First, regarding the metadata “flavoring” for this chapter – this is the first ATC chapter to start production with a completely complete script. I’ve started with a complete outline and a scene written and laid out, I’ve started with a complete outline and a couple of scenes ready, I’ve friggin’ winged it with just an outline. But I’ve never outlined, developed, scripted, and laid out an entire chapter before starting on the CG assets.
That’s kinda big. Like, almost Real World Comics Production big. Artists typically start with a full written script that they then produce layouts and pencils from. Being the artist and the writer, and having a tendency to think visually on certain matters, the “script” for DCR 3.1 isn’t a script in the traditional sense. It’s not a Loaf Of Words, it’s not a litany of description. “James wears moccasins and Aleph is wearing white leather” are nowhere in the words. There’s some minor scene declaration – the rest of it’s dialogue, written with the full knowledge that re-reading the dialogue will prompt the shape of the scene in my head as written, which is then shaped into layouts during that part of the process.
To cut a story short, I’ll be publishing the “workbook” (near-final script draft and the layouts based on said) along with the finished pages. You will see some divergence – case in point, Helios had one moon when layouts started and two by the time the story entered production. Both are named after consorts, so it, yanno. Fits. Should you be interested, you’ll be able to follow the pre-production of the script (now complete and “locked in’) along with the final, polished pages. It may give you some insight into how this thing gets made, though it’ll be immediately obvious that my production process is designed specifically for a one-man army. Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman it ain’t. The words in the workbook are intended for internal use only – were I writing for another artist (as I may be eventually if things break right), I’d be a good deal more traditional in my methods.
Honestly, I’d like to see how other one-man armies throw down. The decision to develop the chapter this way wasn’t a conscious one – it was a mix of deliberation and avoidance, a combination of working to grow as an artist who’s slowly aiming to work with others and embracing my inner Howard Hughes. I’d love to see how other solo operators prepare chapters, issues, volumes, pages – how my method compares, how it fails. How I could improve things.
So, that image on the top left? Page one script and layout. This is the first chapter I can reasonably do this for – I’ve already processed all of the script pages and filed them accordingly, so keeping it rolling will be a minor addition to post-production paperwork. And for those of you who enjoy the meta-data, hey! Value added!
Second, the technical. This page and the next two are rough, from a production standpoint. The layouts, as they become available, will back this up (and show my shortcuts, trimdowns, etc). This environment – the cork boards, the room, the backdrop (two moons!), the binders… they won’t be seen again. This was most of my Tuesday – “sketching” the rough structure I’ll need for the next three pages and busting out this particular environment, then working over the lighting, positioning, etceteras. Normally I spend a good amount of time on an environment – in the past it’s been a week to two weeks for a single environment or object, with that environment or object having a well-defined forward usability. The QAR, for example, will be seen again in Transitional Voices and was re-used for the opening scene of the second edition of The Dualist. Every second spent working on it will pay off in the long term. The over-modeling of the Daedalus bridge and rec/crew area will pay off the same way – those interiors will be used in every chapter of TV, so a few weeks of effort then will work down to a day of integrating what I’ve learned about Mental Ray later.
CG environments are Value Added when they get used a lot – the Bedlam interior, Whitehouse’s apartment, various bits and pieces like VCRs, televisions, office chairs… in most cases, every new tchotchke goes into the toolbox. It’s easy to justify “it takes however long it takes” when you know you’re creating an effectively permanent asset that you’ll be reusing as needed whenever the occasion arises. Production values rise, the project starts to look better and better… and then BLAM!. Production values and practical considerations collide and neither has insurance. And they’re both lawyers.
This page is effectively one one-use environment. The next page is another one-off with two components carrying forward to page three, which is one carry-over from page two and two one-offs. Pages four through most of ten are another environment, which will be the same-only-incrementally-better quality as most of the full-CG environments in the story. To get there, I’ve got to do a good amount of grunt work – three pages of effective one-offs to keep production values consistent with the rest of the story. At this point it looks like each will be about as much work as this page – a few hours of hammering on CG, a few hours of lighting tests, etceteras. This one took some time – and if you have an eye for it you can see every shortcut (and I don’t mean the trees or the buildings in the far background, I’m talking geometry). But it looks consistent with the steadily rising standards of the project, and the effort spent here more than makes up for the GET IT DONE cheapout on the moving trucks at the end of the last chapter. Would have frozen up and spent far too long working on assets if I hadn’t cheaped out, to be honest – at the time it was a production compromise, and it’s one I still stand behind. I’ve spent a lot of time on CG asset production – hell, I’ve been getting PAID to work on geometry over the past couple of months – and I’ve learned that the line between wanting it to look good and going for the bare minimum Good Enough isn’t so much a line as it is a greased waterslide. This keys back to what I mentioned above, regarding time spent on asset creation versus its forward usability.
Which leads to my concluding paragraph, re: the technical aspects of this page and the overall theme of forward usability. The content of the cork boards, the clipboards, the photocopied paper on the table. There was a time when I would spend days – weeks, even – creating detailed background images that would be used for a single scene. Since then my attitude towards “timesinks” has shifted from single-scene to broader use. This is the first I’ve needed a substantial amount of a certain type of visual detail – in this case, the hand-drawn ravings of a lunatic. Back in the day I would have hit the bar and tediously worked out every single detail. In fact, this time last night I was thinking of doing exactly that, firmly of the opinion that this page would be posted early Friday instead of early Thursday.
Then I rediscovered a badly organized directory of scans – the contents of sketchbooks and notebooks from 2000-2003. While far from inclusive, the directory contained a broad array of applicable work – most notably some details of MBO-1s computer system, featured in the center-bottom of the page. Vodka and Cranberry, Elaine and some feverish scribbling at Zythos eight years ago saved me some serious fretting and toiling in the here and now.
I will have to toil before this scene is done, mind you – you’ll be seeing a few things I’ve never had reason to draw before now. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case with this page – James is showing Yang and Aleph the highlights of Lang’s scribblings, and over the course of the scene he’ll come to focus on specific drawings. Specific drawings I’ll draw. Non-specific drawings…. well, I’m really glad I didn’t have to. An occasional benefit of being focused on a single project for an extended period – earlier pre-production work occasionally comes in damned handy.
Third, the personal. Four months of downtime?! Yeah…. that happened.
In those four months? Love, loss, sucralose-induced mental health issues (namely anxiety) previously mis-documented and mis-percieved as a natural occurrence, one FUCK of a depression giving way to desperation and a throbbing lemming-like desire to destroy cognition, Mass Effect (twice), Mass Effect 2, Fallout 3 (twice) and all GOTY DLC (once)*, symptoms that point to a possible diet or alcohol induced heart issue (which became vastly less of an issue after the sucralose flushed), embarkation on another comic project I’ll be doing the colors for (slowly developing), some illustration work, the terror of financial uncertainty, the irregularity of work, the real terror of What Happens When The Work Runs Out And Maybes Are Still Keeping Myself And Others From Nailing Down Regular Gigs, two public drunken stress-and-depression-and-splenda-induced emotional breakdowns my good friend and ex-girlfriend have had the grace to say nothing about, etcetera and so forth, and somewhere in there… layouts. Layouts and pre-preparation (by which I mean turning the layouts into base panels and dialogue for all 36 pages of the chapter) for this chapter, and the skeletal beginnings of ATC book one from a serious “I might actually be able to do this with somebody and need more than an outline!” standpoint.
Hell of a time, obviously. Emphasis on the hell – one I’d resigned myself to, with doubts of my own mental competency (doubts IRC has had for a decade) raising fears of Western Psych and other horrors as-yet unnamed (and altogether more likely). I was an order of magnitude more of a mess than usual, for four months.
Then, last Wednesday night, my head suddenly cleared up. Literally. Flip of a switch kind of thing. The end. A desperate mess, a lemming in search of a cliff, then BLAM! Suddenly, Focused And Determined. No dietary explanation, no rational explanation – instead of having a fourth or fifth breakdown**, WHAM. Sentence served. Time up. Back to work. Focused.
Not entirely, but I quite suddenly felt like the Production Laser I’ve long prided myself in being, as opposed to the Desperate Wreck I couldn’t see a way out of.
And… here we are.
Fourth, when to expect the next page. The second point laid down the expectations, the third gives some indications as to my present difficulties. It could be a couple of days if I can stay focused. It could be this weekend if I can strike a balance. It could be next week or May or next year if the tightrope snaps. Time will tell. I’d like to think pulling my shit together long enough to bust out one page – with all of the pre-production halts and hangups that creating a one-use environment entails – is a good sign. My production values have long kept this from being a scheduled, predictable work – odds are that’s likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future.
If I can stay On Task and hit things hard enough, I should have base CG for the next page (and one panel of page three) prepped tomorrow night, with lighting tests and renders Friday and Saturday, with another page Saturday or Sunday. One piece at a time – CG. Lighting. Renders. Line art. Page. If each takes a day of free time, so be it.
* Great games, lumped in under the mental health and stress issues for reasons obvious to anyone tracking my Steam statistics - Eighty hours in one week on one game is "healthy" if you're a paid tester during crunch time. Otherwise, not so much. That's just how my brain works, and frankly I'm happy my OCD tendencies finally targeted themselves at Production instead of Escape. The real challenge will be keeping myself there!
** Within the timeframe in question. I’ve experienced a few mental extremes before this period, but nothing like this.