Freelance concept artist Marina Ortega Lorente takes us through the process of how she created a dark and gritty world, exploring her story idea in Comics: The Art of Storytelling.
My name is Marina Ortega Lorente, and I’m a Spanish freelance concept artist based in Manchester, UK. I’ve always known I wanted to work on video games art (and later also tv shows and films), but the hard task was to discover how to get there. So I studied Fine Arts at the Complutense University of Madrid, and later online at CGMA. I put together an entry portfolio. I relocated to the UK looking for work where I got a concept artist job at a small local studio, as well as freelance commissions as an illustrator for Games Workshop. After a while, I became freelance full time which I have been for 4 years now, working on “The Forest”, and more recently in “Beyond a Steel Sky” with Revolution Games.
I specialize in environments where I really enjoy playing with mood and lighting. My favorite part is trying to capture the feeling of a situation and have the viewer experience it through my work. My favorite games have always been single-player where you can immerse yourself in the storytelling and the universe presented to you.
So, this doesn’t sound like comics, but I felt I needed to be able to tell the essence of the story behind an image more efficiently. And I wanted to work on something more narrative-driven than the usual descriptive concept art breakdown sheets. So in the hope to get a new perspective on things, I decided to jump into learning one of the more exigent and complex ways of visual communication: Comics.
It looked way easier than it was. But I had never written a story in a script format with short descriptions and dialogue. Of course, I wanted to develop my project, and I had this Unborn universe of my own creation in mind from before. It’s about those “monsters” that are more than just that, living among us, rarely visible but influencing us all. And the only person who can see them is our protagonist Dana.
This week is about planning and organizing the chaos of possible scenes in your mind in a reasonable number of panels, without any format yet, and getting those first ideas out as very rough sketches. It won’t be set in stone but beginning with this and facing blank pages would have been daunting without this assignment and Miki explaining how to face this first step. It’s a key step that is truly for yourself, as you will be redrawing this a lot once you get into shaping the panels and fleshing out the page.
Composing a Page
The composition of the page plays a big role in how the story is understood by the viewer. It is key to the narrative as image composition is key to the storytelling of an illustration. But instead of managing just focal points and rules of composition, you are managing it on a big scale. You have to think of the simplest most striking way to tell the story and how to use the flow of the page for that. Controlling how the eyes of the viewer will be moving around the page― when and how they will receive each piece of information for the story– it’s hard to have it make sense and be exciting.
I have to try to imagine how someone that doesn’t know the story yet is feeling at each point. This is one of the most difficult things and the one that if you are not experienced in comics you will probably need more feedback on. There are some rules to follow but as it happens in art, many things are subjective and particular to your story. I fixed the panels a lot and they became simpler and better organized to tell my story during this week.
Drawing and Reference Research
This assignment was more in my comfort zone. As a concept artist (also my regular job) reference is your first and best friend. And I decided to design some key locations for this comic. Although I had to translate them later into the graphic, high contrast style I chose and adapt all that lighting, it really helps to stop a little bit to think of the design of your key or hero locations, objects and characters before adding them into the story.
It is important to take some time here, as the design needs to serve the story and needs some reflection before going straight to draw the panels. You also need to think about how you will have to draw these things from different angles and keep all the places and designs cohesive.
Also, Miki showed us how he uses not only reference for design, but basic 3D for some key locations. He is able to just rotate the camera, and get some perspective and size information quickly and efficiently. This is really useful when you need to draw something from different angles and from different perspectives.
Character Design and Flat Coloring
Here I was considering color or actually going for a high graphic contrast finish. My comic is a mixture of horror and a psychological dark story, that has actually more to do with the darkness of our mind than with actual monsters. So I was looking for a muted palette that would allow me to emphasize and play more with the color and intensity of lights, than just local colors of materials. Seeing Miki’s process for coloring step by step is still helping me nowadays even in concept art.
On the other hand, I began to play with this graphic contrast style and different textures more than color because I feel that kind of noir feel fits with a rainy night in a dark city. So I decided to not only play with colors this week but look further regarding the style I wanted.
In this class, everything has to work together and it all evolved together, so I think I am more proud of just the final week.
I felt I improved at reducing what I want to tell the most important elements and to let go of the things that are not really helping to support it. How to be in service of the narrative and to understand how important page design and flow are to comics. Miki helped me a lot with this and to understand how comics work. It is not just creating beautiful panels, it is about guiding the eyes of the viewer within the pages at the pace and direction you want. You need to manage and control tons of information at different levels.
I cannot recommend this class with Miki enough. He is an amazing teacher and professional. He takes into account your background, level, and your strengths and weaknesses, to guide you while he provides tons of useful information. Not only about the comic itself, but about the comic world and how to be an artist in it. I took this class as an introduction of comics for one of my personal projects. Now I want to develop other pieces of art, like keyframes and not only comic panels, so more than being a finished comic, the class has become the beginning of something else for me.