Making it Real

I’m supposed to be writing a talk, but it’s too early to start on it. I’ve been woken up early (5:00am) and kept awake by ideas swirling around in my head, and a mockingbird’s singing – it is nesting in a tree near the house, and I think I may be doomed to listen to it every night until the Fall…

Tuesday of last week saw me hiding and working on The Project. This time, it involved a bit of stalking. Last year I wrote a story which mostly takes place in a family home, between a brother and sister. I had a very particular shape for the house in my mind. They move from room to room, and spend a bit of time on a patio at the front. This time, I decided to build the entire house and populate it with all that I needed so that I can use it as reference to design the backgrounds for the story. Some weeks before I’d started looking a bit more closely at some houses I’d seen in the area as models. It is almost like the house which existed in my head was out there somewhere in the city, and I just had to find it. Somehow it was intended to be a typical smaller Los Angeles single family home, and if I looked for it, there it would be. I saw a number of houses on my walks that looked suitable enough, and was going to choose one of them and make modifications… and then one day I found it.

I’d been walking past it every day for several weeks, and had not really been in the right mode of thought when doing so, and so had not looked at it in the right way. Also, I’d been distracted by a rather larger and grander (too grand) house almost across the street from it. As soon as I thought about what I’d designed last year, and so rejected the house across the street, I realized that this one was the house I’d been looking for all along. So I took a couple of hurried surreptitious reference photos (while walking past pretending to be fiddling with my phone), and went home and laid out some of the dimensions I’d guessed for it.

I worked up some made up floor plans (based on my story’s needs and my memory of the interior of houses like this that I remember, and then I decided to build it entirely in 3d using google sketchup. That was fun, and useful. I’ve got a lot to do on the project, and so efficiency has been one of the things I’ve been trying to build into my workflow to help me go from story design to finished pages more quickly. Redrawing and resetting every single set of views of a location is fun (I love designing all the perspective from scratch and laying it all out with my t-square, rulers, etc., at my drawing desk) but takes time away from several other important parts of the process, and so being able to lay it all out and build it in the computer once and for all is very useful. I can now walk around inside this house without having to knock on the door of the family home of real people and ask to do so! I can make decisions about staging, framing a view, and location design… and then I can sketch what I want from it, placing my characters in the field of view as I like.

As for the characters, I spent some time there too, trying to get some aspects decided upon. How old are the children and given those ages, how big are they? This led me to googling for child development charts online, learning what the typical height of a boy or girl at various ages would be. Interesting stuff. Then back to the house (the built one) to make measurements, furnish a bit more, place the characters in various sketches, etc. (This also involved wandering around my own house with my tape measure, getting a sense of how big things like sofas, chairs, tables, etc., actually are.) This is where it all gets back to the basics of pencil and paper and drawing, more or less my favorite part in all of this. After laying out the entire page and refining the drawing, I inked it all up using three types of pen, and painted (crucial decisions about colour made) and lettered it all digitally.

Anyway, I took a couple of screen shots for you. They are above. The green fuzzy thing is a thumbnail sketch I did when designing a page in the story last year. The somewhat less fuzzy thing is from a panel of the page I completed this week. There’s something really marvelous about bringing that world that’s in my head into sharper focus so that I (and you) can actually look at it, see it, visit it…almost as though it is real.

-cvj

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