Subject to Reinterpretation

fallen_angelHaving been an illustrator and concept artist for enough years now that I forget how many unless I stop to do the math, I’ve had the opportunity to see my illustrations and concept designs turned into a variety of different objects and expressions beyond the original image. Often this involves one or more additional artists in the process, such as the miniatures I have designed for Privateer Press. But I’ve also had my work turned into a few life-size statues with Wizards of the Coast and Privateer, video game models with WhiteMoon Dreams, more tattoos than I can count, costumes and prosthetics for a couple of my short films, and I even had one painting of a psychotic, roid-raging bunny turned into a puppet for a Magic: the Gathering television commercial (check it out if you haven’t seen it!) many years ago. Some of the coolest expressions of my work that I’ve seen are the cosplay reinterpretations of the characters I have created, and seeing these show up at the conventions I attend is always in immense treat. It’s also why I enjoy the film making and video game production so much. There’s something incredible about seeing a character that started as an image in your head go from some scratches on a piece of paper to a living, breathing being walking around in front of you.

Some time last year, I received an email from a model named Vanessa Alexandra who wished to do a live reinterpretation of a painting I had done for Magic: the Gathering called Fallen Angel (above). Naturally, I responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes please,” but I could hardly have expected the amazing image that would show up a few months later. After six months of preparation and meticulous work in recreating the costume for the character, Vanessa produced a photo shoot and worked with another pair of talented people (photographer Rick Lujan and SFX artist William Price) to create the work of art you see below.

Model: Vanessa Alexandra Photo by Rick Lujan SFX by William Price Makeup and Costume: Vanessa Alexandra

Model: Vanessa Alexandra
Photo by Rick Lujan
SFX by William Price
Makeup and Costume: Vanessa Alexandra

Vanessa’s own character shines through and she has added her own vision to the work, which is part of the great experience of seeing another artist evolve one’s idea. But at the same time, this photo, very much alive in ways that the original image is not, captures all the mood and feeling and character of the painting.

It’s a rare treat to see such an amazing reinterpretation of one of my paintings, and I have to thank Vanessa and her collaborators for the honor and pleasure.

You can find out more about Vanessa through her Facebook page at:
www.facebook.com/therealvanessaalexandra

Vanessa was also kind enough to share a behind-the-scenes shot of her work in progress, showing just how glamorous the life of an artist can be!

The glamorous life of an artist at work!

The glamorous life of an artist at work!

 

 

 

 

Mood Music

Last week, we brought on a new producer to help get some forward movement on this LEVEL 7 feature project I’ve been working on for a while now. The great thing about bringing someone new onto your project is that they bring all of their individual experience and ideas to what you’re doing, which forces you to take a look at the work from a whole new perspective.

One of the sales tools we’re using in presenting the LEVEL 7 project to potential financiers is a two minute trailer cut from the short film we made last year. The new producer thought it might be an interesting experiment to revisit this trailer, not only with some new visual material, but with different music than the score we currently have in it. The score, done by the talented Mr. Deane Ogden, is fantastic, but for the very quick trailer, this producer suggested we try sourced music as a way to hook the viewer and hold the whole thing together thematically. Sourced music is music that already exists and hasn’t been created specifically for your film project. In this case, we’re looking for an existing song that enhances the narrative and emotional content of the trailer’s visuals, and ideally is something familiar enough to the viewer that they have a positive reaction to the work overall.

Pairing music with visuals, whether it’s creating the score from scratch or finding the right song for the scene, is one of my favorite parts of filmmaking. I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, having failed at more attempts to learn instruments than I care to mention. Some would also question my musical taste, which I’ll simply sum up as eclectic. Nonetheless, for me, the right music makes the film, so I was up to this new challenge and immediately began combing my own music library, which currently consists of 5,225 items amounting to 13.9 days worth of listening entertainment, according to my iTunes calculation. (And this doesn’t include older CD’s that I have yet to load on the computer.) When I exhausted the possibilities within my own library, I began searching online. Talk about trying to find a needle in a haystack!

In desperation, I threw out a tweet looking for help in finding that perfect track. I got a lot of great responses with inspiration across the entire spectrum of music and I tracked down and listened to every single suggestion, comparing it to the current cut of the trailer I’m working with. Sadly, I haven’t yet found the perfect song to accompany this piece, but I do have a few contenders while my search continues.

I’ve uploaded a low res version of the trailer with no audio so you can see what I’m trying to match the music to. It’s no easy task. The trailer contains elements of horror, action, and science-fiction. Trying to find a song that communicates all of those different genres in one cohesive piece…well, that’s the reason films are scored! But I’m sure the perfect song is out there somewhere, and I’m determined to find it.

SilentTrailer — Click to View

Note: due to copyright laws, I can’t use a piece of sourced music publicly without obtaining the rights. The presentation of the trailer with the sourced song would only be in private presentations, so I can’t post it here. But I will give you the list of my contenders and if you’re so inclined, you can play them in the background against the trailer to see how they might match up.

I narrowed my list down to four songs that I think created very interesting and very different viewing experiences with the trailer:

My current favorite is Land of Confusion by Disturbed (thanks to everyone who suggested Disturbed, which led me here). This is a high-octane cover of the original Genesis song, which is a favorite from the 80′s. The sound pairs well with the trailer and the intensity builds nicely along with the visuals. There is some very cool thematic overlap between the lyrics and the story playing out in the trailer with this character who wakes up in a place that he knows nothing about, only to be pursued by forces he doesn’t understand. The downside is that the lyrics eventually go to a place where I think the parallel ends, and it sort of loses its relevance.

The next best pick is Dragula by Rob Zombie. This one works for me because of the sound texture and tempo. Thematically, there’s not much relevance, but you can’t really hear the words anyway, so that doesn’t matter too much. On the downside, I think it’s a little dated and a little loud for a presentation. Sometimes the folks we’re talking to are looking a little bleary-eyed from living the Hollywood lifestyle, and hitting them with Rob Zombie before they’ve had their third round of Advil and coffee might not be the best sales approach.

On a lark, and to try something different, I tried E.T. by Katy Perry (with Kanye West). Before you judge me, this one was NOT in my music library before this project started. However, I started searching iTunes with terms like ‘alien’ and ‘space invader’ and eventually stumbled across this bizarre song, and I was surprisingly amused by how it worked. But I think it becomes too much of a joke to be effective. ‘Playing against type’ is the term used when music is paired with visuals that don’t match thematically, such as a big bloody shoot out set to Jingle Bells. While the subject matter of the song and trailer possess some entertaining overlap, the genre of music seems to go against type in the case of E.T.

Speaking of playing against type, there was one more song that I tried, almost by accident, and this one was in my library already; Delilah by Tom Jones. There is absolutely no reason to pair this song with the trailer, but there is an suspenseful sort of intensity to the way Delilah starts that seemed oddly appropriate when I played it next to the trailer. It’s absolutely wrong for the presentation, but it’s a hoot to watch.

There’s about five seconds of black at the front of the trailer. If you do decide to watch it against any of those songs, wait until you’re a few seconds in and then cue the track.

For now, the search goes on. Now that you’ve had a chance to see what I’m trying to put music to and you know what I’ve been listening to, I’d love to hear any new suggestions!

 

 

 

 

Bag Full O’ Cats

cute black cat in a red bag isolatedLast Friday, the away team at this year’s Temple Con in Rhode Island delivered the 2013 Privateer Press Keynote presentation, disclosing many of the projects we’ve been working on for the past year and what the coming months hold in store for players of Privateer’s games. Only a couple weeks before that, we also announced upcoming plans for the Privateer Press Digital e-reader ap as well as the very exciting new Skull Island eXpeditions fiction imprint that will be exploring the world of the Iron Kingdoms through multiple lines of all new, original fiction from some of the most talented authors around. While there is much more to tell about each of these different projects, the opportunity to finally expose our efforts to the world has come with a great deal of personal relief as I’m now finally free to break my silence…or more importantly, I now have something to talk about.

When I launched this blog last year, we were well into production of several new projects. I had a film project in progress and games we were hoping to bring attention to. For a time, I had more than enough material to ramble on about, and I think some of it was even interesting. But as the summer came to a close and we went dark on new developments, I suddenly found myself with very little I could converse about publicly. As well, I didn’t seem to have a spare moment to talk about any of it even if I could. MattWilsonPrime came to a screeching halt and over the past few months has accumulated dust and cobwebs, a situation that I’m hoping to remedy, starting now.

While I do love a good reveal, I don’t much like keeping secrets. It’s a burden. I’d much rather be able to share openly what I’m working on as well as all of the cool developments at Privateer as they happen, and they happen daily! There are important reasons for holding back info, though. Competition is one of them, but it’s probably the least of my considerations as much of what we’re doing can only be done by us. No one else is going to add a new faction for WARMACHINE, for instance. But chief among our reasons for being a bit coy is simply managing expectations. If we’re going to announce a new faction or a new game, we like to have something to show for it. Giving insufficient information could lead people to the wrong conclusions or leave them underwhelmed, and we always strive to overwhelm, if there’s going to be any whelming at all. (Did you know ‘whelming’ is a word? I fully expected the autocorrect to change that one on me!)

The Privateer Press Keynote largely took the form of a series of videos produced by Privateer’s amazing Tony Konichek and the company’s marketing team. If you had a chance to see them all, I’d be amazed to find out that there wasn’t at least something that you found exciting, even if it wasn’t what you were personally hoping for before the event. But for my part, I’m truly thrilled about all of the new developments we’ve got going on and can’t wait to see them produced and released into the world. I really believe Privateer has the hardest working and most motivated crew of people in the game industry and what makes them so is the pride and passion they put into these projects. They/we love what we’re doing and we love to please the people who play our games and engage in our worlds. We can’t possibly please everyone all of the time, but my hope is always that if we continue to make enough people happy, they’ll keep granting us the opportunity to continue doing more.

I could do a separate blog on every one of the new projects, but I’ll hit the highlights here:

Among the most exciting announcements was the new Convergence of Cyriss faction for WARMACHINE. This is something we’ve been wanting to do for years, but because we’re so involved with the ongoing saga of the Iron Kingdoms setting, it had to appear at the right time. We spent nearly two years developing this faction, coming up with an exciting new mechanic that would make them original and developing the visuals that hadn’t really been explored since our original RPG offering in the Witchfire Trilogy. We’ve only shown the tip of the iceberg with what this faction has to offer and I think that as it unfolds the faction will only become more exciting. I’m personally so thrilled about it that I’m ready to start a whole new army and can’t wait to get my hands on the models to start painting them. Diving into what makes this clockwork faction tick has been an amazing experience and has probably resulted in the single most realized and cohesive faction we’ve ever created. It adds a new dimension to the world and will engage players both on the tabletop as well as in the fiction that supports it. Part of having a world that is so rich and deep is that we have what seems like an endless well of material to explore and this one has been anticipated by us as well as many Iron Kingdoms enthusiasts for over a decade. Cyriss as last!

We also have had several new game announcements recently. HIGH COMMAND the new deck building game for WARMACHINE and HORDES, will give players an all new way to experience the battles in the Iron Kingdoms on a macro level. It also offers an opportunity for people who don’t have the time or inclination to glue their fingers together to engage the world we’ve created. I expect this will become the game that people play as they’re waiting for their gaming group to show up or for tournaments to start. It captures all the flavor of the dynamic battles of WARMACHINE and HORDES in a fast, intense, card game experience while showcasing the vast library of artwork we’ve accumulated through ten years of development.

LEVEL 7 continues to occupy a great deal of my time, as well. I spent much of the last few months working closely with Privateer’s director of business, Will Shick, to create the fiction for a LEVEL 7 [ESCAPE] expansion as well as the all new tactical combat board game, LEVEL 7 [OMEGA PROTOCOL]. Both games reveal new information about the insidious agenda of Subterra Bravo and allow players to explore the nightmares within its twisted halls. And with [OMEGA PROTOCOL], we get the chance to fight back — with miniatures! Taking the next steps with the LEVEL 7 franchise is personally very fulfilling, as we’re following a plan outlined several years ago. If running for your life from aliens and genetically engineered monstrosities wasn’t quite your thing, maybe filling them full of lead will be. But if all of that seems too oppressive, there’s some lighter fare in store as well…

BODGERMANIA is a hoot. It’s fast, raucous, a little irreverent, and brings that crazy cast of maniacal goobers back as pro-wrestlers, with all of the bling and bawdiness associated with this performance sport. I had very little to do with the development of this game, which makes me look forward to it all the more as a player. When it was pitched by DC and the dev team at Privateer, it got an instant green light from me. They took the bodgers in a wholly new and unexpected direction and even playing with a mockup deck of cards, I couldn’t stop laughing through the demos.

The single biggest consumer of my time since August has been preparing for the launch of Skull Island eXpeditions. For years, we at Privateer as well as two or three players in the audience have dreamed of exploring the world of the Iron Kingdoms through long-form fiction. This year, we’re not only going to see a line of novels from Pyr Publishing, but thanks to the prolificness of the portable tablet and the rise of e-publishing, we have the opportunity to make that dream a reality by delivering boat loads of stories set in the Iron Kingdoms. Skull Island X (as our friends call it) has been gearing up for an aggressive publishing schedule that will release monthly offerings of novels and novellas that delve into the characters and events of WARMACHINE, HORDES, and the Iron Kingdoms at large. We’re pulling back the curtain on the shrouded pasts of some of the settings most compelling warcasters and warlocks. We’re following famous adventuring personalities on their never told exploits across the continent of Immoren. And we’ll be seeing the introduction of all new characters that will show us a view of the battlefield we’ve barely touched upon in the fiction we’ve been able to do in the game so far. On top of all that, the first full-length novel from Skull Island X will take us deep into enemy territory as it unravels the mysterious agenda of the Iron Kingdoms’ newest threat to humanity, the Convergence of Cyriss. For months, I’ve worked what has become as second job along side Director of Publishing, Scott Taylor, to shape the content that Skull Island’s amazing lineup of talented authors is preparing to unleash on anyone awaiting a good yarn in this world of steam and sorcery. I plugged one of the stories a while back, The Way of Caine, that we’ll be seeing in a few months, and there are so many exciting titles to follow. But in addition to the great stories, we’ve been procuring dozens of new illustrations. Electronic publishing gives us limitless possibilities for the inclusion of maps and full color artwork, and we’re making the most of it in an effort to realize every nook and cranny of the world as vividly as possible.

In my copious spare time, I’ve actually started developing a new film project as well. It took months of deliberation to nail down what I wanted to tackle next, but I think I’ve settled on a direction. As I hope to do this completely independently, it will likely take years to complete, so I’m doing my best to absolve myself of the stress of a schedule and instead am going to just take whatever time is necessary to make it happen. As I get further along in the development process, I’ll start sharing some of the journey here so you can live vicariously through my self-inflicted pain and suffering.

I wouldn’t say that covers everything I’ve got my hands in right now, and there are surely questions about things I haven’t mentioned, but these are the the things that I can talk about now and I think it’ll give me enough to stay busy on this blog for a while. More than anything, it just feels good to finally let the cat — or in this case a whole herd of cats — out of the bag!

 

 

The Fishy Business of Show Business

I don’t even like fish.

If I’ve learned anything from playing Hollywood these past few years, it’s that the more projects you can launch out of the gate, the greater your chances that one will actually cross the finish line, but almost certainly most of them won’t. (Actually, I’ve learned a few other lessons about show business as well, but those all lead to a great deal of curse-filled ranting that I think may not be appropriate for general consumption.) Specifically, I’m referring to those projects that are not entirely within one’s grasp to get done without the assistance of those rare few entities possessing the kind of money to get great looking images up on the screen. My past short film projects were self-financed and done for very little, but the objective, of course, is to do larger and more commercial work, and for that, I need someone to write a bigger check than I can write myself.

It’s a little like playing roulette and trying to cover as many different spaces on the board as possible so your odds of hitting anything are maximized. If you’ll indulge a somewhat lengthier analogy, though, I think it’s a lot more like fishing in a lake. Fishing is all about being in the right place at the right time with the right bait. If you’re fishing with just one rod, then you’ve got a single line in the water and just one chance to catch a fish. So if you want to increase your chances of a catch, you need more lines in the water. Only, it won’t do to drop them all in the same fishing hole because you really don’t know if there are any fish in that spot or not, so you have to spread them out all around the lake, hoping that the fish are going to be gathering in at least one of those places and that they’re going to be interested in what you’ve wrapped around your hook. (Hang on, we’re not done yet, this one keeps going for bit.)

Now this is where it gets really tricky. Fishing isn’t all about throwing your line out there and hoping a fish jumps on the end of it. You’ve got to coax those fish a bit, give a little tug on the line from time to time to try and get their attention. Sometimes you’ve got to reel it in all the way and recast the line, adjusting the position or hoping you land closer to the fish this time. While you’re babysitting this one line, though, all your other poles are going unattended. If you get a nibble on a line, you need to be there to give it a tug and try and set that hook or the fish is going to move on. So while you increase your odds of catching a fish with all those lines you’ve put in the water, you also end up running all up and down the shore line managing them each time you see the end of the rod twitch. It’s exhausting to say the least.

Now I could keep running with this whole fishing analogy, drawing comparisons to getting your hook stuck, having a snarl in your line, the frustration with the one that got away, or the abject disappointment of reeling in a bottom-feeding trash fish that wasted your bait, wasted your time, and delivers nothing suitable to the table. But I think by now you get the idea.

I believe this analogy could be applied to just about any sort of creative pursuit in which one depends on a publisher, financier, producing label, or similar entity in order to accomplish a goal larger than your available resources. But how does one keep sane in this kind of maddening situation? Well, maybe this is where the analogy breaks down because I think a lot of people who regularly fish would say they do so because they enjoy the act of fishing, not because they want to eat the fish. But assuming that your primary purpose for fishing is to serve up a tasty filet to a room full of assembled guests, it’s a good idea to know where you can just buy a fish when you need it. In other words, you’ve got make sure you’re not always relying on someone else to be able to satisfy your objective; you’ve got to have a project that is wholly in your control to be able to create, execute and present without the need for that other entity to write a check.

And that’s where I’m at right now: a dozen lines in the water, running back and forth managing the rods and reels, hoping to be in the right place at the right time with the right bait and to get a solid enough nibble I can set the hook.  But in the meantime, I need to be doing something that I can get done with my own available resources. For that, I’ve got a few ideas that I’ve narrowed down to, and I’ll bounce those off you in the next week or two.

Until then, happy fishing!

 

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!

 

 

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/

 

 

The Suggestion Box

Maintaining a blog, I’ve found, isn’t easy. It’s kind of become a fourth job. The hard part isn’t the writing. I crank out pages of emails, stories, and outlines every day. For me, the difficult part is in coming up with that next idea that will make an interesting article. Some articles, like the Eiryss concept discussion, write themselves. Others are more timely and in the moment, springing from some fit of inspiration to become words and pictures on the page. But whether it’s focused content with wide appeal or the muddled musings of a mad man, I find it a bit of a trick to get out in front of my self-imposed publishing schedule.

Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board, 1942. Public Domain Image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve had great success harvesting loads of responses from the new Eiryss design and WARMACHINE VS. Iron Kingdoms movie topics. Today, I’m looking for suggestions and questions on topics that would make content on this blog interesting to you. Broadly, my area of expertise is ‘creativity’, but I dual-wield writing and illustration, and I specialize in game design. I’m multi-classing as a writer-artist-filmmaker-game designer-businessman so I can cover a lot of topics that relate to the production side of genre-based media. I frequently get emails from college students working on papers or aspiring artists and game designers looking for tips or advice on how to pursue a career path, and I may start adapting these to blog entries as well, but I’d like to find out what interests the people who have eyes on this site — beyond just sneak peaks of new miniatures when I have something to leak!

So, be general or be specific and post your ideas in the comments section. If someone posts an idea you really like, give it an extra ‘Here here!’ and I’ll know that’s something I should give extra consideration to. I’ll use your suggestions and ideas to generate delicious content for future blog entries that will hopefully build this site into a resource for anyone interested in ‘creativity’.

The Office for Emergency Management thanks you for your support.

“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.