UPDATED! Added a bit on Osprey books at the bottom of the post!
Here’s how I research a WWII book:
Read the script. Make a note of period (this is very important 1940? 1944?) and location (ditto).
Sometimes a writer will send you book references, ignore this. KIDDING! KIDDING! Buy all the reference you can afford. Though it’s worth noting, often writers will recommend books that they’ve used for reference so they tend to be less visual than you need. You will need more books.
I create a blank multi page document in Clip Studio – this will contain all my relevant reference.
I start with character sketches from the script, then start digging out uniforms those characters are wearing, making a note of any visual descriptions the writer has given me, and their rank/nationality (this is important for later when I’m drawing something and I forget they’re a Russian Sergeant or something).
Actually those notes are important for the next stage which is drawing their uniforms/insignia/rank badges etc. Dig into google, but make sure you’re noting WHEN any reference you find is from, sometimes in the early days of the war uniforms changed to make them cheaper to mass produce.
Here’s my character references from World of Tanks: Citadel…
Right at the early stages you’re trying to burn through and hold tight to as much reference as you can find, it’s easy to get confused and turned around by finding contradictory images/descriptions keep date and location in mind, if you find reference that has neither of those just hold it suspiciously. Then observation is key. Look at as many photos as you can, find a uniform reference book and let that guide you. War is heck. Drawing war is even hecker.
Next I start filling the book out with reference on locations/maps (if neccessary – google helps a lot) and if I have to blueprints, the website the-blueprints.com is great for this, and I frequently used it to help me figure out things, as this next page shows.
You can see here where I used a blueprint and colour coded where the crew should be, this helped me keep the entire thing from skewing all over the place in my head.
You might also note The Russian “Matilda” is wrong here (this is entirely on me) I transcribed it wrong, and like a fool kept referring back to it.
If I have any, I’ll also add 3d models to the Clip Studio Paint document, these are great for making sure I’m on point on drawing the tech, though I make sure I rough the vehicles up and add bumps and notches and damage to them so they don’t look like they’re factory fresh.
When you’re doing stuff like this, you’ll often come across contradictory information, and the question is, if the new information appears to be more accurate which one do you go with?
Well, the answer is: if you’ve committed to the earlier version already stick with it. You may well be wrong but at least you’ll be consistent. Plus the fog of war meant much of the equipment/gear was a mishmash of a variety of things, if anything you’re more likely to be in danger of getting things wrong if it’s TOO book accurate.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m getting back to the war. Not tanks this time, something far far bigger.
UPDATE OSPREY BOOKS
One of the books I use a lot is the Osprey books, I tend to buy them for the pictures. Sometimes I’ll start reading them, but really it’s the images I’m interested in, what this has led to is me vastly under utilising a great resource. The Elite series Osprey Royal Navy 1939-45 book, for example, is littered with illustrations and each illustrated page (or PLATE) has a letter beside it (A,B, etc) each image on the page is numbered (1,2,3) and beside the numbers there’s a little description, for example, Page A – figure 1 is described as “Captain, No 5 Dress”.
Because I frequently DON’T read the Osprey books (I might start, decide its text heavy and I need visual information, so I skip it for the illos) I’ve missed the fact these illustrations are HEAVILY and BRILLIANTLY annotated starting at the back of the book, in the section “THE PLATES” (there’s also a very useful BIBLIOGRAPHY that describes other books the author has used along with a brief description of how useful they were) Looking at the Plates section, the same illustration A1 – has three dense paragraphs of information that’s incredibly useful beginning with “Officers had 12 different orders of dress in 1939…” etc.
So, turns out, you miss stuff.