Tag Archives: character design

Chapter 1 — First world’s HD graphic novel?

For those of you who thought this might never come to pass, I am pleased to announce that I have just sent out to my “10-most-trusted” friends the contents of a preliminary chapter 1 of  The Lightstream Chronicles. (If you weren’t on the list, it isn’t because i don’t trust you, but because these 10 are much closer to the project). I spent what might be considered a luxurious amount of time on the splash page; an aerial view of Hong Kong in 2159, but I think that week spent tweaking the cityscape proved worthwhile. I am pleased with the way it turned out. Chapter 1 consists of 42 pages (including the cover) or 21 spreads. Not that many when you think that the final book will consist of just over 100 spreads, but nevertheless, I see this as a definitive “proof of concept.” In fact, I can’t wait to get to the first page of chapter 2. I have invited my 10 to provide feedback. Then I will make the final, final tweaks and begin Phase 2.

On to Kickstarter

According to my current plan, which I am still praying about, Phase 2 is Kickstarter. With a proof-of-concept out of the way there is still an enormous amount of work to do to get a Kickstarter project off the ground. Some of the obvious: a dedicated website, a video, premiums for the contributors, a huge mailing list. I have started on the website while working on the other elements.

 The first HD graphic novel?

So, what about this “HD business” that I stuffed into the title tag? Well, this may indeed be my hook. While it could be hard to convince people, at this early phase, that this is book to invest in — because it is a great story — there is a definite difference in the way I have illustrated it. Everything is built and rendered in CG. Some of the CG purists will, no doubt, dismiss me for having used Poser® for my base characters, but I spent uncounted hours morphing and customizing the faces, bodies and textures to move well beyond the conventional “Poser look” (and , yes, there is such a thing). However, and just to be fair, I have seen many CG characters in some of the most renowned video games that look more like Poser characters than my cast does, So there!

 But what about HD?

OK, OK, I labored over chapter 1, and will do so through the rest of the book to infuse as much detail as possible, trying to eliminate all of the cliche CG stuff. Caveat: Now, let’s get this straight: CG is CG. The only example that i can think of where the CG was virtually transparent was Avatar, and according to Wiki, it, “…cost between $280 million and $310 million for production and … $150 million for promotion….The lead visual effects company was Weta Digital in Wellington, New Zealand, at one point employing 900 people to work on the film.”1  So, I am short-staffed. This is not an apology! I think you will thoroughly enjoy the characters, the environment, the settings and the ambiance of the book.

Plus… there is a huge difference in the fact that you can zoom-in 2, 3, even 4 times into each and every panel (if you are so inclined) to inspect, or hunt for more information. Personally, I think the experience is enhanced the more you lingeron the page and probe through the background data. It’s all part of the story.

It’s big (in Mb), but lots of opportunity for zoom and pan.
It will “work” on an iPad with a pdf viewer, but that’s like watching Prometheus on your iPhone. This is meant for the big screen, preferably an HD cinema display with  1920 x 1200 or larger.

Some have suggested that you take in the story at a normal graphic novel pace and then, perhaps, go back at the end of each chapter and scan it for more info. I like that idea.

So what we have is chapter 1. According to plan, chapter 1 will go to Kickstarter by summers end, then each subsequent chapter will be sent to Kickstarter contributors on a thumb drive for a total of 6 chapters. Ultimately a book will be printed — 220 + pages.

That’s the plan. Gimme feedback. If you are absolutely dying to see chapter 1 before it goes live, email me at scott@scottdenison.com and tell me why.

 

 

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(2009_film)

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1100 renderings (give or take)

Some notes on the ongoing production of my CG based, sci-fi, crime-thriller graphic novel: The Lightstream Chronicles

According to the script, there are somewhere between 212 and 230 pages of sequential art that needs to be created for the book to come to completion. At an average of 5 per page, the math tells me that there could be some 1,100 renderings that need to happen. More math: If I hope to complete it this year, that equates to 3.28 renderings per day. That would have to include post production; any Photoshop work that I need to do. But that’s just the rendering part of the project. There’s still dialog and page layout. I could probably do a more exact breakdown, but why bother? It’s huge.

While I acknowledge that this should plunge me into deep depression, I fully expect that some scenes will go more quickly than others. Scenes with dialog, without a lot of character movement and mostly “camera” work (I have several of these) are a “light-once-move-camera-shoot” proposition. I have been on enough live action shoots, however, to know that it’s not that easy. Sometimes lighting a close-up can take hours.

The most time consuming scenes are (and will be) the sweeping establishing shots, like flying over Hong Kong, Sean’s expansive synth lab, police headquarters, and the epic chase scene through the city.

Character Design

So far, all I have published is my character designs, which, so far, are pretty close to final though I have fully redesigned Sean and I have a first pass at Techman.

Sean Nakamura

I realize that, if you have followed the blog for the past year, you already know the basic story and you can glean some insight from the character descriptions that have been posted on DevArt and CGSociety, but even then, this name dropping doesn’t make much sense.

Scenes and proof of concept

For my 5th quarter thesis review, I have committed to completing an entire scene as proof of concept. Perhaps this will go online as a bit of an introduction. The scene I have chosen occurs early in the book where Sean Nakamura, the prodigy designer of synthetic, near-humans, is wrapping things up in his lab. The lab is one of those huge establishing shots that I was talking about and it starts out with a fly-over of Hong Kong with a zoom-in to through the windows of his penthouse laboratory at Almost Human Corporation (AHC). The strategy, thus far, is to build out as much of the lab as possible to focus in on the dialog.  The body of the scene takes place from pages 15 through 19. It would be great to add the big tension scene immediately thereafter on page 20 and 21, but this would require significantly more modeling, so it’s a long shot.

Conceivably, we could have these 7 pages by mid-to-late March. Snails pace. I know. It will get faster. Really.

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More graphic novel concept art

The Enforcer Synth is the latest supporting character in my graphic novel. Enforcers are part of the Elite Corps that report to Col. Lee Chen. They specialize in tactical enforcement and crowd control. A regular presence in the worst parts of the city, they spend much of their time policing “downtown” which is hundreds of floors below “top city” where the “respectable folks hang out. Downtown is old, decaying, a hot bed for techno-crime, and vice of every kind imaginable — and some unimaginable. It’s dirty and crowded; a cross between Vegas and the old Kowloon. This is the place for re-skinning parlors, black-market organs, implants and technology to elude the omnipresent surveillance of the New Asia Police. Not a place for the timid. You can get the whole synopsis on my site, and see a hi-res version on DevArt.

It’s a back to school week, so I’ll get to more updates this weekend.

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Graphic Novel plan unveiled this Sunday

On schedule, the day has finally come to unveil the title, synopsis and character concept designs for my graphic novel. I’m really excited, but it’s also a little terrifying, and amazing to see how each of these milestones drives the project further down the road. There are so many decisions that have been required, even in character design, that affect the overall story. Clothing, technology, the scene and set design, are all telling a part of the story. Just writing the synopsis, that is, committing it to cyberspace, makes it seem somehow set in stone. While the story (in the form of a screenplay) has been written for several months, I have teetered back and forth on the name several times and the location (as you have read in previous posts), but sharing a synopsis to the world was a matter of how much and how little can I tell. I guess movie studios are ridden with that kind of angst all the time.

As I have stated, DeviantArt will be my main launching ground, along with lower res versions on my site and some thumbs here, but I have also decided to post to the CGSociety. This is probably the most daring part, since these are literally the gods of concept art, so far superior to me that I feel very intimidated making an appearance.

I’m secure in the style that I have selected (although I think the final book will take on a somewhat grittier feel), but this is no way intended to be some kind of overture of skill and so much more about an engaging, visually stimulating narrative. There is a huge chunk of story behind each character. It all gets woven together.

I had promised to unveil eight characters but decided on seven finalists, not because I couldn’t finish, but just because I want to hold out some of the minor characters to reveal along the way.

Since I will be absolutely amazed if this gets finished before another entire year passes, another question that will come up is, “What happens after this? How do we know you’re still on track and producing?” So, I’ve decided to continue to post important stills and concept art as I go, as well as some of the supporting cast.

So, just come back here on Sunday and I will give you all the links you need.

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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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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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Update: graphic novel layout, character progress

I’ve begun to layout a preliminary page grid for my graphic novel. Continuing my mild obsession with the anamorphic, widescreen format ratio of somewhere around 2.40:1, and my cinematic aesthetic bent, I have created a page size of 8.5″ x 9.5″ resulting in a spread size of 8.5″ x 19″. If you plug in the margins that gives you roughly 7.5 x 17.625″ of spread image which is 2.35:1. Close enough. As of now, it has 12 panels per page, which provides ample opportunity for variety and pacing in horizontal and vertical formats.

My 12 panel grid

I’m guessing that there won’t be many 24 panel spreads in the book, but it’s too early to make that prediction. I have actually started to work on what I am thinking will be spread 1 while waiting for renders to complete.

Speaking of renders, I’m about a week behind right now on my key character renderings. Interesting things pop up in character design. For example the character I create now, is pretty much the character I have to live with for the duration of the project, so I really have to resist the tendency to “settle”. Costumes will have to live with these characters through a lot of action and exposition, so they need to be right. It is getting pricey though, because I am investing in a lot of models that are getting tweaked and modified. The perfectionist in me would like to create everything from scratch, but a.) I don’t have cadre of modelers, and b.) I have to finish this my allotted lifespan. Throughout, however, I am working hard to make this look like a non-stock project, and already I have modeled from scratch two key interiors, about a dozen exterior structures, a couple of weapons, some props, and three vehicles — plus the accompanying image maps. I’m reserving the stock for models that would simply suck up far too much project time. But believe me, there are plenty of Hollywood films rife with stock imagery and models, so I don’t feel so bad.

Back to rendering…

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Design challenges in design fiction

Part of what makes design fiction so interesting is that you have to speculate, an exercise almost unheard of in the traditional practice of design. In fact, after 30 or more years in the profession, most clients would probably concur that the designer has no right to be wrong. Market research, iterative design and prototyping, along with the rigor of the design process should eliminate ideas that don’t cut it or won’t cut it in the outside world. Design, as we know it, is a criterion-based practice. Time, money, market, manufacturing, competition, user analysis/interface, usability testing and a myriad of other forces are what shape, and ultimately mold, the final solution. It is a fact-based, reality-based endeavor. The exercise, if you will, of design fiction, forces the designer — not to abandon research — but to venture forth without the comfort of the conventional design climbing holds, or to create their own. Building design constraints for a speculative future can be approached two ways, through pulling threads of existing technologies and social trends (which seem to be becoming the same thing) or through wild unbridled fiction. The latter carries the dismissive, “Don’t ask me how, it’s just that way”, as something akin to the writer/artist’s artistic license. Hey, it’s fiction. The former blends the brain of the designer and the writer/artist and insists that he or she ground the idea, however speculative, in the roots of some plausible science or social momentum.

Hence, as I begin crafting the visual world for my graphic novel, I find myself struggling with these challenges daily. This summer, I am working on the self-imposed deadline of August 31 to have completed character designs for the eight, key cast members. Each character is posed in a relevant (though not apparent without having read the story) scene from the book. That requires not only the design of the character and the questions of what they would wear, the material, the design, and the function, but also the design of their accessories, as well as the design and construction of the set on which they are standing. The decisions seem endless, sometimes terribly frustrating and enthralling at the same time. The CG workflow, which at this level often distributed between specialists in modeling, texturing, posing, lighting, rendering etc., lies squarely on my shoulders. Since I don’t posess virtuoso proficiency in any of the above, it adds to the challenge. On the up side, I may well be a virtuoso (at something) by the time the project is completed.

I plow ahead, but I am excited to show my progress, and hopefully on, or near to the deadline.

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