Friday, February 13, 2015

Simple Blueprinting

Since I'm still getting my garage set up as a work space I've been illustrating a lot recently. I drew up a new logo for Matrix Armory because I was tired of the old one. All my friends call me a dragon because I horde money, I can  be a little... grumpy, and, as my wife puts it, I like to "hole up in a mountain by myself." I like being called a dragon so I ran with it.

I also started drawing up some blueprints so I can start building them when my garage is all set up. I decided to write up a tutorial on it. You might wonder why you would need to draw blueprints when you have the reference image.

Well, it's really helpful for a couple of reasons:

     -It familiarizes you with the prop you are about to build. This is really important because you won't be blindly cutting pieces not really knowing what they are for.

     -It gives you patterns that you can use to make your pieces. This is especially helpful if you need to make more than one of something or two pieces need to line up.

     -Doing this creates a vector file. What that means is that your computer uses math instead of pixels to create your lines and shapes. In laymen's terms, it makes it so you can scale this image to any size and maintain quality of your drawing (obviously there is a point where making it too small would result in a low quality image, but that's really too small to worry about). This means you don't have to worry about how big the image is when you are drawing it. You can scale it up or down to the size you need when you are ready to print out the blueprint and it won't get pixel-y and need a CSI team to figure out what it is you printed out.

     -Blueprints look really cool when you print them out on nice paper. They make really good wall pieces... And that's why you should make blueprints when you can.

This week I'll be going over some basic methods for drawing using software like Illustrator or Inkscape. I'll be using Inkscape because it's free. Normally I'm all about using the free alternative rather than paying the big bucks for the software, but Adobe did Illustrator right. It's much easier and intuitive to use than Inkscape. That being said, the whole Inkscape being free thing is a really big incentive for me to use it, so until I can afford to buy Illustrator I'll make due.

First thing's first, find reference images of what you want to model. This is probably the most important step. The better your reference images the easier this process will be. Try to get the best shots from all of the sides (front, side, back, top, bottom). The more of these you get, the less guesswork you'll have to do later. These are the images I'll be using.

I'll be doing Sokka's boomerang from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Next week we'll go with a more complex shape in the form of the De-Gun from Megamind, but I'm starting off with something simple so it doesn't get too complicated right away. Since it is relatively flat, I won't be needing any shots other than the side view to get this one drawn up.

If you are having a hard time, I suggest you just try to draw things. Play around and get familiar with the software. I learned to use Illustrator by teaching myself. Start simple, Google problems, and practice. That's the best way to get better at using this software.

Before we get started, I'll explain some basic tools that you'll be using

 This is the Selector tool. This is how you do basic transformations like move, rotate, and scale.

 This is the Node tool. This allows you to move individual and alter individual points along the paths we will be creating.

 This is the Pen tool.This is how we'll be drawing our lines and curves.

 This is the circle tool. It's used to make.... circles.
And this is the square tool used to make, you guessed it, squares and rectangles.

Lastly these are the snapping tools. These will be useful to enable and disable as you are trying to match up your lines.

Some handy tricks to keep in mind:
-Ctrl+Scrolling: Zoom in/out
-Shift+Scrolling: Scroll left/right
-Ctrl+Scale: Maintain ratio of height to width during scale
-Shift Scale: Scale around the center point
-Ctrl+G: Group objects

Now that you have your pictures, open your first image in Inkscape. I like to start with a side view because I feel like I'm making the most progress that way. If you don't have a good side view I suggest starting with whichever image is your best reference.

Select your pen tool and start tracing around your image. Click where you want to start and every spot you want to draw a line to. This will show as a green line until you complete the path.

You'll see a common problem that will occur when blueprinting. Since the image I used wasn't super high quality there is a lot of pixelation. You'll have to make some judgement calls to get the pattern right, which is fine. Just try to figure out from your references what the image should look like. If it's to difficult to tell, you might have to find alternate reference images. Usually pulling directly from the source is your best option.

Just keep drawing around until you get back to your first point.

Don't worry about following curves for now. We'll fix that later. Just try to get the basic shape. We can add or remove points later. Do try to stick to straight lines as much as you can. It'll save you time in the long run.

When you connect the original point to your end point you should  have something like this. Notice the tip is buried in the snow in this image. I have a plan to fix this later. The good thing about computers is that they are super flexible and forgiving.

If you hide the image you should have something like this.

Next I added the circles just to get them on there. If you hold control while you are drawing or scaling a circle, shape, or path it will maintain it's current dimensions. In the case of a circle it lets you draw a circle instead of an oval. Then I copied a second circle and lined them up.

As you can see the points don't line up quite right. This is where we use the Node tool. 

If you click a node with the node tool it lets you move, delete, or curve that node individually. This is how we'll reshape our path. There should be two little handles coming out of a selected node. If there isn't, in the top tool bar select smooth node and it should bring these up and make a likely unwanted curve appear. These handles are Bezier handles and control the curve. The handle to the left mostly controls the depth and angle of curve left of the node and the handle to the right controls the depth and angle of curve on the right of the node. Sometimes changing the left means the right side of the curve changes and that's when you fiddle until it looks right. The distance from the node determines the depth of the curve's bend and the angle of the handle determines the angle of the curve. Inkscape will automatically try to match a node's location with a curve if you delete the node. If you want to match a curve just draw a point on either side of the curve with one at the depth of the curve and delete the middle curve. That usually gets a pretty good approximation of the curve that you can tweak to match.

A lot of adjustments later and you have a simple first pass.

Now I need to flesh out that pesky bottom. I did that by importing the other, less helpful reference image. I lowered the opacity and lined them up to get an idea of how long the tip extended and what it looked like.

Now that I have an idea of what shape and size it needs to be I can extend out the tip.


 Next we'll want to trace out the white area on the image that makes up the beveled edge of the boomerang.

I'm not a big fan of those thick inner lines so I like to thin out lines that are blade edges or sides that might be in the background, but that's all up to you.

We're almost done.

Once everything is the way we want it, we can set the fill of the drawing, remove the reference image and straighten the image up.

Press Ctrl+G to group everything together.

I added a side view (which I'll get into next time, mostly because this one is pretty simple) and a label. Bing, bang, boom we have a blueprint.

Next time I'll be going over the more complex form of the De-Gun from Megamind.

Until next time,

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