Lessons from Hollywood: Clean Energy Will End the World

“Look honey, another playboy billionaire just tried to save the planet!”

<DARK KNIGHT RISES and AVENGERS spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned!>

The development of clean, renewable energy sources is one of the greatest challenges facing our planet today, or so I’m told.

Now I’m no physicist and to be honest, I’m about the furthest thing from being politically aware that you’re likely to find in someone who actually has access to the internet. But here’s something I do know: clean energy is bad for humanity. It’s going to cause the deaths of millions, if not the destruction of  then entire world. I know this because Hollywood has told me so.

Thanks to a number of highly successful box office blockbusters, I have become absolutely terrified at the prospects of breakthrough clean energy technology, and you should be, too. Over and over we’re told, as soon someone develops a machine that can supply pollution-free power to civilization, some psychopathic jack-off is going to come along and either turn it into a bomb, or worse, use it to open up an intergalactic portal for a horde of homicidal alien invaders.

Here are a few case studies just off the top of my head:

SPIDERMAN 2 — Doc Ock sets out to perfect fusion power under the pretense of benefiting mankind, but unfortunately, he doesn’t have it all quite figured out. So when a short circuit fries his brain-pan, he decides to follow through with his experiment and blow up New York. Well it was the thought that counts, right Octavius?

THE AVENGERS — Tony Stark is set to unveil his new latest creation that will solve humanity’s energy crisis forever. Then along comes a Norse God who mindfucks another scientist into rewiring the whole thing to power a cosmic superhighway for a pissed off legion of alien assholes who apparently have nothing better to do than wreck New York. Way to go, Stark!

DARK KNIGHT RISES — At least when Bruce Wayne realizes that his own clean energy reactor prototype is capable of being weaponized by probably just about any lunatic who might feel like blowing up Gotham, he has the good sense to mothball the project. Except that he leaves it plugged in so that when that lunatic comes along he’ll have no problem turning it into a giant, fucking bomb with which to blow up Gotham (which we all know is really New York). That’s thinking ahead, Wayne!

WATCHMEN — Do I even need to mention this convoluted mess? Dr. Manhattan gives free energy to the world in the form of a bunch of nuclear reactors, which some maniac then wants to BLOW UP so that he can teach the world a lesson and avert a nuclear war. WTF??? Thanks for nothing, Dr. Manhattan.

So, what can we conclude from all of this?

First, New York may be the greatest city in the world, but if someone actually develops a source of clean energy, I would get the hell out of Dodge, ASAP.

Second, despite all the celebrity campaigning to save the world, Hollywood wants us to believe that solving the problems of society, namely the whole energy crisis, is actually a very, very bad thing for mankind. We’ve got a billion dollars worth of ticket sales to prove it and I’m pretty sure I’ve left plenty of other examples out.

So until someone comes up with a new plot device or at least shows us a possible future in which clean energy technology actually benefits the world, I say stock up on sunscreen, burn those fossil fuels, and let’s take our chances with the global warming. It beats getting vaporized by some maniac or eviscerated by a roid-raging alien, right?

 

 

 

Eiryss 3: Work Complete

Still reeling from Comic Con 2012, I’m a little late getting this post up. But after some pointed discussion on the practicality of the new pistol-crossbow/gunblade (Awe! See what I did there?) and a little dialog on how to handle the two different hood and head options, I’m happy to present the final concept for the third incarnation of the Iron Kingdoms’ most beloved, feared and hated mage-hunter, Eiryss.

In the interest of time, I’ll go against my nature and let the drawings speak for themselves. This has been a fantastic experiment and there were more than a few ideas that found their way from the online discussions to the final concept. Naturally, it’s impossible to accommodate the first choice of every single person and some of the choices here will be polarizing, to say the least. But that’s how you know it’s a delicacy and not a cheeseburger, if you follow what I mean.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment and offer suggestions. This one is done (as in, I’m not touching it again, so don’t even think about it!), but I’ve got another concept coming up that I’m really looking forward to, a new Cryxian warcaster (of sorts), and I’ll give you this one hint: HE is HUMAN.

Stop speculating and look at the pretty pictures. Hope you like it!

(As always, please feel free to post a link, but do not re-post the images, puh-lease! Thanks!)

Working Illustrator Pro Tip #1: Know Your Enemy

Okay, technically your employer or client shouldn’t be considered an enemy, but if you’ve ever been an illustrator combing San Diego Comic Con or Gen Con for freelance work, it can feel a little like going to battle. You spend months, even years training, honing your skills. You build up an arsenal of imagery designed to render your targeted art director speechless with shock and awe. Then you wade into the fray, adrenaline pumping, determined to beat out all comers for those few choice art contracts out there. And competition is fierce!

As someone who has worked on both sides of the trench, as both a freelance illustrator and the art director that hires them, I have a perspective shared by only the few other fellow illustrators who have also been in the position to give someone their first break or ensure that someone could pay their rent next week. I’ve lugged my portfolio around conventions, stood in line to meet art directors, sent off samples to publishers, and have scrapped for work in places no one would even look to find illustration work, much less want to. But I’ve also spent almost 18 years as the audience of those portfolios. I’ve worked with literally hundreds of artists, the best in the biz. And I’ve rejected more submissions for work than I’ve hired. The simple truth is that there are exponentially more artists looking for work than there are jobs to feed them and thanks to the internet and the incredible digital tools available to illustrators these days, marketplace globalization has increased competition to an all time high. You’re not just competing with the other hopefuls lugging their portfolios around the convention anymore, you’re up against everyone on the planet with a broadband connection and a copy of Photoshop. So you’re going to need every weapon in the armory if you’re going to come out on top of the heap — and I’m not just writing the longest introduction to a blog ever here, I’m going to give you a weapon born of almost two decades of successful professional combat. Eventually…

Your portfolio IS your weapon!*
*Took this photo 5 minutes before posting the blog, so don’t mess with me if you don’t want to lose a limb.

Different illustrators break into the fantasy/sci-fi art industry (including book covers and packaging, concept art, interior art, card art, etc.) in different ways. The internet has removed the necessity to physically get in front of an art director (when I say things like that, does it make me sound old?), but there’s still a great deal of value to meeting face to face. First, your sparkling personality can go a long way to making sure you’re remembered and you might even convince an AD to give you shot at something that your work alone would’t have. Relationship building, which is much easier to accomplish in person, is a key component to establishing repeat clients and consistent work. As well, you might receive a helpful critique in person  (if you keep your mind open to it) so even if you don’t land a gig this time around, you’ll have a place to begin the conversation the next time you see the art director, and eventually it may lead to paying work. But the most important reason to meet an art director in person is that you will be one-hundred-percent sure that the AD actually saw and looked at your portfolio, which mail-ins or links to your DeviantArt gallery are never going to confirm. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re any closer to getting paid work, I have found in my own experience that it preserves some sanity. If you’re anything like me, indefinite waits and not knowing whether or not someone has even taken the time to check out your work is far worse than a door being slammed in your face. But this isn’t the tip, it’s just a benefit of going out and pressing the flesh. The tip is  about how to make the most of it.

I’ve seen as many different kinds of portfolios as I have met artists. No two are the same. Some are printed as leave-behinds, others are neatly ordered. I’ve seen handmade, cut paper pop-up books, and I’ve see portfolios that looked like someone dropped the Sunday Times (Newspaper reference— that definitely makes me look old!) in a puddle before they scooped it up and handed it to me. I’ve seen portfolios with three pieces in them and portfolios with three hundred. But more than anything, more often than not, I’ve seen the wrong portfolio. Wrong as in, the portfolio contained work that had no relevance to the type of work that I, as an art director representing a specific company and its product line, am hiring for.

Freelance artists, especially those starting out, often take a very desperate, shotgun approach to finding work. Armed with their portfolio, they get it in front of every art director they can whether they have any interest or knowledge of what that AD’s company produces or not. They’re just looking for a break and a paycheck. I’ve had illustrators walk up to me at conventions, artwork under their arm, and ask, “What do you guys do here?” It doesn’t matter what I tell them. The next question is always, “Wanna look at my portfolio?” Diplomacy always wins out, but I assure you that at this point, my inner voice is screaming the same thing that every other AD who’s ever been in that position is thinking: No fucking way.

So here’s the big tip, fellow mercenaries — pay attention because it’s a two parter:

KNOW WHO YOU ARE SUBMITTING YOUR WORK TO

and

TAILOR YOUR PORTFOLIO TO THE CLIENT

You get one chance to make a first impression. It’s true, just like you’ve heard all your life. So make sure you apply this to the ONE opportunity you will have to meet an art director for the FIRST time, and make the best goddamn impression you can.

Not everyone out there will agree with me, but my advice is, don’t hunt randomly. Pick your targets, research them, and then take very precise, calculated shots. Find out the name of the Art Director before you go meet him or her — it’s not hard to crack open a book or look online for the Art Director’s credit and trust me, this little tidbit will jump you to the front of the line when it comes to making a good first impression.

Then, look for companies that publish work like you want to do, and more importantly, that you are suited to do. I love comic books, but when I was art directing Magic: the Gathering, we weren’t looking for sequential artists. Still, I can’t tell you the number of portfolios that I looked at from artists who were exclusively comic book ‘pencilers’. Look, if you can’t tell a sequential story, you’re not going be drawing comics for Marvel, and if you can’t paint an entire picture ready for publication, you’re not going to be doing card art for Wizards of the Coast. If you want to paint book covers, you need to have book covers in your portfolio. If you want to do concept illustration, make sure you have a great selection of concept work. If you want to do comics — look, you get the idea. Above all, make sure the AD you’re submitting to is looking for the kind of work that you’re applying to do! It’s basic arithmetic but for some reason they don’t seem to be teaching this in schools.

But it doesn’t stop there. If you don’t show a creative aptitude for fantasy work, you’re also not going to be doing any work for Magic. It’s not just the style or mode of work that is important, the subject matter is equally relevant. If someone shows me a bunch of gothic romance cover paintings of vampires in lingerie making out on castle balconies, it doesn’t matter how beautifully rendered they are, I don’t necessarily know if they’re going to be able to pull off an image set in the gritty, combat-heavy setting of WARMACHINE. You don’t have to show samples of the potential client’s actual intellectual property, but the closer you can get to the genre(s) the client represents, the quicker you’re going to convince the AD to give you work. Art Directors are famously busy, living and dying each day by the deadline. The downside of meeting them in person at a convention like San Diego Comic Con or Gen Con is that it’s hard to get and keep their attention; the environment is loud, lit too brightly or not well enough, they’re hung over and exhausted from the night before and they’re tired of looking at shitty portfolios. So you’ve got to be on point, man! Show them what they want to see, which means showing them something as close to what they put in their products as you possibly can muster. You want to work for a fantasy RPG company? Show them fantasy work. You want to do science-fiction book covers? Show them science-fiction! Can you show them other stuff, sure (I’ll retract this in a moment) but make sure you show them a decent cross section of relevant materials —3-5 pieces in a related genre should cover it.

In my book, ‘versatility’ is not a good thing. I like to see a portfolio that represents the artist’s specific voice and style because I want to know exactly what I’m hiring in an artist. If an illustrator’s work is all over the place with loose watercolors, tight pencils, thick oil paintings and photo-realistic digital work, I don’t know what I’m going to get if I hire this guy. The biggest hurdle you have to overcome is the AD’s inherent skepticism that you will actually be able to deliver what they want in the timeframe they need it. So if you are a master of different styles, organize your work by type, style and medium and make sure you show, again, a substantial quantity of each so the AD who is hiring for a futuristic space combat game knows that the one super-slick vehicular design you did isn’t just a fluke. But for my money, I say streamline as much as possible. Only show the art director work that is relevant to the work you are applying to do. Nothing else is going to matter.

Also, be economical! If you’re lucky, you’re going to have 5-10 minutes to talk with an art director, but keep in mind the environment/busy/hangover/tired-of-crap thing. Those portfolios with 300 pieces in them? Yeah, they’re not as uncommon as you might think. A generous AD will look through every page, but many don’t have that kind of time. You don’t want them to get tired of looking through your work and never make it to the good stuff. My recipe for a good portfolio is 10-12 pieces. I don’t care if you’ve got a hundred masterpieces under your arm, I don’t want to look at an art book, I just want to be convinced you can do the job I need done so I can get back to my Gatorade because what I’m really thinking about right now is replenishing all of my lost electrolytes before the show is over so I can get through another night of after-hours convention socializing. Are you getting the picture? Be a tactical nuke. Get in, blow them away, and vanish as fast as possible. Don’t go too light — six pieces minimum. But twelve pieces, max. Make the hard decision to show only your best work. The AD won’t know what he or she is missing.

“But I’m going to be at Comic Con for four days!” you say. “I need to hit as many art directors up as possible!” you lament. “How can one portfolio do everything I want it to?” That’s the thing. It can’t. If you’re heading out for a marathon work-hunt, be prepared to either customize your portfolio between meetings, or carry multiple books as needed. Either way, take the right load out for each mission. Don’t be lazy about this and it will pay off.

And leave the naked boobies at home.

Again, there are those who won’t agree with me, but unless you’re meeting with an art director for HEAVY METAL or a company that produces content of an adult nature, then you don’t know what might or might not offend an art director. If I only had a dollar for every time I opened up a portfolio to the first page, only to see some naked barbarian chick posing over her fresh kill! While I’m a huge fan of masters like Frazetta and Bisley, YOU are not Frazetta or Bisley, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. So I don’t care if your buck-naked bareback dragon-rider has won the gold award in Spectrum (which it hasn’t, because it’s a buck naked bareback dragon-rider), leave it out of your portfolio. Again, the art director isn’t going to miss it but it might color his or her opinion of you in a negative fashion right from the start. Self censor so they don’t have to. Maybe the art director for a children’s book company has a collection of wind-blown, short-skirted anime schoolgirl comics, but that’s not what that AD is going to be hiring for. Stay on target and remove anything from your portfolio that might turn off this stranger you’re trying to impress.

My other pet peeve? School work. It’s easy to spot and it makes you look inexperienced. An art director with a limited budget and tight deadlines doesn’t want to take a flyer on a kid fresh out of school, so don’t set yourself up to look like one. Get rid of the life drawing charcoals, the old-master oil painting reproductions, and anything that looks like a Coca Cola advertising illustration. These scream ‘newbie’, which even if you are, you don’t want to let on. Art Directors want to hire illustrators with field experience. They want people who are used to working on a deadline without an instructor helping them along the way. The discipline to be a reliable freelance artist is so hard to come by that you don’t want to give the AD any sense that you might not possess every ounce of it necessary to deliver on time. You don’t have to possess a portfolio full of paid work, but you need a portfolio that looks like it’s full of work you got paid for. Even ‘fan work’ (eg. your painting of Batman that you obviously did for fun) is going to resonate better than something that looks like it was produced as an assignment in a classroom. Give the AD the confidence he or she needs that you don’t need to be coached every step of the way, and leave your school work at home.

Summary: Know who you’re submitting to and customize an economical portfolio with work relevant to the client’s needs. Less is more.

And knowing is half the battle! We’ve all heard Duke say it a thousand times. But the other half of the battle in getting hired for an illustration job is employing the right weapon for the fight, effectively. So put down the shotgun and pick up your sniper rifle. From here on out, it’s nothing but head shots.

 

Eiryss 3 — Work in Progress

With the deadline for the concept of the new incarnation of Eiryss rapidly approaching, I’ve been trying to carve out the time to make some decent progress. San Diego Comic Con is looming right in the middle of this timeline for me as well, which means that I’ll lose most of next week to work on it. What this really means is that my delivery date has moved up from July 16th to next Wednesday, or I’m going to be late! Time to get cracking.

The image below shows my progress so far on coming up with a new look for Eiryss’ trappings. This is drawn entirely in pixels on a Wacom Cintiq tablet in Photoshop, which gives me a lot of flexibility to work back and forth in layers as I refine the drawing and the rendering at the same time. I end up wandering a bit during the process, but I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to explore the concept in a more time-economical way than generating multiple drawings. It’s easy to get caught up in the anatomy and pose and lose focus on what’s really important here, which is what the character is wearing. In retrospect, though, I chose a poor angle on the figure because I was trying to be a little too dramatic with the drawing. The low camera perspective prevents a good square look at her chest (no snickering, please), which means I’ll need to do a second front detail shot to make sure the sculptor and artist have all the information they need to interpret the design accurately.

Being her third costume design I wanted to present some sort of evolution from her previous looks, but as this is also the first time she won’t be operating as a solo, I wanted to make sure that some of that evolution was drastic and really sets her apart from the first two solo versions.

At this point, I’m sticking with a very similar silhouette, as the fashionistas would describe it. We’ve got the familiar cloak, the armored boots, sleeves and corset over a fine set of light-weight but protective mail coverings that more or less mimic the shape and rhythm of her previous designs. The big change here is the styling of her armor. Early on, Eiryss established a particular beat in Iosan armor design that included flexible segmented rings and panels of leather armor held in place by button-like fasteners. This design beat shows up on her two previous incarnations as well as many of the Retribution of Scyrah model designs that would come years after her first appearance. You can see this beat on Adeptis Rahn under his heavy armored plates, or in various places on the battle mages, mage hunters or storm fall archers. But, new Eiryss isn’t a standard trooper. I’ve always seen her as a bit of a trend setter, and while she’s very much part of the Retribution army now, I want to keep a sense of her individual identity. Where I’ve ended up is a much more organic approach to that segmented armor, treating it now like larger panels that have been created by many pieces joined together as opposed to overlapping. The button-like fasteners still hold everything closed, but I think there’s something much more fluid and beautiful and the lines of the armor. It’s almost got a touch of the art nouveau.

The original Eiryss is fairly utilitarian in her look. With the Angel of Retribution incarnation, she gained a little more style with the decorative wing/feather motif on her cloak. In this new version, I want to push that styling toward a more embellished and personalized look. Though there is much to decide and do with the concept design, things are starting to settle in place.

A lot to get done in a short period of time, so I’m getting back to work on this right away! More to come soon…

(Please feel free to share the link, but please don’t repost the image. Thanks!)

 

Eye of the Tiger time!

Last week, I had the opportunity to help plan what I think is going to be the WARMACHINE event of the summer and if you happen to live anywhere in Southern California, you’re not going to want to miss it. The deets:

July 22, 2012 , 10 am PST
TWO GENERALS
Chris Kluwe vs. Matt Wilson
In the tabletop throw down of the year!

Presented by
MERCENARY MARKET
2263 Fairview Rd. Ste P
Coasta Mesa, CA
(949) 722-8342

So this is how it’s going to go down: players signing up for the event at Mercenary Market will choose (or be assigned) a team — mine or Chris Kluwe’s. The two teams will face off through four rounds of WARMACHINE bouts, each round escalating in point value. As the generals, Chris and I will be able to dynamically allocate benefits during the games. The winner of each game will earn a benefit for his or her general, which Chris and I will be able to use during our own final, winner-takes-all match.

Sounds simple enough, right? Should be a walk in the park for the guy who originally designed WARMACHINE. Hell, I might field an army at random just to keep things interesting, or maybe an army of all Trencher Chain Guns — how about that? I mean, who even has a chance against ME? I AM WARMACHINE! Err…it’s not so simple…

For those of you who don’t know who Chris Kluwe is, he’s one of the most successful punters in the NFL and plays for the Minnesota Vikings. He’s also famous for being an avid gamer. As a gamer, one of his pastimes is miniatures games and by all accounts, his WARMACHINE flavor of choice is Cryx. Okay, neat, but what’s the problem with all this? Hang on, there’s more…

According to Wikipedia, Chris is 6’4″ and 215 lbs. Now, that officially makes him the most physically imposing opponent I’ve ever played against (Sorry, DevilSquid!) but that’s not what has me shaking in my boots. No, in my enthusiasm for this exciting event, I forgot something.

(Drum roll for the dirty-secret confession…)

I don’t know how to play.

(record screech)

Whoa, whoa, whoa, you say! You’re the original designer of the game! How do you not know how to play? Let me qualify that: I don’t know how to play ‘well’. Designing games and playing games are two totally different animals. If I can be so gauche as to use a tangentially relevant sports metaphor, the Coach with his years of experience and study might know exactly how to beat the other team, but he’s not going to go out on the field and throw the winning pass. I know, it’s barely the same thing, but you get the idea. Just because I can design games, and just because I conceived of this thing ten years ago, doesn’t mean I’m any good at it.

I don’t know what Mr. Kluwe’s win-loss record looks like, but I don’t even have one. Well, that’s not entirely true — I have played one recreational game with the MkII rules of WARMACHINE against the game’s current designer and mastermind, Jason Soles. Now, unlike me, Jason possesses incredible courage and never hesitates to wade onto the battlefield to slug it out with anyone who comes at him. And he’s good. Damned good. Jason is a ruthless, cold-blooded killer with laser-like focus who takes sadistic enjoyment not just in winning, but in making you watch while he feasts on your insides. I’m pretty sure Jason was the kid who pulled the wings off of flies just because he could, but somehow that kid grew up into a strategic and tactical genius and one hell of a game designer. If you’ve had the pleasure (or have endured the opportunity) to play against Jason, then you know how tough he can be. At conventions, I like to stop in and see what Jason’s score is, and while he wins the vast majority of his games, I’m always surprised to find out that there are some that he loses. And if Jason can be beat, I have no chance.

In the past two years I became a father, moved states, and finished two short films — oh, and I did a few things for Privateer as well. It hasn’t left a lot of time for playing games, even my own. That one recreational game I got in against Jason two years ago was a blast, but it obviously didn’t go well for me. I  ran a Tier 4 Siege list — The Big Guns — that was more an exercise in how much artillery I could get on the table than anything else. And yes, I maxed out my FA of Trencher Chain Guns. But every figure on that table was painted, I’ll have you know! Even so, each one died a valiant death to Jason’s assaulting Cryxian horde.

I’m having flashbacks to the massacre that was that game. Cygnar vs. Cryx. It’s always been a tough one for me. I love a standup fight, armor against amor. Taking apart Juggernauts and Destroyers at range with a battery of Defenders has always been my strong suite. But tricky armies, and armies with hordes of infantry — those I have a harder time against, even if I did help come up with the rules for those things. I don’t have much intel about what Chris will be fielding or how he plays, but he said he’s bringing Cryx and he mentioned his ‘Banes’. That’s not a lot to go on.

But I’m not giving up! Oh no, it’s Rocky Balboa time! (Cue Eye of the Tiger, please) I’m having my army shipped down from Seattle right now and I’m going to spend the next four weeks tuning it up and training. I need to get some games in, shake the rust off, get my mojo back. I’m going to run up and down some stairs, tattoo ‘Page 5’ on my forehead and get my head back in this game, from a player’s perspective, not a designer’s. I’m not going down without a fight. Who knows, I might have a great team and maybe I’ll get some lucky dice rolls!

Wait a second…Rocky lost, didn’t he.

Shit.

 

 

 

Knowing when to walk away…

Art is never finished, only abandoned.
— Leonardo da Vinci

That quote probably goes through my head a dozen times a day, especially when I’m in the middle of a project. You get bored, you get sick of looking at the thing you’ve been working on for god knows how long, you run out of time, you forget where you left off…there are a multitude of reasons that you might walk away from a piece of art, a film, a story, a song, or whatever creative endeavor has been feeding on your soul like some invisible, soul-sucking vampire that thrives on souls. But there’s another old adage:

You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
— Kenny Rogers

Like many ambitious or wayward young people (take your pick) I entered college almost exactly three months after I graduated high school. I enrolled in a state university with the ambition of becoming an illustrator and ultimately a production designer in the film industry. After two semesters of repeating the same curriculum I’d just had for four years in public school, and having the opportunity to take about one unit of art course for every four units of non-art-related courses, I folded my hand and dropped out. I took my tuition grants and bought a bunch of art books, then buckled down and actually learned to draw. I’m not condemning higher education (I’m married to a doctor, after all), I’m just saying it didn’t work for me. Possibly my expectations were misguided — I really wanted to focus on art. Or possibly, it’s because in the short time I was actually enrolled in college, I didn’t come across one art instructor in those lower division classes that I felt was helping me achieve any of my artistic goals. At the age of 19, I made a very difficult decision to go against everything that had been drilled into me since I entered the public school system and I walked away (ran away, really!) from my extended education with the newly adopted goal of becoming a professional comic book artist! But that’s a story for another day, what I want to tell you about is the one instructor in my life that taught me a single damn thing about art, and it wasn’t how to draw.

His name is Rock Newcomb (couldn’t find a dedicated website for him, so this is the best I could do). He used to teach at Troy High School in Fullerton, California, where I went to school my senior year. Mr. Newcomb (‘the Nuke’ as the kids called him affectionately) is an amazing artist (check out that link) and had a character unlike any other I encountered in fourteen years of schoolin’. He had a way of giving you just the right amount of shit that you were inspired to work harder and be better — if you gave a shit about art, anyway. He didn’t teach it, so much as he facilitated it. He’d give you free range to explore and create but there were always boundaries, and when you hit them, it was like hitting an electric fence. After one year with the Nuke, he didn’t teach me a single worthwhile thing about drawing or painting, but what he taught me was a lesson I’d never forget and I have to say that I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if it hadn’t been for him.

Each semester we had a certain number of pieces to complete and they had to coincide with specific subject matter that Mr. Newcomb had determined would be beneficial to our artistic development. The subjects weren’t necessarily interesting, but I learned that if I positioned a good argument to him, Newcomb would give me the latitude to stretch my creative wings. For instance, we had to do a portrait; he let me paint a human skull that was the centerpiece of a surreal anti-toxic waste campaign poster. We had to do a piece depicting wildlife; he let me paint a dragon inspired by one of Roger Dean’s ASIA covers. There was a give and take to Mr. Newcomb’s approach to teaching, and it encouraged me to solve my artistic challenges creatively. However, the one thing the Nuke wouldn’t let me do was finish a piece of artwork.

Working an hour each day in class doesn’t get you very far very fast, so boredom could set in quickly on the work. After a couple weeks, I’d finish an assignment and I’d turn it in to Mr. Newcomb. He’d look at it for about thirty seconds and he’d offer no constructive criticism. He’d simply say, “You’re about half-way done.” Demoralized, I’d return to work on this piece of art that I had no idea what to do with and I’d just keep working on it wherever it seemed like I could make a little progress. A week later, I’d turn it in and Newcomb would say, “You’re about a third of the way there.” What???

I fumed. “Look, just because my favorite class is Art does’t mean I’m an idiot — I can do the math, and a week ago I was further along than I am now? That doesn’t make any sense!”

He’d just smile. It was a terrible smile that said, I don’t have to explain anything to you because I’m the one in charge here, and then he’d say, “Yep.”

Eventually, after I was completely exhausted, fed up, bored and sick to death with the assignment, he’d accept the final piece and give me an A- on it. But then the next assignment would go exactly the same way. After a while, I got wise to what he was doing. He wasn’t teaching me how to draw or paint, but he was teaching me a valuable lesson. At first, I thought it was patience, but that wasn’t it. He was teaching me how to finish a piece of art.

Mr. da Vinci, in his famous quote, summed up the angst of every artist. It’s so hard to know when you’re done, when to put the brush down, when to write ‘The End’. You’re bored and you’re sick of it, or you’re lost and can’t see the forest for the trees anymore. More often than not, though, what the project needs is just a little bit more, that last ten percent, the final polish that will make it great. Whether it’s a painting, a film, a game design or a piece of dramatic fiction, you can always take it a little further and make it a little better, but it takes an incredible amount of stamina to get there. Eventually, though, you have to finish. You can’t work at something forever, especially if it’s got a commercial application with a deadline. Every project must come to a end, sooner or later. But knowing when to hold on and keep pushing, or when you’re actually finished and when to walk away from it — that’s the art.

And if I ever actually figure out how to do it, I promise to disclose the secret in an entry on this blog!

 

 

Eiryss 3 — Thumbnails

Having gotten a number of large projects off my plate, including a short film called [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7 that you may have heard me rambling about and a life-endangering post-birthday celebration in Las Vegas (which I both thoroughly recommend as well as warn earnestly against), I found myself with a couple spare hours to start contemplating this next incarnation of the infamous WARMACHINE mage-hunter, Eiryss.

It’s been a while since I did any real drawing, so I thought I’d ease into things with some very rough thumbnails of poses and weapon ideas. I did these with an ink pen so as not to get too caught up in details or accuracy. When you draw in ink, you don’t have the luxury of erasing, so the mind stops worrying about making things perfect. It’s essentially doodling. When I have a chance to do exploratory drawing, which is rare, I’ll do it in ink.

Normally, I don’t start with poses. That’s usually the last thing on my mind. I like to start with a solid concept of the garb and trappings (aka the costume) and then find the best pose for it at the end. But because I’m rusty, I thought some pose exploration would help me get back into the character of Eiryss. There were also a lot of comments and suggestions about her pose in the previous blog entry, so I thought it’d be fun to show which ones were  bubbling up to the top in my mind.

Just warming up…

First, let’s get this out of the way — hood down, and bald head (if there was still any question) exposed. However, I am digging the ‘optional hood up’ idea, and I think I’ll try to implement that, but I’m going to compose the image hood down with the expectation of seeing this lady’s full set of tattoos once and for all. The image here, which is the first doodle I did, looks NOTHING like it should — it’s just a warm up — but I included it for fun, showing how I might approach the location of the tattoos we’ll see, which of course will only be seen in the art and on FULLY PAINTED figures (I’m looking at you, non-painters), not on the final sculpt itself.

For the pose, I keyed to several comments about how Eiryss primarily uses her crossbow in action, so I started with an idea to do a dynamic, leader-ish pose with her crossbow aimed and her saber held in her trademark reverse grip(1). I’m looking for a little more presence from this character, though, so my next thought was to get one foot up on something(2). I don’t know what that ‘something’ is, yet, but I like where this going. While I really love the scenic base that the Angel of Retribution is on, I heard a few people bemoan this feature, and I understand why. But I think I can get away with just a little bit of a scenic feature that will allow a more dynamic pose and help separate her from the pack.

About this time, my mind wandered into a different space looking for an entirely different way to approach this figure and this is the one I like the most at the moment (3). I don’t think the scribbles are doing the idea justice, but rolling with the idea of the foot up on ‘something’, I thought putting her in a deep stride, hunched over like a stalking predator might really bring this character home. I have some ideas that I’m going to playing with in her new cloak design, and I’m liking the idea of this extra long cloak (don’t start on functionality, this is fantasy!) dragging on the ground behind her as she slinks over this ‘something’. I want to achieve some symmetry in the way her arms are posed — shoulders back, elbows up, saber in the reverse grip, crossbow…er…<record screech>.

The ramblings of a mad man…

So the crossbow is giving me some issues. It’s not playing real well with my idea for this pose and I’m thinking it’s time for a redesign. Eiryss’ weapons have never been particularly flashy, anyway, but now that she’s hanging more with this apparently well-funded religious cult, I think she could have access to some upgraded weaponry. Problem is, this version has already gone through play test and the crossbow and ‘bayonet’ function the same as her previous incarnations. What’s that mean? I need a ranged weapon that is believable POW 10, and it has to have a blade on it. BUT, it doesn’t have to be a bayonet because she doesn’t actually have BAYONET CHARGE in MkII. That gives me some flexibility!

I noted a few comments about how a pistol crossbow might be cool — my only dilemma there is whether we’ll believe a pistol crossbow could be POW 10, but again I think I could fall back on the superior weaponry Eiryss now has access to. Also, it’s a one-off, so maybe it’s crafted a little better than normal for some extra POW? For the blade, I thought of something more integrated and less protruding, but then I had a thought — how about a reverse blade on a pistol-crossbow, similar to Garryth’s weapons? Now we’re talking. I’m really digging this because then she can wield both blades in a reverse grip, while still holding her crossbow in a useful position. It’ll give me that symmetry I’m looking for in the pose, as well as a cool evolution to her accouterments.

My mind may change, but this is what I’m thinking right now. This is a figure that I think would look bad ass leading my Mage Hunter Strike Team or a unit of these other Retribution bad asses that you’ll be seeing shortly.

Next I’ll start working on the costume and we’ll see how it comes together.

(Please link to the article, but please do not repost or link directly to the images.)

Gray Area

A few weeks ago, I was cleaning out the garage and came across something I had completely forgotten existed. There’s a reason I leave the sculpting to the professionals, but these little guys occupy a soft spot in my heart and I’ve never been able to throw them out. They’re the only miniatures I’ve ever sculpted or ever will. (The astute observer may recognize some pilfered bits from other games…)

When they're this cute, you don't mind the probe so much!

WARMACHINE wasn’t the first miniatures game I ever sat down to design. Almost two decades ago, I booted around a number of game ideas with a wargaming buddy. The one that made it furthest into development couldn’t look more different than WARMACHINE or HORDES. It was hard core sic-fi, deadly, highly complex, and took about five hours to play a game, which we thought was pretty good back then! There was also no world to it — it was purely an exercise in game design. But we each had our own ‘factions’ that we brought to the game, and mine definitely reflected my influences over the years.

It was the mid 90’s. X-Files was the coolest thing on TV, X-Com was my favorite computer game, and crop circles were regular news items. Being a lover of UFO mythology since Leonard Nimoy hosted IN SEARCH OF when I was a kid, I loved anything to do with the idea of extra-terrestrials, and I wanted to be able to play with them in my favorite hobby. A couple weeks and a pound of Sculpy later, I was raiding towns and abducting hapless victims with an elite tactical unit of well-armed alien Grays.

So, it’s almost twenty years later, and what am I doing? Making movies and games about bug-eyed aliens. I guess the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same…

(Don’t worry, I promise never to sculpt anything for Privateer!!! But if you haven’t checked out [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7, please have a look!)

Completion Anxiety

Last night, [WELCOME TO] LEVEL 7, the short film that I have dedicated the last eight months of my life to, was released to the world via the magic of YouTube and the interweb. It was an exciting, exhilarating, and utterly terrifying moment.

I realized when this project was within hours of being completed that the prospect of finishing, the moment that I’d been dreaming about for months, wasn’t coming with any sense of relief. Quite the opposite, in fact. The end of this project was marked with a wave of anxiety and a question I wasn’t ready to answer: What next?

There’s a false sense of security one builds up when immersed in a protracted project with no defined sense of end. When you have your head in one project for so long, it infiltrates your identity, and your existence becomes defined by your daily effort on what can often seem like a task that may never end. And in a way, I think sometimes that’s what the subconscious wants, because the act of finishing the project means detaching yourself from what seems like your very reason for living. You’re severing the umbilical, cutting all ties free, pushing the bird out of the nest. I just can’t seem to figure who the bird is: me, or the project?

Completion of such an all-consuming project would seem like a time to rejoice, to pop the cork on the champagne and toast the project on its merry way. For me, it comes with a strange sense of emptiness. There’s a hole left behind that must be filled with another project immediately, or I start to get a little anxious. This neurotic separation anxiety comes from two aspects of the project’s completion. First, I have more dream projects in my head than one person could complete in a single lifetime. Knowing this, I have to select the next project carefully, for time is a scarce commodity and I’m capable of working on only a few projects at once with any degree of efficiency and competency. Second, there is a gut-wrenching reality one must face when they release a project into the world — judgment.

There is an idea that art no longer belongs to the artist once its offered up for view, it belongs to the audience. To the degree that ‘perception is reality’, I agree with this. If the audience at large perceives that something is great, then it will be successful and great. If the audience at large perceives that something sucks, then it sucks, man. As the old adage goes, numbers don’t lie.

Another phenomenon related to being so completely immersed in a project is that one loses perspective on quality. Where in the beginning, you might have enjoyed a vantage point of objectivity, eventually you can’t see the forest for the trees. The wise man seeks the opinion and feedback of wise people and prays they tell him the truth, and that can help mitigate the blindness that comes with having your head stuck in a project too long. But in the end, all you really have to go on is your planning and the hope that  you have done a decent service to the vision you set out to create.

After 17 or so years of sending art, stories, and games into the world for public scrutiny, I’m fairly familiar with judgment in all its forms. I’ve racked up both great successes as well as great failures. And while I’m in the positive overall, I’ve never released a major project without feeling the butterflies in my stomach. I think that’s why it’s so important to get right on to the next thing — it’s the need to fill that hole with something that will push the damn butterflies out.

So today, this little film goes out into the world, but it’s you who will decide if it has wings or not. I hope you watch it. I hope you like it. If you do, please pass the link on to anyone who you think might be interested.

No matter what, I’m already up to my ears in the next thing; excited, exhilarated, and terrified. Can’t wait to share it with you.

http://level7film.com/

 

 

“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”

Today I turned 40. Thank you for your condolences. But I’m finding it’s not so bad, really. I had a much harder time turning 30.

For me, the transition between 29 and 30 was accompanied by a major reality check. You might be an adult in your 20’s, but it seems you’re not expected to act like one. It’s almost like a free pass to enjoy the most irresponsible time of your life. You party, you take chances, you accumulate stupid debt on futons, lava lamps, and unwise automobile purchases, and that’s what you’re supposed to do. Thirty, though — at thirty, you better have your shit together. You’re way past your college years, way past that time where it’s okay to make mistakes because everyone knows you’ll learn from them, and no one is going to be bailing you out when you blow it anymore, at least they shouldn’t. When I hit 30, I found myself with no higher education to speak of, a pending layoff, and a fledgling company that at that time was actually on the express elevator to financial DOOM! I’d used up all my ‘get out of jail free’ cards, and had no idea what the next year would hold, much less the next five or ten. I remember spending a day soul searching, looking for some sort of road sign to life that would point me in the right direction and guide my way. I never found the sign. There was no bolt out of the blue or grand epiphany. Instead, I just kept doing what felt right in the moment, and everything seemed to work out okay.

I’m waxing nostalgic today — not because of the years behind me, but because I realized today why my birthdays as a kid were such a special time for me. Every year for my birthday, my mom pulled me out of school and took me to the movies, and for me it was the greatest day of the year. As long as there have been big, blockbuster movies, the biggest and the best have come out in May and June, right before school got out for the summer. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, BLADE RUNNER (technically released a few weeks later than my birthday, but I remember seeing the poster when I went to see THE WRATH OF KHAN)  — the best of the best usually dropped within days, if not weeks of my birthday! Somewhere, my brain re-wired to associate my favorite movies with my birthday and I’d look forward to the big event for months. Today, as I’m pining away for the release of Sir Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS, I realize that at 40 years old, 30 years after the release of BLADE RUNNER, very little has changed about me.

I love movies, toys, and games today just as much as I did when I was a kid and I think no amount of years behind me will ever temper that. I eagerly await every new phase in my son’s development, and quite selfishly, so that I can once again shamelessly indulge myself in these things I love (not that I’ve held back much, mind you). The one thing that has changed about me, though, is my perspective. The passage of time doesn’t provide any insight to life, but experience — the mileage — does. Between 30 and 40, I managed to rack up some serious XP. Most people would equate the mileage to the toll living takes on your body, and I’ve got more than my fair share of squeaky parts. But in my mind, I think unlike cars, that mileage has an upside — wisdom.

Some of the best wisdom came from those summer movies:

“Imagine what you will be, and it will be so.”
–Russel Crowe, GLADIATOR

“Goonies never say die!”
— Sean Astin, THE GOONIES

“No. Try not. Do…or do not. There is no try.”
— Yoda (Frank Oz), THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

You don’t have to be a Jedi master to be wise. You just have to learn from your mistakes. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop making mistakes in my 30’s like I thought you were supposed to, but I did keep learning from them. One lesson, looking back, is that I shouldn’t have feared turning 30. In fact, it’s turned out to be the best decade of my life. Worrying about getting old, I’ve realized, is a waste of time. Embrace the mileage. Just keep doing what feels right in the moment, and everything turns out okay.

Now I’m not saying I’m eager to turn 50 — that’s REALLY FREAKING OLD! But right now, 40 feels pretty damn good.

Thanks Mom.