How a page of Dicebox is (was) created.

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I have broken my process down to what I feel are the significant steps I go through in creating a page,
though the actual execution of these steps gets muddy after Stage 4. I have chosen one panel of the two leads
with background, which is shown at full size instead of the usual 86% reduction in order to better show the detail.

In case you’re wondering, this panel took me about 3 to 4 hours to do from beginning to end.
But I then completed the next three panels in the same amount of time as just this one.
The first panel of a page, or rather, the first major panel, tends to be the most time-consuming.

Warning: some of the details I talk about will be obscure without a basic grasp of Adobe Photoshop,
such as Brush and Layer setting, Filters, or Hue/Saturation adjustments. Also, I couldn’t accomplish these
effects without a pressure sensitive Wacom tablet.


Stage 0 : Thumbnails

Stage 1 : Set up and Roughs

Stage 2 : Final Line Art

Stage 3 : Flat color

Stage 4 : Major Color Shapes

Stage 5 : Begin Rendering

Stage 6 : Final Rendering

Stage 7 : Texture and Effects

This thumbnail actually gives me all the information I need, or rather, it is effective shorthand for my mental image of the panel in all its details.

True, it’s a simple enough panel. As another example, here is the thumbnail for the Dicebox Main Page for Book 1 : Wander:

This is the sort of thing I’ll excitedly show people, and get disappointed that they can’t see the final result in all its splendor.

I start creating a page by copying and renaming a Photoshop template file I’ve made that contains my general guides and basic Layers already set up. Then I create the panel shapes in Illustrator following my thumbnails for the page—it’s very easy for me to break out the number of panels I want and keep a consistent gutter all within a standard page dimension.

I then import the panels into my Photoshop file and apply a stroke to all of them on their own Multiply Layer. The dialogue is typeset next, within Photoshop, with a font I created of my handwriting using Fontographer. That gives me a good idea of how much room I have for imagery and a chance to double-check my thumbnails for flow and action.

After I draw my rough pencils in a sketchbook, I scan them in and place them within the Photoshop file. I adjust elements within the page, either by moving or re-sizing them so that they work better within the panel and with the dialogue. Next, I convert the roughs into bluelines using the Hue/Saturation menu. These bluelines are then printed on smooth Bristol for me to do my final line art, still in pencil.

Upon completion, the final line art is scanned and placed. I do clean-up, corrections and level adjustment. I sometimes lighten just the line art for the background elements so that they fall back a bit, either using the Dodge tool or selecting the line art and fading it back in the Hue/Saturation menu.

I do my color on Multiply Layers over the line art, generally all in 2 Layers, one for the Figures and one for the Background, occasionally using a third for Foreground. I have several reasons for separating them out; one of them is demonstrated in this step.

After I carefully create color shapes for each major figure, I select these shapes, Contract the selection slightly, and knock them out of the color I flooded the background with. I now have discrete, easily adjustable areas that I can select and color quickly while leaving the other areas alone. Or I can simply lock the Transparency of, say, the Background Layer so that whatever freehand painting of foliage I do has no danger of interfering with the art on the Figures Layer.

Now I go in and define with flat color the main elements of the art. It is not unusual for me, when first coloring a specific setting, to affect whatever colors I’ve laid down universally through Hue/Saturation or Color Balance to give them an even, uniform feeling. I’ll sometimes change the hue of the background completely to get the right mood or complement the figures better.

This is also the stage I do my color line effects, either by cutting and pasting into a Spot Color Channel or, as in the case of the green shirt above, going over the line art with a Brush set to Lighten with a medium green, the color of shirt’s collar, as my paint color.

Examples of how I use line art in a Spot Color Channel can be seen in Molly’s coat outlines throughout Part 1 : Pre-ramble, as well as in the white outlines of Pre-ramble, page 8 and 9.

Also at this stage, I will import any Illustrator vector art that I might’ve created for the page, like the floor pattern in Pre-ramble, page 8 and 9 or the pattern in Rande’s top in Fair Weather, page 11.

I then fully render one figure, usually the dominant one, in order to make decisions about lighting effects and directions, as well as contrast. The brush I use is a personal setting of Photoshop’s basic Charcoal, which actually has a soft bristle effect, allowing me to get painterly effects. The brush size and edges are effected by pressure of my pen on my Wacom tablet, sometimes the opacity as well.

All elements are rendered. The main figures always get color-specific rendering, that is, each level of tone is its own color, as opposed to painting gray on a Multiply layer, which I do for cast shadows and background elements.

Here is an example of the custom color swatch sets that I use:

I have 2 to 3 swatch sets for each major recurring character and setting. The “_lo” means this is the low light/contrast palette. I also have palettes for outdoor and indoor lighting for Molly and Griffen, which have more color variances to them. I am not a slave to these palettes, and I will make adjustments accordingly.

The final step for me is to apply texture in areas requiring it and creating the effect layers; in this case the injuries, soil on clothing, and cigarette smoke.

The texture I apply either by using a Texture Brush or, as with Griffen’s pants, applying Texture Fill, then implement a fade on the Filter with different effects: Luminosity, Multiply, etc. and “painting” with it, by decreasing the effect with the Art History Brush or increasing it with the Burn tool.

A more explicit example of this is found in the pillars on the Dicebox Main Page. Here all the shading is handled with Texture applied with a Screen effect and then another applied with Multiply, with me painting in reverse, that is, I created the areas of light and dark by erasing instead of adding. It is much easier and quicker than it probably sounds.

The injury effects on the characters are on their own Multiply layer so that those areas will reflect the figure shading underneath, as well as allow me to continue adjust the figure shading, if needed. The smoke is on a Normal layer with reduced opacity, as are the dirt stains.

I used to use Corel Painter as well, but it was way too sluggish with my file sizes and played havoc with the text set in the Photoshop file when imported into Painter. I still use it for textures and effects created for importing into Photoshop—like the crosshatching at the beginning of Pre-ramble.

Then I do any final touches and corrections, create word balloons out of Vector Shapes in Photoshop, and do final dialogue placement.

One last step I take before uploading a page onto the web is to color the gutters with a medium gray (Hex#666666), the same color as the background of the webpage it will live on. I find the glowing white of a computer too harsh for my art for Dicebox, and a straight black to be too moody.