A sufficiently outdated technology is indistinguishable from a rock.

Inkscape and Gimp: Tracing a Cartoon Figure

Date/Time Permalink: 11/11/07 11:51:31 am
Category: Graphics Tutorials

This isn't really an Earth-shattering technique, but I've lucked out with it enough times to warrant a tutorial. It actually fits with the popular art-school methods for drawing a figure on paper, especially for drawing superhero-type figures.

1. Pull an interesting human figure off of a search. Here, I chose this muscle man. Import the image into Inkscape. Enlarge as necessary.

shot 1

2. Make an oval using the circle tool. Your oval should have a partially transparent fill color and a solid border color of about one pixel. Place it over the face, sizing and rotating it to the closest fit.

shot 2

3. Keep covering the rest of the body by duplicating the oval and scaling and rotating it into place. Hey, squares are OK to use, too!

shot 3

4. When you're done covering the figure, move the original picture out of the way or delete it - we are done with it. Select the whole group of shapes and group them, then surround the group with a transparent box (to give the figure some pixel padding around it in the next step). Group figure and frame and export the bitmap from Inkscape.

shot 4

5. Open the exported bitmap in Gimp. You'll probably want to add a layer of solid color under the figure. For building this model into more realistic lines, we'll first run a Gaussian blur filter on it at about level 10.0.

shot 5

6. The next filter to apply is edge detection. A "Sobel" algorithm with the amount of 5.0 seems to work best. Notice that the places where our bordered shapes overlapped in Inkscape now serve as excellent interior definition lines tracing the contour of the body.

shot 6

7. Now we're going to trim the outline and make it a solid color. Make the layer under the figure black, and select outside it with the magic wand selector, with feathered edges set at 5.0 and threshold 15.0. "Grow" your selection by 2 pixels.

shot 7

8. Delete the area outside the figure on both the figure level and the background level, then merge the layers together. Now add a new layer with a contrasting color, optionally inverting the color of your figure. You now have about the same kind of outline you'd have if you did a rough sketch on paper using typical cartoon drawing methods.

shot 8

From here, you're on your own. You can apply some further filters to produce an abstract figure for a logo, or erase lines, fill in details, and color in to create more of a comic-book character.

For my part, I developed it into...

Are you ready for this? It is quite funny and scary...

In fact, just be prepared to scream like a million Wilhelms...

Don't say I didn't warn you...

serving suggestion


See, that's why I don't buy into cryogenics. Even if they do manage to thaw out your head and stick it onto a new body, you just know it's going to look ridiculous.

Well, enjoy the rest of your late Fall Sunday...

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