Beyond the Tree starts with the art resources of World of Warcraft; it nearly exclusively uses the models and textures – either edited or in original form – for all of its imagery. Using a few various applications to serve as interim, these models and textures are exported into a full 3D rendering environment for improved control and results.
Some of the models, notably the main cast, are given a complete overhaul which adds things like teeth, a mouth cavity and a great deal of polygons just to become more defined and expressive. They also get a complete biped skeleton rigged to them for poseability and an extensive (like 20 or higher) list of morphtargets that allow a fairly diverse set of facial expressions and other appearance tweaks.
These models are then put together in a combined scene and lit to get all manner of coloured lighting and shadows to interact to create a feeling of the present environment. While the setting assembled tends to be rather simple due to usually only the characters themselves being rendered, it’s here where everything from expressions to lighting colour to camera angles are ultimately decided.
When a particular pane seems good enough it’s rendered out into a transparent PNG file and inserted into a multilayered image that constitutes the comic itself. The dialogue and pane structure is generally the first to be placed and then the poses and camera angles are selected based on that. Once the renders are in, screenshots from World of Warcraft are inserted into the back layers as background and there’s some degree of post processing added to create a softer and more glowy lighting, or motion blur or similar effects.
Ultimately, a page starts with a basic synopsis that turns into a script, which is then expanded into a page layout and finally assembled as mentioned above. It’s notable that a script is not final word – it’s often that my ideas for poses or dialogue are adapted on the spot as I’m making a page because I come up with better ideas or can better see how well ideas work when the design is there in front of me and I can measure just how expressive a character ends up – and how much dialogue I can leave to be read from their faces and body language.