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2000AD Covers Uncovered – Venus Fly Scrap!

Earth strikes back! The forces of Earth, with the help of Ahron, Ikarus and Sohna, have stuck a major blow against the occupying Alien forces on Venus. Series artist D’Israeli brings us yet another stunning cover, beautifully highlighting the forces of Earth’s hit and hope ‘Scorched Venus’ policy.

As ever, D’Israeli was kind enough to send a wealth of images and information about the cover, he said “As usual we started with a brief from Tharg-In-Residence Matt Smith; the idea was to show a formation of Earth fighters firing missiles over a Venusian city as a hug explosion goes off in the background. Unless otherwise stated, all work was done in Manga Studio/Clip Studio Paint MX 5.”

“The previous episodes had contained quite a few shots similar to the brief, and I’d already built 3D models of the fighters so I could draw them consistently. They were loosely inspired by the “Sky One” fighter aircraft from the 1969 Gerry Anderson TV series UFO…”

Believe in Better

“Since I’d done a lot of work like this already, I took the unusual step of starting by playing about with 3D models – I had a pretty clear idea of the composition I wanted to achieve, and it was as easy to get it by moving models around as it was to draw roughs and then move models around.”

We can only hope that D’Israeli makes ‘Neeeeoooooowwwww! Pew! Pew! Pew!’ noises while he plays with these models…

“Below is the cover rough sent to Matt Smith. I often do two or three, but in this case the design was very clear and I was also in the middle of the last episode with the deadline roaring up on me like a Jurassic Park tyrannosaur seen through the wing mirror of an electric jeep. The colour scheme had been established in the story already, so I just went with that as it was nice and dramatic.”

Is it still called a Dutch Angle when it’s on Venus?

“Here are the pencils. Once the rough was approved, I stripped out the outlines from the roughs, faded them down a but and used them, superimposed over the same model rendering, as the “pencils’ for the finished piece.”

Apocalypse Now!

“On a new layer I inked the aircraft and on yet another the red flames from the rocket launches. It’s always best to keep everything separated out as much as possible to allow for corrections or changes, so I routinely end up with dozens of layers. The background explosions and city buildings were to be done as “colour holds” (coloured outlines), so I took a slightly different approach with them…”

“Stay on target! Stay on target!”

“Flat colour next! By dropping in simple flat colour I could better judge what colours the background outlines needed to be. Using coloured outlines for the background helps to “pop” the planes forward and smart a sense of distance.”

“I inked the explosion in red first, filled it (on another layer – the Paint Bucket Tool in both Manga Studio and Photoshop can use outlines on one layer to constrain a fill on a different layer) with orange and then “greebled” in the details of the city buildings behind the explosion. Having the dark green to work against let me see more easily what colour to pick for the building outlines. I use the term “greebling” for noodling in fine detail like buildings or mechanisms as a nod to the use of the word “greeblies” by the special effects house ILM to describe fine detail pieces used to give a sense of scale to models. The greebling here was quite tough as the foreground greeblies were identifiable things like doors, windows, roofs and even tiny figures, but the stuff near the horizon was basically just scribble designed to hint at lots of buildings below the resolution of the eye. Deciding at what point to go from recognisable detail to texture is a bit tricky, and you’re always tempted to switch a bit too early when your hand starts getting tired!”

“In this cover, as with the matching scenes in the strip, you’ll notice I use columns of smoke to eat up as much landscape as I decently can to reduce the amount of greebling necessary.”

D’Israeli’s Greeble wobbles, but he doesn’t fall down!

“The flat colours on the background and explosion are either midtones or shadows, so I just needed to add highlights to make them look 3D. For some reason I find it easiest to start with a mid-tone and add highlights and shadows; as a result I’m more comfortable with acrylics or gouache than watercolour when I work with real media. I also added a shadow tone to the planes to make them really stand out from the background explosions.”

“Smoke me a kipper, I’ll be home for breakfast!”

“Finally I add highlights to the planes. They’re already standing out well from the background, so I add the minimum of highlights to keep them separated while also giving the impression they’re 3D objects lit by the blast from below and the flashes from the missiles.”

To experience the cover in its full glory, you must join in with the Dambusters March. All together now “Dah! Dah! Dah! Dah! Dada dah, daaaah! Dah! Dah! Dah! Dah! Dah! Dada da daaaah!”

And it’s finished! “At this point we’re done and I export the file from Manga Studio to Photoshop for file preparation and upload to the 2000AD FTP server. Manga Studio only works in the RGB colour space so I convert the file to a CMYK TIFF for printing. Photoshop has particularly good controls for this, and in fact it’s about the last thing I still use it for.”

Huge thanks as ever to the wonderful Mr Matt Brooker, AKA D’Israeli for once again sending such wonderful images and info. Greebling eh? I’d never heard of that before! I love this cover, it really does give off a Star Wars/Dambusters vibe and I love the way the fighters have penetrated the smoke trails, it really adds a kinetic energy and atmosphere to this already brilliant piece! All hail D’Israeli!

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2000 AD Covers Uncovered – Venus Bluegenes

War! Those pesky ‘Martians’ are constructing a contraption to block the sun’s rays, wiping out the entire solar system! This devious plot has finally prompted the nations of Earth to come together as one to launch a final offensive against the occupying alien menace on Venus! Meanwhile, on the surface of the planet, Ahron and Ikarus frantically search for a way to wipe out the alien threat. Oh-laaaa indeed!

I asked King of Covers, D’israeli to tell us how he crafted this latest masterpiece. He said “This was a weird one – I’d just finished Scarlet Traces: Cold War series 1, Tharg very kindly gave me a cover for series 2. However, Ian Edginton’s series outline wasn’t in yet; we’d no idea what it would be about, beyond the fact that Ahron and Ikarus would be in it. So Matt came up with a generic “Ahron fending off tripods” concept, and we took it from there. This also explains why I didn’t do my usual three roughs for this one – I submitted only the one you see, and that went through.”

“I started by arranging the tripod models I’d made for the first series in an appropriate composition to make up the background of the image. The original HG Wells tripods were graceful and organic, like animals, so I just used to draw them by hand, but the new Venusian ones are meant to be a cross between deep-sea diving gear and military tanks, so I made them more clunky and complex, and at that point building a model was the easiest way to go.”

This also works as a basis for Groucho Marx in a chef’s hat.

“The video below gives you an all-round view of the tripod model. I didn’t bother building the legs, as those can easily be drawn by hand; the checker pattern on the finished render helps me to draw in addition details like lines of rivets or oil stains more easily. Missing from this version of the model is a stick that extends from the base of the model to ground level, making sure the tripod is always the same height…”

 D’Israeli continues “The model was imported into Manga Studio, and I traced over it, adding the figure and the tentacles. This is the rough layout approved by Tharg. Since I was kicking my heels at the time, I put a bit more work into this one than usual.”

“Oola! Keep still while I’m drying your hair!”

“Once my rough was approved, I copied the “inks’ from the rough drawing onto a new layer and filled them with pale blue to use as the rough basis for the finished drawing. I also made sure the reference model shot was visible, as I’d be tracing from that when I inked the tripods.”

“Mind the Checkerboard, Ahron!”

“The “pencil” drawing (in red) firmed up the figure of Ahron and fixed the position of the tentacles.”

“Aw, my own little Venusian. I will love him, and hug him, and call him George!”

“Time for the inks. The “ink” outlines to the figure, tentacles and tripods, added using Manga Studio’s Pen Tools…”

“Y-you have a snot hanging out of your nose…”

“I added the “painted” shading to the inks using the Lasso Fill tool to add spot blacks, then the Brush Tool to soften up edges where necessary. The end result should look hand-painted, avoiding the “too-perfect” airbrushed look of much digital colouring.”

“One down, twenty nine to go!”

“The Paint Bucket Tool in Manga Studio has the nifty ability to draw blacks, so it’s much better than Photoshop for putting flat colour under drawings . The Lasso Fill Tool – which automatically fills any shape your draw with your chosen colour, also helps make Manga Studio a fantastic tool for colourists.”

It takes over an hour for the aliens to do the Hokey Cokey.

“Colour-Shading – I added a red tint to the piece; this will be the underlying shadow colour out of which all the other colours “pop.”

A water pistol!?!

Next D’Israeli adds a Colour rim light, he says “This is a blue “rim light” – a light that just picks out the edges of Ahron and the tentacles, pulling them forward from the background tripods…”

While Ahron was busy fighting, Ikarus fired up the sunbed.

“The final step was to put in the bright yellow highlights from the muzzle flash of Ahron’s raygun. These pull the figure away from the background and direct the eye to the main character. At this point I can export the file from Manga Studio to Photoshop for the final file processing and upload!”

The aliens weren’t happy with the Oh La La Land Oscar Mix Up.

Huge, huge thanks to Matt “D’Israeli” Brooker for sending his usual meticulous process notes and images. Watching his artwork take shape is a real pleasure and this series of Scarlet Traces looks incredible.

Will mankind be able to stop the aliens in time? Will Ahron escape his home planet? What will happen to the offspring of Ikarus and Irya? There’s only one place to find out Earthlets!  

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2000AD Covers Uncovered – Mars Attacks!

Set your Thrill receptors on full as Prog 1988 sees the triumphant return of super artist D’Israeli to the Galaxy’s Greatest, as Scarlet Traces makes it’s debut in Prog 1988. Scarlet Traces: Cold War is the third book of Ian Edginton and D’Israeli’s Scarlet Traces series, a story set after the alien invasion of The War of the Worlds by H.G Wells (hey, nice name!) 

Cold War is set in 1968, seventy four years after the invasion of Earth by alien forces. Earth has fully grasped and developed the alien technology but this has been at great cost to Britain, which resulted in the destruction of much of the South of England at the end of the ‘The Great Game.’

I asked comics legend D’Iraeli to fill us in on the creation of his startling cover the series. Over to him…

“So, as as usual, Tharg-in-Residence Matt Smith sent me a detailed brief for the cover of Prog 1988. In this case it was an expanded version of a panel from the first episode of Scarlet Traces – Cold War:

“Would you be up for doing a cover for the first episode? I was thinking of the three fighter ships flying in formation towards us, Union Jacks on the wings, Earth in the background…?”

“I always produce three different cover roughs, one based exactly on the brief, one slight variant, and one wild card. Since I’d built 3D models of the Interceptor spaceships for the episode, I spent a bit of time arranging the models in different compositions, rather than sketching out layouts.”

“CGI is a bit of a double-edged sword – it can save time and effort when drawing complex objects (assuming said object appears enough times in a strip for the time saved drawing it to offset the time spent building and arranging the model(s.)) If you’re not careful, it can end up producing a dull, mechanical-looking end result. For myself, I always ink over 3D model renders by hand to integrate them completely with my own drawing. In the case of a composition like this, it’s important to introduce dynamic compositions and strong perspective to help offset the “deadening” effect of the mechanically-correct CGI underpinnings.

The model renders are shown here with the roughs I made from them using Clip Studio Paint (née Manga Studo):

“Below is the wild card cover. This is the “kitchen sink” composition – it has everything, the interceptors converging on an alien cylinder with both the Earth and the Moon in the background, and an interceptor pilot clearly visible. My tribute to 1970’s sci-fi paperback covers.”

Erm… some beach balls and candy rocks in space? What is the artist trying to tell us here?

“Closer to Matt’s brief, but with the exploding alien cylinder in the background for added “oomph.”

A futuristic reimagining of the Hindenburg Disaster.

“And the final sketch, Interceptors and the Earth, precisely as per the brief. As you can see here, I didn’t do a new render from the models for this one; I just positioned a render of the Earth over the first reference image to give me the background I needed.” 

Will the last person to leave Earth please turn off the lights.

“Once Tharg had approved rough number 3, it was time to begin the finished drawing. Since most of the image was based on 3D model renders, there was relatively little drawing to be done. This image shows the minimal amount of pencilling I had to do…”

White Space…

“Here I’m inking the spaceships. I do the inks on their own layer so I’ll be able to play around with the backgrounds later on.”

Spaceships by Bertie Bassett.

“Adding the black of space (which also defines the disc of the Earth…)”

And on the first day, D’Israeli said “Let there be dark!” 

“Softening. There are two things I don’t usually do; shade with black or use the airbrush tool for shading. I usually avoid that particular look because it’s a kind the basic go-to solution for anyone teaching themselves digital art, and it’s hard to differentiate your work if you just do what everyone else does. In this case, though, airbrushed tones were just what I needed to lend volume to the curves of the planet and the spaceships in the harsh light of interplanetary space. Never say “never!””

Turned out cloudy then…

“Flat colours; here I’m adding in the basic flat colours to the objects (using the Paint Bucket tool) and tracing off the shapes of the continents as blocks of colour (using the excellent Lasso Fill tool in Clip Studio Paint née Manga Studio – just draw a shape and let go and it automatically fills with colour, just like using the old Pencil tool in Illustrator.) The colours on the planet are on two different layers, under the colours of the spaceships, so I can fiddle with them without affecting the ships.
I’ve made one change here from the roughs – swapping the colours of the yellow and green spaceships, since the green was getting lost against the colour of the continents behind.”

After the 50th series of Celebrity Big Brother, the people of Earth had had enough…

“Clouds. Mostly drawn in using the Lasso Fill tool, with the Pen tool used for the smaller blobs. I try to set up a realistic-looking whorl pattern that will draw the eye to the lead spaceship. I do this on a new layer between the colours for the spaceships and the colour for the planet, so I don’t have to worry about masking them out or anything – I can just draw freely and they appear “behind” the spaceships.”

Cloud Atlas

“Cloud shadows. By selecting the clouds with the Lasso tool, nudging the selection a few pixels over with the keyboard arrow keys, filling with black on a new layer, repeating the selection of the clouds, and using it to delete parts of the black fill, I create fine black shadows for the clouds over the Earth in about thirty seconds flat!”

“Past the Sea of Swirly Twirley Gumdrops.”

“Highlights. On a new layer, I add a few shiny highlights to the spacecraft to help them “pop.” I also add a bright blue circular gradient to the Earth’s oceans to help give form to the globe. Finally, I lock transparency on the layer containing the continents. This means I can only draw on the continents themselves. I then add texture with Clip Studio’s Chalk brushes, using a mix of beiges, browns and khaki-greens to give variation to the Earth’s surface.”

Given a bit of a polish by one of those windscreen washer folks. There’s no escaping them!

“I wonder if the space background would look better with stars added. Save a copy, add stars – no, it doesn’t. Back to the previous version. Another reason to work digitally – with real media that experiment would have set me up for at least an hour of repair work.”

“My God! It’s full of stars!”


Earth Forces are Go!

“I export the file from Clip Studio Paint in Photoshop format, and process it to a flat CMYK TIFF in Photoshop for upload to the 2000AD FTP server.”

Wow!!! Thank you so much to D’Israeli for sendng the images and excellent breakdown, a true pro! Be sure to visit his site at here and also Eamonn Clake’s brilliant Scarlet Traces annotations page!