Workflow for Comic Book Project?

I’m new here, don’t know if this the right place for this question. If not, advice is welcome.

I’ve been learning Blender on and off since the beginning of the year, along with a lot of other things related to my projects, with pretty uneven results. I now have a general idea of what Blender can do, and what the capabilities of some other software might be, and am trying to put together a coherent workflow/pipeline for what, for lack of a better term, I’ll call ‘comic book production.’

I think that Blender is my Home Base software, as it has the broadest capabilities, but there are things that I would prefer not to have to learn to do on a nuts-and-bolts level, at least for all cases, that are relatively easy in some other software, so I would like to fit these into my pipeline.

For example, building a bunch of characters in Character Creator 3 is pretty easy- but what is the best way to get them into Blender to minimize follow on work like rigging and posing, fitting clothing and so on? FBX imports seem to be pretty broken- is OBJ + Rigify the way to go? How compatible is Rigify with pose libraries or animations from Mixamo or other sources? Are there similar libraries for the Rigify rig specifically?

I’m trying to understand shader nodes at this point, and finding it somewhat arcane. Is there a concise guide to NPR shaders somewhere?

I am old, poor and tired, and I’d really like to get to the point where I can actually produce the comic books before I die, so any help with setting up a good workflow would be greatly appreciated. And, my budget for additional software is, for the foreseeable future, nil.

Thanks!

I’m pretty new to Blender and don’t have the time to make fast progress with art work.
(same situation as yours, quite poor, old, tired and a lot of time to spend with
non artistic work to pay for the rent :wink: )
So I can just share my thoughts / ideas for a workflow for non-realistic artwork.

One way for me would be to concentrate on improving my drawing skills and use
3D software just as helpers in the workflow.
I think even if you have to redraw a scene or a character over and over again,
it might still be faster and one would have more freedom to create a unique style.
Cons: At least one year of dedicated hard work on the drawing skills,
at least in my case.
As a shortcut (call it a cheat if you want) I think about blocking out the scene in
3D software and then just overdraw the result in a 2D software.

For example:
Create a quick and dirty scene in Blender,
pose the Characters in DAZ Studio, import them to the scene as an .obj,
place everything, add the lighting, then make a quick render
or even just a screenshot.
Take the rendered image to a painting software and do the overdraw.
Maybe Crease Pencil can be used here in one way other another.
(I didn’t had the time yet to take a look at Crease Pencil)

As for the tutorials, this is all I could find for NPR rendering:

Sorry that I couldn’t be more helpful and I am also interested to hear about
other people’s workflow for this kind of artwork.

Hi, Tom, glad to meet you. I draw pretty well. I’ve drawn better in the past, but not being able to put in the hours consistently has degraded my hand. I first looked into 3D just as a drawing aid, but when I looked at the workflow to get the results I wanted it was still too slow to get the kinds of projects I’m working on completed in a timely fashion, so I decided to take step back and see if I could move the vast majority of the work into 3D. A lot of front-end work, but if I can do that, I should be able to produce comics much more reliably and quickly and maintain the kind of aesthetic I’m after.

I’ve seen a bit of Paul Caggegi’s stuff and am subscribed to his channel already, but so far haven’t found a way to create the look I’m going for. Of course, I’m trying to learn modeling, sculpting, shader nodes, rigging, posing and animation (I’m not trying to produce an animated product, but for some things I think you get better poses by using a tween from an animation) all at once.

So far, I think my workflow is probably going to end up using some Daz assets, but mostly characters built in Character Creator 3. Blender’s fbx import really doesn’t work, so I’ll rig in Blender, and do all the modeling, posing and so on through to the final rendering in Blender, and then do a bit of handwork in Clip Studio. As little handwork as possible…

Right now I grasp the basics of pretty much everything but shader construction. I’m not good at anything, but I get the idea, at least.

Comipo might be the best thing to get those ideas down fast. That link shows 75% off on Steam right now making it $14.99. If you were very skilled in Blender you could spend lots of time to get a database similar to Comipo set up. Comipo also allows importing of models so things made in blender could be imported to ComiPo.

The other option is to spend a ton of time learning the answers to all the questions you presented. I’ll do a quick answer to your questions here though.

For example, building a bunch of characters in Character Creator 3 is pretty easy- but what is the best way to get them into Blender to minimize follow on work like rigging and posing, fitting clothing and so on? FBX imports seem to be pretty broken- is OBJ + Rigify the way to go?

I find FBX importing is good except if it is an older FBX. That will need a paid plugin to import into blender or opening in another program then converting to a newer fbx version to import right. .obj is very solid, but has no textures.

How compatible is Rigify with pose libraries or animations from Mixamo or other sources?
There are videos on this. I forget though. If doing 2D comic animation should not be needed. This means a pose library found under Object Data Properties of a bone should be enough to do all the comic poses wanted. Here is a link to a free plugin to add images to the poses.

I’m trying to understand shader nodes at this point, and finding it somewhat arcane. Is there a concise guide to NPR shaders somewhere?
Again I think youtube would be the best bet. Paid plugins might be a best bet if you don’t have a deep understanding of all the material nodes in Blender and had money. I’ve never seen a good enough NPR shader for Blender that I would actually use. Instead I’d probably design the model in a way that it looked mostly 2D. It would be a lot of work. Maybe do a easy NPR that gave an outline and done. More Borderlands style.

Here is the ComiPo official site.

What style are you going for? For the web or are you planning on printing it? In general I’d think you are probably better off just drawing it. I suggest having a good look at krita (www.krita.org, you could for example look at david revoys comic https://www.davidrevoy.com/categorie2/webcomics).

What aspect of the shader nodes confuses you? The nodes are basically just steps in a flowchart. The data being processed and operations used to manipulate that data are all described as nodes that you link together in the order the operations should be done (from left to right).

For example, to adjust the hue on a texture that a shader is using, you add a hue node between the texture node and the color input of the shader. Just remember that there is a difference between the image output (yellow dot) and the shader output (green dot). Those shaders describe how the ray should interact with the object when the scene is rendered, so you wouldn’t be able to adjust the hue after they are used in the node tree (you can adjust the hue of a image, but you can’t adjust the hue of a math equation). This is why eevee has to use the shader to rgb node in order to adjust the textures used for the shadows of an object. That node converts the rendered result into an image that can be feed back into the shader.

Node systems are flexible. You can also use them to recreate how image layers in 2d painting software work:

And you might also find this site to be helpful:
https://blendernpr.org/learning-resources/

Thanks for the input, Watercycles.

I’m not trying to do Manga- I have enough grasp of shaders that I could do that, I think. I’m trying for something more like Frank Frazetta’s comics, or Mark Schultz (Cadillacs and Dinosaurs).

So far I have not been able to bring an FBX from CC3 to Blender with the rig intact, let alone any other baggage. The IK is broken and even the bone parenting is broken. These things can be fixed, but at this point it seems like it would be easier to use Rigify on an OBJ, although it means building all the pose stuff in Blender. That’s doable, maybe even preferable, but I’d love to be able to import Mixamo or similar animations and pick frames to pose characters for many things. It would be a big time saver.

Note that an important feature of the shading is how the direction of hatching is not set, but is determined by the linework it is attached to, and in some cases the hatching may be curved to better inform the underlying geometry. I have NO idea how to make that happen, but the effect is much different than using what are basically tonescreens as textures.

Hi, Tobbew. I have used Krita- I don’t love it. I use Clip Studio Paint, which has excellent tools for comics, especially Manga. Unfortunately I’m not particularly interested in Manga, so I can’t take advantage of some its features, but that’s okay.

I am working on a couple of different projects right now, one of which is in the realm of Frazetta or Mark Schultz. The other is more noirish, and there are some on the backburner whose style is difficult to explain, but my image of the product has been evolving with my understanding of 3D. So, ‘just go ahead and draw it’ is not really a useful approach. I know from experience that it takes several months of constant practice for me to develop a ‘hand’ in a new style, and I rarely get those months without major interruptions. To do these projects largely by hand would involve a very extended timeline with the same penalties at every transition, whereas 3D, while requiring some months of preliminary investment, shows promise to be much more readily adaptable to stylistic changes down the road.

Zanzio- I do grasp the overall principles of the node system, it’s the wealth of details and how they interact that is kind of boggling at this point. Thanks for link to blendernpr- that looks like just the kind of resource I need

@Tom_123: I just found a free toon shader from Paul Caggegi that looks like it will do quite a bit of what I want to. Hopefully I’ll be able to dive into this tonight or tomorrow, but the tutorial on it looks good. I’m going to try to throw together some kind of basic scene with off-the-shelf parts and experiment with it.

There are some great tutorials out there, and great resources, but tracking them down can be pretty hit or miss.

To import export something with a rig you will need this plugin.

Thanks. I’ll put it on my wish list.

Hi Honzo,
not sure, but maybe this helps: (the hatching thing starts somewhere at 5:00)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRjQkCGv4ds

If I got this rigth, he accomplished the hatching with just a wave texture node,
and controlled them by the usual Texture Coordinate and Mapping node.

That’s pretty cool, especially the ‘bonus’ section, but it’s not what I’m talking about. In fact, he uses the mapping node right off the bat to squelch any 3D in the hatching pattern. So, this makes me think the mapping node might be used to control the 3D character of the hatching instead. The problem I see is that it would effect the orientation of hatching the same on the whole figure, when in hand-drawn hatching we try to use the direction of the outline locally to influence the hatching direction- sometimes. Other times it’s just a matter of which direction of curve shows ‘bulge’ in the best way- so for instance, if you were hatching a long muscle, your hatching would orient closer to the ‘short’ direction, for many short hatch lines, instead of along the muscle for a few long hatch lines. I have no idea how nodes might achieve this effect, because it’s not a matter of just the object itself, as a whole, but each form in the object as it relates to the camera angle and lighting.

It’s possible I may have to adapt my vision to some technical limitations…

The keyword you want to look into is NPR - Non-Photorealistic Rendering. This covers cartoon, comic, and anime/manga styles. Its a pretty big area and a lot of us are working on it. https://blendernpr.org/ is one of the main resources, and also has a facebook group, twitter hashtag, and Discord server if you want to talk to other people working on these sorts of things.

There’s lots of possible approaches. As others have said, you can use blender to create part of the scene and draw the rest. How much you do in 3D vs how much you draw depends on your preferences and skills. I do behind the scenes 3D work on Yuumei’s comics, Fisheye Placebo and Knite. She used to draw the whole thing by hand, but switched to doing full 3D references (including characters) and paints over them to save her drawing hand after getting repetitive strain injury. Now we do fast but relatively low complexity 3D, and she draws the rest. Same overall result, but 90% less drawing work.

You can check out her comics here: https://www.yuumeiart.com/web-comics
(Fisheye Placebo is using this 3D workflow starting at Ch1 part 5. Knite is using 3D the whole time.)
Here’s an example of the 3D, and then the fully paintover:

For my personal work, I mostly work on colored manga stuff, but the problems and things you need to understand are 99% the same. Comics will use more hatching of course, as you’ve mentioned. But you’ll need to learn the fundamentals of NPR either way. Blender has a lot of tools that can help make lineart and hatching, but it’ll be difficult to get an exact match for the hatching you linked because its so organic.

Here’s an example of some pretty heavy/dirty linework I did for an old project using Freestyle and procedural noise (the rest is Cycles render.)


I also did a comic test with this character years back that you can check out on my otherwise very out of date website here.

And if you want to learn a lot more about nodes and toon shading, I’ve got a couple tutorials up on my not out of date Youtube here (this is for anime stuff, but it’s the same node and workflow fundamentals. Its mostly geometry that makes western comics different from manga in the 3D world.)

Toon Shader Tutorial
Using Eevee as a canvas and painting into renders

And here’s some past project info threads (these are for stills, but it’ll give you some idea of workflow stuff.)

Rei Fanart +workflow info
Miku Fanart + workflow info
Workflow info on dealing with rigging and cloth
Older post on using post processing (compositor) to generate lines and grunge

Anyhow, there’s a lot more to say, as I’ve had to solve a lot of these workflow issues for Yuumei’s comics (Rigify is good, but I don’t know about pose libraries.) But this is probably enough to get you started. My main recommendation would be to get into the BNPR Facebook/Discord and start talking with people there.

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@Oscalon: Thank you so much! I have been searching NPR and BNPR, but there is so much and so much seems out of date that it’s slow going, and it’s difficult to find answers to specific questions as they come up. I’m an old guy and not up to speed on Discord servers and the like- I can see though that I’ll need to catch up. I plan on diving into the resources you’ve linked today.
Again, thanks!

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@Oscalon: I’m watching your toon shader tutorial, and it’s great- but have any of the issues you mention with Eevee been improved or resolved?

Your discussion of options is very informative, much clearer than anything else I’ve looked at. Thanks!

Two things have changed since that tutorial was made: There is now a node named Map Range that does what my Rescale group does, and shadows are a bit better (but still tend to have jagged edges.) So Eevee is still very feature incomplete as far as NPR workflows are concerned. We all hope it will get more options like a proper Toon Shader node soon, or that we’ll just get a proper GLSL script node, which will open up options for the community to just code what we need.

The only feature complete NPR toolset right now is the Cycles ToonKit collection of OSL script nodes. This avoids the various problems that Eevee has, and has lots of powerful tools like line art, light groups, etc. And since its part of Cycles, it gets to take advantage of Cycles stuff that Eevee doesn’t have, like cutom passes/AOVs, bevel node, displacement, etc. The downside of ToonKit is that since it’s OSL scripts, it can only be rendered on CPU, so it’s much slower than GPU rendering (which is already slower than eevee.) However, this is not as big of an issue as in the past, as we’ve just gotten powerful Viewport denoisers. So you can still get a mostly clean render in a couple of seconds, even on CPU rendering.

The other minor issue with ToonKit is the UI implementation. It works, but since it is working around some features, it doesn’t fully support options that we’re used to in a pure cycles workflow. For example, in Cycles we can control light color and strength from inside the materials, but in ToonKit you have to do it in the lamp’s settings tab. But this isn’t that big of a deal.

There’s no reason that Eevee can’t have all the features that ToonKit has, its just a matter of them getting developed. Which will hopefully happen soon.

The other alternative that’s coming up is the BEER rendering engine that the BNPR folks are now developing. That’s basically going to be a framework that allows custom GLSL scripts, so the community will be able to write whatever they need.

And of course, Grease Pencil is great, and will be a good solution for lots of effects and stuff you’d need in a comic.

A big factor in all these workflows is simply complexity of style. If you’re working on black and white or 2 or 3 tone with a lot of black lines and black hatching, you can simplify things a lot, and it’ll be much easier to fix things in post. Its when you want lots of fancy light that it gets really complicated (see my Rei Process video.) But this is more complex than established comic styles.

Another resource worth knowing about is the SketchUp program. Its good for throwing scenes together, and has large amounts of content you can use. And you can export it to Blender.

BEER sounds good- but it always does… Any idea when this might be released? Some things in Blender are moving so fast that it’s worth waiting for them, at least for somebody like me who isn’t ready to go into production anyway- why learn something that’s about to be replaced when I could learn something I’ll keep using?

Grease Pencil is one of the things that drew me to Blender originally, I really like the idea of ‘hand drawn 3D’ and the kind of stylization of backgrounds that flows from that. At the moment, though I’m focused on a project that (I hope) will use a kind of film-noir base style that is treated in a few different ways for different circumstance. I’m hoping to use ‘naturalistic’ models and materials as the foundation, and then add stylization nodes that will still allow the base textures to inform the final render- so, a flowered sun-dress, for instance, would not have the flowers completely blown out by a toon shader.

So far I have only used Eevee, but it sounds like Cycles may be where I need to go next, for the line work.

Your tutorial has helped a lot in terms of thinking of scenes in a way that avoids some of Eevee’s limitations. I think that discussion of terminator problems has saved me endless hours of frustration in trying to figure out why the hell things don’t look like I expect.

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Haha, yeah, I seem to be the only person who ever talks about that terminator problem >_<

I believe BEER is intended to make an initial release by the fall. But its unknown what the state of the features will be at that point.

I would suspect that if you start learning now, by the time you’ve gotten comfortable with other parts of the workflow, then there will be more options out there for rendering. Or just use ToonKit.

The other options for line work are of course Freestyle, and the upcoming LANPR, which looks like it will integrate with Grease Pencil now. Both of these are render engine independent.