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The illustrated world of Diego Guerra

Ezra Pound once wrote, “All great art is born of the metropolis”. While Ezra’s point may be debatable, occasionally the inverse turns out to be true: a metropolis may be born from great art. Nowhere is this sentiment more visible than in the work and art of Diego Guerra.

The illustrated world of Diego Guerra
A scene from Diego’s animated feature Desterrada, modeled in SketchUp and rendered with V-Ray, Character animations completed in Toon Boom.

Diego is a graphic novelist and animator who uses SketchUp to give his graphic novels and films stylized perspective and to increase his output and vastly reduce production time. We caught up with Diego earlier this year and asked him to tell us more about his illustration process.

How long have you been in the graphic novel and animation business?

I’ve been involved in one way or another for twenty years or so. I started in illustration and comics a long, long time ago. I had studied architecture at the University of Central Venezuela for almost two years before I began illustrating for a publishing house. Before long, I was the editor of Acme comics and that’s when I left the architecture studies behind me. I then opened my animation studio back in 2001.

scene from the film Desterrada 
This scene from the film Desterrada contained 30 shots from different angles. The structure was modeled from the ground up using reference photos as well as pre-existing models from the 3D Warehouse to populate the interiors.

Diego’s animated urban narrative, Desterrada, flows through an illustrated Bogotá. His rendition of the city is created from hundreds of photos, which were used to inform numerous detailed background and foreground scenes. Diego and his team modeled these scenes within SketchUp. This process of modeling the environment allows him to author stories from countless interesting and dramatic angles without having to physically repeat illustrating structures for every unique viewpoint.

How many people do you work with to produce your graphic novels and films?

I work on the graphic novels completely alone. It is a lot of work and it takes a lot of time, but you have total freedom of expression. Animation is a different story entirely. For the film Desterrada I was the director, but I had a team of sixteen animators. For 3D modelling, I had a genius working with me: the great Edwin Diaz. When it comes to animation, a team of 16 - 20 would be ideal, but you need a lot of money to pay those folks.

"When we finished the movie I asked him if he missed handmade drawings. He answered "Using SketchUp is exactly the same as drawing.”

Why did you decide to incorporate SketchUp into your creative process and what advantages did that bring to the table?

Making an animated feature requires more than one thousand backgrounds, buildings, streets, interiors -- all seen from a lot of angles -- so it’s very practical if you have the 3D model with the whole environment for your scene. Actually, it’s kind of like having a real movie studio in your computer!

The Match Photo technique was used to model backgrounds like these
The Match Photo technique was used to model backgrounds like these.

Can you tell me what specific SketchUp tools and techniques you employ in your process?

While making the film Desterrada, we used the Match Photo technique a lot, but mostly at the beginning. When we had more experience, we realized that we had more fun just modelling from the photos in the other display window. We also use styles a lot. Styles are amazing! And I edit my own styles too.

SketchUp styles
SketchUp styles were used to lend graphic aesthetic to this elaborate scene. Once a custom style is created, a personalized look can be adapted to a model’s edges and lines giving each line and edge a hand-crafted quality and maintaining a creative vision.

Do you utilize any specific SketchUp extensions to help you during development?

Right now I'm absolutely amazed by the Eneroth Townhouse System Beta extension. I'm modeling big cities for a client (London, NY, Paris, Barcelona), and that plugin is awesome for creating context buildings.

Backgrounds like these were modeled in SketchUp
Backgrounds like these were modeled in SketchUp, then edited in Photoshop for final art.

Do you think that using 3D modeling software, like SketchUp, can influence the stories you are telling?

Yes. When you have the models, you find inspiration for changing some scenes from the script and the storyboard. For example, during production I’d realize something like ‘Hey, I have this window here; we can change the scene and use the window’. We had a very rough storyboard early on, but once we had the models we changed [the storyboard] a lot.

What type of stories do you prefer to tell through your art?

That’s easy. Any story worth telling has to have substance. My movie Desterrada is about the armed conflict in my country [Colombia], and now I'm working on a graphic novel in an apocalyptic environment (yes, modeled in SketchUp).

Storytelling is the most powerful way to create a testimony of the time you're living in. It's a great medium for entertainment too, and a tradition that started ages ago, with bedtimes stories and folklore legends. Now you can find it in comics, literature, movies and some great TV series.

What’s your next project?

I’m working on a Graphic novel, The Night Before The End, you can read the first chapter here.

How long did it take you to feel at ease using SketchUp, and do you have any advice for other inspired artists who want to use SketchUp as you did?

I'm not a 3D expert and I found SketchUp very easy to use, There are a lot of tutorials and plugins that are easy to find. My pal Edwin Diaz, a very gifted illustrator, modeled almost all the architecture of the movie (I worked more in the interiors); he didn't know anything about 3D when we started. I said to him, "If you learn this software soon, you'll have a lot of work in the movie". He actually learned SketchUp in about a day or two, and in the first week, we had the first buildings! When we finished the movie I asked him if he missed handmade drawings. He answered, "Using SketchUp is exactly the same as drawing.”

Backgrounds like these were modeled in SketchUp
Click here to see the trailer for Diego Guerra’s film Desterrada. You can also see more samples of his illustrations on his website; “The House of the Blind Bird”.

Diego has put a lot of time, effort and passion into his work. We respect that kind of dedication and we are happy to play a small role in Diego’s contemporary mythologies.

About the Author

Chris has been with Trimble since 2007. He's on the SketchUp for Education team and can be found in his free time constantly redesigning his tiny house or breaking things in his workshop.

Profile Photo of Chris Brashar