Making Manga Art With Illustrator

December 26, 2009 at 12:35 pm (computer art, Digital Art, graphic design, Ilustrator, Photoshop tips and tricks) (, , , )

I made this manga art using Illustrator CS4

I’ve been preparing lessons for the upcoming Illustrator classes that I’ll be teaching beginning in January. In my usual style, I began playing with the pen tool in Illustrator and somehow meandered away from my original task and ended up creating this piece. This is very typical of the way things often go for me when I create art. I start dabbling around and experimenting (my intention at first was just to draw a simple manga figure that I’d give to students to trace, in order to teach them the function of the pen tool). But after about 9 hours of playing, I came up with a piece of art that I conceived on the spur of the moment.

The Techniques I Used

First I drew this illustration using the Pencil tool, which is great for sketching out simple ideas, but it doesn’t have any of the subtle nuances of brushes. It is merely a quick and dirty tool to jot down an initial idea. I used a Wacom Intuos 4 tablet with pen (I wouldn’t have been able to draw this with a mouse, it would have been way too awkward and clumsy).

Pen Tool

Then I used the proper pen tool to trace all the outlines. Afterwards I used the white arrow tool to refine and manipulate individual anchor points, which allows me to easily alter and sculpt the character’s shape.

Warp Tool

To further change the shape I used the Warp Tools which work much like Photoshop’s Liquify Filter. I absolutely love these tools. I most often stick with the first Warp tool, the one that simply moves anchor points. With this I added extra curl to the hair, flair to the boots and belt, tweaked the biceps, etc.

Simplify Paths

Tip: after using the Warp tool or Blob Brush Tool, be sure to simplify the paths to get rid of unwanted anchor points and to smooth out the drawing. Even with a setting of 97%, the number of points can be reduced by half without any noticable difference to the drawing. This step is necessary if you afterwards decide to add a Gradient Mesh because meshes won’t work on objects with too many anchor points. It also speeds up processing time once effects and added fills and strokes are added to the object.

Label and Organize Layers

I then added new layers below the path outline layer and used the blob brush to color the various parts, and as I’ve become accustomed to doing in Photoshop, I label each layer: Body paths, Pants, Shirt, Skin, Eyes, Hair, Boots, Background, etc. This makes it much easier when adding additional effects and Fill Layers via the Appearance Panel.

For example, The shirt is divided into 2 pieces, the top portion and the bottom portion below his arms. Because the shirt is on its own layer, it was easy to add the Inner Glow effect to the entire layer, rather than doing double the work by applying it to the individual shirt portions. Much more efficient.

Inner Glow Effect

I’ve discovered that this Inner Glow effect is a godsend because there doesn’t seem to be a proper way to add bevels or to burn and dodge shadows and highlights as can easily be done in Photoshop. In Illustrator the Inner Glow, if set carefully using blending modes can mimic a similar result as Photoshop’s dodge and burn tools. I set them to either Multiply or Screen using either dark or light edges and they can be positioned on the edges or at the center of an object, which allows me to use this effect for both burning edges and dodging center portions of an object.

Appearance Panel

I spent the majority of my time (having a great deal of fun) experimenting with added fills, textures and effects from the Appearance Panel. Illustrator’s default textures are limited so when I get a change I’ll go scavenging the web for free textures. I like to have a variety of simple textures that can be used for fabric, wood, and a dappled appearance of fur, tree bark, nature, basically anything with some natural texture that will soften the vector feel. It gives the scene a more painterly and natural appearance.

For Coloring Artwork Illustrator Rocks!

I also played for hours with multiple gradients, making them, changing them, rotating them, using blending modes with them. For me this step is intensely enjoyable! I love the ease with which you can drag and drop color swatches onto individual gradient stops.

And with Illustrator’s ability to recolor artwork with a few clicks of the mouse, it’s an obsessive-compulsive’s dream. I must have changed the colors for the shirt, pants, hair and skin so many times, way too many to count. And each time I change them, I then go and tweak the position of all the gradients again and again. This ate up a good chunk of the day, but it was entirely enjoyable. It’s the part I love best.

Each color change gives an entirely different mood and feel to the art. I liked so many of them that it was difficult to finally decide which colors I preferred. In Photoshop there is the Hue Saturation or Channel Mixer Adjustment, but they don’t allow you to choose specific color groupings and harmonies. So in this regard, Illustrator majorly Rocks !!

Creating The Background

The layers of hills in the background are created with one layer that I drew out with the pen tool in a matter of seconds, then warped a bit with the Warp Tool. I then duplicate and resize the copied layers, add different opacities, gradients and textures using Blending Modes to make them each appear different from one another.

I Love Photoshop

Once I finished the art in Illustrator, I couldn’t resist taking the image into Photoshop and adding a few final touches, just to soften up the vectors. Once a Photoshopper, always a Photoshopper.

Illustrator does many amazing things with ease and lightning speed, a wonderful stand alone software. But I suppose once I’ve fallen in love with pixels, vectors seem somehow a bit cold and stark by comparison. So I will always feel inclined to soften them up in Photoshop afterwards, ie, some of the texture on the clothes, the ground, leaves and some clouds.

Illustrator Can Be Glitchy

Illustrator’s interface looks deceptively like Photoshop but it behaves entirely different, especially layers. Each time you add a compound path, group, blend, live paint group, etc., layers order gets reassigned and nested. If you’re not careful it can strip away order and naming systems you’ve carefully set up. I’ve learned to keep an eye on this at all times by placing my Layer Panel on my second monitor and opening it up so all layers are visible. Each time I apply a significant function I examine what has taken place in the Layers Panel. I strongly suggest doing this. It’s the best way to begin to fully understand the inner workings and logic within Illustrator.

When I was learning Illustrator the Instructor didn’t fully introduce the behaviour of the Layers Panel until well into the course. Early introduction would have been far more beneficial because it is the best way to observe Illustrator’s logic and gain a full understanding of how it functions. It also saves a great deal of time to be able to simply drag and drop objects into clipping paths, groups, blends, etc.

Illustrator seems to be a lot more glitchy than Photoshop, ie: when adding effects or gradients to a path from the Appearance Panel, Illustrator sometimes deselects the object at random and I can spend 5 minutes piling on gradients and strokes, with no warning from Illustrator that this is being applied to nothing, to air, to void, to empty ether, because Illustrator decides to play tricks and deselects the object. It doesn’t beep to warn me, whereas Photoshop, like a kind and loyal friend always emits a polite beep and never deselects layers or objects. But I’m now savy to Illustrator’s tricks, I take care to avoid them.

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3 Comments

  1. Arun said,

    This is really wonderful!

  2. Gale Franey said,

    Hello Arun,

    Thank you 🙂

  3. Claudia Molina said,

    Gale, thank you for posting all the info about the making of this piece. It is very helpful to have this reference while doing homework for your class.

    Claudia

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