In drawing scenes, sometimes we use funky perspectives just to shake things up, sometimes we do it to heighten dramatic tension. But sometimes we do it because there’s no other way to fit in the information we need to into the drawing.
Say for instance a comic script calls for a superheroine lurking in the rafters above a boxing match. One boxer is down for the count, the other is standing over him, the ref is counting, and the victorious boxer’s coach is looking through the ropes all smug and self-satisfied. All of this while our black-garbed heroine spies on them, gathering clues about the fight-fixing ring. That’s a hefty chunk of information to fit into one panel, but we can do it.
Know what the finished panel should look like? Me neither. It’s time to start thinking with your pencil.
We start out with a sketch of what information we know. This isn’t a thumbnail for the panel, it’s a floorplan. It lays out what we know, and only needs to be detailed enough to take us to the next stage. In this floorplan, there’s no perspective or foreshortening. The heroine in the rafters (A) is drawn the same size as the boxers below. Nothing has to be “right” here, we can fix anything later.
Now, let’s not lose momentum. Next we need an elevation. An elevation is a side-view that, like the floor plan above, has no perspective or foreshortening. Kind of like blueprints. Again, we don’t need detail, and we don’t need everything to be right – we just need enough information to move on to the next stage.
So we really have three elements. The three people in the ring, the coach outside the ring, and our heroine far above it. For a single camera shot to catch all that, it needs to either be pulled way back in an extreme long shot, or it needs to be placed on or near a line that passes through all three of our elements.
This elevation doesn’t quite work for that, so let’s think a few things through. We can have the camera look up past the coach, past the people in the ring, way up into the rafters to our heroine. But our heroine will be awfully small, and hard to make out in the rafters. Plus this is her point of view in the story, let’s try to share it. We’ll put the camera behind her, looking down past her to the ring below. And in the ring, we want to see the coach’s face, so he’ll have to be somewhere on the opposite side of the ring from the heroine (and more importantly, the camera). Everyone else we just need enough body language to know what they’re doing.
So I’m going to do another elevation. If I shoot a camera down from the heroine on that first elevation, I’m going to be straight down on the people in the ring, which isn’t that interesting. If I move her over to the side, we get to look at them from an angle. I’ll also swap the ref and the victorious boxer, so the coach is closer to the champ in the panel, emphasizing their connection.
Now let’s lay in a camera, and draw some lines radiating from it. These lines help ballpark our field of view (the edges of the panel), They also help us get relative sizes and angles correct. Two lines that frame our heroine’s head take up half the ring by the time they get down there. This shows us her head will be half the size of the ring. And a line going from the camera passes through the standing boxer at about a 45 degree angle – that’s handy to know, because that’s the angle we’ll see him at.
So let’s take a stab, using the information we’ve pulled together in our elevation sketch. I don’t need to follow positions slavishly, we can slide things around side to side and still benefit from our work above.
Okay, so we’ve got a possible layout. I threw in a spotlight next to our heroine, and we need to get enough of a gangplank/catwalk in there that the readers know where she is and that she isn’t just floating in space.
But what if I wanted to see more of her figure? I’d just pull the camera back.
Now our camera lines show our heroine to be a little less than twice the apparent size of the boxers – which makes sense, since she’s a little less than twice as close to the camera as they are.
I think I like the closer-in one better. This panel isn’t about how cool and sexy the heroine is, it’s about what’s happening in the ring. But I like the figure arrangement in the second version better, so I’ll use that.
So I go back to the first one, move the characters around a bit, and start to work out vanishing points. This is three point perspective – everything converges. The toughest point to place is usually the vanishing point representing down. But we’ve got a head start on that. If we look at our elevation, our down vanishing point will be directly below our camera. And our horizon line will be directly to it’s left.
With this, we can place the down vanishing point and the horizon line in such a way as the perspective within the panel won’t be distorted. After I’ve got the down vp and the horizon (which can be done right on the original drawing, or on a tracing paper overlay or on a lightbox to make changes easier), I find an object near the center of the panel to work out the final two vanishing points. In this case, the object is the ring. I draw lines through the middle of the ring, heading towards the horizon. Where these lines cross the horizon are the vanishing points. Remember these points represent 90 degrees from each other; if the one on the left is West, the one on the right will be North. I draw some test lines for the ring, and once I’m happy with the vanishing point placement, I lay in the ring, the ropes, the catwalk, and a basic grid for the audience so their chairs line up.
Now, to keep the figures in perspective, I’m going to draw some boxes where the figures are standing. They don’t need to mimic the postures of the figures; they’re just there to help keep the figures relating to the ground plane and keeping the right way up when I draw them.
There are a couple of things here that are rotated so I can’t use the same vanishing points. For the kayoed boxer I lay in a box on the floor using two new vanishing points, and for the vanes on the spotlight, another vanishing point. Since all these lines are horizontal, all their vanishing points lay on the horizon
Now I pause to take stock. The original layout sketch was pretty accurate, but you can see where the perspective is just wrong in it. The vertical bars in the catwalk especially, as well as the heroine figure and the vertical supports on the spotlight. Changing these things to fit the perspective isn’t going to affect my composition, so I’m ready to go. I can now fly through drawing the finished panel, because the perspective layout has solved my major problems for me.
Et Voila! A bit of ink and paint and we’ve got our finished panel.