Thanks, white Christmas!

Seattle was covered in snow for a week and change until Saturday. Which was cool for me, because I got a week of working from home! Once again, props to Blender for being the open source wonder that it is; Had I been on Maya or Max, I'd need an at-home commercial license, and would have been out of luck like so many commuters in Seattle.

My other Christmas present is a new apartment in upper Fremont, which I'll be moving into in about three days. One of the best parts about this new location is that it's walking distance from the Woodland Park Zoo. As a card-carrying member of the zoo ($45 for unlimited visits, Definitely worth it!) I'm looking forward to regular visits with my sketchbook. 

As an additional item of business, the primary outline for what I hope is my first book has been completed. My New Years resolution is to have it completed this time next year. I am reminded of something Hubert Selby Jr., author of "Requiem for a Dream," said in his biographical documentary. If someone says they don't like it, or it can't get published, who cares? Send it to a hundred people, or a thousand. Something like that. Point being, it's better to write a crappy book and say you did it, and your next one might be better, than to be defeated by your own self esteem on day one. 

And, lastly, I returned to an old project, this time via the wonderful world of Blender! I originally made this project in Maya and Mudbox, but never really completed it. I've got a much better grasp of my modeling, unwrapping and texturing process now, and thus have finally started moving forward with some sort of color completion on this. 

There's many things I'd do differently on a second go-round for this. But since I think it silhouettes awesomely and was 75% completed already, no use in startng over. If you compare it with the original, you'll notice I made the upper body into a muscular, angry character this time around. Props to Blender's proportional editing falloff and sculpting tools! 



The next generation of the gaming market.

I just typed this up for another quadrant of the internet, but it's something I've repeated so often that I thought I'd put it down somewhere official. Then in a few years I can look back and talk of how sagely or ignorant I was.

PCs are a difficult market because you can steal games. Consoles are a difficult market because you can resell games, thus limiting creators to one profit per hard copy when said hard copy changes hands five times. This often equates to a $50 sale and several $45 sales by GameStop, with creators only touching that initial $50. I think the future of gaming will be an evolution of the "Online Console Marketplace," where games are downloaded over proprietary hardware (consoles instead of PCs.) This gives extensive security against game stealing, and also eliminates the reselling dilemma. Furthermore, with proliferation of broadband (and if Obama does his rural broadband infrastructure thing, even more so) and hard drive space being a joke these days, the tech limitations that neutered this business model in the past are no longer concerns.
The only other part of this to address is the transference of interface. Many people (myself included) find a keyboard and mouse the ideal interface; a keyboard provides a multitude of keys and a typing interface to aid communication, while a mouse alone can provide as many buttons as an entire console controller. Furthermore, console joysticks can't provide the precision movements of a mouse. However, I think it's easy to get over this simply by providing more support for keyboards and mouses for console gaming, even packaging consoles with this option. One thing that Guitar Hero has shown us is that people don't mind maneuvering large piles of hardware to get a good gaming experience.

Anyway, that's my oft-repeated position on the future of gaming.



Alien update

Here's an update on my alien I've been toying around with in photoshop. Since this was just for fun, I doubt I'll mess around with it any more. However, I'm glad I at least took the leap into color, which normally is where I get fatigued with my personal projects.



The 100-pronged structure attack

Like every sniveling arts & culture nerd, I've been "working on my novel," which is so frequently ridiculed that it's hard to understand anyone posting about it, unless they already sold it to a publisher. But really quick, here's a few thoughts in my defense, many of which are just about my artistic philosophy in general.

1. I'm young! Better to start now at 23, rather than waiting until I retire or my kids go to college.
2. In my artistic experience (mostly with different forms of visual art, but also with cooking and writing) everyone starts off bad. You have X number of failed attempts and disasters in you before you'll produce anything remotely worthwhile. Hence, the best thing to do is just get these disasters out of the way as quickly as possible through regularly working on them. In a forgotten age, this was known as "Practice." In other words, the best way to look at your first novel is this: practice for your second novel. Thus, once I get this one out of the way, the second one will come faster and sharper.
3. I occasionally scribble this down as something I want on my tombstone: "The world's worst drawing is a lack thereof."  In other words, I'll take the guy doing the crappy, biginner's-step awful art over the guy who's too lazy to do anything but heckle any day. 
4. It's good for you, internally! I dislike it when people stretch creative muscles for the wrong reasons. Too many people figure their book would suck, and therefore not sell, and therefore serve no purpose. What ever happened to writing for fun?  In terms of what should motivate you for creativity, here's how I prioritize things: #1. Do it for yourself, #2. Do it for viewers/readers and their praise, and #3. Do it for material success. If I enjoy writing, who cares if it doesn't sell, or even if nobody likes it?
5. I feel like I've had enough of a win ratio with smaller writing projects that I can be motivated about this.

Now that I've written another overly long contextual introduction, here's what I wanted to bring up. I'm a big fan of structure. In fact, I think it's the most important part of writing. If it sucks and rambles in its outline, paragraph or logline format, it'll  suck in its larger format. Although my methods have changed, I haven't written a story without outlining in some form or another since sophomore year of high school. 

But what to outline with? There's any number of recorded outlining formats, and zealous cults form around all of them. Here's some of the ones I'm familiar with:

1. Syd Field's 3-act screenwriting formula
2. Any number of structural recommendations from Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat!" including his personal logline format and his 15 beat story outline.
3. The Hero's Journey, made superfamous from Star Wars
4. One my teacher Stephen Glover was a fan of was a 9-beat arc, labeled "You, Go, Seek, Find, Take, Return, Change." In other words, a protagonist plus six verbs.
5. Any number of "Adventure Planning Guides" recommended for roleplaying games.
6. An arbitrary order of events, which was the first way I outlined (before I knew outlining and structure were so beneficial.)

Furthermore, character outlining is something with many many models. It's another issue that's covered copiously in roleplaying games, with numerous models, and most authors I know have their own version. These outlines vary from lists of physical features (hair color, strength score, etc) to more probing, conflict-oriented inventories (what is your character ashamed of? What would make him sell out his friends?) 

I started extensively outlining D&D characters in high school using a document I made up called "Oscar's Exhaustive Character Outline." A year or so later, in theatre class we were given a character outline to fill out for homework, and I liked seeing the similarities and differences between my outline and my teacher's outline. The outline focus in my past payed off, as I was one of only two students to get an A on the assignment. (The other was my wife!) After the assignment, I added many of the questions to my own personal outline. Over the years, so many character outlines have been incorporated into my own, including stuff from practically every RPG or creative writing-oriented teacher I've come across. 

Currently, I occasionally get stuck on a part of my story outline. So what I've been doing is going back to the parasitic, absorbing nature of my Character Outline. If I can't figure out the breaks and beats using one form of story outlining, why not try out another? Most of them fit into each other, but by having these other options available, I can pick and choose what works best at the time. 

Case in point, I landed on the smallest form of story--a title, a main character, and a logline. I then jumped into my personal story arc outliner (a mix between Glover's setup, Snyder's setup, Hero's Journey setup and arbitrary order of events.) But I couldn't get it! I didn't know what to do in the second half. The breakthrough came when I first tried doing each method separately as far as I could take it, and finally tried labeling each of the "Three Acts" with a sentence each. 

Suddenly it came easy. At that point, I discovered I had no trouble labeling acts One and Two. After that, the task of thinking up a single sentence for the last third of a book seemed easy. 

I guess what I'm advocating is that you avoid writer's block by seeking out wiggle room. If you hit a wall outlining, it doesn't mean your story sucks, and it also doesn't mean the god whose altar of outlining you worship at is full of crap. It just means that you'll benefit from a little perspective, eh? 



State of the Union

A couple thoughts on a variety of topics. First off, I watched "The Hulk" tonight. The Hulk is already a throwaway character in my opinion, and I think they did well with what they had. He's a big strong dumb one-dimensional hero, with a devastating lack of memorable villains, but they stuck to what made him endearing, story-wise. As Marvel has wisely figured out, you don't go to these films to see Iron Man or The Hulk; you go to see them for Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, the people behind the mask. So considering General Ross is more of an archetypal "military badguy" than a memorable character in himself, and Abomination is pretty much Ugly Hulk, they could do worse. There's something I like to bring up in comic book movie debates, regarding how you should grade on a curve. Batman is arguably the strongest comic book property in the world, with three other contenders: Superman, Spiderman and Wolverine. Also, I'd say he and Spiderman tie for the strongest tier of memorable villians to draw from. When you consider this, then consider that 90% of all Batman movies are unwatchably bad, it's hard to criticize The Hulk too much. 

Also thought I'd throw in two museum reviews. First, I finally saw the new Seattle Art Museum, and it's fantastic! Visually stunning when you walk in, a sense of storyboarding as you round corners and enter new rooms, and a much better flow of exhibits from one wall to another. They also bring out more of their large pieces thanks to their huge open spaces. I used to be a harsh critic of the SAM, and even though I could respect their focus on a comprehensive inventory of art history, I thought it was poorly executed. Unless the feature exhibit was interesting, it wasn't worth the money. Sadly, I was late to the exhibit I had been hoping to see (the forerunners of the impressionists), but the revamped museum was nonetheless a treat.

Additionally, I just saw the Frye's Egypt exhibit again. I think this was a great collection of work, and it held a special place in my heart for having a piece by Lawrence Alma-Tadema. However, they're tie-in video exhibit, "Empire," felt like garbage to me. Never trust art that doesn't hold any meaning until you read the Artist's Statement. The point of this was to tie into Egypt, Aztecs and Napoleon the modern equivalents of parts of those empires, which is through lavish latin parties and soccer hooliganism. Or at least, I'm sure the people behind this used some excuse like that to obtain grant money. They then procrastinated until a week from their deadline, then panicked and rushed stuff together. The result is some interviews with soccer fans and filming a roof party in Brazil. Maybe I'm reading too much into the motives of "Empire"'s creators. Then again, it takes a loooot more reading too much into their work before it gets the benefit of the doubt. 

Also, just so I don't leave with no new art, here's two pieces. The first is a WIP tarting up of one of my recent sketchbook drawings, which may or may not ever get finished. The second is a piece of space art I did a while back for fun, just because space art's so fun and quick. 



First half of sketchbook, best-of

The primary form of traditional art I do in terms of quantity is without a doubt sketchbook doodling. I try to draw every day on the bus to and from work, which means that when I'm "on" I can get two hours of drawing a day. I don't have a 100% success rate, especially if I end up taking a nap or can't get a seat, but in comparison I'll at best do one photoshop illustration on the weekend.

Really quick, here's some thoughts on my sketchbook process, which can differ hugely from artist to artist.

•I use 11" by 14" Cachet acid free sketchbooks, which are bound in black hardcover rather than spiral. I like them because they're highly protected since they've got spines and thick covers, which means they'll be protected years from now. I like the large format (but not a hugely ridiculous format) because it's the largest format to fit in a backpack or totebag, and I won't kill people on the bus by whipping it out.
•I start by dating the inner cover. This particular sketchbook is dated "November 3, 2008...One day to the election!!!"
•I write "FRONT" on the inside cover as well. I've had numerous sketchbooks that I accidentally start from both ends.
•I then write a list of subjects on the inside cover, as a way to avoid artist's block. I find that when I don't feel like drawing, I can just look at this arbitrary list of subjects and just pick something, then force myself to draw that. Here's the current list:
---life drawing (people on the bus)
---Head (as you'll see, I do this one way too much)
---Full body
---New Media
---Arbitrary line of action (this is a technique I developed, in which I draw any sort of squiggly line, then start attaching a person to it. Very organic!)
---RPG races
---RPG character (By "RPG races/character" I'm referring to an old favorite for inspiration of mine. I'm frequently creating characters for D&D games and such, and also have several long-term RPGs I've been designing myself. So even if I don't feel like drawing a person on the street or random fantasy crap, it feels good to draw my characters, as a way to get in character.)

•Drawing on the bus is an artistic skill in itself. Many people I know gave up on the idea, due to how the bumping, shaking, starting, stopping and embarrassing onlooking crowds discourage good art. But like anything, it just takes a lot of practice. At this point I think my bus habits have been folded into my technique, which has led to a more careful and precise, value-based method in general (albeit at the lack of gestural quality.)
•I also draw primarily using mechanical pencils. Mechanical pencils on a bus? It's like I combined the most erratic and harsh things I could! But similar to drawing on the bus, drawing with mechanical pencil just takes time. I also have a specific recommendation if you're drawing with mechanical pencil, and need a way to avoid the harsh, sharp, paper-indenting quality it's usually associated with. To draw gently with mechanical pencil, I recommend using training wheels by overextending your lead, even to around an inch long. What will happen over time is that you HAVE to start drawing softly, or else your lead breaks. over time you'll develop a soft touch, and you'll also find that you can increase or decrease your line weight by increasing or decreasing the length of your lead. Once you master these things, you've got two luxuries: first, you'll never be choosing between short, stubby old pencils and long new pencils. Second, you won't have to sharpen any more. Give it a shot, eh?
•Lastly, I mark the final page of my sketchbook with the date it was finished. The theory is to get better at filling it up faster every time.

And now for the point of this post. With the last sketchbook I finished, the whole time filling it up I kept planning to post the best stuff on this blog, and make it a regular habit. Unfortunately, by the time I finished it, there was too must stuff to put up. Do you have any idea how boring and time-consuming it is to scan stuff? Blah! I'd rather be drawing.

So with my current sketchbook, I decided to post my stuff at the halfway point, as a way to cut the workload in half. So here you are, the first half of my November 3rd sketchbook. These drawings were my favorites of this half, although I had to nix a few excellent (but work-related) sketches. Here goes!

This was two things: some quick gestures for a death animation, and a decent head. One problem I've been running into is that I draw heads WAY too much. It's my favorite part of anatomy, and also the part of anatomy I'm most comfortable with. A lot of this translates into my favorite parts of 3D: facial rigging. I also recently created an in-house head generator to mass produce avatar options, and thus have been in a mood of recording different facial features.

I drew these robot heads on a trip up to Bellingham, WA to help my brother move.

Also drawn on my way to Bellingham. The nipples were my brother's idea.

More heads, trying to get a handle on different facial features, such as "Pink Flamingos" eyebrows and a more protruding lip tubercle.

More heads, studying mongoloid features and skeletally stretched skin.

MORE heads, studying what I think of as Greek/English features: low noses, small pouty mouths, and smooth zygomatic processes.

I was trying to recreate what I think of as "Waterhouse Chin," referring to the recurring muse of John William Waterhouse's paintings, most famously seen in his masterpiece "Lady of Shalott." It's partially due to the upward tilt of the head, and partially due to the square jaw offsetting otherwise feminine features.

My favorite yet! I like that I retained some human qualities in this, and although I went waaay off the "realism" cliff, I think I maintained a realistic anatomical bone structure in this.

Another random head, with my most common "alternative media" of pen. Considering this was drawn from imagination, I felt happy with how realistic it turned out.

Toying around with the anatomy of an alien species...I'm going for two tongues (the main aberrational feature), broad, short heads, lizard/dinosaur features, and semi-permanent wide eyes and grins. Still needs some work, IMHO.

Some gestures and studies of torsos. I think I was feeling guilty about drawing nothing but heads.

Aaaaand lastly, some more heads and a gesture drawing.

Here's hoping the second half of this sketchbook was as fun as the first.