February 17, 2020
Manga artist Inio Asano creates real-time backdrops in Unreal Engine
After some experimentation, his efforts gave rise to an innovative technique for creating compelling, atmospheric backdrops for the manga scenes he illustrates. He’s currently using Unreal Engine as part of the artistic process for his comic series Dead Dead Demon's Dededede Destruction, which is being serialized in the manga magazine Big Comic Spirits. "Whenever I wanted to create a realistic background, I would modify a photo and then draw a manga illustration of it,” explains Asano. “But after doing that for over 10 years, I began to feel that the technique was getting a bit stale. I also realized that I was only using photos taken from my own vantage point.”
He started to wish he had more creative freedom, and that’s when he began thinking about the possibility of using 3D models. “Though I had known about Unreal Engine for many years, I had always thought that it was strictly a game engine,” he says. “As a manga artist, at first I didn’t think there was much overlap between it and my work. Then one day it occurred to me to look into Unreal Engine, and I discovered that it was free!”
Experimental manga using 3D visualizationWith no barrier to entry, Asano decided to download the engine and try it out. That’s when he got his first taste of the power of real-time rendering. “It was easy to move around in 3D space and to adjust the lighting and colors,” he recalls. “The shadows were realistic too, more than if I tried to draw them by hand. I would then refer back to these assets and make some hand-drawn adjustments.”
Using the assets available in the Unreal Engine Marketplace, Asano found himself creating the backdrop for entire stories in the engine. “Though I find buildings relatively easy to draw, I struggle to draw plants and wildlife more than anything else,” he says. “There are a lot of foliage assets available for sale as building blocks, making it very easy to create a forest with just a few mouse clicks. I realized that I could draw a story set in these environments I created. When I use Unreal Engine, I actually reduce the quality of the renderings to make the images resemble hand-drawn manga artwork.
Real-time technology opens new creative avenuesThe further he explored real-time technology, the more ways Asano found to enhance his artwork—some of which he would not previously have entertained. “With Unreal Engine, I have begun to try things that I would have dismissed in the past as not being worth the trouble,” he says. “If a scene is missing something, I'll buy some assets and place them on screen. In that way, I can set up the environment just the way I want in a relatively short period of time.”
Another advantage of 3D models that Asano has found is that unlike manga illustrations, which can only be used once, 3D models can be reused or drawn from different angles. That means he gets even greater value for money, with the opportunity to reuse assets for future drawing.
Asano’s journey with real-time technology has opened up a world of creative possibilities, giving rise to some exciting new ideas. “I’d like to try turning my creative process on its head by building an entire city in Unreal Engine and then proceeding to draw a manga that depicts events that take place in the city,” he explains.
The veteran artist is a strong advocate for experimentation of this type, and believes more artists could benefit from exploring real-time visualization. “Over the past 10 years, it has become possible for anyone to create artwork using Unreal Engine,” he says. “Since these tools are freely available, I think everyone should embrace them to make it easier than ever to bring ideas to life.”
Want to explore how real-time technology could enhance your own illustration techniques? Download Unreal Engine for free today!