Finding Design Fiction in my Graphic Novel, Part 2

Last post, I discussed the how luminous implants in the fingertips and nano-chip implants near the brain were the 22nd century answer to everything from exchanging phone numbers, to surfing the web (now called the Lightstream), and communicating. These fingertip implants are also your virtual keyboard and “tapping” the  learned sequence allows you to adjust your body temperature, endocrine infusions, even release special pheromones. There is much more to discuss on this topic and how the characters actually use these advancements continue to be revealed in subsequent chapters, but today I’m covering some of the world design that went into The Lightstream Chronicles.

An advantage of fabricating a virtual world in three dimensions is that everything can be built to scale with as much realism as desired. Everything that the “camera” sees therefore, must be created or found, given texture and color, and it has to be built with sufficient detail to hold up “under the magnifying glass.”

While the story takes place in only one city, it was a vast undertaking. Hong Kong was built to scale using GPS data, satellite photography and Google Maps. If a character travels across town, it is helpful to calculate how they get there and how long it will take. True scale and distance is helpful in making these story details cohesive.

For architecture, almost all of the high-rise structures in TopCity, the newest and most modern part of the city, there was no precedent so all the models had to be created from scratch. These were designed as taller versions of 21st century buildings, some of which are 400 stories. Some of these were built to include detailed atriums, aircraft landing pads, restaurants and bars, though they may not actually have a part in the final story. Other parts of the world were combinations of stock models, and customized 3D modifications. When scenes take place in DownTown, for example, which is essentially the low-rise sprawl of 20th century Hong Kong, Asian city-architecture has a particular look and feel. Finding stock models was difficult, but there were a few models available that captured the essence of lower-middle class Asian city dwellings. These were purchased then modified and customized to achieve the city look of DownTown. Additional elements were added such as signage, a 22nd century version of street vending as well as the effects of decades of decay and neglect in the shadow of the TopCity Spanner.

A scene from DownTown in the Mong Kok Sector, Hong Kong 2. Year 2159.
A scene from DownTown in the Mong Kok Sector, Hong Kong 2. Year 2159. Click to enlarge.

The TopCIty Spanner was a bit of architectural inspiration. In the story, the structure which covers most of old Hong, provides a clean break between TopCity and DownTown. The spanner uses high strength, lightweight, “programmable” materials that provide the ability to shift shape organically and accommodates new growth. The Spanner became the new “street level” towering 50 stories above the original streets of Hong Kong.

The TopCity Spanner is the dividing line between TopCity and DownTown in the Hong Kong of the future. Check it out at
The TopCity Spanner is the dividing line between TopCity and DownTown in the Hong Kong of the future. Check it out at

Thus far, all of the interiors are original creations, built from scratch populated with stock and custom props, furniture or general stuff that a stylist might select for a photo shoot or movie. Stock props were particularly useful in some interior scenes. There is little sense in rebuilding a Barcelona chair if a nicely built model already exists. A scene in chapter 2, however, calls for a food and beverage replicator, so it must be designed. Other props, including dining and glassware, desks and tables, levitating chairs, screens, weapons, interfaces and a plethora of signage were also custom creations. Many of these items can be seen on The Lightstream Chronicles site.


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