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 Post subject: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sat Nov 26, 2011 1:52 am 
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Greetings all,

For more than a decade now I have worked on a variety of fan-based and Indie tabletop gaming publications. I guess a lot of gamers have a product in them that they'd like to get out to other gamers -- from something small like their favourite character presented on a nice character sheet through to a homegrown scenario that everyone enjoyed and onto major projects like a set of rules or a gaming environment.

One significant pressure point when it comes to producing your own publication is illustration. If you happen to be able to draw then you are blessed indeed! If not, then you might be fortunate enough to know someone who can draw -- and be able to persuade them to lend their talents to the project. If not, then you are stuck with two choices.

The first is you can hire a freelancer to do your illustrations. Each illustration will cost somewhere between US$25 and US$100 depending on the amount of time they take to produce. It doesn't take long to realise you can't afford many illustrations -- and so must make the most of the ones you do get.

The second option is to trawl the net for illustrations. This is a grey area even if you're not selling your product. In the end though it is the only choice most fanon authors have.

This thread though is here to present an alternative approach.

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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sat Nov 26, 2011 1:55 am 
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Converting Photographs into Illustrations

Tiriel

On the right is a photograph of a painted figurine; on the left the photograph has been converted into an illustration.



For a while now Photoshop has included various filters which, when used together, have been able to produce a painterly or drawn image from a photo. Whether the result was any good was entirely dependent on the Photoshop skills of the user.

To some extent, this is always going to be the case. But as time has passed the software has matured, various plugins have been developed which make the task easier, and tutorials are available on the net that describe the process. What was once the domain of skilled Photoshop users can now be achieved by the would-be Indie publisher.

So how were these images produced?

The first image shows a painted figurine. The figurine is Tiriel from Hasslefree Miniatures in the UK. The image was sourced from Cool Mini or Not. If you have neither photographic equipment nor painted figurines then you can still go a long way by trawling the net for quality photographs of painted figurines.

The image was processed through AKVIS Sketch using the Bright Watercolor preset. A 10-day trial download is freely available and works independently of Photoshop. That means anyone can download it and use it. So if you were looking to produce an Indie product you could collect all your photos, download AKVIS Sketch, and then transform all your photos into drawings within the 10-day trial period.

Room

Illustrating characters is one thing; illustrating a location is another.



Images of characters are great, but for scenarios and other encounter location material you will need some drawings of architecture. You could trawl the internet but sourcing clean images (that is, images without people, cars, and so on) is far harder and therefore far more time consuming. A better solution is to use photographs of wargaming or diorama terrain. The optimum solution, IMO, is to use plaster casts from Hirst Arts moulds as with these you can build any architectural feature -- ensuring that your product images are perfectly tailored to your product material.

The image above is a transformed photograph of a plaster terrain piece. The piece is unpainted, and as plaster is white there is very little contrast for the image processor to work with (in other words, the photo was pretty poor). In spite of that, running the photo through AKVIS Sketch and using the B&W Sketch preset produces a fairly good image. If the plaster had been painted then it would have looked far better.

NPC

Of course every game has its bad guys. Werejackal anyone?



To finish up this post we have the situation where you need an image of a particular figurine but you can't find a nicely painted version anywhere. Even the most basic photo of an unpainted figurine -- such as those often appearing on manufacturer's websites, particularly the websites of small Indy manufacturers -- can be transformed into a nice image.

The figurine used here is from Eureka Miniatures in Australia (and a big plug from me as they have excellent figurines). The photograph was a very plain B&W. Being unpainted there was very little contrast on the image -- it looked a uniform metal grey colour. In spite of this, the Charcoal High preset in AKVIS Sketch produced quite a nice image.

Producing an Indie product is a balancing act. You want to produce a product that rivals the quality of material produced by Games Workshop -- but you can't afford to pay for art. You want to produce a product that is detailed and well playtested -- but that takes time and as time passes motivation starts to wane. You are idea-rich but time-poor.

Well, here's a way to get artwork into your product that is tailored to your product and looks quite good -- even if you're not a Photoshop person. In the next post I'll cover what you can achieve through using AKVIS products and Photoshop to convert your photos into illustrations.

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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sat Nov 26, 2011 10:19 am 
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That's a real neat idea! :)

I have myself, for various reasons, in the past used Photoshop to make photographs of reenactors look like drawn pictures, which can be another way of coming up with artwork for indie publications.

For those of us who don't own many miniatures, or don't own miniatures at all, let alone terrain pieces, especially more convoluted pieces of artwork, like those including architectural details or surroundings, should however be hard to create. I mean, you can find loads and loads of pictures of painted miniatures on the net, but composing pictures assembled from various sources into a coherent scene is quite something. I am reasonably proficient with Photoshop, but I wouldn't feel up to something like that.

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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sat Nov 26, 2011 12:21 pm 
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Stronghold

A picture replaces a thousand words -- when it comes to editing a manuscript. Be ruthless with word count. Be generous with illustrations.



Haven't we all wanted to be able to show the players what their characters can actually see as they approach the enemy stronghold?

Grettir wrote:
For those of us who don't own many miniatures, or don't own miniatures at all, let alone terrain pieces, especially more convoluted pieces of artwork, like those including architectural details or surroundings, should however be hard to create.


Compare for a moment the situation of an author who wants to get illustrations for their children's book and the author who wants to get illustrations for their Indie gaming supplement. The would-be gaming author may own no miniatures or tabletop terrain. Yet there's a strong chance that they know a gamer who does, or can visit a local wargaming club and find someone willing to have photos of their miniatures appear in a supplement.

So I'd say that the advantage lies with the gamer in this instance.

Grettir wrote:
I mean, you can find loads and loads of pictures of painted miniatures on the net, but composing pictures assembled from various sources into a coherent scene is quite something. I am reasonably proficient with Photoshop, but I wouldn't feel up to something like that.


This isn't the approach I would take as this would be both time consuming and difficult to do. More on this later.

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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sat Nov 26, 2011 6:13 pm 
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Ian.Plumb wrote:
The would-be gaming author may own no miniatures or tabletop terrain. Yet there's a strong chance that they know a gamer who does, or can visit a local wargaming club and find someone willing to have photos of their miniatures appear in a supplement.

The latter course of action might be an option even for me, but the former isn't, as none of my particular gaming crew is dabbling in miniatures. Still, I suppose we are the clear minority, not playing around with minis at all, so for most gamers this approach can probably be accomplished far easier than for me.

Even if it won't work easily for me, I am liking the idea a lot on principle and am looking forward to seeing more examples of what can be done with it. :)

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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 7:24 am 
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Demonette

Something (very) wicked this way comes...



Possibilities... by now you should be seeing the possibilities when it comes to character illustrations -- but the way forward may not be so obvious when it comes to getting larger images involving terrain...

First, a caveat. You're not going to get nice illustrations that are specifically tailored to the needs of your text without doing some work. There are in fact three things that will be needed.

1) Some money. Not $25 - $100 per image but some money.
2) Some effort. You are going to have to learn how to do, get some practice in, and then work your images.
3) Some time. The most precious commodity of all. Since you're going to be doing the work that's less time for writing, editing, and playtesting...

That being said it is time to talk about macro photography...

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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 7:45 am 
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Demonette

An encounter location: A maison-forte, stone ground floor with a single reinforced entry, first floor wood and stucco with balcony.



When it comes to taking your own photographs of figurines, use the following guidelines:

1) Use a digital SLR camera. This whole process relies on the original photograph. The better the photograph the better the end result. Now, this doesn't mean that whatever you are photographing has to be an awesome example of its kind. A photograph of an unpainted figurine can produce an excellent illustration once it has been through post-production -- but not if the photograph is out of focus, jittery, underexposed, or whatever.

If you don't own a digital SLR camera, then borrow one off a friend. If you have no friends then join a photography club, make a friend, and borrow their camera. Chances are that once you mention macro photography you'll find someone who has an interest in that subject.

2) When choosing a lens the closer you can get to the subject the better. I use a standard 55mm lens.

3) Take the photograph outside on an overcast day out of the shade. By doing so you won't get shadows and you won't have to worry about the complexities of indoor lighting. Use a coloured backdrop behind your subject that fills the frame. Doing this will allow you to edit out the backdrop quickly and easily later in post-production.

4) Use a tripod. It isn't possible to hold a camera steady enough for this type of photography.

5) You need a large aperture (F-stop) setting. Typically I use 13. You need a long exposure. Typically I use over a second. These two setting create depth of field in macro photography, and if there is more than one figurine in the shot then you will need depth of field.

6) I use a remote control release for taking the shot. This means I don't have to touch the camera to take the photo -- which avoids accidentally wobbling the camera.

7) White balance. Digital cameras look for something white in the frame and something black in the frame and then adjust all other colour information within that spread. If you can, put a small white object and a small black object in the shot in a location where it can be cropped/edited out later. That will help the camera get the other colour information correct.

8) Try to look at your images on a laptop or PC before packing up. It is difficult to confirm that your shots are good on the camera's small screen.

9) Take a lot of shots from different angles and different heights. The more variety you have in the photographs the more possibilities you'll have for the illustrations.

It doesn't take long to become quite proficient at setting up and taking your photographs. There is a lot of advice available on the web through tutorials and forums.

Regards,

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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 8:23 am 
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EgyptianTemple

A section of an Egyptian-themed temple complex. So who's working on this project -- and why...?



OK, we've found some figurines from the local wargames club and we've got a reasonable camera setup for taking the images. Character illustrations are fine when the text describes the character or race in question. What though when you want to describe a location?

You can try to find a suitable image on the net. This can be a time consuming and, in the end, fruitless search. If you do find the right image though th process for converting it to an illustration is the same as for a character. So for the sake of this discussion let's assume you can't find a shot of the building interior or streetscape that you need.

The best solution here, the one that gives you the image you need every time in the shortest time possible and with the least expense, is to build the terrain piece yourself in plaster using Hirst Arts moulds. These moulds are available from http://www.hirstarts.com and you cast the blocks in plaster.

Rather than buying the moulds, the plaster, and the equipment I recommend buying pre-cast blocks from a supplier. Prices vary across the Hirst Arts Licensees but I sell them for about $10 a kilo. When you build terrain pieces out of HA blocks you glue them together. For photographs, you don't have to glue them -- just stack them and take the photo, then your casts are fine to be used for the next photo.

The image above is a photograph of blocks cast from HA moulds. Any imprecision in the build -- that is, from not gluing -- isn't apparent in the illustration because that level of detail disappears in the transformation process.

You could of course place unbased figurines in the layout and then take the photo. Or you could take a shot of the layout, then add based figurines and take another shot, and then in Photoshop merge the two images and delete the bases.

So layouts of buildings and rooms, plazas and streetscapes, can all be achieved with this method. You ca stack the blocks four or five high without glue before you run into stability issues. For most illustrations this is enough.

TopView

The top-down view of two rooms.



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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 10:09 am 
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SolsticeBay

Then of course there is the landscape shot...



"I really wish I could show you guys what this panoramic vista really looked like as you finally crossed the mountain pass..."

There isn't an RPG referee who hasn't wished that he could show his group the rich vistas of his imagination. CGI makes this possible.

I am familiar with Vue and Poser and so can create imaginary landscapes, cityscapes, and streetscapes. The results are usually photorealistic rather than artistic, and often that is what you are after. But if you are using illustrations for characters then photorealistic landscapes will look out of place. Fortunately the same post-processing works on CGI images as it does on photos.

SolsticeBay

The cloister...



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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 1:00 pm 
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That's some awesome ideas right there, and even more awesome for their (basic) simplicity!
You wouldn't happen to have any idea of how the equivalent functions are called in Gimp, would you?

I must figure out how to become able to use this to illustrate both my gaming and my writing efforts! Many thanks for the in-depth rundown on the various techniques, (I especially love the "overcast day, no shade" suggestion, as it should solve a whole bunch of the usual macro photography challenges in one fell swoop - I used to do all of that indoor and fuss around with the lighting to no end!)

Again, cudos for that!


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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 9:10 pm 
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I have to say I am very impresed with your results, Ian. And as photography is quite a serious hobby of mine, I don't only own the equipment, but am also proficient in Photoshop. I don't however know how you have created the landscape ad the cloister pics in your last post. You say they come from a photorealistic CGI picture, right? But what kind of filters and post-processing have you used to achieve the line drawing effect of especially the cloister? That's what I would really like to know.

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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 9:18 pm 
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Auburney wrote:
That's some awesome ideas right there, and even more awesome for their (basic) simplicity! You wouldn't happen to have any idea of how the equivalent functions are called in Gimp, would you?


Buy AKVIS Sketch. It comes in two versions -- standalone and plugin. Get the standalone version. The product isn't expensive -- about the same price as getting a freelancer to create one illustration for your project. Of course I would say you should get the free 10-day demo first and make sure you are happy with the product.

Auburney wrote:
I must figure out how to become able to use this to illustrate both my gaming and my writing efforts! Many thanks for the in-depth rundown on the various techniques, (I especially love the "overcast day, no shade" suggestion, as it should solve a whole bunch of the usual macro photography challenges in one fell swoop - I used to do all of that indoor and fuss around with the lighting to no end!)


I also shoot indoors with a lightbox and a pair of big 5400k lights. The results are perhaps better because you have more diffuse light available nd no direct light. But the difference is small, and not warranted when you are transforming the subsequent photograph.

I feel your pain though -- indoor lighting is a black art best left to those who are really into photography.

There will be more posts in this thread -- in a couple of days I'll go through a whole scene creation, step-by-step, from idea to final illustration.

Room

Of course post-production itself is an art -- and you can do more than simply convert a photo into an illustration...



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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 9:26 pm 
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Grettir wrote:
I have to say I am very impresed with your results, Ian. And as photography is quite a serious hobby of mine, I don't only own the equipment, but am also proficient in Photoshop.


Then you have no excuse! :)

You'll be cranking out illustrations in no time!

Grettir wrote:
I don't however know how you have created the landscape ad the cloister pics in your last post. You say they come from a photorealistic CGI picture, right? But what kind of filters and post-processing have you used to achieve the line drawing effect of especially the cloister? That's what I would really like to know.


Oh, so you want all the magic?

AKVIS Sketch -- mentioned in the second post -- is the tool that converts the photo into the illustration. It is available as a plug-in for Photoshop and as a standalone image processor. I recommend the plugin if you use Photoshop because you'll be using Photohop anyway to resize your image and do other post-production tasks.

AKVIS Sketch is available as a free 10-day trial. It costs less than $100 to buy. About the same price as one professional illustration.

Soon I'll put up a post that covers the creation of a scene from start to finish. Therein you will see the whole process, step-by-step.

Winter

Not every illustration needs a troll in it for a fantasy publication. Conveying the intended mood of your material through illustration is very useful for the referee.



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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Sun Nov 27, 2011 11:39 pm 
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I too must say, this stuff looks fantastic. If you weren't telling me these were created from photo's I'd bet my life they were hand-drawn. That's some amazing stuff.

So do you just have GB's of this type of stuff lying around or what? I don't have an artistic bone in my body when it comes to the visual arts side of things and I'm not sure I would even be able to follow your directions here on how to do this.\

I guess what I'm getting at is would you (or someone else here who can do such wonderful images) sell such artwork, presumably cheaper than what you can get hand-drawn illustrations for, given the apparent ease and quickness with which this can be done (by someone with the skillz)? If not selling directly, perhaps as clipart packs on rpgnow/drivethrurpg? Would that even be legal to sell these things given that they are made from models made by another company?


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 Post subject: Re: Illustrating Indie Publications
PostPosted: Mon Nov 28, 2011 8:10 am 
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epicfreak wrote:
I too must say, this stuff looks fantastic. If you weren't telling me these were created from photo's I'd bet my life they were hand-drawn. That's some amazing stuff.


Many thanks -- I'm glad that this little thread has been well received. Many years ago when a small group of us started working on our Lyon campaign environment I tried to do this with Photoshop. The results were no good -- too time consuming, not as good as an illustration. Periodically over the years I have revisited the subject, and now I really do think we are there. An illustration by a competent artist will always be better, but from an Indie publisher's point of view these images are good enough.

epicfreak wrote:
So do you just have GB's of this type of stuff lying around or what? I don't have an artistic bone in my body when it comes to the visual arts side of things and I'm not sure I would even be able to follow your directions here on how to do this.


The left side of the brain controls visual creativity, the right side controls logic and process. I cannot draw. I cannot paint. And so my goal is to create art out of the right side of the brain. Process and procedure driven art. CGI lets me do that. Photoshop lets me do that. They achieve this by making art an image manipulation process rather than an image creation process. I'm not saying this is easy; I am saying it is doable by a right-brain person.

epicfreak wrote:
I guess what I'm getting at is would you (or someone else here who can do such wonderful images) sell such artwork, presumably cheaper than what you can get hand-drawn illustrations for, given the apparent ease and quickness with which this can be done (by someone with the skillz)? If not selling directly, perhaps as clipart packs on rpgnow/drivethrurpg? Would that even be legal to sell these things given that they are made from models made by another company?


It is my intention to set up a website for this service in the new year. I don't know what a viable price will end up being, but I will start out at US$15 per image. That covers half an hour's work plus equipment costs.

As far as copyright is concerned if you photograph something/someone then you own the copyright over the image. The subject of the image doesn't even have to be willing as long as they are in a public space when the image is taken or the photographer is in a public space when the image is taken.

I can create these illustrations from photographs or photorealistic images (CGI). In the case of CGI I can create the image (I have many GBs of models for use with Poser and Vue). If I saw an image on the net that I really wanted to use then I would ask the copyright holder and offer a credit in the published tome in return.

Clipart packs I'm not interested in. Part of the motivation for me is being involved in someone's project.

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