I want to begin this tutorial by saying that there is no set way to translate a script to pencils. These tutorials are always from our personal process and should be used to create your own. With that said, here is how I translate a script into penciled work.
Step 1: Read the Script
I know you may get a laugh out of that. But that is the first step in the creation process. I like to take the script and read it through from beginning to end once. In this first read, I try to collect as much information I can about the characters and story without concern about the visual nature of what I am reading. (Side Note: Every time you read a piece of narrative, you will get visual representations of what you are reading. However, at this stage, I'm not trying to categorize them at all.) If something pops into my head visually that I really like, I make a note of it and move on. I'm really looking for the mood and feeling of the story. This helps me down the line when I'm trying to get a visual style that fits the script. Once the first read through is done, it's on to the next step.
Step 2: Read the Script again
You're starting to see a pattern here? This second read through is for the visuals to flow into my brain. For me, this is where the story actually takes place. Characters start to live and breathe in my head. In some cases, I start to sketch during this second read as well (especially if a deadline is looming). The story becomes visually alive at this point. You will also be more familiar with portions of the story that may give you problems visually. Make a note of those and keep filling your head with the living breathing story.
Step 3: Talk to the Writer
A lot of times, I get a script that I have not written. If that's the case, I make sure that I am talking to the writer because my personal vision could be miles away from what he or she was thinking. At the same time, if I had any questions or concerns through my second read-through, it is good to be able to ask the writer what they envisioned with the story. I love talking to Sean Taylor about scripts that we are working on because he is very visual. If I have any questions, he's good about answering them in a visual way. That is really important between creators.
One thing I want you to take away from this is the amount of prep time is taken before the pencil even hits the paper. The most important asset you bring to any piece of artwork is your mind. No one can think like you. Put it to good use and make your art stand out.
Step 4: Sketch, Sketch, Sketch
The more thought I put into my sketches, the stronger the final piece will be. Sketching can save you a great deal of time and make the performance of your characters more realistic. I use sketching thumbnails as a way to set the flow of my pages. Each panel is thumbnailed out very quickly. Most of the time, I'm the only one that understands them. However, when I get to the bristol board for my pencils, being able to refer back to the sketch is a huge time saver. In this stage, I try to further push the mood of the book. I also concentrate on camera angles of panels and flow of action. How does a page begin? Does the last panel on the page make you want to turn the page to continue the story? These are all questions that I try to figure out in my thumbnail sketches.
Page from Bad Girls Club: This is me trying to figure out the pacing of the dialog. I'm looking for what's most important to convey on each page as well as what interesting shot will make the reader want to go to the next page. Working with Sean Taylor allowed me to play with the girls a lot more in each panel.
Step 5: Light Pencils (Blue Line)
After I thumbnail the pages, I start my transfer to the standard 11x17 bristol board. This is where final adjustments are made to the artwork. Sometimes, I may blow up a particular sketch that I like from my thumbnails and and use that as a direct guide. In the light pencils stage, I like to draw with a non-repro blue pencil. These pencils go onto the page very lightly and, no matter how much you sketch on the paper, does not reproduce when scanned. (Certain rules apply with that.) This way, I can still "sketch" to make adjustments before I go to clean pencils. I also pay particular attention to the "3 P's". Perspective, Proportions, Purpose.
Page from Bad Girls Club: The prerequisite for drawing Bad Girls Club was that the girls had to look hot every time you saw them. In this shot, they where turning heads as they got out of a limo and entered a club. There was a lot of things going on in this panel. Nine girls had to exclaim as they approached the club. There had to be a line of people waiting to get into the club. We had to see the limo as well as people noticing the Bad Girls. Wow. Where to begin. lol
Step 6: Perspective, Proportions, Purpose
No matter what your visual style, every panel in a comic book needs to adhere to these three concepts. If one of these are off from the visual style that you have set up, it instantly takes the reader out of the story. These three concepts are most important when making a seemingly uninteresting conversation in a script interesting. Dialog heavy scripts can be broken up by throwing an interesting perspective visually in the panel. Proportions help tell what the character is thinking or doing in any given situation. Purpose gives meaning to the panel that words alone may not be able to convey. All of these are key for a successfully penciled piece.
Step 7: Clean Pencils
Here is the step (finally) that everyone sees. Clean pencils are important to produce for the final piece. If you can produce clean pencils, there is less of a chance that the inker (if you are not handling your own inks) will not be able to follow what you are doing. I know a lot of pencilers who leave a great deal up to the inker to figure out. I'm not like that. I love to make sure that, if I'm supposed to have a finished piece leave my hands, a finished piece is what the inker or editor gets. In this stage, I actually draw over the blue line pencil with my mechanical pencils in order to get a crisp line. I add definition here as well as line weight. (Side Note: Line weight in your pencils help inkers out tremendously. It helps them determine what is most important as well as what is the foreground, middle ground, and background. It also allows them to make solid first time judgment calls on what inking style will best suit the piece. This helps in the consistency of a visual art style for a book.) After the pencils have been laid down, I clean up any stray marks that I can so the the inker (or myself) does not get confused as to what is the true line. One thing that graphic design has helped me understand is that the line is all important. Different line weights can mean different things visually. It's important to make sure that the line you set down is clear enough to mean what you want it to.
Finished pencilled page from Bad Girls Club number 1. Now it's on to the inker and then the colorist.
Every page I draw adheres to these set of rules. It took me a lot of time (and a lot of drawing) to come up with my own process for dealing with the tasks of penciling a good story. And, I'm pretty sure, that it will change over time as I continue to grow as an artist. (It is a process after all. They tend to do that.) I hope this set of rules help you to create your own process on your way down the roads of comic creation!
Feel free to share your personal process on line with us in the comments bellow. As well, join the coversation on our Facebook page and learn other ways to break down a script for penciling.