Todd McFarlane's Haunt: from Pencil to Ink

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The Broken Frontier visited Todd McFarlane and got an exclusive inside look at how Todd builds up his inking on the computer. We sat next to Todd while he talked us trhough his inking process, all the while clicking and talking and showing off his drawings, explaining in detail how he works on Image Comics' Haunt.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Okay Todd, I wanted to ask you how you go about inking the pages on Haunt. Do you brainstorm with the penciller on how to approach certain pages or work out angles or is the pencilling and inking kept strictly apart?

TODD MCFARLANE: Let me see what I'm working on now. Here's a page. Here are these guys in this pit with the body bag. I use photoshop and if I click off the layer that I was inking on the latch. And here are Ryan's pencils right there.They're clean and I like them. You can definitely say, "That's Ryan Ottley." So then I click and drop the blacks in. You can see I'm not changing it or doing anything dramatic to it. Maybe a little bit in the face of the character. You can see the face is a little more cartoony than what I'm used to, so I use the inking to smooth it out a little bit. Darken this and get rid of a little bit here.  Maybe add some goofy lines in the neck over here for effect. But again, when I click off and on, it's still Ryan's face. (Click on the images for a bigger picture)

Where I have fun is here over the shoulder of the main character where there's a zombie head... Zombie head, I'm talking Walking Dead [laughs]... it's a dead body.  When he gives me that, I understand this: there's the eyes, the nose, some teeth. I tell Ryan, don't overdraw it. The guy inking did a little bit of drawing in his day so he can handle it [laughs].  So when we zoom in on it, that face looks a little cooler. So we've got the body bag with some cliffs and stuff over here where he's in a pit. This is what I got, so I'll beef it up, make it a little sexier, a little sassier. It's still just the same as it was.  It's just silly stuff.  Maybe I added some detail on the body bag over there, but again, I'm not changing his composition.

So, here, take a look at the guys on this page. A lot of these little knick knacks, that's just my silly stuff that I'll do to add a bit to the page. If I click off my ink layer, then we go small you can see it. His composition is there. Let me get rid of my fill too. There's his pencils. It's tremendous. Greg did a great job with the storytelling and then Ryan knocked it out with his pencils. My job is to just go in there and finish it up. The one problem is sometimes when I go in and drop the blacks where he wants, it gets a little too simplistic. But I tell Ryan, just drop in blacks and I'll come in there and touch it up.  Add some silly stuff to the gun, to his boots, to his back. I actually added some more speed lines in there. I dressed up the jeep a little bit, added some wrinkles into the driver's body here. Just some nonsense stuff, but the face, everything is still Ryan. I tell him, you take care of all the fun stuff and then I'll come in and take care of the less fun stuff, if you will.  Something like this upper panel here, just show me what the jungle is supposed to look like, give me some basic shapes like the palm trees and that and I'll sex them up for you. With the machine gun, just give me the silhouette and I'll come in finish it off for you. (Click on the images for a bigger picture)

Then, because his stuff is so much fun to ink, I'll do the inks and not even think I'm doing that much to it. Then I'll click off the layer and realize that I added more lines than I thought because it's so much fun to work on. Even more to the example is this face here.  I don't need to do much to this face, I need to get out of the way of it.  So here are his pencils, then there's my inking and you can see how little I did. I darkened the eyes, added a little bit of feathering in certain places just to round it just a bit so it didn't look flat.  But it's not very dramatic in the face. You see more in the glove hand in this part of the panel, but I'm not here to step on the stuff that makes it Ryan which is his cool faces and compositions. So you'll see a little bit more of the dead guy's face maybe.  Poking eyeballs to me aren't that scary. You can buy those for the kids at Halloween.  Instead I darkened it up a bit and added a bit more of a mess there to make it look like the guy got his head blown off. That's sort of my do on him.

BF: In looking at the stuff you can definitely see a little Todd in there.  But it's funny, I always used to be able to really tell your stuff because of the characters' hair.  Have you felt the need to throw any of those vintage McFarlane hair curls in there?

TM: At times. Again on some of the shapes.  With this character's head here - let me take a look at these layers to see which one is the hair - I must've been flattening all this stuff.  Without changing the shapes...

BF - This is really beautiful stuff here.

TM: ... To me it's probably just a couple of lines. I could look at the pencils in another folder in Photoshop. I'm not feeling like I have to come in there and add unnecessary hair. The guys got short hair. Do I add something in here with some white cuts... yup.  Some stuff on his chin and stuff? Sure. Again I thought some of the way he does stubble was just a little bit think (that gray underneath the inks, a little thick). If I burn out his pencils there, you'll see a little more of the subtlety of the stubble. So when you get in close it has a nicer size to it. And again, separating what lines need to be thin and thick.  All the wrinkles in this one section were all just black shapes. That's what I keep telling him, let me take care of that stuff. (Click on the images for a bigger picture)

I think this gun that's up here, the one shooting the bullet. It was just black, silly stupid stuff that I wanted to sex up a little bit. It was nice shape that Greg had given him and I went in there and added up some of these goofy lines. I'd be more inclined to do things like that on these background characters than the hero's face. I want the hero's face to be totally Ryan Ottley. My instincts is to make the face look cleaner there, but then add the lines in the hand here, and wrinkles here where he only had a few marks. I think I turned 5 marks into 50. Like I said it becomes fairly easy for me. So whenever I try to ink guys I don't try to get them to turn into me. I just want people to look at it and say "Wow, that's an interesting look for that person. I've never seen them look like that before." Because its an inker they never worked with before. It's still 95% Ryan with a 5% Todd on top of it. Then let them decide if they like that better than Ryan with another inker on top of it.

BF:  Very cool. I really appreciate you showing this to me. The stuff does look incredible and your description is dead on. There is certainly enough of your imprint on it for people to notice, which I'm sure will make many people happy to see you working again.

TM: Looking at the panels that Ryan did, I only felt that I had to add 50 lines to the page. And like, here's another one where I had to add 350 or 500 lines to it. Not because it was a bad drawing, but because I'm requesting my gunslingers not to have to worry about the backgrounds and the textures. Draw the stuff that they want, that people will remember which is the heroes and the good storytelling. Don't worry about the shadows and curtains and coffee tables, I'll take care of that stuff.

BF:  Good advice all around in there for collaborations between inkers and pencillers! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Todd.

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