ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 5.04 - JULY 2000

Digital Production Comes of Age in the Comic World
(continued from page 1)

Saffire was the first digital comic produced. © Digital Broome.

A New Comic Book
"We are working toward being the 'kings' of all art media," says Broome. "But, if we bridge the gap of taking comic book art digital it would be huge. But you need more than great programmers that know 3D. You need artists with a strong 2D background behind the machines because it is the only way to provide high-caliber models and maintain consistency with the conceptual sketches."

Toward that goal, Digital Broome has created their first digital book Saffire. In its creation, Broome applied 3D textures onto 2D art giving the textures and artwork more dimension, leading to increased visual weight and depth. "For the foreground elements, we have the 2D image and go into 3D and create bump maps which are grayscale maps that allow us to apply texture and patterns," he explains. "The finished artwork, though it started as a 2D image, has a very real, three-dimensional look to it."

Examples of other technology in use on the comic book page are the bubbles escaping from divers in an underwater scene. "If you look at the bubbles, they were created in 3D but we have touched them up using Photoshop," Broome says. "The end result is that when everything is extremely composited as a photo, it is hard to tell what began as 2D, 3D or linear making the images stronger and the visual story that much more compelling."

Digital software helps bring depth to the flat comic book page. © Digital Broome.

The Human Touch
New to the industry, CrossGen Comics of Tampa, Florida (www.crossgen.com) still favors the hand drawn image but relies on computers for everything from lettering to coloring to printing. "The penciler's hands are the last to touch our comic pages," said Brandon Peterson, art director CrossGen Comics. "More and more we are scanning in the pencils and using the computer to add the inking. All pages are colored using Photoshop and the lettering is done using Illustrator. We then compile the pages using Page Maker and it is then sent 'straight to plate' for printing." (The term "straight to plate" refers to the comic page being printed from the computer image, maintaining a first generation look to the printed page.) Peterson clarifies by adding, "From the time the first pencil drawing is scanned in, it stays digital to the plate, eliminating the step of going to film."

CrossGen is trying to add some new fire to the comic book look. © CrossGen Comics.
CrossGen titles are holding on to the art, while using new technology as a way to bring it to life. © CrossGen Comics.

For both Digital Broome Studios and CrossGen Comics, the art begins with pencil to paper, but each are applying the computer in different ways to create different effects, however it is making an impact. With the help of computers, lettering takes a day, effects not capable using pen and ink are accomplished with a few mouse clicks and finished pages, instead of being rushed to the printer, are sent in a flash over e-mail.

"We believe that the comic book needs to begin with the hand drawn image because though the technology exists to create the models I feel it takes longer and that it loses what I call the 'happy mistake,'" says Peterson. "Those mistakes are when the texture of the paper shows through, or the thin wispiness of faded ink, arms that are not perfect matches or a crooked smile that appears. Hand drawn people allow for the real world imperfections that we all have and I feel it is a livelier line that the fan responds positively to."

Joseph Szadkowski writes on various aspects of popular culture and is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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