Based on the hugely popular Bioware action/role-playing game for the Xbox 360 and Windows PCs, Dark Horse's "Mass Effect: Redemption" miniseries begins in January. The series is written by "Mass Effect 2" lead writer Mac Walters and "Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic" scribe John Jackson Miller with art by Omar Francia.
Francia has generously taken the time to provide CBR with an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at his artistic process, taking us through the development of the first issue of "ME: Redemption." From the initial thumbnails, through the 3D computer modeling necessary to get the spaceships and environments just right, to the finished art, this is an insider's view of the artist's techniques that process junkies will not want to miss.
THE GENERAL PROCESSby Omar Francia
As in all narrative adventures, this stage of the process starts the imagining, thinking and planning. Reading the script is one of my favorite parts of the process, because without any compromise, I can make a movie in my mind and fly with the imagination. After the first reading session, I go for a second one, and - with background music in the air - I start doodling the layouts of every page.
This part of the process is incredibly helpful to see if the body language, vehicles, prop positions, and the camera POV are well combined to show the action the way I wanted. When I have a complete sequence done (five or more mini-layouts), I stop to check the dynamics of the pages. If everything goes well, then I continue with the next!
This is maybe the "not necessary part of the process for every comic book artist," but for me - and for this kind of licensed project, where you have a whole universe to respect in every panel - I find 3D modeling is an amazingly useful tool! Not only for ships, as I did in "Star Wars: Legacy," but for background and props too! If I'm going to be serious in narrating with the camera POV, in a determinate location, I better have a detailed 3D model of that space so I can place the camera in any corner I like, change the angle or reverse it, but always keep the feeling that we are in the same place.
Sometimes a close shot of a character really needs the reference of the place in which he's standing. The dynamics of a dogfight or a chasing sequence in space, or a weird machine in the middle of a station, all can be thought out better through modeling. Several renders of a scene allow me to choose the right one for a panel, free of erasing and redrawing but all created by the same artist.
THE USE OF 3D in the page, and the PAGE SKETCH
After I choose some renders for the page, I apply a filter that allows me to make a linear drawing out of it. Later, I make composition of the linear renders and the page in the image processing software. I then have a page with panels and backgrounds (or ships, or props) on it, but without characters. So I print a blue version of that page on A3 [11 x 17, or "galley"] paper, and then I start a rough sketching of all the characters in the scene.
With the characters drawn, I scan those pages to extract the characters and make another composition with the backgrounds. A correction here and there, and I obtain a final print in blue of the panels with characters and background over the Dark Horse paper, ready to be inked.
All this process may look long and difficult, but it's not at all. The difficult part may be the modeling process, but if you get used to creating what you're going to use, you do it once and the rest of the process is fluid, dynamic and a lot of fun! Putting all the pieces together is great, and it ends up more faithful to or better than what I dreamed when I read the script.
This page allows me to introduce you to the technique I use.
OMEGA station in space view is a frequently used place in much of the series, so I needed to make a very detailed 3D model. But, as always, the models must not be "too detailed" in order to allow me to add texture and more details when I'm inking. In this way, I make sure that the model is only a sketch to be finished by hand, and nothing more. I never ink directly over the render. I'm actually drawing with ink.
I built the Freighter ship based on the concept pictures developed by Bioware. I don't really need to make a 3D model for only two panels (it also appears on Page #4), but I thought it may be useful to have that ship done for future books, who knows? After "Star Wars: Legacy," I'm getting faster at modeling ships.
I limited the inking process to the ship, the Station, and the asteroid field, because - in order to save time - I added the black space and the stars in the computer. And that gives me a final page, ready to send to Dark Horse!
These are the first Turian and Battarian characters I draw for the series! I had the chance to extract the models of the heads for almost all the alien characters in the game, so I can put them in many points of view, study them and create some character differences in sizes and morphologies. It's really fun to draw these aliens, especially the Turians. Villains or not, they are so very cool!
The Battarians are great to create some vicious malevolent characters with those four eyes, multiple nostrils, and those cheeks! They are so funny in a close up!
As for the background, I had to break all the rules here. I didn't have enough reference for the Freighter's command bridge to make a 3D model, so I went through the panel console of the Game's Engine, and, as a developer, I enter the camera mode. I made millions of stills of the bridge until I found the perfect angle for the panels I needed. Not the easiest way to find a background, but I think I did it!
PAGES 4-5, LIARA
Liara is our main character, the only one in the comic from the first game. She is such an amazing, sexy and funny character! It makes me laugh every time she gets angry, because - for the comic - this Liara is a tougher character than she is in the game. She is more a "badass biotic power user," but in the background, she is still as innocent as before in many ways. She's impulsive and violent sometimes, but she can be deceived. She's also a sweetheart, and that makes Feron want to help her in any way. I so love to draw her in every panel!
She has a new armor that I designed for the comic. I tried to combine a light soldier armor with an adept-style suit, defining curves and shapes of the body, that allow me to show her in a more sexy and more warrior-like way at the same time. I tried to handle Liara in a very expressive way, so her face and body language will conduct us all the way through her new adventure. Hopefully the reader can fall in love with her like I have.
Drawing "Mass Effect: Redemption" is an amazing, fun - and time consuming - experience. I learned a lot from the process I chose to do, I had to push myself over my limitations, and my imagination is now more avid than ever. Making sci-fi comics is a great experience, and I hope I can share more with you of the creation process from the upcoming books!