The GeeksverseLeaving Proof 167 | Storytelling 101: The benefits of “3-D effects” in comics art

Leaving Proof 167 | Storytelling 101: The benefits of “3-D effects” in comics art
Published on Monday, January 7, 2013 by
What does it mean to tell a story in 3-D in a 2-D medium like comics? Art from J. Scott Campbell, P. Craig Russell, Hiroaki Samura, and Jason Pearson sheds light on the notion. ALSO: Practical weight-loss tips for the new year, and is Hasbro changing its stance on fan projects?

In the second chapter of the excellent Artists on Comic Art, author Mark Salisbury interviewing fan-favorite illustrator J. Scott Campbell in 2000 asked what it meant to draw using what the artist refers to as “3-D effects”:

Mark Salisbury: What do you mean by 3-D?

J. Scott Campbell: When I say 3-D, what I really mean is depth of perspective. Because comics is such a 2-D medium, you have to try to keep pushing back the boundaries in that area. Anything you can do to try to make it look like there’s real dimension to the environments is worth the effort in my opinion. One of my major early influences was Arthur Adams, and one of the things he did—and it’s something that I still love—was to keep the variety of angles on a page to such an extreme, nothing ever really felt repetitive. There was a richness to what he was drawing, a real sense of depth. If there was an establishing shot of a room, he would do these amazingly detailed crane shots. He would draw all the walls, the floor, computer screens, everything down to the wires coming out of the wall, and all from this really high angle. And then, having done his A-list establishing shot, he could almost get away with doing the next three or four panels with minimal or no backgrounds, because in your mind you already knew what everything looks like. He’d trick you into thinking that the room is still there in those other panels. In some ways, I’ve adopted that style, especially in Danger Girl. I usually devote a lot of energy to doing these big establishing shots with an exaggerated perspective, which inevitably take a lot of extra work to plan out, You have to do gridlines and perspective crosshatching lines just to plan out the shot before you even do the real drawing, I think the payoff is usually a more well-rounded comic book experience, because even though you can’t physically do the 3-D shots, you can still make the reader feel they’re actually in those environments.

Danger Girl - 01 - Dangerously Yours - 00 - FCThe ability to create the illusion of depth and three-dimensionality, even more than his penchant for drawing and designing buxom women, is what really set Campbell apart from many of the artists to come out of the Homage Studios camp in the mid-1990s. Like his peers Brett Booth and Scott Clark, Campbell began his career composing panels and laying out his pages in a manner similar to the Homage Studios “house style” associated with Jim Lee, who heavily favored the use of medium close-ups, full framing (where most or all of a character’s body would dominate a panel), and ground shots (where the sight-line of the artist’s “camera” is parallel to the horizon line). By the time Campbell had moved out of the Homage umbrella and started doing his espionage comic Danger Girl under Image Comics’ Cliffhanger imprint however, his storytelling technique had, in many ways, outpaced that of his former studio-mates. In the four-page sequence below taken from Danger Girl #1 (March, 1998), note how Campbell uses a wide variety of distances and angles to simultaneously establish the physical setting and convey the action, all the while adhering to the 180-degree rule and ensuring storytelling clarity despite the rapid shifts in perspective:

Also worthy of note is Campbell’s use of contrasting response angles in the first two panels of both the third and the fourth pages in the above sequence, following a low-angle shot in the first panel with a high-angle shot in the second panel in both cases, as opposed to using a natural progression of events using a static “camera.” The overall result gives the reader a heightened sense of motion that does not interfere with the panel-to-panel transition.

Radical shifts in distance and perspective are not just for use in action scenes, as demonstrated in the pages below.

In the page on the left, taken from Blade of the Immortal, Vol. 6: Dark Shadows (September, 2000), Hiroaki Samura‘s decision to open the page with an establishing top-shot and then proceed to a succession of close-ups adds drama, gravity, and tension to a sequence low in actual action. In the page on the right (from 2005’s Conan and the Jewels of Gwahlur), P. Craig Russell uses changes in distance and panel size in the first three panels to create a sequential art equivalent of the cinematic traveling/tracking shot to efficiently advance the narrative, and then uses a contrasting low-angle response shot in the page’s final panel to impart an impending sense of doom and menace.

In the three-page sequence below taken from the short story “Hit Da Switches” (recently reprinted in December 2012’s Body Bags, Vol. 2: Theories of Violence), Jason Pearson expertly uses the whole first page as an extended establishing shot, giving the reader multiple views of the same location from a variety of angles and distances, thus creating a sensation of depth that informs the rest of the story.

In our reviews of comics, we usually make mention of terms such as “dynamic storytelling” and “dynamic panel-to-panel transitions.” The next time you read a comic, try to notice how the artist manages and controls the related elements of distance and angle. It is highly likely that, as with the illustrators cited above, the artists you find “exciting” or just plain “good” at telling a story through sequential imagery make sensible use of establishing shots, varying distances, and diverse perspectives without sacrificing clarity.

It’s not rocket science…

Disclaimer: The following section contains health and exercise information which may or may not apply to the reader. As always, readers should consult their doctor or other health care professional before embarking on any new or particularly strenuous exercise regimen.

It’s that time of the year again when all manner of new weight-loss programs dominate talk show, tabloid, and lifestyle magazine headlines and old fad diets and gimmicky exercise equipment find new life under new names and celebrity endorsements. More than ever, people are becoming conscious about the health risks of obesity and are looking at ways to lose weight conveniently and easily.

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 There’s no real secret to weight loss, of course. While various infomercials and morning talk shows seem to make it out as some sort of arcane process that requires constant professional support, the basic concept is simple algebra: Burn more calories than you take in, and the weight loss will follow. Here’s my personal weight loss story:

Through most of my teens and twenties, I figured I wasn’t in too bad of a shape for a guy who never really exercised except for a few weeks of running every summer. At some point after I hit 30 though, I just started letting myself go for a variety of reasons, being less mindful of portion sizes and stopping exercise altogether. By 2009, I weighed 84 kg or about 185 lbs. (despite being vegetarian since 2003) which, at my height of 164 cm, meant I was squarely in the obese category with a body mass index (BMI) of 31.5. But instead of doing something about it, all I did was ignore the problem and I just stopped weighing myself regularly, and by late 2010, I was probably edging towards 200 lbs. One day during the Christmas holiday of 2010 however, I caught sight of myself in a mirror after having to walk briskly up a flight of stairs, and I looked awful: terribly winded, cheeks all red, feeling like I was a palpitation or two from a heart attack.

It was then that I knew that I had to make a change.

I couldn’t afford to join a gym (not that I would have anyway, I get terribly self-conscious exercising in public around strangers) so I began my weight-loss regimen by simply walking regularly, building up my stamina and shedding some initial pounds until I felt like I could start running again with minimal risk of injury. By January of 2012, I was down to 154 lbs. (still slightly overweight) and I could run three kilometers non-stop at a fairly decent pace. After successfully changing my running form last summer (a process I documented here and here) in an effort to reduce my risk of knee re-injury, I started focusing on doing a variety of bodyweight exercises and very limited free weight exercises fifteen minutes a day, four times a week. Last month, I switched to doing five-times-a-week Tabata interval training (two sessions of three Tabatas consisting of different bodyweight and free weight exercises which adds up to a very reasonable 25 minutes of exercise a day) at the suggestion of my workout fiend of a younger brother.

Last week, I took a “motivational photograph” comparing how I look now to how I looked a year ago, some eleven months after I started my personal weight loss regimen:


I’m not offering up the “Before” and “After” pictures to brag of course, but to show evidence that effective weight loss and cardiovascular improvement—my blood pressure has stabilized at around 100/70, and my resting heart rate is in the 55–65 range—don’t have to be terribly involved tasks as long as one is realistic about one’s goals and sticks to the basic scientific tenets of safe exercise and proper diet. Sure, losing ~65 lbs. and toning up over the course of two years doesn’t sound as impressive as the claims on TV or in tabloids and lifestyle magazines of programs that can help a person lose 30, 40, or even 50 pounds and build lean muscle mass in the span of six months or less, but I feel a bit of pride in developing a system that works for me, that I actually find fun and know that I can maintain indefinitely. And it’s not expensive, either. I didn’t need to join a gym or drop coin on any gimmicky exercise equipment—all of my “specialty” exercise gear can be seen below:


So if you have any weight loss goals for the new year, just remember to keep them realistic, do your research (and I mean proper research, don’t just go reading unsubstantiated claims based on exercise and nutritional pseudoscience), and once you find a routine and regimen that you’re comfortable with, just keep going at it.

Fan creativity is magic

Last year, I wrote an article about how toy-maker Hasbro seems to be sending the wrong message to fans of its properties by being overly litigious when it comes to fan-made creative projects. Remarking on Hasbro’s treatment of the viral G.I. Joe parody videos created by Eric Fensler:

The lesson Hasbro should have taken from the Fensler parodies is that when an IP is in limited public circulation, it isn’t selling anything, it isn’t building familiarity, and it has no value except as potential. But when that IP is let loose in the wild and it finds traction, when it is allowed to evolve in response to the pressures of the the public ecosystem of ideas, then that IP can start fulfilling its potential, sometimes in ways that it wasn’t originally intended to…

A recent piece on GameSpot documenting the development of an impressive fan-made My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fighting game gives us hope that Hasbro’s leadership might finally be realizing how counterproductive the task of trying to control how fans interpret their IPs is in the Internet’s “economy of ideas.”

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