Category Archives: Design Fiction

Graphic novel update: 8.29.11

There is little in the way of academic thought today as I have been crunching away at my self-imposed deadline to finish my eight key characters this week. I’m happy to report that I’m running renders on the last one right now. This one is turning out to be it’s own unique challenge, as they all have been, but will probably require numerous render passes and more compositing than the others.

I’ve also decided to make DeviantArt my launching point for these characters. I thought about doing it right here but this blog is not really set up for large imagery and DevArt handles that pretty well. Plus, these are the people who really appreciate the work that goes into this so it makes sense. I’ll be adding them to scottdenison.com but in a lower res format.

Now, the question is: one a day, or all at once? I’ve created a template for the characters that links them all into the book title and supplies some basics on who they are. There will be a story synopsis to accompany the launch, but it’s going to be a year before the 500 or more panels are complete so after this, folks are just going to have to use their imagination. I’m thinking that to keep things alive until the book is finished I’ll be posting random renders, scenes, props, “diegetic prototypes”, (there, I made my academic contribution) and such. And, of course, I will keep everyone in the loop on progress.

This autumn I will be teaching Basic Design at OSU, which is a heavy 2:45 studio, three days a week. No telling, at this point, how much it will eat into my design time on the book. We’ll have to wait and see.

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What designers can learn from a sci-fi graphic novel.

With characters and script, synopsis and page grid nearing completion, I am poised at the threshold of an epic design journey and the production phase of my MFA thesis. Through my work this past summer, I have already begun to construct the context for this future, the story of the characters, their lives, and their world and visualize it within the constructs of a science fiction graphic novel. For this future prototype, I have chosen a new visual style — not film, not hand drawing — but stylized realism from computer-generated imagery (CGI) to further enrich the story, the cultural legibility, the theoretical visualization, the experience, and the emotional resonance.

As I have blogged before, I want this to be a great read, but for the designer it is also something more. This project is a multi-layered examination of the conjugation of design and narrative. With a trip to the latest superhero flick, there is clear evidence that we now have the technology to envision virtually anything, any world, any impossible feat and any disaster. Within these virtual visualizations, our design—our stuff—often taken for granted, supplies context and cohesion. The more the design reflects the culture the more real and reasonable the premise — the more virtual the vision. Thus, on one level, design blends into Bleecker’s[1] background providing credible context for a future vision.

On another level, design also becomes an accelerant for our culture and society. If the design around us, in our messages, our products, our tools, and our lifestyles is so inextricably woven in our culture, then it bears examination of what we make and how it will affect culture — perhaps before we simply wait and see.

Design also participates in the storytelling exercise and the way that future worlds can be prototyped. The graphic novel becomes a means to create a visual prototype of one such world in a fashion arguably less costly than filmmaking, where the designer gets to ask the holistic question of what design will be like a hundred years from now in the context of people’s lives wrapped in a compelling narrative.

The examination is multi-fold. The designer must create a purely hypothetical drama, then speculate on how it might be made real, how design can contribute to authenticity, what new things and ideas might be woven into the texture of human lives, and pulling threads of science fact into science fiction create the visuals and style to serve as prototype and narrative guide through a coherent order utilizing the conventions of the art form and the tools of the graphic designer.

At the end of the journey is introspection and conversation on the implications of such a journey for design practitioners as contributors to future media, entertainment, artifacts and information.

Possibly this is more real to me after having done it for 30+ years, but it seems that this is about design habits, and the tried-and-true that we exercise every day in the practice of commercial design, back and forth over the same territory, forging ruts and channels that make us and our design so predictable. In many ways, if we never stop and ask, “What if?” we will never spark that new synapse that will lead us to the untapped possibilities. Design should do that, too.

 

[1] Bleecker, Julian. 2009. Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. (37)

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My sci-fi graphic novel: more updates

Editors note: If you are arriving here for the first time, I’m a designer working on my MFA thesis is a graphic novel set in the far future, 2159. The objectives are two-fold: 1.) an exercise in epic designmanship that examines the design-culture relationship within a future narrative. Because the end result is visual, making things and and diegetic prototypes are a natural by-product.  2.) Created entirely in CG,this visually rich graphic novel will be an exciting, page-turning, thought-provoking adventure into the future.

With that behind us, I’ve made some progress on character design, to the point that I think I’m back on schedule and satisfied, (do you believe it) with the renderings, style and overall look that is developing. Five of eight characters are complete with the remaining three underway and well past the half-way point. As soon as this is completed I will be working to polish my overall story synopsis so that you guys will have something real to think about. I’m seriously toying with the idea of going on Kickstarter to get some funding. I’ve been working around the clock on this for almost a year, (with no appreciable income) writing, researching, etc. and a printed book seems to be a necessity, and that means promoting it and everything that goes with that — hence the funding.  A web comic, as I have discussed previously, might happen but only after the entire work is complete. This could be a year away.

Also on the list is a website for the book based on the title, and a video trailer. So, there is no end to what needs to get done.

Meanwhile, on my parallel path of examining the relationship of culture to design and vice versa, my designer investigations have touched on dozens of design decisions that amount to futurist predictions for the year 2159. These would include geo-political changes,  the philosophical ramifications of a techno-human future, society, religion, crime, as well as a plethora of design speculation on things like interiors and furniture, architecture, telepathy, fashion, transportation, food and cooking, weaponry, hardware, learning, and, of course, the meaning of life. All of this requires prototyping, researching and designerly thinking on the relationship of culture, the human condition, and design. Is this fun or what?

The path to that place, right now, is a matter of 3D modeling, UV texture mapping, rendering, rendering, rendering, tweaking, rendering, Photoshopping, and did I mention, rendering? Anecdotally, I was putting the finishing touches on one of my key characters and as I’m walking the image, I notice that there is this annoying shadow in the background. It reminded me of my studio days working with the great photographer, Paul Schiefer and those moments when we would be staring at the screen saying, “Where did this shadow come from?” We always had tons of lights on the set so it became a matter of switching lights on and off to find which one was the culprit. Of course, this is exactly the procedure in 3D. When I found the offending light, (set somehow to a distance of 25ft.) I ratcheted it down to about 6ft, but my next render revealed a background in darkness. Hmmm. Here’s where you depart from the photo studio world: I added a new light exactly where I needed the illumination and turned shadowing off . The result a perfectly lit background sans pesky shadow. That would have come in handy in the studio, huh Paul?

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Grinding it out – Graphic Novel update

Today: 3D tutorials. Web comics. Future of clothing. World Future Society.

Have I mentioned how I hate to learn software? It’s a young man’s game. As I remember back to the early 90’s, I taught myself 3D with programs like Strata 3D and PowerAnimator. Somehow it was easier then — software more intuitive (and less robust) — or I was just a lot younger. Anyway, I find myself having to learn certain aspects of the various software programs that are in my stable, just to move from point A to point B. Clothing is a bear. I mean really. Getting clothing to look realistic can be a nightmare. I’m a full week behind on my character designs and clothing is a big part of the issue. Nevertheless, I am grinding on. I still plan to release my eight key characters in September along with the plot line for the book. This comes with the caveat that I can change my mind at any time.

I have also toyed with the idea of launching the story in weekly form online, but have since thought better of it. I’m afraid that launching my graphic novel online before it is finished will prohibit the kind of last minute tweaks and changes that help continuity and overall polish. For example, my first spread is a fairly ambitious project in and of itself, and I am trying to capture a number of sophisticated visual effects to set the state for the whole story. But as I continue to work daily, I actually find that I’m getting better at what I do. What my first spread looks like today could look infinitely better in a year, (when I hope to be finished) if I could go back with new chops and polish it up.

Speaking of clothing… I’ve also done a lot of thinking about what people will be wearing in 150 years. Putting on my futurist hat, my design speculation is that clothing will be more technologically active than today, and a body suit will be the standard for most. It will also be possible to create your wardrobe in your closet, a scarf, a jacket, whatever on your own 3D textile printer. But most of the time you will be wearing a tight fitting body suit that is constantly monitoring your internal chemistry as well as functioning as a mediator with the outside world to provide information and protection. If you are thinking that some people will not look so good in a tight fitting body suit, that should not be a problem, since we will be long past the medical advancements required to maintain perfect body weight and muscle tone late into your first century. So there.

That brings an interesting point and why I have to keep driving toward the finish line on this as fast as I possibly can. If I take too long on design, I run the danger of never finishing. A year is a long time. My whole story vision could change if I’m not careful and over the course of a year I run the risk of hating everything I’ve done thus far. This happens, so I’m going to have to watch out for it.

On an academic note. The World Future Society is calling for essays for next year’s WorldFuture 2012: Dream. Design. Develop. Deliver. Neatly, they’ve inserted design into the theme. What could be better than that for my design fiction essay. I will probably submit. I’d love to attend.

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