A miscellany of weekly ramblings on comics, art and film by Ted Mathot, storyboard artist and writer/artist/self-publisher of graphic novels and comics

Showing posts with label research. Show all posts
Showing posts with label research. Show all posts

Monday, June 16, 2014

CORA 3 update

Monday, May 16, 2011

TR!CKSTER is here

Hope to see you all the week of July 19-24. Click the image for all the details.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Single Image Storytelling (Part 1)

Oftentimes when I review story portfolios, I'm looking not only for sequential storytelling, but also for single images that tell a story. Sometimes these are character studies drawn at an airport or coffee shop, figments of imagination or vignettes of moments. This kind of storytelling is not always the easiest to pull off and requires an acute sense of observation. Attention to gesture and attitude as well as a good sense of composition lead to clear storytelling in this sense.

Here are a couple examples of storytelling in illustration:

Cover illustration by Oscar Cahén

On first glance, this image appears to be a group of people looking at a painting. Then we take notice of the way they are clustered. We want to know more and ask ourselves: "why are they huddled together like that?" and we look closer to investigate further. In effect, we've been pulled into the story. Upon further inspection, the painting they are looking at is of a large sun and bright colors. We see the crowd is dressed in winter clothing. The paintings surrounding them (that they are not looking at) are of cool valued winter scenes. The Calder-like mobile above them could represent snow or rain. We now know why their interest is focused on the summer piece.

Obviously, color is important here, but compositionally it is doing its job as well. The artist has created focus by grouping the characters together and posing them in a way that is interesting and that draws us in. We barely see any of their faces but still are connecting with them based on their postures.
They're sick of winter and that one painting is their momentary escape from it.

The artist is using several tools here to make the story perfectly clear. The woman is out of place in the environment. How do we know this?

Composition: The woman is surrounded compositionally by a forest of male figures. Their looks are all directed towards her. The most noticeable is the man that's with her. His head is tilted at an unnatural angle to draw the viewer's attention to the woman. She is crowded into a sliver of the image.

Gesture: The woman is mid-step; off balance. The man's feet are rooted to the ground. The woman is touching her head/hat, a sign of possible insecurity; maybe it's loud in the gym and she is holding her hand to her ear. Her purse is clutched tightly at her side. The men are smoking cigarettes...one has wrapped hands, another has a tattoo and is carrying a bucket of rags.

Color: The woman is colorful; her green hat and yellow paper in her pocket are the most colorful things in the image. They draw attention and create contrast. The men are mostly neutral earth tones and are low contrast in relation to one another.

Value: The woman is bright, her shirt being the lightest value in the image. The men generally are dark. This creates contrast in the characters and therefore contrast in the story. If the woman was just as subdued tonally as the men, what would the story be? Where would the focus be?

More to come soon...

Monday, October 05, 2009


I was forwarded a link to a photo-essay on Boing Boing about a modern Ukranian tribe of Amazons...

click the photo for the story...

Friday, September 04, 2009

CORA research

Google maps has become a very useful tool in helping to track Cora's journey through the American West. I picked a general route that she will take (I've only shown a small portion here) and turned on the photos, video and wiki elements in order to search for possible areas of interest along the way. I may find new routes for her to take based on the info I can gather. Fun stuff.

Here is an example of Butte, Montana, which was mentioned briefly in the second book of Cora's story.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex

It looks like the film I mentioned way back in this post is finally coming to US theaters. Well, NYC and LA at least. Hopefully there will be more cities to come.

"Meh" US trailer here.
Way better German trailer here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

CORA2 update 5/26/09

Zeroing in on getting all the pages cleaned up and ready for paint...this can be a tricky time because it's the last opportunity to do last minute changes before committing to color and final pages.

I just recently decided to rework the last few pages of part 2 because I sort of "phoned it in", mostly due to lack of research material relating to the scene. I found some reference the other day and wrestled with myself whether to redo the pages, two of which were finished already. Better judgement won out, because 1.) the scene is more historically accurate (to some degree at least) and therefore, more interesting and 2.) My conscience is satisfied because I did the right thing. "Do the hard work" is a good motto when producing work that you want to be 100% honest with. I see lots of work out there (esp. in the motion picture business) that is lacking in honesty -- much of this stuff is released during the summer months. wink wink.

I always try my best to be 100% honest with my characters because they are the story. They are going to have moments of pause, of strength, and of weakness; they are going to have moments of triumph as well as failure; they are going to make mistakes and hopefully learn from them. They are going to emote; they will be proud, and at times stubborn. This is how people are. The tough part is getting to the core of what makes people people and representing that on the comic page. A difficult task indeed but worth the hard work.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Research :: Lilith

From what I've posted before, it should be no surprise that the folk-legend Lilith will have something to do with the Cora story. I have been researching her for quite a while, but just recently I heard about this Warren Beatty film based on the character. I check out a lot of things looking for nuggets of inspiration, so I'm curious what this film is like. I'm working on Lilith's intro to the world of Rose, Isabel and Cora right now, for Book 2 of the Cora series (which will be released in July 2009).

Another surprise to me (which any fan of TV's Frasier probably already knows) is that the Lilith in the show actually has ties to the legendary character (or so Wikipedia tells me).

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


I've been on a bit of a James Wong Howe kick lately, having watched "Sweet Smell of Success", "Hud", and "Seconds" most recently. Howe is a master of the art of cinematography and has contributed to an impressive catalogue of films (of which the three listed above are just a sampling). The shot below from "HUD" I found particularly arresting; all of its visual elements are hard at work here (Howe went on to win the Oscar for Cinematography for Hud, in addition to an earlier Oscar win for "The Rose Tattoo").

Friday, November 28, 2008

StoryCorps - Every Story Matters

Today, StoryCorps is sponsoring its first National Day of Listening, an initiative that encourages people to record and preserve a conversation with someone important in their lives. (A do-it-yourself guide is available at www.nationaldayoflistening.org.)

"We live in a society where so many people feel like they don't matter," says Isay, 42. "And one of the underpinning ideas of StoryCorps is that every story matters."

So much of my life is spent telling stories. I tell them visually with storyboards at work, through writing and illustration in comics, and verbally with my friends and relatives. It's great to know that something like StoryCorps is around to remind us all of this gift of human interaction.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quick post for this week: The Look

Here are some examples of "looks" from The Assassination of Jesse James. I love subtlety of expression; many times it says so much more than a broad expression or reaction. I look at this kind of stuff all the time when I work. My favorites are the undefinable expressions that lie somewhere between familiar attitudes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

CORA inspiration

I'm trying to get back into the groove with Cora, after taking too much time away from it. One of the important things with a long and time consuming project like this one is to live with the story; it's something I did when writing and drawing Rose and Isabel. The need to be constantly thinking about the story, running scenarios and ideas through my head as they come to me. This can happen anywhere and anytime -- any idea that is good gets written down in the notebook - this really saved me on Rose and Isabel; ideas that I had come up with months to years before were all there for me to cherry-pick from.

On a related note, here are some of the books, essays and films that are inspiring me as I write the Cora story:

East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
Star Wars - A New Hope
The Searchers (John Ford)
Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
The Proposition (John Hillcoat)
Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Tommy Lee Jones)
Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone)
Outer Dark (Cormac McCarthy)
The Significance of the Frontier in American History (Frederick Jackson Turner) - also known as the "Frontier Thesis" or "Turner Thesis"
The Horse Whisperer (Robert Redford/Robert Richardson [DP])

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


I've mentioned Lilith a number of times on this blog and that she will have a role in the Rose/Isabel/Cora story. Her influence has already been on display in the first two Rose and Isabel books and she will appear at some point in the Cora books (possibly book 2 or book 3). Below is a YouTube link I found that invesitgates her story.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Making Rose and Isabel :: Part 02 :: Research

Now that I had the idea for The Civil War Project, research was the next step. Since the American Civil War is incredibly well documented (I have several 400+ page books that each cover just a few days of the war), it would have been completely irresponsible of me to begin work on a story of historical fiction without research.

Research should not solely be limited to books, TV and movies. I often tell people who are interested in telling stories for a living that one of the most important things is drawing on experiences from their own lives, for it enhances the work and makes it unique. Without those experiences, all we have to pull from is what we've seen on TV or in movies or read in books. There is too much generic, formula-based stuff out there already, so we need to get out there, explore and observe. I seriously regret not traveling to the locations in Rose and Isabel because it would have been an incredibly immersive experience. To stand on the battlefields and soak in that environment would have been better than anything written in any book. So, being the time period that it is (1864), the character interactions are where I pulled from my own experiences and observations. The books and movies would have to stand in for everything else.

Here are just a few of the books I referenced while researching R&I.

Obviously I'm not going to get everything 100% historically accurate, but I wanted to have enough in there to make it believable. I took plenty of artistic license and I knew that going in. The unforeseen benefit to research is uncovering things that end up contributing to the story in major ways. In the book Not War But Murder by Ernest B. Furgurson (not pictured above), one of the opening passages tells of vultures that swooped in to feed on the dead and wounded at Cold Harbor. I had no idea there were vultures in Virginia, so I cross referenced it and sure enough...there are. There was the local variety as well as a second breed of vulture that migrated up from the deeper South to feed on the carnage. The soldiers would fire muskets at the birds to keep them away from the wounded. The bit with Rose's vicious attack on the vulture in book 2 was a direct result of this research, and became one of the cornerstones to Rose's emotional collapse and the subsequent rift between her and Isabel.

Vulture studies (Cintiq and Photoshop)

first "final" designs for Rose and Isabel

Other very important books not included in the picture above were The Civil War Times Civil War Album by William C. Davis and Bill L. Wiley, An Uncommon Soldier, The Civil War Letters of Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, by Laura Cook Burgess, Warrior Women, An Archaeologist's Search for History's Hidden Heroines, by Jeannie Davis-Kimball, and most importantly, The Encyclopedia of the Amazons, by Jessica Amanda Salmonson. This last book provided much of the information in the prologue to R&I. An invaluable resource. Warrior Women is where I read about the story of The Gold "Man".

It was definitely an interesting cross-section of material to be reading through, and it was a lot of fun to ping pong between the two subjects of Civil War and warrior women.

Working Backwards

Before I could actually get into the research and plan the story, I had to ask myself a few questions (absolutely essential in story development--ask questions!). Where do Rose and Isabel start their journey? Where does it end? What is the path they will take? What is the timetable? I didn't want the journey to take years -- too long (although this was the original idea). I didn't want it to take weeks -- too short.

My answer came when I decided to have the climax happen at Andersonville prison, a dramatic location and great set-piece for the finale. So I worked backwards from there. Since Andersonville wasn't in full operation until 1864, the problem now was that I wouldn't have any of the really famous battles in the story (Gettysburg, Antietam, etc...they all happened earlier in the war). So I focused on a lesser but very important series of skirmishes that included the Battle of the Wilderness which led to the Battle of Cold Harbor, where Rose suffers her complete breakdown. This part of the war fit right in with the timeline I was trying to hammer out and I was lucky enough to find a series of 4 books that tell in exquisite detail this entire time period right down to the hourly weather. To The North Anna River by Gordon C. Rhea was the one I referenced the most, but the others gave me plenty of information as well.

Going backwards further from there, I could have the girls travel through Fredericksburg, witness the aftermath there, and prior to that land at Belle Plain, the source for the Union's reinforcements. Now I knew my story would start in early May 1864, and end in late August, when Andersonville was heavily populated. I had my timetable: beginning, middle and ending. This was about as far as I went with the outline (I later jotted down a basic outline of scenes but kept it limited). There would be no script, no detailed structure, just ideas and lines jotted on paper as they came to me. I wanted to keep the story fast, loose and spontaneous. Now it was time to start drawing pages.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Making Rose and Isabel :: Part 01 :: The Beginning

What I plan to do over the next few weeks is attempt to describe the process of making my first graphic novel, Rose and Isabel, from its inception in 2003 to its release in 2005-2006 while hopefully providing some useful information for those who are thinking of undertaking a similar endeavor.

I've wanted to draw comics since my early childhood when I drew stick figure strips with names such as "The Wah-Wahs" and "Hot Dog, Frank and Wiener" but the real serious notion came when co-workers Ronnie del Carmen and Enrico Casarosa began drawing and selling their comics and art books at Comic-Con back in the early 2000s. I was so inspired by this I decided to give it a go.

The first thing I needed was an idea, and a strong one that I would be able to stick with for the duration of the project. As cheesy as it may sound, I had a dream about the story before I ever wrote or drew anything. All it was was a single shot of three brothers and two sisters walking away down a road in Civil War uniforms, going to fight for their country. I had just finished reading Elmore Leonard's Tishomingo Blues, about a mob hit that was to be carried out during a Civil War re-enactment, so that may have been partially responsible for the dream's content. Anyhow, the dream even had a piece of music that went along with it (including lyrics that had something to do with families fighting together) but when I woke I couldn't remember the words or hum the tune. But I had the kernel of the idea.

I liked the concept of the woman warrior as well, so I considered mashing the two ideas together and the story started to take shape. It is well known that women fought in the war, so it was certainly a plausable story from that angle, with the woman warrior idea being the hook. That's when I started drawing, focusing on the two sisters as the protagonists, separating them from their brothers in what would be essentially a search and rescue mission. Conflict is what makes makes stories work, so every step of the way I had to make sure that there was conflict whenever possible, especially between the two sisters. I had no idea who they were or what they would act like, but they would have to be different to contrast with one another. The Rose character immediately came to the forefront. Why, I have no idea but I was immediately struck with the character. Below are two of the earliest sketchbook pages from July of 2003.

I struggled early with how to draw the girls once they donned their uniforms; do I go for a broader appeal and make them "designy" with tailored outfits that were form fitting and dynamic? Or do I go the opposite direction, stay true to history and the story and make the uniforms baggy and realistic since they were stolen from male soldiers?

The second option won out because my gut told me that was the right way to go. Your gut will tell you a lot of things, so trust it.
I now knew I didn't want a designed, hyper-real environment. It had to be realistic since the characters were the ones who were unreal. That is part of the conflict in R&I. If the world is as hyper-real as the characters, they will blend right in and not stand out like they should (in the first X-Men film the scene that really struck a chord with me was the opening with Magneto during WW2-- the world was real and he was unreal which was a great contrast).

So now I had two sisters who were plunged into a situation where they were at odds with everything around them. The conflict was there and since I had no idea what to call this story, I embarked on what I tentatively and generically called The Civil War Project.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

SDCC 08: How to Make a Graphic Novel

Since I didn't have any time to indulge in the full Comic-Con experience this year (I left our table only a handful of times), I've been poking around the web looking for things that I missed out on. One of them was a "How to Make a Graphic Novel" panel that's been reported on by JK Parkin over at Newsarama.

If the subject interests you, I recommend you check out the article. There's a lot of great advice in there and from my experience in storytelling for animation and comics a lot of it is right on the money. The discussion got me wanting to write about my experience while writing and drawing Rose and Isabel and Cora. Once I get my thoughts together and gather all the materials, I'll start to serialize the making of the book on this here blog. Look for post #1 early next week.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Battling technology :: process

At the beginning of this year, I decided it was time to have a dedicated space and new, updated equipment to work on the new book, so I rented studio space, bought a brand new Mac Pro and Wacom Cintiq, and upgraded to Photoshop CS3. When everything arrived, I set it all up in the new studio space only to discover that the Photoshop brushes looked like absolute crap. Unusable. What was the reason for this? I still have not figured it out after hours and hours of settings manipulation, systems admin testing, posts on various message boards and forums and phone conversations with tech advisors at Adobe and Wacom (too see more of what I'm talking about you can look at this thread on the Adobe forums).

It may be the new higher quality Cintiq is showing how bad Photoshop is as a drawing program....or maybe it's Apple's Leopard OS (which is the ONLY OS that can be installed on new macs, BTW - not backwards compatible with older OSes. Incredibly frustrating)...or maybe it's a bug in CS3...or a combination of any of the two or three, etc etc.

But I soldier on. All the new equipment is back in its respective box, and I am back on old equipment until a solution is found.

So that said, I'm working to find new ways to make Cora's linework look better than R&I without spending a gajillion hours feathering every line at 200% actual size. The standard hard round brush wasn't working for me anymore, and what I've found is the opacity jitter setting in the brush dynamics menu. The images below show that brush (top image) vs. the hard brush (bottom image).

opacity jitter on, set to 1% jitter and affected by pen pressure

standard hard round brush

The opacity brush is more like a pencil and the closest thing I can get to a pressure sensitive line in Photoshop. It's been really great cleaning up hair and facial expressions with the brush. It allows for a looser style yet still looks relatively clean.

Here are some process shots:

layout (first phase), done at 200dpi, with a standard hard round brush (this is done very fast to keep things moving)

rough (second phase), done at 400 dpi, 25-50% of actual size and hard round brush, to help me get closer to actual poses and facial expressions (except in this panel, I lost a bit on Cora's pose in the background, which was better in the layout)

final line (third phase) done at 400dpi, 50-100% of actual size and hard round brush with the opacity brush described above.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Robert Richardson, ASC

I'm a big fan of cinematographer Robert Richardson's work, and wanted to post some stills from The Horse Whisperer which he shot. I wish I had higher quality images because these do absolutely no justice to the magnificence of what he captured with the camera. I really like the film as well; there are a couple scenes in particular that I keep going back to that I hope to analyze here.

The film has been an influence on my work in Rose and Isabel and also with Cora and was the reason I changed the Cora setting from Texas to Montana, where the majority of The Horse Whisperer takes place.

How he got the snow to refract light like that (in stills #4 & #5) I have no idea. Beautiful. I also really like the figure eight/moebius strip of fences in still #6.

More Richardson from Horse Whisperer:

Monday, October 29, 2007

Visual Storytelling - All the President's Men

A conversation I had recently with a director revealed (with some embarrassment) that I had not seen this 70's classic starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. So with no hesitation I set to it immediately. Having owned the film on DVD for at least a year it was high time I watched it and it is tremendous. The film is expertly directed by Alan Pakula and Gordon Willis' cinematography is excellent (not to mention the acting and script by William Goldman). One scene in particular really jumped out at me visually so I chose to break it down.

The basic story is of two reporters (Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein played by Redford and Hoffman) who are investigating a possible government conspiracy relating to the Watergate break-in in 1972. In the scene below, Bernstein (Hoffman) goes to the home of a young woman in order to press her for information. Naturally anyone associated with the conspiracy is going to be tight lipped, which is what Hoffman encounters in the scene.

What's important here are the visual choices made by Pakula and Willis to augment the scene, one that easily could have been a very repetitive and uninteresting series of talking heads in the hands of less competent filmmakers.

The breakdown:

Hoffman enters the home and we see immediately the woman he wants to question, separated from him by the rungs of the staircase. Right off the bat there is a separation between the two; inpenetrable, like the bars of a jail cell.

Hoffman moves into position to talk to the woman. What really got me here is how Hoffman is placed in the shot -- he has framed the woman into an incredibly claustrophobic bit of screen real estate. She has been squeezed into a section about 1/100th the size of the frame.

Reverse of Hoffman separated from the woman by the bars. Again this is a visual separation to support the script.

Here Hoffman moves clear of the bars to open the conversation with the woman. A visual progression where the intensity (repeating pattern of the bars) has been lowered.

Reverse of the woman clear of the bars, but she is still not revealing anything.

Hoffman returns behind the bars and sits on the couch, trying to prompt a reaction from the woman.

The woman remains behind the bars, confined to her small space. Standoff.

Hoffman chooses to wait it out. Note the lighting of the living room here, because it will change as the scene progresses.

Hoffman has waited the woman out, she loses the game and comes out from behind the bars. A huge turning point in the scene, done visually.

The woman enters the living room and takes a seat across from Hoffman. Note the lighting has changed dramatically from before; her side of the room is now much darker and colder. She is casting a heavy shadow. This continues the visual progression in the scene; where before the progression was with line and shape (bars), now it is done with tone (light and shadows).

Hoffman resumes his questioning; note he is on the dark side of the couch.

Hoffman is served a cup of coffee and he moves to the light side of the couch (another progression of tone) next to the lamp.
What has been set up now is a classic interrogation scene. Hoffman asking the questions with a strong single light source over his shoulder.

Continuation of the interrogation scene, where the woman is lit by one source and casting a heavy shadow. The camera has pushed in on her, increasing the intensity. The questioning resumes in these two shots until the final shot.

Final shot of the scene - the woman has given Hoffman a lot of information regarding the case he is trying to build, but still manages to keep some of it hidden from him. This is reperesented (along with her requested anonymity) by the lamp which covers her face. I love this ending shot, it's a bold choice and speaks volumes.