I was asked recently to draw a series of covers for Kieron Gillen‘s new comic with Avatar Press, The Heat.
This is the first of two I’ve done so far, and since it was unveiled at the MCM Expo, it’s time to show it here :)
Just to confirm, I’m not the actual artist on this project, only a cover artist. The interior artist has yet to be confirmed, so there’s a gap on this cover where the name of the artist will go, just under Keiron’s.

Since this one turned out to have an extremely involved creation process, I thought it would be good for a step-by-step feature:

The whole process of creating a cover normally begins with a bunch of thumbnail ideas. These are like the visual equivalent of making a quick note in a notebook, and are normally only intended for my eyes. As soon as the idea for a cover or page forms itself, I make sure to get a thumbnail done in case I loose the image before I begin and this is the one that eventually turned into this finished cover:

The next stage is to create a rough which I can run past my publisher to see if they like the idea. This is normally about A5 size and done loosely in pencil:

In this case, the image itself is quite plain, and it was the lighting that was the strongest element in my head, so to indicate the atmosphere I quickly added colour in photoshop before sending off the rough:

Once this particular image was accepted, I decided to make a 3D model (in 3D Studio Max) of the environment, which I could use to help make the lighting as atmospheric and accurate as possible. This is a line-art render of the model, which used the rough as a template:

I then printed out a guide, and drew the hanging costume and the figure on the bed by hand, in 0.5 HB mechanical pencil. This drawing was scanned back in and composited into the rendered background:

The next stage was to add flats to the image. I used the 3D model to help me generate these flats for the background, and filled the remaining figure and clothing in manually using Photoshop and a Wacom tablet.

Since I wanted the lighting to have real depth, I decided to render out an image of the 3D background using a light-gathering technique (sometimes called ambient occlusion) that gives a very photographic and atmospheric look:

This was then added to the photoshop file on a layer above the flats on “overlay”, along with a number of photographic textures (mostly from CGtextures.com) which were skewed into place on photoshop. The text was added in the same manner.

I then used the 3D file to render out directional lighting from the grate:

Which was then edited in photoshop to include the figure and used as a mask to create shadows. A glow was added in photoshop behind the grate to give the appearance of a strong light source:

I knew that I also wanted light emanating from the screen, so I rendered out a new directional lighting image:

Which was then used in a similar manner to create a green light in the photoshop file. After finishing this, I decided that it looked a little too harsh, so I toned it down by reducing the intensity of the green light, and blurring out the sharp edges:

Next, I added the floating screens into the 3D file, and rendered them out as a template:

…along with another directional lighting image:

…and used them to create an orange glow and light source in the developing image. The info on each screen was composed in a separate file and skewed into place.

I had originally intended to finish here, but I realised I wanted a bit more complexity from the lighting. Remembering some sections from the new Battlestar Galactica in which Cylon glyphs are projected on the walls, I decided to do a similar thing using the screens as a light source. It took me a while to figure out how I could achieve this without a heck of a lot of effort, but the solution presented itself in the end. I first created a flat texture with all the info from the screens quickly cut and pasted onto it…

And then used that to cut out the text from a sphere floating in the middle of the 3D model, inside which I placed a virtual light source. The text was then projected on the walls and I could render this out as a directional lighting image:

This was then placed on top of the other layers of the photoshop file, and tweaked to fall over the figure and appear green. This was the finished image:

Watch out for more covers from The Heat as the project progresses :)


  1. keith says:

    Great process blog Paul. Just one question. What software do you use for the 3D modeling?

  2. @keith
    I use 3D studio max (and occasionally sketchup) :)

  3. seantaclaus says:

    Very cool. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Emanoel says:

    You forgot to make the grade’s horizontal grid shadow!

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