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Making a Webcomic, Part 4 - Finishing the page
by Steven-Vincent

And now my final post about how I go about creating my comic using computer tools such as DAZ studio.

Let's review, especially since a certain someone derailed the thread.  We started out with a script, which led us to a page layout that looked like so:
 
 
We used DAZ to create scenes, and then used lighting to light the scenes and then we created rendered images of the scenes at the correct resolutions. Our next step is to import back into Manga studio. Each rendered image (a .png file is what I use, but you can do jpg or whatever you want) is then imported into the folder for each panel, and placed on the bottom layer (to keep the word balloons above it). We then position it exactly in the panel space, and then we can draw our balloon tails pointing to the characters speaking the dialogue, as necessary:
 
 
Here again, I have blocked out the words to avoid drawing direct attention to them. The words don't matter here, since we are just looking at how to create the page.
 
Once everything is in Manga Studio, we then export in our preferred format at our preferred resolution. Now, I just did this one page, but with MS EX 5, you can export the ENTIRE comic book. Also, I find it better to export from MS at full rez and then scale down in Photoshop, rather than having MS do the scale-down. I find that I get better results that way, but YMMV.
 
And now here we have it, the finished page:
 
 
Let's review what this page was supposed to have:
Panel 1 - Establishing shot of the school.
Panel 2 - Our 3 main characters talking to each other
Panel 3 - Two of the characters speaking to the blonde girl
Panel 4 - The blonde looking thoughtful
Panel 5 - The two girls talking.
 
This is what we have in this page, so we now have completed our page of comic-book work.  Do 21 more of them and you have a full comic. :)
 
Now, I wrote this tutorial back while I was still working on the comic. If you take a look, you will discover that this page has been slightly altered since I made the tutorial. Here is the final version. You will note that I cut up the middle panel into sections -- I thought it helped keep the dialogue flowing properly -- and added an extra panel at the bottom. But neither of those things affects the steps of the tutorial.
 
Hopefully those of you who are interested in CG artwork found this of interest. Maybe I inspired one or two of you to try DAZ -- but if so, do NOT blame me when it starts eating your discretionary budget. I've been there/done that (heck, I still am there/am doing that). Also do not blame me if you find it eating your time, or if you find yourself eyeing a new kick-butt computer system just to shave a few minutes off your renders.
 
For myself, my plan when I started was to produce a comic-book just because I always had wanted to, but couldn't do it by hand (at least not to my demanding standards of figure proportions and so forth).  DAZ and the various other tools I've described here gave me the ability to do that.  At first, this was entirely utilitarian - I had a story I wanted to tell, and DAZ was the vehicle in which to tell it.
 
What I did not anticipate, however, was how much I would come to enjoy working in DAZ and playing around with lighting and making renders all on its own, separate and apart from the story I'm trying to tell. I just love buying new models, bringing them into DAZ, and playing around with them in a scene.  
I've also found the DAZ community to be very supportive and friendly. No matter how amateurish someone's render is, they may critique it (politely) but they are always welcoming and encouraging. It is a great community.
 
Fin.
Making a Webcomic, Part 3 - Posing and Rendering
by Steven-Vincent
Author's note: This is mostly a copy-paste from a tutorial on how to do this that I created on another forum. I made some minor changes. Also, I have re-rendered most of these shots, and made some additional changes. For example, the school name is no longer Bayside.
 
Author's note II: This workflow is how I did Issue #1 of Liberty Lass, using the 3DeLight rendering engine.  For issue #2, I switched to Iray, so the workflow is somewhat different now. Some day I will do an Iray post but I want to finish this series up first.
 
To build our scene, we need a variety of resources. For instance, we need a set for the school exterior, which is our panel 1 establishing shot.  For this scene, I used the one and only school I could find on the DAZ shop (there was one on Renderosity but I didn't like it as much after buying it -- this is how it goes sometimes). The scene is called "school's out" and it is nice because in addition to the building, it has a parking lot and some other props. Oddly, it does not come with an American flag, although it does have a flag pole, so I created a plane primitive in DAZ and pasted an American Flag texture onto it for completeness. I also used the Advanced ambient and distant lights in this shot, and ONLY this shot -- these are new lights that I just bought, and I have not played with them much yet.  Finally, I added some trees in the background outside the school fence area and I put in a few low-res buildings I had from other sets and downloads, just so the school doesn't seem to be in the middle of nowhere. The background will be rendered as transparent and filled in later with a photo of a city street.  Here is our panel 1 scene in the editor:
 
 
When we put the camera in the right place, and we render it at the appropriate resolution, we get the image we need for panel 1. Here is is with the background added -- this is our final product for the first panel.
 
 
Note: The signs are all customized by yours truly.  The school comes out of the package as Middletown H.S., mascot "bulldogs." But the school in the story is Bayside High, mascot "warriors," so I had to change the banners and signs. I chose the color scheme to match the color scheme of a cheerleader dress I bought for one of the characters, who will appear in the rest of the panels below.
 
Bayside is a private school (the main character, who is the blonde girl in this scene, is from a wealthy family). Therefore, I decided to use a school uniform for the characters.  The cheerleader normally would wear this too, but she is allowed to wear her Cheer uniform on days when she has practice, to help boost school spirit.
 
Here are the three kids as I set them up in the editor, before putting them into the scene:
 
 
For these kids, I used the Teen Josie and Teen Jayden models from DAZ.  The blonde uses the FW Cassie skin texture and face morph (but not the body, because FW Cassie is a bit too skinny for how I envision this character). The boy uses the FW Ash character. The cheerleader uses the Izzy character.  The school uniforms are the Time for School packs for Genesis 2 males and females.
 
Once I had the kids ready to go, I put them into a school interior shot. For this shot, I used the Parkside High Hallways model with the East Park High re-texture (Parkside is a ruined town so the Parkside high looks like a zombie-infested school would look... East Park is a re-texture to make it look normal).  This is a very large model, and includes lockers and classrooms and so on. You can see it below in the editor:
 
 
Here, I have made the near wall vanish so I could position a camera to take the shots.  Once everything was in place, I positioned the kids and posed them.  In the shot below, you can see the setup for the 2nd panel. Notice the colored orb on the floor. That is the Image Based Light sphere, which uses a 360 degree sampling method from HDR images to create a more realistic lighting effect. I used an indoor shot I found for free on the interwebs as the HDR base for this sphere.  The 3 white arrows next to the sphere are a distant light set to specular only -- this is necessary with IBL because the IBL sphere does not provide specular lighting, so it can make images seem "flat." The specular-only distant light compensates for this deficiency.
 
 
Now we're ready to render the next four panels. What we are going to see is: 3 kids talking... then 2 kids talking to the camera, then one girl looking thoughtful, then 2 girls talking. Here are the renders:
 
Three kids talking:
 
Two kids talking to camera:
 
One girl looking thoughtful:
 
Two girls talking:
 
Now we have all of our images that we need, and we can assemble it into a comic-book page. I will show how I do that in the next post.
 
However, I want to note a couple of things here:
 
First, notice how many props, clothing items, and scenery items  mentioned. If you buy all of these without them being on sale, this one page would cost quite a bit:
Time for School = $36 ($18/gender)
Cheerleader outfit with extra textures = $30
Ash, Cassie, and Izzy = $54 ($18 each)
Teen Jayden and Teen Josie models = $90 ($45 each)
School's out = $20
Advanced Lights = $24 (as a bundle)
Parkside Hallway + East Park Retexture = $27
Hair models = $30 (about $10 each)
Total cost of all items on this one page = $311
 
Now, they didn't cost me that much. I belong to the Platinum Club so I get discounts from DAZ. For instance, I bought East Park and Parkside for 1.99 each and Time for School was 50% off this week. But I just wanted folks to see how much this can cost, before anyone starts down the DAZ path. If you want it to look JUST RIGHT, it's going to cost you -- either big bucks, or tons of time making your own models.
 
Second... I tried each of these scenes multiple times. In fact, the cheerleader originally used the Teen Josie base skin texture. After trying in vain to get that skin texture to look good in rendered lighting (it looks OK as a model in the edit window), I gave up, and used the Izzy texture.  This looked better, but forced me to change the lighting settings since it is a different skin tone, and I had to re-shoot all the renders with her in them.  Even without this the lighting from the IBL was problematic... just a hair one way overexposed the white of the cheerleader's sweater arms, just a hair under made the faces too dark. In fact, in these images, the lighting is STILL not perfect. Even so, the 5 renders for this one page took me about 5 days to do.
 
This brings us to the final point, which is that if you plan to use DAZ to do a high volume of rendering, you are going to HAVE to accept that most of your renders will have to be "good enough" and not perfect.  Getting perfect lighting can take dozens of trial-and-error attempts, even for the best artists on the DAZ site.  If you are going to be that much of a perfectionist, be ready to complete a page a month or less, as you spend weeks of time per panel.  
 
I am not going to do that. I want to maintain a rate of roughly 1 page a week, or 1 panel a day (on average).  Given that I will only have a few hours to set up and render a scene, I cannot hold out for perfection or nothing will ever get done. That is just the compromise one makes -- much like the compromise one makes doing hand-drawn art in making a single panel less refined and detailed than, say, a splash page or a cover.
Making a Webcomic, part 2: Layouts and lettering
by Steven-Vincent

When last we left off my series on how I make my webcomic, we had a finished script, and the next step was to lay out the panels.  Ordinarily, the next step of a hand-drawn comic would be to pencil and then ink, and somewhere along the way at that point, lettering would be done. However, since I am doing the art digitally, and that takes the longest (due to needing to acquire DAZ resources and the like), and since I can't "draw around" word balloons, I have taken to doing the layouts and lettering at the same time.  

In the previous step, I had divded the lines of dialogue and scenes of action into what I thought would work as panels.  I won't show any dialogue here (so I can avoid spoilers), but I will use a simple example scene to illustrate the process.  In this example, we have a page where three young people are in a school hallway having a discussion. They are all friends. One of them (the main character) has a secret that she can't tell the others.  Her friends don't know about the secret but are asking her questions that are forcing her to hide the truth, and she feels guilty about that.  Looking over the dialogue, I chose a 1-1-2-1 panel layout and lumped the dialogue into the panels accordingly.  (1-1-2-1 means 1 panel, as wide as the page; a second panel, as wide as the page; 2 side-by-side panels, half a page wide (square in shape), and then another wide panel.)

My next step was to open up Manga Studio, and set up the page in there. I had already created a 26-blank-page file. On page 19, I used the "frame" tool (MS calls panels "frames" for some reason) and carved up the page into the appropriate 5 panels.  Then I went back to the text file, and copy-pasted the dialogue one line at a time into MS. This doesn't bring formatting over, so any emphasis like bold face must be reapplied each time. Once all the lines of dialgue were in place, I drew word balloons around them using the MS tool for it.  

Now we see one of the advantages of doing the lettering along with the layout. I have not written many comic scripts and so I don't have a good feel for how much dialogue will fit into a panel.  Doing it this way, if I have lumped too many words into a panel, I can see that right away. In fact, later in the process, I carved up the second "widescreen" panel into a series of 3 panels because I thought it made the flow work better. You will see the finished product in the next blog entry.

But at this point I was not quite finished.  In the coming days I had to build and render the scene in DAZ Studio and I needed to know the exact resolution. Now, my comic will be posted at 900 px width, but I do not build the pages that size. I build them at 2000px width and then shrink them down, so that I am working with very high-res images. I still need to get the aspect ratio exactly right for each panel. So, going into photoshop, I load a jpg of the page, and then I measure each panel and type in the width and height of each in pixels. This will be used in DAZ to generate the render size.

An example of a page with completed layout, word balloons (minus text to avoid spoilers) and my notes on panel sizes is shown below.

Let's review where we are now: In the last post, I showed how I do the scripts. In this post, we have laid out the pages and inserted the words. Finally, we have measured the size of each panel for rendering.  Our next step will be to go into DAZ Studio and start buliding our scenes and making artwork.

Making a Webcomic, part 1: Story and Script
by Steven-Vincent

With this post, I begin a discussion of how my procedure works for producing my webcomic.  I want to emphasize from the beginning that this process works for me, and I do not mean to imply that others should use it. But some people have already PMed me some questions about the process, both here and on other fora where I have discussed my upcoming comic, and so I'm going to write a series of posts that details the process.

Before beginning anything such as writing or even generating concept art, I first had to come up with an idea for the comic -- who will be the main character? What will be the setting? What will be the tone of the story?  The gensis of Liberty Lass comes from serveral sources.  First, I have always wanted to do my own comic-book, but I can't draw very well. Consequently, I never did anything about it after the age of 12 or so... until recently, when I discovered DAZ Studio, Poser, Blender, and various other CGI art engines.  These made me realize that I could create a comic. Then the question was, a comic about what? Superheroes definitely would be the theme, and once I decided that, it didn't take long to realize that my old, four-color comic superhero character from City of Heroes, Liberty Lass, would fit the bill perfectly.  She's just about my favorite player character that I have ever created, and the most fun one I've ever played (and coming from someone who has made up tons of characters for both table-top and computer RPGs since the 1980s, that is saying something).  Once I was able to get a basic character and costume design that I found acceptable (it looked enough like the video game character), I decided that the concept could work.

With a basic idea in hand - a Bronze Age superhero who fights for truth, justice, and the American way (to coin a phrase) -- I had to decide on the first story arc.  This was fairly easy to do -- the first story arc in any superhero's comic is almost always the origin (well, classically it is... in modern times they've tried being coy about it, leaving you guessing about the hero's origin for months or maybe years).  So the first arc would be her origin story.  I then decided on some villains and started thinking about the storyline. I jotted down a vague plot. 

But I am going to be blunt here: although in the past I always wrote detailed outlines and slavishly stuck to them, Steven James, in his book Story Trumps Structure, convinced me that doing this is a bad idea, and that you are better off coming up with a vague idea of a scene and then just starting to write... and seeing where it leads.  So I had two or three basic ideas -- ideas for two battles and for a scene discussing how LL's powers work -- and that's all I had when I started.

And so I began to write, and at this stage most people wil tell you that they fired up Word 2013 or something. Not me.  I use a program called Scrivener (available at the Literature and Latte site).  Scrivener is much more than a word processor -- it lets you organize your story any way you want. Pages can be moved around and kept in folders.  I organize my story, for example, in folders by scene. Each scene initially has its own folder and I work the scenes individually, and only later assemble them into a 26-page comic-book script.  Thus, the first scene I ever wrote to completion was a dialogue scene between Liberty Lass and another character in which her powers are fully explained. I did this because I felt I needed to know everything about her powers before showing the powers themselves.  Then I went back and wrote the opening scene of the story, and then I wrote other scenes as they came to me, totally out of order.  When I had the bulk of the entire first story arc written as individual scenes, I started looking at page counts and working out the scene order. This is trivally easy in Scrivener but would involve a ton of annoying cut-and-pasting in Word.  After I had the scenes divided into the 3 parts of the story arc (3 "issues"), then I started cleaning them up, and making sure each one transitioned properly into the next. In the end, I had a full script for each of 3 issues, 26 pages long (well... 22 pages of text, and then 4 pages of front and back inside and outside "covers", which I do to make the comic feel more like a Bronze Age print comic).

With the three scripts complete, I now knew what scenery I would need, what characters, and so forth. As I worked on the script I continually bounced over to the DAZ and Renderosity shop sites to look for 3D resources I could use in my scenes, and when I found ones that might work, I put them on my wishlist. Then I would wait for them to go on sale and try to buy them at a discount (DAZ can be expensive).  I ended up with 3 full scripts, and a ton of digital resources, by the time I was ready to start rendering the very first scenes. 

The next step would be layouts and lettering. And that will be the subject of my next post.

Countdown to Liberty
by Steven-Vincent

In exactly thirty days, I plan to launch my webcomic, Liberty Lass.  Ordinarily, I wlll be releasing one page of the comic every week on Friday.  I chose Friday because, back when I was growing up in the 1970s and early 80s, "new comic-book day" was Friday.  The news stand near my house used to receive comics on Thursday afternoons, and Leo, the stand owner, would put them out on the rack on Friday morning.  Thus, each Friday after school, on the way home, my good friend Stuart and I would stop off at Leo's news-stand to peruse the new comics.  We would save our nickels and dimes from our lunch money, and most Fridays, we would walk out with a crisp new 50-cent comic-book tucked safely into our book-bags.  And so, during the Bronze Age, I came to associate Fridays with both the end of the school week (one positive) and a brand new issue of Rom, X-Men, or Legion of Super-Heroes (another positive).  Since Liberty Lass will be harkening back to that era, and will be done in the style of late 70s comics, I thought it was appropriate to post my comics on what used to be "new comic-book day" back then.

However, the very first page will be posted on Saturday, July 4, not on Friday.  There's a reason for this.  You see, as her name implies, Liberty Lass is a very patriotic character.  She will eventually become (over many months of updates) my fictional world's equivalent of Captain America.  She loves the U.S. of A. and stands for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," among other things.  There will be much discussion, in the pages of this webcomic, about rights and liberties, and the great ideals that founded America. Therefore, when I realized that I would be ready to begin publishing the webcomic this July (originally I had planned to start in January of 2016, but my artwork came along faster than I predicted), I thought nothing could be more appropriate than beginning our super-patriotic journey on the most patriotic and meaningful day of the year in the United States -- our birthday.  It is only fitting that Liberty Lass's birthday (in the sense of the start of publication) occurs on that same day -- Independence Day.

And so, even though it will be a day "late" for the very first posting, I will be putting up the very first comic of Liberty Lass on the 4th of July.

Up until that time, I will make occasional posts here. Not that I expect many folks to read this. Since I'm not even putting out a webcomic yet, I can't imagine anyone would be likely to stop by here other than by accident. However, in the future, once a few people have started reading the comic, this blog may prove to be an interesting record of the comic's production. And if nothing else, it serves as a journal of sorts for me, so I can record the steps leading up to the production of Liberty Lass.

I also want to mention the format: Although Liberty Lass will come out one page per week, it is conceived and written like a Bronze Age comic, meaning it has a front and back cover, and even "inside" covers. The inside front cover will have the credits and publication data (this is a slight departure, since doing this on the cover is a more modern occurrence, but in the 80s the inside cover had ads and there is no need for those here).  The inside back cover is more significant, as it will contain all of the DAZ Studio resource credits and the names of their authors, that were used in the production of the foregoing issue.  In between these 2 front and 2 back cover pages, will be 22 pages of story (which was roughly the standard length of a print comic in 1980).  The story will proceed either in story arcs of 3-6 issues (arc #1, for example, which is called "Birthright", will take 3 issues), or in "one-shot" stories.  Most of the time, I plan to alternate between longer arcs and one-shots to give both the characters and the reader a bit of a breather.

Because doing comics in DAZ Studio is rather slow (I can only do about a page of artwork per week), and because I can't always guarantee I will have the time each week to do all the rendering I need for a given page, I decided to start with a back-log of 1 full issue.  Thus, issue #1 (i.e. the first 26 weeks, or 6 months, of updates) is already completed and waiting to be posted.  I am working on the layouts for issue #2 right now, and also working on the resources (new characters, props, materials and shaders, setting up environments, and so on) to prepare for the rendering process.  My plan is to be working on 1 page of issue #2 each week during the time when issue #1 is being posted. And so on.

Sometimes people ask authors just how far ahead they work.  I try to work several issues ahead in terms of planning and story. I also have a vague overall plan going out to issue #25. No, that's not a typo.  If we assume I get 2 issues done a year, that means I have about 13 years of material in mind already.  Most of this has not been plotted or anything -- past issue 4, they are just ideas of who the villains will be and what the aims of the villains might be.  The exact story will have to be written as I go.  However, I do have full scripts already done for the first 3-issue story arc (that's how I can say for certain that it is 3 issues long!) and I have started on the early dialog-writing phases for the main scenes in issue 4 just this week.  So that gives you a sense of where I am right now.  On July 4th when readers are perusing the very first page of issue #1, I will be rendering page 2 of issue #2, which will be published in January 2016, and polishing the script of issue #4, which won't even start being published until January 2017.  That's mostly because it is far quicker for me to write the stories than to do the artwork. 

In future posts, I will discuss production steps such as using Scrivener for writing, Manga Studio for lettering and layouts, DAZ Studio for rendering, and Photoshop for "postwork," Hopefully these blog articles will serve as a reference guide for others who are interested in doing this style of CGI artwork... if you can learn from my mistakes, then maybe you will make less of them. :)

That's all for now. As Archie Goodwin used to say at the end of every letter column back in the Bronze Age... so long, and be good.