Design Fiction Web Comic – Page 20

Good morning (depending on what part of the globe your are in). Here is this week’s commentary on today’s new art for The Lightstream Chronicles web comic.

Academic set up

If you are a regular follower, you already know that the impetus behind this graphic novel is my MFA thesis, When designers ask, “What if?” My thesis defense, by the way, is this Wednesday, April 3rd. For those of you who may have heard the term design fiction (it gets tossed around quite a bit in the blogosphere) but are not sure what it is, I might direct you to a previous post that gives you some additional background. The anchor definition, which  now rolls off the tongue is sci-fi writer, futurist muser Bruce Sterling‘s (2012), “…the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” (If you want to know where the “diegetic” part comes from, then that is another post.) My thesis, for an MFA in Design Development, of course, focuses on what benefit this could possibly have for anyone, much less design and designers. So I have evolved my own interpretation for the context of my thesis. Thus:

Design fiction is about the future, about change, about visualizing the change possibilities, and making it all seem real enough to us that we want to talk about it, assess it, and ask ourselves if this is really the future we want — and if it’s not — what might we do about it, how might we change it and refine it.

Therefore, The Lightstream Chronicles is a story that portrays a speculative future heavily influenced by technological change and enhanced with visual prototypes with the ongoing objective to both entertain, fascinate and provoke thinking. Because of it’s obsessive detail, it also makes the journey and interactive one that invites the reader to zoom-in and explore each image. Granted, not your average web comic, but enough of that. About

Page 20

On page 19 we began a long dolly shot into the penthouse of one of Hong Kong 2’s many towering buildings. From the exterior markings you have surmised that this is the headquarters of AHC (Almost Human Corporation) and that this logo (for the more observant) was also emblazoned on the body suit of Sean Colbert on pages 17 and 18. So, if you guessed that we might be bringing the camera in through the window of Sean’s lab, you are correct. On page 20 we are now through the glass, so to speak, and down to the personal level.

Here, we see Dr. Colbert’s private exploratorium where he has engineered the wildly successful and profitable N-Class, D-Class and now, T-Class synthetics. The prodigious, eighteen-year-old Colbert was awarded his own lab earlier in the year as a perk for making AHC a small fortune over the past decade. You can read more about Colbert and the synthetics on the cast page. In this scene, Sean has turned from his work, a torso that is floating on a levitating work table (presumably his next creation) to communicate with a face on a floating virtual screen (a diegetic prototype). In the background there are super alloy skeletal structures, and a selection of synthetics in stasis containers. One of these creations, we have already met. This lab environment took about 10 days to construct and each of the scene/panels is at least a few hours, and sometimes a few days.

Though the identity of the character that Sean is conversing with is not yet revealed, it soon will be. Comments and questions are welcome.

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Design Fiction Web Comic – Page 19

I thought I might add a bit of color commentary this week and from now on, about the art that you see on the web comic.

Page 19. This scene is (if you’re following the captions) later that night after the big show at Almost Human Corporation (AHC). In that scene we introduced Sean Colbert, Toei-N, Col. Lee Chen, and Keiji-T, Sean’s latest creation.

The opening panel is a new view of Hong Kong 2 at night and it correlates with an earlier page (labled NEW intro). Since Hong Kong 2 was built to scale, there are lots of scenes of the city from different angles. In this panel I’ve set up this sort of Hitchcockian zoom-in on the top floor of Building 3 at AHC. By the third panel, you can probably figure out where we’re going.

One of the challenges of this scene was not only building the city but actually having the interior of the penthouse lab inside the building so that the “camera” could zoom-in right through the window. I’m not sure how game environments are actually built, but scale and continuity are no doubt a huge part. I wanted everything to feel as real as possible.

I had a stream of air vehicles zooming through the scene way off in the distance, but I cut that. Maybe I’ll start and out-takes file.

Another little atmospheric detail is the constant fog and rain that occurs in Hong Kong 2. I’m attributing this to the climate change that has occurred as a result of the vast area that the Pearl River Delta mega-city complex has spread across. The heat build-up from the construction that has covered the green zones has resulted in very erratic weather patterns. There is a bit of  mega-city backstory on pages 5 and 6 if you want to go back and study up.

Rain is coming.

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Design Fiction Thesis Final Draft and Web Comic Update

It’s hard to describe the feeling of sending off that final draft of your thesis. It might be something akin to hearing you aren’t going to die after all. Elation is a good word. It’s true, and also hard to believe that it has been nearly 3 years in the making, 27,000 words, 157 pages (17 pages of works cited) and that does not include the 87 page shooting script that will go along for the ride in the final document. The shooting script was the hybrid between my screenplay and the comic script and the perfect alternative to having to sketch every panel of the graphic novel. The bibliography alone took about 16 hours, and I wasn’t starting from scratch. I thought I had the bib locked down, but unfortunately, upon further scrutiny, I found that it had been saved in about a dozen different ways, e.g.. MLA, Harvard, Chicago. Personally, I prefer Harvard for citations, but the Design department prefers MLA, so… Anyway, aside from this, I did no writing today. It felt great. I actually jumped back to the graphic novel after about 10 days of limbo. That felt good. Believe it or not I love working on the renders— just wish they went faster.

I expect my advisor to have a few changes to the final draft, but since he’s been reading it all along, I don’t expect big changes. At its current length, I know there is nothing more to add.

Next up: Web comic mania

With the writing behind me (for the time being) I focused a bit on adding the web comic to some additional web comic directories. Mine is a bit out of the norm, however, since it is a. not WordPress, and b. lives on the same webcomic landing page ( I just add new pages every Friday). Interestingly, however, I’m getting a lot of international visitors Brazil, Columbia, Australia, Russia, Hong Kong (finally), and the Netherlands.

Most web comics

Most web comics serve up the latest page, with a back button for previous posts and a beginning button if you want to start with the first of the first. Some web comics have a religious following and that is awesome. In 99 percent of the cases, however, you can spend a about a minute, read the latest update and you’re done. Since I want my readers to download and inspect (this is not your average web comic) I load all the pages on to one landing page and then try to coerce visitors to download so that they can open the image in their image viewer and zoom in and inspect for all the rich detail — and even some clues.

Unfortunately, I have no way (with my current analytics) to see if they are actually doing this. Suggestions are welcome.

This Friday ends spring break and it’s back to teaching on Tuesday. Read any good web comics lately?

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A CG Web Comic for the Thinking Man or Woman

The original intent of The Lightstream Chronicles was a tasty coffee table, hard-bound book with slick, varnished black pages and a sweet linen cover with LSC emblem embossed in silver foil. Sounds cool, huh? Well, if you have been following the story, the blog, or the web site, then you know that that idea died a painful death on Kickstarter some months ago. I did a full diagnosis on that in a previous post, but now that I am several weeks into what has become The Lightstream Chronicles Web Comic I’m thinking that digital is not so bad after all.



There are a couple of reasons for this change of heart:

Experiencing The Lightstream Chronicles has two foci, one for the reader-observer and one for the designer. For the designer, the experience of creating the story, the research, scriptwriting, planning, design, and production become processes of continuous challenge. Each embodies design in different ways from the not so familiar means of writing fiction and dialog, to the more familiar methods of visual thinking, planning, prototyping, rendering, retouching, selection and layout. These, however, could all be grouped into the category of doing, which are valuable exercises in polishing the craft of a visual designer. A less visible benefit of the design fiction process is accessible only if the designer embraces the intentional act of questioning and reflection. The fabrication or visualization of realistic diegetic prototypes can play a major role in suspending disbelief about change and the plausibility of near and distant futures, but at this level, they are little more than contextual support for more believable stories.

A 24 percent version of a full page spread. For the full res version visit:
Click on this and you get a 24 percent version of a full page spread. For the full res version visit the site link above.


In order for diegetic prototypes and artifacts from the future to provide the subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) commentary on the artifacts in use today and the interconnectedness of design and culture, the designer must ask, “What if?“ And the question does not concern the, “if ” of whether the artifact could be made, it asks what would happen if it actually was made, and subsequently used. It is this inquiry, that yields the story of human interaction, and the resulting behavioral and or social changes that occur. The experience of the designer then, can be twofold: as hypothesizing visualizer of future artifacts, adjunct to a believable tale, or thought leader who welds artifacts with human behavior in the form of narrative to provoke discussion and debate.

The latter was the intention of this thesis and project. It yielded and continues to yield an experience that drives reflection into the end-result of design and technology. Indeed, if in the storytelling, the audience of science fiction and its design sub-genre stops with the satisfying act of consumption, a strong element of the meal is left on the table. Such design fiction is intentionally made and should be similarly examined. Through reflection, these future artifacts provide form of social introspection and a way of slowing (at least long enough to converse and examine) the headlong pursuit of more, because we can. Therein the designer’s experience is enhanced through a far deeper examination of the process of design, and it’s consequences.

The second focus is deals with the zoom tool in the hands of the viewer. For the audience, in many ways, The Lightstream Chronicles is an interactive graphic novel. Though it is not built with sophisticated programming that incorporates motion and sound, it is built in a high-resolution format (300 ppi) that on most computer displays requires the reader to engage by actively zooming, panning and scrolling to navigate the pages. This was intentional. Building this level of detail facilitates the process of inquiry. It draws the reader into a more inquisitive relationship the environment, the characters and the diegetic prototypes. This sense of realism, of tangible artifacts, tactile surfaces, and atmospheric detail is critical to the design fiction experience. The resolution serves the dual purpose of having artwork that is of sufficient resolution for an eventual printing, and it encourages the reader to push into the imagery up to five times, thereby increasing engagement with the narrative.

This is a key distinguishing difference between traditionally hand drawn sequential art. While hand drawn art can be scanned or digitally built at a similar or higher resolution, it most often does not hold the level of 3-dimensional detail that would, upon inspection, yield any further value (beyond a fine examination of the artist’s technique). With CG that is built, realistically textured, lit, and rendered in virtual space the reader must adopt the illusion that the objects and people are not simply implied through the artist’s technique, but actually exist in 3D space.

In no way do I slight the sublime satisfaction of flipping through those glossy pages, but diving deep into virtual space has it’s advantages.

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Evangelizing Design Fiction and topping it off with Syd Mead and Blade Runner

The last two weeks have been rapid-fire. I presented my thesis research at two different universities as part of the interview process for Assistant Professor design positions. The last one was, coincidentally, was in the precise location of the 2013 Emerge Conference. I had nothing to do with planning it this way it’s just how things worked out. In fact, I was so buried in the preparation for these interviews that the Emerge Conference dropped completely off my radar screen. So, as I am presenting on one part of the campus, about the idea of design fiction as a serious area of design research, Bruce Sterling and Brad Allenby, pivotal voices in future thinking, are presenting in another. It just seemed weird, especially since I had no idea it was going on until I got into town. Sterling, of course, is credited with creating the neologism known as “design fiction,” and though he probably has no idea that I exist, I think we are watching closely from similar perspectives. Note the similarities with his recent blog and my post from a few weeks ago.

It was an exhausting day of meetings and presentations, so I was anxious to get back to the hotel and decompress. Despite this I could not pass up the opportunity to trek across campus for a 6:30 screening of the digitally remastered 1987 classic, Blade Runner, in an awesome little theater with a shake-your-chair sound system. After the film, who else but Syd Mead shows up to field questions. Mead, complete with sunglasses, says he’s 79 years old, but there are no signs that he’s slowing down. He’s sharp as a tack and a bit feisty. Mead said that he is quite comfortable with revising his concepts or with ideas being outright rejected, as long as he gets paid. I think that some of the students saw his ‘show-me-the-money’ attitude as a bit arrogant, but Mead is a design and concept-art legend, he’s been working in the profession for a long time, and knows the way great designs and great art would rarely come to life without free enterprise. So, while some students may see the idea of commerce as a tool of capitalist oppression, Syd gets paid. Good for him.

All that being said, the presentations over the past couple of weeks went well, I think. I’m thinking that close to 100 turned out for my last one. Most of the comments were positive and encouraging. I may even have a few more converts to the web comic, but after the rigorous interview processes I have no idea where all of this will end up. Maybe none of it will turn into gainful employment, but they all add up to great experiences and the chance to share ideas with smart people.

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