Tag Archives: thesis

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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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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Design Fiction comes to Denver Literary Con

I have been honored with an invitation to present to the Rocky Mountain Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels, June 13-15, 2012. Quoting from their web site, the RMCCGN, “is a new literary conference devoted solely to the scholarly study and teaching of the sequential arts. What sets this conference apart from others is its unique mission to combine an educational classroom initiative with the benefits of theoretical and critical discourse. RMCCGN is being held in conjunction with the newly emerging Denver Comic Con at the top-rated Colorado Convention Center, June 15-17 2012.” Also presenting are Charles Hatfield and keynote speaker Scott McCloud, among others.

I suppose that my talk will have to address what design fiction, graphic novels, sci-fi, and CG has to do with anything. I anticipate setting the stage with the expanding role of the designer and the unique aspects of design thinking. Then I will have to situate this idea of design fiction. Here, (though I have recently discovered a great masters thesis from Jonathan Resnick that provides the best overview of the flavors of design fiction that I have seen to date), I will be focusing on my alignment with the thinking of Bleecker and Sterling on the subject. As Bleecker states (2011),  “… we furnish the fictional spaces of tomorrow with objects and ideas that at the same time chronicle the contradictions, inconsistencies, flaws and frailties of the everyday [offering] a distanced view from which to survey the consequences of various social, environmental and technological scenarios.”


Of course, as these things go, my thesis, hence the paper submitted to RMCCGN, is a bit of a hybrid on this idea. My project deals with some deliberate mixing of narrative construction, together with a process of design research, and some “making things” at least as far as visual prototypes are concerned.

Some key points to the project: (If you’ve read the blog in the past, you’ll see some evolution here.)

■ step 1 is creating the fiction. Using a type of design research that pulls on threads of technology, conditions and wildcards, the process of constructing the science fiction quickly cascades into a host of new questions and possible ramifications. The story builds from there.

■ design fiction weaves itself into the mix because through it, idea-objects gain knowledge mass and a sense of credibility. [Bleecker]. They become diegetic prototypes [Kirby]; invisible collaborators with culture in making life seem as real in the future as it is real for us now.

■ the graphic novel tells the story in a visual sense forcing prototypes into the visual realm. Design fiction then encourages us to look at how the thing is used, how it blends into the everyday, how it affects or changes the user, the society, the culture. Plus, unlike a film, it provides the opportunity to linger and study what you’re seeing.

■ the choice of CG for visualization likewise insists on “building” these props, giving them form, material and function.

Overall, the project is an examination of the interdependency of things. This is an important consideration for designers and decision-makers poised on the precipice of invasive human enhancement, technological replication, genetic engineering, etcetera, and etcetera. We need to be playing with scenarios. Our inability to anticipate or fathom the interdependencies of innovation, humanity, and the “unintended” are at the core center of a, “world unable (and perhaps increasingly unable) to come to grips with what it does to itself.(Allenby & Sarewitz, 2011, 160)”


Bleecker, Julian. http://nearfuturelaboratory.com/2011/10/26/thrilling-wonder-stories-london-edition/) 26 October, 11

Allenby, Braden & Sarewitz, Daniel. The Techno-Human Condition. MIT Press, Cambridge. 2011

Kirby, David A. . Future is Now: Diegetic Prototypes and the Role of Popular Films in Generating Real-World Technological Development. Social Studies of Science 40/1 (February 2010) 41–70.


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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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Graphic novel, sequential art, comic… It’s a book.

I have an observation that I find continually reaffirms itself. If you study man-made concoction long enough, you will find something to change. It was an unwritten rule from my agency, and design firm days that you should never leave a presentation image up for more than 5 minutes or somebody will find something wrong with it. With a few rare exceptions, that is a good rule of thumb. Unfortunately, when you are working on a project that takes a year to complete you find yourself looking back at past decisions that will ultimately have to be incorporated into a finished work some time in the future. There is no guarantee that a year from now I will like what I see. Already, despite the fact that I labored long and hard over my eight character designs—posting nothing without lengthy inspection and scrutiny— there are changes I know I will have to make. And then, there’s that title. I’ve decided to tweak that, too.

Graphic novel. If you set up a Google Alert for the term, (in quotes) you will get a fair amount of daily chatter. The kinds of books that crop up are more likely to be titles like Habibi, or Blankets, Watchmen, Maus, a Kickstarter project, and that sort of thing. You don’t seem to get a lot of discussion, these days, on whether or not the term is a good one or not. Most people in the biz and in the library system have accepted the graphic novel as probably a longer form than a standard “serial” comic,  and whether or not it is a compilation of several “serial” comics under one story arc into a single, bound novel, it probably steers toward older readers with story lines that are not conventional comic book themes. Since many graphic novels are one-off, stand-alone works, this can be another differentiating feature. I emphasize the work probably because there are always exceptions. With that being said, there is still a certain pretentiousness that accompanies the term through no fault of its own. Some people will use the term because it helps define the book as of the aforementioned types. Others will use the term in an attempt to ascribe some sort of weightiness or affectation of greater worthiness over comic book fare. Alas, there is nothing you can do about that. When I use the term it is to let people know that this is a long form comic.

With all that said, at this point, sticking”The Graphic Novel” into the title of my book now strikes me as dumb, so I’m taking it out. The new title (which I’m still considering a working title) is simply, LIGHTSTREAM Moment of Truth. You can call it a graphic novel if you want and I will still refer to it that way. You can call it sequential art storytelling. You can call it an illustrated novel. You can call it whatever you want, but in the final analysis it’s a story. It’s a book.

I’ve made this subtle change on most of the postings (except for the concept art on my web site, I hope to get to that this week). Changes, changes, changes.

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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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