Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Here's some more of what I've been up to lately, between working on my Virtutus Key panels and studying Richard Williams The Animator's Survival Kit. These are pages after pages of quick gesture sketches.
We're talking a minute to two tops and yes, I know they're ugly. The thing is that they help me loosen up and more teach me to try and observe the attitude and action of the model quickly. I find that by practicing these daily (even just for a half hour, or so) they help me when I'm storyboarding. They keep me loose in the initial idea stage and, they give me that all illusive confidence in my ability to try to capture what's in my heart and mind onto the page.

Speaking of the incredible John Nevarez... http://john-nevarez.blogspot.com/ I received both volumes of his Bits & Bits about three days after I ordered them, signed by the artist himself. Of course my soon to be eighteen year old son got to them first and took them to that bottomless pit of his that was once a room. I have affectionately dubbed his quarters The Bermuda Triangle, cause once something goes in there, it seems to mysteriously disappear for years. However, just when I thought I would finally get my hands on my copies of Bits & Bits, my other teenager scarfed them up. But, today I got them back and I can see why those two pesky teens of mine held on to them for so long.
John Nevarez Bits & Bits Volumes I and II are short assortments of sketches about 32 pages each. They're a peek into the creative mind of one heck of a talented animator. Here youl'll find character sketches, a few scene panels and other bits of expermental sketches.
I love looking through other illustrators, especially animators sketch books. Here you get a real glimpse at the thought process that they go through when developing some of their scenes and characters. Its very liberating personally, because the work is free and it melts all notions you have (well, that I've had) that all illos are always perfect the moment you put pencil or pen to paper. The fact is that great illustrations have a lot of prep work...planing on paper...sketching out characters, concepts, scenes in a variety of ways, some preplanned, others experimental and still more just doodling to see the amazing what if.
That's how I work now too. But, it wasn't till I read Don Bluth's book on Storyboarding that I realized it was not only OK to work like this, its down right necessary. After all, a writer wouldn't dream of handing in his first draft, why should an illustrator. Oh and yes, my kids think Mr. Nevarez is awesome too.
I have a few minutes to post and I want to thank Mike at Entertainment Art Academy for his replies to my emails. http://www.entertainmentartacademy.com Mike emailed me about two weeks ago to ask if I was still interested in Storyboard Elements by Sherm Cohen and Design by John Nevarez. "Of course I am!" I replied and gushed on about a few other things like the adoring fan of their school and work that I am. Sorry, Mike.
Last week he sent me an invoice with a direct link so I could purchase said tapes...Yes!!! Not only am I so grateful to Mike, but I'm at the edge of my seat with anticipation for the valuable insights I will learn from these masters...Yes! Yes! Yes! ; D

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

OK, so a few things I've discovered today while reading Richard Williams book The Animator's Survival Kit.

The Animator's Survival Kit: A Manual of Methods, Principles, and Formulas for Classical, Computer, Games, Stop Motion, and Internet Animators

First I think I finally understand the technical meaning of timing and space. Its really very simple now, although that doesn't make me an animator in any way, shape, or form. However, it does help me understand why I try to work out the actions (timing and space) in a sequence of illos for my graphic novels.
I think I have learned more doing my graphic novel shorts (short skits) where I have to tell a short story, or convey an incident in a few panels. For instance, in the Virtutus Key time and space may not seem as immediately important, because at first thought it seems I have a full length book with which to tell the tale. More on this later.
But, for the weekly themes listed on PictureBookies, I try to challenge myself to tell a story, or part of a story in just one page. In essence I think its more accurate to say I try to show a scene, or limited series of sequential scenes on a 8 x 10 sheet of paper.
Why is this so important for me? Well, because it forces me to really try to analyze not only the story that's running around in my heart/mind, but it forces me to do so as efficiently, clearly, emotionally and dynamic as possible. (I'm still working on the dynamic part.)
OK, so back to timing and spacing. While studying Extremes and In-betweens, I realized what's always drawn me to animation (beside the obvious grace, power, and beauty of visual storytelling). Animation helps me understand the importance of panel timing and spacing between scenes and scene changes, as dramatically as possible, yet clearly and gracefully too. Well, at least that's my personal goal.
Too much in-between in a GN (graphic novel) will bore my readers, too little and the story is hard to follow. If the spacing and timing between my scenes is too short from one action(extreme) to the other, the panels become jumpy, chaotic, and the sequence of events seems interrupted.
I think there must be flow between scenes, even where the scenes require fast, dramatic changes. This is where we have what the animators refer to as spacing and timing , extremes, in-betweens and slowing in and slowing out. These spaces...places are very important in the pacing of the story. Example to self. Tender moments, or moments of reflection, seriousness... etcetera on the part of my characters, moment, or event I wish to focus on, where I need to slow the pace down and give the story a breath. This is opposed to say a fighting scene, or a place in the story where I wish to speed the action up..the Extremes.
Note to self. The more in-betweens I have the slower the intervals between scenes, the less In-betweens I have the more accelerated the scene becomes.
Oh, and as far as The Virtutus Key, it is just as important to really analyze each scene in a full length novel as it is in a short skit, other wise there will be places where your story will either drag, be too chaotic, bore, and/or will make little sense to the reader. Yep, timing and spacing, very important stuff.

This is another great educational site I want to keep track of for our homeschooling endeavors. Lots of great lessons, lesson plans and information for personal research.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Sunday, May 20, 2007

I began reading Karyn Mitchell's The Sacred Truth: The Bloodline of Sophia yesterday evening. I got half way before my eyes refused to work any more.

Its very interesting, a mystery of sorts with a spiritual bent. Its not unlike the Celistine Prophecy and The Divincy Code in that it questions established histories of faith. That's all I'm going to say about it, except that I'm off to read the rest even if it takes me all night...I'm hooked.
The Sacred Truth
These are the pencils I did today for Secrets, this week's theme at the PictureBookies Showcase.

I should have started earlier this week, but I've been doing the illos for The Virtutus Key every chance I get. Anyway, you can check out my inks to this piece at Picture Bookies Showcase.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Just taking a short break from my illos and found these two blogs. Oooh, I'm on a roll. ; )

Since I'm on a sort of blog posting kick, here's a few other great ones I plan to revisit. Enjoy!
Just a quicky today, I wanted to share another great blog I recently discovered. This one features animation artist extraordinaire John Navarez. Actually he has several blogs, but the following are my two favorites. All I'm going to say about Mr. Navarez is that once you visit his blogs you'll want to come back and check out what's new again and again.
The only bad thing is that the link he gives to his DVD under Store doesn't take you to a shopping cart. Instead, it redirects you to the Entertainment Art Academy store. Unfortunately this doesn't do you any good either. Its a shame there seems to be no one on the other end of the Entertainment Art Academy store to answer your emails about ordering material. I should know, I've emailed them three times already. Granted these folks are very busy teaching and creating, but gosh all I want to do it order a few DVD's. What's a girl got to do to get their attention?

Anyway, I'm happy to inform that Mr Navarez link to his Bits and Bits work. I can't wait till my copies of Volumes I and II of Bits and Bits arrive. Now if the folks at the Entertainment Art Academy could install some working links to purchase John Navarez DVD's and a few other books and DVD'S...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I love this next graphic novel, it was originally written in 1984, although my copy is a 2005 reprint. Bram Stoker's Dracula by Fernando Fernandez.
Bram Stoker's Dracula
I love the writer's voice in this graphic novel. I love that its a bit meatier than the last two I read. Fernandez's illustrations are dazzling, painterly and haunting. They bring the text and dialog to life, they thrill the senses.
For those who are interested in seeing more of his work, check out the following web site.
The Last Temptation by Neil Gaiman is a semi light read with a look at moral choices, particularly that of a youth named Steven. It is written in three acts beginning with seduction, followed by temptation and redemption. Its semi dark in nature and the antagonist's appearance is reminiscent of Alice Cooper.
Last Temptation
I read the sepia and white version of this book, not the full color version. Michael Zulli's illustrations are refined, detailed and beautifully ghoulish.
Some graphic novels I've read this week.

Rose, by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess.
Rose is a light, entertaining read about two sisters, good verse evil, dreaming and dragons. Rose is the prequel to Smith's popular graphic novel series Bones.
Here's another great book for writers, particularly story weavers.
Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic, by Anne Williams.
Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic
When I first ordered this book I wasn't sure I would like it. However, after spending just a few short, but powerful moments with it, I was hooked. This book explores the soul and motives of many classical characters and in so doing reveals profound insights into the human psyche. Another can't put down, permanent addition to my library.
The next book is quickly becoming another favorite personal textbook of sorts.
Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist, by Chuck Jones.

Chuck Amuck:  The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist
This one is fun, humorous and if you pay attention very educational as well. It takes you through typical days and duties of some of the best talent at Warner's. This is definitely another must have for understanding the heart of traditional animation.
There are a few more books I have been studying along with Disney's Illusion of Life and Beiman's Prepare to Board. I am so grateful for the wisdom and generosity of these authors.
The first one is John Canemaker's Paper Dreams: The Art and Artists of Disney Storyboards. This is a beautiful book with vivid examples of storyboards, their creators and their history. Its a behind the scene look at how they worked and the studio they worked for...very enlightening and educational.
Paper Dreams: The Art And Artists Of Disney Storyboards
I’m going to share some personal observations / revelations on my journey as a visual storyteller today. I’m doing this for several reasons, the most important is probably because I tend to unravel my own mysteries through writing and illustrating. Maybe its stupid, maybe I’m slow, but it’s the way I analyze and retain things of importance to me.

I mentioned a week, or so ago that I’ve been studying Nancy Beiman’s Prepare to Board.
Prepare to Board! Creating Story and Characters for Animation Features and Shorts
In-between studying that gem I picked up another treasure to study as well…Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life.

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation

These two books (Disney's and Beiman's) have answered a lot of questions about how I work and why I work a certain way. More importantly though, they show me that I have been on the right path, even though at times I felt utterly lost.

I’ve discovered the why it has taken me almost two years to write, rewrite and storyboard The Virtutus Key, as opposed to the four months it took me to write Tiani’s story. Here’s what I’ve discovered from Prepare to Board.

Feature animation does not often start with a written script. The germ of the story can be conveyed in a short outline or treatment. The characters and plot twists are then developed visually. Stories can change dramatically when they are boarded. Scripts are not finalized until the later stages of pre-production so that they may incorporate new material created on the storyboard.”

By the way, she gives definition of pre-production as follows…

Animation pre-production is called development for a reason. One definition of development is “the act of improving by expanding or enlarging or refining. “ The story and characters grow and change during pre-production from simple ideas to the complex, structured, visual story.”

What does this mean for me and The Virtutus Key?

First, unlike book II (Tiani’s story) where the entire story came to me while going for a walk , in The Virtutus Key (book I) I had to answer some very important questions before I could even outline the story. These questions eventually took me in so many different directions, that at times I felt quite lost.

In The Virtutus Key I had to develop the Flame myth from its beginning. I had to discover why some of the dragons believed the inhabitants of Diodee were worthy of the Flame, before Tiani‘s birth. I had to create and map the geography of each realm, particularly Diodee. I had to develop the three main races of Diodee and that of the other realms. This included, but was not limited to their social, economic and governing structures, their particular myths and cultural differences. What had begun as a sketchy story was evolving into a conspiracy driven by very determined characters.

I needed to understand these characters as I began to sympathize with, love and even hate them. I was compelled to try to understand their personal quests. This often meant many changes. As they evolved, I endeavored to explore their fears, conflicts, passions, motives. I continued to write and rewrite draft after draft viewing the story from various perspectives. Sometimes I felt certain of their journey, other times I felt as lost and lonely as they did. Each draft brought me closer, or father away from my goal.

I have a tendency to get lost in the hearts of my characters good and evil and if, I’m not careful, I can be influenced deeply, even swallowed up by their personalities, their needs, their personal quests.

So, how do you decide which road to take, which view to assume? This has been one of my hardest lesson. The answer…You keep your eyes on the goal. That’s right. You explore all your possibilities, but like an infant learning to crawl so he can get to the ball at the other end of his room, you stay focused on your character’s destiny. Seems so simple doesn’t it?

In retrospect I can see it clearly now. All that running, crawling and muddling around in their hearts and minds prepared me to view the whole with a deeper understanding. It made my characters real, solid and more memorable to me. Were I to have skipped by them lightly, I might never have discovered their true potential.

One last thought, but it ties in with why The Virtutus Key has taken so agonizingly long to write and board. The answer lies in Disney Animation The Illusion of Life. The entire book is invaluable, but this following quote provided one of those Eureka moments for me.

Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose

“ There are two main approaches to animation. The first is know as Straight Ahead Action because the animator literally works straight ahead from his first drawing in the scene. He simply takes off, doing one drawing after the other, getting new ideas as he goes along, until he reaches the end of the scene. He knows the story point of the scene and the business that is to be included, but he has little plan of how it will all be done at the time he starts. Both the drawings and the action have a fresh, slightly zany look, as the animator keeps the whole process very creative.

The second is called Poses to Pose. Here, the animator plans his action, figures out just which drawings will be needed to animate the business, makes the drawings, relating them to each other in size and action, and gives the scene to his assistant to draw the in-betweens. Such a scene is always easy to follow and works well because the relationships have been carefully considered before the animator gets too far into the drawings. More time is spent improving the key drawings and exercising greater control over the movement.. With Pose to Pose there is clarity and strength. In Straight Ahead Action, there is spontaneity.”

I now realize I wrote and illustrated Tiani’s story primarily in the Straight Ahead Action method, hence the relative quickness with which I completed my first few drafts. Several things are also apparent to me, for one thing the Straight Ahead Action method was almost impossible for me with The Virtutus Key, because I was not as sure of those characters. What’s more I kept shifting between the main characters. Whose point of view was I going to tell and illustrate this story from?

I have been using (without conscious knowing) the Pose to Pose method, plotting and planning and carefully working to piece The Virtutus Key together. A very slow process compare to the Straight Ahead Action method I used on Tiani‘s story. However, having arrived at the point where I understand where The Virtutus Key ends and whose POV it highlights, I can finish my final graphic novel draft utilizing the quickness and clarity of both animation methods.

I have a ton of work in various bulging three inch binders. Work I have compiled these last two years. Only a fraction appears in my final draft of The Virtutus Key. However, without all the sweat and tears of those previous drafts and the seemingly endless character journeys, The Virtutus Key might not have been possible.

Friday, May 04, 2007

One last post about another book I've been reading and absolutely love. The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe.
The Mysteries of Udolpho (Penguin Classics)
This book excites me with its poetic language, its luring mystical landscapes, its sentiment and anguish. This is one of those books that stirs the hidden, treasured depths of one's soul.
Prepare to Board: Creating Story and Characters for Animated Features and Shorts, by Nancy Beiman is the newest of the books I'm studying.
Prepare to Board! Creating Story and Characters for Animation Features and Shorts
By studying I mean reading it from cover to cover, taking notes and writing all my ideas and insights along, between and in every conceivable nook, cranny and margin of my notebook and illos of said notebook. Its how I learn, the hands on approach, by doing and with lots of pictures. They say, "A picture is worth a thousand words" and in my case is more than true. I have never been a lecture only student, give me visuals and let me try my hand at new and old concepts.

Now you may wonder why I'm so interested in storyboarding? Well, cause I think its all part of the visual storytellers journey. I think its all related, stories, graphic novels, cartoons, comic shorts, picture books, movies, anime, gaming and animation. Its like music, or dance, the more you learn, grow and experience the more creative you become and the freer your soul is to express itself.

This is fast becoming one of my favorite storyboarding books by the way, the other is of course Dan Bluth's: The Art of Storyboarding.
Don Bluth's Art Of Storyboard
Both Bruth's and Beiman's books are indispensable, both easy to follow and laden with examples and eye opening insights. I find myself experiencing many "Eureka" moments, while studying these books. That's where the light bulb generally shines above the character in cartoons and understanding ignites them.
Today is one of those wonderful, if few blessed days were I get to stay home and work, read, study and work and study some more... in peace.
Fridays are when I can wake up and sit for a bit, without my mind, or my children nagging me to hurry up with everything I do. There's no erratic sense of jumpiness, as I try to do it all, no feelings of disappointments, because I didn't accomplish every goal I wrote in stone for myself that day. I still do everything I normally do all week...feed and care for 15 assorted birds, dogs, lizards, turtle and cat, and there's still the kids and daily housework, but its on My terms.

On any other day I lug my laden canvas bags of study and work "On the Go". That means sketching and writing on benches in, or outside the skating rink as I wait for my children. It means finding a somewhat shady spot in a nearby parking lot. It means working with a drawing board propped against my steering wheel, while I wait four, or five hours for my teens to visit with their friends. They don't yet drive, and its too far to go back to our house and then come back again to pick them up. Time is creativity and an opportunity for growth and I hate to waste what precious little I may have.
Today I finally read The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

When I first read the inside cover of The Invention of Hugo Cabret I was intrigued. By the time I finished it two hours later I was almost newly born. That's the effect great stories have on me, the ability to touch my heart, open my mind to our human-ness, and set my soul free to wander down hidden and almost forgotten corridors.
To find out more about Hugo Cabret click the following link. http://www.theinventionofhugocabret.com/

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Every so often I come across an illustrator whose work leaves me speechless, an illustrator that were it not for the love of drawing, I would just pick up my tale and run. The truth is it would probably take me many life times before I ever came close to this level of craftsmanship, even in my dreams.

Atula Siriwardane is just such a master. http://www.comicartfans.com/GalleryDetail.asp?GCat=8718
I love Mr. Siriwardane's use of line, the elegance of his illustrations and the humility with which he views himself, but most of all I admire his determination to excel in his craft and his grace in the way he takes and offers critiques. Were I a comic book publisher I would scarf him up before my competitors discovered him.
OK, this is my last one for tonight. My eyes are beginning to close and Hubby could wake up and find me here any moment.
Last week (I think it was last week), I posted a link to Agy Wilson's web site http://www.theflyingparty.com/agywilson/index.html. I also wanted to share a link to some of her lovely greeting cards, so here you go. http://www.birthday-reminders.com/shopping/cardbrowse.asp?artist=131265
Courtney Pippin-Mathur http://www.5elephants.com/ is that kind of fun and quirky illustrator whose work is always a treat. She too is a member of the PictureBookies Showcase
Another one of my all time favorites is Elizabeth O. Dulemba http://dulemba.com/ and she is also a member of the PictureBookies Showcase. Ms. Dulemba also has a wonderful blog http://dulemba.com/blogger.html with great children's books reviews. Oh, I just love her reviews.
Next up is another personal favorite children's illustrator who's work appears on the Picturebookies Showcase. http://picture-bookiesshowcase.blogspot.com/
Dani Jones, http://www.danijones.com/ is one of those illustrators who is blessed not only with talent, but generosity as well. She also has a wonderful and informative blog http://danijonesillustration.blogspot.com/ and a tutorial site http://danidraws.com/ Sure wish my media player was working properly, so I could view those videos. : /
Since I'm already up, (and I apologize in advance for any and all type O's) I'm going to take a few minutes to post a few links to some wonderful children's illustrators, in no particular order. I apologize too, for posting so much all at once, but with my schedule...Well, a girl has to post when and where she can these days.
Ms. Bowles is an incredibly talented illustrator out of the UK. She's a new addition to the PictureBookies Showcase http://picture-bookiesshowcase.blogspot.com/ I just love her illustrations, particularly her uniquely creative digital art.
Its late, but I just can't sleep. Hopefully Hubby doesn't wake up and I don't find myself in the dog house. Around here not being in bed when the King is will cost you points.
No matter, I'm far too excited after reading Ruthie's (that's Ruth McNally Barshaw) new highly illustrated novel Ellie McDoodle Have Pen Will Travel.
I felt like I was spying on Ellie spying on her relatives. I laughed so hard I almost fell off the sofa, when she falls into the Frog Pond. Seeing the children argue and plan is like reliving parts of my childhood.
The conversation between Ellie and Aunt Ug was simple and really hit home. We struggle so much as wives and Moms to be faithful to our visions day by day, because we seem to die a slow and miserable death when we don't dare to live our dreams.
I took away a few insights from this book too, then again I always do when they're good. I especially liked numbers 1, 5 and 9 of the "Things I've Learned" list. And, Scott's Deerskin Pouch on page 57 is filled with meaningful objects we should all keep handy. I think I'll cut out page 78 of Ellie's Tips For Surviving Camp With Relatives You Can't Stand and stuff it in my pocket next time I go visiting family for an extended period.
In short, Ellie McDoodle Have Pen Will Travel is a sensitive, humorous view into an eleven year old's vacation filled with wonder, observation, clarity, mischief and fun.