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Learning to Color With Hi-Fi

| March 17, 2014

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ComixTribe’s Sam LeBas had a chance to chat with Brian Miller, founder of Hi-Fi Colour Design, a well-regarded comic book coloring studio, with clients including DC, Disney, Image and Marvel. Brian is currently Kickstarting “Hi-Fi Color for Comics,” a book that walks creators step-by-step through the process of coloring comic books.

Sam LeBas: Why is it important for you to share your knowledge about coloring comics?

Brian Miller: When you look around online and in bookstores you will find many professional art-instruction resources for comic book penciling, inking and even lettering, but there is very little good information about digital comic book coloring. When it comes to comic book coloring I noticed a lack of up-and-coming talent, which worried me. Then, I would present panels on coloring at comic book conventions the response was always overwhelming. It was obvious to me that many creative people who might want to color their own comic art, or color comics professionally simply did not know how to get started. The comic book industry was threatened with losing an entire generation of talent to other creative art forms if someone on the inside did not open up and offer guidance. I’ve been fortunate enough to work as a professional colorist for over 15 years, and I knew giving back through art education was the right thing to do.

SL: Tell me more about Hi-Fi academy.

BM: Hi-Fi Academy is born out of my frustration with traditional art-instruction publishers and their lack of vision. Publishers want to create a book they can sell at a profit, and their commitment to the reader ends there. With Hi-Fi Color for Comics I wanted to go beyond the book and create a connection with readers where we could share artwork, stream video tutorials, and trade our favorite Photoshop brushes. I wanted to create a resource that you didn’t have to carry with you but you could access from anywhere.

That resource is a new website that we are building as a companion to Hi-Fi Color for Comics called Hi-Fi Academy. Readers will be able to download all the Photoshop add-ons needed to use Hi-Fi Color for Comics, and when updates are available they will have access to the latest versions. Members will also find all the files needed for each tutorial at Hi-Fi Academy including Hi-Fi Helpers, video tutorials, as well as the artwork for each lesson. Readers will be the first to learn about new tutorials and bonus content, too. The goal of Hi-Fi Academy is to teach people everything I know about comic book coloring.

Members can access Hi-Fi Academy at home, or when traveling. Hi-Fi Academy works with the print edition and the ComiXology digital edition of Hi-Fi Color for Comics. Hi-Fi Academy is just one of the new and improved elements of Hi-Fi Color for Comics, and I have a feeling everyone is going to love it.

SL: What skill level is required to learn effectively from this guide?

BM: While I’ve heard success stories from people who had never created any Digital artwork before picking up the one of my art-instruction books; I aimed Hi-Fi Color for Comics at the person who is already a hobby artist, and has probably dabbled with digital art for fun. Someone who has colored art with markers, watercolor, or digitally will be able to transition easily to using the techniques shown in the book. Hi-Fi Color for Comics comes with free enrollment in Hi-Fi Academy where readers can access the art used in the tutorials, and follow along. You don’t need to be a Photoshop ninja to enjoy Hi-Fi Color for Comics; but a basic knowledge of Photoshop, like what palettes are and where to find the tools, is helpful, as it will allow readers to skip straight to the fun stuff.

SL: In your opinion, what is the most unique feature of this book, what can people find here that they won’t find anywhere else? 

BM: When I started writing the first draft of Hi-Fi Color for Comics I wondered what aspects of digital coloring people might find challenging. How could I eliminate technical roadblocks to allow readers to focus on being creative? Over the course of writing the book, I created many Photoshop add-ons in the forms of color preference files, brushes, Hi-Fi Helpers, and Photoshop Actions that are unique to Hi-Fi. A few examples would be, automated page set-up to start coloring quickly, a simple tool to magically prep your art for special effects, and push button color separations with trapping for professional results. The goal is to remove and frustrating technical headaches and create a positive experience for readers. Using Hi-Fi’s automation tools allows readers to start creating on day one, so they spend more time developing their creative skills and less time wrestling with software.

SL: What are some of the biggest challenges facing people who want to enter this field?

BM: There are three keys to becoming successful as a colorist in comics:

Creative Ability. Maybe you were born with it, maybe you perfected it with hard work, either way every editor is looking for a talented and skilled colorist whose work wows them. This means your colors need to look great on-screen and in print. It’s the print part that loses many people the chance at turning pro because their colors print muddy or maybe their colors shift when printed, I’ve seen colors that were supposed to be red print as brown because the person didn’t know how to make a color separation.

Professionalism. That word can mean a lot of things, but here we are talking about the way you present yourself in person and online. Don’t share artwork until it is published. Don’t be a glory hog, remember it takes team collaboration to make any comic. Never talk bad about your fellow creators, clients, editors, etc. It will get back to them. Be organized in the way you send in your work and invoices. Return emails and phone calls promptly. It may not be the creative part of the job but acting professional will help you become professional, and maintain good working relationships.

Deadlines. Here is the thing, letterers and colorists are typically the last people in the creative process and that typically means the only thing standing between a book shipping on time or being late to press is you. That can be a lot of pressure and lead to late nights and weekends, but colorists simply can not afford to be late with work.

If you posses or develop these three traits you will have the best chance of working successfully in the comic book industry.

SL: Have you enjoyed the experience of working with Kickstarter?

BM: The great thing about Kickstarter is the constant communication with the backers of Hi-Fi Color for Comics. The process becomes interactive as backers provide input on stretch goals and rewards. Someone may have a question that sparks an idea that leads me to create a better tutorial. Even before launching the campaign, just thinking about the needs of each reader, and creating a great experience for every backer challenged me to be more creative in my approach to the book and the campaign.

One benefit is the stretch goals offering additional chapters with new tutorials and bonus content including artwork from industry professionals like J. Scott Campbell, Mike Norton and Craig Rousseau. Backers can push for these stretch goals and receive the type of specialized art instruction that I could never convince a traditional publisher to include. A prime example is the chapter on Color Theory for the Comic Book Colorist. The last time I brought up color theory to a book publisher they merely raised and eyebrow and said, “there are already books on color theory”. Yes, there are, for oil painters, graphic designers, and architects but NOT for comic book colorist. I know this is new and unique info and so do the Kickstarter supporters. They can share the project online and get the word out to make it happen when a traditional publisher would decline. In that way all of us in the Kickstarter community are all participating in the creation of Hi-Fi Color for Comics in one way or another.

SL: Any closing thoughts?

BM: Another area in which I have been disappointed with traditional publishers in the past is the creation of digital art-instruction books. As more and more people are reading books on their phones and tablets publishers are happy to collect the payments but don’t seem very interested in creating the best experience for their readers. With Hi-Fi Color for Comics I wanted to ensure the experience was equal to or better than the print edition. I have to say how excited I am that Hi-Fi Color for Comics will be one of the first art-instruction books to be available on ComiXology’s Comics app for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows 8 devices. ComiXology is applying their Guide View technology to the step-by-step tutorials in Hi-Fi Color for Comics providing readers an easy way to navigate each lesson. The ComiXology edition makes a great companion to the print edition as you can carry it with you everywhere as a handy resource.

You can find more of Brian’s work at Oktopolis.com and he can be reached at brianmiller@hifidesign.com.

Check out Hi-Fi Color for Comics on Kickstarter. The campaign ends April 3, 2014.

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