Tag Archives: set design

Inside Techman’s cyberpunk workshop. Comments on The Lightstream Chronicles web comic.

 Page 30

Thanks. You’ve made it to page 30. Now that we are inside Techman’s workshop you’ll probably find some interesting things to look at. Since one of T-Man’s income sources is antique 21st century electronics, this was my opportunity to douse the scene with lots of props, from phones, to cameras, Macintosh computers, headphones, copy machines and more. Yes, that is a 17″ MacBook Pro, (already an antique). I have also thrown in some 22nd century technology as well. Hopefully, you are downloading images from the web comic page and you have used the zoom tool to it’s full capacity on page 29 because there’s lots to look at there as well.

We also get the opportunity to see why Sean made the trip to DownTown in the first place. The “implant” and “thumb chiller” were interesting projects to work on.

Of course it's a liquid circuit.
Of course it’s a liquid circuit.

The tiny anodized chiller can be opened telepathically and the data is in liquid form, so it has to stay cool until it is implanted. At this point, the significance of this liquid circuit is unknown. If you zoom-in on the final panel, you’ll see a scrolling hologram that serves as the serial number for the little guy.

 

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Cyberpunk debate rages on. Meanwhile in Hong Kong 2…

I’ve been seeing more debate on what qualifies as cyberpunk and what does not but I have dealt with this in a previous blog, so I’m sticking with it.

Page 29 Commentary

This week we peek inside Techman’s workspace. A couple of story notes come through on this page. First there is the fact that Downtown is a several degrees cooler than TopCity, a phenomena caused by living in the shadow of the TopCity Spanner. This second level of the city covers huge portions of Downtown and the result is limited sunshine on Downtown residents. The next note is that Techman keeps his lair cold enough to see your breath. As he says it is to, “keep things fresh.” For now you can use your imagination.

In building this scene I had to collect a lot of public domain “props”; kind of like a set stylist does when they are out looking of accessories to make a room look lived in. I was part of this process for years as a set designer and creative director so the analogy is pretty solid. Of course, this is done in Hollywood, too using a prop manager. I have no qualms about using stock in these scenes since I am doing precisely what the prop manager would be doing on a movie set. Obviously, they’re not building every prop from scratch. As for the boxes, logos, and textures much of this was customized from the existing model image files or created fresh.

We’ve already determined that Techman is a bit of an outlaw who skirts under the proverbial radar and dodges the ubiquitous surveillance that permeates the world of Hong kong 2 in the year 2159. Back in my days as a designer working for Royal Dutch Philips here in the states, I would occasionally make my way down to the geek dome, the place where all the engineers would work on things like remote controls and televisions. They had these rooms that were entirely shielded in copper screen to keep signals in as well as to keep other signals out. As we move to page 30 you’ll see that I’ve built one of these rooms for Techman.

screenroom-m
Techman invites into his “shielded room”. Stay tuned for page 30.

 

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Graphic Novel plan unveiled this Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Design challenges in design fiction

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

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

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

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What I know about Art Direction.

 

 
dcc-jeepnokdesertlivingArt direction is about vision. You have to have a vision to art direct anything. I don’t know if they teach this in school or not but coming from a design background I never came across a Basics of Art Direction 101 class. Most of what I have learned beyond the core design curriculum I learned on the job, in the field, and under the gun. 

This is the way I learned ot directing television commercials, design sets and art direct. Art directing — photography — is a completely different thing altogether than video. The product is a still image (a still) and you can inspect the living heck out of it, blow it up, scrutinize it, immerse yourself in it. Video is a series of images. They flow together to create a collective understanding. With a still, it’s what you see is what you get. 

Thankfully, I got to work alongside the late Lyle Cavanagh at Philips who showed me the ropes. Lyle had vision. At Philips we shot black boxes: TVs, stereos, blue LEDs, black plastic. So it became a real challenge to find new ways to create black-box-sexy. So here’s what I know: There are four things that make photo art direction work or not work. 

1. Vision.

I already mentioned this. Vision is what you see in your mind’s eye then, perhaps you sketch it on paper, or render it up or composite it. Whatever method you use, you have to know what you want if you expect to get what you want. That might seem obvious but I’ve seen a lot of “art directors” return from a photo shoot wondering how things could have gone so wrong. The tighter your vision the closer you are to getting an end product that is free of surprises.

2. A collaborative photographer.

If you know exactly what you want you don’t want a photographer that has his or her own vision. Two visions are not better than one. “Famous” photographers probably got to be famous because of their vision, and if their vision is what you want, hire one. But if your vision is what you want, then hire a photographer that wants to use his expertise to bring your vision to reality. (This pretty much goes for directors — the video kind— as well.) A collaborator’s know-how, together with your vision is always a good match.

3. Composition.

This is the magic element that Lyle brought to bear. He was trained in visual display. In his day, they were called window dressers. He was an artist of composition. Composition is, for lack of a better definition: where everything goes, what gets cropped, what’s in focus and out of focus, how everything relates to everything else and the essence of detail. There is probably a book on composition but you are better off experimenting with it. If you don’t think you have a good sense of composition, then you probably don’t, but you can get better at it. Before I met Lyle, I didn’t have a clue. He let me practice a lot and my photographer shot a lot of film until we got it right. 

4. Story detail.

If you can get both story and detail, great. If you are shooting catalog shots on white backgrounds then detail is everything; crisp, perfect detail. People want to inspect that stuff so the sharper it is the better. For about 20 years the ubiquitous drop-shadow became the obligatory addition to stuff on white backgrounds. It helped. And while a drop-shadow is better than floating, it got really old. Leave it to Apple to break the rules. Look back at their product photography in the 90s: keyboards leaning up against towers and dramatic angles became elegant details to what would otherwise be tired silver boxes. Now they’ve popularized the “reflection” on white. Great “detailing”.  If you are shooting Tommy Lee Jones you have a treasure trove of detail to work with. And sometimes that becomes part of the story. Story comes in when you surround your subject with meaning. Sometimes, as with Jones, the detail is the meaning. Sometimes the meaning is something you have to add.

Which brings us back to vision.

That’s what I know about it.

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