Screenplay to graphic novel.

So, I have this screenplay… the assignment was to write a screenplay for a short film — no more than 30 pages. It began with a “pitch,” then a “treatment” and ultimately a series of drafts that produced a final submission. My first draft produced a 74-page screenplay that Phil graciously plowed through and marked up. “Tighten,” was the predominant scrawl. There were also good comments from the rest of the class about the believability of some of the characters, the amount of violence, etc. that provided a sort of focus group for the story (though most of the class, I think intimidated by the sheer length, passed on reading the whole thing). Nevertheless, Phil indulged my graduate student status and let me continue with my feature-length film script over the prescribed shorter version.

What became clear was that this was not a short story. There are lots of characters, the plot is complicated, and the setting is highly relevant to the way people act and the things that drive the story. There is more than a bit of story-telling here.

You have to add to this the anchor of my thesis which is what gets “made” in this fictive future — the design-fiction motive. It requires a level of research into science, government, medicine, crime, society, transportation and history to give context to the culture that begat these design changes.

The screenplay was written using a free, downloadable piece of software called Celtx that actually lets you convert your screenplay to comic book format. Though it was unable to read my mind, the conversion was a handy way of putting you in  the panels and pages mindset. A lot of tweaking is needed. I have continued writing and editing the story as well. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the comic format allows me to break all the screenplay rules of exposition and generally lay it out however I want since this is a reading and visualizing medium.

Already, then something of a change to my setting. In a perfect world I would have had the whole thing take place in Tokyo. I love that city and have spent a fair amount of time there. I understand the aesthetic and I can see it in some future fiction. However, it doesn’t play into my storyline. China is huge in my future which had me switch to Hong Kong another amazing city, but one that I have no visceral attachment to they way I have with Tokyo. But now as I have been spinning away at Hong Kong, I’m starting to think that you need to have some deep knowledge of the place to write about it even if it is a hundred and twenty years from now. So I took the script back to my screenwriter (me) and we hashed a new, and frankly much improved scenario.  I’ll share:

The government of New Asia, which accounts for 75% of the world’s population, is now headquartered in what was New York City. Officially renamed New Hong Kong (for the locals, it was easier to swallow than New Beijing) in 2079, most people have shortened it to HK2, some call it King Kong. The original Hong Kong is still Hong Kong. It was a gentle change of command; China repossessed it all. It was all perfectly legal and peaceful. Most former Americans reluctantly acquiesced. Bankruptcy is a bitch.

I’m excited about transforming New York into New Hong Kong and I am ever so much more familiar Manhattan. But strap yourselves in. It’s going to change a lot.

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The otherly graphic novel. Part 3.

If you’ve been following my progress, (and a few of you have) you know that the screenwriting class from Spring Quarter was an immense help in moving forward my story, characters, plot and setting. All of these beforehand were mere flashes from some strange disconnected dream where I could see a character that looked like this and a villain, a controversial scene, and the makings of a future world — all nothing but ideas. The screenwriting class helped this all to congeal fairly well. Screenwriting however is not graphic novel writing. Though they are both intended to become visual narratives, film has a much different dynamic, driven by a completely different way of advancing the story across time.

Which bring us to the next discussion on the otherliness of comics. I have concluded that they deal with time differently in at least three respects. First, as I have mentioned in the past, film goes forward, that’s it, and unless you have an annoying habit of replaying scenes incessantly, (not exactly what the director intended) you are stuck in forward motion. Even when wielding the remote control, either backward or forward film provides only one moment in time; one frame. So in the first respect film — in it’s presentation — is linear. In the otherly world of comics, graphic novels, what have you, past, present and future are all laid out on the page right in front of you. Indeed, you can quickly move forward or look back to add context or meaning, much as you do in pure prose. Of course, here we have pictures.

In a second regard, a film has a finite length. I’m sure there is some marketing formula that lays out the ideal length for general matinee fare. This restriction is not completely absent from a comic or graphic novel, since a publisher may have similar marketing motivations here as well. But, in the absence of a tight publishing format or serial precedent, the length is more likely to be based on the story than the number of marketable pages and the luxury of continuing to a next issue or installment if the story calls for it.

Finally, there is the restriction of time as in the time you spend with the story. This is related to the first reason but not the same. In the graphic novel or comic, we can linger, which is different than scanning back or forward for context, it is about enjoying or studying an image for its sheer impact or wonder. Yes, you can do this with a remote control, too, but let’s face it; it’s different: primarily because the images on the page are intended as 2D art and not moving photos. This brings us back to screenwriting. As most experienced screenwriters will tell you, the visual and audio are your primary tools. They will tell you to write, “Only what we see and hear.” No one wants to read a lot of exposition in a movie. Save for the introduction to Star Wars, most screenwriting experts will tell you that if you have to write a page of explanation then, at the very least, you are using bad form. Not so in the graphic novel. In this constantly evolving form, you can pretty much do whatever you want. If you feel the need to tell your readers that the world in 2159 is extremely complex, that there is a new world government, bizarre new crimes, technological wonders, etc., etc., then you can do that. You can write “more than what we see.” Sounds become their own challenge, but the burden falls on the writer/artist to find a compelling way to introduce written exposition in an engaging and creative way — or you can read it. The cool part is that you could read it on a memo, or another visual device that adds context and additional meaning to the story.

I will have more on the switch from the screenplay to the story script in the next blog.

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Design and culture

On the more “scholarly” side of things, I’ve touched on the interplay of design and culture in previous posts. Here are some more direct thoughts on the subject.

The purposeful, systematic and creative activities that surround the work of design are based on our cultural requirements. They have changed over time. The stresses and requirements of the information age are profoundly different from the industrial age, or an agrarian society. Along with that, our human story has changed. What we find meaningful and our expectations for design have changed with that culture. Design and culture are, in fact, inextricably woven together constantly evolving producing new artifacts, data, entertainment, transportation, medicine, governments and behaviors to name a few. This interdependency between design and culture continues to evolve leaving a history from whence we can pluck an artifact or inventive solution to discover the design narrative, and the cultural influences that launched it into existence.

This design-culture universe continues to expand and inform our lives, our design and our narrative. The relationship is significant. What we design affects the culture. Technology can initiate formidable societal changes. Do these developments follow some cosmic algorithm? Are they purely reactionary to time and economic urgency? Or, do we have a choice about what can and should be made?

Pulling the thread on this idea, there is the connective relevance beyond my graphic novel project and into design practice and the way we think as designers. Are we too bound up in the client’s parameters, or the aesthetic edge? Does the world need a better looking can opener? What about a can that doesn’t need a can opener?

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Working on Hong Kong 2159.

Although I have not revealed the storyline for my graphic novel, I am prepared to reveal a little about the setting. As you guessed from the title it is set beyond the near future — 148 years to be exact. The city is Hong Kong. Without going into too much backstory, this is where the global government is located. Countries, as we know them, are gone. New Asia is the broader amalgamation of  the Asia of today, Europe and the former United States. The city has evolved through building continually upward. The “road car” is gone, replaced with the air version. With the advent of air taxis and all manner of flying craft, the top of the city is the new facade. Instead of entering at the bottom of a building and riding up and then to rooftops that are essentially abandoned places, the world becomes reversed. The show is at the top and so is the money and prestige. The layers as it were start at 150 stories and work their way down. Under 25 you find yourself in a city of disrepair and darkness. The bottom city is a place of crime and poverty, even in 2159. And while mankind has made quantum leaps in technology, crime has managed to keep pace in new and creative ways. Much of it legalized. But that’s going too far for today’s blog.

At any rate, the top world is where you will find all the advertising, the glamour, the enticements. Every rooftop now has a docking zone or an airlock (it gets windy up there) for patrons to offload and play. Lots to think about.  More to come in the August synopsis.

 

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The otherly graphic novel. Part 2.

A week or so ago I wrote about how comics are particularly different from just about any other medium. I tried to illustrate this by showing, in the words of Scott McCloud, that “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, (1993:8)” fine-tuning by the artists hand, and deliberate planning by the writer can use visuals carry the weight of paragraphs of exposition. Don’t get me wrong. Reading pages, paragraphs, or sentences of exposition are probably my favorite part of fiction, better in some cases that the evolving storyline. Why? Because, when it’s done well, you can see it in your incredibly opulent imagination. In comics, which we have come to agree in this blog is what a graphic novel is when it’s not being self-conscious, the burden lies heavily on the visual. In this respect, sequential art shares something with the movies. But as the prolific, acclaimed writer of comics Alan Moore says, a film moves at a predetermined pace, “…if I’m watching a film I’m trapped in the rigid framework dictated by the film’s running time. I must immerse myself in the flow of the film and hope I’ll pick up on enough of the constant flow of details to make coherent sense of the story at the end.” (2007:5). This brings to light the idea of time and how only comics, thus far, can address it in a wholly unique way. On the comics’ page as the panels flow from one image to the next, we can capture time, past present and future within the same viewspace. Ah, but with a DVD, I can go back and forth as well. Yes, but currently that is still a linear experience. I cannot see them all at the same time and because they are all in front of me on the comics’ page, I am getting a unique and particularly different experience.

Add to that the multi-modal braining that is required to interpret image and word along with the leap between panels (the gutter, the gap, the whitespace) the “closure” required to bridge what is happening from image to image is yet another example of the otherly nature of the art form. And this is by no means an exhaustive list of what separates the comics medium from the rest of narrative form — just another one.

McCloud, Scott. 1993. Understanding Comics. New York: Paradox Press.

Moore, Alan. 2007. Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics. Rantoul, IL: Avatar Press.

 

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More than a graphic novel

Let’s face it, I came to Ohio State to make a graphic novel. For me, it was the epitome of holistic design and a realization of “epic integration.” In the professional world, I was forever battling to make clients and decision-makers embrace the idea as it applies to brands and their stories — experiences. Over the years though, so much of your design sensibility becomes second nature, intuitive. What seems obvious to you is not obvious to everyone else. Thankfully the faculty prodded this out of me and as a result there was the discovery of design fiction.

Through design fiction, idea-objects gain knowledge mass and a sense of credibility. But design fiction is more than just constructing a set of plausible constraints through which a design might exist. Bleecker states that drama is of great importance. “We can put the designed thing in a story and move it to the background as if it were mundane and quite ordinary — because it is, or would be. The attention is on the people and their dramatic tension, as it should be.” (Bleecker, 2009:37) Thus, design becomes that invisible collaborator with culture in making life seem as real in the future as it is real for us now.

In fact, science fiction has a long history of introducing new technologies and artifacts that go on to become real world devices. The gesture-based interface of Minority Report or the multi-storey videos of Blade Runner are only two examples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evolutionary geneticist and science lecturer David Kirby calls these props “diegetic prototypes” (Kirby, 2010:1) “Film-makers and science consultants craft diegetic prototypes and enhance their realism by creating a full elaboration of the technological diegesis which includes any part of the fictional world concerning the technology. Through their actions they construct a filmic realism that implies self-consistency in both the real world and the story world.” (Kirby, 2010:46).

While design fiction can be used in filmmaking to create acceptance of a concept or idea as some kind of future product placement, that is not its greatest potential. “A particularly rich context, a good story that involves people and their social practices rather than fetishizing the object and its imagined possibilities — this is what design fiction aspires to.” (Bleecker, 2009:27).

Playing around with these concepts makes for a very rich exploration into a future design. Stay tuned for the story synopsis, characters and more – coming August 2011.

References:

Bleecker, Julian. 2009. Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. Online. http://www.nearfuturelaboratory.com

Kirby, David. 2010. The Future is Now: Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating Real-world Technological Development. Social Studies of Science, 40/1; 41–70, February 2010. http://www.sagepub.co.uk/journals

 


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The otherly graphic novel. Part 1.

The Urban Dictionary describes otherly as “Different in a specified manner or in the manner of that or those implied or specified.” We might suffice to say, particularly different. This comes up as discussion for today’s blogging as I am ankle-deep in the 356 pages of William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. After just completing my screenplay and not yet ready to hit the “convert to screenplay” button in Celtx, I am feeling envious of the traditional novelist’s ability to wax on about the way things look or the clothes people wear. In the prose novel, the author can call attention to these things overtly and more easily. In effect the author can say, “Pay attention to this. This is what it looks like. It has meaning.” In my effort, the graphic novel, while I do not  have the advantage of the same deliberate and unavoidable syntax of pure prose, I have the decided advantage of showing what it looks like. Because I intend on adding, strategically vivid detail, I can be as obsessive about the visual as the author is about the description, limited only by my command of the visual language. Of course, even in a graphic novel, I am afforded the opportunity to add words. There is nothing stopping me. Indeed, you will find pages of pure prose exposition or backstory in some of the most renowned graphic books. In my mind, however, if you have to apply a belt and suspenders either one is overkill or something is not functioning properly. So, if I’m not careful, I run in the danger of having the audience miss it entirely.

Ah, but therein lies the challenge. In the aforementioned Gibson novel, the presentation case of a particularly snobbish and, well, bitchy designer, Dorotea, is described thus, “On the table in front of her, perhaps a millimeter too carefully aligned, is an elegant gray cardboard envelope, fifteen inches on a side, bearing the austere yet whimsical logo of Heinzi & Pfaff. It is closed with one of those archaic fasteners consisting of a length of cord and two small brown cardboard buttons” (10). I see it clearly. So, how would I show it? Exactly as it looks, of course, and then close up, maybe, camera low to the table with Dorotea’s slightly out of focus knees in the background. Maybe if it is of particular importance, it could be a separate panel absent of words and any other possible distraction.

Therein lies a specifically different, otherly aspect of the graphic novel (there are more for another day). In Robert C. Harvey’s The Art of the Comic Book- An Aesthetic History, he states, “Only in comics can the field of vision be so manipulated: the size and arrangement of images control our perception of the events depicted, contributing dramatically to the narrative effects produced” (162). Just one of the differences, I thought I’d mention today, an advantage perhaps for for a visual artist, and serving to separate the medium from the prose novel; not necessarily superior to, but particularly different.

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Preparing a paper.

Here’s a new twist, especially for those of you who have never seen me as particularly scholarly. Mastery is something like scholarly but not quite the same. Each requires a level of knowing, amassing some amount of information, expertise or experience. I think you can define mastery as a level attained at which point you are capable of passing it on to others. Scholarly, to me, is more about attaining a level of knowledge and then sharing the remaining questions with others. In scholarly, there is no finish line. I’d like to think there are some things I’ve mastered, but one of the great privileges of becoming a full-time student again is the ability to keep asking questions and to probe the great what if. Who wants to stop at mastery?

So much for the long introduction. At the encouragement of my thesis committee, I have been looking for ways to further the discussion of my thesis topic through symposiums, conferences and the like. Many of these more scholarly venues have a “Call for Papers” that goes out many months in advance of the event to get the latest thinking on issues that would enlighten, inspire or provoke discussion among members and attendees. Along those lines I think I may have found a good match for my topic. The International Design Alliance (IDA) hosts the 2011 IDA Congress. This event is dubbed ICOGRADA. To add to the “I” words, there is Iridescent: Icograda Journal of Design Research, which has extended a list of new topics for this years event. The one that caught my eye was, “Understanding How Graphic Design is Animated through Use.” Part of the description includes this, “Papers submitted under this theme might offer new modes of analysis with which to illuminate the public’s more complex, nuanced and subtle relationships with the emerging forms, methods and behaviors of graphic design practice.” I think the idea of design fiction visualized in a graphic novel might be the perfect discussion for this forum. I have a June 30 deadline. Should be interesting to see where this leads.

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CG software: Does it ever stop?

As promised, I’m going to discuss the maze of CG software that I’ve been toying with and contemplating for my project. I will try to avoid this turning into a rant. Let’s go way back. When 3D software was still in it’s infancy, I fell in love with it and I wanted to learn it and know it as well as my 2D software. I started out with Strata (is that still around?) and quickly acknowledged its limitations. Somewhere around that time, I also adopted the early generations of Poser, and Bryce, which were inexpensive by comparison and managed to do a decent job (for that day and age). It must have been the early ’90s when I made the leap into Power Animator, which I still dearly love and miss. Of course, when all of those companies changed hands and consolidated and such Power Animator went away and Maya was born. There were some similarities, but ultimately, it was a different program altogether. Being self-taught and self-employed, by the late ’90s I ended up abandoning the Maya platform for a number of reasons:

1) Cost of software. Maya was too expensive. Way too expensive. And this was no one-time investment; this was a yearly outlay of big bucks.

2) Cost of hardware. In the beginning, I used SGI hardware, but then they vaporized and the price for new hardware to drive the relentlessly new software just got too crazy. (When the motherboard goes on your Octane and the company is out of business, well, you move on.)

3) Difficulty. Maya was no longer the kind of program that you could teach yourself. With each new iteration, there was new learning and I couldn’t keep pace.

4) By the time Maya was available for the Mac all of the above had already passed me by.

So, I resorted to Bryce for the lion’s share of my rendering. Some of you will laugh, but I exploited that software for all it was worth and still do, despite some annoying aspects and limitations. I also picked up a copy of SolidThinking to continue my NURBS modeling but this was a squirrely program that crashed often and produced unreliable results. I also ventured into Maxwell, Modo and now, since Autodesk lets students use Maya for free, (great idea by the way) I have come full circle. As I suspected, the learning curve is steep, stepping in after years of being away.

Where does that leave me now? As I stare down the massive project ahead, I think I’m going to end up using them all in some way, shape or form; Bryce, Poser, Maya, Modo and MaxwellRender. Life would be ideal if they all played nicely together, but as composer, conductor and first violin on this project, I may have to sacrifice tidy workflow for speed. And, unless Maya is your career, I venture to say that it is anything but fast. No discussion of 2D art (even if it’s 3D generated) would be complete without mentioning Photoshop, which I still hold out as one the finest pieces of software ever designed and thank God, they have never ruined. That’s my toolbox for now. I’ll keep you posted. Your thoughts, as always, are welcome.

 

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Graphic novel checklist. Part 1.

After tidying up a few lose ends, like posting my student’s grades and submitting my up-to-date thesis documentation this week, I will have the first, full-length summer vacation since I was 15 (considering that I worked during my summers from that age forward). Hmm. This should be interesting. But before you get visions of piña coladas poolside you should know that I’ve established an aggressive 18 month schedule to complete my graphic novel and another 6 months (if needed) to complete my research paper. In addition, my thesis committee recommended that I prepare an essay/paper that posits some of the assumptions surrounding my thesis and submit these to conferences and symposiums in the graphic novel, science fiction, or design realm. Therefore my summer is going to be packed with — work. Fortunately, I have a calendar and a long list of to-dos.

Tomorrow I will discuss the ins and outs of CGI software as stare down this task ahead. For those of you dying for pictures, there’s a couple of new ones at scottdenison.com. and

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