Hard Boiled #3 – Animated Comic Cover

Ever since Jim Groom pointed to the amazing animated comic covers created by Kerry Callen, I’ve been jonsing to make one. I loved the simplicity of the animation in each of the four GIFs he created, particularly the Spiderman and Ironman GIFs which each clock in at only three frames each. There is so much time and love for the comic and the story that goes into each one.

It took me a while to figure out which cover to do, but I finally settled on the cover for the third and final installment of Frank Miller and Geof Darrow’s Hard Boiled title published in the early 1990s.  Miller was well know for his work during the 80s on Ronin and Batman: The Dark Knight. Both were part of an emerging trend in comics to write for more adult audiences (it dawned on the comic book industry that pre-teens weren’t buying comics anymore, it was the hardcore 20-40 somethings). Alan Moore‘s and Dave Gibbons‘ DC miniseries Watchmen was published the same year as The Dark Knight and both were hugely successful critically and financially, largely due to their more complex characterizations of heros and heroism. They’re both just great pieces of storytelling that happen to include both writing and pictures.

Due to these successes the Hard Boiled project was highly anticipated and Miller decided to not pencil the series instead turning to relative newcomer Geof Darrow to do the artwork for Hard Boiled. Darrow’s work is ridiculously detailed, rendering unimaginable amounts of story into a single page. Miller I imagine must have responded to this as there is very little dialogue throughout the series.

Hard Boiled is a dystopian future filled with violence and cyborgs. Darrow’s ultra-violent and erotic pictures were considered shocking at the time for a “mainstream” book. My first experience with Darrow’s work was actually with a later title, The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot. The relentless detail with which Darrow draws is unbelievable, actually compulsive. He seems to just want to eek out more and more story with every extra bit included in a drawing. Here’s a frame from Hard Boiled #1, where Nixon the cyborg is undergoing repairs:


Darrow went on to become a creative consultant for the Wachowski Brothers for their Matrix series. You can likely see the resemblance to Nero’s awaking in the image above – an endless number of tubes and machines connected to tissue.

On the technical side, making this GIF was quite a long process. I spent a lot of time in Photoshop pulling apart the original cover image to create the six frames for this animation (there’s actually 53 frames needed for the timing, but only six unique ones). I used the pen tool a bunch to make paths around the titles and other parts to create very accurate selections. Also there’s a lot of use of the motion blur tool to create the three frames of the head being blown up.

But my favorite new tool is the new “Puppet Warp” tool which allowed me to animate the gore on the inside of the skull. It’s new to CS5 and takes advantage of some crazy algorithms that allow you to distort portions of a selection based on defined pivot points. It’s really, really cool. Here’s a little screen grab of the tool in action:

Here’s a look at just the gory parts animated, I hope you like the GIF, even if it’s a bit gross!


11 responses to “Hard Boiled #3 – Animated Comic Cover”

  1. Giulia Avatar

    Whoah. Just whoah. I have also been jonesin’ to do one of these and this one is phenomenal. I’m also a Frank Miller fan, although his recent 99% politically incorrect comments of late have put him out of favour with many in my twitter stream ( http://frankmillerink.com/ )
    Regardless, I am feeling quite inspired by your work which is compounded by the fact I’m in my brother’s apartment surrounded by some fairly amazing graphic novels.
    I have been dabbling in using the pen tool and paths after noiseprofessor told me that was how he managed to get his photoshop jams so eerily realistic. BUT the puppet warp feature is totally new to me! Wow, so sick! I’m both intrigued and terrified at how intricate it could get and how much of a time warp it could become!
    Excellent work. Definitely Not Trivial.

  2. Jim Groom Avatar

    This is nothing short of genius. Wow!

  3. mbransons Avatar

    @giulia I’d love to see you take on this assignment with your talents and what sounds like good access to awesome material. And ugh, I hadn’t seen that post by Miller. Pretty lame playing the “you don’t understand we’re at war” card as an excuse to debase the protest. At least the most popular comment gives him hell, calling him out for shockingly turning into a corporate stoogie. And I’m going to do a pen tool tutorial soon. My favorite tool by far – I LOVE VECTORS.

    @jimgroom Thanks so much. I’m digging in hard this new year.

  4. Ben Avatar

    I was turned on to Frank and Geoff’s work with Big Guy and Rusty too (my current computer is known as the “BGY-11”), although I didn’t make it as far as you did into the more mature graphic novel world.

    The amount of work you put into this piece is astounding, and easily makes my list of top ds106 submissions.

    1. mbransons Avatar

      Ha! My wireless router was BIGGUY for about seven years. Thanks for the love.

  5. bobby nailen Avatar

    what can i say,thats excellent.Geoff Darrows hard boiled is a fave of mine
    I have been doing some also,though i was stupid enough to use flash.

    1. mbransons Avatar

      I saw your Red Skull GIF on your blog which is really impressive. I imagine flash gives you a lot of animation control, but it sounds like the conversion process, including the use of GIMP is a pain. The animation palette in Photoshop isn’t anywhere near as powerful, but it does include the ability to do fades, motion along splines, etc. Or you can do what I primarily do which is to turn on and off a number of layers depending on the frame you’re displaying. Tedious work but cool results.

  6. happy_book_year Avatar

    It’s great! If you please I use it for my review of “Hard Boiled” russian edition.

    1. mbransons Avatar

      Please do! Just give credit to “Michael Branson Smith” and link back to the original blog post. Your site (read through Google’s translator) looks great.

  7. […] I’m kinda lucky the folks over at Comics Alliance aren’t hip to Michael Branson Smith’s work, because I can’t think of any animated comic book  cover GIF that competes with this masterpiece. […]