Photo reference is a hot button topic amongst comic fans and creators. I'm firmly of the opinion that referencing photographs is not only acceptable, but even necessary at times. Slavishly adhering to reference is going to be problematic and appear stiff and lifeless. It's a good idea to see how things work in the real world when recreating strange poses or locations that you aren't incredibly familiar with. One project that very few people probably would guess I use reference on is Awful Lot.
For my last big dance scene I image searched the popular show So You Think You Can Dance. Sometimes I search specific dances or types of music. Anything that will get me people moving in unique ways. I picked images that I could layout on my page into a way that would guide the reader through the actions and drew these dancers into little puppets on my page.
This gave me a good idea of how the characters would fit on the page, and how people's appendages move when they are dancing together and/or through the air. Some puppets have the outline of Awful or Kitty's heads to make sure I could make out which character is which when I move into the pencils. Pencilling the page involved filling out the stick frames, most of the characters in Awful are a series of shapes. I use the puppet and build the shapes on top of the legs and spine of the character. Some adjusting of proportions and things is necessary, but moving through the pencils after everything is laid out is one of my faster steps on this series.
The inks do still take a fair amount of time. I don't follow pencil lines entirely, but it gives me a great foundation to lay inks on top of. One big part of Awful Lot is how the animals are inked with different textures. A lot of what makes each character their own design is done in the inking phase. It's fun to see how the final drawings are altered from the reference I took at the beginning. The photos are more a ramp to launch from, not the whole trick.
- Jon O'Briant