This time I'm stepping away from my usual 3D and game development area to review Manga Studio EX5. As the name implies, Manga Studio EX (there’s also a “standard” version, simply known as Manga Studio) is an application used to design comics. I use the word “comic” and not “manga” because “manga” gives the impression (at least to me) that this software is only suited for Japanese comics (or manga).
When you launch Manga Studio or Manga Studio EX, you notice it looks and feels like a drawing application. In fact, the philosophy behind the software is that you draw everything yourself (sets and characters, panels, dialogue bubbles, etc.). Of course, when you have to draw specific things you can use special tools. For example, there’s specific tools for panels or dialogue bubbles. The point is, while other applications like Comicbook Creator are mostly used as a “piece it all together tool,” Manga Studio is a complete DIY tool.
Drawing your own panels means you’re able to decide on your page layout, rather than limit yourself to standard layouts like 6 panels, 2 side-by-side panels, and so on. Depending on what kind of apps you’ve used before, this may sound like you have to take extra steps. But when you think about it, you are free to experiment with different layouts for your creations, which is always a good thing.
The workflow is usually something like this: you sketch your scene and characters, you refine the drawings, add colors, add dialogues and panels. The software includes a layers system similar to Photoshop, so you can use one layer to layout your scene, another one to refine the drawings, another one for color, and so on. Layers and objects can be moved around and transformed as well, so it’s easy to get the layout you want.
Manga Studio also allows you to import images into the canvas. Basically, this means two things: you’re not restricted to use the software’s painting tools, and you can use Manga Studio in conjunction with a different application (for example, if you want to make a comic using your Poser renders, or renders from a 3D application / game engine).
The software offers a variety of toon-shaded 3D models that can be used as part of your comics, or as references for layouts. These models include a few characters, background sets and props. A couple of “drawing dolls” are also included (male and female). These drawing dolls can be particularly useful when you need an actual reference to hit a specific pose. Basically, what you do is you load the drawing doll, apply a pose (or create a pose of your own), and set the desired camera perspective. When you’re happy with the result, you can rasterize the drawing doll layer so it can’t be modified anymore (useful so you don’t accidentally move or rotate it in any way), and then you trace your own character on top of it (on a different layer, of course).
Manga Studio EX 5 also offers a Story Creator. In this edition you can manage a multi-page comic and add pages of different sizes. On the other hand, if you want to make a multi-page comic in Manga Studio, you’d need to use separate files. You can batch-export all your pages to image files (or layered Photoshop files) for later editing (or processing), but one thing I didn’t quite like was that you can’t natively export to PDF. I have Adobe CC installed on my computer (more importantly, Adobe Acrobat), so I can actually use the Print command and choose Adobe PDF. I understand Adobe PDF format is not exactly “a must have,” considering there are different ways to distribute digital comics (including mobile apps), but if you want to distribute your comics digitally, PDF format is a very good way to do it (although not the only one).
You can draw standard pixel-based curves, and also vector curves. Vector curves have control points, so you can modify their shape after drawing them. On the other hand, Manga Studio has curve stabilization, so drawn curves are automatically smoothed. If you use a Wacom for drawing, you’ll be happy to know stencil pressure works just like other drawing applications.
It’s important to remember the lack of PDF support in case you need it, but if you have Acrobat you can easily solve that combining the exported pages into a single PDF file afterwards. If you are a comics creator who makes your own drawings, or you make comics using external sources, you should check either Manga Studio or Manga Studio EX out.
Sergio Aris Rosa [nemirc], is Sr. Staff Writer for the Renderosity Front Page News. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields. You can follow him on Twitter, and if you want to see what he's up to you can visit his blog.
January 13, 2014
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