Cooper Alley Cover – Pt 2

I really needed a picture of this house for the front cover. But taking the photo is only the first part of the job. Next was turning this rather old looking piece into something one might consider haunted.

The image of the house, without cyclist or Joey (although he would have been a cute addition)

The house, captured in broad daylight, was not exactly ‘creepy’ looking. Not only that, as you can see there are artefacts within that would not belong in a Victorian era story. Anachronisms, perhaps? Either way, they had to go:

First things first, get rid of the bits what don’t belong in there.

We can see the walker, the plastic bins, the electrical junctions and the wires. The letterbox looks fine and the number on the door is too small to make out, so that’s good, too. Oh, right, and the compact fluorescent lamp as well. Another little ditty is the reflection in the glass – there’s a ute in there. Aaaand that building over to the right.

To get rid of these things, I used the good old ‘clone’ tool in Gimp. The technique is to carefully clone parts of the surrounding background and surface over the top of the unwanted anomalies.

This works best with consistent (like the grey bricks) or noisy (like the mulch on the ground) backgrounds. It’s a pain in the bum with distinct, contrasting objects like the fence rods and the window. For these, I had to match up the cloning very carefully indeed to avoid a glaring inconsistency with the straight lines.

Not that anyone is looking that closely, but still. It’s also a heck of a lot easier when you don’t have a Joey jostling your arm every few seconds.

Tada! Purple and red shades bring the house a mouldy feel.

I then removed the sky, twiddled with it, darkened it and kept it for later. The colour of the house and the leaves needed to be duller and more dreary. For this I adjusted the grey bricks to be more purple, and the green leaves to be more yellow. The top windows needed dulling (because we can’t reflect a blue sky at night, right?) which was a matter of using the magic selector and reducing the lightness.

With all that done, it was time to add some layering in there.

The story is set in winter, and while it is not full-blown midwinter, it’s still cold and there is a smattering of snow about. Well, that means I needed to add snow. Where and how the heck could I do that? It took some doing, but I think I got there. More on that in a tick.

Cooper Alley Ghost Cover – Pt 3

In the story, it is winter. It is cold. It is snowing. The problem I faced is that this photograph is in Melbourne, in Summer, when it’s hot and definitely does not snow. I could think about, say, grabbing a can of shaving cream and spraying it about, but I doubt the owner would be impressed and the result wouldn’t cut it. The only thing for it is to add fake snow over the top of the image:

Manually added some snow

The snow was done in three passes. I use Gimp to do the dirty work, mostly because I’m comfortable with it, and also because there are a lot of little tools and filters that can help out.

First, I used the chalk shaped brush, with a white to grey gradient, and passed it over the ‘top’ surfaces of things, so the window sills, the fence posts, the railings. It’s not a heavy coating, more a smattering, because it’s early winter. I was going to do more on the footpath, but it turned out, when I did a quick check, that the image on the book wouldn’t be able to include the lower quarter. Ah, well.

The thing is, the image above is still too sunny and happy, so I wanted to add in some more, falling, snow. So be it:

Falling snow

So there’s snow on the ground, some falling snow, and I’ve gloomified the setting. It’s looking a bit more like what I had in mind, but there’s still more to go. I need the sky back, for starters, and I want some highlights on the house so that it’s not one grey, amorphous blob.

Duplicating, blending and putting the sky back in

I duplicated the house layer and blended it together with the underlying house to bring up more of the detail. The clouds in the sky looked about right with a dark filter on there, so I left that alone.

Right, all that’s left is to add it into the general template for the Paranormology series.

Judging a Book by its Cover

When I first started out writing, I was busy with the whole ‘writing’ part of the deal, you know, putting words together to make sentences and all that jazz. Then, when it got time to get real, I slammed into the ‘oh-crap’ wall, filled with blocks of requirements held together with a mortar of doubt.

Books need a description. And they need an ISBN. And they need to be categorised according to their content and type. And, of course, they need a front cover.

Well, as far as I can tell, you can get away with not having an ISBN, and you have categories of ‘General’ under fiction which, I guess, sort of covers just about anything, and technically you don’t need a front cover to have a book published.

But it sure helps.

So there I go, flailing against the wall, doing whatever I could to get through to the other side. A front cover? No problem. How hard can that be? I mean, it’s just words and a picture right? Well, technically yes, that’s correct, there are words and there is usually a picture, but it’s not as simple as… No worries, gimme two minutes.

Cue me running around like a maniac, taking photographs with my old, clunky phone, trying to figure out how to operate GIMP, fending off the calls from work – heck, it’s eleven at night – and a whisky shot or two later, here you go:

Yeah, I didn’t like it either, but you have to admit, there are words and there’s a picture, so it’s a cover, right? Besides, it was bed time and I wanted this thing up and out and off my hands (There’s a lesson right there – if you’re feeling pressured, you’re making mistakes and if you’re making mistakes, back off, go to bed and tackle it tomorrow).

Alright, fine, it was poo, I agree. So after I did the same for part 2 and 3, I sat back and thought that I’d better take it more seriously. After all, by this stage I was looking at hard copies and, yeah, these guys ain’t gonna cut the mustard.

I started with the idea of emphasising the split from title and author as top and bottom and the imagery in the middle. I found a nice carbon fibre background and a chrome bar to add the separators and changed the font to something more appropriate. And for the most part, I was happy with it, until I looked at it with fresh eyes last month and thought that looked unpolished.

The uniformity of the imagery was bothering me. Sure, the method of thresholding the image and using the darkness to create a silhouette over a gradiented background made some amount of sense, it still didn’t convey exactly what I was after. So I’ve gone and made a change, I hope, for the better.

Yes, that’s still the same carbon fibre and chrome curtain rod. Yes, that’s still my eyeball (albeit updated) but now we’ve got a more modern twist on things.

Firstly, you’ll notice the change from a single point of reference, to having the city below, a bustling, light filled city, shining in amber, contrasting the relatively cyan eyeball on top. Amber and teal, apparently, is the combination of the month. The cityscape lends itself nicely, since the perspective of the main roads naturally lead one toward the top, reminiscent of the famous ‘all seeing eye’.

I was going for a pixelated eyeball to emphasise the use of technology, but then I backed off on that since it made it look a little too 8-bit. Instead, I went for a glass-tile filter to add the squareness to it, keeping detail while still breaking the imagery up.

All things considered, I’m chuffed with the result.

KDP – The Cover

In the previous post, I spoke about how to get the cover to play ball. By downloading the template you will save yourself a lot of trouble, but how does one use it?

GIMP

I like GIMP. A lot. I know there are other graphics programs that do a lot of stuff easily but GIMP has just been my go-to and probably always will be. Hats off to the developers.

Anyway, to use the template, open it in GIMP.

GimpTemplate.png

You’ll notice on the right hand side there’s the “Layers” pane. I added my front, spine and rear layers underneath. By adjusting the transparency of the top-most layer (the template) I can see how I fit in the guidelines at any time:

GimpTemplateTrans.JPG

To turn off the top layer altogether, when I’m working on things directly, click the eyeball next to the layer. Also use this for when you’re exporting your final image.

Note the rear: I’ve kept the blurb clear of the barcode area because KDP, like Lulu, will automatically stick a barcode on that spot. Can you change it? No. Why not? Because it’s a standard spot and there’s really no reason to have it customisable. It’s like software engineering, really. Yes, it probably could be customisable, and we could put a whole lot of man-hours to getting the darn thing to be on the other side, or rotated, or put on the top, or the spine. We could do that, yes. Or – OR – we could not, and recognise that it’s not really an issue and state very simply that that’s where the barcode goes and apply the developers to better, more important tasks.

Sorry. One of the most annoying phrases as an engineer I hear is, “Can we make it customisable?” Rant over. Moving right along. Where was I?

Ah, yes, the template. So you’ll see, straight away, that the eBook cover is not going to work. It doesn’t have a spine. It doesn’t have a rear. You’ll need to knock those up. I used a picture of Eel Grove for the rear, because it’s a dark image and sits well against the light blurb.

For the spine, I whipped up an underwater theme, graduating from the light to waves to the dark reef-bed. The text had to be rotated to run down the spine, and I added a slight drop-shadow to help with the contrast.

When it was all done and I was chuffed with how it looked, I exported it. KDP wants it as a PDF. Gimpy can do this, no sweat, but the resulting PDF file is 17 MB. For you spring chickens, that ain’t such a thing, but I remember the time when our harddrive was 40MB all up, and the speed of a modem of 1200 bps.

Anyhow, I uploaded it to KDP and sat back.

Boom!

Oh. Poop. What have I done? The preview window on the KDP form looks… terrible. It’s like it’s.. it’s… it’s the tiniest bit on the bottom of the spine.

OhNo.jpg

That’s what it looked like.

What has gone wrong? I’ll tell you. There’s a thing called DPI, or Dots Per Inch. Don’t worry too much about the details, but when I saved the image to PDF, it saved the data in a rather stretched format.

Back to Gimpy-boy (Yes, I call it Gimpy-boy):

Resolution.PNG

Open up the Print Resolution dialog and the mystery is revealed. See that width / height? That’s because, translating pixels to ‘dots’ on a page means that I’ve made my picture stupidly large. Aha!

I adjusted the X and Y resolution from 72 DPI to 300 DPI and the width and height went to 9.25″ x 12.88″.

ResolutionFix.PNG

But the book is only 6 x 9, right? Yes, true, but we’re working off the template and we need to include trim and all of that. Anyway, 9.25″ is hella closer than 38″! Phew!

OK, so export to PDF again, re-upload and cross all digits and tentacles…Mini Jeztyr Logo

Presenting – Grosvenor Lane Ghost

Wow! I’m bushed.

I thoroughly gave a Synfig, Audacity, Anvil Studio, Gimp, Corel and good ol’ Microsoft Movie Maker a workout.

I haven’t got a lot to say except that the promotional animation for Grosvenor Lane Ghost is now up on You Tube and Daily Motion (hehehe… Daily Motion. You know, like, one’s daily constitutional?) and any other place that I can find.

Please share, enjoy and criticise. Don’t worry, I won’t be listening, I’ll be sleeping. Right now it’s a warm Milo and off to bed.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Thank you… You’re Wacom.

One of my biggest bugbears when it comes to digitizing pencil scratchings is that I have to do my sketching on paper, get my phone out, take a photo – with a black piece of paper underneath to hide the stuff on the other side – then transfer that via bluetooth to my machine, process it through Gimp to get rid of the noise and stuff, despeckle, desaturate and use the threshold command to get the ‘black and white’ levels, mask one over the over to retain the gradient of the pencil or pen, and, finally, use my clumsy mouse for shading and colouring.

Ouch.

I’ve been drawing with a mouse since the old 286, and it’s fine and fair enough for this and that but, really, what I’ve been after is a way to draw / sketch / paint directly into the machine.

Intuous Art by Wacom

There I was, at Officeworks, looking for a present, when I saw this little puppy looking at me with sad eyes:

cth490k_galleryimage_1_600x600_emea.jpgI thought, “Nah. Nahhhhh.”

I did a skip around the store, found the present and was about to leave. I looked back. It was still there. “Take me home,” it said, not forcefully, not appealingly, just sagely.

“Take me home. Use me. I’m what you’ve been looking for.”

I have an old (ooooold) Wacom pen and tablet thing. As a pointing device, it was great. As a drawing tool, no good. Naturally I was skeptical about this one. But times change, technology improves, things get better, kinks get ironed out.

I thought, “OK.”

The rest is history. And, I have to say, it’s awesome. It came with a Corel painting software with which it integrates perfectly. It responds to finger pinching, so I can move the virtual ‘paper’ around, or zoom in and out, without having to leave the pad.

But the really cool thing is that it’s pressure sensitive, so if I want to make light strokes, the corresponding lines are light. Push down and make darker, stronger strokes. The result is a very natural looking stroke for pens and pencils, even watercolours, oils and acrylics.

Blending and shading, as you can imagine, comes out tops. In Gimp, it’s not so great because it doesn’t respect the pressure sensitivity, but pop the picture into Corel and it’s like liquid. I can shade gently, I can shade hard, I can smear this bit, scratch that bit, and even layer it all.

Needless to say, I’m going to be spending some time with this little pooch to make the artwork for Grosvenor Lane Ghost. My pictures will have a lot of chiaroscuro, contrasting light and dark, so I’ll be working on shadows and shines a lot, lanterns, old fireplaces, that sort of thing.

What do you know? I haven’t been excited by technology for a while.

On a side note, I’ve found that this is pretty cool for my little Boy as well: I showed him how to paint with it, how to change the colours and make shapes and things. He’s still getting the hang of it, of course, he hasn’t actually mastered holding a pen properly, but he loves how Daddy can draw him a dragon or a car or a train or a tree or a face or a cat, and he can ‘colour them in’.

Bugger. Can’t stick it on the fridge.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Lulu – The Cover

Pushing the digital version of your book to hardcopy requires a revision of your front cover. You’ve knocked your cover up. You are pretty chuffed with it because, hey, everything is just as it should be.

Pixels are, after all, pixels.

Printing out a cover throws a couple of curve-balls. Two notables are colour and cut.

Cut!

Cut is the easiest to explain. When a book get made up from a printing press, there are a number of processes and physical factors that need to be accounted for. Pick up a book off your shelf, go on. See how the cover stock is different to what’s used inside the book? See how it’s glossy, whereas the pages are not? See how the pages perfectly line up with each other?

It’s not an accident. The machines that make up a book have various tolerances when assembling, and then the whole thing gets trimmed to perfection. Aah!

The trimming bit is where you need to be concerned. Your cover will have bits cut off. I’ll repeat that because it’s important:

Your cover will have bits cut off.

The top and bottom edges, and the edge opposite the spine, are ear marked for a bit of slice-and-dice action. Lulu gives you templates you can use:

Lulu-CoverTemplate.png

This one is for the PocketBook size, and as you can see, it has three distinct regions. The ‘Trim Area’, the ‘Safety Margin’ and the ‘Live Area’. If you use Gimp or Photoshop, add the template as a top-level layer so that you can see how your cover will end up:

Lulu-CoverWithTemplate.png

Notice that all words are within the safety margin – no one wants to have their title sliced off! And, before you ask, yes, I found this out the hard way. The margin of safety is there for a reason. Use it.

What’s not so obvious is that the centre of your image is now a wee bit to the left. Doesn’t sound bad, until you get your book and that ‘wee bit’ has turned into a ‘Hella lot’! Realign your words, shadows, etc to align to the ‘new’ centre, and save yourself a headache.

Colour

If something looks good one your screen, great, it will probably look good on someone else’s screen, too, unless they’ve got their colours all up the wazoo. You can’t help that. In contrast (pun somewhat intended), if I look at a book, and then hand it to you, the colours on the front page haven’t changed.

So it is important to get it right.

I can’t really show you the difference as it gets printed out here, because my camera isn’t really picking up the details, but I’ll show you what I did for Adaptation:

Lulu-Adaptation-Comparison.jpgOn the left is the digital edit, and on the right is the Lulu hardcopy edit. You’ll notice the words spacing and alignment has been adjusted for the margins of safety.

The colours are muted on the left, just the way I wanted them to be but, when it was printed, they appear especially dull. No good. So with the Lulu edit I upped the contrast, increased the saturation and use the auto ‘white balance’. The result is a more vivid cover, unsuitable for digital (I think) but comes out just right in hardcopy.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Let’s Animate… something.

I’ve spent some time on the music. I’ll need to spend some more time on it, of course, but I’ve had my fun and I should get back to the animations and whatnot.

Looking at my plan, I’ve made a few of the assets that I wanted, like Miss Penelope and the assault at the Sanitation Facility, I’ve got a basic tune to put it to, so, really, there’s no excuse to open up Synfig and start poking about.

Scenes

With The Bullet animation, the scenes were mostly long running, which fit the slow pace of the book and music alright, but Adaptation is more action and adventure (mixed with some metaphysical introspection) so it wants shorter, dramatic shots.

Shorter shots, means a shorter run time which, in turn, means more shots per minute. Considering I’ve got the music, and the whole animation, to run for a minute, I’m going to need to up my asset count by… more than what I’ve got.

Still, the good news is that I can actually compose clips and shove them together to see what I’ve got and get a feel for where I’m going.

Composition in Synfig

I did The Bullet in Synfig Studio, I’ve gotten comfortable with it, so it makes sense to continue on with it.

All of my drawings are two dimensional, with shading and hashing to give an impression of depth, but that’s not all I can do to help. Backgrounds and foregrounds, for example, don’t have to be ‘in focus’. To give an impression of depth of field, I can use Synfig’s blurring layer over backgrounds or I can also simply blur them in Gimp, saving on rendering time in Synfig.

Crabman, an important element, gets a look-in, as will Henry and Lucas.

Now I’ve opted not to make Vectors this time, instead I’m aiming for a more ‘paper cutout’ look, with sketching, hashing, colouring and heavy light / shade. Because of this, I won’t have an opportunity to use the bones feature of Synfig Studio, but that’s OK because it wouldn’t fit the style, anyway, and I want to save that for Grosvenor Lane Ghost.

Edit: This post was supposed to be posted about a week ago. Don’t know what went wrong, guessing this fuzzy headed dude didn’t click the ‘publish’ button.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Darker Sketches

The first batch came up sweet. I’m still learning from my mistakes even from the last few drawings. For one, I really need to take the photo with a black backing sheet to get rid of the text showing through.

FallenVigil
A fallen Vigil sketch with colour.

Secondly, the book is more than heads and scenes. It contains a fair bit of action, violence and brutality. Hence I need to include some of the more disturbing scenes.

Warning: The next portion does contain images that might be confronting. I apologise in advance for any offense, although I do conjecture that it is within context of the book.

ACS Troopers and Pan’s Torture

ACS TrooperSketch
ACS Trooper Sketch.

ACS Trooper
ACS Trooper converted to colour.

Two of the defining portions of the book come are the assault on the Sanitation Facility and Pan’s torture by the Rags.

After toying with various perspectives and points within the scene, I’ve chosen to go for the ‘implied’ violence option. We don’t need to see someone being shot by a trooper dressed in dark armour, the implication of a trooper holding a gun, along with a body and some blood spattering is enough.

There is such a thing as gratuitous violence.

That’s not what Adaptation’s about so it shouldn’t be in the promo. Still, the assault took place, so a trooper, perhaps even a silhouette of troopers, and a fallen Vigil will suffice. Notice the shortened legs of the trooper. In the original sketch the legs are longer and wider, but I’ve got some perspective issues when taking the shot. No biggy, I’ll fix them up in Gimp.

Concept of the Assault on the Sanitation Facility.
Concept of the Assault on the Sanitation Facility.

And before you get all thingy, yes, I’m aiming for more troopers to be part of the assault and yes, I’m going to add shadows to the figures and the walls. This is a concept piece.

Pan’s torture is a turning point for Ottavio. Not only does it activate the Berserker module, it also reveals just what it is that he’s fighting for.

As such, I need to display the naked, brutalised, emaciated body of Pan, up against the drug-crazed yahooing crowd of steroid-using Rags. Rather than drawing every Rag there and having a very busy scene, I’ve decided to make a silhouette of the crowd, and have two or three Rags in detail accosting the poor boy.PanTortureSketch

So with the sketches in place, I scanned, coloured and converted them, so that I can make a composition in the order of:

Pan's torture and brutalisation
Concept of Pan’s torture at the hands of the Rags

Having the dark foreground blurred, the eye is naturally drawn to the centrepiece. Perhaps I’ll animate the red sheen falling over Ottavio’s eyes as Berserker takes hold and superimpose the hearts and livers of the assailants. Then again, maybe not. I don’t want to give the impression that the series is just a bloodbath.

Once I knock these off, I think I should be set to start putting some pieces together, maybe even get started on the music.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Colour me Happy

Sketches are nice enough, but add a dash of colour and, boom! They come to life.

A Different Approach

In the Bullet Animation, I rendered all of my sketches in Inkscape to vectors. This made them look flat, however I noticed that when I added the colour regions and overlaid that on the original sketch, it looked kind of like a watercolour.

I responded to that.

So this time I thought about doing things a wee bit differently. Getting into Gimp, I added the photographs of my sketches and cleaned the up the best I could, desaturating them, upping the contrast, adjusting the levels.

Then, adding a Layer (Layers are super) I created and coloured in my regions. I ended up with flat colours. OK, OK, nothing too different yet, may as well have done them in Inkscape, but, whatever, bear with.

Adding Layers makes the process a lot safer and easier
Adding Layers makes the process a lot safer and easier

I then added another layer, and another. One for shadows, one for shines. I bundled these into a Layer Group (Only learnt about these recently. They help a LOT). Now, with the aid of Gimp’s tools, I could shade in the various regions, quickly adding some dimension to the colour which, in turn, added life to the sketches!

The Results

And they’ve come up nice. Of course, they aren’t vectors, so that means I can’t animate them as I’d like. I guess I could pass them through Inkscape if I wanted to but I don’t think I want to. I’m still deciding whether I want to go down the sprites path, or down the stills path.

Transition for Master Pietro - Colour, Shading, Blend
Transition for Master Pietro – Colour, Shading, Blend

That’s Master Pietro. Here’s Brother Holland:

Brother Holland, drained of blood, eyes staring at the roof.
Brother Holland, drained of blood, eyes staring at the roof.

And Master Penelope. I toyed with a mustard suit, but purple seems to suit.:

Transition from sketch, colour, shade and shine, and blend
Transition from sketch, colour, shade and shine, and blend

Darn it, the print is showing through. I’m going to have to filter it out somehow… *sigh*.

Anyway, as I sketch and colour in more, I’ll post them for y’all.Mini Jeztyr Logo