Send Me Your Money!

In early May I created a Patreon account. I’ve made it thirteen years without asking for help, and if I want ATC to keep going, well… I’m gonna need all the help I can get. I’m gonna need you to send me your money!

Apologies to Suicidal Tendencies – the song popped into my head while writing copy for Patreon and it seemed like a great opener for the related ATC blog post (this bit here), so I ran with it.

This post establishes the existence of the Patreon account and firms up the ATC production roadmap. The roadmap is planned to be the first blog post to the account once I take it live. I feel that it reads a lot like a pitch for a fixed amount of funding – a budget, if you will – and in some ways it is. While ATC was planned as a seven book thing and for a very long time was dreamed of as an ongoing series, I can’t see past the end of the current book. It has been in production since 2007. ATC is a trilogy until it’s done. I have to finish it; I can’t move on with my life until I do. I can not see or plan for what comes after it until I, myself, am after it. I am Ahab. Creative fatigue and financial stress have really put the zap on me. My costs are fixed. My freelance income is not. Freelance is a fickle beast – on the one hand pants are optional on the other the work commands and utterly exhausts the creative impulse. I am asking you to buy time. The more you pledge the more time I’ll have to spend on ATC instead of some hungrier thing. The faster this particular leg of the project is done the faster we’ll get to see what comes next.

With your help there will be a next.

TV.4 Production Status Update: Fire rules!

Heh heh heh. Yeah. It rules.

When I produced the cover for Fire it was one of two ATC-related things standing in the way of new pages. The other thing was the script, and at the time it was easier to produce the cover. Around the time the cover went live the weather improved, and for the remainder of April Pittsburgh experienced a very brief spring, lurching from a frigid, sloppy winter into what seems to be a sweltering, soggy summer at high speed. During that time I wrote the script, laid it out. and got all forty pages of the chapter ready for production. There were a lot of steps involved in that process – steps that had previously been performed a page at a time, then a scene at a time. I think this is the first I’ve prepared an entire chapter for production in one go, and as of this writing almost the entire thing is ready for rendering.

20 Pounds of Corned Beef

February was a fabulously unproductive month for ATC. I spent just about all of January building assets for the next chapter of the comic, became even more burned out than usual, and wound up taking most of February off. Or rather I spent most of February’s “free” time in a Tale of Two Wastelands, which is an excellent way to play Fallout 3 on Windows 7. I spent the rest of February juggling half a dozen or so freelance opportunities and obligations, though fortunately they didn’t consume all of my time…

A secret report from within the Build.

January was a productive month. I’m not done with CG prep for the next chapter but I’m a hell of a lot closer than I was at the beginning of the year. The rest of this entry is spoiler heavy and perhaps more importantly contains no screenshots. I’m through the vehicles and on to environments and I’d like the first appearance of those to be on the page as that’s what they’re designed for. That doesn’t prevent me from talking about what I’ve been modeling, though!

Valkyrie: This time it’s hiding in the most terrifying place of all.

I wrote everything after this paragraph, microwaved a burrito, and realized that the post had no title. I then spent more time than is probably healthy struggling to come up with one before checking the blog for guidance. The last post about Transitional Voices referenced Aliens in the title, and this is the next blog post about Transitional Voices and Alien 3 comes after Aliens so there’s the title.

Since my last blog post, development of Transitional Voices chapter four has lurched from Park into a gear somewhere between Drive and Neutral. I’m playing with a new development method for the chapter and while it looks very promising I’ve been focused on indulging my spaceship modeling habit to the exclusion of the script. The script at this point is developed enough that I’ve been able to revise the list of required 3d assets and I’ve been working on the more cognitively harmonious bits of that list instead of, say… the script itself.

TV.3 Asset Development Analysis (or, the pre-post production blog post)

The last page of TV.3, air -44-, ATC page 635 (story page 612) rolled off the assembly line around 0600 EST this morning. That makes for a total of seven pages in the buffer. On the current Sunday schedule that covers the rest of October and all of November, with the last page finished this morning having a projected post date of November 30. Air -42- will be posted on the 16th and is closest to ATC’s 20th birthday. I can never remember the exact date; I know it’s November 1994, somewhere in the middle. One of the “teen” days.

The comic is currently two pages into the last major production block of the chapter. I took advantage of a scheduling hole in late September and got the rest of the Daedalus shots rendered in a marathon work session. After that, pages 3.36 through 3.38 were done in one production block and 3.39 through 3.41 were created the week after. After finishing line art for the chapter I spent a fortnight on asset development, which is the point of this blog post. As I’ll be discussing material that will be technically spoilery for the next few weeks I’ll tuck the rest of this post below the fold.

Asset development is not a spectator sport.

TV 2.01 is stuck in production hell. It’ll be another 20-40 hours to get things thinged enough to render the first page of the next chapter, then another 20 to 60 to who knows to set up for 2.02 through 2.06. 2.07 through 2.15 are, fortunately, rendered and ready for line art.

The launch assets for this chapter are the timesink from hell. The fact that I quit smoking and haven’t ingested nicotine (first-hand, anyway) since January 2nd has complicated things, but the fact is I am seriously burned out on asset development and was even before that kicked me in the head.

I’ve sort of “budgeted” for this – I’ve said previously that TV.2 production would likely kick off in February and it looks like that’s going to hold. So I’m technically on schedule. I’m also at the point in which I feel like I’m technically scaling a cliff with my eyelids. It’ll be awesome when it’s done and rolling. Whenever that is. I plan to try to “dial it down” for TV.3 and TV.4 – this kind of work used to be fun but at this point I really need to stop with the uniques and start moving towards a Bethesda-style toolkit that can be continually repurposed for new environments.

Not that that’s a problem I’m facing at the moment, mind you – production has hung up on a one-off that has to look good, and decisions I made about production quality and the production values of Transitional Voices back in 2007 are holding things up. I’m holding things up, re-learning caffeine, re-learning focus, re-learning how to work and be productive and how to get things done without one stimulant effectively nullifying another.

Nine pages rendered, fifteen pages framed and lettered. Script revised some more, still has a couple of small-but-serious issues that need to be addressed. All of the boring-but-necessary page setup work is done; the next step is pages or stop, and I do not intend to stop. I hope to have a page up in February, and I hope to have the major environment for the first scene ready to go within the next few weeks. I want to be in serial production for ATC’s tenth anniversary, and that’s still a possibility.

TV.2 production start – Return To Color – is, in the immortal words of Porkins, “Almost there.”

Songs from the Fish Mines

Mom was gonna come down and visit today. Then the weather weighed in. The entire state is getting dumped on – the phones are dead, there’s no immediate work on deck. I’m broke and even if I wasn’t, for christmas I promised myself The Wagon for at least a few weeks. This status report is being written at the outset of what will hopefully be the first ALL ATC ALL DAY work session in… uh. Years!

TV.2 (Return To Color) Production Status

All 24 pages have been laid out. Extensive in-page script revisions have been made to several pages; all pages outside of the first rendering block still need to be “framed” and lettered.

Pages 07 through 15 have been rendered. 10 through 15 are pretty much ready for line art, 07 through 09 will need some extensive post-rendering digital work in addition to line art. Renders finished earlier this week, consuming 100% CPU for roughly two weeks. Rendering ops resulted in 342 files totaling 4.07 gigs uncompressed in the PC “00 TV2 Renders” directory. The mac-side data is compressed – LZW for the tiffs and .zip for the 3d files – and weighs in at 2.28g compressed counting the page files.

All work that can be done with entirely existing assets has been done. Pages 2.01 through 2.06 and 2.16 through 2.24 require assets that are either in development or ready for it. Work has started on the environment for 2.16-2.17 though no appreciable progress has been made within the past week or so due to work and render ops. Further development has been pushed back in order to focus on assets required for 2.01 through 2.06. I sunk a good amount of time into modeling work yesterday and plan to get a hell of a lot more done today. I don’t know when (or even if) I’ll have this much time to throw at CG work so I plan to make the most of it.

Properly nerdy details would be pretty spoileriffic at this point. Sufficed to say I’m grinding away on a major asset. CG requirements for TV.2 scene one are such that the best-case estimate for asset development is “January.” If you were reading ATC back in ’07-’08 you know that a CG asset typically takes me 2-6 weeks to develop with a metronomic day job financing production. Three years freelance has complicated my schedule considerably, and it’s worth noting that the asset in question already has a couple of weeks of here-and-there effort invested in it, most of that in 2008 and 2009.

While my phone or inbox could still produce a work-related distraction, hopefully today I will find out just how much I can accomplish with a focused blast of effort.

While doing laundry earlier this week I did some thought exercises to see what ATC production would look like on a regular schedule. If I rolled this thing out weekly instead of as fast as possible, I’d have a total of seventeen weeks from GO! to develop the assets required for the back end of the chapter, and an additional seven weeks to finalize the TV.3 script and start work on layouts and assets. While production almost certainly won’t go down this way, it remains a possibility… and it wouldn’t surprise me if 24 pages wound up taking six months to produce from GO!. Heck, this thing’s already been in some stage of development since September. Of 2008.

Back to the fish mines!

Production status update, 20121219

Today’s the first day I’ve had a good-sized chunk of “me” time in a couple of weeks. Well, “me” time that isn’t 4am exhausted wind-down Fallout: New Vegas time. Lots of client work, now down to waiting on payments, contracts, and communications. Wednesday seems a natural lull for this sort of thing – over the course of 2012 rather a lot of comic work got done on Wednesdays.

In previous TV blog posts I wrote about the notion of rendering ahead as a means of rectifying a complex schedule with comics production and CG requirements and so forth. I’ve been working ahead for quite awhile – many pages of DCR.5 were rendered for weeks before I caught up on line art, but that was a linear progression. This is the first time I’ve jumped ahead to render ahead. As of yesterday afternoon, six pages of TV.2 have been rendered and are ready for line art. That’s a quarter of the chapter – and it happens to be (roughly) the second quarter. The environment was built in 2008, the script was solid (since revised to be solider), layouts were done, reference dummies popped into existence easily enough, and the whole mess – 38 panels sum total – took roughly nine days to render. The Daedalus rec area and bridge are absolute pigs – big files, lots of geometry, a crapload of high resolution texture maps, lots of lights set up back when I was still figuring out photometrics and mental ray and all that. Future environments will render faster.

So, six pages are rendered and ready for line art preparation and script tweaks and so forth. I may re-render a panel or two, though I probably won’t – a few shots look a bit rough with the reference objects in place, but that’s almost entirely due to shaders and specularity and I can totally ignore or improve on that when things get to line art. The rough spots I’m thinking of are towards the middle of the scene, so when the pages finally do get into production I should have the time to re-render a panel or two if it turns out things are sub-optimal.

There are two or three (possibly two and a half) more pages I can render with existing assets, and two environments to re-light. These bits will likely be done before any substantial progress is made on assets for the first six pages of the chapter. I’ve done a bit of modeling work for one of the last two scenes – a solid foundation, but the assets need a lot more work before they’ll be ready for primetime. Hopefully I’ll have more time for 3d work over the next couple of weeks.

Oh, and I managed to lay out two whole pages of the last scene while doing laundry last week.

Quite a bit of work has been done over the past couple of weeks, though you won’t see any of it for a couple of months. When pages do start showing up, they’re set to hit at a steady, predictable, no-cg-holdups-just-drawing pace.

All told. Now to get the rest of today’s to-do list taken care of!


13:02 < solios> I sketched out templar provisional hq while taking a shit
13:03 < solios> seemed an optimal use of time and resources (and poop)
13:03 < solios> (I sketched it with a pen.)
13:08 < xeno__m> poopsketcher
13:12 < solios> >.>
14:18 < mdxi> Your search – poopsketcher – did not match any documents
14:18 < mdxi> haven’t seen that happen in a while
14:18 < solios> O_o
14:18 < mdxi> “Did you mean: poop catcher”

{Pre-}Production status update, 20121206

I’m fine with talking obliquely about spoilers with regards to TV.2 – it’s a transitional chapter, full of a lot of fairly important details but relatively light on surprises. The real fun happens in TV.3 and TV.4 and I intend to remain tight-lipped about the back half of the book.

Last night I created layouts and script revisions for the core of TV.2. A little bit ago I scanned in those parts of the workbook and after I finish this I’ll get a few pages scripted and guttered. I intend to start production renders for pages ten through fifteen on Friday or Saturday. If the calculations based on initial test renders are accurate those six pages will take the rest of the month to render. Most of the pages are five or six panels, one is currently fourteen – less if I can figure out a way to cut it down while conveying the same information. A production-grade test render of an area roughly 1/3 of a page in size took six hours earlier this week – while not all panels are going to take that long to render, my (very) rough estimate is two big panels a day, tops. During which I’ll need non-PC things to do. Right now that’s a good-sized list, very little of it ATC-related.

Pages six through seventeen now have layouts or revised layouts and script or revised script. Pages seven through fifteen have environments and I plan to start rendering with page ten within the next couple of days. The first Daedalus scene is just about ready to render – after yesterday’s crash course in Character Studio I flirted with the idea of upgrading the reference dummies before starting production but after some thought I ultimately decided against it – with a little bit of effort I can slam these pages into production now, and that’s kind of the point. I’d sooner save biped revisions for later; possibly the second Daedalus scene or in TV.3. Hell, I’m moving forward with the first Daedalus scene precisely because the requirements are relatively minimal. Upgrading the biped now would be counter-productive – while my test rig showed obvious benefits to upgrading, the idea behind rolling ahead on renders now is minimal setup work, grinding through a CPU-hogging scene while I’m focused on other things. Which I need to be focused on, which biped upgrades would take focus from.

So. The first major chunk of the chapter will be produced with existing methods, despite their inefficiencies – CG production time needs to be focused on asset creation for the time being. Objects that’ll be CG in finished pages regardless – vehicles and environments.

13 pages featuring the Daedalus (inside and out), three pages using other existing environments. Eight pages from scratch or with minimal existing assets, six of those at the front of the chapter. “Go!” layouts and script for 12 pages, “Start!” script and layouts for five pages, “Start!” script and no layouts yet for the seven pages at the end.

Still on track for pages in January; apparently still on track for the pages to flow regularly once the first five are in order. TV.2 is shaping up to be an exercise in long-term planning. It’s been on the shelf for almost five years – how couldn’t it be?

Let’s get technical.

TV.1 page files are 2250×3375 at 365 dpi and cleanly reduce to 600×900. The pages of The Dualist and TV.1 were prepped without hardcopy gutters and still need to be expanded and forked to CMYK for hardcopy. Panel max width is 2190.

Page files from DCR.2 onward are 3300×5040 at 480 dpi with a “live” area of 2880×4320 and a web select area of 2944×4417 that reduces to 600×900. Panel max width is 2848. Grayscale pages are immediately ready for hardcopy. Finished pages are reduced to webscale and web gutters with a photoshop action. I’m not going back to TV.1 templates for TV.2 – I’m converting DCR.2-5 templates to RGB with black gutters and moving on at the current production resolution.

DCR.2-5 dialogue was 5.16pt with a leading of 6.09pt. TV.2 dialogue is provisionally set for 5.25pt with a leading of 6.5. TV.1 was 5pt with a leading of 6.58pt; this upsamples to 7.52pt with a leading of 8.61pt when scaled to the same size as the working TV.2 template file. So dialogue is technically going down in size between TV.1 and TV.2, unchanged from DCR.5. Dialogue has used rectangles with a 10px radius and minimum four pixel thickness since forever – I don’t plan on changing that with this revision of the template.

Existing draft of script (completed a couple of months ago) transcribed to RTF with a few changes. Page count is 24. Some dense for dialogue, some sparse. Pages will doubtless be expanded between draft and web publication. Ten pages have provisional layouts – some solid, some sketchy – scanned this afternoon in parallel with transcription. Workbook assembled in InDesign; hardcopy completed at 23:25. Fourteen pages need layouts, a few of the existing layouts may be refined.

24 page directories were created in the TV 02 Chapter Two – Water directory on 26 November, populated with {$pagenumber}l and {$pagenumber}z sub-directories. Adjusted template detailed above and blank commentary files were populated to those directories this afternoon. Pages will be provisionally blocked off for layouts when the full script is thumbnailed. Page seventeen is technically already laid out; just needs captions.

Environment assets required for pages 7-15 already exist. 1-6 and cover need assets, 16-17 need assets, environmental assets are required for 18-24, though the majority of the real estate already exists. 16-17 should be fairly straightforward; the rest are more complicated. Depending on workload, schedule and layout development there’s a possibility that rendering work may begin on 7-15 (or at least 10-15) before assets for 1-6 are complete, as asset development requires hours of sustained attention per day over a period of several days or weeks and rendering work requires a few minutes of setup and checking work per panel then it’s Hurry Up And Wait. If I had layouts and updated reference dummies I could actually start firing those off right now. In fact I should probably proceed in this direction, as the Daedalus interiors are absolute pigs and took forever to render at 365.

That doesn’t mean I’ll start rendering today, of course. Part of the move forward with TV.2 is higher-detailed positional assets (3d bipeds), adding boots and collars and the like to get a better idea of perspective and more importantly to throw accurate bounce lighting so the 2d assets fit cleanly into the scene. This came off fairly well in TV.1. The technique was improved considerably over the course of DCR though with grayscale I didn’t have to match color. I intend to improve on that in TV.2. Boots and collars and boobs – bolt-on cantaloups will be a thing of the past. West’s hard-topped cap will be a proper soft-cover if it kills me. I can prep the dummies without layouts but I can’t put them to proper use until they exist, so layouts and dummy prep need to be high priorities over the next week or two.

As an almost entirely dedicated work session today has gone exceptionally well. I’d keep plodding along, but my stated mission – script and page template preparation – is complete and I need to do some finishing work on a client project tonight if I’m to have a hope in heck of paying rent this week. I’m not sure how my schedule for December is going to shake out but at the moment it looks like weekdays split between different types of client work with weekends hopefully dedicated to ATC. In this context, prioritizing layouts and positional assets makes a lot of sense, as with a bit of up-front work I’ll have something to roll with before the end of the month. The next page is not the production goal – Transitional Voices Chapter Two in its entirety is the production goal. So “skipping ahead” isn’t really skipping ahead – it’s potentially making the best practical use of available time.

I do that a lot with ATC. Write when I’m creative, work when I’m not. The TV.2 draft was generated this summer, then put on hold for Observer Effect. Today it’s been transcribed and prepared for full layouts and digital work, and the page directory structure and templates have been created. A lot of boring work, a lot of necessary work, and I’ve grown to greatly prefer doing it all at once instead of on an as-need basis. Less so with line art, as it requires more attention and more than a page or two of pencilling and inking causes a great deal of physical strain.

Copious amounts of thinking out loud, which ultimately adds up to this: when production finally starts, Daedalus interior scenes should hopefully roll out faster than the rest of the chapter. As Daedalus scenes account for 58% of the chapter, this bodes well for actual production pace of TV.2.

TV.2 Back in Pre-Production!

The TV.2 script hit a solid first-revision draft back in August. Then Observer Effect happened. Ten pages in roughly ten weeks isn’t bad, considering everything else that’s been going on in my life. The story is stronger for it, though TV.2 development was put on hold while that sequence came into being.

For the time being ATC is done with grayscale. The story is now moving chronologically forward for the first time since July of 2008. The next page will be the TV.2 cover, which requires the same assets and environment as the first six pages of the installment. Asset and script development will resume this week – the script after a brief hiatus, assets after an extensive period of time off. The key asset of TV.2 scene one is roughly 80% complete for geometry and has been since late 2009.

At present the plan is to get the TV.2 script finished and laid out before the end of the year, and to get the initial assets ready to go within the same period. All of this is subject to work and scheduling issues, though the script and assets are far enough along that this may be achievable even if things get totally bent out of shape.

Development may be punctuated by blog posts the way DCR.5 was.

I have some work-work to deal with first and I’m still recovering from The Flu From Hell, so I don’t expect to make any real progress this week. I do plan to update the blog on a fairly regular basis, though – TV.2 (hopefully) won’t suddenly appear out of nowhere.

TV.2 in Pre-Production.

I’ve been noodling around with iterations of outlines for a few months now. Given the results of last night’s pre-Curiosity development session I think I can comfortably state that after four years on the shelf, Transitional Voices is back in development. The basic outline for the story hasn’t changed, and that’s made burning it down to the skeleton and rebuilding it from scratch less of a challenge.

While development is still hit and miss, most of what I generated last night I consider Good, and at least one bit is In The Script for sure. I plan to continue evolving the DCR development model – script, layouts, assets, production and thorough documentation. I also plan to finish DCR, make the DCR and Dualist continuity passes, and overhaul the site before production on TV resumes in earnest. Script development is GO and will continue to be GO until I’ve got something to work with. After four years off it’s less a question of where things are going (that hasn’t changed) and more a question of how to get there efficiently, while doing things that haven’t been done with the other two books.

I could probably crunch out a viable script for TV.2 in a week – it has been percolating for awhile. I don’t actually need that script for at least a couple of months, so for the time being wrapping up DCR is the priority.

Message ends!

TV.1 Metadata: Audited!

The metadata for Transitional Voices chapter one has been given a thorough once-over and is back online. Unlike DCR, there were a few pages that didn’t need fixes. Like DCR, there were a lot of links to fix or remove. Also some subtle editing and some images to transfer.

If yesterday and this morning have proved anything, it’s that I can comfortably bite off audits one chapter-sized chunk at a time. This bodes well for The Dualist – though it’s a different challenge with vastly different editing requirements, a couple of hours a day should still see it ground out and back online before August is out.

TV1 Rewrite

  • Ornix’s shirt was replaced previously. This was done around the same time he showed up in The Dualist. Shirt fixes were applied to both TD and TV in sequence, and the altered TV pages were mass-uploaded. Like the Ornix Shirt Upload, the TV1B upload is a full replacement of the existing pages. Unlike TD2E, the first version hasn’t been kept around for comparison purposes. In my opinion, it hasn’t changed enough to merit it.
  • Rewritten and re-lettered. Technology and character dialogue is now consistent with TD2E, plot events are consistent with TD2E, and you’re probably not going to notice anything really different, with the exception of earth -13-. Panel one of that page is probably the most important panel in the chapter – if not the single most relevant panel in the story to date.
  • In some cases the rewrite is a reword – large sections of the original script are intact, though a lot of dialogue has been changed. Most of it between earth -7- and earth -37-.
  • “Astral speak” is now correct – Grij speaks Times as he always has, all other voice is now Courier, as it has always been. First version used Times for all “Astral speak,” which may have created the impression that Grij is a schizophrenic motormouth. He isn’t. He’s just wordy.
  • Very minor art changes to earth -17-.
  • Consistent with the new chapter segment titling of TD2E, earth -1- has been titled.
  • Unlike The Dualist, there have been no massive show-stopping reformats.* Core elements of plot have not been changed, nobody’s really different. The dialogue is now consistent with TD2E (written after TV1a) and there’s a bit more exposition. As with all other exposition, it occurs organically.

* There probably should have been – Dan Minksy has issues with the first two panels of earth -3-, and for good reason. That may be over-hauled at a later date. This round of work was rewrite-only, and I’m sticking to that – time for covers, etceteras.

TV1.b on deck.

While I’ve fixed Ornix’s shirt, I’ve also completely re-written earth to bring it in line with all of the changes made to The Dualist. This rewrite will be implemented over the next couple of weeks. No other formatting or graphical changes will be made, and I don’t think any additional metadata comments will be necessary.

Implementation begins this weekend. As I seemed to average about eight pages a day rewriting TD2E – with a day job – I expect TV.1 to be ground out a bit faster. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Shirt fixes uploaded.

After finishing (most of) my pre-formatting run through The Dualist, I figured I’d take out the next item on the photoshop To Do list – fixing Ornix’s shirt in the existing pages of Transitional Voices.

The old shirt decal appeared in 24 pages total, of which Earth -8- was the stinker. The rest went quietly. Quietly enough to be done in one night.

With the exception of one remaining page* of the first edition of The Dualist, this means all of the graphics re-work is complete, and TV is now visually consistent with The Dualist. At present, only two major objectives remain – ten new pages of The Dualist (and one page to fix), and the second edition rewrite. That will be followed by a rewrite of TV.1, and, eventually, new pages.

* I’ve been putting that one off for awhile. I might knock it off my list tonight, just to have it over and done with… adapt the new pages to it, instead of the other way around.