Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Depicting Speed in Comics - Part 2



Now that you've looked at some examples of how movies and tv shows depict speed, it's time for us to look at how it's done in comic books. Remember that movies have the benefit of movement, camera work, quick editing, sound effects, and music to help give the impression that the action occurring within a scene is happening really fast. Comic books don't have any of those devices to use, so writers, and especially artists and even letterers had to create some devices of their own to make what is depicted in a frozen image, or series of frozen images, appear to not only be moving, but moving really fast if that's what they want. 

In the panel above, there are three things that help make it look like the motorcycle and its rider are moving rapidly across the panel. The first thing is the rider's position. He's leaning forward, almost horizontal, and parallel to the motorcycle, much like the Coyote on the rocket that you saw in Part 1. The second thing that lends the idea of speed to this panel is how the motorcycle is framed. notice the front tire is cut off a bit. This gives the impression that the motorcycle is moving too fast for the panel to contain it. The third, and most important thing here are what is called speed lines. Do you see those straight lines just behind, below, and alongside the motorcycle and rider? Those are speed lines. They are a storytelling device meant to visually suggest something that's invisible. In this case that would be speed, or momentum. Just like you can feel air rushing past you if you pedal your bike really fast, or ride in a car with the windows open, the speed lines are meant to convey that air rushing past as something speeds through in a comic book panel. They can also suggest a blur of movement which is also an indication of something moving rapidly. 

Take a look at that panel again. Now take a look at the following panels of motorcycles in motion. You can click on any image to make it bigger. 














These motorcycles probably seem to be moving a lot faster than the one at the top of this post, don't they? Why is that? You'll notice that there are not many speed lines like we saw in our first example. Instead, the street itself and the walls and ceiling of the tunnel become speed lines. They are drawn to look like a blur of motion. Look at how many diagonal elements there are in the panels above. Remember what we said about diagonal lines in Part 1, they give the impression of movement or tension. The streets, walls, motorcycles, and even some of the panel borders are all angled to increase the impression of speed. What about our point of view--where we are viewing the action from? In most of the panels we are right on the ground (worm's eye view) while the motorcycles zoom by almost above us. This lends a lot of power to motorcycles. Power in the case of vehicles usually means fast engines and speed. The large "VVVRRRMMM!" sound effects in warm colors reinforces that sense of power and speed.

In many of the panels the motorcycles don't even seem to be touching the ground. They are moving so fast they seem to be flying. Remember in part one where we talked about the physical effects of gravity and speed, such as when you go around a corner on a bike, or inside a car, and you lean into the turn, or how the air rushing past you will blow your hair, or coat back? Look at the panels again. See how the riders and motorcycles lean into their turns (except the two panels of motorcycles skidding to a halt which do the opposite)? Look at the panel of the two girls standing in the crosswalk as the motorcycles zoom past. See how their hair and skirts are being pulled in the wake of rushing air which follows the motorcycles? All of these things come together to emphasize the notion that the motorcycles, and the action in general, is moving fast in these panels. Compare them to the frames from the speeder bike chase from Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi in Part 1. You'll probably see some similarities. 

Here are a couple more examples of fast moving vehicles.


In the example above speed lines, down hill diagonals and defying gravity all lend a sense of speed to the mine cart. In the first panel the downhill angle and the depiction of all four of the cart's wheels being off the tracks really give the impression of speed. In the second panel, even though it's a medium shot of the characters, and not the vehicle, their poses and the downward aiming diagonals, combined with the speed lines give this panel its feeling of speed.



This sequence is full of diagonals. There are the speed lines, the backwards leaning sound effects, and even the tops and bottoms of the panel borders which all seem to be radiating from a central point a few inches to the left of the page. This sequence also demonstrates the comic book equivalent to quick editing in a movie. In a movie a scene will appear faster is it is made up of really short shots of action, quickly run, or edited together. In a comic book you can almost match this effect by the size of your panels and by how much information you put in them. Aside from the sound effects, there is no text in this sequence, so you don't have to slow down to read anything. The sound effect words get absorbed by your brain the same way the drawn visual elements in the panel get absorbed. You don't really stop to read "Whoosh," you read it in almost the same way you see something out of the corner of your eye. The pictures in each panel are also very simple and very direct which means you don't spend a lot of time looking at them. Your eyes move rapidly from one to the next making the sequence happen faster.  

Now that we've seen some examples of speed applied to vehicles, it's time to look at living things. Take a look at the following panels and see if speed is demonstrated using any of the same tricks as were used for the vehicles above. Remember, you can make any image larger by clicking on it. Go.










Did you notice all of the diagonals and downhill pointing lines and action? Did you notice the speed lines and blur lines? What about characters depicted with both (or all four for the horses) their feet off the ground? Was anyone leaning forward into the direction they were running? Good. If you look at the fourth panel showing legs running from left to right, you'll notice that we can still "hear" a number of his previous footsteps while he runs forward. This implies speed, much like the trails of dust we saw in some of the examples in Part 1. He's moving fast enough that his feet are touching the ground fast enough that we can hear the sound of his fresh steps before the sound of the previous steps has faded. What about that last sequence showing Donald Duck on a horse? Does it remind you of anything? No? Go back to Part 1 and look at the series of frames showing Wile E. Coyote riding the rocket. 

Those characters up above are going pretty fast, but not super fast. When you want to show someone moving at super speed you have to add in some other tricks. Compare these with the frames of Dash running in The Incredibles that can be found in Part 1.


Above, The Flash accelerates to high speed. In the first two panels speed lines and blur lines meant to represent his legs in motion give us a sense of his increased speed. Notice how the position of his arms and torso changes showing that he's using his whole body to build momentum just as you never see a jogger with their arms hanging straight down at their sides. In the third panel his legs are depicted less realistically. Their shape is mostly suggested by some coloring and lots of blur lines marking the motion of his legs. In the final panel he's really running. He's going so fast that the back half of his body blends into the blurred wall of speed lines he leaves in his wake. If you read the last thought balloon you'll learn just how fast he's running. 


Here, not only is the Flash leaving a blurred wall of speed lines in his wake, but he's going so fast he's run right out of the first two panels before we could see him. The thought balloons and sound effect let us know he's running faster than the speed of sound which is 1,126 feet per second (343.2 meters per second) or 768 miles per hour (1,236 kilometers per hour) or 1 mile in five seconds (1 kilometer in 3 seconds). 



The character above is going fast enough that he's not simply leaving speed lines behind him, but is actually partially drawn using speed lines. This gives him a nice motion blur. His extreme leaning forward pose makes him look even faster. 



Here's that downward facing diagonal combined with speed lines and a great pose. 


The panel above is an interesting use of speed lines for a blurred motion effect. The Flash is racing to match speed with a high velocity vehicle. Notice as he gets closer to running the same speed as the vehicle that the vehicle becomes less blurred and more distinct. If you've ridden inside a car on the highway you'll notice a similar effect as the car you are in catches up to a car in the next lane. Once your car and the car next to you are going the same speed it will almost look as if the car next to you has slowed down, or is completely still next to yours. This sequence of panels tries to capture that same effect in a series of drawings. 



Do you remember those frames from Part 1 that showed the Road Runner as just a roughly Road Runner shaped blur of color, or the frame of Speedy Gonzales arriving in the foreground with his long dust trail winding its way into the background? The above panel of the Flash coming to a stop is very much like those. Here the motion of his hair, the blown papers, and the whirl of speed lines and color behind him, show that he's arrived so fast that the image of him is still catching up. 



This time the Flash is in a hurry to leave. A crackle of energy helps blur together a series of overlapping images of the Flash changing into his costume and running off faster than the speed of sound. 

The above examples are all great for showing someone running (and in one case flying) at super speed, but what if they are doing something else really fast? 


In the above panel, super fast Johnny Quick is acting as a one man assembly line hand copying and stacking a vast number of music scores. The artist has depicted this by drawing a group of Johnny Quicks each seated at a different place around the table performing a separate task. Notice how there is only one speech balloon in the panel, but that this one speech balloon has a bunch of pointers, each aimed at a different image of Johnny Quick. This is done to let the reader know that they are looking at one person talking and performing all of those tasks and not a group of clones. It also lets the reader know that he's performed all those tasks in the time it took him to speak those two sentences. Look again at the two Johnny Quick's on the left foreground. Do you notice anything unusual about them? They both share the same set of legs. This gives the impression that while sitting in that chair he is taking something from the composer then turning and writing really quickly. 


Above,  a very speedy typist, his hands a blur of motion while vast numbers of pages fly up out of the carriage of his typewriter, types away while Johnny Quick rapidly gathers together all of these freshly typed pages, staples them together and stacks them in a bunch of piles. We can see four upper torsos of Johnny Quick, each performing a separate task, but all sharing the same set of stationary legs. This lets us know that he's standing in the same spot, only moving his upper body to perform all of these tasks.


Above repeated overlapping Johnny Quicks let us know that he is repeating the same identical task over and over again at super speed. 



Above, Johnny Quick is seated in place while his hands perform a number of tasks at fast speed. The artist chose to show this by drawing a series of overlapping arms, each positioned at a different point in the task, creating a sense of blurred motion. Johnny's speech balloon lets the reader know that he does only have two arms and did not suddenly mutate into a human octopus.


Similarly, the Flash whirls his arms in a circle, using them like a fan. The motion of his rapidly spinning arms creates a wind that blows away his enemies. Here a combination of speed lines and arms depicted at various points in the circle create the illusion of speed. 



Compare the above panel to this image here. Color, speed lines, and multiple depictions of the Flash's fist lend the impression that he's hitting the super villain, Gorilla Grodd dozens of times a second. The effect is enhanced because we can still see The Flash's fists hitting Grodd from directly in front of us even though the Flash has already moved completely to the other side of Grodd and is now facing us. 

The two panels below use the opposite approach to what we've seen already. Instead of using all sorts of effects like speed lines and multiple limbs to demonstrate extreme speed in a single frozen image, these examples show extreme speed by making the Flash look like he's moving at normal speed. How is that done? Take a look. 



A bullet can travel from between 600 feet per second and 5000 feet per second. That's faster than you can see with your eyes. In the panel above, the Flash is moving so fast that the bullets appear to be frozen in the air, allowing him to pluck them out of the air. By slowing down time, we get a sense of what moving at super speed must be like from the Flash's perspective. Anyone watching the Flash would just see a red blur of motion.


The above sequence uses a similar effect. The Flash is chasing after a villain who can move at least as fast as he can. We learn from the captions that the villain has taken apart a complicated machine and left the scene, moving so fast that he's gone before gravity has had a chance to pull any of the machine parts to the floor. The Flash arrives on the scene, missing the villain, but is fast enough to figure out how to put the machine back together and actually rebuild it while the parts are still suspended in the air waiting to fall. Multiple limbs were added to this to make it seem even faster. I don't know how fast he's going, but it's super fast.

The two page sequence below uses a few of the techniques mentioned above. How many can you spot?



Did you notice the speed and blur lines? The diagonals? The man running faster than a car? The effect his speed has on objects around him, such as blowing off his hat? What about the objects seemingly frozen in the air while he quickly moved among them? Good. 

Now, quick, go make some comics. 



Panels in this post were taken from: 

Tintin in America - HergĂ©.  Little, Brown and Company.

Akira - Katsuhiro Otomo. Epic Comics. 

"Land Beneath the Ground" - Carl Barks. Uncle Scrooge #13. March 1956. Dell Comics. 

Astroboy book 1 - Osamu Tezuka.  Dark Horse Comics.

"The Secrets of Atlantis" - Carl Barks. Uncle Scrooge #5. March 1954. Dell Comics.

"Raider of the Copper Hill" - Don Rosa. Uncle Scrooge #288. October 1994. Gladstone. 

“The Speed of Doom” - John Broome story, Carmine Infantino and Frank Giacoia art. The Flash #108. September 1959. DC Comics.

“Giants of the Time World!” - Robert Kanigher story, Carmine Infantino and Frank Giacoia art. Showcase #14. June 1958. DC Comics.

“Menace of the Super Gorilla” - John Broome story, Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella art. The Flash #106. May 1959. DC Comics.

“Lightning Strikes Twice” - Geoff Johns - Writer, Ethan Van Sciver - Artist, Rob Leigh - Letterer, Alex Sinclair - Colorist, Chris Conroy asst. Ed, Joey Cavalieri - Ed. The Flash #1. 2009. DC Comics.

"The Day That Was Five Years Long" -  Dan Barry art, Helen Vesik colorist. Adventure Comics #144, Sept 1949. DC Comics. 

“”The Pied Piper of Peril!” - John Broome story, Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella art. The Flash #106. May 1959. DC Comics.

“Return of the Super-Gorilla” - John Broome story, Carmine Infantino and Joe Giella art. The Flash #107. July 1959.

The Flash: Time Flies - John Rozum - Writer, Seth Fisher - Artist, Tom Orzechowski - Letterer, Chris Chuckry - Color Separations, Joey Cavalieri - Editor. . 2002. DC Comics. 



Depicting Speed in Comics - Part 1

If you've ever watched a movie that has a chase scene in it, then you know it can be pretty exciting, right? A hero driving really fast as he pursues a badguy also driving really fast while they weave in and out of traffic, or an X-Wing fighter zipping through the trenches of the Death Star, or even a kid running away from a group of bullies are all really exciting to watch on the screen.

What makes these scenes exciting is that you are watching objects moving at high speed, and this speed looks even faster through clever editing, camera moves, sound effects, and music. If you don't believe me think about the scene in the first Iron Man movie where Iron Man is zooming through the air being chased by military jets trying to shoot him down. If you've seen this movie, and know this scene, you'll remember it as being fast paced and thrilling. Take a look at the frame below which is taken from that sequence. You can click on any image to make it bigger.




Not so exciting, or fast paced is it? That is because it is a frozen image; a single photo taken from a scene with lots of movement, really short quick shots of action edited together and combined with dynamic sound effects which make the action seem to be moving faster as well as making it more exciting, and a musical score that makes it still more exciting. But looking at a frozen image from this scene, without the sound, music, motion, or editing, it's pretty bland. For one thing you don't really get a sense that Iron Man, or the jets behind him are moving fast at all.

This is what comic book writers, and more especially, comic book artists have to deal with whenever they have to depict a scene that has a lot of fast action, or shows a vehicle, or character moving at high speed. How do you draw something so it looks like it's moving really fast, especially when you can't control how long someone looks at an image, or when you can't play sound effects or music over the scene to speed up the tempo. When you are dealing with images that are frozen how do you make things look like they are going really fast?

Before we get to the comic book part of this let's take a look at some scenes showing speed from movies. All of the scenes I chose used some sort of special effects, whether it was using models and miniature sets, or CGI, or traditional animation, all of these scenes are manipulated to make them then seem like they are depicting incredibly fast action, and each of them use tricks that have been used in comic books for decades, or tricks that can be replicated in comic books.

Back to Iron Man and that same exact scene with the fighter jets. We've agreed that the single image above is pretty boring to look at. Compare it to the frame below which happens within a split second of the one above.



It's still a still frame and still hard to get a sense of how fast both Iron Man and the jet are moving through the sky, but it's a little more exciting that the frame we looked at before. For one reason, the jet and Iron Man are moving across the frame in a diagonal path from one corner towards the other. A diagonal line always adds a level of tension or excitement to a composition. A diagonal line also suggests motion or speed. It does look like things are moving faster than in the first frame.

Now look at the one below.



This frame is even better at suggesting high speed. Why? Again, there is the diagonal angle of Iron Man's pose, as well as that of the jet on the right, which is shooting at Iron Man, creating diagonal lines across the frame. Even the cloud adds a diagonal. The second jet is tipped on its side giving it a more dynamic pose as well. The image is composed so that the left side has more elements, making it seem unbalanced, like the imaginary weight in the frame is all being pulled to the left. Think about what happens when you go around a corner on your bike, or in a car. Your body leans into the direction that you are turning in. By pulling everything to the left the image above creates an impression just like that. Finally, Iron Man is slightly out of focus as if blurred because he is moving by us really fast, or moving so fast that the person operating the camera is having trouble keeping him in focus. 

Finally, from the same movie, take a look at this panel. It's a pretty straight forward side view composition of Iron Man flying from right to left. What gives it a sense of speed are his pose, the boot jets pushing him forward, and the sky in the background is a blur speeding past him from left to right. 



On to our next movie. The following frames all come from the speeder bike chase from Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi.


This is pretty much just like the frame from Iron Man above, only moving from left to right. Notice that the characters and the bikes they ride are in focus, but the background is whizzing past them in a blur of speed.


Again, the characters and their bikes are in focus, while the landscape they move through zips by in a rapid blur. Notice the diagonal composition, which is repeated below.



In this frame, the background is still, while the bike flying closest past us is blurred and stretched out, making it seem like it's traveling at a great speed.


Here, the characters speed towards us, while their surroundings zip backwards past them at a high rate of speed. Notice that the trees to the side of them are more heavily blurred than the trees right behind them. This is what you experience in a car.

The next frames all come from the scene in The Incredibles where Dash is being chased by bad guys through the jungle.


Like the last frame above, the plants closest to Dash, on the right side of the frame, blur past him, while those behind him remain in focus. Notice the diagonal composition made more interesting by the angles that the flying saucers chasing him are positioned in. Also, notice how Dash's hair is being blown back by the wind caused by his speed, and take a look at his arms and legs which are moving so fast they appear as blurs themselves.


Again we have diagonal action across the screen. Dash's pose, where he's leaning forward also indicates he's running fast. This idea is also reinforced by his being blurred, and the long dust trail that he leaves behind him.


Because the images for this movie were created on a computer that means that the frame above was designed to be out of focus on purpose, and not because the cameraman didn't know what he was doing.  On the screen, moving, this edit is really quick and you probably won't notice it's out of focus. Blurring the movement from left to right and making both Dash and the saucer out of focus also makes it seem like they are moving at an incredible rate of speed, as if the camera, or the naked eye, can't keep up with them.


Look at how the ground streaks by underneath Dash. Also notice his legs. They're moving so fast we really can't see them. They don't even appear solid.


Here, Dash is hitting one of the bad guys, over a dozen times in less than a second. Sound effects help get this across in the movie, but here it looks like Dash has about as many hands as an octopus, which indicates great speed, since the illusion is that our eye is registering his hands being in several positions at the same time. The transparency of his arms and hands lets us know that it's because his arms are in motion and not because he suddenly mutated and grew extras.


Like the trails of dust behind him in some of the earlier frames, this one shows Dash's high speed running impacting on his environment. Not only is he creating a wake on the surface of the water, and a plume of spray behind him, but each of those splashes behind him is from one of his foot steps. He's moving so fast that the impact from a dozen steps earlier hasn't had time to settle. He's also moving so fast that each of his steps only touches the surface of the water for a split second, not even long enough for him to sink. What direction is he traveling in across the frame? That's right, diagonally.

Compare the frame below, which comes from an episode of Speed Racer, with third frame from Iron Man up above. Do you notice any similarities?



That's right, this one is heavy on the left side of the frame. Not only does the white car (the Mach V) seem to be pushing its way right out of the frame, but both cars, and the track they drive on, are canted at a diagonal to the right, adding more tension and giving a feeling of motion towards that direction as well. The other diagonal lines on the track, which move front to back and are blurred lend the frame forward speed, as does the blur on the Mach V's tire.



Here we have another diagonal composition, where the surface of the roadway is painted with blur streaks to make it seem like the cars are moving even faster.


Like the frames of Dash running from The Incredibles, the above frame from a Speedy Gonzales cartoon, gets across Speedy's speed mostly by his impact on his environment. We can follow his dust trail all the way back to the distant mountain from which he came. He's moving so fast that the dust from his footsteps hasn't settled for miles. Note the multiple diagonal movements and the streak of yellow behind Speedy suggesting the blur of his hat at high speed. His leaning forward pose also accentuates the idea of his velocity.

If there was ever a series of animated cartoons that depicted high speed action, it's those starring the Road Runner.


Here's the Road Runner moving so fast that you can't even see him. He's simply a blur of clor and motion with a dust trail.


Here, his nemesis, Wile E. Coyote, is moving so fast that his feet, like Dash's arms earlier, appear to have multiplied within a turning wheel blur. Notice that the rest of him doesn't appear to be moving at all.


Here, like the Coyote, you can see the Road Runner's upper body, but his legs are nothing more than a wheel shaped blur. Which character appears to be running faster? Why?


Here the Road Runner has run into the far distance so fast that his dust hasn't even settled in the foreground. Look at all those diagonals too, and and how the road is broken up into seperate lengths over their own different colored bits of terrain. This helps accentuate the sense of distance between the foreground and the background, making the Road Runner seem to be running even faster.

To finish this post, I want to share with you a series of individual frames taken from a split second section of action from the Road Runner cartoon, "Ready, Set, Zoom!" Take a look at each frame in the sequence and see if you can tell what it is in the drawings that makes the action seem to be happening really fast.










In the top frame, we are waiting for the moment of acceleration. We know it's going to happen because the Coyote is sitting on a rocket, and we all know rockets travel fast. Also the rocket is positioned diagonally, which we've already decided adds a sense of speed or motion and excitement to an image, and it is pointed down, which our minds tell us means that it will go faster since it's working with gravity instead of against it. Compare this with the other diagonal compositions in the rest of this post. How many diagonal lines are aimed down? How many are aimed up? 

In the second frame, the Coyote also positions himself in a downward angle while he waits for the fuse to burn down. Notice how his change in position already makes the image appear faster than the first image where the Coyote is sitting upright and facing in the opposite direction to where the rocket is pointed.

The third frame is full of downward diagonal lines. The rocket has taken off so fast that it's already out of frame, leaving only it's trail of fire behind. It's also zoomed forward so fast that the Coyote's hands and feet, which hold the rocket, have launched forward with it, while the rest of the Coyote still hasn't moved, or had a chance to catch up. Notice the exagerated stretched arms and legs. 

The fourth frame is very similar, only the rocket is now much further ahead since we can no longer see its exhaust trail, and the Coyote's body seems poised to suddenly spring back as his arms and legs contract back towards his hands and feet. 

In the fifth frame, the Coyote's body has snapped forward so fast that it's just a blur of brown. Not only that, but his body has not accelerated ahead so fast, that his tail has been left behind, the acceleration pushing most of his fur up into a bunch at the very tip. 

In the sixth frame, the Coyote's body is now almost completely gone, with his tail remaining stretched out behind him.

In the seventh frame, his tail finally snaps forward to join the rest of him. 

In the final frame that is really fast motion we are looking at. The Coyote's body is stretched, and his face is compressed by the gravitational forces being exerted on it from the high rate of speed the rocket is traveling at. 

Take a good look again at all of the images above, and come back for part two where we look at how high speed is depicted in comic books.