Monday, January 12, 2009

Turghot and Dragam Layouts

Worked with that first scene a bit and did two of the other establishing shots. Each of the three locations has it's own texture set, with their apartment being assorted pieces of paper, the alley is all rust, and the park is different watercolour splashes I did up. I may still mess with the saturation in the park, I'm not sure it looks how I want it to yet.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Muscle Tutorial thinger

This came about after talking to a friend who said he wanted to improve at art but didn't know how to break out of his rut and try something different. I started drawing this as a "this is the easiest way to draw a relatively satisfactory cartoon head" thing and it just ballooned out from there. It doesn't cover proportions and stuff like that because there are a billion billion tutorials and anatomy books that can tell you "a person is so many heads tall, a head is so many eyes wide, ect". I made this because no one else seemed to have a quick reference for origin and insertion points.

This has been up in my DA gallery for a while, but people have been asking for a printer-friendly version so I'm uploading the individual pages here.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Things to Consider - Don't lose the character through the Gimmick

So I figure as long as long as I have a blog and opinions I could theoretically be putting on it, I may as well be like every other jerk on the internet pretend that people actually care about what I have to say. If any of you (the two people who watch this blog) disagree with what I'm saying, feel free to call me on it and I'll try to explain what I'm on about.

So anyway, first topic up for discussion;

This is my story about a psychic ninja farmboy who fights the Evil Dragonmancer King that's trying to take over the world.

Hey, that's great. Why should I care?

Something that's been grating on me more and more these days are people who write characters that are all gimmick and no... character. If you think of your character in your head and you can't envision them as the same person without all the bells and whistles, this is probably something you are guilty of yourself. So this evil dragonmancer fellow, why is he planning to take over the world? He just feels like being a bastard today? Has to assert his evilosity in case people were starting to forget about it?

If your character is defined by their magical powers, you haven't designed a character, you've designed a power. At this stage, you're on par with every remotely creative person with the ability to articulate their ideas to others. If you can't add some solid motivation to back that up, no one has any reason to care about your characters until you team up with a writer who can.

The secret to writing a character worth their salt is to consider Maslow's Pyramid of Human Needs;
This Pyramid represents the basic concerns of a human being in ascending order of triviality. The lowest levels of the pyramid represent the lowest common denominator that all people can identify with. As you climb the pyramid, problems will generally matter less.

The bottom of the pyramid represents life-or-death needs like food, water, shelter, air. No one in the world will ever question a character's motivation to not die. Matters of life and death will always interest an audience, so even a character who sits at a high level on the pyramid can be stripped down to a basic need for survival in the climax of a story.

Less important than air, but still of pretty high concern is safety. The feeling of unease walking home alone at night, fear of losing your job, and health issues are all fairly universally accepted as important motivations and can easily turn into life or death struggles in their own rite.

Love or belonging is a fairly light, inoffensive problem for a character to overcome. On it's own, it's a status more suited for comedy, as it lacks the drama of life-or-death struggles.

Respect amongst one's peers is in a similar boat, and is the last really relatable struggle you can put your character through. Self-actualization is more of an abstract idea that can lose your audience, as a character whose only struggle is to be the best at what they do is not terribly entertaining if they can't be stripped down to a more basic need in the pursuit of that goal.

Conflict is built out of characters gambling their place on the pyramid as they attempt to raise their status, and characters cannot climb to a higher level if the needs below them have not been met. For example, a character will not be worried about getting the girl if they are in the middle of drowning. The more a character stands to lose, the more an audience will care about them. Eboneezer Scrooge can't get the people to respect him until he opens up and makes the community love him. However, if he can't change his ways he'll die an early death, alone and uncared for with people looting his property.

People are quick to call "Mary Sue" on characters they feel are overpowered, but the problem with these characters is not in their copious volume of powers, it relates back to the pyramid as well. "Mary Sue" characters are generally boring because they're rich and everyone wants to be their friend and they have a smoking hot significant other and they're the best at what they do. They're already at the top, so their character has no room to arc. A protagonist can have rainbow hair, fourteen wings, and laser beams shooting from their purple eyes and still be interesting to read about if they have some kind of real human struggle in their life that the audience can connect with. John Arcudi's character Major Bummer is a handsome, indestructible superhero with inhuman strength, but he's fun to read about because he's always losing his jobs at fast food restaurants and VCR repair shops when his bosses are angry about having to clean up after his massively destructive battles at work.

The stories that stand the test of time to be told and retold through the generations are the stories that can be broken down to these basic struggles, because it will not matter if the protagonist is a psychic ninja farmboy, everyone will always be able to understand what they are going through. You can strip them of their powers, put them anywhere in the timestream, and they will always be the same character at heart. Fairytales and fables are especially good examples of this.

In the story of Beauty and the Beast for example, it does not matter at all - AT ALL - that the beast is a monster. What the audience relates to is a character who needs to find someone to love to ascend to a level of esteem and self-worth who meets a girl that is also looking for a sense of belonging. Her father falls into a struggle of security, so she leaves and in turn puts the beast character into a life or death situation. People will always understand and relate to this no matter what setting you drop the characters in. This is why Disney traditionally bases their movies off of fairytales, mythology and popular books, the stories have already proven their worth. It doesn't matter if Blackbeard is a cyborg, Robin Hood is a fox, or William Sikes is a new York Loan Shark, the character is still the same as they ever were.

This is a clip from the 1973 Jesus Christ Superstar starring Ted Neely and Carl Anderson as Jesus and Judas.

This song is about the flagship figure of the Christian religion, but it has nothing to do with his connection to God or the miracles he's performed. This song is about two friends, one of whom is concerned that the other is letting his ego get dangerously over inflated. The story of Lancelot and Guinivere is that of a man sleeping with his boss's wife. Ganondorf is a dignitary who goes power hungry and loses sight of the positive intentions he started out with. Princess Leia is the uptown girl who falls for a backstreet guy.

What it basically comes down to is that writing fantasy stories is like drawing fantasy creatures. Dragons may not exist, but people can tell if they are believable or "realistic" based on how relatable they are to real animals. In the exact same way, the stories that stick around are the ones people can relate to real situations. Frills are the spice that draw people in, but it's not worth the effort if you don't have the meat to put them on.