New technologies are everywhere. They are being developed in labs every day—if not every ten minutes. If you are searching for them, like me, then you are likely to run across hundreds of techy developments that are on the cusp of being something mainstream within the next 10 years. Then, there are those technologies that we never hear about but that are fairly well developed, except that, as a society we’re not ready for them. So they sit in a lab until other developments come to pass or the marketing department decides that there is a high enough percentage of the population that will use or even accept them.
There is a great scene in the 2002 movie Minority Report where John Anderton (Tom Cruise) walks into a Gap store. Immediately upon entering, his irises are scanned and the resident hologram begins to make suggestions based upon his purchasing preferences. In the movie, Cruise has just had his eyes swapped out with someone else to disguise his identity. So the virtual sales person thinks he is Mr. Yakamoto.
That movie is 13 years old. Today, iris scan recognition is already widely in use and in case you missed it, retinal scanning is now obsolete. The United Arab Emirates uses it at border crossings, India has begun enrolling its 1.2 billion citizens by capturing individual iris data, and in at least a half dozen applications for security around the world. It’s only current drawback is that you have to be standing still and fairly close the scanner for an accurate read. 1
Fear not, however because for people moving about and not standing still there is facial recognition which is much less picky about the quality of the scan, or in this case, the image. Facial recognition algorithms have improved dramatically over the years now logging 16,384 reference points which are referenced against a database and, fairly quickly can identify a person with 80 -90% accuracy. Higher accuracy rates just take a bit longer. 2 Right now its in use by law enforcement in airports and high security areas, but also at retail locations to catch shoplifters. Now it gets interesting because, while we fine-tune the iris scan, the same facial recognition system that is used to identify ne’er do wells can also be used a la Minority Report to identify shoppers who are regular customers, or help them find the lingerie department. A quick cross-reference with their online shopping habits, Facebook page and their Google history can also tell them how much you are likely to spend, your favorite color, and the name of your best friend to remind you that their birthday is right around the corner.
Putting this in context with what we’ve seen in the last few weeks of The Lightstream Chronicles, the idea that Keiji-T, with access to someone’s memories can ascertain their guilt or innocence is a logical next step. Too far, you think? Brain implants are already in testing that can implant memories 3 and augment decisions. Commonplace in the year 2159, perhaps.
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!
The clock continues to tick on the Kickstarter Campaign for my science fiction, crime thriller The Lightstream Chronicles and I’m still looking for that viral pill that will put the kick into the campaign. My biggest supporters jumped in early but things have tapered off. Nevertheless, I am still hopeful. The number of downloads of chapter 1 has already exceeded 200 which is close to two-thirds of the people who were part of the original email campaign. The reviews have been 100 percent positive thus far. Though none of the media outlets have responded to my press releases, there is still time.
The entire book will be rendered in CG and as you can see from these images, there is plenty to look at. These images are only 1/3 the actual size. So browsing through the pages can be a real treat with lots of detail and perhaps some clues of things to come. The story is a thought-provoking look into the techno-human future, and it is also an extended work of design fiction. You can read all about that in previous blogs. Enjoy these images and if you want more make sure to hop over to Kickstarter and become a backer.
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.
Thus far I’ve seen more than 150 downloads of chapter 1 of my design fiction, CG, graphic novel, The Lightstream Chronicles. The feed back is overwhelmingly positive: “Awesome!” “Amazing.” “Gorgeous!” Having studied the Kickstarter concept and many sites that succeeded and failed I knew better than to launch and then sit back and wait for the money to roll in. I’ve emailed more than 300 friends and associates and a couple of dozen media outlets with press photos and releases. I’ve even tried Reddit. I hope my friends and associates will be understanding as I’m going to be hammering away at my email list, right up to the end.
A couple of speed bumps.
There was this hurricane that hit the day my email went out, and then there was this national election thing. I think that impacted the response. In fact, a significant number of people that I mailed are easter PA and Jersey residents. Many of them were without power, so who knows what happened to their email. Then I look at the news this morning and there’s another storm bearing down on them. No point in emailing them again until we sort all this weather stuff out.
If you’re reading this and you haven’t contributed yet to the Kickstarter project, please go there and do that. Let’s make a book!!
Now that the first chapter of the graphic novel is up at Kickstarter, this topic has surfaced a few times in conversation and in critique. “Why are the bodies so beautiful or so developed?” Usually, this kind of commentary is reserved for how women are often depicted in comics as overly voluptuous with images that pander to the stereotypical adolescent male reader. In the case of The Lightstream Chronicles, however there is no discrimination between males and females. All the men are just as muscularly perfected, and their body suits just as tight fitting as their female counterparts.
There are actually numerous reasons for the choice of body style. First and probably most important is that it is story appropriate. The design fiction future of The Lightstream Chronicles has been built in equal parts, on what exists today, what is projected for tomorrow and then some healthy speculation. How we will behave and what will we wear when everybody has “the perfect body?” According to Barbara Cohen, PhD. (1984), “We are a culture nearly addicted to individual control and the notion seems to exist in our society that fatness means a loss of self-control – which is considered the ultimate moral failure in our culture, and perhaps the most frightening of all fears” (1). In the story narrative, through genetic engineering, and continuous monitoring and augmentation of body chemistry, the society of 2159 has enabled the sculpting of any body shape, musculature, and proportion, (in addition to gene splicing and species blending). Hence, the story contains a visual proliferation of ideal bodies as a direct result of technological advancements in medicine and body design. The plot then, serves to drive body exaggerations in this context and provides the opportunity to examine the perfect body phenomenon in the cultural context of the narrative.
Andrew Curry (2010) examines this idea in The 1910 Time Traveler, asking what a 1910 Edwardian might think of 21st century London. He thinks many of the technologies may well be conceivable. The bigger changes may be in the quality and realism of content, the disappearance of industry and cleaner air. “The bigger changes, though, would almost certainly be about values.” The society is more international, more politically civil, the role of women has changed dramatically, and then there is: “Casualness of dress and social etiquette generally: both Edwardian men and women tended to travel well covered up, even at the beach. In contrast, our informality of clothing, and the casualness of our language – even rudeness – along with the end of most visible signs of etiquette, would be a profound change… But there’s perhaps an underlying story here. When we think about long-term change with the benefit of hindsight, the things we think are unfathomable are usually the technology – planes, cars, computers. But it is at least as likely that the things that time travelers would most struggle with are the shifts in social values, which are almost invisible to us because we swim in them constantly and adapt ourselves to them as they change.”
If an Edwardian would be shocked at a 21st century bikini, I imagine that we would be equally aghast at body suits that show off every detail of the ideal physique.
There is also another, more subtle rationale as homage to the superhero genre. There are two aspects to this objective: 1.Dramatic effect. Comics historian R.C. Harvey (1996,35) calls to mind the name of Burne Hogarth who drew Tarzan for a period in the 1940s. Remarking on Hogarth’s unique and, “minute attention to musculature,” Harvey says, “This treatment gave dramatic emphasis to the actions being depicted: Hogarth’s character, their muscles shown in bold relief, appeared to strain with the effort of their endeavors. The effect was to add a visual intensity to the drama of the narrative” 2. Heightened realism. Detail in anatomy adds visual excitement. In discussing the artwork of comic artist Jack Kirby, Harvey, refers to his realistic style. “Realistic rendering helps make it all seem possible, and Kirby’s skillful deployment of the medium’s resources makes the action so exciting that we overlook the impossibilities. We can’t help concluding that super heroics are possible—but we must add, only in the comics” (40). To aficionados of the classic comic genre, as well as to game enthusiasts (who are certainly targeted consumers of the graphic novel) superhero depictions, with exaggerated anatomy and operatic movement are an expected part of the presentation.
Not that I hold a candle to Jack Kirby, but it’s the thought that counts.
Cohen, Barbara A. Ph.D. (1984). The Psychology of Ideal Body Image as an Oppressive Force in the Lives of Women. Available: http://www.healingthehumanspirit.com/pages/body_img.htm. Last accessed 22 Oct 2012.
The deed is done. After months of research on book, poster and T-Shirt printers along with flash drives and international shipping, the Kickstarter Campaign is LIVE. The main objective behind this effort is to secure funding to get the project distributed as a hardbound book, as well a digital edition. A 220-240-page book is not cheap to print and when it’s finished it is going to be a hefty piece. There were also issues of distribution since there’s no room in my office for a skid of books, boxes of posters, T-shirts, etc. It was all very exciting though, to push the Launch button. The campaign is going to run for 40 days (the Biblical significance is intentional), and my hope is to raise $35,000. That seems like a lot but there has been a lot of number crunching to get to this point.
If, by chance, there is more funding, I plan to upgrade my processor to allow for faster rendering which will hopefully move the project along more quickly. As you know, chapter 1 is already online, and there are six chapters in total. The final chapter is scheduled in 2014. No, that is not a typo. Building this world in CG with diligent, even obsessive attention to detail, will take a time. And, of course, it must be right. Some backers will have the option of getting custom flash drives of each chapter as it is completed. This will make the wait for chapter six much more tolerable.
I’ll be posting as developments occur. Check it out. Tell people! Thanks.
It has been a long time since my last blog, but I’ve been making a lot of progress. While working on the Kickstarter Campaign, teaching typography to design sophomores, and writing new pages for my thesis, I’ve completed an in-depth website for The Lightstream Chronicles Graphic Novel. The site features lots of brand new back-story, character profiles, history, special features on design fiction and a section on the making of. Take a look and let me know what you think.
You will probably notice that there is a link to download Chapter 1 that is current “coming soon”. This will not be the case for much longer. I expect that the first 40 pages of chapter 1 will be ready to download in the next couple of days. I’ve been through several “final” scrubs and I’ve added all the page numbers. The last step is really just making sure that I have the right site source for downloading the content. My hosting service told me this week that they could not handle a significant number of 72MB downloads without running into technical difficulties. I want everyone to see these pages in all their HiDef glory, so 72MB is the no sacrifice requirement. My hosting service recommended something called a CDN. I looked into this and CDN stands for Content Delivery Network (aka Cloud Storage) and most of them charge for this service. Plus, unless you opt for a managed service at $$$ per month (in addition to your download fees), then you have to manage the servers yourself. Based on what I looked at, you need to be a real IT expert or computer science major to handle server configurations. The solution looks to be a free service like MediaFire. The link will take visitors off The Lightstream Chronicles site but at least we won’t have server hang ups or other problems for those who are anxious to see Chapter 1.
There has been a lot of prep for the Kickstarter launch including a creating a video trailer, bunches of new concept renderings, and an enormous amount of research including printing books, posters and T Shirts, distribution, shipping. The goal of the campaign, of course, is to get The Lightstream Chronicles Graphic Novel into a slick, hardbound book and the digital edition distributed. Here’s an image that took a couple of weeks to generate. That appears briefly in the video trailer. I’ll be blogging again, as soon as Chapter 1 is ready to roll.
I was shocked to see that my last post was in July. What have I been doing? There are four things, of late, that have been capturing my time. The first was completing a paper for Iridescent the Journal of Design Research. This required a lot of new writing over a period of weeks. I have not heard back on whether they have accepted the new work or not.
Next was collating the comments from the first review of Chapter 1 from the jury of twelve. Overall, I have to say that everything has been quite positive and all the suggestions very constructive. Most of the comments centered around text changes and errors. Some of the more visually sophisticated have honed in on renderings and made some good suggestions there as well. It looks like just a couple of re-renders are going to be required. The hiatus has also given me time to adjust and tweak where I was not 100% satisfied. In the last few days I have made some interesting adjustments to the speech balloons. This is something I have blogged about before. Speech balloons are critical for storytelling, of course, but in some instances they can be obtrusive. In my opinion, if they command too much attention and the pacing is taut, the viewer may end up reading the balloons and missing the art work. Since building a rich visual style into every panel is part of the signature of the book, I don’t want readers missing any of the art work. Hence, I have been trying for a technique that keeps speech balloons on an equal plane with the art — not too loud, not too soft.
One of things I find most challenging is back-and-forth dialog, and techniques for stringing the speech balloons together for each speaker. I am blown away by how well the team of Brian Michael Bendis, David Marquez and Sara Pichelli do this throughout the new Ultimate Comics Spiderman. The artwork and dialog are brilliant, but also the way Pichelli and Marquez chain dialog together. See the example below form Ultimate Comics Spiderman #9.
Here Marquez masters the repartee between Miles and Captain Quaid. My dialog and style are completely different in look and feel but hopefully they’ll flow just as well. Anyway, I have just begun to work on those suggestions and final improvements.
Third on my list, mostly while waiting on commentary, was to complete the web site for The Lightstream Chronicles. Inspired by the way so many movies and other diversions are going trans-media to fill out the world around the story, The Lightstream Chronicles online will provide additional character background, details on rendering and building the world, as well as other bonus features. There will also be a free download of Chapter 1. Once I have the guts to release those first 42 pages to the public the site will go live.
Finally, school has started at OSU. I am teaching first year Typographic Design. As usual, there is a lot of lecture prep, and course planning but even more now that the university has moved to semesters. That means an additional 5 weeks of material over the previous 10-week quarter format. I am also delivering more art and writing on the scholarly side to satisfy my own credit requirements toward graduation next may.
So, all this is to say that the book marches on. As the final adjustments to Chapter 1, complete the web site. I will be putting together a Kickstarter prospectus.
Oh, yeah, I hope that I can get started on Chapter 2 soon.
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?