Improving the “Quality of Live” in CGI

Improving the “Quality of Live” in CGI

Maybe you’ve seen his work in Astonish Comics’ THE LAB, or more recently his project (written by Greg Rucka) SPIDER-MAN: QUALITY OF LIFE. Either way, you’re not about to forget Scott Christian Sava’s unique and ever-evolving computer-generated imagery art style. I recently caught up with him to discuss his spin on Spidey, as well as the upcoming LAB 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (how can a work not be funny with the use of the classic “electric boogaloo”). I want to thank Scott for sharing his time, his enthusiasm, and his thoughts. Enjoy. And be sure to check out his website (http://www.bluedreamstudios.com)

ORCA: You’ve been in the comic book industry for nine years (in parallel with your 12-year animation career) what lured you to transition (in terms of your comic book art) from “traditional” illustration to “computer-generated images”? Is it the challenge to chart new ground in a relatively new medium?

Sava: Ha…well I wish it was that intentional. I think…I blame EVERYTHING on Alex Ross…ha ha As an illustrator for comics…I was getting semi-steady work doing covers and cards as well as the occasional inside work for graphic novels. Then came Alex…and…well…come on…LOOK at his work…it’s GORGEOUS! After that…everyone was asking for me to change my style to more photoreal…whereas my style was more after the Drew Strewzan (movie posters) look…

Marv Wolfman was the genius behind taking the 3D animation I was doing for TV and film and adapting it to comics. I asked…”is it art?” I did some pages of Spidey and Ock…and when Marvel saw it…the loved it. The rest…as they say…is history.

ORCA: Is there ever a scene you want to render that you can’t do to your satisfaction, due to the limitations of the technology?

Sava: Yeah…most of the Spidey scenes…I really wanted to get some nicer flow to him…but he contorts in such incredible ways that the rigging just goes KABLOOEY! I’m sure given more time and money to get it down…I could be happier with it…Look at the Movie…it looks great… Usually with these things…ANYTHING’S possible…it’s just up to your budget and schedule.

ORCA: How did your LAB project develop at Astonish Comics? Do you know Mike Kunkel from working in animation? When will LAB 2 be coming out?

Sava: Funny story…This goes back to the illustration thing … I had done almost 20 illustrations for the X-Men Collectible Card Game for Wizards of the Coast a couple of years ago…It was a blast…but when I got the original paintings back…I wasn’t happy with what I saw. I looked at the art…and realized…I had done MUCH better than this previously…My time in animation…in front of the computer had dulled my drawing skills…My painting skills were still there…I still had a good eye for color and all…but my hand wasn’t as accustomed to drawing as it had been when I was painting more…So…I decided to take a class…maybe figure drawing or something to just clear out the cobwebs so to speak.

Well…for some weird reason…I decided to take a cartoon drawing class…It was taught by Mike. He blew me away. I saw Herobear and the Kid for the first time…He had just come out with issue 2…

We hit it off as friends pretty quickly…and the way that he just quit Disney and followed his dream to do the comic book totally inspired me! I…wanted to be Like Mike! ha ha

So…I had these two characters Esteban and Livingston that I had animated a year before…just for fun…And I talked to Mike about potentially putting out a comic with Astonish…He liked the idea…we both want to do Kid Friendly books…And so…shortly after the Comic Con that year…I got to work…About a month or so later…the comic was done…and in December…it hit stands…

The Lab 2…Electric Boogaloo is pretty much written out…but since I’ve spent the last 8 months doing NOTHING but Spider-Man…I’ve had to put it on hold. The characters have been redone…the Lab itself will be bigger…and I’m really excited to get to work on issue 2…Here’s a link to the new look.

ORCA: Where do you feel you’ve improved as an artist the most in between LAB 1 and 2?

Sava: Ooh…good question…Well lighting I think is the thing I learned the most…I spent ALOT of time looking at Pixar’s work…seeing how they get such beautiful colors with 3D…If you look at the Quality of Life issues…you’ll see a drastic improvement from issue 1 to issue 2…Something just clicked…and issues 3 and 4 are even that much better.

For the Lab 2…I know the character’s are going to be lit much better…and my layouts and storytelling has improved a lot too…

ORCA: A few months ago, at a con I attended, Mike Kunkel pointed out that many of his animation friends are attracted to the world of self-publishing and comics because unlike the often long-term development nature of the animation process, in comics you can put an idea on paper relatively more quickly? Do you expect to see, because of the advantages of self-publishing, more animators entering the comic book market?

Sava: Well…yes and no…

Yes…because it IS a great way to tell a story quickly and at a FRACTION of the cost of a short film…

No…because self publishing is hell…

I don’t know how ANYONE can make money…it’s really hard for the little guys because you have to pay for printing…shipping…everything…Then you only get a small percentage of the cover price after everyone takes their cut. I’m not bagging on the industry…I love it…But it’s just really hard to self publish.

I think if anyone does the self-publishing thing…they need to do it because they love the medium and want to tell good stories…NOT to try to make money.

ORCA: Given the fact that as you put it “it’s just really hard to self publish” would you ever consider working with the newly formed CG (CrossGen) Entertainment (CGE) publishing entity?

Sava: Yes…in fact I’ve been talking to them and a couple of other companies about my options there…I’d like to do the Dreamland Chronicles if possible…we’ll see. It’s based on my love for the Narnian Chronicles and Little Nemo and Slumberland…ha It’s an epic fantasy…so it’ll be kind of huge…that’s why I’m holding off on it…I don’t want to do it unless it’s done right…

ORCA: How did the Spider-Man: Quality of Life come about? Did you approach Marvel or vice versa?

Sava: Marv and I approached Marvel at the San Diego Comic Con…I have been trying to do Spider-Man since I was 18…and have been turned down every year for…um…11 years? The CGI just struck them as different…it stood out…That…and it had an animated style to it…and they said I showed a real organic quality that they hadn’t seen in CGI before.

ORCA: How long does it take for you to do an issue? Now that you’re working on issue 4, do you find the process going more quickly than when you started with the first issue?

Sava: I’m down to about 4 weeks an issue…a page a day…working 5 days a week. I started out in December officially…and we did model building… characters… environments… designs…rigging…all through December…January…and into February… Concurrently…I was doing the initial 7 pages with Spidey and Ock because Greg hadn’t officially started the project yet…so we had no script.

Issue 1 was finished by the end of March…Issue 2 was finished just 4 weeks after that…end of April…and issue 3 was finished the end of May…Since all the models have been built and all of the environments lit…I sometimes do a second page in a day just because it goes by so fast.

Another helper was getting a newer workstation too…that sped up the render times…

I feel very confident that I could work on a monthly series with no problems…depending on the scripts and such.

ORCA: What has been your favorite issue or scene so far in Quality of Life?

Sava: Well my favorite sequence was the first 7 pages…I love Doc Ock…and I had a lot of fun getting to know Axel…he and I worked out those pages…and I really enjoyed the creative process.

ORCA: A visit to your message boards reveals that you have a great love for the Spider-Man character. Are there any other Marvel characters you’d like to render?

Sava: Spidey was my dream job…and although I’d LOVE to do some other characters…I can honestly say…it’s all icing on the cake after this project. I’ve always liked most all of the Marvel universe…

I think…and I haven’t mentioned this to Marvel yet…I’d love to do a remake of the Secret Wars…ha ha

I know it’s goofy…but I dropped out of comics when I was a teenager…and seeing Spidey on the battlefield in a Black Costume…just made me stop and go…wow…what am I missing here? I went back and got the rest of the issues and it just TOTALLY brought me back into comics. So…I guess the answer would be…ALL OF EM?

I also LOVE Conan…I have almost all of the comics…

After my younger Spider-Man years…I got into fantasy…John Carter of Mars…Narnia Chronicles…The Hobbit…etc. Conan was great…and John Buscema’s work was incredible…I don’t know how I’d do it…but it would be fun.

ORCA: That being said, now that you’ve given the Sava treatment to Marvel, how soon before you’re working on a DC legendary character?

Sava: Ooh…I’d love to do Supes…Batman…or any of the other biggies there…I didn’t read DC as much as Marvel…but you can’t ignore the impact those characters have…I just wish it wasn’t so expensive to do the CGI stuff…There’s just so much I want to do…ha ha…It’s in God’s hands now…I’ve put my work out there…and I have to see where it takes me.

ORCA: You’ve worked with comic book veteran creator Marv Wolfman before in the past (in your animation work), will you be collaborating on a comic book project in the near term.

Sava: I’d love to…He’s SUCH a cool guy…and a really good friend.

We’ve been talking about it…and if something works out where we can BOTH do it…I’d love nothing more than to rock the comics world with Marv!

ORCA: Do you prefer to work with a writer on your projects, or at some point down the road would you prefer to be both writer and artist on all your comic book work?

Sava: It depends on the writer…I come from an industry where 1 person can’t do everything…Movies and TV and even games are all collaborative efforts…I enjoy bouncing ideas off of people…getting the absolute best story and art possible because 2 heads are better than one…I do enjoy writing…but I think I enjoy just getting together and going “ooh ooh…what if THIS? or what if THAT?” And leave the writing to the experts.

Even when I’m writing something like the Lab…all by myself…I wind up showing it to everyone I know to get feedback…”is this funny? Does that anvil dropping on Esteban’s head make you laugh?” ha ha…so NOTHING I do is just me…

ORCA: Any chance HEROBEAR and LAB might do a crossover at some point?

Sava: I’ve been BEGGING Mike to let me do this…but he just HATES my work…ha ha

I kid…I kid!

It’d be ALOT of fun…but we’ll have to see how the schedules work out…

ORCA: Given the comical nature of LAB, I was wondering if you could discuss who or what shows influence your sense of humor?

Sava: Um…Let’s see…Growing up…it was…Bugs Bunny…Three Stooges…

Current shows: Invader Zim; Dexter’s Lab; Simpsons.

I grew up with the physical humor of Bugs and the Stooges…And now that I’m older…I want to merge that with the great dialog of the newer stuff…

ORCA: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I may have not asked?

Sava: Nah…my fingers are tired from the typing…ha ha…

Next Week:
Interview with Bill Rosemann