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Summer development: the sequel

I want to record the process of putting together a single image while it's fresh in my mind. This is a process particular to a certain kind of approach, of course, but it's one I've used a few time and like the results of. One of the favourite images I have produced is this autumn poster, for which I used this approach.

So my Summer poster (the one for the children's strand, 6040 format) is currently looking like this:

And the main reference points for that image are these pieces of stock:

The vector forest stuff on the right I have used directly, though pulled apart the layers and moved them to fit. I wanted an ambiguously wild atmosphere for the girl to be amid (somewhere that could be a garden, could be a fantasy forest or jungle). The Adult's strand from which the person-absorbed-in-reading-in-summer-setting imagery was picked up is more straightforwardly literal: it's a woman on a hotel balcony enjoying some holiday reading. The Children's version seems to me to merit a touch more imagination and adventurous tone to the scenery. I need to strike a balance though, so ferns but no jungle vines.

The photo of the girl was obviously to be used as a reference pose rather than directly. This is the part I find interesting. One of the things I learned studying animation is the unfairly maligned art of close reference. When people talk about tracing in art they generally do so with a tone of contempt as if it's not a valid technique. And certainly, there are iterations of it which are just really bad art. For example, there's several prominent comic book artists who trace over porn for their female superhero poses. It's unbelievably tacky on several levels of course (e.g. it says an awful lot that they think 'porn star' is a standard body type anywhere outside porn) but one of those is that it's often done very poorly. You can't produce good drawings by tracing anything if you are not first a good technical artist who had studied the principles behind form (via life drawing, when we're talking human figures).

Rotoscoping is another example of a tracing technique with a mixed reputation. Disney have used it as long as they've been making movies, and no one thinks any the less of Snow White for being based on the movements of a real actor. the difference between a Disney rotoscope and a bad Ralph Bakshi rotoscope (to be fair, Bakshi is capable of using the technique effectively too) is that one is executed by animators who are skilled and experienced enough to know how to use reference material effectively and one is not. Anastasia is a useful example of both good and bad rotoscoping, because the movie had many talented people working on it but just not the resources of Disney. Sometimes the more reference-based characters (Anya and in particular Dimitri) move stiffly and their faces are awkward.

My point is, tracing is a skill of its own and requires a artist's eye to execute effectively. If I had directly traced over the girl in the photo I would have got a figure that looked awkward and off. And I hope I have not.

You have to be aware of the representational as well as the literal when transforming an Actual Human into a drawing. Real people are minutely expressive; drawings have to sum up everything in much simpler visual cues. A literal tracing of the girl would somehow make her look older than her years - in drawing her, her head needs to be bigger and her face rounder. Her pose is easily readable to the human eye in the photo but in the drawing I need to emphasize the lines (push one shoulder up, lower the other down etc) to sell the pose.

I also need to understand how subtle and gradiated light and shade can be reduced into simple blocks of colour.

Finally there are the ways in which the reference photo might not exactly fit one's purpose. In this case, I wanted to give the girl a clearer expression of relaxed pleasure at reading. I had also decided to make my character a dark-skinned girl of perhaps Indian or Sri Lankan heritage, and so her features needed to be adjusted away from the white model's and towards this.

I'm proud of my ability to use reference and tracing to produce effective imagery, because I think it takes a very fine skill to adapt in this way.

It is also worth pointing out that the design process is also still A thing in this process! You can't retrofit a design process to a traced image, you still have to work out the composition and so on you're aiming for first (and then hope like heck there's a photo out there you can buy that will fit the criteria).

So! Bearing all this in mind, here is a comparison of my autumn poster to its reference photo to peruse...


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