The Comics Workshop


Perspective in Storytelling 27

By now I’ve gone through most everything I can think of to tell you about how to use perspective to tell better stories, except they’ve mostly been isolated panels.  This is COMICS—the whole point of the existence of comics is that something magical happens when images are juxtaposed!

I felt inspired to do this series of perspective posts because I’ve seen a lot of portfolios at this point, and the #1 thing they all need to work on is their layouts.  It’s so much more important than having pretty art.  They don’t notice that the way they choose angles and cropping totally affects how clear a page is, and how well each panel leads into another.  It’s a hidden skill…they don’t see the possibilities because they are too easily manipulated by what they read.  So I am forcing you to see what can be tough to nail down.

In general, when I can, I try to make panels lead into each other.  This can be in many forms…but mostly it’s that the perspective (in my mind) somehow points to the next panel.  

In the first panel, the horizon line is tilted toward the top right.  Random: when things are tilted, I tend to tilt toward the top right when the story has a “…?” feel to it, and I tilt down when something is confident, or powerful, or whatever.  Anyway, that tilt also leads us to that insert panel 2, which we could easily lose otherwise.  

Of course, now we’re stuck at the top right panel 2, but it’s easy to be lead down to panel 3 because panel 1’s got such a low angle.  It makes us want to look down…after we give panel 1 a second glance.  Made you look!

Panel 3 probably leads the eye the least, but it’s okay because it’s so clear.  I used side view because it’s easier to show gestures that way, and I wanted to show her orientation a bit.  Still, most lines point down to the next panel, and the horizon is lower than her head, which leads us lower, too.

Panel 4: She’s bending down to pick up masks.  What better way to show that, than to A), draw at a high-ish angle—now she is below the viewer, and B), have the panel situated at the bottom of the page?

Panel 5: And of course, that sets up the next panel, which is taller, and leads the eye back up again, to go with the act of Eve standing up.  We are now looking up at her from a low angle.  This is an even page, meaning the page will be on the left when the comic is open.  I always like it when I can manage to make the last panel of an even page lead the eye diagonally up again, so that people are ready to see the first panel of an odd page.  And I try to have that first panel of an odd page work with the previous panel, too.

Keep in mind I’m using this page because it’s a GOOD example—my stuff doesn’t always lead the eye perfectly.  Although in those cases I try to be very clear.

Notice that the bottom three panels feature Eve facing right.  You want to try to keep the direction of action going left to right.  Even the top two panels lead to the right in some form.

Also when you lay out a page, consider cropping heads and such.  If every panel has the same amount of space above characters’ heads, it feels more station-to-station.  Then of course, there are people who crop too much—this is usually on close ups—to the point that what we’re looking at is unclear.  So try and figure out where you lie on that spectrum—are you too literal and need to crop more, or are you too vague and need to zoom out?

I think this is my last perspective post.  Unless I remember something I need to talk about!  Well, there will be at least one more; gonna provide an easy link and intro to the whole series.  Thanks for reading and sharing!!  I hope this has given you some direction and ideas.

For more perspective posts, click here.




Perspective in Storytelling 26

I’ve got some more examples of curvilinear perspective for you!

First, we have a Madame Xanadu spread—Xanadu’s sister surprises her with an attack! And we as the audience weren’t prepared at all, which is why we have to “turn our heads” in order to follow the action.  It also helps lead to the next panel, which is always the big challenge with double-page spreads.

Next, we have a Rocket Girl panel.  The curvilinear perspective is really subtle here, to the point that the reader might not be conscious of it, but I think it’s still effective.  It has the effect of making the panel last longer, as if she’s been there a while.  It’s the opening of the scene, and the slightly curved lines lead us into that scene.

Third is some Little Nemo goodness by Windsor McKay (thanks to Kaluta for the find!).  He’s in a hot-air balloon, viewing the stockyards in Chicago.  This type of perspective is GREAT if you want to draw a cool, expansive view.  Nemo can see in every direction, and what better way to show that than curvilinear perspective?  It has the added bonus of making the reader feel extra queasy.

The last image: probably the best use I’ve seen in comics is this panel from Joe the Barbarian, drawn by Sean Gordon Murphy.  It’s an interior of a school bus, only now it feels longer and empty—Joe is totally isolated in the back of the bus by being on literally on a different plane.  If you ever want good inspiration on perspective, rendering, or anything awesomely drawn, for that matter, he’s a great guy to follow.  Not that you aren’t already!

What I think is great about ALL of these, is they all convey different moods.  That said, anything can be done too much.  If your panels constantly use fisheye or panoramas, you will slow the story down.  Your readers will have to process your panels in order to follow them, and that takes them out of the story.  It also divides the focus of any one image.

That, and it’s difficult to use.  I would think it’s best to get the hang of other perspectives before you dive into this one, because you will have to rely on your own intuition in order to get it right.

MAN i wish i could draw like this!!! i can’t figure this shit out! thanks to Amy for helping to break it down.

Thank you, Ross!  Although I feel like I’m not explaining it very well.  Probably because I’m far from mastering it, and I don’t even know if there’s a good way to create a digital grid for it, or if eyeballing it’s better.  Right now I’m just using it subtly, bending the lines as it gets farther from the perspective point.

Aside from that I’m just trying to observe so that someday I can process it well enough to master it.  Like I notice these bottom two images look so cool because there are two 1-point perspectives in one image. Also, on all of these images, the bending is mostly only done in one direction.  Like the bottom three only bend horizontally, and the top one only bends vertically.  There’s this guy Kim Jung Gi who does a lot of fisheye lens where none of the lines are straight…you should follow him on Facebook because it’s very inspiring!  I feel like it’s making it easier for me to visualize this stuff.


Perspective in Storytelling 25

I’ve attempted to do these posts going from simple to complex and I don’t think you can go much more complex than curvilinear perspective.

Curvilinear perspective is basically reality, before we’ve processed it.  If you stand in one spot and turn around in a circle, you’ll realize you’re in an infinite world that changes back and forth from what we generally recognize as 1-point and 2-point perspective.  Our brains take in what we see and organize it into something that isn’t technically true—in our heads we turn curvature into straight lines.

Draw that sort of perspective on a flat piece of paper, and your mind is officially blown, because you’re used to turning your head in order to view something like this.  Now it’s all in front of you at once.

But it’s more than just “cool”—it’s a storytelling tool!

I admit I am new to using this sort of perspective, so take what I say with a grain of salt.  But what I think is great about it is that it makes you feel like you, the reader, are turning your head.  That means there can be multiple focal points in one panel…I can give you time to pause and walk through my image.  It also means it feels like the image is moving, almost like an animation sequence.  And depending on how I compose it, the action can be fast or slow.

The above Batwoman image would be an example of a time I tried curvilinear perspective.  Batwoman is blocking bullets, and she splays out like an explosion, so I wanted the perspective to match that.  It makes her seem larger than life, and it makes us feel like we as readers are in the thick of it!  We have to work; we have to turn our heads to see what’s going on.  And, I think it makes it feel more like you can picture where she started her jump and where it’s about to end…again, because it feels like an animation.

How does one make a grid for this perspective?  I wish I had the actual grid I made for this but I lost the file—I think I actually combined two 2-point grids that split in the middle.  This is why it feels a little wonky in the middle of the page.  Little did I know that in that “Transform” section of Photoshop, there’s also a “Warp” thing, which makes it all waaaaaay easier to calculate.  So the grid here is one I made with Warp.  I have Photoshop CS2, so if you have an earlier version, it’s possible it’s not there.  Anyway, just play with it, and i’m sure you’ll figure it out.  But try to get the horizon as flat as possible.  And get friendly with your french curve!

As I said, I’m just starting to get into this sort of perspective, and I’ve been using it increasingly in my latest can’t-show-you-yet work.  I find it’s more useful than I thought it would be, and that you can be really subtle about it…but that it’s also time consuming because you can’t use a ruler as much.

Special thanks to my dad Robert Reeder for the cool panoramic photo.

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Perspective in Storytelling 24

Here’s a gallery of possible 3-point perspective compositions.  Think of 3-point perspective as just a souped-up version of what you already do with 1-point or 2-point—meaning, the storytelling choices are basically the same.

The first image is much like last post’s image—an establishing, slightly aerial shot using 2-point perspective, where the horizontal lines are distorted.

The second is a classic 2-point perspective but the vertical lines converge toward the top, ever-so-slightly.  It’s also a wide angle.

The third is actually a 1-point perspective grid, that has been distorted horizontally and vertically.  I did this because I wanted it to feel like the Halloween store SHOULD be straight-forward but something’s not quite right.

The fourth image is a close up, to remind you that this is a great way to feature objects.

The last image doesn’t have its grid counterpart because I accidentally deleted a bunch of my Batwoman files, including thumbnails.  But I thought I’d include it because the angle is unlike most of what I’m showing.

Notice on the first and third images that as those horizontal lines approach the HORIZON, they become increasingly level.  I try and keep aware of the horizon when I’m distorting a grid.  Of course, it doesn’t HAVE to stay level.  If it isn’t, it just looks like you tilted the image, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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Perspective in Storytelling 23

We have officially entered 3-point perspective territory!!  I love 3-point perspective.  This would be the FIRST time I used 3-point perspective, and it’s one of my favorites.  Actually, that first inset panel was also in 3-point perspective…I was pretty excited about my new discovery!

Let me first be very clear: YOU DO NOT EVER HAVE TO DRAW 3-POINT PERSPECTIVE.  It is not important.  I don’t use it very often…about once every 20 pages, but it depends on the story.  It’s just fun, and has the added bonus of making you look good.  But technically, it is never needed to tell a good story.

When you do use it, make sure it’s for something that matters.  It will make your reader’s eyes pause.  The panel will last longer.  This isn’t just because it’s pretty.  Let me explain a theory I have:

The human eye can’t see all that much at once.  And as such, it really only sees in 1-point or 2-point perspective.  This is maybe technically not true…like we all have some sort of fisheye thing going on in the corners of our eyes.  But the stuff we can focus on in one glance is pretty straight forward.

Perspective changes when we move our eyes, or turn our heads.  The actual act of seeing in 3-point perspective or fisheye or panorama—or anything that advanced—is from us seeing something in multiple frames.  So when we see something complex like this on the page, it makes us think we are IN THE ACT of moving our eyes or our heads.  So in a way, crazy perspective makes one panel seem like a short animation sequence.

Uh, either that, or I’m just crazy.

Technique-wise, what I’ve done here is use my tilted 2-point perspective strategy, and added to it.  So I first go to Edit>Free Transform and adjust as I did in this video.  THEN, before I click that checkbox, I right-click the grid, and it gives me more transform options.  I pick “Distort,” and drag a couple corners so that the set of lines that once were parallel are parallel no longer.

When you do this you have to decide which side of those parallel lines you’d like to stretch.  So just ask yourself which side you think is slightly closer to you, the viewer.  

In this panel I made the closest perspective point pretty low, so everything above it’s super distorted.  There are so many fun things you can do with perspective!

(Let me do you a favor and say do NOT try using 3-point perspective in panels that are small, or ones where there are not a lot of lines.  It’s just a waste of your time; no one will notice that it’s 3-point perspective, even subconsciously, because there’s not enough to go by.)

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Perspective in Storytelling 22

It took me a while to find a panel with a nice wide angle!    This one’s SUPER wide…so wide that technically there are no vanishing points.  Well, no…it looks like I made the vertical lines converge a little bit.  Honestly, I’m not sure WHAT I did because I never put a digital grid on this one!  I must’ve figured it was easier just to figure it out by hand, than to enlarge my 2-point perspective grid forever.

Wide angle!  It places the reader far away from the action, and into a more spectator role.  So you want to use it for times when you’d like some degree of separation.  Maybe you’re leaving a scene, or starting a new scene.  Maybe you want your characters to feel insignificant, one of many in a crowd, going through the motions.  Maybe your character’s having an out-of-body experience.

In this case, Madame Xanadu and J’onn J’onzz are spying on these gangsters from up above, so we are seeing everything from their perspective.  This scene starts from the gangsters’ point of view, until this panel transitions us up to where Xanadu and her new friend are perched.  They have intentionally created that degree of separation.

Of course, newer artists make the mistake of doing wide angle when they don’t mean to.  Meaning, they’ll be drawing a scene in a smallish room and the angle is so wide that a wall or ceiling would have to be knocked out.  It sort of kills the sense of space you’re creating for the reader.  This is especially true for more aerial angles indoors…if you make them too wide, you’re past the roof.  That can work with certain story beats—just make sure it’s intentional!

Next time we will be talking about 3-point perspective!!  I don’t have too many of these posts left!

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Perspective in Storytelling 21

I have a couple more posts before we move on to 3-point perspective!

Let’s talk about wide angle v. short angle lens.  I know I’ve loosely referred to it.  And I’ve talked a lot about manipulating perspective grids, but I don’t think I’ve said much about how they’re related.

Your reader plays a part in your story as the audience, by where you place him or her in each panel.  We put them high and low, and we bring them close or place them far.

In this panel, the reader is UNCOMFORTABLY close to this woman.  It helps that she takes up half the page.  But it also helps that I have made the perspective fairly extreme.

An extremely close shot happens when your two perspective points are closer.  In this case I don’t even think I squeezed the points closer as much as I made the entire grid taller, but in proportion to how big she is in the panel, the perspective points are very close.  This makes it so that the image changes significantly depending on an object’s orientation.

And that means her head can be much bigger in proportion to her hands, because her head is closer to us.  So when you want to draw someone popping out at the viewer, consider how short your angle is.

You could still do a close up and use a wide angle.  What this does is make it feel like the viewer is far away, but zooming in.  It makes the reader more of a spectator than IN the story.  And in that case you’ll want to avoid distorting proportions like you would in a short angle.

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Perspective in Storytelling 20 (part 2)

This is the supplement to the video I just posted.  These would be the panels/grids I’m talking about!

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Perspective in Storytelling 20 (part 1)

It’s a video post!!

I figured I should probably just SHOW you how I manipulate grids in Photoshop.  Hope it helps!  Click full view because I point things out with my teeny cursor.

Click here if you would like better resolutions of the pages I’m talking about!


Perspective in Storytelling 19

I find that this tilted 2-point perspective grid really helps me to visualize difficult angles.  So I’ll use it even when what I’m doing is fairly free-form, with no straight lines to worry about.

That’s really all I have to say about this one.  So while I’m here I’ll reiterate some things I’ve said about low versus high angles, because it still applies here:

You’ll find that in general, I use high angles (as in with the top image) for calmer, safer moments, and/or when I want to establish something.  High angles are all about clarity but this also means they can be more difficult.

On the other hand, low angles are great for any time you want things to be more desperate or intimidating.  They have the added bonus of being easier.  When you can’t see everyone’s feet and where they hit the ground, you have less to calculate and also less that you could do wrong.  Hip hip hooray for low angles!

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Perspective in Storytelling 18

More often than not, when I rotate a 2-point perspective grid, it’s not exactly at 90 degrees like I showed in my last entry.  Tilting it mixes it up a bit and gives it a little more “noise.”

It takes a little experience, but you tilt it based on the one plane that doesn’t diminish.  So, look above…there are rows of lines that are totally parallel.  I rotate the grid until those lines meet up with the thumbnail, and that’s what helps me determine how far to tilt it.  Then I play around with the size of the grid and move it around until it matches my thumbnail.

When you’re playing with a grid where the vertical lines diminish in one direction or another, pay a little attention to where it gets completely vertical.  For instance in the first image, Eve is centered where it gets totally vertical.  So in general you can use that to focus the eye.  Of course, there are always exceptions, and I took exception with the second image, because I wanted to give it a “there’s something wrong with this picture” feel.

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Perspective in Storytelling 17

I mentioned I can do just about anything with one pre-made, 2-point perspective grid, right?  What I think is REALLY cool is you can rotate it 90 degrees and suddenly you’ve got yourself either an aerial or a low-angle shot.

When you work this way, you’ll want to ask yourself how EXTREME you want to go, because there are two options….

If you want it to be moderate, make sure the vertical lines are associated with the farthest point on the grid, as they are in the bottom image.  This means that things are receding faster in FRONT of Xanadu than above her.  In general, I go for moderate more often than extreme.

If you want to be extreme about it, make sure the vertical lines are associated with the closest point, the point you can actually see, as with the top image.  This means the world underneath her recedes faster than anything else.

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Perspective in Storytelling 16

Here are a couple examples on how you can do a high angle or low angle and just slightly distort the vertical lines…this gets us into 3-point perspective territory!!!!  I’M NOT READY YET!  I still have more 2-point perspective to talk about!

But yeah.  I did this by using the transform tool “distort.”  And by “transform tool” I just mean going to Edit>Transform>Distort, and manipulating the corners of the grid so that the vertical lines converge either on the top or the bottom.

It looks like I actually forgot to do this in the second of these thumbnails—the vertical grid lines are completely vertical.  But you can see in the final version that they converge ever-so-slightly as they get closer to the ground.  I must’ve fixed it on the page, which is easy enough to do.

In the first panel, Eve is standing up from picking up a bunch of masks.  So I wanted to draw a tall panel that was an upshot to emphasize the motion of standing up.  It helps to see the previous panel in the book, but oh well.

I used the high angle on the second panel here because I need to reveal multiple versions of Eve and I’m establishing an area I’ll use later.  High angles give you the ability to establish where everything is, and you can fit in more, too.

Conversely, low angles obstruct a lot and are therefore less brainwork.  Like we can’t see where her feet go so I don’t have to worry whether I’ve been accurate to scale in that first panel.

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Perspective in Storytelling 15

I realized while searching for an image that I don’t draw 2-point perspective at a high horizon very often.  The panels I did find were not too showy, and I think that’s because I tend to use it in calmer moments.  It’s also useful as a way to establish characters in their environment but I don’t do that as much as I should.

I mean, I DO draw panels where we’re looking downward but not ones where the two perspective points lie on the horizon.  In this case I did so because Madame Xanadu is handing this girl a cup of tea and I wanted us to view the girl from Xanadu’s perspective.  So the horizon is presumably at level with MX’s eyes.

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Perspective in Storytelling 14

Something I do quite often with 2-point perspective is draw at a low angle.  Depending on the content, it can raise the desperateness or danger of an image.  

This is a pretty calm panel, but the low angle adds to the drama a bit.  ”Their child has grown up so fast”; that’s how it’s supposed to read.  Behind them the ceiling stretches even farther.

Using my pre-made grid, all I have to do for a low angle is position the grid so the horizon line is low.  In this case I also enlarged the grid a lot, which makes the two perspective points farther apart.  The farther apart the points, the “wider the lens”—meaning we’re viewing them from afar, zooming in.  I guess I did this because even though they are the family we’re focused on, their experience is commonplace.

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