08 Adding tone to a thumbnail sketch


Having finally nailed down what I wanted everything to look like, I decided to start thumbnailing the composition I wanted for my style guide/test.  But before I write directly about what I did, I will point out that I’ve decided to take away one of the monsters I had originally written.  In the story outline, I had written in a Stone Elemental. It was a place holder monster I’d put in so I could have one monster for each Sorcerer.  I had been planning to replace that monster with a more “Lovecraftian” monster. Something with a lot of tentacles. I decided to not go with that idea for two reasons.

  1. I’m lazy and I just didn’t want to spend anymore time designing monsters.
  2. I liked the Winged Apes so much, I thought I could use two of them instead of just one.

So there are still three monsters, they just aren’t the original ones that I wrote in the outline. Okay, so here’s the page I drew my thumbnails on:


Remember what I said two weeks ago about what I was going for with the composition?   I was trying to make Rob small against something big in order to make him look vulnerable and at the same time I wanted to make the Sorcerers look menacing too?  Well, I came up with some shape placements I thought  might do the trick.  If you notice on the page above, the first drawing on the top of the page is basically just shapes.  This was an idea I had gotten in the middle of the work day. In order to remember it, I quickly put the shapes down on paper. This was really all I needed to do to see if it was going to work.

The second sketch was drawn later as a slight variation of the shot above but I didn’t continue with it because I wasn’t happy at all with what it looked like.

The final sketch at the bottom of the page I drew by taking the shape masses from the first sketch and  refining them into actual characters.  The monsters are a unit and the Sorcerers are treated as a unit too.  I also tried to tell an individual story with every character.  Some of the poses need a little work and there still needs to be some adjusting with the space relationships, but it’s pretty much what I’m going to go with.

The next thing I wanted to do was to figure out the tonal values within the drawing. To achieve this, I took some tracing paper and a black Prismacolor pencil, and began to add tone. I decided not to be too precious about drawing perfectly within the lines, so it’s a bit messy and rough.

(PRO TIP: Prismacolor pencil is erasable on tracing paper. Many development guys in the industry draw their development tonal drawings on tracing paper and then color copy the final on regular paper.)

The idea is to add a different value to the foreground, middle ground and background elements.  The values I was using would be restricted to, dark, mid tone and light. Only using those three colors helps simply the process and allows you to see the tones as a whole.  It really doesn’t matter which values go to which “ground”. You can just as easily choose the background to be the darkest value as the lightest.  As long as it makes the picture clear and gets across the feel you want the drawing to have.

My first thought was to let the foreground have the mid tone.  I decided to make the background the darkest and the middle ground the lightest so that the main character popped out more.   At the time, I didn’t really like it all that much:


Part of the problem was that the sky and the buildings are kinda TWO backgrounds and they were throwing me off. I also didn’t like the idea of making all the buildings so dark.

I tried again. This time I decided to make the foreground the darkest and the background sky the mid tone, while keeping the background buildings and middle ground characters the lightest.  This didn’t look good to me at all.  I added a little bit of shadows on the monsters to attempt to balance it all, but it just looked odd. (possibly because I was so sloppy with it):


I was getting frustrated.  Decided to refocus and try to keep in mind two basic things:

  1. My center of interest had to be the place of highest contrast. In this case, the place where the darkest dark and the lightest light would meet.
  2. Try adding a definite light source.

Okay, so I obviously my center of interest was Rob. He either had to be the darkest dark surrounded by the lightest light or the lightest light surrounded the darkest dark (as I had in the first sketch)…or both. I decided to try a combination of both. He would have both black and white in different areas of his body:


My thinking was, just because a ground plane is dominated by a tone, it doesn’t mean that other lighter or darker tones don’t have a place within it as long those values don’t dominate that ground plane. SO, I chose to make Robs pants the darkest dark, and I also darkened his upper body as the cast shadows of the monsters fell on him. The rest of Rob would therefore be in light creating and interesting play of contrasting black and white tones.  This meant that the light source would come from the upper left corner of the drawing.

Since Rob was the darkest dark, the background behind him needed to be the lightest light to make him pop out.  Now I had the middle ground dominated by the darkest dark of the drawing and the background would be dominated by the lightest.  Still, there would be SOME light on Rob himself to make him pop out a bit more.  The foreground ended up with the mid tone.  This seemed to work.

To add to visual interest, and to lead the eye around the drawing a bit more, I also decided that the flying winged ape would be darker than the other.  This will make you “read” him but I’ll make sure he’s not placed against too light a background. Also, I decided that the farthest Sorcerer on the right with his arms crossed would be darker than the other two. That way, you will read him.  I’ll just make sure that his darker parts aren’t as dark as Rob’s. This will make a triangular composition of dark areas. Hopefully, doing this will make your eyes travel around the picture.

Another thing I needed to make sure I did was to chose ONE tone out of the three to be dominant. That ONE tone needs to cover 50% or more of the drawing.  Then I had to pick another tone to be the second most dominant. Doing this adds visual interest.

I seemed to have accidentally made the dark tone the most dominant followed closely by the lightest tone. Still, I think the light and dark tones are almost too balanced in my thumbnail. Also, I don’t think I did a good enough job differentiating the values. The darks almost look like the same value as the mid tones. This kinda messes up the point of doing a tonal pass.  I shouldn’t have been so sloppy.  That’s what I get for being impatient.

Seeing all the thumbnails here on the blog has allowed me to take a good look at them all and now I think I had it right the first time with the FIRST tonal pass. As dynamic as the lighting is on the last one, it covers Rob and the monsters too much in darkness.  I kinda want them to be a little more visible. Perhaps having the buildings be dark wouldn’t be so bad after all.

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