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Prehistoric big cat Ratha gets her own graphic novel, 30 years after she first lifted her torch.
Prehistoric big cat Ratha gets her own graphic novel, 30 years after she first lifted her torch.
200 backers pledged $6,974 to help bring this project to life.

An inside look at the process behind the art

Posted by Sheila Ruth (Imaginator Press) (Creator)

Today's update comes from Dani Long, primary penciler for the graphic novel. Dani gives us an inside look at the process behind the creation of the art. Dani is deathmango on DeviantArt, and you can see more of Dani's art on her DeviantArt page here. Here's the update in Dani's words:

Art Journal for 2/6/13: a behind the scenes peek at how I develop a character (Thakur has kindly volunteered to be our example), and how that fits into the Ratha's Creature Graphic Novel collaborative process.

This is a reference sheet for the character Thakur (Ta-KOOR), the herding teacher in this clan of intelligent prehistoric cats. He is gentle, wise, and cautious. In this album I'll show how his visual representation came to be! This particular image was colored and inked by Tod Wills, based on drawings I did on the computer and emailed to him, with a long background of discussion and evolving designs put forth by the whole team.

I like to start designing with the sketchbook. In my experience, quality comes out of quantity, so I produced pages and pages of drawings. Many of them were pretty bad. Some were downright silly. But the process taught me some things about where I should direct my energies, where I needed work, and some things that seemed like a good idea, but were probably a waste of time. Any creative endeavor produces a lot of dead ends (though sometimes you can recycle them later, yay!). I made a big sheet of my favorite early Ratha sketches here:

This is a wonderful worksheet developed by an artist on deviantArt:

As you can see here, I really haven't figured out my character's features yet, but I've got a lot of ideas to choose from. This is a great example of the value of brainstorming, and why you shouldn't quit on your first, second, or fifty-fourth try. :)

It's also a good illustration of how difficult it is for me to purge all the symbolism I picked up from The Lion King. The illustration for "Confused" looks way too much like Simba for my comfort, but it's a sign of how effective their linework was that it is so easy to unconsciously emulate it.

Thakur was one of the first characters we worked on as a group. He's a practiced runner, and built for speed. In the books, he stands out for having an unusual copper hue in his coat, and some missing claws. In this picture you can see the drawings as Tod receives them from me. He then prints them out, traces them on a light board, outlines them in black ink, paints in watercolor, and highlights with colored pencil.

The next four pictures show my process on the computer, going from a very rough outline to a finished drawing in four layers. I use Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 and a Wacom tablet. I had five little pictures of cheetahs in my file, surrounding my workspace. I kept them handy to check on my proportions as I drew.

Thakur has a meek streak, and is very low in rank as the story opens, so we played with his posture, and the notion that he might hold his body ready to spring away from threats.

I like the face from the previous layer, but decided to make his subordinate posture a little more subtle. I've also started working in some of the superficial muscle shapes from my reference photos.

Aha! I think we've got something worth presenting to the group for critique! Comparing this drawing to the one on the model sheet, you can see where we decided to trim his belly up (Thakur has a bit more in common with a cheetah than a cougar, which helps him control the primitive horses and deer-like herdbeasts). We also give him a bit more scruff in the end. This will help distinguish him from his friends, Ratha and Fessran.

The ability to use layers with digital drawing is wonderful, pencil and paper allows a finer sense of control. While working on the sample comic page, I felt more comfortable printing a digitally drawn rough layout, and penciling in the details.

Here is the drawing for the third panel.

And the fourth panel. I used three sheets of 11 x 17" sheets of paper to draw these panels, then scanned them onto the computer. I figure I can always shrink things down, but I like to start with more detail (and therefore visual data), because it gives the next artist more information to go on. If you look closely at this panel, you can see Thakur's missing claws.

And here are panels 2, 3, and 4, as inked and gorgeously colored by Tod Wills. This is what the page looks like before the addition of dialogue. This completes my photo journal for 6 February 2013. Thanks to everyone who has helped spread the word of our Kickstarter project, and special thanks to those of you who have backed us. It means a ton to me! The project page is here:


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    1. Sheila Ruth (Imaginator Press) Creator on

      Hi chickiefoo. Don't worry, a lot of people (including me) didn't know that's how Thakur is pronounced for a long time. I think even the CBS Storybreak special got it wrong. Clare actually wrote a funny poem about it a while back. I'm going to send it out in an update shortly.

    2. chickiefoo on

      Wait... Thakur is pronounced Ta-KOOR? I've been pronouncing it wrong the whole time! >_<
      Anyhow, I love all of this artwork. And I especially love how Dani even added in the detail of Thakur's missing claws, I totally missed that before.