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Working with sand: Bodies of sand creative process foundations

Bodies of Sand: Where Days Repeat Endlessly, initially named "The Butterfly Valley," is our second production, and it has been such a journey! As an emerging editorial, we had a rough beginning. We had to learn many things very fast. We were eager to cover everything, and as you may imagine, we ended up squeezing a little. Here, we share the first process behind Bodies of Sand: Where Days Repeat Endlessly, the first issue of our series, Bodies of Sand, with the help of the visual team.


Ageya character sheet, main character from Bodies of sand
Ageya and Tonatzin early character design

One of the remarkable things that came during our first months was the Latin American character set. The idea of developing character sets came from our illustrators because when we were starting, our goal was to create a world connected by the same mythology. We planned to use the concept of multiple lives to explore narratives from diverse backgrounds. However, since the visual team was composed of just three –amazing- artists, we reduced our possibilities to five continents.


While our first book, Forged by Light and Fire, was being produced, we found the ideal writer to create a story based on the Latin American character set: Andrea González Cruz. She found out who these characters were and what their roles would be in the Bodies of Sand series. Once she wrote the first issue, the illustrators started materializing it. We prepared a small interview with them so you can understand how this work, which we are proud of, was created.


What was your role in creating Bodies of Sand: Where the Days Repeat Endlessly?


Estela:


I worked on the design of Ageya, Tonantzin, and Azomalli, the angel of the dead. Besides that, I worked on many sketches for the layouts and compositions.


Aureo:



All of us created sketches and compositions for the story. We decided to divide it into scenes so each one could work on distinct parts of the novel. Besides that, I was also in charge of using artificial intelligence as a research tool to find references to compose a realistic version of the characters and objects.


Alex:


I did a little bit of everything in the production of this issue, but my focus was the artistic direction. I supervised and gave feedback to my fellow illustrators. In retrospect, giving feedback was hard, but I enjoyed it because it showed me that teaching is another way of learning, and I realized that as an illustrator, you never stop learning and growing.


Which was the most exciting part of the production, and which was the biggest challenge?


Estela:


In the beginning, there were some issues, mainly the time factor and the workload. Now for the exciting part, I would say it was finally starting to draw, once we had the composition part solved. I especially liked to draw the Azomalli scenes.


Aureo:


I think the biggest challenge for me was generating the necessary elements for the artists. Let me explain it further: we used the Matte Painting technique, mostly due to the brief time we had to finish the production. This way, if we needed to create an object made with clay, I would ask the AI clay texture using it as a base and sketch made by my colleagues, and I could paint over it with what the AI gave me. This is the same process with the other elements that were either painted or edited.


Another complication was integrating the different elements we edited with the Matte Painting since they all came from different images.


Alex:


Being a part of this project was a big challenge; we had some good moments, but others were complicated. We even had to make tough decisions more than once, but this added excitement to the process, so I'm grateful that I got to experience them.


I believe that our biggest challenge was finding the perfect way to tell the story properly in a visual way. We fell in love with the characters and everything Andrea wrote, and we didn't know where to start. There were many things to tell and plenty of POVs that expanded the story. Thankfully, we were able to find the perfect way, one that brought us all together.


The production of Bodies of Sand started in September, and our ideal was to release it before 2023 ended. We believe in the talents of every person involved in this publishing house, and we know we have what is needed to make it: great stories, a fantastic writer, outstanding illustrators, and a brilliant graphic designer. There's a but, there's always one; in this case, it is money. We thought we could start moving the production if we finished back then and pulled some strings. Hoping for the best, we encouraged the illustrator team to use all the tools available nowadays, and we involved talented Mexican freelancers in the team.


Aureo oversaw the use of the digital tools, which is why we decided to ask him what he learned about this production, its creation process, and what he'd like other creators to learn from his experience:


I really believe it will be okay for artists to learn to use matte painting, especially illustrators. Something that happened during this production was that some of us, being strangers to this technique, were reluctant to use it. We felt that we weren't creating if we weren't doing the illustrations from scratch. But, after doing research, I changed my mindset because I realized that, in a way, it is no different from concept artists using pictures and drawing on top of them or editing them. I don't think I'm an expert at this technique, but I can tell that when you see the results of working with it, you get immense satisfaction. My advice would be to not fight against digital techniques.


Before collaborating with the freelancers, the visual team worked hard to decide how they envisioned the result. They read the script and had meetings with our author to understand better what the story was about. After that, they took the character set and made some adjustments to the characters so they would fit better what was needed from them. They created the world and decided on its colors and style, and by the time they finished, they knew Kawitzin and its surroundings as if they had been there.


Alex, our art director, was in direct contact with the freelancers. He had to explain and share what we wanted the novel to be once it was completed, so we are confident he can explain what makes this graphic novel different:


I have worked on many illustration projects but never on a graphic novel like this one. The process was similar, but the direction was completely different, mainly because of the way the story was developed, and that's a good thing.


I believe that one of the best qualities of this production is the reinvention of Latin American myths. As Mexican, I've realized that when someone creates something based on any Latin American culture, the tropes tend to fall into the same expected patterns. Instead, Bodies of Sand take these myths and reimagine them, as if they proposed the question of "What would have happened if..." that kind of scenarios. It even applies this to different timelines, and we can see how what happens in the past has repercussions on the present and future.


We were glad once the first version of Bodies of Sand was finished, but we knew it wasn't what it could be. The artists who collaborated with us were great, but the different styles clashed with each other. The visual team took the freelancers' final images and edited them to fit better, yet we knew more could be done. That's when we decided to risk it all. We have been lacking money for a while, but our need to have a job we are proud of is more significant than that. Because to us, art and what it can do is the most important thing, and we know that the community will love this so much that it will help us to keep doing what we love.


Azomalli's character sheet, character from Bodies of sand
Azomalli early character design

We decided to change our game and let Estela, the illustrator whose style better fits the Bodies of Sand series, oversee it; we asked her to redo all she needed, and she took all the work that was done as a base. We are glad we did this because Bodies of Sand became what we dreamed of.


Since we are planning on publishing Estela's artistic profile, we decided to ask her only one thing: who her favorite character in this first issue is, and why:


I think my favorite character is Azomalli; he makes me feel nostalgic. I even feel a little sorry for him because he is always contemplating life, but he isn't able to live it and understand it as humans do.


Our series Bodies of Sand lies on these foundations, and we think we couldn't have better. We know we'll keep learning with this series and are eager to do so. We hope we can count on you to be part of this journey and get involved with everything we do because our main goal is to share our graphic novels and the stories behind them.


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