Secrets of “Dangerous” Astonishing X-Men DVD Release Finally Revealed!

For the second half of 2011 my full time job was working as an illustrator on the upcoming motion comic for Joss Whedon & John Cassaday’s run on Astonishing X-Men (specifically the “Dangerous” graphic novel). The release date for the DVD has been announced – April 10 – and here’s the trailer:

So what is a motion comic, and what exactly was my part in this production?

A motion comic is basically an animated version of a comic book, but instead of using traditional cartoon or computer animation, the production uses the artwork from the original comic and uses a variety of computer tricks, including turning the characters into ‘puppets’ to make them walk, disembowel other characters, etc. Add to that music, voice actors, visual and sound effects and you have a Rocket Robin Hood cartoon for the 2000’s! (This is not a slag, I love Rocket Robin Hood).

So what did I do? Let’s look at a couple of pages of the original comic:

There are five panels on this page. None of them fit the standard 4:3 TV aspect ratio, which is this:

What our talented director Jesse had to decide for each panel was how the action would be framed for TV. In panel one it’s a quick pan down and back up to follow Cyclops’ red eyebeam. For this panel the art team (there were 4 of us at any one time) expanded the broken floor and smoke on the left and right of the action to fill the frame, and we had to fill in all the art behind the beam (Scott’s lower face and body) since the beam itself would added via animation FX.

In panel two I pretty much had to draw in an entire broken floor that Cyclops is standing on as well as his arms. Basically the same idea for panel three.

For panel four, if I recall correctly it’s a pan from right to left, so I had to draw in Colossus and the White Queens’ butts. This panel also gives a good example of how art needs to be filled in when a character moves. The White Queen starts off behind the evil robot known as Danger. But as she runs to the left all of her back and arm is visible and we have to draw that stuff in.

For the last panel, it’s been drawn in an extremely wide, thin format. This is the kind of panel where I’d have to fill in the top and bottom to make the art fit a TV ratio. This includes colouring, which I had very little experience with when I started, but thanks to the rest of my fantastic art team I got up to speed relatively quickly. I now have a much greater appreciation for comic colorists like Laura Martin.

One last example, from the first panel below, Wolverine walks in front of a character out of frame. In a comic, all John Cassaday had to do was draw half of Logan and half of Hisako and that gets the point across. In the final DVD motion comic, Wolverine starts at the left and walks through and off frame to the right, so we artists get to fill in his face and chest, and fill in Hisako’s face behind Logan. All this has to be done in a style that makes it look like John Cassaday drew it all.

Luckily Cassaday has a solid, simple style that conveys all the information required without being ‘showy’ like you might get with (off the top of my head) your Todd McFarlanes or your Chris Bachalos (not saying these are bad, just that they are more complicated line art) so it was a real pleasure to work on.

I look forward to watching the final product!