Creating a comic in Blender can be somewhat of a challenge! But if you have some idea of what you’re doing, it’s something that can be achieved a number of ways. In this post, I’ll be showing some of the techniques I used to create Kara Chapter #1, including environments, characters and rendering.
My first step was to create some characters. Easy right? Not exactly. Modelling and rigging characters takes an awfully long time, and although it was something I had done in the past, I knew for the sake of my sanity (and time..) that it wouldn’t be a good idea to model each individual character. So I needed a solution to create characters quickly, but still be able to keep creative control of them and their appearance. I didn’t want just generic looking people, I had a clear idea what I wanted my characters to look like. So after a little research, I came across MakeHuman.
For those not familiar with MakeHuman, it’s an open source character creation suit, which can easily be exported to Blender. There are many different sliders to edit parts of the body, gender, age, muscle etc…It’s pretty indepth, and has come a long way since it’s early days!
The screen above is the character I created for the prison guards, you also see him at the end of the chapter in the control room without his helmet on. I didn’t worry too much about his appearance as his face for the most part is covered up. The controls in MakeHuman allowed me to create truly unique characters, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone thinking of doing something similar.
I still had to spend time in Blender on the characters as they needed clothes. If you are making characters for every day life, then you could use some of MakeHumans pre-made clothes. But I needed to model clothes for my characters myself and add them to the rig. Now I’m not going to go into detail about modelling individual items and rigging them, but when adding my finished items, I used Blenders ‘Transfer Weights’ options for shirts, trousers and shoes. The MakeHuman rig is so good anyway (In my opinion) that it makes sense to use those weights where possible. All you need to do is ensure that the topology of your clothing somewhat matches that of your base mesh and you are set.
Here is Kara in Blender complete with her rig. It isn’t perfect, and for Chapter #2, I will be tweaking and refining a few things. But for the most part, everything is setup for the rig with relative ease. I added a few bones to the rig, which control individual parts of Kara’s outfit. Namely the chest plate and shoulder plates. The only thing that really caused me issues was her belt which I never got my head completely around, and will need to fix for Chapter #2.
Modelling environments was the easy part really. It was time consuming, and working out the lighting etc…to match the style I was going for took a lot of trial and error. But there were no shortcuts when it came to this, just good old fashioned modelling. Below are some screenshots of the prison, including the destroyed cell after the ship crashes into the wall (spoilers..) It was actuall pretty fun modelling the destruction, and it forced me to think a little about how this huge structure was built.
The destruction had to look like something had hit it, and show signs of that. So after making holes in the wall etc, I made a particle system that scattered some generic looking debris around the front. I also put the contents of the room, such as the sink and toilet outside, as it would have been sucked outwards. Later on in the scene, you can also see the mattress floating outside aswell.
Rendering was a challenge of it’s own. I wanted the characters to be the main focus of the scenes, but in early testing, I couldn’t get them to interact well with the environments lighting. To combat this, I rendered the characters on a separate render layer, meaning I could light them separately. This did mean that for every scene panel, I would need to do a minimum of 2 render layers. Some scenes – which were more complex – required 3 or 4 render layers, which were then composited outside of Blender.
Part of the challenge in rendering a scene is working out where people are standing, is there shadow, what needs to be on a separate layer etc…The scene you can see above took me quite some time to work out, as there are 6 different layers to this scene, all of which has to go together seamlessly. So I had to split those elements into separate layers, but make sure that all of the environment layers kept the same lighting and shadows, so when I stitched them back together, they didn’t look out of place.
Another challenge was how to create the scene files. Clearly I didn’t want a .blend for each panel, so instead I opted for an individual file for each page, and used layers for each panel. In the example below you can see we have one of the scenes from the hallway. On the bottom rows of the layers, I have a different pose and camera position for each panel. This meant that I could pose the character(s), and then simply select a layer and make the camera active, render it, then select the other layer, select camera, render it etc…I could have also used Blenders timeline and used keyframes for each panel, but I prefer the method I used.
I did this for each page, which also meant I could easily find the scene again and make changes later on, which I did for a few pages earlier on in the book.
This wasn’t meant to be a tutorial, more of a handy behind the scenes look at how I created my comic. If I could draw well enough it would definitely be quicker! But I found this to be quite rewarding and I had a lot of fun doing it. I now look forward to starting work on Chapter #2 which I hope to have released some time in the next 3-4 months!
If you come across this and have more questions, then please get in touch with is on Twitter @KaraComic_
I will also be posting updates on Chapter #2 on twitter aswell.
Thanks for reading!