Tag Archives: MFA

Passing the MFA examination.

Next stop graduation.

Can’t believe that I haven’t written about this. The exam was last week, April 3rd. I submitted the 300+ page thesis about two weeks ago to my thesis committee. The last 150 or so pages were comprised of the shooting script, so while I did write all those pages, the scholarly part consisted of about half of the total content. The shooting script became the day by day guide—essentially a comic book script—for the graphic novel which I continue to use whenever I am creating images and panels. (Always plugging the story.)

Earlier in March, as part of making my rounds to universities as a candidate for open design faculty positions, I prepared a complete pitch on the entire design fiction thesis and project. Since Ohio State was one of those schools where I was interviewing, many of the faculty and most of my committee saw the long version of  When Designer’s Ask, “What If?”  Anyway, the presentation was trimmed down to a much smaller and concise snapshot so that the committee would not be seeing a lot of duplication. There was a rather lengthy discussion afterward with some genuinely tough questions, but in the end everyone signed off with only minor corrections to the thesis paper. (I have a tendency to over-comma.)

After extinguishing the comma problem I submitted the paper to my advisor for a final review. This will get uploaded to the university archives and then the process is officially over. Graduation is on May 5th.

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Design Fiction Web Comic – Page 20

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.

Academic set up

If you are a regular follower, you already know that the impetus behind this graphic novel is my MFA thesis, When designers ask, “What if?” My thesis defense, by the way, is this Wednesday, April 3rd. For those of you who may have heard the term design fiction (it gets tossed around quite a bit in the blogosphere) but are not sure what it is, I might direct you to a previous post that gives you some additional background. The anchor definition, which  now rolls off the tongue is sci-fi writer, futurist muser Bruce Sterling‘s (2012), “…the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” (If you want to know where the “diegetic” part comes from, then that is another post.) My thesis, for an MFA in Design Development, of course, focuses on what benefit this could possibly have for anyone, much less design and designers. So I have evolved my own interpretation for the context of my thesis. Thus:

Design fiction is about the future, about change, about visualizing the change possibilities, and making it all seem real enough to us that we want to talk about it, assess it, and ask ourselves if this is really the future we want — and if it’s not — what might we do about it, how might we change it and refine it.

Therefore, The Lightstream Chronicles is a story that portrays a speculative future heavily influenced by technological change and enhanced with visual prototypes with the ongoing objective to both entertain, fascinate and provoke thinking. Because of it’s obsessive detail, it also makes the journey and interactive one that invites the reader to zoom-in and explore each image. Granted, not your average web comic, but enough of that. About

Page 20

On page 19 we began a long dolly shot into the penthouse of one of Hong Kong 2’s many towering buildings. From the exterior markings you have surmised that this is the headquarters of AHC (Almost Human Corporation) and that this logo (for the more observant) was also emblazoned on the body suit of Sean Colbert on pages 17 and 18. So, if you guessed that we might be bringing the camera in through the window of Sean’s lab, you are correct. On page 20 we are now through the glass, so to speak, and down to the personal level.

Here, we see Dr. Colbert’s private exploratorium where he has engineered the wildly successful and profitable N-Class, D-Class and now, T-Class synthetics. The prodigious, eighteen-year-old Colbert was awarded his own lab earlier in the year as a perk for making AHC a small fortune over the past decade. You can read more about Colbert and the synthetics on the cast page. In this scene, Sean has turned from his work, a torso that is floating on a levitating work table (presumably his next creation) to communicate with a face on a floating virtual screen (a diegetic prototype). In the background there are super alloy skeletal structures, and a selection of synthetics in stasis containers. One of these creations, we have already met. This lab environment took about 10 days to construct and each of the scene/panels is at least a few hours, and sometimes a few days.

Though the identity of the character that Sean is conversing with is not yet revealed, it soon will be. Comments and questions are welcome.

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Design Fiction Thesis Final Draft and Web Comic Update

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?

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Evangelizing Design Fiction and topping it off with Syd Mead and Blade Runner

The last two weeks have been rapid-fire. I presented my thesis research at two different universities as part of the interview process for Assistant Professor design positions. The last one was, coincidentally, was in the precise location of the 2013 Emerge Conference. I had nothing to do with planning it this way it’s just how things worked out. In fact, I was so buried in the preparation for these interviews that the Emerge Conference dropped completely off my radar screen. So, as I am presenting on one part of the campus, about the idea of design fiction as a serious area of design research, Bruce Sterling and Brad Allenby, pivotal voices in future thinking, are presenting in another. It just seemed weird, especially since I had no idea it was going on until I got into town. Sterling, of course, is credited with creating the neologism known as “design fiction,” and though he probably has no idea that I exist, I think we are watching closely from similar perspectives. Note the similarities with his recent blog and my post from a few weeks ago.

It was an exhausting day of meetings and presentations, so I was anxious to get back to the hotel and decompress. Despite this I could not pass up the opportunity to trek across campus for a 6:30 screening of the digitally remastered 1987 classic, Blade Runner, in an awesome little theater with a shake-your-chair sound system. After the film, who else but Syd Mead shows up to field questions. Mead, complete with sunglasses, says he’s 79 years old, but there are no signs that he’s slowing down. He’s sharp as a tack and a bit feisty. Mead said that he is quite comfortable with revising his concepts or with ideas being outright rejected, as long as he gets paid. I think that some of the students saw his ‘show-me-the-money’ attitude as a bit arrogant, but Mead is a design and concept-art legend, he’s been working in the profession for a long time, and knows the way great designs and great art would rarely come to life without free enterprise. So, while some students may see the idea of commerce as a tool of capitalist oppression, Syd gets paid. Good for him.

All that being said, the presentations over the past couple of weeks went well, I think. I’m thinking that close to 100 turned out for my last one. Most of the comments were positive and encouraging. I may even have a few more converts to the web comic, but after the rigorous interview processes I have no idea where all of this will end up. Maybe none of it will turn into gainful employment, but they all add up to great experiences and the chance to share ideas with smart people.

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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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1100 renderings (give or take)

Some notes on the ongoing production of my CG based, sci-fi, crime-thriller graphic novel: The Lightstream Chronicles

According to the script, there are somewhere between 212 and 230 pages of sequential art that needs to be created for the book to come to completion. At an average of 5 per page, the math tells me that there could be some 1,100 renderings that need to happen. More math: If I hope to complete it this year, that equates to 3.28 renderings per day. That would have to include post production; any Photoshop work that I need to do. But that’s just the rendering part of the project. There’s still dialog and page layout. I could probably do a more exact breakdown, but why bother? It’s huge.

While I acknowledge that this should plunge me into deep depression, I fully expect that some scenes will go more quickly than others. Scenes with dialog, without a lot of character movement and mostly “camera” work (I have several of these) are a “light-once-move-camera-shoot” proposition. I have been on enough live action shoots, however, to know that it’s not that easy. Sometimes lighting a close-up can take hours.

The most time consuming scenes are (and will be) the sweeping establishing shots, like flying over Hong Kong, Sean’s expansive synth lab, police headquarters, and the epic chase scene through the city.

Character Design

So far, all I have published is my character designs, which, so far, are pretty close to final though I have fully redesigned Sean and I have a first pass at Techman.

Sean Nakamura

I realize that, if you have followed the blog for the past year, you already know the basic story and you can glean some insight from the character descriptions that have been posted on DevArt and CGSociety, but even then, this name dropping doesn’t make much sense.

Scenes and proof of concept

For my 5th quarter thesis review, I have committed to completing an entire scene as proof of concept. Perhaps this will go online as a bit of an introduction. The scene I have chosen occurs early in the book where Sean Nakamura, the prodigy designer of synthetic, near-humans, is wrapping things up in his lab. The lab is one of those huge establishing shots that I was talking about and it starts out with a fly-over of Hong Kong with a zoom-in to through the windows of his penthouse laboratory at Almost Human Corporation (AHC). The strategy, thus far, is to build out as much of the lab as possible to focus in on the dialog.  The body of the scene takes place from pages 15 through 19. It would be great to add the big tension scene immediately thereafter on page 20 and 21, but this would require significantly more modeling, so it’s a long shot.

Conceivably, we could have these 7 pages by mid-to-late March. Snails pace. I know. It will get faster. Really.

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Back to design fiction

Strange that my last post was on the day Steve Jobs died. No relation, however. Part of the challenge in moving forward on the graphic novel is that this is also part of my thesis for my MFA. Hence, there are two parts, as I have blogged about before. The first part is the project itself. The second part is the scholarly work that gets me my degree, which will also authorize me to teach design. Without turning this into a lengthy excuse on why I have not blogged prior to this, suffice to say that between teaching and writing, visuals have taken something of a back seat.

New developments have occurred in the meantime. I have received word from Iridescent, the Journal of Design Research that my paper submitted last June has advanced to peer review. That surprised me. I guess it took so long that I had pretty much forgotten about it, and I think that a lot of papers that get submitted to these “Call for Papers” things sometimes go without a response at all. Of course, since June I have done a considerable amount of new writing on the subject and the whole idea of design fiction as it applies to my project. Clearly, at this point I’m seeing my effort at design fiction as both a work of fiction and a work of design, which definitely makes it a hybrid of that concept as defined by Sterling and Bleecker. Certainly, it makes it wildly ambitious, since it takes on many dimensions, including an interesting form of design research. I will elaborate on that in a different post.

As for the project, my thesis committee was pushing hard for more back-story. Imagine, asking questions like, “How did we get here?” I was considering this stuff possibly too tedious. Nevertheless, I think I have found some exciting new devices that can weave back-story into the body of the work without being boring. The fact is, I’ve done a lot of research into why and how the world got to the way I have depicted it in 2159 — why not weave it in?

Finally (for this post), I am staring down what they call 5th Quarter Review. This is the point in your thesis journey where you report to your committee on what the heck you are doing and show some work and progress. Theoretically, they can tell you to go back to the drawing board, or to look for some other career, or give you the thumbs up. In most cases, they tell you to make some additions and move forward. I have been staying in touch with them regularly and though we have had some bumps in the road, I think we are on the same page. My goal for 5QR is to have an entire scene from the book rendered, a couple of spreads of back-story and my thesis introduction, and outline complete. So, I will be busy this quarter, too.

Hopefully I will keep blogging throughout. Though I have plenty to talk about — no promises 🙂

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My sci-fi graphic novel: more updates

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?

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Refining the setting for the graphic novel

If you’ve read some of my past posts you might recognize a wee bit of angst about the locale of my graphic novel. Originally intended to be Hong Kong 150 years from now, I toyed some with Tokyo, then finally settled on Manhattan. No less than two days later I read that the new screen adaptation, live-action redux of Akira will not be set in New Tokyo as in the original story was conceived in manga form in 1982 (the anime film was released in 1988), but rather in “New Manhattan”? Weird but probably to be expected from Hollywood. There’s all sorts of controversy on this already in that George Takei (of StarTrek fame) is lobbying against Warner Bros. casting a white guy in the lead role. (I wholly agree. How lame.) And… even though all this takes us off point, I have to throw in the very cool poster from the original 1988 fick.

Anyway, to add further complications, Akira’s release date is probably 2013 which is precariously close to my own launch date. Now, I am not being oh-so-arrogant to assume that my meager GN will make any impact in the market place or will run the risk of competing in any way with the movie, but it’s the principle of the thing. I mean, how can my book be set in New Manhattan, too?  Thinking about this, it seems I am putting way too much import on whether the physical locale needs to have a specific 21st century counterpart. By establishing a specific city I am inviting the audience to scrutinize the environments for telltale 20th century remnants or landmarks, which is not the point and could even be distracting. The solution? I’ve settled on a large North American metroplex, probably east coast which will probably be more like William Gibson’s sprawl from Neuromancer. The fact that it’s New Asia, and it’s in North America is plenty to swallow… so hopefully this little hurdle is behind me.

Other news and graphic novel status report

This week I’m taking some Mudbox classes. We’ll see if this can become another tool in the toolbox.

I have partially designed seven characters. Two are complete and I am satisfied with their clothing and gear. I have set an aggressive schedule to complete the detailing on the other five by end of August when I hope to introduce my main cast. There are about a dozen more characters, but they are more or less, extras so they shouldn’t require as much effort.


Stay tuned.

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A graphic novel about culture, design and transhumanism in the future

And you thought this blog was about writing a graphic novel.

Anyway, I’ve just returned from holiday, I have been virtually free from the computer for nearly a week. I finished two books, started a third, and did a lot of mental tweaking to my story.

Without tipping my hand (too far) to the plot of my graphic novel (since it is not 100% solidified), I can say that it has always dealt with ramifications and implications of a somewhat transhumanist future, a world where scientism rules the day. As the prologue to my screenplay states, “Scientific advances have enabled the manufacture of life-like robots. Known as synthetics, these robots are found in all walks of life and can be virtually indistinguishable from humans.” Some of my key characters fit this description and even my humans are considerably augmented, enhanced and amplified.

While my story includes a fair amount of mystery and action, I never intended the read to be one dimensional. I hope to thread some thought-provoking themes and opposing ideas into the mix. This is especially relevant in lieu of the fact that my paper, the whole design fiction aspect of this project, is an examination of the design culture relationship. What we design will affect our culture and vice versa. What happens when we are able to design and create near-humans? What will we teach them? How will we use them? What capabilities should they have or not have? What will separate our future, synthetically augmented human sons and daughters from their purely synthetic counterparts? What role will ethics play in this future drama? After all, there is no science to ethics.

Meanwhile, all of these questions seem to be surfacing around me in our current cultural environment as we see a flurry of discussion about Kurzweil’s optimistic singularity and Vernor Vinge’s less than optimistic predictions of that same technology gone astray. In fact, Kurzweil has even enlisted Michio Kaku, Deepak Chopra and a host of other “thinkers” and, of course the mandatory celebrities (no doubt for their scientific insight) for a live discussion on the topic that will be coming to a theater near you.

I guess this means my novel is timely.

I’ve also done some additional thinking on stylistic texture and setting, especially in light of the fact that recent press releases have put the locale for the upcoming screen adaptation of Akira in “New Manhattan”. Hmmm.

More on that later.

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