Friday, December 14, 2012

Santa Claus, The Yeti And The Really Bad Decision: Behind The Scenes

Now that my 2012 Christmas Card Slash Book is finally finished, I thought I'd post a behind the scenes look at how I made it for the three or four people out there who may be interested in long-winded explanations of mildly interesting topics.

Here we see my sketch for the cover next to the finished product. I went into much more detail than normal on this sketch for some reason. Usually my sketches are way simpler and, well, more sketchy.

I guess spending more time on the sketch paid off, as the final cover is pretty darn close.


I drew the Yeti as silhouettes on the cover because I wanted to save their big reveal for the inside.


You'll note that the title in the sketch is a bit different than the final one. I went through many, many titles before finally setting on one. Originally it was going to be called Santa Vs. The Yeti, but that seemed kind of meh to me, plus last year's card was called The Space Dweebs Vs. Space Santa, so I didn't want to use another "versus" title so soon.


After much list making and gnashing of teeth I eventually went with a title that had a The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe vibe (yikes, did I just say "vibe?").  At the last minute I changed "questionable" to "really bad." Why? I dunno, it just sounded better.

The title was created in InDesign because it's easier to handle text there than in Photoshop, plus I don't think it can set text on a curve like InDesign can.


Lastly, the cover elements like the header, price and the gold strip at the left? They're all reused from last year's book. Hey, if it ain't broke, why waste time recreating them, emirate?


Next up was the title page. Nothing much to say about it, it's just a two color line drawing. The title's reused from the cover of course, just recolored. 

That's a pretty rough sketch there, and indicative of how they usually look.

Here's a very early sketch I did to try and nail down the look of Santa and his Elves. They changed quite a bit from this first sorry attempt, thank goodness. That's Santa's Domed Complex below, which looks pretty much exactly like the final version.

Here's the model sheet I made of Santa and an Elf. I made this as a visual aid to help me draw them consistently from page to page, then promptly forgot about it and didn't find it again until the project was over. Typical.

Here's Page one, which coincidentally was the first page I worked on. When I make these cards I never draw them in order. I jump around, generally saving the harder layouts for last. Also, the longer you work on a project the better you get at drawing the characters, so the latter pages will inevitably look better than the first ones. By jumping around like this, all my pages have an overall mediocrity (heh).

We're getting right into the story here on the first page; no establishing shots of the North Pole for me! That's probably why this page is so wordy-- I had a lot of stuff to set up.


The Santataur card I did two years ago prominently featured Santa and his Elves, so I wanted to distance myself from that story and make this one look as different as possible, lest it feel like a rehash.

In the Santataur card, Santa wore his traditional red garb and lived in the typical storybook workshop. So I decided to go the opposite direction this time. This version of Santa wears a sleek racing-style jacket emblazoned with his initial and he now lives and works in a slick, high-tech environment filled with the latest in technology.

The Elves also wear similar uniforms to Santa's. The uniforms are all color coded: Santa gets to wear red because he's the boss. The Head Elf, Decapitator-Of-Foes, wears green. The rest of the (lower ranking) Elves all wear blue.

It's hard to see the computer readouts on the wall, so here's a closeup detail of them. I kind of based them on Tony Stark's heads up displays from the Iron Man and Avengers movies. They're not just gobbledegook either; I tried to make most of them actually mean something.

That's Prancer the Reindeer's image (see how old he looks?) and his vital signs at the top. Apparently he was born in 1665. I tried drawing a reindeer from memory, but quickly realized I needed to google them to see what the hell they really look like. You think you know until you sit down to draw one. 

That's an overhead map of Santa's Domed North Pole Complex underneath. It's tough to see, but the legend next to it reads:


• Main Complex (that's the large central dome. I guess that contains the living quarters)

• Hydroponics (apparently the Complex grows its own food?)
• Manufacturing (where the toys are made)
• Support (generators, heating, sewage and the like)
• Proposed (that's the dotted circle, indicating that it's not yet constructed)

Note that the map is labeled "Phase 1." Is Santa planning on branching out someday?

I drew the readouts in InDesign because it's a vector program and better suited for drawing liney, geometric things like this. Once they were drawn I imported them into Photoshop, and then used the "distort" feature to put them in perspective with the wall. 

Prancer was drawn in Photoshop of course. I added scan lines over him to help sell the idea that you're looking at a monitor and not a picture on the wall.

See that row of blue lights above the screen? My plan was to have shafts of light shining down out of them. It worked perfectly in my head, but I could not for the life of me get them to look right in reality. After screwing with them for way too long I realized they were never going to work and reluctantly dropped the idea.


Hey, don't go anywhere! There's lots more to see after the jump!


Ah, the first appearance of New Mrs. Claus. I didn't bother drawing the background in the sketch, I guess because I knew it was going to be just a floor and another wall full of computer graphics.

Would it surprise you to find out that New Mrs. Claus wasn't in the original outline? Well, she wasn't. When I was first laying out the story it was Santa himself who suggested using Yeti to pull the sleigh. She's not even in the official model sheet I drew and forgot about.

About a fourth of the way into the project New Mrs. Claus suddenly popped into my head. I'm glad she did, because even though she only appears on two pages (well, three, sort of), she's my favorite character. I thought it would be funny if Santa divorced the presumably older Mrs. Claus and replaced her with a much younger (and shapelier) model. Plus it helped explain why he would ever agree to the boneheaded Yeti idea.

You may notice that Decapitator-Of-Foes (the Elf in green) and the two foreground Elves are looking startled and worried at New Mrs. Claus' suggestion. Whenever I have background (or in this case foreground) characters in a scene I like to have them "acting" or doing some kind of a bit, as opposed to just standing motionless with their hands at their sides. It makes for a more interesting visual.


Here's a detail of the computer graphics of the Snow Wolf and Ice Shark. Once again I had to google them, because my first attempts at drawing them from memory were less than impressive. These readouts were created the same way as the ones on the previous page.

I have no doubt that the faux Latin genus names I used for them are incorrect, but that's OK. It gets the point across. It's my little shout out to Roadrunner cartoons.

This page was the first time I drew the Yeti. I love the image of Santa attempting to wrestle them into submission while shirtless, if I do say so myself.

The original plan was for all four Yeti to look identical to one another. As I was sketching this page out though it suddenly occurred to me that it would add some visual interest if they all looked slightly different. So if you look closely you'll see that they each have different noses, slightly different ears, a different number of teeth and their own individual topknots.

The look of the Yeti is (very)  loosely based on images I saw of Norwegian troll dolls.

This was a tough page to draw and I sketched it out many, many times. There were a ton of elements that I somehow had to squeeze into a limited space. Twelve characters, the sleigh and gift bag, plus I wanted a closeup of the Dome Complex. It was hard to come up with an angle that would allow me to show all that.

I eventually got it all crammed in there, but I think it's a bit too crowded. I should have made all the characters slightly smaller, but... at some point you have to stop working on a project and say "enough" or you'll end up fiddling with it forever.

In keeping with his other high tech equipment, Santa now has a Hover Sleigh that uses repulser technology to float a few inches off the ground.

Note the Elf taking a photo of the Yeti with his iPhone. It's too small to see, but I drew a tiny little Yeti on his screen.

Also note Slasher-Of-Throats (the Elf in the sleigh in the blue jacket) getting an eyeful of New Mrs. Claus.


About a fourth of the way into the project I decided I wanted to attempt my first ever double page spread in one of these books. I thought it would be a cool visual to see one big image stretch across two pages. I decided that the scene of the Yeti taking off and pulling the sleigh would be the best candidate for the spread.

Unfortunately I had a hard time getting the spread to land in the physical center of the book. Technically a double page spread doesn't have to be in the exact center, but it helps. When I placed it in the center I had too much story to cram in before it, and not enough to fill the space behind. I kept at it though and eventually figured out a way to make it work.


Then I decided not to physically print the book and email it to everyone instead, making the whole point of a double page spread moot. Ah well. Whaddya gonna do?


This page gives us our first (and only) full view of the Dome Complex in all its glory. We also get to see the glowing repulser technology on the bottom of the Hover Sleigh. 


If you look really closely you'll see New Mrs. Claus and the Elves standing at the side of the runway. I didn't want to just draw a few colored dots so I cloned them from the previous page, flopped them so they'd be facing the right direction, and then shrank them down to about 2%.


I reused the Yeti heads from the previous page here, adding them to new bodies. Hey, I was facing a looming deadline and had to save time wherever I could! I reused the harness buckles from the previous page as well.


Originally the sky was a dark blue, since this scene is taking place at night. But the sky on the previous page was dark blue, as was the sky on the page before that, and the pages before that featured dark bluish computer screen walls. Yawn! It's not a good idea to use the same color scheme over and over; it makes for a boring reading experience. So I changed the sky here to a yellowish-orange. Good old Photoshop! Technically an orange sky is probably not correct, but visually it's more interesting. Artistic license and all that.


A couple of goofs: I probably should have added the runway to the map of the Dome Complex way back on the first page. And I just noticed that presents are flying out of the gift bag even though the top remains tightly closed. I meant to draw the rope around the bag coming loose but forgot. Whoops! 


This was the last page I worked on, and another very difficult one to draw. Somehow I had to convey the idea that the sleigh had smashed through several buildings before crash landing, and also show the aftermath of the crash, all in one panel. I eventually figured out a way to get all of that info onto the page, but it was a long hard road.

In the original story outline the sleigh crashed into a house in a residential neighborhood. But later in the story the Yeti start attacking the downtown area, so I streamlined things and just had them crash in the middle of the city from the start.


I was 95% done with this very last page when my computer suddenly decided to break down. Oh Universe, you are hilarious. So I had to make a quick emergency trip to the repair shop and pay for a new graphic card in order to finish this thing before next Christmas.


Once again I used an unusual color for the night sky for variety.


I drew one gift box and then cloned it many times, flopping it and changing the colors so they'd all look slightly different.

This is my least favorite page in the book, mostly because it was so difficult to sketch and draw, but I have to admit it turned out much better than I expected. Now that it's all over I can almost bring myself to slightly like it.


This page and the following one went through many changes and revisions as well. I needed to show the Yeti running amok throughout the city, but because it's supposed to be a kid's book I wanted to somehow keep the compositions simple.

I think the problem was that I was trying to stuff all four Yeti into each page. I quickly realized that just wasn't going to work, so I decided to split them up. I drew two of them running rampant on this page, and the other two on the next. Once I figured that out things went much more smoothly.

You can see in the sketch that the foreground Yeti is holding the police car with both hands. That worked OK in the sketch, but didn't work so well in reality. His left hand covered up too much of the car, so that you couldn't tell it was supposed to be a police cruiser. So now he's just holding it with just one hand.

Once again Google came to the rescue as I looked up tanks to see what one really looks like. I just picked one that looked easy to draw; I have no idea if that's a modern model or one from WWII.

Lastly, you may notice that the Yeti seem to have grown a bit here. They went from being approximately eight feet tall a few pages ago to being able to fit a police car in their mouths. Again, chalk it up to artistic license. Hey, if the original King Kong could change size from scene to scene, then it's good enough for me.

Another complicated page that I worked hard to simplify and make work. I needed to show the Yeti using their Arctic powers to freeze the population and cover the entire city in ice, all in one page.

The "ice ray" thing wasn't in the original story outline. At first the Yeti were just going to smash and demolish the city, which wasn't all that interesting (and would have been hard to draw). I tried to think of a simpler way they could destroy civilization, and "ice ray" suddenly popped into my head. They're Yeti, they live at the frigid North Pole, so what else would they do, right?

Once again, the Yeti are now twice the size of a delivery truck. Maybe the angrier they get, the more they grow?

If you're observant you may notice that this is the fourth page in a row with an angled landscape. That's on purpose. I've found that you can give a static composition some energy just by tilting it. I may have used that trick one too many times here though.

If I remember correctly this was the third page I drew. I thought that instead of showing another page of the Yeti running rampant, it might be interesting to show Santa and the Elves reacting in horror to the carnage occurring just offscreen.

I tried to make the background look like a war zone, with jets and ice rays filling the night sky.

I like this last page, mostly because it's about an 80% reuse of page one. I set it up that way on purpose, so the first and last pages would be kind of like bookends (I did the same thing in last year's Space Dweebs card). I was able to save a lot of time by reusing the floor, ceiling, and much of Santa and Decapitator-Of-Foes.

Note that Decapitator-Of-Foes apparently broke his arm in the crash (the same arm he's using to cover his mouth with on the previous page!), and Santa's wearing a bandaid where his cheek was slashed open.

That's Slasher-Of-Throats in the foreground clutching his crucifix, praying for what's left of the world. Who knew Elves are Christians?

Here's a detail of the computer graphics on the wall. I had a lot of fun making these screens. Note the plunging worldwide temperatures at the upper left. But are the temperatures in Fahrenheit or Celsius? I'll let the audience decide. Why is a relatively unknown city like Cardiff listed? Because it's where Doctor Who is filmed, or course.

To the right is a live network feed, showing the tops of skyscrapers sticking out of the snow. The caption is kind of hard to read, but it says:
• CNN LIVE: New Ice Age
• Deadly Temperatures. Earth Doomed

Then there's an impossible to read text crawl at the very bottom that says:
• Millions Feared Dead • Thousands Missing • Army Useless • Yeti Rule Entire Northern Hemisphere

Below all that is a map of the earth showing how dramatically the temperature has dropped in the past few hours.

At the bottom are three live camera feeds from... somewhere in America. One showing a massive blizzard, the center one showing snow of a different kind as the camera has apparently stopped working, and the last showing a Yeti snarling into the lens.

Note the large purple bruise on the side of Decapitator-Of-Foe's head. I had fun drawing that.

And there you have it! Wayyyy more information that you probably require about this book.

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