Friday, March 8, 2013

Zander does the Walking Dead Game Infarcer cover!

It’s April again, if you get your dates by the covers of magazines, and Game Informer, the world’s best video game magazine, ushers it in with style with Game Infarcer, a collection of false video game news that tends to both fool credulous teenagers and predict Nintendo’s future with eerie accuracy.


This year the subject was The Walking Dead. Telltale Games has made an extraordinary iOS game set in the world of the Walking Dead comic/TV show that intersects very briefly with existing characters while creating a memorable story and original characters. Specifically, they created a powerful bond between the player’s character, Lee, and an eight-year-old girl in his care, Clementine. Fans and critics alike have heaped praise upon the game and upon this story choice, and in true Game Infarcer fashion, we now suggest that Telltale will, like most other game companies, take this trend to its most preposterous conclusion.

Joe Juba, Tim Turi, and Jeff Marchiafava brought me in to chat about the idea for the picture, and it was this:

There's a 'Human Centipede'-type vibe here I chose to ignore.
If Telltale had some success with the child care dynamic in one game, why, they should stick with it. All babysitting! All the time! The editors at Game Informer have learned over the years with me that their best Infarcer covers come from a singular idea that can manifest itself in many different visual gags, puns, or references. I like drawing one big picture, and you always need a central figure in these things to drive the point home nice and fast, but the lasting value always comes from the background gags, what MAD artist Will Elder referred to as “chicken fat”.

I’ve mentioned before that I really like when the editors at GI do a sketch. It’s not because I am lazy, nor because I like to be a big fat jerk and laugh at them, but it does two things: 1. it forces them to think about how the information will be presented visually (what is the main focus, what is the POV, what is the field of vision), and 2. generally forces the concept to be simple. Simple concepts make for far better gag illustrations than complex ones, and as mentioned above, make it far easier to cram stuff in the background.


As I learned with the Bioshock image [link to GI article], it’s really nice to just sit down and knock out the main character right away without overthinking it too much. A central figure, Lee, with an expressive posture that expresses the main emotion of the piece (exhaustion, feeling overwhelmed) ties it together and creates something for everything else to orbit around. 

After getting the figure right, I took another piece of paper, traced the basic outline of Lee, and then set to work making the rest of the piece. We’d brainstormed at Game Informer about things that should be in the picture (notably ‘NAPPING INSIDE’) from Tim, which is my favorite gag here. The basic template for the jokes is ‘a daycare in the zombie apocalypse’, so things like doing double-dutch with intestines, baseball with a blood-spattered bat, and tetherball with a zombie head were pretty straightforward for us to brainstorm up. Same with the biohazard lunchbox (and the sad, left-out zombie boy over the fence). Then I wanted to make sure we had some gags from the game and the show, so I made sure one of the kids is Clementine, one is Duck (both from the game), one is Sophia and her doll, and one is Carl (both from the show). I was trying to come up with a way to do some gag about someone pitching a ball to Carl and having it be ‘inside’, but I couldn’t make it work. And there in the background, riding the zombie and egging it on with a brain on a stick is my son Jin, because I figure that’s just the sort of thing he’d do in the zombie apocalypse. 

Those kids and their guts!
Now, it’s not uncommon that I haven’t played a game that gets parodied in Game Infarcer, due to it being on a console I don’t have, or just not having the time, but this was a game that I just COULDN’T play. I have an iPad, I even bought the game a while back, but the thing about it is that it was just too freaking stressful. In most zombie games, you’re toting around an assault rifle or a rocket launcher or psychic powers (or all three, hopefully), and at the very least, you can choose whether to go into a room or not. This game forces you to blunder into places like a simpleton and then freak out, frantically tapping the screen as a zombie tries to eat your legs. I just can’t deal with that. So my input to the gags of the illustration were limited to the first 25 minutes of the game.


One of the new things I did this year was digitally ‘ink’ the illustration on my Cintiq tablet, rather than ink it on paper and scan it in. Last year, on the Mortal Kombat drawing, I inked it all on paper, but did it in a bunch of sections so that I could assemble it in the computer. I figured it was going to be the same effect, but with cleaner lines and a better ability to edit the work.

What that meant for me practically in this case was that I made sure that I had much more polished pencil artwork to work from. I’m pretty well-practiced with real-world brushes and pens, but in the computer inking world, I want the lines I’m following to be sharply defined so that I don’t go too far off the rails. So after doing the pencilling I would have done, usually with a light H lead, I went over it with a softer and very precise .05mm lead mechanical pencil. This served both to make the lines look more finished, and allowed me to get in more detail (since this physical drawing was only print size, not 150% like most original artwork).

Not too different from my real-world inks.
I did the inks and colors  in four separate layers: Lee, the yard, the house and trees, and Atlanta. This was because I was intending to add a special haze effect that got progressively thick as we moved further back into the drawing. What this did, then, was make me have to create four color layers, just behind each line art layer, so that they could all sit on top of each other. This means that your artwork is not all integrated, but as it’s all sitting there in a fixed position, it doesn’t matter much.


There are three main special effects that I put in my colored pieces. I like to have the color be mostly flat; it serves the humor and cartoonish nature, but a certain amount of sparkle can add interest and make the work more immersive.


The coloring process was really a matter of having four sets of layers (line art + color), each separated -- eventually -- by a ‘haze’ layer. I say ‘eventually’ because it’s important while coloring that you not have a color affecting your base colors, particularly if you want to sample existing colors and fill other parts of an object with them (you’ll continually be sampling a slightly dustier version, which will look very different placed next to the original).


Mostly if there is a color gradient on an object, I like the transition from one color to another to be a simple line, as you see in the main picture on characters. But when it comes to sky, ground, or certain other large objects, I sometimes like to use a gradient, just so I can guide the eye to the right place without seeming too obvious about it. In the case of Jin the zombie jockey, I wanted him and the zombie to stand out a little bit more from the tarp in the background, so I gave the tarp a little bit of what would be bounce-light from the ground to make it a little bit lighter and frame the figures. If had done that with flat colors, it would have called more attention to itself than I would have liked, so it’s nice to be able to use the gradient tool sparingly. 

No gradient.
When using a gradient, I never put it on the same layer as the color. This is important, because there are two things that you may need to tinker with on gradients: color and position. I’m frequently changing colors on objects, and when you don’t have a flat color to select, you can’t effectively replace the color. The bucket tool and the magic wand will select only the exact color you click on (or within a certain range) and if you have a gradient, it will never be all of it. So gradients must go on a separate layer. Now if you are continually making new gradients because you can’t make up your mind colorwise, you are continually repositioning them as you click and drag. What I like to do in order to only do that once is use a further clipping mask. Like so:

The clipping mask on the group defines the shape of the object -- in this case the ground -- and then the mask on the layer defines the gradient itself, allowing me to use a simple, flat, replaceable color.
There are other ways to do this, but this is what works for me. The clipping mask on Group 1 (the folder) defines the edge of the complex shape that is the yard so that the gradient doesn’t go outside of it. But on Layer 2, instead of making a gradient with yellow to lay over the ground, I kept yellow flat and complete and made the gradient in the mask, flattening it slightly with the Transform tool. That means that the yellow only comes through the mask in the gradient shape, and it means that if I wanted to change that yellow I could, instantly, without messing around with the shape of the gradient.


This is without question the most overt trick I use, and it gets tantalizingly close to being a stylistic crutch. Rimlight corrects for poor composition by muscling objects into your attention with the tried and true method of “Hey, shiny!”. In the case of gag illustrations and humorous comics, I like the effect, because it has a sense of unreality and artificialness about it, which serves to highlight the humor, ideally.

For the basics on how to do that little glow, I did a little tutorial on how to make a glowing eye in a past Game Informer post.


I think my desire for dusty haze got out of control, and the lines in the background got a little too light, but it looks great, printing-wise. The best part, of course, is that my son Jin can take it into school on Monday and show it for show and tell. I can't wait to try to explain that to the teachers.

Another great assignment at Game Informer. Thanks, guys! Oh, and also...



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