I come down hard on myself a lot, but you know, sometimes that’s a good thing. Take for instance this background I’ve been working on for the Contra ROM that I’ve been working on for… I don’t know, on and off for almost a year.
So I started Contra right after Howard & Nester (which is getting close to being a year old, ouch) and I was able to do boards, and a scene that involved a heavy amount of animation work. I decided to do that scene first since it was the most involved one. After that I was trying to tackle the main background. This background would be used greatly during the duration of the (probably) 30 second short. I struggled with that freaking background so much that it essentially derailed me from working on this short. Now it’s not fully responsible, but it was enough to make me question what the hell I was doing.
See, not only do I suck at backgrounds, but I also suck at perspective drawing (which is probably why I suck at backgrounds), and I’m not really great at painting with Photoshop either. Take a look at most of our shorts and you’ll see that the backgrounds probably aren’t the greatest, and if there is a good one, my brother probably made it. There is something about perspective drawing in which my brain just sort of shuts off, I don’t really know how to explain it. I also get frustrated somewhat easily, so when I have to deal with these hurdles, I try my hardest for a bit, and I eventually just give into me “sucking.”
The Contra background started out like this in the original storyboards I made, which I’ve posted before back in May of ’11.
When I originally sat down to make it, I ended up coming up with this retched pile of shit. Like, absolute fucking garbage. Just look at it.
There is a lot wrong with this. The perspective is absolutely abysmal. I’m almost embarrassed to show this, but you know, sometimes you have to show the bad in order to learn anything from it. So, yeah, the drawing is just “wrong.” Maybe for some reason, like someone that doesn’t know much about drawing, would think this is acceptable, but believe me, it is not. Also, look at my amazing fucking logic at work. I was thinking about how the bad guys enter this unit thingy and I thought “Well maybe I’ll put a ladder on the side, that’s how they climb it.” Of course I decide this after I made this giant piece of shit hanging off the side of it. I realized how shitty that was, so I thought “Okay, maybe the shit piece can have a hatch, that’s how they get to the ladder.” The ladder that no one uses once during this whole short. Also, those wires are the ugliest fucking things I’ve seen.
Second, the colors and “painting” is just garbage. I just don’t know what I’m doing with colors half the time. Color theory was one of my weaker classes in college. So for this I used the colors directly from Contra as my pallet in order to keep it looking like the game. I gotta hand it to Konami because their machine that’s made up of like 5 colors blows away the look I came up with here. Ugly painting for an ugly drawing. I mean, FUCK. The worst part? I spent hours doing this, and this isn’t even my first attempt. I have one where I wasn’t using flat colors and was going for a more digital painting look. Believe me when I tell you that it was worse than this thing.
So when I came back to this short last month I knew I had to rethink this fucking background, because I hated it and it just wasn’t working. I redid the boards for the entire short (still need to tweak a few frames at the end of it actually) and I came up with this.
This image is looking nicer, but it’s still got some bad perspective. Actually, I didn’t even bother created a two point perspective because that’s when my mind really goes out to lunch, so this was all free hand. My intention here was not to use this background as a final image, just to get the feeling for how I wanted it to look, I knew I’d have to tackle the perspective thing afterward. I gave myself a crash course in perspective drawing a few nights ago, even took out the ‘ol physical sketch pad, and did some small mock ups. I still wasn’t quite getting where I wanted to get with it.
I ended up showing my brother, Frank, the above image. He drew some helpful lines over the original art, sort of “righting” the perspective. He of course eye balled it too… I guess he’s a much better eye baller than I am. Regardless, it was a nice help and it gave me a good starting point for getting this thing together. I spent a good chunk of this week redrawing it and coloring it, and I’ve finally come up with this.
Perspective has been entirely eye balled here. I’d hate to put down some actual guides and see how off everything is, so I won’t be doing that to save myself some sanity.
I’m not positive that I “love” this, but at the moment it is acceptable for my needs. I could change my mind when looking at it again tomorrow and start from scratch. I’m not ruling that possibility out in the least. Anyway, I fooled around with colors and look for hours. I kept going for the green from the NES hue, but it was so ugly that I needed to rethink it a bit. I decided to focus on the gold and the blue, but I still wanted a bit of the green in there. The only blue used in the NES game is for the panels behind the unit. I didn’t want this to be pitch black, so I decided to make the background blue. I think it helps make the gold pop. Not sure I’m feeling the green, but I was happier with choosing an off color for the areas I did instead of just going darker with the gold, where essentially the thing would look like a giant poop when all would be said and done if I did that. There are still some things that are glaringly bad here to me, but I think this background has come a long way. I look at it, and I don’t hate it. At least not yet.
Assuming this is basically out of the way, the second biggest hurdle of this short has now been cleared. Hooray. This is actually a mostly simple short (I think) so having something like this finished feels pretty good. Maybe I’ll start making some real progress with this thing after all.
The lesson here? It’s healthy to be hard on yourself sometimes. If I wasn’t, I would have thought that original background would have been acceptable, and I wouldn’t have put in the time in trying to get it right.