A comic page layout with the male and female mannequins, posed with Super Hero Poses

Manga Studio 5 keeps surprising me with its wealth of useful features. I've spent the last couple of days enjoying its ability to integrate 3d objects into frames. These can be output as is or merely serve as mannequins to help guide your hand drawings. See the image at left for an example of the drawing guide.

The software ships with four manga style textured schoolboy and girl characters and a male and female mannequin. The latter two can be morphed to approximate different body types. 

The figures can be dropped into any scene and posed manually or with one of the 100 pre-made full body poses and 50 hand poses. All the essential camera presets are available with the click of a button, or you can move, rotate or scale your camera to your heart's content.

Character models come with a wide assortment of faces, hairstyles, clothing and accessories. 

The pre-made characters

There are also 3d props and sets (in addition to 2d color and monochrome patterns and clip art). It's really an amazing assortment given the price of the software.

The program also imports a variety of 3d formats. I had no problem loading up some FBX files created in Maya, although the textures on these objects didn't display as nicely as the native character files.

You can drag and drop FBX files directly onto your current frame, but embedded textures do not render. Here the line width is set to 12 pts.

It's a little tricky to get your 3d content positioned just right. Camera and object controls are pretty finicky, especially when you've got multiple characters sitting on the same layer.  

But all in all, this is a great feature for the artistically challenged that can also benefit professionals who want to quickly layout a new composition.  

I hope Smith Micro publishes information for Western third parties who might create more addon products. Manga Studio is developed by Japanese company Celsys and is known as Clip-Studio there. My Japanese is non-existent, but visiting their site, it appears that there are a lot of third party props and poses available. 

I came across one set of third party poses from Michael Hartlef. His $4.99 set of Super Hero Poses Vol #1 includes 20 comic-inspired settings that I highly recommend. Installation is a bit tedious, but that's a limitation of the software, not of Michael's work.

The Manga Studio 5 3d Material palette displaying Super Hero Poses Vol. #1

I promise not to turn this blog into a Manga Studio 5 love fest, but do yourself a favor and check it out. Whether you run it on the Surface Pro, a traditional desktop or a Mac, you're bound to enjoy it.  

UPDATE: Turns out you can import textured objects. At this point I've tested with OBJ format. Create a .zip file with the object, the material (MTL) and the texture in PNG format. Drag and drop the archive into your panel and voila! Unfortunately, I still haven't found a way to register the 3d material, adding it to the library permanently.

Imported OBJ file and PNG texture as displayed in Manga Studio frame. Sweet.

UPDATE 2: Turns out you can register an imported object to the 3d material library. You just have to know where to look (one of Manga Studio's more annoying tendencies). There's a sub-menu in the 3d palette (see image below). Click it and select "Register image as material." Select the folder where you want your object located, add a few meaningful tags and save.  

Thanks to RuntimeDNA forum member garlam for pointing me to the illusive sub-menu. Garlam also has a thread explaining custom brush creation that is definitely worth a read.

The 3d material palette's sub-menu button: It's easy to miss (and difficult to target on the Surface Pro's screen).

UPDATE 3: Thanks to the help of RuntimeDNA Manga Studio forum user senyac, I was finally able to get textures to appear with imported FBX files. The key is to zip up the fbx file and texture in the same directory. Usually when FBX files are exported with embedded textures, a separate texture folder is created. I was only able to get one texture to appear when I tried this with DAZ Studio and Victoria 6. But this may be all you need if an object is mapped for a real-time application. The character below was modeled in Maya and has only one texture map. 

AuthorRick Rodriguez
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Penny Arcade is back with another Surface tablet plug. I won't spoil the punchline, but it's worth a click

AuthorRick Rodriguez

Jonathan Woodard is a professional designer, illustrator and animator who literally wrote a book on how to "Create Comics on the IPad." Also known as "mastajwood," he created the iPad comic book "Samuel J. Coffy: Action Panda Cop" and is currently working on a wide variety of comics projects and covers.

Jon recently made the switch to the Surface Pro and agreed to share some details on his workflow. The artwork below was created in Sketchbook Pro.

You can follow his work at http://mastajwood.tumblr.com/

By Jonathan Woodard

I too have switched from using an iPad to Win 8 devices. I had originally switched to the Samsung ATIV Smart PC but after seeing how much smoother Sketchbook Pro was on the Surface Pro (in the Penny Arcade inking video), I now have switched to the Surface because of the i5 versus the ATIV Smart PC 500's Atom processor. I'm loving the switch and the Surface Pro is the perfect mobile creative tablet.

Below is a breakdown of my process, all done on the Surface Pro with Sketchbook Pro and Photoshop.

First I do a really loose sketch of what I want. Keeping it really loose keeps the energy in the final piece.

Next I make a new layer and do the lineart for the body to make sure the shape is right.

I do the armor lineart on a new layer, so that I can have variant versions of the same print.

Next I lay down the flats. Skin and hair is on one layer, armor and clothing is on another layer.

Next I'll add the shadows and highlights. Shadows for the skin and hair again are separate from the shadow layer of the armor. Up to this point it's all been done in Sketchbook Pro. I'll then create my background using illustrator and comp the two together in Photoshop with final lighting and textures.

AuthorRick Rodriguez

One of the happiest developments that have resulted from my starting this blog is that I have discovered or been reintroduced to a lot of fun and useful software. As even the most casual of blog readers can tell, I am an unabashed software collector. If a creative tool exists, I find a way to justify adding it to my arsenal. 

I first purchased Manga Studio many years ago for my daughter who is a manga fan and aspiring creator. I liked the specialized panel creation tools, tones and other comic-specific goodies the software included, but I never took the time to learn it or look beneath the surface. 

About a month ago, a reader asked whether Manga Studio 5 ran on the Surface Pro. Being the dutiful servant that I am, I upgraded my existing copy to the latest version. 

The software seemed to run very well on the tablet, but that would have been the extent of my testing were it not for the endorsement of a couple of digital comics artists who raved about version 5's improved brush engine. 

Now, it's important to note that despite running this blog, I am not an artist. I grew up loving comics and drew as a kid, but I quickly realized I wasn't good enough to draw them professionally. From the moment I got my first Amiga, I have satisfied my creative impulses with 3d modeling. As the decades passed, I thought I had lost my drawing ability altogether. The most I can ever manage are the loosest and sloppiest of sketches. 

But armed with the Surface Pro, the Wacom Bamboo Feel Stylus - Carbon and Manga Studio 5, I decided it was time to see if I could reawaken the lost muscle memory required to reasonably mimic a professional comic illustration.

It was too much to ask myself to try to create an original drawing while also learning the peculiarities of Manga Studio, so I decided instead to go back to my favorite Silver Age Marvel artists John Buscema and John Romita, Sr. 

John Buscema rough layout for Avengers, featuring the Vision and the Scarlet Witch

My first inking attempt was over a Buscema rough layout. I quickly realized that this was a bridge too far for a first project. Next, I found a great full page Conan the Barbarian sketch, but I wasn't happy with the quality of the lines I was getting with Manga Studio's default brush settings. 

I almost gave up this experiment at that point, but then I found the Frenden Manga Studio 5 brush presetsThis amazing collection is only $5 and made a world of difference. Suddenly, my pen strokes didn't look quite as dubious.

Frenden Manga Studio 5 brush presets

John Buscema cover for Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #124.

For my third experiment, I decided that I needed to ink over a cleaner, bolder image and the cover of one of my favorite comics of all time leapt to mind: Amazing Spider-Man #121, teasing arguably the most memorable story of all time, "The Night Gwen Stacy Died."

With its big bold Spider-Man in the foreground and its collection of portraits of the supporting cast, this cover was both simple enough and demanding enough to try to reproduce seriously. 

Amazing Spider-Man #121, The Night Gwen Stacy Died cover by John Romita, Sr.

Manga Studio is quite easy to use for anyone familiar with other drawing and painting applications. Not all functionality is immediately available on the toolbar. Many important items like the panel creation and editing functions are contained in so-called sub-tools. This is not ideal for the new user because there doesn't appear to be any way to merely discover them. You need to know what you're looking for and know exactly where to look to find them. In fact, I came across a YouTube review of Manga Studio 5 that erroneously advised users of Version 4 EX to stay away from 5 until the EX version is released later this summer because the panel creation tools had been eliminated!

Another odd design choice is that the software does not appear to have an eye dropper for color sampling. As I was coloring my page, there were various times when I would have liked to bounce between a handful of colors and an improved color picker would have made a huge difference.  CORRECTION: Manga Studio does have an eye dropper, but it's not in the color picker section. It's located in the toolbox. A very odd design choice indeed!

Some Surface Pro-specific observations: the software runs well, but saving and loading to the SD card can be very slow. A couple of times, Windows reported that the software had stopped responding when it was actually just waiting for the SD card to respond. A multi-purpose zoom and move tool like Sketchbook Pro's would be a godsend. The left-right scroll bar is small and difficult to hit with the pen or finger. Overall, the interface is pretty crowded on the Surface display, although it is possible to contract and expand toolbars easily. The Wacom stylus' recessed button is hard to avoid and it occasionally caused colors or tools to swap (I couldn't get the behavior to reproduce every time). Also, the pen will infrequently leave stray marks on the drawing that are nowhere near the nib.  

One function I liked a lot was the ability to rotate the canvas 90 degrees without changing the artwork size this makes it possible to frame up however much or little of the art as required. Also, physically rotating the Surface to whatever angle I needed really brought me back to the joy of drawing on a sheet of paper. 

Don't judge me too harshly.

Don't judge me too harshly.

My final result is by no means perfect: line weights are wrong or inconsistent, my draftsmanship is shaky and my coloring is the pits. I especially rushed the latter because I wanted to get this post published. Despite the crappy work, I think the results are encouraging enough for me to declare that I'm going to keep at it. Manga Studio 5 is the real deal and in the hands of a true artist, it will yield amazing results.

If you're interested in learning more about inking and painting in Manga Studio, Smith Micro offers a series of excellent video tutorials by professional comics artist Doug Hills. The video below demonstrates the inking process. 

New attempt at Conan with stabilization at 50: you might (almost) believe a man can ink.

UPDATE: Further experimentation led me to discover that I was not utilizing one of Manga Studio's most beneficial features: stabilization. The pens I used in the image above only had their stabilization set to about 3, where the range is up to 100. Cranking the value up smooths out wobbly and sketchy lines and results in instantly more confident line art. The higher the setting, the greater the lag so it will be up to you to find a setting that works for you. Quoting Ray Frenden, "(Stabilization in Manga Studio 5) doesn't feel like cheating, it feels like a reasonable step to combat the infidelity of our hardware."  


Another childhood favorite: Frank Brunner's Howard the Duck striking a Conan pose

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Manga Studio 5
Smith Micro Software Inc.
AuthorRick Rodriguez
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Jonathan Case, creator of the graphic novel Dear Creature and the artist of many works for Dark Horse Comics, including Green River Killer, The Guild, House of Night, The Creep, and Eerie knows a thing or two about his art tools.

Last month he posted a great write-up detailing his experience on the Surface Pro and his new-found tool of choice Manga Studio 5.


Thanks to a compatibility question from Twitter follower Troy Church (@tchurch), I was persuaded to upgrade an older copy of Manga Studio just last week and I was delighted to discover that it's the first desktop program I've tested that supports pinch and zoom while sketching.

The interface of Manga Studio is still a little too cluttered for the Surface Pro's screen, but it clearly is a tool that pro users like Case and Penny Arcade artist Mike Krahulik are using to full effect.

Case also has a newer post celebrating the release of Wacom's pen driver update.


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Manga Studio 5
Smith Micro Software Inc.