Gianna Jun
Gianna Jun as Saya
(Blood: The Last Vampire [2009])

When I do reviews, I pick out about a dozen screen captures, and as I lay out the actual web page I narrow it down to nine images. This drawing comes from one of the screen captures that was in the running but ultimately not used in my Blood: The Last Vampire (2009) review.

A few things drew me to this particular frame. 1. Hang-Sang Poon shot Blood: The Last Vampire, and I have always admired his cinematography. 2. Gianna Jun, a very attractive and charismatic actress, plays the lead role, Saya. 3. The makeup department gave Gianna Jun anime-like bangs that behave more like narrow ribbons with a clear and distinct form rather than individual strands of hair which can fan out and become a barely visible texture or stick to the skin in weird ways. These three factors collide to yield a colorful backlit shot of a determined looking Saya with thick strands of hair hanging down in her face, not only creating an interesting pattern themselves, but also casting an interesting pattern of shadow.

I drew it freehand from the computer screen, right side up, no warm ups, mechanical pencil on printer paper across several days (seven-ish hours actual drawing time, would be my best guess.) I had three versions of the source image up: One untouched that I referred to most of the time; the second with increased brightness to make sense of some of the darker regions; the third, was in greyscale to reference how the colors would translate to black and white (but, I actually ended up not using it.)

Originally, I wanted to use blending to an extreme to give it give it a quasi painting-like feel. However, as time went on and the drawing developed, that idea faded out of favor. In the first stages of shading, I filled in the light and medium regions—mostly just her skin, but also a first pass on her outfit (the outfit would end up dark in the final rendering, but for the effect I was aiming for I started with a medium base.) Anyway, here I realized that her thick dark bangs and their respective shadows would make painting-like blending a complicated and tedious process that I wasn’t sure was worth the time involvement. Then when I started a second pass on the fabric, I really liked the hybrid look of dark pencil strokes on the lighter strokeless base. That solidified the style for the whole drawing. Painting-like blending would have to wait for another day.

On the Christina Ricci drawing (which I felt was my absolute best piece for many many months), I wrote, “I still think luck factored more heavily into this than my own talents (or lack thereof).” I think this Gianna Jun drawing not only surpasses it, but now I feel that I can consistently hit places where luck had to carry me before. Setting aside that this source image is more interesting than a static red carpet photo op, and ignoring that this one has a background, let's examine them purely on a technical level. Purely on technique. This drawing has a more natural, more organic feel. Notice how Saya’s bangs have a graceful flow, there’s tension in the hair pulled back into the pigtails, and the braids themselves have a sense of weight. Compare that to how I rendered Christina Ricci’s hair which looks stiffer and kinda-sorta appears to be floating. Look at the fabric in the two drawings, look at the expression, at the eyes, look at how shadows and highlights define the curvatures of their faces. I think the earlier drawing is very good (still in my top five), but I think this one captures more subtlety. More emotion.

More life.

My biggest disappointment is that Saya is fighting in the rain, and while I was able to streak the background with an eraser to suggest falling droplets, I didn’t really suggest that Saya, herself, was wet. I should have used the eraser to create tiny additional highlights on her face from the water catching the light, but I was just too timid and afraid of screwing it up. Maybe if I hadn’t already pressed my luck with the bangs and the shadows, I’d of risked it. Oh well.

—Jay Wilson