Tag Archives: sequential art

Hi-res CG Web Comic – Page 21

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.

 

Set up

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.

Page 21

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.

Enjoy. Cheers.

You can read more about Sean, Keiji and the rest of the characters on the cast page of The Lightstream Chronicles.

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Graphic Novel for Design Fiction

The rage, when it comes to design fiction, is to make a film. The examples of this abound, not only the best diegetic prototypes from Blade Runner, Minority Report and 2001, that really started us thinking about this stuff, but also the recent presentations by MicrosoftCorning or Sony. In fact, with each new sic-fi or super-hero blockbuster there is some element of design fiction that is woven into the narrative. Tony Stark’s high tech lab with it’s holographic, gesture interfaces, is really just a “one-up” of John Anderton’s pre-cog version. The heart implant, however, doesn’t qualify so much since it is rather removed from the trending or plausible science of today.

In my last post I listed two things that I believe are essential to qualify as design fiction. The first was that you have to make something, visualize it or prototype it. The second qualification is that you have to throw it into the background as a tool, and not fetishize it (to use Bleecker’s term). It’s much more about how the people use it and their interaction with it, than how incredibly cool it might look (which is OK, but it’s about the human drama first). If there is a third, then I think the design itself must be based on some thread of science or research that can be pulled out in such a way that, in theory, the thing could work.

Whether the authors, screenwriters, or production designers on these film did rigorous research before creating these visions, is not as important as whether the thought of plausibility was there, or whether it was pure fantasy, e.g.“OK, he will need little rockets in his boots so that he can fly.”  Not that there’s anything wrong with little rockets in the boots, I think they’re cool, but they are not design fiction — in my book.

So what does that have to do with a graphic novel?

This brings us to the title of the post. Why does a graphic novel do this better than a movie. First of all, I would not presume to say that it does it better. It does, however provide some interesting advantages that a film does not. The idea of sequential art that links story pictures (panels) in sequence to move the action forward, shares some obvious similarities to film, but it pretty much stops there. The distinction most frequently cited is what we call the “gutter”, the space between the panels that requires the reader to “fill in”. Most film marches forward in linear fashion delineating in perfect detail, all that is contained in one scene. Unless we grab the remote step-frame our way through, the film is designed to flow over us. The graphic novel, on the other hand, can show you as you turn the page, what is about to happen, and unless you are way more disciplined than I, you are likely to glance at the last image on the page before you read all of the images leading up to it. Therefore, as a double-page “spread” lays there in front of you, past, present and future are all displayed at once. Film does not do this. Even with rewind and fast forward, you are locked into the moment. This nuance allows the reader to study the image in a way that a movie audience cannot.

There are some good reasons, I think why this is a particular advantage for design fiction. First, the designed thing or technological idea that is being presented may not be front and center to the story, but it can be studied and lingered upon, before proceeding onward. Second, if the artist puts enough detail into the thing or ethnography into the idea, you can examine the waltz of interaction with the design in the innocuous way it seductively seeps into the background. I believe the this can only be done effectively, if you are able to proceed at your own pace. Once again, I know that you can step your way through a film, but often it lacks both the resolution or the detail to satisfy a deep dive.

In the case of my graphic novel, each scene is created in CG, so everything must be built. The designer is drawn in, perhaps more deeply, to craft the object with sufficient detail that it can be studied. Therefore, not only the size and shape and ergonomics of said design, but the finer details of its materials and functions may also be required. All this adds to the realism, and realism adds a dimension to the visualization and prototyping that combine to allow that item or idea to seem perfectly at home within the scene. I have taken it one step beyond, of course, and made each panel High Def, so that you really can zoom-in and see more; an idea that has already come back to haunt me as I inspect these very large images. “How did that thing get in the shot?”

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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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Awesome Denver ComicCon and Literary Con

I have just returned from The Rocky Mountain Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels where I presented my paper, “When designers ask, ‘What if?'” A fascinating experience underscored the incredible variety and scope of what we consider sequential art. Unfortunately, as there were more presenters than there were hours available for the conference, there were overlapping presentations during various time-slots in the day. Hence, I was not able to listen to everyone and had to make some tough decisions on which presentation to attend. Nevertheless, I lucked into some great insights from some very learned colleagues.

Here are some the highlights for me: Theresa Fine, presented a paper on the “The Face of Evil: The Stereotype of the Comic Book Villain” which buttressed my thinking that while characters, specifically villains, might be too “arch” for the movies, there may be no such thing in the realm of comics or graphic novels. I prefer this idea. As some of you know, my script for the graphic novel began as a screenplay, but with every intention of converting it to a comic format. In the screenplay, the original characterization for the antagonist was toned-down at the urging of my instructor at the time, “Too arch for the movies,” he advised. Because of the conference, I am seriously considering an integration of some of the more villainous deeds that were written out of the early draft.

In the same panel was a presentation from Celeste Lempke, “Saving Young Girls from Ourselves:  The Importance of Super heroine Fantasy”. I immediately some early comments from those close to the project who thought my visual characterization of the females in my book might be “offensive.” Celeste demonstrated that strong female characters capable of making their own decisions could overshadow and legitimatize their visual appearance. My key female lead does have, what some would consider, an ideal female form, tall and thin but equally curvaceous. However, she is also portrayed as a strong, leader in a position of command, and a competent single mom. She is also portrayed in charge of the investigation that is at he center of the action. While she is not autonomous, and must rely on the contributions of the team, she nevertheless is portrayed as both strong, and human.

There were many highlights, another was a panel discussion, ““Reading Comics: A Simple or a Complex Task?” that included an all-star list of comic scholars: Charles Hatfield, William Kuskin, Maureen Bakis and James Bucky Carter. None other than RC Harvey moderated it.

The conference wrapped with the keynote presentation by comics, arguably most famous evangelist, Scott McCloud. His content was rich and thought provoking, as usual, but, as a designer, I was particularly impressed with his command of the Apple app, Keynote. He really took the presentation to the next level. Edward Tufte could have found little fault in the flawlessly executed preso.

There was really, so much more to the conference that I won’t relay here, but and ev I can easily say that every conversation was nothing short of enlightening. I hope to get invited back some time in the future.

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26 pages – graphic novel – design fiction

Unfortunately, they are not yet available to view. I need to complete 4 more spreads to end Chapter 1. At that point I need to put together a Kickstarter project and see if I can get some support to complete the remaining 200-odd pages (all in CG). Most of the feedback from the “editorial staff” of friends and family has been positive with lots of good suggestions. I also need to put in some work on the books web site, and a way of showcasing the uber-hi-res images for the Chapter 1 preview which will come with the Kickstarter launch.

I recently posted one of those signs you see on message boards with the little tear-off tabs around the art/design building on campus looking for a Chinese translator. As nifty as Google Translator is, it really doesn’t give you context which is all-important in Chinese (and most other languages for that matter). As you know, my graphic novel takes place in Hong Kong, about 100 years from now when most of the globe is governed by China, New Asia, as it is called then. As is the case today, we find a mix of English and Chinese throughout the society and I want my Chinese to be as accurate and believable as possible. After a couple of weeks, I finally got a student volunteer (he will get a signed copy of the book and credit in the back) to do a sanity check on my signs and use of the language. Sadly, based upon Linxiao’s assessment I had to go back and make some changes. Another reason that pages are not yet ready for prime time.

All of this is texture of course, background to add believability and context.

Other notes: On the design fiction front, I just got word that the paper I submitted to the World Future Society’s scholarly journal World Future Review, has been accepted, edited and will be published in the group’s upcoming special conference edition that will be distributed at the WFS conference in Toronto, later this summer.

Meanwhile, I am working away on my presentation to the Rocky Mountain Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels (RMCCGN) and it looks like I’m coming in right around 20 minutes. Now, I’m attending to the visuals. The topic is the same as the WFS paper: When designers ask, “What if?”

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graphic novel update: 14 pages

Switching gears from the scholarly side of things to the down and dirty business of cranking out panels and pages. A couple of decisions have come down as a result of my thesis review. First off, the idea of building pages out of sequence doesn’t make sense to me at this point. There was some initial discussion about building things in a non linear format, kind of like shooting a movie and knocking out one location at a time, but my sense is that when you shoot a film, the out-of-sequence shot schedule is based more on economics than anything else. If you have a location shots, it would be crazy to go cart the crew back and forth from one location to another — better to wrap one location, then move to the next. In CG, however, that set or location isn’t going anywhere, and going back to it is pretty straight forward. The biggest challenge is that you’ll forget some item of continuity after a few weeks away from, say, Kristin’s apartment. The second reason to build this in a linear fashion is so that I have the beginning of the book to show should I decide to Kickstart this or post it online. A third reason (though remote) is that I don’t finish on time (perish the thought) and at least I would have a hefty proof of concept to show. So, that’s why I’m building in sequence.

The first 14 pages have been completed, at least to the point where I can show them to some of my trusted confidants for feedback. If this schedule holds, I should be to page 40 by Mid June which will take us to the first major inciting incident and a bit beyond. So, I should be able to have at least that much by Denver Comic Con and Literary Con.

Mixed in with this will be more writing for the June presentation as well as the thesis.

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Concept art for a new graphic novel

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.

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The otherly graphic novel. Part 2.

A week or so ago I wrote about how comics are particularly different from just about any other medium. I tried to illustrate this by showing, in the words of Scott McCloud, that “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, (1993:8)” fine-tuning by the artists hand, and deliberate planning by the writer can use visuals carry the weight of paragraphs of exposition. Don’t get me wrong. Reading pages, paragraphs, or sentences of exposition are probably my favorite part of fiction, better in some cases that the evolving storyline. Why? Because, when it’s done well, you can see it in your incredibly opulent imagination. In comics, which we have come to agree in this blog is what a graphic novel is when it’s not being self-conscious, the burden lies heavily on the visual. In this respect, sequential art shares something with the movies. But as the prolific, acclaimed writer of comics Alan Moore says, a film moves at a predetermined pace, “…if I’m watching a film I’m trapped in the rigid framework dictated by the film’s running time. I must immerse myself in the flow of the film and hope I’ll pick up on enough of the constant flow of details to make coherent sense of the story at the end.” (2007:5). This brings to light the idea of time and how only comics, thus far, can address it in a wholly unique way. On the comics’ page as the panels flow from one image to the next, we can capture time, past present and future within the same viewspace. Ah, but with a DVD, I can go back and forth as well. Yes, but currently that is still a linear experience. I cannot see them all at the same time and because they are all in front of me on the comics’ page, I am getting a unique and particularly different experience.

Add to that the multi-modal braining that is required to interpret image and word along with the leap between panels (the gutter, the gap, the whitespace) the “closure” required to bridge what is happening from image to image is yet another example of the otherly nature of the art form. And this is by no means an exhaustive list of what separates the comics medium from the rest of narrative form — just another one.

McCloud, Scott. 1993. Understanding Comics. New York: Paradox Press.

Moore, Alan. 2007. Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics. Rantoul, IL: Avatar Press.

 

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More than a graphic novel

Let’s face it, I came to Ohio State to make a graphic novel. For me, it was the epitome of holistic design and a realization of “epic integration.” In the professional world, I was forever battling to make clients and decision-makers embrace the idea as it applies to brands and their stories — experiences. Over the years though, so much of your design sensibility becomes second nature, intuitive. What seems obvious to you is not obvious to everyone else. Thankfully the faculty prodded this out of me and as a result there was the discovery of design fiction.

Through design fiction, idea-objects gain knowledge mass and a sense of credibility. But design fiction is more than just constructing a set of plausible constraints through which a design might exist. Bleecker states that drama is of great importance. “We can put the designed thing in a story and move it to the background as if it were mundane and quite ordinary — because it is, or would be. The attention is on the people and their dramatic tension, as it should be.” (Bleecker, 2009:37) Thus, design becomes that invisible collaborator with culture in making life seem as real in the future as it is real for us now.

In fact, science fiction has a long history of introducing new technologies and artifacts that go on to become real world devices. The gesture-based interface of Minority Report or the multi-storey videos of Blade Runner are only two examples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evolutionary geneticist and science lecturer David Kirby calls these props “diegetic prototypes” (Kirby, 2010:1) “Film-makers and science consultants craft diegetic prototypes and enhance their realism by creating a full elaboration of the technological diegesis which includes any part of the fictional world concerning the technology. Through their actions they construct a filmic realism that implies self-consistency in both the real world and the story world.” (Kirby, 2010:46).

While design fiction can be used in filmmaking to create acceptance of a concept or idea as some kind of future product placement, that is not its greatest potential. “A particularly rich context, a good story that involves people and their social practices rather than fetishizing the object and its imagined possibilities — this is what design fiction aspires to.” (Bleecker, 2009:27).

Playing around with these concepts makes for a very rich exploration into a future design. Stay tuned for the story synopsis, characters and more – coming August 2011.

References:

Bleecker, Julian. 2009. Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction. Online. http://www.nearfuturelaboratory.com

Kirby, David. 2010. The Future is Now: Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating Real-world Technological Development. Social Studies of Science, 40/1; 41–70, February 2010. http://www.sagepub.co.uk/journals

 


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