Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SantaTaur Little Moldin' Book: Behind The Scenes

Now that my 2010 SantaTaur Christmas Card/Book is finally finished, I thought I'd post a behind the scenes look at how I made it, for the two or three people out there who may be interested.

As you'll recall, last year I drew and posted a SantaTaur book cover and posted it here on my blog. I decided to expand the cover into a full blown book for this year's Christmas card. I was able to reuse last year's cover (seen on the left) for this year's book (on the right). Unfortunately the old cover had totally different proportions, and it took a surprising amount of reconfiguring to make it work for the new book. I hated the simplistic town on the original cover, so it went through a lot of modifications.

I was able to reuse the endpapers and back cover from last year's Gronkorr book with no changes.

On the left is the original sketch for the title page. As you can see it went through a lot of changes by the time I got to the finished product. I wasn’t happy with last year’s SantaTaur logo, so I redrew it (in vector in InDesign) for the book. Sharp eyed readers will note that the two logos are virtually identical, but I cleaned up some lines and angles and things that were bothering me about the original.

This was the first page I worked on, and it taught me a lot about how to draw the rest of the pages. The final version is fairly close to the sketch.

I did a couple of sketches of the elves, but I didn't have time to think about their color scheme until I started on this page, so I just sort of came up with it on the fly. I thought elves that dressed in red & green were too much of a cliche, so mine are dressed in blue. They're Jewish elves, don't you know.

Note that in the sketch the calendar read December 20th, but after I thought about it that seemed a bit late in the month for Santa to start conducting all his experiments and building his equipment, so I changed it to the 1st. Yeah, I really put that much obsessive thought into this thing.

I knew this was going to be a tough page, what with all the elves working down on the factory floor. I drew two armless elves (facing different directions), then used Photoshop to clone them over and over until I had an assembly line. Then I drew arms on each one, handling various toys. It’s hard to see, but each elf really is working on a different toy; dolls, robots, balls, rockets, etc. I had to keep making the elves and factory floor lighter and lighter so that it looked like they were off in the distance.

There's also a whole landscape there outside the windows.

Here's a peek at a "lost page" from the book. I really, really wanted to include a page where Santa gazes at his reindeer and suddenly gets the idea to combine himself with them, much to their dismay. He turns into a half-reindeer centaur after all, so it seems like there should be at least one reindeer somewhere in the book. I wanted him to shout the idea out loud and have one of the reindeer overhear him and have a horrified look on its face.

Unfortunately there just wasn’t room to include this page. Because of the way books are made, to add this one page I’d also have had to add three more, and that just wasn’t practical. Plus, if I had him disclose his plan here, then he'd be saying pretty much the same thing on two pages and it would kind of ruin the big reveal on page five. So I had to settle for the line about the “reindeer grinding and sifting process.”

I think this may be my favorite page in the book. I tried very hard to make the elves look like they were “acting” on each page. I wanted each one to be doing a "bit" rather than just standing around.
I wanted Mrs. Claus to look like a severe and humorless old harridan. She went through a couple of versions before I was satisfied with her. I’d like to redo her boots though. It’s supposed to look like her boots have large “cuffs” at the top, but it looks more like she’s wearing black capri pants under her dress. There just wasn't time to correct everything.

I spent a lot of time on that door, too. As you can see from the sketch, I wanted it to look like light was streaming through from inside the lab, to imply that Santa was inside conducting dangerous experiments. I tried drawing the streaming light a hundred different ways, but I just couldn’t get it to work. I’ve learned by now that that’s the signal that you should just drop an idea. The reindeer motif at the top was a last minute addition.

Of course when Santa writes a note, he writes it in a Christmas-y Old English script font.

I had fun with this page. The chalkboard drawing went through a lot of revisions (it wasn't even a chalkboard in the sketch!). At first it was a Santa shape + a reindeer shape = a SantaTaur shape, but I couldn’t get that to fit no matter what I did. I decided that revealing SantaTaur here lessened his impact when he finally appeared, so I deleted him and added the two DNA strands.

If you look closely, you can see that Santa is holding a blueprint of the Magic Gift Bazooka. There’s also a drawing of the Transmorphicatation Chamber on the wall above him as well.

I like the elf in the foreground that doesn’t understand what the hell Santa’s going on about.

This page went through a lot of revisions. Many times something that works in a sketch just doesn't work when you draw it for real. I kept adjusting the size of the Transmorphicatation Chamber and the elves until I found a happy balance. All the characters were on multiple layers inside separate folders, so it was easy to alter their sizes. Good ol' Photoshop! What would I do without you? Remember that, gang: Photoshop layers and folders are your friends!

I drew all four elves and then hated them, so I scrapped them and drew them all over again.

The elf throwing the switch gave me a lot of trouble. The elf with the clipboard kept obscuring the Switch Elf. But if I took out Clipboard Elf then there was an unsightly blank space in the corner. I finally hit on the idea of putting the Switch Elf up on a box so he'd be visible.

The Transmorphicatation Chamber is an homage to the teleport pods in the Jeff Goldblum version of The Fly. I didn't want an exact copy, but something reminiscent. The elves' white protective suits are a shout-out to the ones worn in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, still one of my all time favorite movies.

Once everything was laid out, the page seemed kind of meh. It just didn't have any energy. I stared at it for a long time and then tilted the Chamber like it was an out of balance washing machine, to give the impression it was churning and working. That did the trick (well, for me anyway). The swirls of energy and atoms were a last minute addition.

This was a very troublesome page, but it turned out to be my second favorite. In the original sketch, SantaTaur stood there in the center of the page, arms akimbo, as the elves looked on in astonishment. The trouble was, SantaTaur was standing directly in front of the Chamber, making it nearly impossible to see it. It wasn't clear that he'd just emerged from it and looked like he'd suddenly just appeared in the center of the room.

I tried moving the Chamber over to one side, but that just made it look like I didn't know how to lay out a page. So I scrapped the whole page and did some more sketches.

Finally I got the idea that instead of showing him already out of the Chamber, I'd show him in the act of emerging from it. That was the answer! I like the smoke and steam pouring out of the doorway of the Chamber, as if dangerous fumes were involved.

As you can see from the sketch, this page went through a lot of changes too.

At first I drew the building on the left and then flopped it for the building on the right. It looked a little too obvious, so I scrapped the right-side building and drew a new two story one. I drew one Christmas tree and was able to clone it and reuse it to make a small forest. I cloned and reused one elf, but the rest of the crowd are tiny individual drawings. Even though she's in pretty much the same pose as she was on page three, that's an all new Mrs. Claus, not a copy.

Originally SantaTaur was taking off and flying to the left, but when I put the book together I saw that there would be two very similar "flying to the left" pages placed side by side. To help change things up a bit I flopped this page so that he was flying off to the right. I then had to reverse the "Naughty" & "Nice" text on the bazooka to read right.

I knew this page would be a major headache, and I was right. The sketch seemed a little claustrophobic to me, what with the houses packed so closely together. I wanted to open up the page to show a vast environment. But that meant I'd be drawing hundreds of buildings. Oy.

I did everything I could to keep from having to draw a couple hundred individual houses. I even tried modeling a 3D neighborhood in Google SketchUp. That didn't turn out so well-- trying to combine precisely rendered 3D houses with a painterly background and character just didn't work.

So, I gritted my teeth, sat down and started drawing houses. I was able to take advantage of technology somewhat to make my life a little easier-- because it was center point perspective, I drew the houses on the left side of the page, then flopped them to fill in the right side. I then added random cars and shrubs to the neighborhood.

At first I had four images of SantaTaur flying over the houses and firing his Gift Bazooka, but that was a little confusing. I was afraid it would look like there were four SantaTaurs instead of one. Plus it made the layout way too crowded. So I deleted the extra Santas and just kept the Bazooka zaps. Hopefully it still reads that you're seeing a kind of time-lapse image of the path he's taken through the sky as he fires gifts at various houses.

The green zaps mean the resident of that house was Nice and got a good gift; and of course a red zap means they were Naughty and received coal.

You'll notice that SantaTaur's sporting a wreath tattoo on each arm. Did he have those before he transformed, or did the Chamber add them? I'll let the viewer decide.

Once I got everything laid out it seemed like something was missing. Then it hit me-- it's Christmas! Houses have Christmas decorations! So I added Christmas lights to most of the houses (and if you look closely, a few lit trees visible in some windows).

This page started out predominantly blue, but the color scheme looked way too much like the previous page, so at the last minute I altered the color to a bluish green to help it look a little different. That's one of the greatest things about drawing on the computer. If I'd have actually painted this page and decided to change the color scheme I'd have had no choice but to start over. On the computer, changing the color is as simple as moving a few slider controls. How did we ever get any work done before computers?

This page also went through a lot of changes. In the sketch the kids are in their bedroom when the gifts come crashing through the ceiling, but later I thought it would make more sense to show the living room instead. That's where your presents are placed, right? The living room started out yellowish orange, but I changed it to green to give the book some variety.

Note that in the sketch, the boy got a sack of coal. Did he get one in the finished version as well? I'll leave that to the reader's imagination.

Once I had it all drawn, the room seemed a little bare, so I added the torn Christmas decorations near the ceiling.

This was another problem page, and the one I saved for the very last. It went through a lot of revisions, mostly onscreen. As you can see from the sketch, it was originally going to be pretty much the same as page nine. I decided that was a bad idea, and changed the perspective a bit.

In my mind I pictured homes in the foreground and a city in the distance, to give the impression that SantaTaur's reign of destruction was worldwide. That was harder to draw than I thought it would be. Luckily if you add enough trees and obscuring flames you can get away with a lot!

Have you ever seen a photo of a jet breaking the sound barrier? When it does, a white disk made of superheated air or something forms around the plane. I drew such a sonic boom disk around the tiny SantaTaur in the sky to imply that he was breaking the sound barrier as he sped off, but it just looked dumb (plus I was afraid readers wouldn't understand what it was supposed to be), so I dropped it.

The sky on this page was also dark blue, which made three dark blue sky pages in a row (well, almost in a row). Boring! So I changed the overall color scheme of this page to red, which made a lot more sense since the world is burning.

I changed a lot of color schemes on various pages once I assembled the book and saw all the pages together. You don't realize that you've got too many pages of one color until you seem them all side by side.

This page came out pretty much like the sketch; there weren't any major changes other than flopping the image. It was a little tough drawing SantaTaur's foreshortened finger though, and that went through a few versions before it looked right.

The "Merry Christmas Everyone" text was hand drawn in InDesign.

3 comments:

  1. See, you make it looks so easy. Who would of thought that all that hard work and decision making was involved??!!?? You pointed out things that I didn't even notice, the elves making different toys, the landscape out the window.....THE CHRISTMAS TREES IN SOME OF THE WINDOWS! WHAT? WOW! You thought of everything. I love the hand drawn font at the end, nice touch Mr. Canada! Wonderful work :D

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  2. Thanks, Dawn! Glad you enjoyed it. I think sometimes I put those tiny details in there (that no one will probably ever notice) just to amuse myself while I'm working on the project for hours and hours.

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  3. brilliant. very cool to see and read the behind the scenes! thanks for the card bob, it is wonderful!

    hope you have a wonderful holiday!

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