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  • 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.

  • Be Paranoid, But Not Too Paranoid

    When I was young, my mother would give me a lot of advice that was quite normal. Don’t talk to strangers, don’t wander off alone, etc. She also gave me advice that was a little more extreme, but could still be considered within the bounds of normal, such as not telling anyone how much money you make. I also picked up other things form her, such as worrying about what random people I don’t know might think of me if I do certain actions or say certain things.

    In short, I was raised to be paranoid.

    I want to be clear what paranoia is. Paranoia is an action. It inspires you to do things. Fear is the opposite emotion. Fear stops you from acting. If you’re fearful of a building, you don’t go into it. If you’re paranoid of a building, you don’t go into it without a bulletproof vest, rubber soled shoes, and informing your next of kin.

    I like to think of paranoia in the same terms as absolute zero. As far as science can tell, there is no (yet known) maximum temperature, but the minimum temperature is currently believed to be 0 Kelvin (about -460 Fahrenheit, and -270 Celcius). The same applies for paranoia, with carelessness on the absolute low end of the scale.

    The scale of paranoia looks like this to me:

    Extreme paranoia  <-----------|-----------o  Complete Carelessness

    The guy who goes to the store and leaves his engine running and the car door open is further to the right, near careless, and the guy who sets up The Club, takes out his stereo, locks the doors, and sets the car alarm is deeper in the side of paranoia.

    But while you can have an absolute lowest level of carelessness where you simply can’t take any less precautions, you cannot reach the upper maximum of paranoia. Just ask any paranoid network administrator whether he has enough backup copies of his data.

    As we can see in this example, a certain amount of caution is useful. Simply bringing the car keys with you makes it more difficult for someone to steal your car. Locking the door prevents them from being able to rummage through your car’s interior, and so on.

    However, we all know someone who takes it too far. There’s a reason the word “paranoid” is not a word with positive connotations.

    So how far is too far? The answer contains two parts.

    The first is society norms.

    If you’re out in the country, locking your car or even taking the keys with you is probably not a major concern. You may even be mocked (politely) for being paranoid if you lock your car while visiting a country relative.

    However, parking in Seattle is well known and documented as not being as safe. You’re encouraged to lock your car, and put any valuables in the trunk. (People are less likely to break into a car if they can’t see the valuables.)

    The second is risk assessment.

    If you’re out in the country and know that there’s still a slight chance, however small, that someone could steal your car, you may still lock it despite friendly mocking.

    But if you’re in a big city and your car is dirty and damaged, and you’re only going into a store for five minutes, you may not even bother locking it.

    So, in the end, how much paranoia is too much, and how much is just being cautious?

    Let’s talk about hoarding real quick. If you’ve seen the television show Hoarders, you’re familiar with some of the crazy things that people can stockpile. But what’s the difference between a collector and a hoarder? Someone may have thousands of coins or stamps or soda bottles, but still be a collector and not a hoarder.

    I believe the difference is organization. If your collection does not affect your daily life, you’re a collector. If it does, you’re hoarding. Affecting your daily life means that you need to walk around or over things, you’re unable to access floors and counters and tables, etc.

    The same principle of disrupting your daily life applies to paranoia. If you can push one button and immediately have 15 offsite backups of your data, that’s simply being cautious. Very, very cautious. However, if you spend hours every week burning DVDs and mailing them to a dozen safety deposit boxes across the globe, that’s paranoia.

    So remember kids: Spend enough time to keep yourself safe from things that can hurt you, but don’t waste your life trying to protect yourself from things you don’t even know will happen. Sometimes it’s better to pick up the broken pieces once every couple years than it is to spend an hour every day preventing it from being broken.

  • 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.)

  • How to Catch a Mouse

    In nine easy steps. Click the images to open another window with a larger version.

    Step 1:
    Please a mousetrap under the sink.

    Step 2:
    When the mouse triggers the mousetrap, rush to it, only to find that it was too smart to actually get caught and is running around under the sink.

    Step 3:
    Throw a bowl on top of it.
    Optional: Place something heavy on top of the bowl.

    Step 4:
    Stick something under the bowl, like a plate, to seal the mouse in.

    Step 5:
    Realize the plate isn’t flat enough when the mouse gets out. Panic and try to catch him under the plate. Become shocked when the plate is not the bowl. Then recapture the mouse under the bowl.

    Step 6:
    Slide something clear and flat under the bowl, like a ziplock bag.

    Step 7:
    Tape it up.

    No, really. Go wild!

    Step 8:
    Take some pictures of the mouse through the clear plastic.

    Step 9:
    Drive a few miles away and let it go, because you’re too squeamish to kill it.

  • 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.

  • Copyright Explained

    I was studying copyright law for the past few weeks, and decided I should share what I’ve learned.

    What Does Copyright Protect
    Copyright law protects anything physical. It does not protect ideas, processes, techniques, or any of that. The actual text of an idea can be copyrighted once it’s written down, but the other stuff requires a patent, or an actual work based on the idea. (In other words, keep your ideas to yourself and maybe some close friends until you can make a copyrighted finished product out of the idea.)

    There are six (well, five we probably care about) things that copyright considers separate rights. When talking about “giving permission,” it could be one, all, or even limited or partial access to any rule.

    1) Right to create copies
    2) Right to distribute copies (give, rent, sell, lend, etc)
    3) Right to publicly display copies
    4) Right to preform the work (like a play or projection)
    5) Right to create derivatives of the work.
    6) Right to broadcast the work (radio)

    If you give someone access to the first right, they can make a million copies — but they couldn’t give them to anyone. They could hang them up in their house, but not a public place like a workplace.

    Rule number four (I made up the numbering, mind you) would be permission to use one of your pictures in a speech and projecting it on a screen for part of the presentation. It may also apply for a large physical print of it in that case, or that could be number 3. The easiest way to deal with it is to simply give them the right to use it in the case that they need it, not try and word it by the law.

    Number five is what I was missing when originally trying to understand character copyright. Let’s put it like this. Say you build a character out of marshmallows and take a picture of him. Since the original is quickly eaten afterwards, all you have is a series of photos of him. What if someone takes those photos, recreates the guy, and takes more pictures? They’re not the original pictures you copyrighted, so it’s ok, right?

    Rule number five says no. It’s based on the original, so it’s covered under the original copyright. You technically own the copyright on these new works someone else created. There is no law as to “how different” something has to be not to be a derivative work, but I’ve heard everything from 10% to 60%.

    When you’re selling your artwork, make sure you also give them a notice of what you’re selling. Rob Kmiec of DigiPen said that he’s seen people turn things in to an Art Director, get paid $200 for it, and a few years later see that same piece sitting in an art gallery with a $2000 tag on it. And since they “sold” it, it’s not theirs anymore so they have no rights. Make sure people know, through a written and signed-by-them contact, what rights you’re giving them when you sell them sometime.

    How Do I Copyright Something
    As of March 1st, 1989, copyright happens auto-magically. As soon as your work is created (art drawn, film developed, or digital picture taken, etc) it is copyrighted to you. If you want to defend your copyright in court, you’ll need to officially copyright it first, which costs you $45 or so. I think it’s $10 cheaper if you do it online. But there’s really no need to do that unless someone infringes and you need to take them to court.

    Though I am fuzzy on how the officially filed copyright date may effect a court case. Like if someone files a copyright they broke from you, then you file one afterwards. In such a case for art, the judge would want to see the preliminary sketches and early work leading up to the final piece in order to tell who made the original.

    Before March 1st, 1989, the rules are all wonky. So I won’t even be covering them.

    Copyright protects your work for your lifetime, plus 70 years.

    A copyright notice, which is no longer needed to create a copyright but is still useful, should contain the following pieces to be an “official” copyright notice:

    1) The word “Copyright” appearing as a C in a circle, “Copyright” or “Copr.”
    2) The year
    3) Your name, a common nickname, or a recognizable initials.

    These are all valid copyright notices:

    Copyright 2007 Creighton Medsker
    Copr. 2007 Stickman
    (c) 2007 CM

    Since a notice isn’t required anymore, it’s not so important. But it’s good to be educated, and good to date things.

    How Do I Defend My Copyright
    So what happens when someone infringes on your copyright? There’s a simple, two step process involved.

    1) Threaten to take them to court if they don’t stop, perhaps demanding some amount of compensation if appropriate.
    2) Take them to court and sue them for up to $30,000 per infringement, or even $150,000 per infringement if it’s proven to be a willful violation. (I’ve been told lawyers don’t care to deal with it unless it’s worth at least $50,000)

    Did you see that? No police involved. No FBI. The problem is between the copyright holder and the infringer, and the court acts as an intermediary to uphold the law. There are exceptions, like when a big company can’t find someone they know is infringing and want to hunt him down, and so the FBI comes in to keep them happy. Or something. I don’t know the official relationship.

    When Is It OK to Use Someone Else’s Copyright
    Now let’s talk about this misunderstood “Fair Use” thing. “Fair Use” is a legal term. They might as well have called it “Lemon Pie” for all the word has meaning related to the common English term.

    The Fair Use rule does not mean it’s ok to break copyrights. It sounds like a list of exceptions, but it’s intentionally vague. Copyright is handled on a case-by-case basis. The Fair Use list is actually defenses that you can use in court to justify why you broke someone’s copyright. And if your reason is good enough (compared to the other guy’s reason why you shouldn’t have) then you can get away with it.

    The list of Fair Use are: “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research…” Odd… I could have sworn “parody” was on that list. Well, whatever. Parody is defensible in court. Just remember that parody is using a copyright to make fun of the copyright. Using the copyright to make fun of something else is called a satire and tends not to hold up in court. Parodies hold up even when people are making money off them.

    That is, if you draw Sonic the Hedgehog in a tutu, that’s a parody. If you draw Sonic the Hedgehog getting ripped off by a GameStop employee, you’ve crossed the line. (Unless Sega owns GameStop and I wasn’t aware of it.)

    Originally, just about any educational purpose was acceptable, but these days not even education is safe.

    When determining if something is “Fair Use,” the court will look at the following four factors:

    1) The purpose of using the copyright, including non-profit educational or commercial use.
    2) The nature of the copyrighted work.
    3) The amount (AND substantiality) used of the copyrighted work.
    4) The market effect on the copyrighted work

    For example on substantiality in number three, if you quoted 300 words from a 500 page book, but those 300 words were the “heart and soul” of the book, you could lose the case.

    Is Fanart Legal
    As I finish up here, I’d like to point out that “fanart,” which is very common, is copyright infringement. There are a few reasons why no company does anything about it.

    1) It would be stupid of a company to take their biggest fans to court.
    2) Fanart artists are usually quite poor. The company would lose more money by suing them than it would potentially make.
    3) The case may not actually hold up in court, because of Fair Use factor four, above. It can be argued that fanart (some of it, at least), actually encourages people to like and buy the product.

    In other words, if you break a company’s copyright, and you’re above the “average Joe” radar (rich and/or famous), you could find yourself in hot water.

    For more information, you can check out these links:

    If you have any questions, feel free to ask on the forum. I’m no lawyer, but copyright is one of the many things I need to be familiar with, and if I don’t know the answer to a question, I’d like to look I up.

  • Eureka!

    I’m not sure if this is the “It’s past three in the morning and you’ve gone mad” phase, or “It’s finally clicked” event, but I think I’ve got something important. Probably very basic, but important. Especially in relation to art. It’s one of those “It’s so simple, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it” kind of things that everyone says they would have thought of themselves, but no one did for some reason.

    There’s been a great many things I’ve learned at DigiPen in the last year I’ve been there. I’ve put this knowledge to use when working on my own art and working on other pieces of art, and I’ve seen that it’s effective and proper. The latest one is a lovely little critique I left on this piece.

    Last night… or tonight. I can’t remember… I was speaking with Mr. Maglot. The problem we both expressed to having was that even though we can learn all this amazing and wonderful knowledge about art, when we draw the drawing just “happens.”

    I’ve talked with my friend Ember about art, and he said something that Betty Edwards mentioned in her book that a lot of people experience. When you’re doing art, you lose track of time. You’re making something, then BAM, it’s suddenly hours later and you find yourself with something finished on the page.

    The problem Maglot and I were expressing is that during that multi-hour “BAM” that’s occurring, there isn’t much “left brained” or logical thought going on. We go into auto-pilot for drawing, and just draw.

    So basically, the situation is thus:
    -Art knowledge is awesome and excites and is so very, very useful.
    -You can’t actually use any of that information when you’re drawing.

    When I was younger, my church would also talk about making your choices before you did them. Being a Mormon, we don’t do things like smoke, drink alcohol or coffee, have premarital sex, kill people (without good reason), and other things some people put as commonplace or acceptable. They taught us at church to already make the choice before the event happens. If you’re never in a situation where someone offers you alcohol, great! You never have a problem. But if you haven’t decided that you won’t actually drink it, you may find yourself trying to decide whether to have some or not during that moment.

    It’s very similar to the “say no to drugs” thing, except it explains the principle behind it and says “make your choice” instead of “say no.” Though I guess they did want us to make the no choice anyway. Right, back on subject.

    The whole making up your mind beforehand method is actually very effective. And it works with lots of other things, too. Which brings us back to art.

    One of the first things they taught us at DigiPen was “WTF.” That means “What’s that for.” Whenever you start a picture, that’s the question you ask yourself.

    Something else they mentioned, after giving us all sorts of knowledge about art, is that it’s just a big toolbox, and like any toolbox, there are some tools that are right for the job. You’re not going to be using 50 different tools to change a light bulb. You’re going to want a stepladder, and maybe some heavy rubber gloves if you’re really paranoid. And maybe some sunglasses in case you forgot if the switch is on or not. But you’re not gonna pull out the crescent wrench, and the left-leaning gyroscopic horseshoe tuner, because you don’t really need those. Yeah, they’re useful, but not for this job.

    So lemme try and bring this all together in an actual lesson we call the “oh no it’s 4am and I haven’t gone to bed yet” lesson on art.

    In order to apply the art knowledge you have into your actual art practice, you must decide before you even start the picture what your goal for that picture is, and what tools you’re going to use to reach that goal.

    The choices of what your goals can be is an entirely different discussion.

    According to the Modified Bloom’s Taxonomy Accordion Diagram (which I have never mentioned before now but it is a stepladder of learning things) everyone starts out on any given topic as ignorant, and eventually becomes better and more knowledgeable and practiced until they internalize the knowledge and it becomes second nature to them at the top level.

    To start, you learn of the existence of the left-leaning gyroscopic horseshoe tuner and all about its greatness. Then you find a situation that’s a good use for it, pull it out of the box, and go… what the heck do I DO with this thing? You stumble around with the knowledge you have, because you know it’s a good tool, and after 10, 50, or a thousand drawings specifically trying to use it, you finally reach the point where you you don’t even have to think about using it because it comes naturally. So you pull it out when you’re changing a light bulb and crank an extra 50 watts out of a 60 watt bulb without even breaking a sweat.

    Another thing I’ve learned tonight is that obsession is respectable to limited levels, proportional to the person’s own desire for the subject, until it passes a certain point and the level of respect plummets.

    That is: To someone with a Beanie Baby desire level of 5.0, they will respect a Beanie Baby collector’s obsessive tendencies to the level of 8.0. However, the average person has a desire level of 3.3, which only allows them to respect to the level of 6.3. Therefore, the original Beanie Baby collector has a respectable hobby, and the later has an unhealthy obsession.

    This principle is why gamers think staying up all night playing games is “cool,” while parents think it is “not cool.” If the parents had a higher desire level for games, they would also see it as “cool,” baring other crazy ideas like “growing boys need plenty of sleep.”

    I need to make graphs for this later, and not talk about it at 4am. They would probably help it make more sense. Or not make any sense at all, so I could stop trying to explain it.

  • Gimpystick Wiki Online


    I used valuable time that may have been better spent elsewhere, but I’ve got a little of stage 1 and the hard part of stage 2 on my master plan for Gimpystick done.

    Stage 1 is about reminding the members what the rules are so we’ll remember what we’re there for.

    Stage 2 involves taking all of the good critique and advice that’s floating around the Gimpystick comment board and consolidating it into one area. A wiki is the easiest format, so we have an Art Wiki!

    Stage 3 involves making it much easier to comment. That is, BBcode, inline images, and linking to the wiki. My goal is to auto-link to the wiki, so if someone says “your local value should be lighter than your reflected light” it will automatically give links so people know what the heck is being said. Vocabulary is important!

    Once I finish that, I’ll have to figure out what to do next.


  • The Design Process

    Part of our education at DigiPen this semester covered the “Design Process.” Having a process for designing things is drop-dead important. I explained it to a friend, who gladly took everything she could get out of it. The method of explaining was through an IM window.

    I would love to take this information and cleanly format it and present it to you in such a way that you could easily understand it. However, I’m tired.

    The ugliness of this information in no way subtracts from its importance. And this doesn’t apply to just art. This process is generic enough that it can apply to just about everything. Naturally, some of the terminology (like “thumbnails”) will need to be changed for something like, say, cooking, but the concept is still the same.

    Hopefully I’ll clean it up some day.

    Stickman: The design process has five steps.
    Joozika: This is exciting.
    Stickman: 1) Inspiration.
    Stickman: 2) Exploration and Research
    Stickman: 3) Refinement
    Stickman: 4) Construction/Polish
    Stickman: 5) Presentation.
    Stickman: The inspiration phase is often very simple. Your boss or teacher coming up to you and giving you an assignment with certain parameters is your inspiration.
    Stickman: Alternatively, you may get a really great idea. Best to write it down when you do. However, please remember that pictoral information is a VISUAL language. The written language is very different, and sometimes a written idea may sound very, very neat, but it simply does not translate into a visual idea.
    Stickman: For an example of bad translations, please illustrate to me the concept of “friend.” It just doesn’t work.
    Stickman: The inspiration phase is often very short.
    Stickman: The next stage is Exploration (and research).
    Stickman: This stage should take up 20-25% of your time. If you have five hours to do a project, spend at least a hour on this.
    Stickman: Let’s get an example so we can talk about it. Letsay someone is paying you to draw an otter.
    Stickman: First thing you need to do is figure out how to draw an otter. Just Googling it is not enough. Of course, if that’s all you have time for, that’s all you can do.
    Stickman: Books have much better and clearer pictures than the internet. You can also hold a book seperate while you work with drawing on your computer. If you DO Google something, print it out so you can have a physical copy.
    Stickman: The library is your friend.
    Stickman: Once you’ve researched the project and done some sketches and drawings to explore the anatomy, stucture, planes, joints, surfaces, textures, and other bits about your character, and really tried to figure out what makes an otter an otter, you push it.
    Stickman: This is still exporation and research.
    Stickman: Try to simplify the picture as far as you can go and still have it look like an otter. Find out what you can take out and still have it look like what it is.
    Stickman: Then push it the other way. Get as detailed as possible. Find out what you can put in and still have the picture look good.
    Stickman: In both directions, make sure you push it TOO FAR. The object of sketches is to learn something. If you didn’t go too far, you didn’t find out where the edge is.
    Stickman: This is exploration and research. Your product for this stage will be sketches that define what makes an otter an otter.
    Stickman: The next stage is refinement.
    Stickman: You know what. I need my notes.
    Stickman: I think the initial thumbnails are in the exploration stage. D: Let me check.
    Stickman: Alright, lets put a little more order in this.
    Joozika: o.o
    Stickman: Exploration. Ask yourself, “How am I going to change words into art?” You have there goals in this stage.
    Stickman: 1. Research forms.
    Stickman: 2. Define primary forms and relationships.
    Stickman: 3. Gauge forms against commercial function of project.
    Stickman: That is, go to the library and get books, and draw what you see for structural understanding.
    Stickman: Figure out what goes where, how big the head is relative to the feet, and etc. That’s defining primary forms and relationships.
    Stickman: The third, is figure out how well those are going to work for the final project. For example, if you need a logo, you may find that the only form that works in the shape you’re giving is the little guy’s head. In that case, focus your time on the head.
    Stickman: You will create two products during the exploration phase.
    Stickman: 1) Research sketches.
    Stickman: 2) Thumbnails.
    Stickman: Thumbnails will be “sloppy” or casual drawing. They tend to be small, too. Maybe an inch or two only. The purpose of them is to get the composition to look good.
    Stickman: You may end up drawing a thousand thumbnails and only get one or two that have one thing in them you like. But that’s the purpose of making them, to get something that looks good.
    Stickman: Oh, moving on. Your goals for researching should be:
    Stickman: 1) Isolate visual elements that identify the specific object. Otters are thing and furry and sleek. I’m sure if you saw a picture you could pick out a dozen other things that is unique enough or even completely unique to an otter.
    Stickman: 2) Establish variation allowance. This is where you push the drawing as far as you can. Make the head twice as big as the body. Does it work? No? Push it back until it does.
    Stickman: 3) Understand visual/mechanical structure of subject.
    Stickman: 4) How to stylize/exaggerate? Most people don’t want a true-to-life picture. They want it to look more cuddly than it is, or more sleek than it is, or faster moving than it is, because that’s what they’re using that animal for their logo or design for.
    Stickman: 5) Go too far to find the limit of how far you can push. I talked about that one.
    Joozika: *nod*
    Stickman: There are two pieces to think about when playing with this: Architectural structure and kinetic structure. What holds it together, and how it moves forces around. Not all subjects have both… buildings don’t have a kinetic structure.
    Stickman: Oh, more goals.
    Stickman: 6) See how other artists have used subject. Sure, figuring it out for yourself is great, but if someone else already did it, there’s no reason to do it again.
    Stickman: 7) Connect subject to humanity. Because people don’t care about things they can’t relate with.
    Stickman: And make sure you connect it to yourself. If YOU don’t like it, then you won’t draw it well.
    Joozika: so true D:
    Stickman: Research sources. I’ll brush over these:
    Stickman: 1. Nothing beats seeing it in person. So you can see it in 3D, see light changes, watch movement and personality, get an emotional connection, and make drawings or even (gasp!) take reference photos!
    Stickman: 2. Photographics reference. Use more than just the internet. Internet pictures are really, really poor quality when compared to a book. And don’t copy photos. They’re reference to figure out how the thing looks, not to just copy the finished product from.
    Stickman: 3. Other artist’s interpretations. See how other artists solved the problem.
    Stickman: Not plagerizing goes without saying.
    Stickman: Holy cow. He just keeps going on and on… There, I see refinement.
    Joozika: o.O
    Stickman: Exploration is something he really dwelt on because it’s something most artists don’t do.
    Stickman: And it’s something that 25% of the time you have on the project should be spent on.
    Stickman: It solves the problems before you even get to them, if you think about it.
    Stickman: I’m missing some info… I wonder if I ever got the slides.
    Stickman: Ha-HA!
    Stickman: … Oh. It’s three slideshows.
    Stickman: That’s scary.
    Stickman: So right. Lets get into thumbnails. I need to move along.
    Stickman: This is a lecture given to animation students, mind you. And the number one goal of drawing for animation is emotion. The second is relational accuracy. They’re not bad goals for anyone, but they are specifically made for animators.
    Stickman: When making thumbnails, which are small and a dozen can fit on one page, and are very quickly done, about 30 seconds each.
    1. Capture emotional signature of the subject.
    a) Body language and gesture
    b) Environments and mood/atmosphere
    Stickman: 2. Relational Accuracy
    a) Architectural structure of the subject
    b) Kinetic structure
    c) Proportional relationships
    d) Directional/placement relationships
    e) Basic compositional structure of design
    Stickman: Good thumbnails: Are very small. Are proportional to the final design (you can scale them up, essentially), are produced en masse (yay, pages and pages!), focus on structural integrity of the design, and they flow freely.
    Stickman: The reason I’m even talking about the design process to you when you talked about a webpage is that the art dean designed the webpage for DigiPen. And he started by drawing thumbnails. He used the design process for that.
    Stickman: It works for anything. Programming, cooking, and especially art.
    Stickman: Next stage! Number two. Refinement.
    Stickman: The goals are: Combine best ideas from exploration phase (remember, product from stage 1 is thumbnails), elaborate the basic relatinoships, add complexity and interest to design, and solve specific drawing problems related to technique and visual illusions. Then decide on a final design solution.
    Stickman: The products of the refinement stage are: Superthumbs! Specialized photo references. And “Comps” or Composites.
    Stickman: Superthumbs are the same size as thumbnails. However, rather than starting from an idea or scratch, you start from your best ideas of your thumbnails, mix and match your favorites, and maybe try a few new things with those.
    Stickman: If you have problems, with like making the otter bend a certain way, you seek out or create specialized photo references. Actually getting a zoo or otter to cooperate with you may be a problem, but in an actual company situation, it may be possible. The Lion King artists had an actual lion brought into the studio.
    Stickman: Anyway, your thumbnails needed to flow, which means there wasn’t much time for reflection. Refinement is all about reflecting, finding what you like, and making better use of it.
    Stickman: Superthumbnails need the following traits: No bigger than parents, no more than 4 tones, and don’t add complexity yet. Be sure to vary your ideas when making superthumbs.
    Stickman: after that, still in the refinment stage, you make what’s called “Comps” or “Composites”. These are larger than thumbnails, and will be the first thing you show to your employer. They are the “visual idea” represented in its best form.
    Stickman: Comps may go in stages, getting more and more complex and larger until finally they’re at least half the size of the final project.
    Stickman: Working larger slowly lets you solve problems as they arrise, and work detail into the picture slowly so you don’t end up blowing it up in your face.
    Stickman: Make sure to keep the relationships, tones, and lines you had in your original thumbnail. That is, the idea you wanted to save the thumbnail for, that you turned it into a superthumb for? Make sure that stays in your comps.
    Stickman: Once you have your finals comps ready, you can show them to your employer. Generally you’ll only want to show ONE. But if he doesn’t like it, make sure you have half a dozen other designs in your pocket. And always show him your favorite one first.
    Stickman: And make sure it fits the original guidelines! If you have a better idea, show him the one he wanted. If he likes it, say, “I think this problem can be solved better like this,” and THEN show him your non-spec comp.
    Stickman: There is no reason to show the employer any of your lesser comps, or anything he doesn’t need to see.
    Stickman: And don’t let any of the comps you show him be something you don’t like, because he will pick it every time.
    Stickman: Thus ends the 50% stage, refinement. The 50-75% stage is polish/construction.
    Stickman: The goals for the polish/construction stage are:
    Stickman: 1) Select the final design (often done by the employer when you show the final comps)
    2) Create the final art
    3) Allow the work to continue to evolve.
    Stickman: The product of this stage will be the finished art, but it will be unmounted.
    Stickman: Now then… there are three ways to finish a drawing.
    Stickman: 1) Acretion. This method involves adding things to taking them away until the product is done. This is a very common method. Pencil and eraser, paint added or scrapped off, and just keep working until it’s right.
    Stickman: (Also note that graphite is not a “professional” medium, though it is suitable for sketches)
    Stickman: 2) Calligraphic. This method means doing it once and getting it done right. The problem with this method is that even though it sounds really, really easy, it’s not. Because you have to make sure you can get it right every time. On the first try.
    Stickman: And it has to look exactly the same each time. Best used for simple logo design and when you really want to impress people. But make sure the last 100 times you draw it you get it exactly the same, because you don’t want to flop in front of someone.
    Stickman: 3) Precision. This method is somewhat like acretion, but instead of adding and taking away, you’re really moving pieces. This was made popular by computer editing.
    Stickman: The goal of polishing is not to recreate an earlier comp. It is to improve on the work. Don’t photocopy it, make it better.
    Stickman: Your polish should be done in a medium that you are professional proficient in. If you’ve never used brush and ink before, the polish stage is a terrible time to start.
    Stickman: Also, if you haven’t been making at least your comps in brush and ink, you’re an idiot for trying to start it at the polishing stage. But that’s just common sense.
    Stickman: One of the hardest parts about the polish stage for some artists is having to choose one of the comps and sticking with it. They’ll need abandon the others and pick one. And some can’t do that. But that’s the way life goes, you have to eliminate the possibilities or you’ll get nothing done.
    Stickman: The last stage is presentation.
    Stickman: This is what really makes your product.
    Stickman: If you gave them a nice looking comp and they thought it was awesome, and you give them the polished version unframed, with a coffee stain on it, and on wrinkled paper… well… you probably just lost the job.
    Stickman: Presentation has the following goals:
    Stickman: 1) Isolate your work visually
    Stickman: 2) Establish your professionalism
    Stickman: 3) Protect the work from incidental damage.
    Stickman: This stage results in the following products:
    Stickman: -A framing or mounting system
    -A packaging or delivery system
    -A display system
    Stickman: What you do in this stage depends on what the work is for.
    Stickman: You can frame it, put it in a matt, put it on a pedistal, add theatrical lighting, or whatever.
    Stickman: And that’s the design process.
    Stickman: You still alive out there?
    Joozika: Yes, reading.
    Joozika: Riveted. :)
    Stickman: Matting is probably the most common for portable work, and they gave a presentation on it at school. If you don’t know how to do it, I could try to explain it.
    Stickman: A note on thumbnail quantity: Each professional design solution requires hundreds and sometimes thousands of thumbnails. This is not a figure of speech. I’m speaking literally. The minimum should be no fewer than 200 and may exceed 1,000 individual thumbnail drawings.
    Joozika: gah.
    Joozika: gaaahh.
    Stickman: But if you think about it, 45 seconds per thumbnail and 1000 thumbnails, that’s only 12 hours. <.<
    Stickman: I suppose it depends on the size of the project you’re working on.
    Stickman: So anyway… that’s the design process. Which is one of the five Ps of professional: Process.
    Stickman: The other four are Professionalism, Pratice, Persistance, and Passion.
    Stickman: And then, if you want to be a CEO you have to be a sociopath and a maglomaniac. But that’s different.
    Joozika: This is all amazing advice. I feel like I’m cheating the system by getting free art classes. XD
    Stickman: Well, I’m glad you realize how important it is. If I was worried about getting a job myself, I wouldn’t have told you that, because most artists don’t have a process. Artistry is a right-brained task, and organizational skills are a left-brained task. Having a process you can follow that’s proved to work is extremely valuable.
    Stickman: By having that, you have an edge on the composition. Well, by USING that.

  • Types of Selection

    Drawing is a visual language. In the same way when you’re telling a story you glaze over the boring parts and focus on the fun stuff, and maybe embellish a little, you can (and should!) do the same thing with drawing.

    The first thing we must realize is that when we draw something from life, we are not recreating it. We all know that it’s physically impossible to look at an apple, and with a paper and graphite create a red, edible, juicy apple. What we’re doing is taking that 3D, real apple and turning it into a 2D representation on paper. Once we realize that, we can do all kinds of fun things. Which brings us to the next point.

    WTF means “What’s that for?” at Digipen. Our ART101 teacher, Professor BJ Becker, says that before we start a drawing, this is what we should ask. Since drawing is a visual language, and we can’t actually recreate the thing we’re drawing, we’re essentially making a “comment” about what we’re drawing. So we need to ask ourselves what we’re trying to say.

    Once we know what we want to say, we have to figure out how we’re going to say that. This is where the toolkits come in. Remember that list of artistry lists I posted a while back? Most of those are designed to be tools. When you want to say a certain thing, you use a certain tool.

    I’m saying all this, because as I mentioned a while back, drawing is a global skill. That is, it’s a skill made up of other skills. Once you learn all the skills that make it up, you know how to “draw.” And in order to get to “drawing from imagination,” you need to know how to draw real things so you can draw imaginary things and make them look real. And lets face it — acting like a human photocopier can get really boring.

    So like I said, you make it entertaining by saying “what’s that for?” and figuring out something interesting to say about the subject. One of the lists that I didn’t include back when I gave that list of artistry lists was the Types of Selection list, which is one of the most effective lists to pick from. And hey, here’s the list now!

    Types of Selection

    And now that I’ve got it down I really don’t feel like explaining each one. *laze*

    Just ask yourself WTF before you draw, and figure out some way to make that apparent. Lie about the contrast, or the positioning, or the size, or the perspective, or whatever you need to lie about to get your point across. ‘Cause art is all about lying!