• Category Archives Art
  • Things that related to art.

  • Story Lessons from a Hero

    I recently finished watching the TV series Heroes. I’ve always been a fan of superhuman abilities — flying, shapeshifting, super strength. Seeing a world and its stories with these concepts was interesting, especially since it had a “real world” touch on it.

    This blog post is specifically about what I learned about writing and story/character design from the series. Mostly because of the parts I didn’t like, and the parts that were downright painful to watch.

    First, the character’s motivations.

    Often times, the character’s goals and motivations were unclear. From what I can tell, they were trying to make the characters more “human.” The evil was done for good reasons, the good could do bad things. But most of the time it came off to me as characters being indecisive or flip-flopping.

    I previously wrote a blog post about How To Make Goals Work For You. The point of the post was to say that every action people make has a goal or reason behind it, whether the person making the choice is aware of what their goals are or not.

    In the real world, people’s goals flop. Often they don’t have a solid vision on what it is they want at all times. They fall prey to temptation, they change their mind on a whim. Not everyone is like that, but it’s something that happens in real life. It’s not something you see often in movies and stories — unless it’s specifically portrayed as such — because it’s confusing and makes it difficult to understand the person. I had trouble understanding a lot of the characters early on because their motivations weren’t explained and kept changing.

    To reiterate, the lesson here is simple. A character needs clear motivations and goals. We need to know what they’re fighting for. Their goal may even be to find a goal, or to stay with a goal they want. Without that, the story turns bland and lifeless.

    Deliberate missing goals? With secondary characters, the main bad guy, or if you’ve got a dozen main characters? Keeping a few a mystery is fun and interesting. Gives you more to reveal later. But it needs to be a deliberate choice, and it needs to be designed so it works.

    Second, goal depth.

    If someone has a goal they don’t want others to be aware of — they’re trying to hide their goal — they do an action that works with multiple goals in mind. You then need to see multiple actions of theirs in order to cross-reference what their actual goals are.

    Let’s say there are three levels of motivation/goals that a character may have: Surface, Underlying, and Secret.

    A surface goal is exactly what it appears to be — a very obvious goal. Someone is hungry, they go and buy a burger.

    An underlying goal is something that’s not so obvious. Someone is hungry, so they grab some peanuts to snack on. But they’re allergic to peanuts, so their underlying goal could be attention, suicide, or whatever else the writer thinks is interesting enough to write into the story.

    A secret goal is where you end up with twists in the story, as a secret goal is never properly revealed until it’s too late (or just in time, if it’s a happy ending).

    Third, communication and intelligence.

    Many parts of Heroes felt like the writers said, “this event needs to happen,” and then they threw a couple characters together to interact, and made sure they didn’t say just what needed to be said to resolve their conflict, and had them fight or separate on poor terms.

    It was downright painful to watch.

    A single sentence could have solved everything, but the character would say everything but what needed to be said.

    This problem plagues Walking Dead even more than it plagues Heroes. It makes perfect sense in Walking Dead — it’s dripping with emotion, and emotion can cloud logic and result in some bad choices. You’ve also got the aspect of children, or simply low intelligence players. But in Heroes people aren’t trying to survive in a hopeless situation, they’re being heroes. Most of them are educated, skilled adults that are failing to accomplish basic communication.

    That kind of thing may work for other people, but it’s idiocy to me, and ruins my enjoyment. It breaks the fourth wall as the motivations of the writers, rather than the characters, becomes visible.

    Lastly, revealing information to the viewer.

    While not specifically a lesson learned from Heroes, when dealing with characters and their underlying or secret goals, then what parts you show to the viewer, and when you show them, becomes very important in order to tell a good story.

    The writer’s goal, in my opinion, is to entertain two classes of people. Those that appreciate what’s visible immediately on the surface, and those that enjoy digging deeper.

    The surface goals are things you can’t avoid showing. They’re the ones that tell the story. But a pattern of surface goals can point to an underlying goal a character may have. Internal motivations that people can notice. Hints can even be sprinkled about to make it a little more obvious when it needs to be.

    And your friend who shouts, “I knew it!” when the twist happens, but you had no idea anything like that was going to happen? He’s the guy who enjoys solving puzzles. Believe it or not, you were watching two different movies.

  • Pointy Sticks and Paul Graham

    I purchased a new domain name. A friend recommended it, it was available, and I’ve been needing one for a while.


    Currently, it’s housing a make-shift portfolio. I’ve applied for an internship at Virtrium for my senior year at college. You may remember Virtrium as they released a press release that had my name on it. Don’t know if I’ll get the internship or not, but everything I’ve seen of them shows they’re really great people. So it would be awesome to get it.

    At some point in the future, I will make skaarj.com redirect to pointystick.org and ask people to update their bookmarks. Maybe around Christmas, maybe later. The redirect will likely last a significant amount of time, after which I will repurpose skaarj.com with a more appropriate thing than my personal blog and etc.

    Also, I recently learned of this Paul Graham guy. I’m sure he’s someone famous, as it certainly seems that’s the case, but I’ve only just recently been made aware he exists when Soft Linden twittered about him. He does something like I do — taking established conventions, realizing something’s horribly wrong, and puts forth the truth of the matter — except whereas I write something like bad poetry, he writes stuff like Mark Twain. Definitely worth giving some of his essays a read.


    I’ve only read a couple, but How to Do What You Love caught my eye, and speaks things on the subject I’ve been telling people for years, and other things I hadn’t even thought of.

    (On another note, Alex’s Soapbox on The Daily WTF has some very insightful things in the same vein as “why hasn’t anyone else figured this out already?” style of thought.)

  • Recent Events

    Last Friday and Saturday I went to the 2D or not 2D animation festival. It was awesome. I got to meet amazing people like Barry Cook and Dean Yeagle and Michel Gange. Of course, my DigiPen professor Tony White was there, seeing as he was hosting the festival in the first place.

    After getting an exclusive first look on Gange’s upcoming game and getting a bunch of stuff signed by him, and watching some fantastic shorts like Chicken Cowboy, and listening to an orchestra at close range (they took up half the big room the final mingle was in) I went back to my car and found a car window and my backpack missing. Whoops.

    Let that be a lesson to everyone: Don’t leave tempting unknowns sitting around where someone may see it. Save yourself some trouble. Now I gotta buy a new backpack, a new sketchbook, and some new charcoal. I feel kinda sorry for the guy who stole it… he risked the law for… well, nothing.

    So I got home, and my good friend tek_hed who’d lent me a Wacom tablet for the past many years, finally needed it back. So I was now tabletless.

    Feeling sorry for myself, and a bit stupid for getting my backpack stolen, I went and ordered a new toy. A 12″ Cintiq. Seeing as it was only $400 more than the $600 for a new tablet, I figured I might as well splurge. Man, this stuff is expensive. It should get here in a week or two.

    But wait, that’s not all!

    I got an email from Rick Simmons, CEO of Virtrium LLC about a press release he was making about my Seawolf dragons..

    I think I’m getting ahead of myself, as I haven’t mentioned the dragons here yet. The dragons link above should explain a bit about them. They’re an avatar available for Second Life that use a bug (that hadn’t been exploited previously) to increase the size of your avatar. I don’t have any size references images or even videos handy, so I’m just going to give a link to an image of the vendor location. The top of the smallest dragon’s head is about as tall as a normal person. If you have Second Life, you can visit the location inworld by clicking this SLurl.

    Oh, and Left 4 Dead came out. Valve’s latest masterpiece, and more proof that finding awesome people and buying them into the company is a very smart idea.

  • DreamKeepers Happenings

    For those of you that don’t know, I’m really big on webcomics. I have several that I read regularly, and odds are I’ve at least heard of it if it’s worth mentioning.

    A while back, I came across a webcomic called DreamKeepers. It was cute, funny, entertaining, well drawn, and all around neat.

    One of the things I hate about webcomics is when they give you like five pages and then they’re all “Oh, HA! You thought this was a free comic! No, we just put five pages of our published comic online. Now you should buy it.”

    Another solution, which I find much better, is the route that Digger took. You get two hundred and eighty five comics, and then you have to pay to see the rest. BUT, if you’re good with schedules, you can see the current page every day. I would much prefer if there was some large gap in the middle that was moving, so you could keep reading you’d just be behind. But it’s a lot less evil than just putting up a couple pages.

    The least evil solution I’ve seen, which is why I purchased DreamKeepers when I’ve never purchased a dead-tree version of a webcomic before, was that not only did it offer a small sample of the book version (19 pages) but it has a pre-book webcomic that’s updated weekly.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to read the DreamKeeper’s physical comic book. It arrived and my mom saw it. She said, “Hey, I wasn’t allowed to have comic books when I was a kid,” took it, and walked off, thumbing through it. Based on the webcomic, I have no doubts about its quality.

    In other news, I still need to post my past grades. I don’t even know when the last time I posted them was. And I don’t know if I’ve posted my upcoming fall schedule, either.

    I will make a post when my Seawolf project is finished for Second Life, though. If I haven’t mentioned it, I make Boats with a friend. We’re working on something else now, though, but have been careful not to make the information public and only gotten the opinion of close friends and professionals. It’s really, really, really awesome though. Really.

  • Miniforum History Fixed

    As many of you know, I don’t use the commonly available shoutboxes or whatever they’re calling them these days. I prefer to control the code and information myself, even if it means things get done slowly or tend to not work… perfectly. So I created my own little version and I called it the “miniforum.”

    It worked fine, for a bit. Then we hit 900 posts and it got a little confused about what it was supposed to do. I knew what it was supposed to do, but apparently I didn’t explain it quite clear enough.

    Of course, the 900 posts confusion didn’t really cause an actual problem. It wasn’t until about 2MBs of posts were made that PHP decided it wasn’t funny anymore and stopped laughing.

    I’ve returned PHP’s good humor and the chatboxes/miniforums/whatever should now be in good working order. Please notify me if there are any problems. Thanks.

  • Movie Reviews

    A while back I laid out my movie rating scale. I’ll paste it here again and then give the reviews of the movies I’ve seen recently.

    1: Don’t bother seeing it
    2: See a friend’s copy
    3: Rent it
    4: See it in theaters
    5: Buy the DVD

    Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – 5.0/5.0
    I was taught in film class last year that Indiana Jones was the movie George Lucas made “according to the rules” after he failed to create a successful title (THX 1138) on his own terms.

    The movie is fabulous and has plenty of references to the older movies for die hard fans. They also hint at the possibility of more Indiana Jones movies to come.

    Unlike the first three Stars Wars, Indiana Jones does things “the right way” and does a good job of it. Wonderful adventure movie. I have to give it a 5/5.

    Gone in 60 Seconds – 5.0/5.0
    I watched this movie again recently. While my entire family loves cars, but I grew up as a computer person. I still enjoyed the movie tremendously, though.

    While the movie is about stealing cars, it has wonderful undertones of family and friendship. It’s a perfect case of doing the wrong thing for the right reason. I rate it 5/5. Get your hands on a copy and add it to the collection.

    License to Wed – 4.5/5.0
    Robert Williams! One of the few actors I actually know by name.

    I’m a religious person whose religion puts an emphasis on family, so I was a little worried about what this movie might do. However, the movie was about the 50% divorce rate and what one pastor does to have a 100% success rate in the marriages he preforms.

    Delightful comedy, though I feel it could have had a little more in their relationship problems. Not my perfect type of movie, but still very good. 4.5/5. See a friend’s copy or rent it, and if you like it, grab yourself a copy.

    The Bourne Ultimatum – 4.5/5.0
    I’ve never read the books, so I can’t say how it compares to those. And I was very frightful of this movie after the horrible “shaky cam” adventure of the second one. I mean, when the guy puts a piece of paper on a phone book to stabilize it, the camera should NOT be jumping around! But that’s not this movie.

    This movie does make use of the shaky cam, but it’s dialed back enough to be tolerable.

    Lots of crazy action and twists. Really exciting and plenty of awesome. I feel the series is tainted because you really have to watch all three to get the full story, and the others aren’t as good, but it’s still a great movie in itself. I’ll give it a 4.5/5. Watch it, love it, buy it to complete the series.

    AvP: Requiem – 1.5/5.0
    The one word I can use to describe this movie is “excessive.” I was expecting something like the first AvP, which felt like fanfiction. But it wasn’t BAD fanfiction. Instead, I got some really disgusting stuff that tried to shock you instead of entertain. A horror instead of a horror/action movie.

    Also, my experience with the predalien was from the video games (which rock). They changed the lore considerably, and the predalien’s design a lot, too. I don’t think it does him justice.

    I’d rate this a 1.5/5. If you have to, watch a friend’s copy. Otherwise, stick with the first one.

    Enchanted – 4.6/5.0
    I really didn’t know what to expect when a friend recommended this. The description says it’s a cartoon princess that gets trapped in the real world. I’ve seen displacement movies before, and a lot of them are really bad. Instead of being interesting and excited, they’re just uncomfortable.

    Fortunately, Enchanted is a delightful romantic comedy pitting a Disney princess against a no-nonsense divorce lawyer. The effects from 2D to 3D were fantastic.

    The only complaint I have is that I’d like to have seen more actual animation in the movie.

    I rate it a 4.6/5.

    The Golden Compass – 4.8/5.0
    While the movie was fantastic, the aftertaste of a child actor dilutes it just a little bit. Still, what she did was amazing. There were Bourne Ultimatum moments where the pieces just clicked into place and you have to cheer them on for their brilliance in handling the situation.

    The CG was really beautiful, and while it’s part 1 out of more (it doesn’t have a real ending) it’s still great. 4.8/5.0, definitely a keeper.

    Cloverfield – 4.3/5.0
    I finally got to see it!

    I watched it with a friend and my mom, and neither one liked it, though. So it’s apparently not a movie for everyone.

    If you’re not familiar with it, it’s shot in a “hand-held camera” style. The only shots you see that aren’t from the character with the camera’s perspective is when they film the TV showing the news.

    The “real life” style of the shooting made the movie that much more awesome. I loved how you only got the actual actor’s perspective. That’s a severe limitation that makes for interesting challenges, and I love how they overcame them so well.

    They also made wonderful use of color, which I originally dismissed as “hand held camera” issues, until I realized that the color overlays they were using really fit the moods of the scenes.

    I have a few issues with the movie’s realism/logic. You’ll see them yourself when you watch it. I don’t want to spoil them for you.

    If you like giant monsters (yes) and you like “real life” heroes (yes) and you like new things because everyone’s doing the same-old same-old (yes) then you’ll like this. I give it a 4.3/5.0. I already own it, and if you like it, you should own it, too.

    The Seeker – 4.0/5.0
    A random book-to-movie that I knew nothing about but ended up renting. It’s about a young boy who has to save the world. Imagine that.

    It’s a good movie with good effects and good storytelling. But it didn’t have anything that stood out to me and said “love me!” It was simply a well done movie. 4.0/5.0. I won’t be buying it, but it’s a good one to watch.

  • Movie Reviews

    I watched a lot of movies a while back and wrote down the names, but never got around to reviewing them. I’ll make a short review of each one now, using my movie rating scale.

    In alphabetical order:

    3-Iron – 4.2/5.0
    Originally seen during a film class. This is a foreign film, and as with any foreign film, I recommend viewing it subtitled, not dubbed. I can rant later about how awful the average dubbing is. The movie has a wonderful exposition, where it draws the viewer in, curious about what’s going on. I don’t want to give this movie away, as it’s even cooler when you know nothing about it.

    I’m tempted to buy it, and I recommend you at the very least rent it.

    Anonymous Rex – 3.0/5.0
    I’m not sure what’s wrong with this movie, but it’s got that “why did they make it?” kind of feel going on, even though it’s a decent movie. Worth a rent. It’s a “not rated” movie, and I usually stay away from those because they’re X rated, but it was made by Fox, so I gave it a chance.

    When Andrew Jones (aka Android, co-founder of Concept Art dot org) of Metroid concept art fame visited DigiPen, he gave a critique on some of the student’s works. Someone had created a gorilla, who was a chef, who wore a biohazard suit because he dealt with the ebola virus. Android said that he broke the rules of three and made it confusing. A gorilla and chef, sure. A chef who makes ebola meals, sure. All three just gets too confusing.

    Anonymous Rex either suffers from the “three things is too much” problem, or another problem that I haven’t been able to put a name to yet. It goes something like this: Normally “odd” situations have to be funny to be acceptable. If you take an odd situation, like dragons acting as taxis in New York, then if you don’t make it funny people are going to think it’s stupid. Why? I dunno. It sounds kind of cool to me. And maybe if you built up to it or gave it enough backstory it would be acceptable. But that’s the problem Anonymous Rex suffers from.

    It’s a good movie, worthy of a rent. But if you can’t stand slightly odd things that aren’t trying to be funny, then maybe it’s not for you. I’d rate it higher… but it’s made-for-TV and has a low budget. It would be much more awesome with better CG.

    There’s also a couple books out, where this started from. Might just be best to stick with those.

    Appleseed – 4.5/5.0
    If you’re an anime or animation collector, then you probably already own this. If not, you should go buy it.

    Ghost in the Shell is the “classic” anime movie, as I understand it. While Appleseed isn’t classic, because it’s not old enough, it’s got the same feel as Ghost in the Shell, but with less metaphysical exploration of the psyche and more explosions.

    They did a beautiful thing to separate the figure and background, too. The figures look like bright cell shaded 3D models. The backgrounds are beautifully rendered, dark and detailed.

    Again, go subbed so they can explain what they want, instead of what fits the mouth movement at the time.

    AvP – 4.6/5.0
    For those that have seen the Alien and Predator movies, and also know a lot about fan fiction, then you should understand what I mean when I say this movie is Alien and Predator fan fiction. The good part is, it’s GOOD fanfiction, which means it’s an enjoyable story. I think my main problem with it is that it tries to have so many main characters. They should have had a lot more generic speechless people, like the ones that die first.

    Very enjoyable. Enough suspense, fights, and all that to keep me happy. If you like the franchise, be sure to buy it.

    Brother Bear – 3.5/5.0
    This is one of the movies one of my animation professors, Jazno Francoeur, worked on. While it is a children’s movie, it’s deep and entertaining enough that I enjoyed it.

    Also, the moose are great. Rent it some time.

    Entrapment – 4.8/5.0
    Wonderful movie about thieves. This was the second time I saw it, and I didn’t remember the leading lady as being so whiney. It took a bit out of the movie for me. But the action and surprises and the whole “mission impossible” feel of the thievery was awesome.

    Eragon – 2.5/5.0
    If you’re an animator, rent it. You want to see the CG baby dragon, and the last battle. If a friend already bought it, go ahead and see his copy.

    Otherwise, stick to the book.

    Flight of Dragons – 5.0/5.0
    This is as classic as classic can get. I was jaw-dropping stunned when I saw this animated movie. It’s a children’s movie from my childhood that I never saw, but it’s so scientific and the world is so explored and fleshed out, it’s absolutely incredible. Has a very Lord of the Rings feel to it, in a good way. The animation is dated, but I couldn’t help but think how ahead of its time this movie was. If only it had been made today, they probably would have done it live action with CG. And what a movie that would be.

    Hackers – 4.5/5.0
    If you don’t know what a black box is, or the different between pulse and tone dial, or how hacking really works, then this movie is not for you. You’d probably enjoy it, but you wouldn’t get half the references they make. The “hacking” is Hollywood style, so it’s very pretty, and it’s hillariously inaccurate how they present hacking.

    This is a classic tech movie that records a lot of modern underground computer history. Very fun stuff.

    Laputa: Castle in the Sky – 5.0/5.0
    Another anime. This is actually the first foreign animated movie I’d ever seen. I saw it pure, out of someone’s VCR. No subtitles, no closed caption, no translation — just animation, and Japanese audio. And I loved it.

    I’ve seen it about five times since, because I bring it up and find out people haven’t heard about it. It’s really wonderful. Go get it. And watch it SUBTITLED, not dubbed! The kid doesn’t scream “Sheeta” near the same in English, and the movie wouldn’t be the same without him screaming her name all the time.

    League of Extraordinary Gentleman – 4.0/5.0
    What odd is that this movie has that “weird” feel to it, much like Anonymous Rex up there had, but this movie is much more widely accepted as a “good movie.” Probably because it had prettier CG. I found things a little confusing between they mixed half a dozen legends together without explaining any of them, and legends tend to have twisted versions of themselves lying around so I was never sure which version they were using.

    Probably looked a lot more awesome on the big screen, but it’s long out of theaters.

    Madagascar – 3.2/5.0
    A decent movie. Worth renting on a lazy afternoon. It wasn’t as funny as it thought it was, but it was entertaining. Smight told me it’s great once you start watching it like a Looney Tunes cartoon. It does that have ridiculous tune to it, but I never found myself actually laughing at Looney Tunes very often.

    Matchstick Men – 4.9/5.0
    This movie is awesome. I don’t want to give anything anyway, but it’s also one of those movies where watching it more than once doesn’t work so well. Definetly check it out, and if you like it, give it a buy so you can show it to someone who might rate it 2.x/5.0.

    My Super Ex-Girlfriend – 1.1/5.0
    This movie is not my kind of movie. Too many sex scenes.

    If you watch it, the shark scene in the apartment is neat.

    National Treasure – 5.0/5.0
    Exciting, smart, funny, and entertaining. But be careful — you may actually learn something. If you’re paying attention, at least.

    In the movie a man mishandles the clutch on an expensive car. My mom, a car buff, started freaking out like nails on a chalkboard. It was funny.

    Night at the Museum – 4.5/5.0
    A good movie about working together and being a good father. I’ve always hated the scenes where something is supposed to happen and it doesn’t, embarassing the main character. Fortunately, there was a quickly explained fully rational reason for the irrational to not happen.

    Reign of Fire – 4.1/5.0
    The first I heard of this movie was someone saying that people didn’t like it because they were expecting a comedy and the movie took itself seriously. I went into it expecting a serious movie, and got one. The dialog was a bit quiet at times (I hate when they don’t modulate whispers and you have to keep fiddling with the remote) so I didn’t get the whole story, but it was straightforward enough.

    If you like post-apocolyptic movies, and you like dragons, then this is for you. I may buy it some day, but I have others I’d spend money on first. Not enough dragons and action to warrent an expedited purchase.

    Secret of Nymh – 5.0/5.0
    I last saw this animated “children’s” movie when I was a child. I didn’t follow the plot at all, and lost interest before it was over. But I do remember the mouse lady cutting herself and BLEEDING. Talk about tramatic.

    I went back and saw it again recently, and this movie is absolutely wonderful. Some people say that animated movies are targeted for children. And in general, they are. But there are movies like this which don’t really seem targeted towards children at all. Yet somehow they end up in the children’s section at rental places. Go figure.

    This is a classic. Get it, and put it at the top of the shelf with Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell, Laputa, Fantasia, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Grave of Fireflies, Princess Mononoke, and Flight of Dragons.

    Signs – 4.3/5.0
    A great movie about family, faith, and… well, I guess there’s some aliens, too. But they’re not as important. This movie is a case of bad advertising. People thought it was a monster thriller, but it’s a heartwarming movie about coincidence. And aliens.

    See it. And if you like it, give it a buy. A little calm for my tastes, but still very good.

    The Emperor’s New Groove – 5.0/5.0
    Comedy! Comedy gold! I haven’t not seen a movie this funny in ages.

    I’ll turn him into a flea, a harmless little flea… and then I’ll put that flea in a box and then I’ll put that box inside of another box… and then I’ll mail that box to myself, and when it arrives… I’ll smash it with a hammer! Hahahaha!

    It’s brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, I tell you! Genius, I say!

    Or, to save on postage, I’ll just poison him with this.

    Get it, watch it, love it.

    The Last Mimzy – 3.1/5.0
    An interesting tale of to small children in the present saving the future. A friend recommended it to me, and I enjoyed it. It’s worth a rent, but lacks that umph that pulls it out of the children’s movie category.

    The Man Who Knew Too Little – 4.2/5.0
    I forgot and organized the “The” movies into the T section. So sad!

    This is a great comedy with lots of action and stuff. The main hero thinks it’s just a show, and everyone thinks he’s a spy. Great stuff. Kind of like the opposite of If Looks Could Kill (4.8/5.0).

    The Road to El Dorado – x.x/5.0
    I was about to rate this, but then I realized that I never saw the ending, and the ending looked like it was very redeeming. DVD was horribly scratched and it was Blockbuster’s last copy. Next.

    TMNT – 2.6/5.0
    These two reviews are gonna get me in trouble with fans. I always loved the happy-go-lucky team of the old turtles. When I heard about all this fanfiction with these angsty, older, disunified turtles that grew bitter and apart over time. The movie followed that fanfiction’s train of thinking, and I didn’t like it. I wanted a happy story of action and adventure, not a story of recovery.

    If you liked the old turtles, it may be worth a rental to see where they’re going since you saw them as a child. Otherwise, catch a friend’s copy if it’s handy.

    Transformers – 4.0/5.0
    It’s worth seeing it in the theater, because everything’s better on the big screen. Just don’t sit too close. Oh wait, too late. Now you have to rent it. Get a big screen first.

    It’s fun with lots of action. It’s also a shame the secret military guy did such a great job acting. It wasn’t until the third time I saw it that the full force of his character stood out. He needed three times as much dialog for him to really shine. Otherwise, he just seemed out of place and should have been pushed into the background more.

    The camera sucked a lot, though. I mean, you’ve got CG where you can control just about everything, and you choose to make things blur and crop so far in and fast that you can’t see what’s going on? And you make the camera SHAKE? Why are all the movies these days using shakey cam? We’ve got so much technology devoted to making a smooth camera for a reason!

    The clearest scene in the movie was when Megatron morphed his arm into a giant canon and these big pistons came out. Megatron was simply designed — you had the copper innards contrasting with the shiny silver armor plates. Very simple, easy to see, and easy to make out. It was one of the only parts that actually read right the first time I saw it. The rest of the Transformers were so complicated that it was difficult to see anything in them. “Select Detail” is one of the seven goals of animation for a reason.

    Anyway, that’s a rant. But the movie got 4.0/5.0, so go ahead and see it. I won’t be buying it, but I did see it three times in the movies. The hype is fun to ride. Hope you did.

    War of the Worlds – 5.0/5.0
    An absolutely wonderful movie. It plays like Apocolypse Now, but keeps the surreal feeling without the nonsense. Tons of action and empathy. The moods in the movie are awesome. Watch it, and feel it play with your emotions.

  • Starting a Webcomic

    I’ve heard from a lot of people over the years about their plans to start up webcomics. And I’ve given a lot of advice about how to make webcomics. But it’s all in different places, like IM logs, my head, unlogged chatrooms, IRC, and my miniforums, and it’s just not practical to expect people to go dig up all that information for themselves. So this is a post to hopefully help those people that want to start a webcomic.

    This post will be separated into the following categories:

    -Why Make a Webcomic
    -Website Hosting
    -Webcomic Engine
    -Planning the Comic
    -Making the Comic
    -Promoting the Comic

    Why Make a Webcomic
    Everyone has their own reasons, and most of those reasons are valid. Valid reasons include:

    1) I want to improve my artwork.
    3) I want to learn to be funny.
    2) I want to make something to entertain me and my friends.
    5) I want to make new friends.
    4) Everyone else is doing it.
    6) I want lots of people to congratulate me on my birthday.
    7) I love to draw!

    But there are a number of invalid reasons. Here are some invalid reasons to make a webcomic:

    1) Fame. The internet is no place to get famous. The last person to get famous on the internet is Miss Teen South Carolina. And you don’t want that. Getting famous on the internet is a bad thing.

    2) Fortune. A webcomic is no place to try to earn money, especially if you don’t have an awesome work ethic. The few “successful” webcomics I’ve seen did not get big until many years after they started, and only did so after lots of hard work.

    Website Hosting
    If you need help on hosting, then I’m going to take the easy way out. I don’t want to try explaining things like setting up your own local webserver, buying a domain name, or paying for a shared server. So let’s play it easy and go with “free and simple webcomic hosting.”

    Here are four sites that host webcomics for free:
    Drunk Duck
    Comic Genesis
    Webcomics Nation
    Smack Jeeves

    There are many more, but some of them are harder to get into or are specialty hosting sites. Xepher is an example of a slightly more “exclusive” webcomic hosting site. Exclusive is awesome, because you tend to get more freedom and control. But it also means you’d better be ready for a commitment, because they take themselves more seriously.

    These dedicated webcomic sites are awesome because when you sign up, you’re magically in a webcomic community. People can find you effortlessly. Also, no technical knowledge is required, and if you do have technical knowledge you can customize your site’s appearance and function.

    The downside is that it’s free because there are ads on your site. Also, free hosting sites have a reputation of downtime and lagginess.

    Webcomic Engine
    Each of the sites in the last section have their own way of updating and maintaining the webcomics they host. It would be a good idea to sign up to each of them and see how they work, and then pick your favorite.

    The rest of this section is for people that are hosting their comic themselves, be it locally or on a shared server, or whereever. Some specialty hosting sites may require you to have your own engine.

    The webcomic engine is what powers your comic. If you have no engine, then you’ll be manually editing files and links whenever you upload a new comic. If you have an engine, then updating your comic can be as easy as uploading the latest comic image and having the whole site magically rearrange itself. The “back” button goes back one comic, the “latest” button goes to the latest comic, and etc.

    Engines come in a few flavors, from PHP to ASP to JavaScript and from simple to really complex. The first thing you need to look at is what your hosting provider supports. PHP is the norm for paid hosting, and “nothing” is the norm for a free website.

    I’ve created two comic engines, one extremely simple and one rather complex. Both require PHP.

    The complex one was never finished. It included adding news to the comics, editing old news, comments that stick to specific comics, mass updating of previous comics/news entires, a queuing system for uploading comics and having them update later, and all sorts of fun things. But as I said, I never quite finished it, so I won’t be distributing that until I get around to finishing it, which is probably never.

    The simple one I created was for Maglot‘s comic, Cry of the Wolf. You can download this simple comic engine here: https://www.skaarj.com/extras/comic.zip. It includes some instructions on how to use it.

    If your hosting provider doesn’t allow the use of PHP, there’s still a solution besides hand-editing everything whenever you update. You can find/make yourself a Javascript comic engine.

    Back in ages past, before the giant webcomic hosting places went up, you could find webcomic engines easily on the internet. These days it’s rather much harder, and you usually end up making them yourself.

    Planning the Comic
    There’s a right way and a wrong way to make a comic.

    The right way involves:
    -Creating your characters, and creating character sheets for them to use as reference so the characters always look the same. This includes costume sheets for all their different outfits.
    -Creating the environments the comic takes place in, and creating reference sheets so the environments don’t go changing all the time.
    -Creating the props that appear in the comic, including reference sheets.
    -Creating the story. All of it. This is the real time consumer, and has a ton of substeps going from idea to general storyline all the way down to rough drafts, then the final comic.

    As far as I know, the number of books that teach you how to draw comics can be counted on one hand.
    Graphic Storytelling by Will Eisner (father of the graphic novel)
    Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner
    Making Comics by Scott McCloud
    Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
    How to Make Webcomics by several famous webcomic authors (edit: Added here on Oct 9th, 2011)

    No doubt there’s more, as an Amazon search can point out, but Making Comics and Comics and Sequential Art are the ones Rob Kmiec recommended.

    It’s important to decide the following, as well:
    Daily gag or serious story?
    Standard panel style or freeroam?
    Colored or black and white?
    3D, traditional, or CG?
    Daily or whenever?

    Making the Comic
    So you’ve planned everything out. You know what kind of comic you’re making, how you’re making it, how often you’re updating, who all the characters are, where the story is going to take place, and what the story is from start to finish (or at least have pages of ideas for jokes for your daily gag strip).

    The Beginning
    The first thing you need to do is make the first half-dozen pages before you even put anything online. This accomplishes a couple things.

    1) It lets you know if you’re actually going to be able to handle it. If you planned for a daily strip and it takes you three months to make half a dozen pages, then you’ll want to rethink your update schedule, and/or your method of creating the comic.

    2) It creates confidence. Most webcomics seem to die after zero to two pages. If you have more than that already up, then you’ve proven to your viewers that you broke the barrier most people fail at.

    The Buffer
    Having a buffer on your comic is a very smart thing. To have a buffer means to have more comics ready than you’ve committed to giving.

    For example, say you have a Monday, Wednesday, Friday comic. You’ve spent two weeks and created six pages before you put anything online. In order to create a buffer, you would create even more comics, perhaps spending two more weeks to create half a dozen more. Then you start the comic by putting the first half-dozen online, and keep the last half-dozen to yourself. In case you get sick, or can’t update, you’ve got extra comics to fall back on, and your readers won’t see a hiccup in the schedule.

    Just make sure after you start digging into your buffer that put in extra effort to build the buffer back up, or you’ll just use it up and that’s that.

    Keep at It
    Updating a webcomic can be hard. But if you stick to your schedule, you’ll eventually get to your end goal and be finished. If you need support, talk to your friends, family, or (if you have some) your readers.

    The most effective method of communicating to the readers of your comic is in comic form. Most people don’t read news posts. I personally think that if someone doesn’t care enough to read the news post, then they don’t care enough to know. But how you communicate is up to you, just know what’s most effective.

    It’s polite to inform your readers (or reader) when an update is going to be missed or late. You don’t need to tell them about your personal life if you don’t want to, just tell them it’s going to be missing or late.

    Promoting the Comic
    I’ll admit that while fame shouldn’t be a reason to start a webcomic, it can be a reason to continue a webcomic. Who wants to spend time making a webcomic if no one’s going to enjoy it?

    You should start promoting your webcomic once you’ve got a solid base of comics. That base is up to your discretion, but the marketing tactic is like this: The good art draws them in, and the good story (or funnies) keeps them. If people can’t see the awesome story, you may want to wait until you’ve got enough comics to do that.

    Notice I said you should have a solid base of comics before promoting. I don’t want to see any one who’s read this promoting their comic before they’ve even put anything online. I’ve seen those promotions before, and visit their empty sites, and get horribly disappointed. Most of the time, those sites stay blank forever because they were expecting instant fame, and got no responses because they had no content. Don’t promote your comic until you have something to promote!

    There are two ways of promoting. The free way, and the pay way.

    -Post on forums that you have a comic, and give a sample or two in the thread itself so people can see what it’s like then and there.
    -Sign up for one (or all) of the many webcomic listings, like The Belfry or The Webcomic List.
    -Sign up for one (or all) of the many webcomic contests, like Top Webcomics or Webbed Comics, or buzzComix. Just don’t expect to get anywhere near the top, especially not at first. People do check the low-rankers on those, so it gets your name out there.
    -If you’ve got a lot of readers already, get them to promote your comic. Word of mouth is the most effective method of advertising, because it’s sincere.

    -Advertise on other webcomics that are similar to yours. Advertising a sci-fi comedy on a historical horror may not be the best idea.
    -Check out Project Wonderful. It’s an effective auction-style advertising solution. From what I can tell, it’s focused heavily on webcomics.

  • Transformers Review

    So I went and saw Transformers, the movie. I saw a few things done right, and I saw a few things done wrong. At least, in my opinion.

    The biggest thing they did right was capitalize on the 80s. True to Transformers, the movie was about big robots shooting at each other.

    The next thing they did right was play on the whole secrecy thing. Sure, you can have giant robots storming about. But if you’ve got giant robots storming about that no one’s supposed to know about so they try to “hide,” that makes the tension rise, and can play good for comedy.

    One of the things done wrong is a “trend” that Hollywood has decided is awesome. That is: shaky cam. The writer of Faulty Logic said “apparently every action scene was filmed by a geriatric Parkinson’s sufferer who was afraid for his life.” That’s a bit extreme, but that’s comedy. At least it wasn’t as bad as that last Borne movie.

    In their defense, they did have a few “slow motion” scenes where you could really see what was going on. Those were awesome, and I wish they’d done it more.

    A friend on the Booster Logic team said that a lesson can be learned from the video game industry: just let the main character and enemy be in sight at all times, and then you can actually tell what’s going on.

    On a side note, a friend of mine was complaining the other day about the mech fighting games people have made. Supposably, in the future, wars will be fought with giant mechs against giant mechs. If you think about it logically, it would start with one side using them, maybe just a couple thrown in, with standard military fair on its side as well as the enemy side. You wouldn’t get clean mech-on-mech battles for a while, if ever.

    Transformers did a good example of illustrating just how possible that concept is, and how well it can work, too. Even though “movie magic” was in effect and people didn’t even get injured when they probably should have died.

    Using my standard movie rating, I would give this a four point five. Dependant, of course, on if you like action movies and Transformers. See it in the theater if you can (just… don’t sit close to the screen) and buy the DVD if you’d like.

  • Movie Reviews

    I think I’ll create a movie rating scale:
    1: Don’t bother seeing it
    2: See a friend’s copy
    3: Rent it
    4: See it in theaters
    5: Buy the DVD

    So last Friday I got an email from one of my professors at DigiPen. The faculty was skipping school to see a movie, and the students were encouraged to follow.

    The movie was Ratatouille (pronounced “rat-a-tooie”). It’s Pixar’s latest, and is the story of a rat who wants to be a cook. The animation was wonderful, and I loved the story.

    There were a few odd parts. For example, the rat can’t magically talk to the humans, so when he’s interacting only with humans he doesn’t speak. Then we get some narrative overlay of the rat talking, and it’s a bit startling, as you haven’t heard his voice in a while. They also played loose with some time transitions using a narrative overlay to pass time, which felt a little out of place.

    The movie was hilarious, heartwarming, and had great lessons in it. I couldn’t help but parallel the rat’s learning to cook with my learning to draw.

    Raratouille is a definite must-see. I’ll be buying it when it comes out on DVD. I’ll give it a five.

    Then, on Saturday, Mort and Bin from Booster Logic fame invited me over to see Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. I’d heard a couple negative reviews about it, but went and saw it anyway. It wasn’t a waste of my money, as I enjoyed seeing it.

    It wasn’t a meaningful movie like Ratatouille, but it managed to keep itself interesting enough most of the time. My friend Ryan wrote a review that said there wasn’t enough action. I complain that what fighting there was is difficult to follow.

    The movie did the typical “stretch time out way too far” when the horrible things were happening at the end, but I’ve gotten so used to it that it didn’t bother me that much and I was able to enjoy the movie without it doing more than slightly irritating me.

    If you like comics, the Fantastic Four series, or “save the world” movies, then you should see this in theaters. Otherwise, it’s probably worth a rent later. Three point five.