Where do these ideas come from anyway? In the case of The Lightstream Chronicles, it has been a circuitous route. At the earliest stages of the project, before there was a cohesive alignment with design fiction, the story was bits and pieces, a piece of dialog, a sketch, or an idea. There were also numerous influences absorbed over the years from a host of movies and books, but not in the way that mimics one or the other, more like interesting stuff duly noted and filed away to be expanded on someday.
But science fiction is tough to write. When you write science fiction you will inevitably be criticized for being too much like ______. Then there are the naysayers that insist anything that is derivative of any part of anything else is no longer an original idea. Of course, if you follow that logic we would have dismissed as derivative the pursuit of a better wheel design after Fred Flintstone.
Many science fiction writers have lamented that the rate at which technology changes can make their ideas obsolete before a book goes to publication. Furthermore, what are now considered science fiction tropes, are probably that way for a reason: some technological advancements, like robots, seem inevitable. When you are writing about something far in the future, you expect that we will have conquered some problems and further complicated others.
More recently, themes were influenced by the forecasts and speculations of a number of futurist writers including Michio Kaku, Thomas Frey, Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey, and Vernor Vinge, and from an extensive survey of emerging technologies in the areas of energy, medicine, computing, artificial intelligence, transportation, and nanotechnology.
Now all of this would probably still be churning around inside my head if not for the need to complete my thesis and the graphic novel project inside of three years. Hence, I needed to find a way to write this thing. Unfortunately, there are no classes at OSU for writing a comic book/graphic novel script. The screenplay, however, is a close cousin. Not because every graphic novel in the universe is ending up as a movie, but because a screenplay is really two things: what the characters say, and what the audience sees; pretty much the content of a graphic novel script. Fortunately such a course exists at OSU and conveniently, the product is a finished screenplay and a built-in deadline. It took a little rule-bending, since the class assignment was to write a screenplay for a short film — 30 pages or so — and mine timed out at 87 pages. But my instructor was most accommodating. I selected the freeware Celtx, to write the script, got an A in the class, and using a nice little feature in the software, I was able to convert it to something like a graphic novel structure. There was a still considerable page and panel readjustment but the software did offer designations for balloons and captions.
Things came together in surprising order. But then, why did I doubt?
The web comic was another tangent entirely. And you can read up on that in a previous post.
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.
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.
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?
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.
The grand purpose behind this blog is to chronicle the progress of my thesis and my graphic novel. Of course, the two are intimately related. The thesis objective is to participate and contribute to the discussion and practice of design fiction. Design is changing and that means that designers will have to change, like it or not. I believe that it is better to be conscious of this change and to participate in it rather than waking up one day and finding that you no longer recognize your profession. Design fiction asks us to imagine a plausible future—even just a possible one. Like, what happens when hardware disappears and the technology we use becomes internalized; or when messages become thoughts. What will be visual? What will be virtual? Environments? Software? Design fiction, through the creation of diegetic prototypes provides legibility for the ideas that surround this.
Linked to this, is the science fiction, crime thriller, graphic novel currently in progress. The story takes place in Hong Kong 2, in the year 2159 and is built and rendered to scale completely in CG. It’s also a web comic.
This particular post focuses on one of the more prominent prototypes in story: the embedded, two-way, luminous implants that appear on the fingertips of the Hong Kong populace. These “luminous implants” do everything from “dialing the phone” (called tapping), accessing the Lightstream (the evolved Internet of 2159), sending or receiving data feeds from active touch surfaces, and controlling body chemistry. They are used for security and identification as a “smart fingerprint”, they can be outfitted with a pheromone release system for attracting the opposite sex, and they even change color to match your mood or fashion. Exploiting the purpose behind diegetic prototypes (to suspend disbelief about change) the implants figure into several aspects of the story. If you are roving around the city you are likely to see the Luminous Systems advertisements that are floating around, and I have incorporated a scene inside the Luminous Systems store. I have designed it as a sort of Zen spa meets Apple Store. I see the implants as standard piece of bio-hardware that gets implanted under the skin at an early age, like 5 or 6 years. Digging into the idea a little deeper, I found the idea of tapping, to be a fascinating angle.
Since there is a direct connection to the brain, voice, sight hearing, taste and, of course, touch, learning the tap language, is just a matter of infusing the program and watching your fingertips light up as it prompts you through the language. This immediately becomes “remembered” information. To give it a bit more reality, I designed this “user’s manual” for beginners. Ready to order?
With so much aplomb (and promise) at the start, it seems appropriate now, after The Lightstream Chronicles,Kickstarter effort proved to be unsuccessful, to double-check the toe tag, pull back the white sheet, and put an analytic eye at what might have gone awry. When it comes to Kickstarter, I think there are potentially three categories where you either succeed or fail.
I would divide awareness into two types.
The first are those who were already aware of the graphic novel project.
Though I did not know it at the beginning, and none of the research that I conducted prior to the launch indicated that this was a critical factor — it was a critical factor. This group can probably be split into two parts as well; those who had tacit knowledge, and those who were genuine fans. The tacit knowledge group includes family and friends, but most of these people, while aware of what you are doing, don’t really understand it, or what would have compelled you to do such a strange thing to begin with. The tacit knowledge group also includes, what I would call, colleagues. This group understands what you are doing and may even have an appreciation for it, but (apparently) not to the level that would motivate them to act in support of it. I included fellow MFA candidates, professors, and associates from my speaking engagement earlier this year at the RMCCGN conference and even a few students. My real, true-blue friends came through with flying colors, but the more pertinent question, it appears, is how many of these were genuine fans. While there were some among the aware, that were completely impressed, full of excitement and anxious to read more, they were probably 2 percent of this total number.
The second category is those who were alerted to it at launch time. In this case, I drew a much wider circle than the 75 or 80 people who fell into the first category, but you can divide this group into two parts also. The first of these are the likes of past associates, acquaintances, and professional contacts. I bugged the heck out of these people. So, it’s not like I sat back and waited for them to embrace the project and respond. Some of this group were critical of the fact that they had not heard from me in “forever” and now three times in one month. Hey. They way I see it, is if you’re friends with a colleague from your past, then you’re glad to hear from them whenever they contact you, and you not sitting around keeping score.
There were also some, design fiction types in this group. For the masses, I did not play up the design fiction side of the graphic novel. Those in the scholarly community knew of it, my professors and some from the “aware” group, but with all that was already different about this graphic novel, I figured the design fiction side would just scare average readers off. For the elite few that know about design fiction and have read my blog, my paper or are aware that I’ve been published on the topic, I assumed that this was evidence of a legitimate proof-of-concept. Here, again, it looks like I misjudged. Perhaps chapter 1 was just insufficient to seat the design fiction idea for them. I admit it’s not obvious at first, but then, how many people look at Minority Report or 2001 as a work of design fiction. You have to be looking for it and I thought these people would. A mention from one of these guys would probably have helped. (Maybe I should have sent along a draft of my thesis).
The last group in the awareness category was the “blog” press which included high readership web sites that regularly feature new concept art, comic book and graphic novel projects and some graphic design sites as well. This was probably 30 in total. Prior to writing the release, I researched proper press release form and even spoke with a web-savvy public relations pro on how to improve my chances with the online press. Since the art of this book is its most distinguishing factor, it did not make sense to attach big files to these emails so I uploaded some hi-definition examples to a 3rd party server and supplied them with a link. From stats provided by the site, 9 of the 30 journalists that I contacted downloaded files. Then, over the course of the campaign, I changed the spin on the release two different times, and hit the same people again. Nothing happened with this, and why that is will probably remain a mystery. Since I am a speculating kind of guy, I’m guessing that my design credentials were not as intriguing as publishing credentials might have been to this group. If I had a video game or comic book already on the shelves, I think my project may have been seen as more interesting than merely its face value. It certainly helps when journalists have a name that people recognize. You don’t even need to be recognized in that field, as long as somebody recognizes you. If a rock star decides to draw a comic, it’s news, even if it sucks. I’m not moaning about that. It just the way it works.
I have no doubt that the quality of the art and the story is first rate. This comes from someone who is by all ready his own worst critic. Could it be improved? Always. This book, however, is completely unique and very experiential. The research into the Kickstarter campaign, printing, and custom flash drives, shipping, warehousing; all that stuff, was very thorough. The video, in all its homegrown wonder was compelling, too. I don’t think it was a quality issue.
This is somewhat related to awareness. Let’s face it; a graphic novel is already a niche genre. No surprise there. If you add the science fiction story, the subject matter of future tech and the viewing experience that requires you to have a basic appreciation for CG graphics, then you are looking at a target audience that has a relatively high geek quotient (like me). Add to that, high-definition graphics that reward you if you zoom-in to discover details and clues, then you’ll also need proficiency at making your way around PDF software, and a fluency on the keyboard and mouse. This sounds like a lot for the average reader, but more like a comic book fan with a “gamer” skill set. Could some of the aforementioned blogs have been the ticket to reaching them? Absolutely. But, in the final analysis, I did not reach this group.
Does that mean that only this narrowly defined target will appreciate the book? No, just that they are more likely to “get it.”
It seems, then that my mission should be to begin targeting this group through other means. Until, I am published, the journalists are not going to care. Taking a grass roots approach through a web comic may be the best approach. Then, when the entire story is completed, perhaps I will have a sufficient following of genuine fans that would be willing to be backers to see it come to print.
I’m thinking that way at this point. If you have comments, join in the post mortem. Cheers!
Writing a science fiction graphic novel that is set 147 years from now takes a lot of speculation on what the future holds. Not only technology is up for grabs, but geopolitics, society, transportation, fashion, and entertainment. The list is endless. There is a prevailing view among many science fiction writers that writing anything that falls in the near future runs dangerously close to being obsolete before you are published. That is one of the reasons I chose a far future scenario. It does drift into the realm of futurism. Of course, that is not my profession. There are plenty of futurists out there; professionals that make a living at researching and prognosticating on what might happen. They rarely go this far into the future, however. It’s just too far away to know and so much can happen between then and now.
Nevertheless, I am considering this a work of design fiction with a little bit of critical design thrown in for good measure. Design fiction is an emerging field of study that combines the application of design and speculative futures to, “enhance our capacity to seek out and work with possibility… exchange speculative ideas, disrupt conventional mindsets with provocative visions of alternative futures, and affirm individual agency” (Resnick, 2011:iii).1
Though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, speculative design might be seen as an evolution of critical design. “Speculative design is a dreamlike exercise – manufacturing alternate worlds, ones which feel every bit as real as the ‘real world’ we inhabit day-to-day… It cannot predict the future, but it can shape the present”(Keating, 2011).2
At a basic level, design is a future-oriented pursuit—to create something that does not currently exist. Thus, as design expands to embrace more complex social issues and wicked problems, the migration toward, and application to the future sciences becomes more relevant. High atop these disciplines is the study of foresight. Foresight embodies critical thinking about long-term developments, to generate debate and participation toward shaping the future, especially toward public policy.1 In the practice of foresight and futures research, usually, “in the service of national strategic interests (Resnick, 2011:13), many have arrived at the conclusion that the changes imminent in the 21st Century are so broad and happening so fast, that current methodologies cannot cope.“ “… the emerging strategic conditions of the 21st Century require us for the first time in history to develop the capacity to engage consciously in the evolution of existing human cultures, including their most fundamental frames of reference” (Nelson, 2010:282).3
The graphic novel project and this paper are based on a collection of ideas from the aforementioned experiments into critical design, speculative design, design fiction, foresight, design research, and narrative among others. The project is, at a surface level, a science-fiction graphic novel. It depicts a future where technological, political, and cultural “evolutions” have not only transpired, but are commonplace. They have become a part of the everyday fabric of a future culture.
All of this underlies what, on the surface, looks like a sci-fi, crime thriller. But that makes it that much more interesting on many different levels. So, if this all sounds a bit too scholarly for you, forget it. Enjoy the story. Remember Chapter 1 is still free online and there is still time to get in line for the book or digital edition when it’s completed.
1.Resnick, R. (2011) Materialization of the speculative in foresight and design. Master of Design. OCAD-Ontario College of Art and Design.
It has been about a week since I posted my concept art for the upcoming graphic novel. Thanks to all the encouraging emails and Facebook messages from friends. Response from outside the “circle of friends” has been slow. Possibly it wasn’t such a great idea to slide this out over Labor Day weekend. My rationale for getting this out so far in advance is to get some conversation going about both the project and academic paper that goes along with it. Patience is a virtue. If there was a magical formula for social networking, I suppose, everyone would be going viral, all the time. response has been 99% positive, with some reservations about my 7th character Marie. It’s difficult to explain when you haven’t read the script but one thing you need to keep in mind is that the story takes place 148 year in the future. If you think things have changed since you were in school, think about that kind of time frame. We’re looking at major upheavals in politics, religion, even the human body. We’re grappling with epic shifts in the way people look at the world and their lives, their perceptions, their lifespans, their ethics, their technology, their taboos, and their existential struggles. Even though the story falls somewhere in the sci-fi, crime thriller genre, all of this other is the swirling cultural backdrop that becomes part of the story’s texture. I think it makes a good narrative doubly fun to jump into.
Since posting I have attempted to take care of some other business, like getting ready to teach Design 251 in about 10 days, and general life stuff.
As the production schedule goes, I still have a few characters to tweak and I have been modeling away at more 22nd century props that will be part of my future design world. The next major undertaking is thumbnails for the hundred-some pages that will comprise the book. I think this is an essential phase. (In fact, I am taking a sequential imaging class at ACCAD in the fall where storyboarding is on the docket.) Putting my people into a sequential narrative format is where the rubber meets the road. Thumbnails will provide a visual roadmap for the project, essentially telling me what I need to render, what will be in each scene and the overall flow of the story.
I hope to have this phase complete, or at least well underway by December so that I can focus on rendering the imagery.
If you have comments on the art or story, (here’s the links again:1. DeviantArt, 2. the CGSociety, 3. scottdenison.com Ultra hi-res images are on DeviantArt which is set up for big files), please join the discussion.