How To: Create A Comic/Part 4: Collecting the Images

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Now that you have an idea about what sort of comic you want to do, now is the time to start collecting the images needed to make your comic real.

Here you have three methods:

Traditional - We’re talking old school; pen, paper, drawing, creating everything and then scanning it into the computer.

Computer-Generated - 3D Animation programs, or just your basic mouse-or-stylus graphical programs created entirely on the computer.

Screenshots - Actual in-game images, or images that have been manipulated through image-editing programs.

You can use a combination of all three methods, using screenshots as the basis for traditional or computer-generated images, or using it as the background and then adding in either a traditional or computer-generated image on top of it. Some creators have done all of these things.

If you decide to go with either the first two options, then there’s really nothing more that needs to be said, and you can just go move on to Part 5. You already have everything you need to get, so you just go ahead and get all of the illustrating done.

But for everyone else we have…

The Art of Doing Screenshots

Screenshots are essentially snapshots of the action on the computer. Think of your monitor as the viewscreen of a digital camera. The mouse wheel is your focus, and the Print Screen button is your shutter. Click on the Print Screen button and you take a screenshot, a picture of the scene, which is then stored on your computer’s hard drive for you to retrieve later on.

By changing the viewing angle, you can get pictures of your character from all sides. By zooming in, you can get a closer look at the character, which would be great for head-shots scenes.

There are some basic rules of getting screen images that you need to keep in mind.

Basic Rule of Images #1: It is easy to make a large image smaller, but it is impossible to make a small image larger. Or, at least you can’t do it without sacrificing quality. The larger that you have to make an image, the less quality you end up with, until eventually you get nothing but a bunch of blocky pixels in different colors. Even high-definition cameras have always had their limits. Therefore, if you have a scene in mind, it’s best to get as many images as possible from various angles and from different distances.

Basic Rule of Images #2: It’s always better to have too many images than to have too few. It is entirely possible to shoot a hundred screenshot images and then end up using only ten. This is what professional photographers do with models. They don't just take the ten pictures that you see in the magazine. They take tens of thousands, and then sort out which ones are good enough later. You need to do the same thing with screenshots. You can always cut the ones you don’t need afterward, but you can’t always re-create the same scene later on and have things exactly as before. So don’t waste the opportunity before you to take as many images as you can. Go crazy with the screen-capture.

Basic Rule of Images #3: Be mindful of the time, especially when shooting outside footage. If your scene is in the daytime, then you really don’t want to start shooting images when the sun is starting to set, or even when it’s already nighttime. Bear in mind that a city area is different in the daytime as opposed to night. You have cars and buildings with lights on, you have streetlights and spotlights turned on, and there is a distinct blue hue to everything that is difficult to get out even with photo-editing software. The hardest part of doing screen-captures is waiting for that "right time of the day" to come around again.

How to get the images:

Game-time activity - This is ideal if you’re getting stationary footage, or dealing with stationary characters such as non-player character contacts. Simply position your characters in the way you want them to be, position the viewing angle, and then take the screenshots.

The downside to this method is that if you’re engaged in action while trying to get images, then you’re either going to be operating blind or getting defeated rather quickly. You also cannot control the actions of other players in the area, so someone could potentially use their character to interfere with your scene and make you look like a fool. Essentially you have very little control over game-time activity, so it’s not exactly an ideal environment to get all of your footage.

One suggestion for getting game-time activity is to try to make sure that the characters you use are high enough in skill and experience to not attract the attention of the nearby adversaries. For instance, if you’re in an area where the in-game adversaries range from levels 1-10, and you’re just at level 1, then odds are those adversaries will attack you if you’re in range of their notice. And they’ll probably kick your butt before you get any kind of snapshots going. But if your character is at level 10 or even 15 or 20, then those same adversaries will probably not know you’re there unless and until you start hitting them. This gives you the opportunity to walk up to them, pretend to have a conversation with them, and then beat them down in one or two punches.

Mission Architect - City of Heroes has a unique feature called the “Mission Architect” which allows you custom-create certain environments and characters.

This is an ideal feature for creators to use, especially in creating custom characters, or to use in-game characters in places that they are not normally found. For instance, working with members of the Freedom Phalanx, or taking on giant monsters.

The testing portion of the Mission Architect allows your character to be either un-targetable or invulnerable, which allows you to take on the toughest of all enemies and still not get killed in the process. Again, this is great for creating action scenes, or to converse with an enemy before having that “epic battle”.

The downside to this method is that there are some limitations to the Architect program. You are limited to the location maps they provide, and you cannot program in random civilians or mobs. You also cannot specify where precisely you want a character or object to be placed on a location map. The Mission Architect feature uses the same mechanics as the normal in-game mission creator, so the placements will always be random.

Demorecording - Instead of treating the computer as a camera, City of Heroes can also treat your computer as a video recorder through a thing called “demorecord”. Basically once you put your characters in position, you can tell the computer to record, and it will record everything that happens in-game until you tell it to stop. It then saves all of that information on your hard drive, and you can re-play the action at a later time off-line.

On the plus side, demorecording allows you to edit all of the variables involved in the recorded scene. For instance, you can control and change the time of day, the placement of objects and characters, the camera angles seen, the movement of characters, or you could substitute one recorded character for another. Unlike the Mission Architect, you are using in-game maps, including places the Architect program cannot duplicate such as your own supergroup base. And you can replay the scene over and over again, and the only changes are the ones that you put into it.

The downside to this is the extensive programming needed to put all this together. You can’t do this on the fly. There are additional programs for you to download and practice with. If you think that the time, talent, and patience needed to create a comic book is extensive, wait until you start working with demorecordings. Also, you’ll need a lot more hard drive space to work with than if you were to just take screenshots.

If you can pull it off, great. Or you can use a combination of these things to get the material that you need.

A few other tips…

Get more than just the back of one’s head. The default movement for MMO characters is either from their backs or from a first-person Point-Of-View so you can see where you’re going. This is good for getting somewhere, but it’s bad for shooting scenes where you’re talking with someone and you can only see that other person’s front side. Having a face-to-face discussion usually means that at some point you need to see your own character’s face.

Learn to love Emotes! By default, your character has three set poses when they’re standing still. You have arms on hips, arms crossed, or arms down, and your head is moving during this time. If you want your character to be doing something else during this time, then you need to get used to Emotes.

Emotes are body gestures for certain situations. For instance, when your character is dizzy or “stunned”, that’s a built-in automatic emote.

The three big ones are “talk” , “lecture”, and “disagree”. But don’t limit yourself to those three. There are literally dozens more for you to go through, but those three will get you going. You can find all of the Emotes at your disposal at the Paragon Wiki website. Go through them, try them out on your character, and see which ones would work with your story.

Walk, don’t just run! Fly, don’t just arrive! Show your characters in transit, especially if they are your main characters. Show them walking into a room or walking away from a scene. If your character can fly, show them actually flying, or have scenes with them in the air. Have them walk in or walk out of a scene.

Finally… Organize! Since we’re talking about taking a lot of screenshots, it would help if you organized your images into folders and subfolders. You can set folders up by scenes, or by characters, or by issues, or even by subject matter, such as landscape settings. This will help you later on when you start putting elements together, or even using previous images if they’re generic enough.

Additional Images

Sometimes it’s not enough to just work on screenshots. Sometimes you have to create additional images to help tell the story.

For instance, if you have a character working on a computer, it could get rather boring just seeing the character typing away on the console when you could come up with an image of what that character is seeing on the computer. Or show a newspaper article or the front cover of a magazine.

If you’re good enough with an image-manipulating program such as GIMP or Photoshop, you can replace certain scenes inside a screenshot with another image. So instead of having a picture of a monitor with its generic in-game image, you could replace that in-game image with one of your own.

This will take a bit of work, and making use of resources such as those provided by this Wiki or the Paragon Wiki.

Moving Onward

Now that you have all the raw material you need to create your comic, it’s time to put it all together.