Monday 21 October 2013

Mark Harrison - Damnation Education!

Evasive action! It looks like Joe Nowhere and the gang are in for a rumble in the jungle in this cinematic treat from Mark Harrison. After forcing the crew to crash land on an overgrown planet in Galaxy 2, the mysterious Enemy come to finish the job!

Harrison's art is striking (no pun intended) on Damnation Station. I know from our email chats that his current influences include the late, great Carlos Meglia...

Realistic, superbly painted backgrounds with stylised characters. 

 Star Wars - The Yavin Vassillika is ace!


Olivier Vatine

Again, almost charactures over beautifully rendered backdrops.

This really puts me in mind of the Carnival episode in Prog 1850...

And the incomparable Eduardo Russo...
 Flash and Dale!


You can certainly see the influence of these artists in Marks current work. Over to Mr Harrison to give you a detailed rundown on his fascinating cover process...

"Here is a little more detailed than usual breakdown of the processes I use to create the Damnation Station cover. I apololgise in advance for the ridiculously complex approach. My only excuse is I love coming up with new processes and styles. You gotta love the process!"

"The Damnation Cover was the first cover I've done for a current strip I'm working on with my more traditional comic art style so I thought it best to continue with that look; namely a "cell animation" look.  Clean, shadowless line art with a digitally painted background and effects. I immediately knew what I had in mind; a sort of Tom Chantrell classic war poster, dynamic and explosive with things projecting out from a centre.  Or a Michael Golden hero pose."

If you're unfamiliar with those names, Chantrell was a classic movie poster painter who illustrated over 7000 cinema posters. These included gems such as Star Wars, One Million Years BC, The King and I, several Bond movies, Hammer films and a host of Carry Ons. Give yourself a treat and google him...

A little known cult classic

Destination Moonbase Alpha

Mmmmmm, Raquel...

Michael Golden was a 'Bronze Age' comic book artist who is known primarily for Micronauts, Bucky O'Hare, X-Men's Rogue and The 'Nam.

 They came from Inner Space!

The 'Nam's Ed Marks

"I contacted The Mighty Tharg with my ideas:"

"Master. Here's a quick cover sketch for you to approve. I can send a WIP if you request it. I might move things around a tad but generally that's the explosive splash page cover I'm thinking of doing. B/G the Alien ship faint behind the tree silhouettes, big napalmy explosion picks out the characters f/g in a panic, almost falling over themselves to escape along the water course and through the rushes/alien plant life. Lemme know whatcha think, your greeness."

"Thanks for the cover sketch, Mark. Looks good to me - not sure whether all the characters might merge into each other a bit if they're all in a tumble like that. Can you make sure they're all clearly defined from one another? Otherwise, happy for you to go ahead with it."

"You are wise, oh Master! I've moved things around a bit.  To be honest, I want it to look a bit chaotic, like they're stumbling over each other to escape the carpet bombing."

"Oooof!" "Ouch!" "Watch out!"

"Sketch approved I used existing imagery of the background and alien ship. The background jungle environment had already been defined in the strip; a murky gloomy bottom-of -pond atmosphere with a visibility drop off.  (A childhood memory - messing in ponds with an Action Man diver!)"

Mark's Action Man's holiday snaps.

"I also added some native wildlife; some swarming floating gas creatures that looked remarkably like tadpoles (because they were!)  Some reusable file art of explosions I grabbed and reworked from various DVD sources provided the pyro (Thank you Michael Bay!)"

Michael Bay Alien Explosions!

"Also some rejected concept art of mine for the alien trees from a video game."


"I set that all at a dutch angle to give the composition that unbalanced, feeling of out of control feel."

Dutch angle means 'Wonky' to those in the know

The guns I had already created for the strip; painted art that I, in a misguided way, thought would save me time, but in fact took me longer to fix once they were distorted into the correct perspective.

How uncivilised!

I worked from photos of myself posing for all the characters, sketching out and refining each one on a separate layer. Essentially each character was a cut out.

The freeze ray got the squad first time!

Cut outs and layer masks are very useful for "staying within the lines" when drawing, adding blacks, colouring or just adding an atmospheric separation and depth. They are also useful in creating the composition as silhouettes.  I spent quite a while moving everything around, slightly rotating figures to get a pleasing flow. You can follow a path from the alien ship down the arm of the rear character to the centre of the mass of figures to explode out from the gun of bottom closer figure. All the limbs, guns, tree roots had to be positioned so as to reinforced the exploding out at you with the characters as a focal point.  Effects and brush marks will also serve that focusing.

Go with the flow

The colouring of the characters, starting with base flat colours (separate to the line art) was then finessed using duplicate layers of differing brightness, painting into the layer masks to get different tones of light and dark. Edge lighting was also added to correspond with the light from the explosions. The process looks complex, but it's all generated from a PhotoShop "Action";  a recorded script that you can create that  when applied to similar art repeats the process; in this case creating  affected layers and masks (see later for more on Actions). It's a lot of work up front but once the Action is created it can be a great time saver when used on other pages/art. I use Actions all the time, but unfortunately I also evolve the process and in this case I no longer use this approach!

Last night's Vindaloo had devastating consequences!

Okay, who didn't clean up after the dog?

"I also like to incorporate more traditional painty techniques and looks. It's a contradiction, but as a digital artist I want it to look as "real" as possible. I want to give the impression I've used real pens and brushes with all the imperfections that go with them. To that end I've even created actions to degrade perfect line work from tools in PhotoShop. A sort of paper texture or noise. Brushes and pens are sampled from their real life counterparts. Whilst this barely registers at printing, it's easier on the eye when working to see everything more harmonious in its look; more hand crafted."

A terrifying glimpse into Mark's head!

"As a nod to Simon Davis who first worked on the strip, I included a layer of " Simon blobs" (sorry Simon!)  texturing that I drop onto the art to create a sort of "noise" of floating particles. Again used sparingly to add color and effect to dark areas."

Like a teenager's duvet cover

"Cinematic styling:
I like to give my comic art a cinematic flavour. Like stills grabbed from an imaginary movie. There's a school of thought that comics should be unchanging, traditional.  I disagree. I like to see all forms, traditional, painted, digital, computer generated. 2000 AD is one of the few places you can get to see all those differing styles that can make it such a rich artistic outlet for comic art.  I like to use the computer to achieve looks impossible in the real world. Whereas some might say let the reader use his imagination, I like to provide the reader with as much information as I can, so they see my intent, even if that intent is just a suggestion of lighting, or an impression of background. So the characters aren't in a white box or visual vacuum. It's my personal take on my comic art  at this moment in time.  I'm "willing" the reader to see the strip in motion, with all the trappings and visual shorthands of cinema.  I'm a frustrated director I guess!"

Here are some cinematic touches on the cover you may or may not see:

Film grain. Although too fine to see in the printing, the grain once applied has the effect of sharpening and harmonising all the disparate elements of painted and flat colour art. I used a film grain on Glimmer Rats years ago and it really added to the grittiness.

It goes against the grain to be against grain in comics

Lens flares. The bane of modern action cinema, they nevertheless add a cinematic effect to the art. I created this flare for reuse on the strip after seeing JJ Abrams "Star Trek" but I've made and used them ever since I got my first computer.  The trick is not to over use the effect or not draw too much attention to it. It also has the bonus of adding a colour to darker scenes.

JJ Abrams got his hands on Mark's cover

Depth of field. Although not so noticeable on the cover (bottom left corner and the "eye" of the alien ship) the "out of focus" effect I use in the strip quite a lot. I even created a "Anamorphic lens blur" Action to render out-of-focus highlights as the elliptical bokeh you see in Anamorphic lensed films ( I love that effect!)  …. But that's possibly being too obsessive so I'll spare you details on that! (too late!)

More madness!

Colour grades. Like film, I run a final series of Actions to create iterations on the colouring of the scene.  The Action itself has versions of it allowing for specific colour and saturations to be targeted and affected or preserved. Some of there are just a reference to a popular type of look, such as the teal look you might get in a Michael bay film. Others have a mood suggestion about them, like a animation colour chart used in Disney/Pixar films. Warmer and cooler variations used in conjunction with the foreground character masks allows me to create contrasting in lighting. For the cover I think I might have gone with a "Steely depression" here, possibly a "Purple Peril"!

Moody Blues Electro Aliens sounds like a classical rock/techno mash up

"Other Actions I have created include "Blue Line roughs" to help in initial sketching (old animation technique),  a silhouette Action that helps create the cut out  that will act as the foundation for line art and colouring, "Bloom!"  that creates a bit of spill around bright areas, a couple of colourise Actions for colouring black and white art to flame and jet engine colours for… erm flames and jet engines!  And then the colour grade Actions I've already mentioned."

Lights, camera, actions

"There's also "2000AD printing shadow/highs" Action. This is the very final action I run on the files I send to Tharg for printing which ups the gamma by as much as 20% to brighten the image. That's because art is always reprinted darker in the comic than intended, possibly due to printing limitations. It's best to over compensate.  It's a second guessing I don't like to have to do, and my finals alway look horribly washed out but it's how it prints up in the end that's important.  Then again, with digital distribution now, maybe I should be sending two versions! This page should be the correct values for the art."

BOOM! The finished image - phew!

"The final art printed a little more cropped than you see here but the focus remains intact and unobscured."

Here's the finished cover, it wasn't cropped too much but we lose a heck of a lot of that ship with the logo. Beautiful complementary greens though...

Leg it!

Finally, Mark says "My process is constantly evolving. It's what I love. The next strip I do will use a different approach, concentrating more on shadow work and a more traditional comic art, but with a digital watercolour wash suggestion of background. I'm looking forward to it!"

Here's a final close up of the crew, just to let you appreciate how much blood, sweat and tears goes into making your weekly prog cover!

The dancing competition was in full swing

Wow!!! One of the most comprehensive and informative blog posts we've had in a while! Massive thanks for some absolutely brilliant work from Mark, please check out his portfolio here, it'll blow you away!

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