Shinmeko's guide to CGing

Originally posted to MT Story Discussion forum on Feb 23, 2005. Here's the original page on the MT servers.

I've been noticing that there have been a lot of people CGing Fred's art, and while it is good for attempts at this kind of art, I think a lot of it is lacking. Not to say that you guys are retarded, or colourblind, but I think a lot of you don't have the requisite education or understanding of even basic artistic or principles of graphics software to properly pull this stuff off. Not your fault - we all start somewhere.

I just wanted to pop up a small tutorial, along with some background information to help you do CGing better. I mean, we all want our work to stand out, right?

First things first - a little background on CGing. There are some basic art skills that you need to grasp before you really can pull off CGing.

Colour - Harmonies and You!

A lot of you guys need to work on your colours. The world is really not comprised of vivid, lurid or pastel colours, but rather a complex mixture of shades, tones, and highlights. Vivid colours have shadows and bright spots, but aren't as frequent as you guys seem to find.

Real colours versus cartoony colour palettes are what make your work look silly.

Also, colour harmonies are really important. Certain colours look good together. Good tutorials on this are:

A good thing to remember when choosing colours is two things: Do these colours look good together AND do these colours appear in real life?

A little later on, I will show you how I chose my colours for a CG I did, but for right now, I will say this: it never hurts to research. Google Image Search is your friend. So many things in real life can be referenced by going to GIS or stock photo pages. This is how you get a good handle on what colours look good together. As far as characters are concerned, MT characters, for the most part, been featured with their colours and I am sure there is no shortage of help to be found on the forums for figuring out what various eye/hair colours are.

Some colour harmonies, when combined with certain kinds of light, also give a mood to the picture. Say something is sad - muted, washed out versions of your original colours would look best.

An example:

This strip uses warm peaches, tans, and browns and really gives across a warm, rich, snuggly feel to the picture. By doing this, you can easily use colour schemes in your background to enhance the overall mood of the picture.

So, to sum up: Colours, when used in correct combinations can smooth out a pictures overall feel and mood. Also remember to use colours for clothing that do not clash with a character's skin or hair colour.

Lighting - How to Give Your Work The Illusion of DEPTH!

Colouring your work with flat colours makes it look, well....flat. And do you really want it to be stiff as a board? No, of course not. Even giving a simple white/black highlight/shadow will add a smidge of depth to a picture.

But there is really a range of depth you can give your picture if you use COLOUR to add shadow and highlights. Number one, it looks more natural and number two, it really raises the bar on how clean your picture will look. The more gradation you have between shadow, midtone, and highlight will determine how full your picture looks.

But Shinmeko, you are asking, how do I do this?

First, you must figure out your light source. A good way to figure out the light source of a picture (specifically Fred's art) is looking at where the shadows have been sketched in. Light usually does not bend, and so imagine a line hitting the edge of the shadow. Pulling this light back to the edge of the picture means you now have your light source. Imagine this like a spotlight of sorts. All shadows will fall roughly in the same direction and your light will hit all parts of the body or object's surface that are facing the light source. Some pictures might have multiple light sources, but this is not prominent in Megatokyo, for the most part.

The quality of light and colour is important. Is it a strong light? Concentrated? Or is it sunlight, meaning it is strong, but also all over? What is the colour of the light? Is it soft, diffused, or even nonexistent? Moonlight? Overcast day? Streetlamp?

All these lights give off a different feel. Some examples:

All of these have different moods and create different shadows and highlights. This will affect the colour of the picture.

To choose highlights, midtones, and shadows, I often pick a base tone to work with. This is like a colouring book. I then build a darker shadow colour that is in the same palette as the base colour, as well as the highlight. I then use low opacity versions of these colours, sample with my eyedrop tool to get a smooth gradation between these colours. Sometimes a black or white is used, but very sparingly and not very often. Almost nothing is pure black or white. Even whites and blacks have shadows and highlights.

To sum up: Light comes from one or multiple sources, and once you figure out its direction, you can choose how you will portray it in both colour and intensity. This will determine shadows, highlights, and midtones, as well as conveying mood.

Okay, so now you are educated in the ways of colour and light. Now it is time to put this theory into PRACTICE!

Open up your favorite MT strip or piece of Fred Art and follow along with me.

I chose this page from the Warmth manga:

Yes, that link appears to be broken. Sorry! MWR

First, copy and paste this comic from its original open document into a new document. This gets rid of the silly .gif format (if it is a MT strip) and puts it into fresh .PSD rgb format. Mmm, tasty.

Now, create two new layers. One will be on the bottom. Paintbucket fill this with white. This will be your bottom layer and allow you to make changes to the linework. Keep the linework on the top layer, and sammich a layer inbetween the bottom flat layer and the linework. Mark these as neccessary so you don't get lost. The middle sammichy one will be your colour work, or at least, as many layers as you need. I use one layer and paint on it like one would on a canvas, but I don't expect everyone to be as gutsy as that.

Make sure to set your top layer (the linework) on the layer mode of : MULTIPLY. Don't know what layer modes are? In your layer palette, the left of the box should have a drop down menu - things like multiply, normal, and color dodge should be there. Set it to multiply. This lets you use the linework like a colouring book. Now go down to the sammichy layer and get to painting.

What I do first is set down all the flat tones first. Much like a colouring book. If you are using multiple layers, you don't have to worry too much about what you are colour first, as each thing will be seperate from eachother. But if you paint on one layer like me, then you should start colouring what technically comes underneath everything first. This is usually skin tones, or clothing, and the top is usually hair. This lets you colour and not worry about having too clean up bleedthrough from the other colours.

Also, at this point, it is also good to heavily reference how things are going to be coloured. Remember your colour harmonies and USE REFERENCES IF YOU ARE NOT SURE. This can mean the difference between cotton-candy coloured teddy bears, and actually real looking teddy bears.

Once you have all your flat colours set down, you can start adding shadows and highlights and blending midtones.

See how I did that? I added soft shadows and highlights by determining where the light was coming from (overcast sky) and how intense the light would be (cold and dim.)

This means the highlights and shadows will not be very pronounced. I used an opaque brush for the first picture, but now I am using a soft edged brush set at 50% opacity here. To get the colours, sample a darker and light colour that is slightly far away from the base tone. The eyedropper tool is your friend. Using low-opacity brushes also lets you re-sample the colour as it is weak and blend the colours more smoothly together.

See, now doesn't Saeko look soft and rounded?

I started flat-colouring the background on a new layer now, because of something I will be doing later. I set it under my Saeko colour layer as well.

I used actual pic references from Sendai for this one. I guessed that Sendai was in fall during the time of Warmth, judging by both the cold and yet the leaves on the trees. This will come in handy later as we progress through the colouring, but it also sets certain qualities of lights and colours in the grass, trees, etc. Grass in the fall is typically more light green and yellow since it is getting ready to die off.

Notice how there is no insanely bright colours here, and everything is pretty much brown/tan/blackish/gray/green. The real world has a lot of subdued colours - also known as earth tones. Whoddyathunkit?

Oooo, this is the pretty part. I added all my shadows, midtones and highlights using that nifty trick I taught you earlier. Some of you might also notice the change in the trees - fall is bright and colourful, but not as much on a cold overcast day. Lots of colours, but not all bright and show offy.

I also added some texture using a grungy textured brush set at a lower opacity. This is nice for roads, pavement, and trees. Experiment, it can be fun!

Gosh, we are almost done here!

This is clean up. Remember how I said I put the background on a different layer? The linework in the original picture was slightly less dark than the foreground Saeko picture, so I adjusted the opacity on my background colours to suit this. Doesn't it look pretty?

I also cleaned up my edges by selecting all the marks out of the linework and deleting them. Nice crisp edges now.

Now, all you need to do is merge the layers, or flatten them, and save them in some fashion and you've got a nice CG.

This only took me an hour, but then again, I have a tablet. Mouse users might take longer.


Some notes: Do not colour in text bubbles. It looks retarded, and it detracts from the text.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and merry CGing. smile.gif