel from the sketchy outlines, and the shading does not substantially detract from that. It's a far cry from, say, Applegeeks or Gunnerkrig Court, which both have excellent art in their own way, but lack MT's texture and fluidity. (Not attempting to rank overall quality here, mind. Different, not better, sort of thing.)

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Gromit
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 04:28 PM
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I like it quite a bit Fred- as spoonifer mentioned, the cleaner look makes the wonderful details of your drawings come to the surface. I could definitely get used to looking at MT with the new hatching.

As for Kalium's concerns, I have a feeling that some e-squared (experience and experimentation) applied judiciously will iron out any major issues with regard to the hatching by PS- so keep plugging away, you will get there.

Glad to see you are putting some of your long-standing art issues behind you Fred. It's amazing what it can do for your psyche and motivation, eh?!

Ganbatte Fred-san! wink.gif
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Teddy-Werebear
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 04:35 PM
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You are trying something new? AH! NEW STUFF BAD!!
No no, actually I thought it was a hatched comic and looked very good. By that, I mean finished in your normal way. I like this new method just as well as your old method. My eye for art is not as anal retentive as some folks who are artists or have a high falootin towards art. I am here for the story more than anything... and the chaos... and the Zilla... and the zombie stompin... and the purty babes like Megumi, Nurse Mom, and Junko when she gets old enough... OOOGAABOOGAABOOGAAH! BWAHAHAHAHA!
(makes a funny face for little Jack Jack)

This post has been edited by Teddy-Werebear on Feb 3 2008, 07:25 PM
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Piro
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 04:42 PM
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One of the things to keep in mind is that this is the first ive done under the new method, and things like repeating patterns, etc, are all something that over time i'll be finding ways to overcome. Digital art can have organic qualities, and thats what im going to drive to figure out how to do here in this method. The experimentation is far from over ^^;;;

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Hulyen
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 04:48 PM
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I like the new hatching style, actually. I immediately noticed the difference, and pinned it on being digital (the gradient was a giveaway) but it's not a bad different. I think if you use it for a bit and play with it and tweak it, it'd be wonderful! I think the digital hatching will take exceedingly well to print, also.

Although....I do have to say that trying to filter background pictures to emulate and MATCH the pencil style of the foreground is likely to cause you more time and trouble than it would take to draw them to begin with, honestly....
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JunkyardDawg
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 05:24 PM
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I though these two strips were the most handsome style. When it went back to hand-toning after, I mourned. smile.gif

But if that's not possible because of [techincal reason], the new style's still a big improvement.
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Kinda_Mayvelle
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 07:12 PM
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I definitely agree with spoonifur. If you can, please, please, please keep hatching this way, Fred. It's so much easier to CG that I about died of delight when I CGed some of the panels.

It's just so...so... so clean, and...easy to see... wub.gif

I'll still be enjoying this tomorrow, I just know it.

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stsparky
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 07:19 PM
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There are cheats and then there's professionalism. Here's Wally Wood's 22 panels that always work.
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Garyuu
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 08:33 PM
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The art in 1084 is probably my favorite since early, early on. You're good at what you do, you really are. This is easily the most polished comic I've ever seen you make, and I'd love to see what you do with this.

It hasn't lost the feel I'm used to, but everything looks so GOOD. If I was to take any one improvement, just one, I'd say it's the hair.

1029 looks like you used the Paint Bucket in MSPaint for hair. It's glaring, and really, really distracting when I look at it critically. It's probably because I'm used to seeing such lighter tones from MT, but it kinda made me go "Buh?" when I saw it. This newest one feels so fluid, I'm really enjoying just looking at it.

Action scenes are difficult, and I can see it being a huge priority to show motion cleanly with this recent development.

http://www.megatokyo.com/strip/1052

I still can't really tell what happened here. I've got the gist of it, but I really have to strain to understand what's going on because the page itself is so busy and nothing has very clear borders. It's been an unfortunate tradition to ask a friend of mine what happened in some recent comics that have a lot going on in them, and I really wish I didn't have to.

It's sketchy but truthfully kind of scribbly, and that's what makes it hard for me.

With this particular style I can see an action scene being something I am following closely not to tell what's going on, but to absorb every detail. That's what I love getting from your artwork, the little details you work so hard to put in. You're talented even if it's something you'll never admit, and if you stick with this style I can only imagine it improving as you continue.

I think I'm going to be able to replace my "Okay, what's going on in this panel?" conversations with "Wow... this is such a cool shot!" and "Okay, so do you have any guesses as to Yuki's Magical Girl name?"

However, I have to note one very important thing. Keeping the organic quality of your work, the touches you put in and what uniquely 'fits' in Megatokyo from your artistic design point is vital. Being an architect has never hurt you from a design perspective, and I would hope you don't move away from it.

Since Jack's been born I've noticed a sharp up-shot in the quality of your work. Thank your little boy for me... anything that gives more frequent updates for the fans, and a greater motivation to give you something you can smile about at the end of the process on M-W-F is no small feat.

Congrats, Fred. You've really improved as a writer and as an artist. I'm glad to have seen both.

Thank you.
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David Ly
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 09:08 PM
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I noticed the difference immediately when I saw the comic, that the hatching seemed kinda artificial. I think the sleekness and cleaness is a good thing, it retains some of your style while giving a little less reason for people to say they're just sketches. I also noticed the repeating patters in the hatching mentioned by Kalium and Refugee, but I'm not sure how I feel about it.
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PatheticEli
Posted: Feb 3 2008, 09:22 PM
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I'm with Garyuu on this. The new style allows for much cleaner artwork and panels, which means action will be a lot easier to place as a reader. The lines sometimes just get a bit too busy.

This recent page however is easily the most pleasant I've read in a long time, as far as clarity and ease is concerned. I noticed it was significantly cleaner than panels in the past, but I didn't feel it to be artificial at all. If you hadn't mentioned that you changed techniques, I would have never realized.
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