Now things are getting interesting. Last week Sean was about to step into the MagShuttle to head down to the dangerous street level in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong 2. Things will get a little grittier now and the oppressed, cyberpunk side of this society begins to gain some legibility. In panel 1 Sean is inside and looking out at the view from more than 300 stories above. Upon entering and by virtue of the fact that his identity was logged before the shuttle doors would open, the mesh promptly notifies him that TopCity residents are not advised to travel to that dangerous section of town. (The mesh refers to amalgamation of every network of every device, everyone’s chipset, every touch sensor, camera, scanner, electronic device and active surface in the greater 47,000 square kilometers of the Hong Kong 2 Mega City. The mesh is monitored by New Asia government computers and police security forces. It knows where you are and what you are doing. Though it is not something they advertise, the New Asia government likes to think that the mesh sees everything.
Sean waives the warning without a second thought (typical teenager – even though he’s 18) and opts for street level. As the shuttle descends, the third panel is worth inspecting with a zoom. Once the shuttle drops below the 50 story mark of the TopCity Spanner we can see the descent through the 20th century architecture of old Mong Kok.
For those who want to get the most out of the visuals, a zoom into panel 1 on this page and the last panel of the previous page shows some details of the MagShuttle interior, interface and navigation cameras, and panel 2 features a giant light panel (billboard) for the a synthetic companion from Almost Human Corporation, Sean’s employer. Panel 3 gives you a taste of the Mong Kok neighborhood.
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.
If you are new to the director’s commentary for the web comic and want to know more about what has happened before, make sure you check out previous posts to get up to speed.
Last week it became evident that we are in Sean Colbert’s private lab in the penthouse of Building 3 of the Almost Human Corporation high -rise complex. Page 21 is actually one of my favorite pages and the image of Sean looking in at his creation, who we now should recognize as Keiji-T from the scene on pages 17 and 18. (As you know, all these panels are rendered in high-resolution CG). In panel 1 Sean flicks aside the holographic screen projection that was his center of attention on page 20. If the reader zooms in on this you should be able to see the motion in Sean’s hand and the dissolution of the screen. In panel 2 we have what I call the Man and Creation image with Sean staring at Keiji-T floating in a stasis container. Panels 3, 4 and 5 show the “reset” process. Here, Sean basically wipes clean any memory Keiji hold of Sean from this point back in time. When Keiji awakes in the morning, he will have his assignment to report to police headquarters, and should hold no memory of his creator. It would appear that perhaps Sean has grown fond of his creation and regrets the idea that they will never meet again.
You can read more about Sean, Keiji and the rest of the characters on the cast page of The Lightstream Chronicles.
The original intent of The Lightstream Chronicleswas 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.
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.
Blog postings have slowed over the past couple of weeks as I have been immersed in thesis presentations and job interviews for teaching positions. Prepping for these has been exciting, but time consuming.
Graphic novel and web comic
I’ve managed to get about 12 pages of chapter 2 completed in spite of all this, and I am pleased with the look and pacing thus far. Chapter 1 continues to show up in Friday morning (GMT-5) installments of single — and sometimes double-page spreads for those who were not able to get in on the full chapter 1 launch back in November. I’m confident that I can keep up the pace but a lot depends on how the rest of this semester goes and whether a teaching position out-of-state requires me to move this summer. If it looks like producing pages is going to slow down, I may have to resort to single panels for my Friday postings. I’m going to post a piece from chapter 2 here on the blog sometime in March. I’m trying to decide what to tease people with.
Design fiction thesis
I’m in the final stages of my written thesis, (trying to focus on formatting) but there is some much news, research and commentary coming out, on a weekly basis concerning design fiction that I’m constantly tempted to add in new stuff. I’m at that stage where I simply have to stop writing. A co-worker at OSU was generous enough to share her inDesign formatting options so I am hoping that I can just dump my existing Word doc into the format, do a little tweaking and then submit it to the college for review. Pending their approval and the approval of my committee in April, I will have the written portion printed and I can call it a “wrap.” Of course, it will probably never end since design fiction is my research focus and I hope to be adding to the body of work at whatever institution of higher learning that I end up at. I have already outlined some essentials for a design fiction class, and recently conducted a design fiction workshop with my visual communication students. There were some interesting results.
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.