My capstone project to my MFA in Illustration was a trailer to the short story, “Rib Caged” which is a story about hero Skülly as he steps into an adventure of puzzle, confusion, self-doubt, and eventual resolution through a metaphorical meditation when he learns he can flip his head upside-down to see things from a fresh perspective and escape a magic temple.
When I started the project, I knew I wanted to capture mood and tone without much vocal narrative in the story. I didn’t want a narrator explaining what was happening, but instead wanted to take a silent film approach and rely on visuals to tell my story.
I asked my friends Jeremy Lwamugira, Jeff Guerra, Adam Danielson, and Latham Arnott to help me out with the writing of things. We met once a week about 4 times to slowly but surely write and rewrite what ended up being our final script and storyboard. Having a team of people working on this was extremely helpful because not only did it create a sense of accountability, it allowed one another to push each other further. Many times after finishing a version, Adam would recommend starting over from scratch, with more constraints, forcing us to the most streamlined and interesting story possible.
Background art is something I’ve avoided like the plague up until this project. Part of the challenge was to break that fear and dive into something uncomfortable. Relying on my everyday process has been helpful for this. Once the sketches were dialed in, I’d bring them into Illustrator and trace them with the pen tool and use Astute Graphics plugins to assist productivity. Like I said above, Illustrator allows me to change a good bit of things and just use the sketch as a jump off point. Assuming my sketch is nailed down pretty well, I can get meditative with this part of the process, embellishing on certain details, reposing characters, and letting loose a bit.
I’d generally create a black and white value study on each of these scenes to help with contrast and directing the eye where I want it and keep focus on the character. Provided the scene is the first of it’s kind (snowy, jungle, etc) I’ll come up with a rough and simple color palette, usually 4-5 colors to start and begin dropping that in and slowly refine until it feels cohesive.
Lastly some texture, color correction, and lighting in Photoshop gives it the warm quality desired. I used a bunch of Kyle Webster brushes as well as some from Syd Weiler, and Retro Supply. Using the Brushbox plugin made by Derrick Barth, I’m able to favorite certain brushes that I kept using over and over. Because I have hundreds of brushes, favoriting the certain 10 or so was extremely helpful to keep the consistency throughout each scene.
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