On the graphic novel side – CG madness

Choosing to create my graphic novel, The Lightstream Chronicles (a 225 page tome of design fiction and crime drama) entirely in CG is something of a double-edged sword. If any of you are familiar with the CG side of design, illustration, special effects and such, then you know what it is like to wait on a render. For those of you who are not familiar with it, here is a little primer. When you work in Computer Graphics, you create 3-dimensional objects that exist only as math but as you are building them, they are little more than a mess of polygons that you shape into the objects in your scene. When the “architecture” of the object meets your satisfaction, you “skin” it with a surface texture.  These textures (image maps) can have a virtually unlimited number of characteristics that can contribute to making things look very real. The process of reaching satisfaction with a surface texture (e.g. skin, rock, brick, glass, hair, liquids, etc.) can be a long one. It’s trial and error. You give it your best shot, then render it — this is where you stick in a “light”, set up a virtual “camera” and “photograph” the object(s) — then tweak something like shininess, color, reflection — and render it again, and possibly again. This process can continue for hours and sometimes days, before everything in your “scene” is ready for the “big render” where all your characters, their props, the room, and everything the camera sees, is ready to shoot.

Now then, each panel in the graphic novel (each frame) has to be dealt with in this fashion. If I can do three of these panels a day, I can crank out 20 per week. If I accomplish that, I will be meeting my goal of 3.75 spreads per week. Some weeks, that works. Some days you get hung up on one image that won’t cooperate and it takes you all day to wrestle it to the ground. So much for schedules.

The good news is that each new skull-busting problem, yields knowledge (what not to do next time) and possibly some short cut that will trim time out of the next render. The bad/good news is that I’m a bloody perfectionist. I’ve been on set with directors for both still and film projects and most of them are the same way: Move this here. Move that there. Where is that shadow coming from? Can we make the pavement wet? It needs to be raining in this scene. I want steam in the background. You get the idea.

Anyway, this makes for a more beautiful image (and that’s what I’m all about) but it can pump some serious time into the project. Chapter 1 nears completion. There are 36 pages and I’m wrestling with page 34 right now. It’s one of those complex scenes where the script (which I also wrote so I have only myself to blame) calls for rain and lots of it.

It looks like this rendering is wrapping up so, I’ll talk more about the intricacies of rain in my next post.

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