Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Contested Territory

In the middle of my thesis work (and progression on my novel, and searching for employment) I've taken on a few contests wherein I try to pit my wits and skills against the cursed, cursed monolith of Not Winning. So in addition to the Bruery contest I've entered recently, I'm trying to come up with a feasible and diverting tale for Blizzard's short story contest, as well as try my hand at a few designs for Create My Tattoo and Threadless/Jinx. Yep, if anything I'm persistent. So what are you up to, gentle readers? Crafting projects or wondrous hobbies? Writing the perfectly honed haiku? Whatever you dwell on, may it bring a little solace and sparkle to your hours.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Bruery T-Shirt Contest

So the Bruery had a t-shirt contest and I simply had to enter. Here are my entries, the second one (which I humbly dub the Rugbrod Bandit) galloping to the entry deadline as my last creative brain cell caught fire and exploded. Good job to all the entrants. I'm keeping my fingers crossed until the 23rd!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Out Of Character

At times you can reach a point in your story (whether it be a script, novel, storyboard, personal roleplay, or comic book boards) where you want a particular course of action to take place, but once you write it out it doesn’t quite work. There can be plenty of reasons why this is so. Perhaps the action is too contrived (Are aliens arriving in the midst of the unicorn cabal? Have you set up previously the idea that aliens might like to hang out with unicorns, or are you dumping them on the reader like an unwelcome house guest that has a tendency to pee in the potted palms when no one is looking?). Perhaps the action is arriving too early or too late within the plot and you need some major structural surgery. Or perhaps it can be one of the simplest sins and Character X has just done something that he or she would never do.

Just because you are the god of your own little paper and pencil world does not mean that you can whimsically tear it down whenever you feel like it (and if what we just read on the last page was “it was all just a dream” I’m looking at you...hard).

Action needs to flow naturally from the behavior of your characters, and basically within stories there are two types of action - what I’m going to dub internal forces and external forces. Charming Aside: I’m fairly certain other writers/instructors have tackled this concept, and even given the same or similar names to these forces, but I’m going to take a lazy pass and blame the zeitgeist on this one. That’s right, I’m not even freaking Googling this. In any case internal forces are actions that are motivated from the characters within a story, while external forces are actions that are motivated from the world that the characters inhabit. A hurricane is usually an external force. The hurricane can be a perfectly natural occurrence for a crew of people to experience out by some coastal town. That same hurricane can become an internal force if Character Y is a charming elemental-channeling sorceress bringing down the hurricane to devastate her fellow cohorts - either wittingly or unwittingly. Here’s where the fun comes in.

Is Character Y malevolent because of some past event and she’s out seeking meteorological revenge? Is she a bumbling ditz (beloved by virtually all Japanese animated series) who tried to water her sunflowers and got off to a bad start? Or did you just want her to summon a hurricane because you needed something spicy and wet happening on page seventeen? Normally I’d recommend another diversion if you need some mindless spicy/wet combinations (burritos are excellent you perverts), but if you absolutely need a hurricane there, you’re going to have to do some soul-searching. And by that I mean you’re going to have to search the souls of the characters you’ve created.

It can feel pointless and frustrating to list a bunch of likes and dislikes of a character at times. You don’t really need to know Nancy Drew’s favorite ice cream flavour in most situations if you’re trying to figure out how she’d react to uncovering secret military silos. However, you do need to know what your character would tend to prefer, want, or detest overall. Start big and then narrow it down from there to distill out the information you really need. If you have honestly examined your story and the way your characters are behaving and still find the action coming off badly, then perhaps something else is lurking amongst the lines and symbols, wrecking havoc on your sweet little world. If that is the case gentle readers, then you might need to break out the bigger scalpels.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Make, Then Take

Make, then take.

This is not a new idea. I’ve read its iteration with increasing frequency, from the stern but beneficent guidance of Julia Cameron to the stoic injunctions of adbusters. Here is my interpretation: before you absorb the work of others around you, create.

This is a lot trickier than it sounds. It’s easy to wake up and get caught in a tangled web of news, emails, advertisements, facebook - our modern mythologies are constantly in flux, and acting all around us. Our attentions can be diverted by nearly any little thing. But this is why it’s so important to take the selfish moment first, to divide ourselves from the glowing herd and cultivate our own inner creativity. Whether you write, draw, craft or bake - no matter the incarnation of your creative soul - it should be a priority to dwell on the self before engaging in the created works of others. This isn’t just for artists either, this is a concept for any human being.

People who don’t examine the world around themselves, who stop questioning, are often the ones who grow bored the fastest. You lose the ability to wonder if you flip through life in shorthand - one experience becomes much like another, and everything is indeed similar if you stop delving into the details, stop dragging the toughest questions into the light. Sometimes the hardest questions to ask can still be the simplest: “Why am I doing this? Why am I saying that?”

We’re losing ourselves in the world around us. Sometimes this can be a positive thing. The phrase is “lost in a good book” after all - in someone else’s world we hang, suspended - and being there can inspire a lot of great thought and innovation.

It’s when the feedback dies, when the creativity only goes one way, that we die. Merely absorbing worlds passively, becoming sponges to the television or films or jingles, is the beginning of inertia.

The hardest thing for me to do every day is to remember to innovate before I intake, to not only open my mind but perpetually reopen it at every turn. It is so easy to merely have a feeling or thought without examining it, it’s a lot harder to investigate why something evoked that in the first place.

Because I’ve been thinking about this idea quite a bit, I ended up shortening it into a brief rhyme - it’s how my mind works. And that’s what I’m sharing with you gentle readers. I hope it takes you someplace special.

Make, then take.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Evolution of a Matte Painting

A couple of months ago I was working at an internship where I got the opportunity to help create a digital matte painting for a shot in a live action short film entitled The Hunting of the Snark directed by Michael McNeff. The following images chart the general development of the matte from conception to the final product. I studied a Gnomon workshop DVD about matte paintings before attempting this one, and learned quite a bit along the way!

This was the first preliminary sketch for the matte painting. The mountains are intended to communicate a frightening, almost alien world that certainly does alienate the characters. I indicate lighting in a rough way so that the moonlight gave kind of an eerie feel. At this stage the time of day was determined to be early twilight, combined with some dusk tones, but those were quickly eliminated early on. Note the red safety zones indicating what part of the image would not be seen in the final result.

At this stage I was developing the texture of the mountains using pieces of a photographed source material (mountains that were actually very brown in tones and photographed during the day). Hues were adjusted and a great deal of darkness and light were implied using the dodge and burn tools. Some shadows were also painted in and blended here.

Here's one of the preliminary passes with an earlier time of day implied. The foreground was largely unnecessary as actors would cover up most of that area in the final composition, but was included to cover up any empty areas between actors, and continue the illusion of realistic space. A kind of fog is made predominant as a temporary experiment.

In this version the time of day is obviously later, and the mountain on the right was narrowed in an attempt to make it more jagged and scarier. I was told to imitate shale, and a lot of research on shale followed.

This is the beginning of a series of versions where I was imitating a fellow matte painter who had used a more painterly style to create their images as requested by the director. Here the textures feel quite a bit more artificial. Even though these weren't chosen in the end, they still have a fairly interesting feel, and were fun to experiment with.

Michael was dissatisfied with the painterly way things were going, so we ended up scrapping that progression, and I drew a few more rough sketches and refined them. We ended up choosing this one to work with.

Using a similar process as before, textures were tweaked until this was the final result. Note that the lighting is perhaps a bit lighter in the sky, while the mountains are largely dark, helping to encourage a twilight feel. Although the edges of the mountains are sharp, they will be adjusted in the final composite in After Effects once atmospheric distortion is applied.

Here's an approximation of what the final composition would feel like. Overall the lighting in the background balances nicely with the foreground elements, and while the background gives a feeling of claustrophobia, they're not too interesting to detract from the foreground action. Michael liked the results quite a lot!