Three Worlds, One Image: Revised Star Wars Character Sketches

Making Of / 19 May 2022

With the exception of a minor scale problem, I already liked the sketch I had for Luke—Luke going up the stairs had been the initial image that had popped into my mind when I was first thinking about making this image and it was still the foundation that the rest of it seemed to be built on. While I liked Vader’s placement, I had second thoughts about the pose I originally drew him in—it was a bit too active and aggressive for the moment I was trying to capture from Empire Strikes Back. I needed him to be a bit more passive. Having him advance with his lightsaber lowered would not only serve the story better; it would also make it a bit easier to integrate this Star Wars part of the image with the Alien stuff that was going on behind it.

The character that gave me the most problems with coming up with the right pose was Leia. I knew I wanted her shooting a blaster, but the layout necessitated that she had to be firing upward at an extreme angle at a target that required her to almost be facing away from the viewer. I tried a number of different variations and ended up deciding that a profile was going to be the best pose I could put her in and still have her firing in the direction she needed to be firing.

I was really hoping to include a stormtrooper falling off a ledge and into the Death Star chasm but unfortunately, the layout change left him on the cutting room floor!

The remaining stormtrooper ended up in a pose that reminded me a lot of a still they used in the original Star Wars trading cards so it had a kind of iconic look.

I ended up being really happy with the layout change when it came to re-posing Ben. He’d originally been show straight from the back and with the extremely low eye line, it made it hard to draw him as anything other than a relatively shapeless robe with a couple of hands coming out of the sleeves. The new layout enabled me to turn him slightly toward the viewer so some of his face could be visible.

I had a new, (hopefully) improved set of character sketches. Now it was time to add them to the new layout to make sure everything was working together. 

Three Worlds, One Image: Revised Alien Character Sketches

Making Of / 05 May 2022

The change in layout necessitated that all the character sketches needed to be redone but my previous work didn’t feel wasted. The first drafts gave me an opportunity to hash out how I’d deal with the costumes and accessories so I felt I was working in familiar territory.

The Alien had been the first character I’d drawn for the first batch of sketches so I figured it would be as good a place to start as any. It was the character whose pose I wanted to change the most—the relatively static pose of the first draft gave me an opportunity to suss out what went where with the anatomy but I now wanted to add some drama and menace to the pose (as well as depart from making it look too much like a guy in a suit.)

Having the Alien in the midst of climbing on to the walkway Ripley is attempting to walk across felt like a good, dramatic confrontation, as well as giving me the opportunity to use its tail to close off the top left corner compositionally. The tail could also serve as a frame around the Star Trek bridge, so things were starting to flow together.

Ripley’s overall pose didn’t need much of a change, but I wanted to go back in and try to get a better likeness than I’d been able to get with the first draft.

Kane and the various elements of the egg chamber still had some proportional issues that cleared up as soon as I drew him in context. 

That was a lesson I was going to apply to redrawing the Star Trek characters: drawing them in individual isolation helped to get all the details where they needed to go, but getting the characters themselves in the right places necessitated drawing them (and thinking about them) as a group.

Three Worlds, One Image: Adding the Characters to the Layout

Making Of / 21 April 2022

Now that I had all the preliminary character sketches completed, it was time to add them all to the main layout and see what I was working with.

My previous doubts that started with the Star Trek and Star Wars characters ended up being confirmed when I put everything in place. The first thing I noticed was the relative scale of the characters to the overall layout was way too small. I started this project knowing that the environment itself was going to be the star of the show and there was going to be some inherent strangeness to seeing characters that are usually depicted as epic and larger-than-life as possible reduced to the relative size of action figures in a playset but they immediately felt too small for the space. Rather than looking like they were at home in their environment, all of the characters seemed to be dangling off arbitrary surfaces with no visual rhythm to the poses, something that wasn’t immediately obvious when I was drawing each of them in isolation.

The straight-ahead orientation of the Star Trek bridge led to awkward foreshortening that had already been bothering me when I was doing the character sketches but was made even worse when I saw it in context. The space for the transporter room ended up being quite a bit larger than the actual transporter room needed to be so the characters were floating around in a space that diminished their importance. 

I realized switching the locations of the two Star Trek regions would go a long way to solving both problems simultaneously—putting the transporter in the lower left corner would tighten up the space, enlarging the relative size of the characters and giving a head-on view more appropriate to the “beaming down” effect I wanted to use. Having the bridge at the top of the image would have it facing more toward the central axis of the image,  giving some impression of movement in a definite direction, even though everybody would still be sitting down.

This layout confirmed my intention to move the Death Star tractor beam—the transition between it and the Star Trek bridge was the most awkward space in the entire image. Moving it to the opposite side was going to help reduce the amount of Death Star wall lights as well, which were taking up a little too much space.

As bad as the relative scale of the characters was overall, it was even worse with Princess Leia and the stormtroopers in the upper right corner. They were being dwarfed by the space in a way that diminished any excitement I could get out of them.

The confrontation between Ripley and the Alien didn’t feel right, either. Being that close to the Alien should have had more drama—the way I had it had them looking they were saying “Oh—YOU’RE here” to each other, like they were running into an ex at a restaurant. I needed to add some dynamism and some distance to them.

Luke’s confrontation with Vader seemed like it was getting there, but Vader’s pose didn’t feel Vader-y enough to me yet.

I had to go back to the drawing board with EVERYTHING.

Three Worlds, One Image: Alien Character Sketches

Making Of / 31 March 2022

After all of the work in Illustrator, Blender and fSpy, I was looking forward to doing some drawing.

I began by setting up the renders of my reference figures as base layers in Photoshop and got to work drawing more fully-realized character sketches on top of them.

I wasn’t going to bother with color yet; grayscale drawings would be just fine to establish all the costume details. I was also not particularly concerned with lighting—I still wasn’t sure if I wanted the characters to only be lit by the light sources that existed exclusively in their world—so I was only going to use enough modeling in the drawing to give an indication of the structure of the forms, not the way they were lit. Color and light were both feeling like issues I wasn’t close to thinking about yet. I had a lot of drawing to do first.

I figured the best character to start with was the xenomorph from Alien—I didn’t want to get too bogged down with trying to create a likeness right off the bat, so the alien seemed like a good way to get into the groove of drawing again after all the modeling and vector work.

All of that preliminary work immediately felt worth it the minute I started drawing. The reference render I’d made of the Alien in the correct perspective and pose made it possible to finish the sketch in a couple of hours. I’d rendered each figure 4 times larger than the size it would be in the final image to give me a comfortable size to draw details, so I knew I had all I needed in the sketch (especially since the alien was going to be primarily a silhouette.)

The most logical sequence to drawing the sketches seemed to be to complete all the characters from one world and move on to the next, so the next one up was Kane—I wanted to leave Ripley for last because the challenge with Kane seemed to be similar to drawing the Alien—all the detail in his spacesuit was going to require most of the attention, so capturing a likeness wasn’t going to be as big a priority.

Now that I had a couple of characters in the books, it was time to tackle the first attempt at a recognizable human. I wasn’t going to drive myself too crazy with trying to create portraits of the stars of the respective films/shows—the main point of the image was the space  being created rather than the characters in it—but I still wanted to get a close enough likeness to them to make it easy to read who these people were and where they were coming from. I wasn’t completely satisfied with my Ripley sketch, but it was close enough for the stage the image was in for me to move on to other characters. With all my years working in Illustrator, I’ve come to prefer sketches that aren’t completely comprehensive—if a sketch is too complete, creating the final art becomes too much like mindless, tedious tracing over a template. The sketch served its purpose in giving me as much information as I needed to move forward to the next step.

For now, the next step was moving on to sketches of the Star Wars characters.