Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 7 (July 2000)

Comic Relief

A 3D comic book illustrates an artist's 'comical' side

By Karen Moltenbrey

Digital artist Bill Fleming believes he has the formula for making any project a success-use 3D computer graphics or anything containing an image of a dinosaur. But when you combine the two together, he maintains, the result is an even greater blockbuster, especially if the images are photoreal. "Kids love cartoon dinosaurs, but they really love realistic-looking di nosaurs-just look at Jurassic Park and Disney's Dinosaur."

If Fleming's theory is accurate, then one of his recent projects, Krug, a 3D-illustrated comic book with a Jurassic Park-Jungle Book story line, will be a surefire hit.

Fleming decided to create the comic book as a promotional tool at Siggraph 2000 for companies wanting to show off the power of their products. So Fleming wrote a story line and then solicited sponsorship from software firms whose programs would be used to produce the unique style of brochure.
Using a variety of software packages including Maxon's Cinema 4D and Right Hemisphere's Deep Paint 3D, digital artist Bill Fleming created a comic book based on his theorized recipe for success: Using 3D imagery and dinosaurs. (Images copyright 2000 Komod

"I am flexible enough in that I could have used a number of programs, so it was first come, first served," Fleming says. In just two weeks, the artist sold out of advertising space (all told, 11 pages) for the 32-page oversize comic book.

In addition to the 30,000 copies of the brochure that Flem ing hopes to sign and distribute at sponsor Right Hemisphere's booth during the show, the artist is planning to sell a slightly revised rendition without the ads at comic book outlets. Prod uction on an animated special (most likely for television) based on the comic will begin late in the year.

Told through the use of detailed 3D imagery, Krug is a story about a baby whose caveman parents are killed by a pack of young raptors out on their first hunt. (In this fantasy world, dinosaurs and humans co-exist.) Seconds before baby Krug is about to become prey, he is scooped up by a large, winged herbivore trying to protect its eggs in a nearby nest. The beast adopts Krug and raises him alongside his new dinosaur siblings. When he grows up, Krug kills the mar auding pack of raptors that terrorized the peaceful dinosaurs in the desert oasis, thus earning the title "king of the dinosaurs."
Although the imagery in Krug is photoreal and historically based, some of the creatures are hybrid species, while a few others originated from the artist's imagination. (Images copyright 2000 Komodo Studio.)

Fleming, whose Komodo Studio (Irvine, CA) produced the work, is a self-described dinosaur enthusiast with a degree in herpetology. As such, he wove those special interests into a kind of graphic novel, in which a storyline depends more on the use of images rather than words. In the case of Krug, the pages are filled with 3D images of realistic dinosaurs and an oasis brimming with prehistoric plant life. "I wanted to do a cool comic book project for kids and adults that didn't go off in the complete stupid zone. I wanted to concentrate on realism, not some cute little dinosaur that talks," he says.

Adhering to that goal, Fleming populated the Krug scenes with finely detailed yet seldom-depicted dinosaur species. But he also ad-libbed. "I got tired of looking at the same old dinosaurs, so I picked some really cool dinosaurs that people rarely see, and I also created some new, hybrid species," he adds.
Because of the multiple layers and variety of foliage, creating the oasis imagery was the most difficult part of the project.

While all the dinosaurs are modeled and textured to look authentic, Krug is an anomaly. "He's not straight-up human oid," says Fleming. "He's almost realistic but more stylized-he falls into what I call my living 'toon category."

To create Krug, Fleming used the tools manufactured by the comic book's ad ver tisers: Maxon Computer's (Thou sand Oaks, CA) Cinema 4D for modeling (and animating, for the animation proj ect), Right Hemisphere's (Auckland, New Zealand) Deep Paint 3D and Dosch Design's (Marktheidenfeld, Germany) DoschTextures for texturing, and Adobe Systems' (San Jose, CA) Photoshop for layout. The images were rendered on a Windows NT workstation.

Because the comic book was produced with 3D software, transitioning the story to animation later this year will not be that difficult, predicts Fleming. "The comic book will be a full-color storyboard for the animation project. I'll pick up with the same tools and imagery," he says.

According to Fleming, the most difficult aspect of the project was creating the environments-specifically the oasis jungle, with its numerous varieties of plants, trees, ground cover, leafy bushes, and vines. "A 3D jungle has to have multiple levels of greenery to look natural. And to make it believable, you need variances in the plants, which means putting clip maps (an irregular edge by trimming the geometry) on the different kinds of leaves so they don't all look the same," he explains.

To composite the various layers of imagery, the artist created a digital matte of the desert with all the detail such as rock and sand. The sky, meanwhile, was a separate channeled layer, which al lowed the artist to change the position of the clouds from matte to matte so the shots would not all appear at the same moment in time. Com po sited atop the desert layer was another layer for the plant and water life.

"All I did was capture the shadows, reflections, and the plants, which I then com posited over my final rendered desert," explains Fleming. "This gave me full flexibility over the final production editing of the desert. So when I wanted to move a tree, I had more control, and I didn't have to cut and paste the tree, then fill the hole that I just made."
Fleming used his skill as a 3D animator and his background as a herpetologist to create the almost-realistic dinosaur world in which Krug and his companions live.

Would Fleming have used 3D software if he were not creating an animated version as well? "Absolutely," he says. "It's the only way we could have produced something of this magnitude." The only other option for creating a completely realistic project like this, Fleming maintains, would have been to use actual elements. For a 2D illustrator, redrawing so many realistic images from cel to cel "is about as close to inconceivable as I can imagine," he says. "With 3D, creating the elements can be time-consuming, but once that's done, the rest is fairly easy. You can change things without wasting a lot of time."

Unfortunately, the steep learning curves and hefty price tags associated with 3D tools have kept most traditional comic book illustrators from embracing this new technology, Fleming believes. To date, there have been only a handful of comic books created in 3D, one of which is Platinum, created by Fleming as a Siggraph 98 handout for TrueSpace. However, the fully textured and populated cityscape environment in Platinum was less than 200mb, while just the natural environments (without the dinosaurs) in Krug total about 2gb.

"The goal was to create a level of detail that you just don't get from today's media, whether it's film or television. It's a level of realism that makes the viewer question exactly how it was accomplished," says Joel Payne, background matte artist on the project.

What makes this project really special, Fleming points out, is the fact that it was done using the print medium. "You can't get away with poor textures and stretch marks on your model because there is no motion blur to hide those things," he says. "That's why Krug's reality is pushing the 3D threshold."

Key Tool Cinema 4D, Maxon Computer (
Deep Paint 3D, Right Hemisphere (