dcr4_script_page_14In a break from tradition, this page is designed to be read clockwise from the upper left.

20120113 – For whatever reason, a build log seemed like a good idea. This has been an “expensive” (in terms of time, 3d assets, etc.) one-off page, and the props are unlikely to be reused. So, here’s some idea of the work that went into it:

20120104, 0306 – Went at my original “nautilus” layout two or three times, two or three ways. Couldn’t get anything that looked nice. Revised to something more mathematical – should work out well, given whitespace constraints/considerations. Created placement files for all eight panels. Still need to model the cockpit and cabin. Doesn’t have to be great, but I don’t want it to suck.

20120108, 1908 – Started interior geometry late Thursday night. Built an exterior and worked through the rest of the interior Friday night and Saturday morning (pulled an all-nighter to get to the bank at 9am sharp). Lighting and rendering tests Saturday night, panel one and setup for panel two early Sunday. Panel four (going clockwise) comp Sunday afternoon, followed by screen for panel two and line art (and screen) for panel four, then the panel four render. Still need to generate background geometry for panels three and eight; still need to model the CG placeholder for the Sokol analogue the crew is wearing. With the Sokol mockup I’ll be able to render panel two and probably panels five, six and seven.

Two rare things for this environment – I rarely if ever move on a page without finished CG, but camera tests and a tweak to the glass shader indicated I’d be able to do 2 and 4 without finished characters. And – more importantly, I think – this is untextured geometry. Basic solid colors and lighting, the only in-document pixels are the space backdrop and the contents of the screen. The Aeon is textured (has been for quite awhile) and I’ll almost certainly do something textural for the far back of panel three, but the primary environment is “bare.” At this point I know that’ll work fine for the first four panels – hopefully it’ll hold for 5-7.

Oh, and. One REALLY rare thing – while I’m not ruling it out until all of the renders are done, as of now (1949 hours with panel four done), this is the first environment I’ve cooked up that hasn’t required extensive post-rendering brightness/contrast and/or levels adjustments to make it look right. (20120113 – The center panel had to be extensively adjusted, though. Adjusting one exterior shot beats nickel-and-diming seven interior shots, that’s for sure!)

Oh, and some more – the seats are a minor redress of the bridge chairs I built for a spaceship I started a few years ago but never completed. I might dust it off for Transitional Voices chapter three or later – if I do it’ll probably be for exterior shots only. I’m glad I finally got to put some of the interior work to use.

20120109, 02:59 – Went halfsies on the Sokol-alike. Pretty happy with how it came out – should translate well into line art. Panel two rendering.

Addendum on the Sokol-alike, day of completion – the real thing looks spiffy. I took a couple of shots at the helmet, couldn’t get anything I liked and dropped it, opting to retain the skullcap, headset and an implied helmet-goes-here over a basic SAS sort of thing. End result? The crew look more like priests than cosmonauts.

This is a good thing.

20120111, 05:46 – Finally, a space station. A huge, largely implied one – but a space station nonetheless. A few cubes, some mesh smoothing, texture maps grabbed from the Sabrosa. Does what I need it to do, and looks pretty cool!

Another day-of addendum – the starbase thinger is still pretty sweet. Looks like I’ve figured out how I’ll be brewing tchotchkes for the latter bits of Transitional Voices.

13:48 – Last render (panel three) socketed, panel 8 tweaked a bit. Ready for line art, which probably isn’t going to happen until Thursday or Friday. Re: previous timestamp – had to dust off the .psd files for the Aeon and undo a couple of gouges and some “weathering.” Visible here.

20120113, 0214 – Line art cleaned up and ready for shading.

20120113, 18:03 – Rolling commentary between bits of shading:

When Byron Winton said he thought a page a week was a good production pace for a web comic, I think I scoffed internally, but acknowledged that it seemed pretty reasonable. In this case – working a contract, taking meetings, working with a couple of illustration clients – it’s damned reasonable, and came at the expense of what most people would consider to be leisure time. While I prefer to work on pages as much as possible, setup and prep time for scenes has skewed my average a bit – occasional bursts of a page every couple of days, weeks or months of no updates to the website. I’m actually averaging out to less than a page a week, even if the occasional cluster of update timestamps might indicate otherwise.

The reason for that internal scoff is pretty simple – at the time I looked at the work remaining on ATC components that are in production and on hiatus, guessed at a page count and divided by 52. The results were terrifying, so I repressed the thought and continued onward.

Fact is, comics are a bit of a time sink – the higher your production values, the more time a page can take. While this one has taken a hair over a week to move from script to shading, it’s a one-off in the CG department – the next few pages will take considerably more preparation time, and I have other things to get done before I can dig into the CG work in earnest.

20:35 – Primary shading complete. Down to tweaks. May try to insert the remaining left shoulders of crew members in panel five.

20:44 – Well, that was trivial.

Plot Breakdown (clockwise) :

Panel One – Deep backstory, of particular relevance to The Dualist.

Panel Two – Deep foreshadowing.

Panels 4-6 – More on this over the next few pages. Not as much as I’d like, probably not as much as you’d like, but enough.

Cast Breakdown :

Panel Two front – Lang’s relevant incarnation.

Panel Two back, panels five and seven – Whitehouse’s second relevant incarnation, an aesthetic “average” of his first and third.

Panel Three – Half of Dyluck. Possibly Val’s half.

Panel Four – General Voss, Primus inter pares.

Panel Six – The other half of Dyluck. Possibly Thad’s half.

Panel Eight – The Aeon. I’ll admit, there’s some contrast issues with this panel. It’s also the first time the ATC ligature on the starboard side has been explicitly shown on camera. Looks spiffy at sizes above webscale.

Ripley – Just tell me one thing, Burke. You’re going out there to destroy them, right? Not to study, not to bring back, but to wipe them out?

Right, that’s a wrap. And a giant wall of text.

Here’s a smaller one, more in line with the usual metadata:

In an earlier stage of development, Thad’s little event was followed through thoroughly and Jason stumbled into an event trigger that lead to a flashback to a lengthy planning session involving Voss, Lang’s relevant incarnation, and a hell of a lot of details about Aeon, Tartarus, the flight data recorder, etceteras. That scene was cut for a few reasons – it would have taken a lot of time to create, it would have train-wrecked the flow of chapter three, and it would have carpet-bombed Overplot all over the place at a point in which other things were a bit more relevant. As it stands now Jason’s “regressions” are detailed enough to provide a rough outline of events while leaving enough wiggle room to make changes if I need to while providing fodder for future supplemental material if ATC turns into a thing. Perhaps more importantly, there’s enough gaps in the “past” narrative for the diligent reader to draw their own conclusions, and enough structure to draw them from.

As far as I’m concerned, that “meeting” happened – it stands as a chunk of partially developed material and it helped to shape this scene, so while the work never made it into the book directly, the time spent puzzling over the scene and hearing what everyone had to say was time well spent. It was also time spent in 2008 or 2009 – this thing’s on the home stretch, and I’m back to writing chunks of Transitional Voices that end up on the cutting room floor.

So. Big happy super-plot one-off that turned out to be a solid exercise in time management, just-enough-modeling and un-texturing. Functional, minimal CG, with page production worked in around work-work and freelance. Operating straight out this still would have been a three or four day page. Rendering times were a bit excessive, but the overall results are encouraging – if I can do this page with minimal texturing work then I can probably do the next few as well – or at least take a shot at it. And that’ll save me a lot of time.

Still, I don’t expect anything to hit the site until February at the earliest. Work is worky, Freelance is irregular but there’s some on deck, and I have some 3d work to do on a work project before I can start developing the next environment in good conscience. I have a broad skillset, and I like to spice it up – doing 3d for work means that while that work is in development I’ll have zero inclination to do “recreational 3d,” which means ATC CG production is going to stop cold for a few days at least.

I’ll still be working on the comic, of course – I still have to move the dialogue for the next few pages from the script file to the page files, and I still need to frame them (create the panels). The next four pages are formatted in a fashion similar to this one, so that’s going to take a bit of time.

What’s not going to take a bit of time is the DCR.5 script. That’s been written, typed up, and workbooked. The workbook has been turned into layouts, and the layouts need to be scanned in. 20 pages, eighteen of which will be ready for production with relatively minimal effort. With ten pages left of this chapter, that means there’s presently 30 pages left of DCR (plus the DCR.5 cover), and they’re all ready for or are already in some stage of pre-production.

I’m ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum – I just have to attend to a couple of other things first.


  • A being with a talent for astral projection, possessing some form of teleportation ability. Dyluck incarnated as Thaddeus Gallahad and remained in a dormant state until Awoken in 1997. Thad’s cognitive dissonance forced her...

Glossary Articles

  • Aeon

    Known to modern humans as Morgan Bay Observatory Unknown Object 1 (MBO-1), the Aeon is an autonomous starship, tens of thousands of years old and apparently of human origin. The ship was briefly boarded...

  • GSV-368.3 (Earth)

    Not listed in the official ICG star charts, GSV-368.3 appears only in highly classified Templar navigational databases. GSV-368.3 is the only human-rated planet in the GSV-GSW 0.15 AEI “sinkhole.” The local Templar garrison refers...