Funky challenging page is funky. And challenging. No focal linework, two one-off environments, some major deviations from the scripted layout. The first deviation is the actual background in panel two, which bears only a vague resemblance to the thumbnail. Easier to fit the text, honestly – given the juggle that can occur with more detailed full-environment renders, I felt it was a welcome compromise. The second deviation is the basic background and composition of panel three – I flipped the “action” flow from right-to-left to left-to-right, which works better in terms of both conversation and composition – being a “right” page, it’s a better page-turner lead-in than it would have been going the other way. Going the other way it would be manga. The panel was also a bit of a pain in the rendering department – a squillion photometric lights and global illumination with a reflective floor somehow cooked into an eight hour render. Whoops.
While I’m not totally pleased with panel two, it does match the haziness of panel one and the previous two pages. And I don’t have to deal with the surface of Helios again for a good long time, if ever – at this point it depends on how detailed I get with Book One or the last set of flashbacks planned for chapter four. Regardless, that far down the road I should have an improved approach to exterior shots, and nailing down an environment will be less of a crapshoot. That or I’ll be writing and art-directing, hopefully working with somebody who can kick ass and chew bubblegum at the same time.
This may come to pass.
When it comes to sticking to the script – in terms of layouts, word emphasis, wording, panel flow… the script is a guideline. Pages often change at least a bit between planning and execution. Sometimes, as in this case, the changes are relatively minor. Sometimes it’s correcting stupidity, sometimes it’s adapting to CG realities – a good chunk of the layouts done for Transitional Voices chapter one had to be revised or scrapped altogether, as they failed to take into consideration just what a tight weird space the Daedalus bridge is. That’s one of the potential pitfalls of working with CG backgrounds – if you model your environment in advance you risk over-modeling and may generate a huge amount of geometry you’ll never show on camera. If you do your layouts around a basic notion of what the space is going to look like and then model what you need after you’ve figured out the scene, you may run into another problem – namely, that the environment just isn’t capable of handling the planned shots. If I’m working with a prebuilt environment it’s a non-issue – any future QAR scene will indulge in the space, any future Daedalus bridge scene will take the scalene triangle cross-section and half-an-attic headspace into account. Modeling fresh, regardless of relevant production planning? Well… you don’t know how it’s going to shake out until you’re assigning a render resolution and working your dummies and dialogue around a safe frame.
Of course, most of the issues with the Daedalus interior stem from it being effectively retconned into a low-poly shell that wasn’t fully thought out at the time I laid down the reference shots for Chris Bodine to model. The Loki has the same issues, though it’s blessed with a much more forgiving shape. If anything, it has too much space. Probable interior shape wasn’t an initial consideration with the Daedalus – hell, nailing down the exterior shape was adventure enough. At that point in time I had no idea how to go about thinking about what my requirements would be for a CG asset, or even that it was something I’d ever need to think about. I had no idea I’d be moving to CG and mixed-media backgrounds, near-zero clue as to what the ship’s interior should look like, and no idea about a lot of other things I’ve learned about since.
While the Daedalus turned out to be a Retcon Challenge, DCR has presented a different set of obstacles, especially after I gave up on the idea of “dialing down” the art in order to make the transition to The Dualist look like an improvement and embraced the notion of doing whatever I could to make each scene incrementally better than the one before it. The issue in this case is one I’ve blogged about previously – the challenge of mixing line art, CG, photographs and “pure photoshop” together with an eye towards something that Works. The end result of this process is technically a “style,” as there are certain elements in my toolbox that I wield the same way regardless of the situation. In this case that would be the general shading method of the line work (with minor adaptation and gradual evolution, as with all other elements of production), which is now struggling to catch-and-match the change in approach to CG lighting. It’s adapted a bit, just as my rendering and lighting skills have risen with an aim towards a more photographic or naturalistic representation of the environments. Panel three of the previous page is, I feel, an indication that I’m getting a handle on how to mix my deeply ingrained vector-shading technique with a background style that’s no longer a seamless fit. Ray-traced omni lights were in many ways easier to match to – and if I thought those results were a fit for DCR I’d still be refining those methods. I like the results I’ve been getting out of the rendering software, so it’s on me to bring my character shading up to spec.
I’m fine with that. The solid, direct benefit of this kind of page composition is that I usually wind up learning something, or at the very least have a new problem to solve. Troubled as it is, this page was three different CG problems- each with a different solution, each with their own quirks. While I dislike the notion of every panel of every page being this sort of challenge, I do appreciate the change of pace.
That’s one of the joys of the aforementioned script fluidity – with the backgrounds sketch-defined, with the words good to go, panel three is one of those rare cases where I had the opportunity to shoot for “make it look good,” with no other considerations. Not even reusability – there’s one panel down the road in which this environment might get a callback, but it’s optional.
And that brings the stream of consciousness back around to another branch point, with two “points to make” in the buffer. The first how everything mentioned above relates to the rest of this scene. The second is production timesinks, time tables, the realities of gratis low-profile resource-intensive production versus the competition paying and forwardly-mobile work exerts on the time and resources that could under other circumstances be devoted to comic production.
That second point kind of expands itself – especially if you’ve ever 1099’ed your Wintendo, uncertain if you’d be using the idle CPU time for Fallout 3 or money shots of CG assets you still need to create quality renders of. Long story short I’ve been able to train The Laser on ATC for a hot second, and for a hot second it was The Good Old Days of early unemployment, extended vacation time, sober weekends, and the like. Fact is this degree of focus can’t hold, at least in the short term – I have other needs to address, all of which have nothing to do with the comic, all of which are going to take a substantial amount of time away from the comic, some of which may put me in a position to spend some quality time with the comic, one of which is a shot at getting over something that’s been tormenting me for the better part of a decade – a thing that has nothing to do with the comic, and everything to do with a lengthy blog post on the nature of mental health and perceptions of personal responsibility, to be drafted at a much later date. Most likely as a “working document.”
Both points dovetail thusly: it’s time to build another environment. To wrap the point about time and resources as a means of segueing back around to talking about art, the next one’s going to be a timesink. Right now, a total focus on the comic is something I’d love to feel. However, I’m mature enough to recognize that at this point the comic is an indulgence (and will be an “indulgence” until I start printing chapters, running ads, taking out ads, showing up at cons as a Grower Not A Shower and otherwise attempting to monetize the work or hypothetically attempting to transition it into some form of survival-enabling revenue stream), and for at least the next week or so, Indulging in ATC will actively work against the realization of being the kind of man that I know I can be.
So, I’ve got shit to do. Serious shit. Then I’ve got some slightly less serious but no less deductible shit to do, then I’ll figure out how to make time here and there to model the next environment. Six and a half pages may not sound like a lot, really. However, this environment has to accommodate a couple of really specific shots, requires a specific degree of detail, requires a certain amount of resource preparation, and generally speaking can in no way at all look anything like the BMRI lab in DCR.2 or the lower-tech BMRI lab in The Dualist. SPOILER – It’s another “protagonists on one side of a Glass Wall, plot device on the other” sort of thing, though in this case the aesthetics and framing are completely different. That doesn’t excuse the trope repetition, honestly – it burns my ass and I’m pretty sure it won’t happen again, but three times in two books is pretty, uh… let’s call it consistent.
There’s a reason this chapter is named Leitmotif. DCR.3 is, straight up, a by-the-numbers Whack-A-Mole of most of the “core” tropes of ATC. It’s as much a trope-mill as it is a zipper-pull for everything already on deck, and I’m not just fine with that, I’m really looking forward to digging into it.
If only Beef Knuckleback got killed at some point, again.
Whack-a-Cliche might be more accurate, unfortunately. Though there’s a definite difference between the boilerplate copy-and-paste cliches of film and television and what constitutes a trope or cliche when used in the context of a work’s internal kabbalah.
For a brief span I had several paragraphs of comics-related commentary hanging off a footnote embedded in the now-brief paragraph above. I realized I was heading into Comic Book Guy‘s land of impotence late in the diatribe and aborted, sacrificing some fairly articulated thoughts on the altar of personal ethics. I could write at length on the complexities of Opinion in this respect. In brief – while I’ve verbally (counting IRC as ‘verbally’) opined on the themes and quirks of the writers I follow and the artists I’m aware of, I attempt to restrain myself from commenting on other comics in any medium I consider public. There’s a really simple reason for this – You don’t shit where you eat. I get to make this thing at my leisure – I can spend as much time as I want on it, I can spend as little time as I want on it, I can call a page at “good enough” or spend more time than it’s worth getting various aspects of it Exactly Okay. It is not my place to critically comment on the works of a published, paid author or artist. I don’t have to deal with deadlines, with the artist taking shortcuts, with the writer being unhappy with my work, the inker annihilating my pencils, or the hellfire and brimstone of an editor or unsatisfied writer. At this point in time comics do not pay my bills or finance my existence in any way. As such I am in no position to meaningfully perceive the pressures that the professionals operate under. I know the script for this chapter would have been something different, something vastly inferior, if I had a month or two and a deadline. I know that the ability to produce when called upon, and to produce within the time allotted, is what makes the professionals professionals. I feel strongly that for me to speak critically on the record, for me to criticize the writing, the inking, or any other aspect of the production methodologies of any artist who’s taken up the challenge of comics, would be unprofessional. If I can not be professional in my production pace or my production methods, the quality of my pencils or inks, the clarity of my script, or any of a thousand other little things, I can at least make the attempt to comport myself as a professional.
In that context, I have afforded myself every luxury known to comics. I am in no position and have no context to measure the output of any other artist or writer facing a deadline. I do know that if I enforced such a construct upon myself the work would suffer enormously. I know that I am not a talented artist – my body of work and the evolution of my style is born from determination first, desire a distant second, and influence a close third.
I can not talk comics. I am not qualified. As a writer/artist I am unpublished* – being unpublished I have not experienced the most formative of the ordeals that shape comics – editors and deadlines. As a writer/artist working on a book I feel strongly that criticism should be left to the critics (a Joo Janta ouroboros of a discipline that only matters if you think it does). When I’m not nerding on science, sex, technology and war, I’m nerding on one comic. This comic. While I read comics for entertainment (and rarely, insight), I didn’t start making a comic because I love comics. I started making a comic for the simple fact that the medium is the best outlet for the story my head’s been niggling me to tell since high school. Straight prose doesn’t quite work with the flow of my imagination. Animation is too tedious for one man – while I may be able to solo a good-sized chunk of this thing as a lifetime comics hobby, I could not create a feature film in my free time. Let alone seven of them.
A disciplined data-miner may find previous examples of comics-critical utterances attributable to myself. While I admire this mythical individual’s determination, I stand by my above statement in good faith, as that statement to some extent defines how I feel now and how I’ve felt for awhile. Whatever I may have opined before I “grew up” will hopefully bear a long-expired contextualizing timestamp.
This is not to say that I don’t have opinions on comics. I do. I harbor a few deep, serious, passionate opinions about the medium. Sharing them here would be inappropriate. The basic purpose of ATC’s metadata is to function as a form of After Action Report as opposed to an opinion pulpit or column. Though the “page blurbs” do seem to be getting more columny lately. If that’s where the metadata is heading, so be it – like the rest of the work, it’s evolved gradually. Unlike the rest of the work, the metadaa is a reflection of where my head is at shortly after page production.
My head seems to be in a very wordy place lately.
Cliches, tropes, themes – you can nickel-and-dime which is which to your heart’s content. Fact is, there are story elements I feel I’m reusing – regardless of the wear and tear other writers may have exposed various plot elements to, my use of ‘trope’ or ‘cliche’ does not refer to whatever recycling of external elements I may be executing (knowingly or otherwise). It refers quite specifically to the after-the-fact realization that I am, to some extent, repeating myself. Some critics may consider work-internal re-use as “thematic,” and in the sense of ATC being a work spanning generations (literally in the sense of the cast and figuratively in my progression as an artist), I would not deny that assertion.
I do, however, feel that the story is about to embark on its third instance of “crazies in the fishbowl.” While this embarkation has a different shape and outcome when compared the two BMRI scenes (which are for all intents and purposes the same scenario with different variables, much as I hate to say it), the impending remainder-of-the-scene is still Crazies In A Fishbowl.
Third time’s the charm. I can’t think of a single existing planned point in any other chapter or book of the story that can be boiled down to Crazies In A Fishbowl. That’s a good thing – but it’ll take some distance, some getting into it and through it – before it stops feeling like a thematic copy-and-paste, stops feeling like Boilerplate Procedural Scene, stops feeling like an indicator for something I have yet to realize about myself, and starts feeling like what it actually is – all those little distinct difference that make the scene Worth Doing.
Summarizing in the more familiar language of older, moldier metadata – I got shit to do. That directly impacts the time I have to brew the environment I’ll be using for the rest of the scene. I intend to spend as much time as it takes, as I want the next environment to be a “level-up” for 3d knowledge and my aesthetic capabilities. While this page and the previous two sprung up quickly and capably, there will be a good-sized temporal gap between this page and the next. Assets have to be created, and they have to be created when I have time. Time is in short supply right now, and looks to be pricier than diesel for the foreseeable future.
That is all.
Well, that and a statement on metadata – this page and the previous two have been seriously epic in terms of commentary. The scanned script “workbook” page is the new thing, the consistent thing. Future pages will most likely mark a return to form, a metadata shape along the lines of “I finished the page and gotta say SOMETHING before I post it” as opposed to the present “trend” (do three pages make a trend?) of “I finished the page. Finally, I can ruminate, on the record.”
* In the classical sense - hardcopy. In the internet sense - very low traffic with no promotion and no advertising. I've long felt I will enter a space in which promoting the work is a natural occurrence, and I've also long felt that the work will not reach that space until I have sufficiently matured as an artist AND writer. The former is hitting a point in which the line art is as good as it's going to get. The latter retains plenty of room for improvement.
Mastering notes, 2016.12.05 – Minor dialogue adjustments to panel three.