Megatron the Stinkbutt: A Digital Story

I have finally finished the digital comic that I had set out to do nearly 12 weeks ago. The following is the reflection on the process, and this post also functions as my masterpost for where everything is, for easier submission. Jenny and James, when you start reading this, please click on the prompted links below to be taken to the final products. You have a choice between two platforms, but please look at both!

Megatron the Stinkbutt on Tumblr

Megatron the Stinkbutt on Medium

As mentioned previously, I had been debating on whether to publish the comics on Tumblr, or on Medium. Then, as the wise Old El Paso said…’por que no los dos’? I was hoisted upon the shoulders of my ambitions, and I proceeded to publish on both platforms.

Platform

In my ‘Hosting Issues’ post, I talked about how Tumblr has ‘built in’ gutters, but Medium didn’t. To combat this, I had to separately upload differently edited products onto Medium in order to get the same feeling. I created one comic with gutter, and one without: ultimately I prefer the one without the gutter, for even though it doesn’t look like a traditional comic, it went well with the aesthetics of the rest of the comic, which also didn’t match traditional comic style.

Drafting

Speaking of which: I tried a rough cut of my project a few weeks ago, to which I received the feedback: Do you want your audience to know immediately that it was an edited photograph?

This was a major point of concern for me, for it was the reason that I chose to take on the project in photo form, rather than draw it. Yes, I do want the audience to know that it was a photo, because the focal point, apart from the story, is also Meg’s appearance. But I do not want it to simply BE a photo – that would look a little boring.

In the end, I opted to edit the photos with high contrast, then use a filter Poster Edges to further posterise the colors. That way, the image has a cartoon feel, without losing the aspects of the subject. Then, taking on board some advice from Jenny, I overlayed the photo with a gradient filter, creating a (dare I say) CSI Miami look.

Collaboration

I must say, working with myself has been a joy. Even though I did not hit the target dates that I strictly told myself to keep, we still came through in the end.

That was a joke – the reflection criteria mentioned collaboration for group projects, but I went solo.

I will talk about working with animals, though. I haven’t worked with a professionally trained dog before, I have worked with unprofessionally trained humans, and now that I’ve worked with an unprofessionally trained dog, I have to say: the dog is still better than people.

When it’s the dog, every mistake; every bad photo; every useless material, it’s all my fault. There is no ‘but’, the bottom line stops very quickly with me. With humans, you can always blame a lack of cooperation or communication, but with a dog, it’s literally “I didn’t plan, and now I stuffed up”. This was the case with my first photoshoot, where I didn’t bring an auto-focus lens. Meg was fantastic, she grinned, she panted, she sat, she begged – I just didn’t catch any of that in focus, because I stuffed up. So, when it was time for the 2nd photoshoot, I made sure I had every setting just right, before I even pointed the camera at the subject. As a result, the photos were much better. Plus, I learned a lesson in taking responsibility when things go awry.

Social Media

I used Tumblr and Medium for the reasons I listed in “Hosting Issues”, but my plan was to also let people know about the project through other means. I shared a Medium post onto my Twitter:

And I also shared the Tumblr posts and Medium posts to my Facebook, where the largest portion of my most likely first readers will be. (My Facebook is set on private, so there’s not much point in my linking here, but you can extrapolate from my Tweet what it would have looked and sounded like.)

I also tagged the projects on Tumblr with popular and relevant tags, such as #cute #puppy #digital comics etc. However, I believe that my active linking on social network brings more traffic than the hashtags.

Critical reflection

I feel that the end products were a mix bag of success and mediocre. The one of Meg in nature was my favorite – the dialogue was on point, and the images were engaging to look at. My least favorite was perhaps the bath-time comic, which went well in planning, but was executed poorly in terms of the lighting in the original photos. Finally, there was the issue with the online dating comic, where the 2nd image appears warped on Tumblr, but when clicked on loads perfectly. I could not fix the issue.

The most important part of the comics relied on my writing – there were times when the writing were not punchy, but as stated before, the nature comic was strong, and I felt that the treats comic had a good premise.

I’m glad that this project is finished – and I feel that some of the ideas and skills I learned in this can be used in future, similar premises. I will never stop loving and wanting to show people photos of Meg, so I will always have material!

Alex.

Hosting Issues

A project goes through many iterations when execution, and my CMWP comic idea has morphed to something else. Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of Meg for you to see. However, instead of a big comic book (such as a 20-ish page issue that I was originally planning), I’ve changed it to be several, shorter ‘strips’, of 4-8 panels each, with each ‘strip’ taking up 1-page, or double-page. That also means I’ll be writing several, shorter stories on Meg, which is great, because I can explore that curiously silly dog a lot more.

Another reason for my doing so, is due to considerations in distribution: namely, how I’m going to disseminate the final products on the Internet.

TUMBLR:

My first, obvious choice, was Tumblr. Apart from being a network already sprawling with an audience – younger people who love animals, and are savvy to the style of story-telling, while not too young to not get the medium of comic itself –  who’d most likely be the best recipients of the project, Tumblr also provides an interesting format of consumption in terms of images.

Furthermore, Tumblr offers an unique form of image display: Photoset. As you can see, the photoset layout has given me an automatic comic gutter, meaning I can feasibly simply create the panels, size them appropriately to the dimensions of each photoset panel as required, and upload them. It cuts out the need for me to make a template with gutters for my comic.

Image taken from cynicalidealist on Tumblr.

The photoset layout also means each individual image can be viewed separately, which is an interesting workabout to achieve the panel-by-panel view that would stop large comics being unreadable on small portable devices.

MEDIUM:

The other choice for me, was Medium. WordPress was never really a choice, however I am exploring the possibilities of hosting comics on WordPress.

Medium offers a very simple model of creating and reading. There is no fiddling with various themes and HTML – it s your page, and your feed. You tag your work, you submit it to a collection of similar topics, and others read it and/or share it. This appeals to me, because the one shortcoming of Tumblr is this: Themes. While most of the audience will consume the comic via the Dashboard – a completely differently themed layout, much like a Facebook news feed – the fact is, any external audience who follows a permalink will be coming to the page that sits within my actual blog – my themed blog. Therefore, the way that my blog theme displays the work is paramount when it comes to a medium as important as comics.

Medium will cut all of that hassle out for me.

This is a web comic on Medium – unfortunately you’d have to click on the hyperlink, because I can’t in good conscience steal the Frogman’s comic and put it on here!

The simple layout means that I do lose the natural gutters of the Tumblr photoset, but instead I get a fantastic, fluid reading experience, uncluttered by anything else except for my username and comic title up the very top, and a recommended further section at the bottom.

COMPARISON:

The two sites bring me to this consideration:

Gutters.

I am incredibly interested in gutters (the white spaces between panels) in comics, because that’s what separates a COMIC from a SERIES OF IMAGES, at least for me. Looking at a lot of print comics post 90s, however, it’s obvious that the actual white strip itself is not paramount in defining a comic as such – but a relationship between panels is.

Tumblr would give me this in ample readiness – it’s there, and all I have to do is to make sure my panels will sit in each spot perfectly.

Medum, on the other hand, gives me the freedom of simplicity – I can always manually create gutters for each strip on my computer, OR I can create a comic that doesn’t require gutters at all.

This is something which I can only really decide on after experimenting on both mediums (ha). Furthermore, I do want to look at what WordPress can offer me in terms of image hosting.

Issues to consider for further along: viewing on portable devices.

There is no App for Medium, however the streamlined reading style seen on browsers carries over beautifully on mobile browsers. Having said that, it doesn’t let you select and zoom in on each individual ‘panel’ when on mobile.

The App for Tumblr, on the other hand, is temperamental at best, especially with displaying images in Dashboard. The actual blog page itself (ie, my themed blog), is accessed through the browser anyway, and depending on the theme I choose, it could either take me to a full-HTML website (completely unreadable on a mobile device), or a vertical, mobile version, which is still extremely cluttered with buttons and links that are separate to the theme of the blog.

Right now, I’m definitely leaning towards Medium more. With more exploration and testing, I’m sure that I’ll find an answer soon.

Alex.

P.S. I started using sub headings!

The Thief – Single Shot Video Assignment

The single shot video task required a minute-long unedited sequence depicting a 3-line story. Bobker asserts that “in a single scene uninterrupted by cuts, the character of the image can be changed by simply moving the camera in, our, and around the players”, meaning the focus should be on the composition and utilization of the frame and camera to tell the story (Bobker, 60).

Having never used a camera before, this was an opportunity to get hands on experience. As a result, I had to learn to operate the basic steady camera movement, since natural movement of frame can “change the character of the image” (58), but to move it unevenly draws attention away from the action and towards the act of the spectacle itself. This was my central concern upon the beginning of filming.

The 3-line plot, centering on the theme “success”, was shown thus: A girl stops to take a phone-call, and leaves her bag open. A thief comes along and pickpockets a wallet. He walks past her and around a corner, successfully having stolen the wallet.

We chose to follow the thief around a corner, because it creates a sense of depth in the video. Since the clip takes place against a giant wall, there is a flatness to the image. By allowing a character to move from afar to near, and creating an illusion of a z-axis, the audience is drawn into the depth of the frame (59). Furthermore, we chose to end on a low-angle shot, in order to frame the successful thief as being powerful. The changing angles – from straight on to low angle – also creates a sense of height within the frame.

We also opted to first focus on the girl, then move slowly back to reveal the thief – who was seen in the background earlier. In this way, the camera movement and frame acts as a character in itself – ie, the vehicle of the audience’s gaze – and also allows us to tell the story through visual alone. By tracking slowly across a blank wall, and finally revealing the thief’s face, it allows the audience to know exactly what is happening, and create a sense of tension, without needing audio. We also focus on an outstretched hand about to pickpocket – centered in the frame, and moving slowly – because it also creates tension.

The tension is furthered by showing both the thief and the girl within frame after the theft. As the thief moves along the z-axis, the frame moves to show both characters while focusing on the thief. This also softens the flat 2D feel of the earlier wall-tracking.

I am proud of the camera movements when tracking along the wall to reveal the thief, then the follow of his outstretched hand, because I feel this portion especially drew the audience into the gaze. However, the flat 2D wall-tracking was tacky, and did not make good use of spatial techniques.

Reference:

Bobker, Lee R. “Composition.” Elements of Film. New York: Harcourt Brace Jonavich, 1974. 55-61. Print.

Testing, Testing, I’m Just Suggesting

[Haven’t Had Enough – Mariana’s Trench]

Even though this blog post is going to be about my CMWP class and tagged as such, it’s not up for assessment, so I wasn’t too fussed about using a song lyric for the title.

For the final digital project, I’ve decided to produce a small comic book – depending on how my scripting and production go, it should be no more than three regular-sized comic pages – based on…you guessed it…Meg! But because of the medium and form that I’ve chosen, I needed to start experimenting early with the technical requirements. One of the biggest asks was for me to re-acquaint myself with Photoshop, and even more importantly for me to learn the basic processes of using Illustrator for creating comics.

So, last night, I made up these two art tests:

Art test 1: no grain

Art test 2: with grain

I wasn’t very happy with the look of the overall image, so I Googled around for more techniques, especially to do with Illustrator. So, this morning, I achieved this:

Art test 3: better balloons

If you click on the links highlighted with “last night” and “this morning”, you’ll see some thoughts I had while creating these.

Obviously, my next step is to do a mock run for the entire project. I plan to script a short, 4-panel strip, storyboard it, then get that dumb little adorable mutt and (photo)shoot her, and producing the final product. It should serve as a trial run to find the kinks in my planning, as well as knowing how to deal with Meg when I need to do a much bigger shoot.

For those curious, I watched Scott McCloud’s Illustrator tutorial on how to do the dialogue boxes, which helped a lot. I also used a variety of blogs and sites which gave instructions on how to create a cartoon style using Photoshop.

Awesome sauce, now I think I have Carpal Tunnel.

Alex.

Hurry Annie!

So, having had 3 hours sleep, I met up with Mela at the Glen right after I wrote that previous post. We took the train up, and realized that we were both exhausted and a bit too hot – the day was shaping up to be a lot warmer than forecast.

We got to Melbourne Central and agreed on some ice-cold shots of caffeine. I got a Double Beef’n’Cheese so I wouldn’t be consuming caffeine on an empty stomach, and Mela gave me that exasperated “Aleeeeex” because I eat unhealthy.

I had the Voltage thing at Gloria Jeans, which sounded nice but they had little bits of I-don’t-even-know black things and they stuck to my teeth. And it tasted horrible.

Mela got me a matching teddy bear to the one I got her, and so Mela-bear is now sitting snugly in my bed waiting for me to join it tonight. We took many photos with Mela-bear with Mela-person’s new Nikon camera, but she hasn’t uploaded them yet.

We went into the uni for me to print off my essays and hand them in. 19 pages of blood, sweat and tears sat in my hand as I grouped them with their respective cover sheets and slipped them into the essay submission slot. It wasn’t until much later in the day that I realized I never signed the area of declaration against plagiarism.

We went to 7/11 for our free slurpee, and then went back to Melbourne Central for a bit of sitting down before lunch, because it was uncomfortably hot and I was suffering in my new, stiff skinny jeans. The “a bit of sitting down” turned into nearly an hour of the two of us sitting on those bamboo couches and generally being annoying. Or, at least, I was, because I was very tired and I felt like being a bitch. Mela put up with it nicely, patiently waiting for me to make my mind up what to eat. We were so tired and lazy that, sitting pretty much 5 steps away from the nearest food vendor, we called up Annie, Clare, Jen and Julia in case one of them would be in the city to buy our lunch for us.

In the end we went to QV to eat. Halfway through, Annie texted saying that she was still at Bentleigh. This was at past 3, and with under an hour until the deadline, we were getting worried. So Mela-person and I ate our food quickly and hurried down to the uni to meet Jen, Anna and Josh, and together we filled out Annie’s cover sheets ahead of time so that when she arrived all she had to do was staple them together and hand it in.

We sat there for over half an hour in stress waiting for Annie, whose train decided to stop running. As more and more people piled in, and the clock hand crept towards the 12 (with the little hand at the 4 and stuff), we got extremely worried.

Finally, at 5 past 4, with people still lining up so it seemed that Annie has escaped late submission, the girl rushes into the room. We greet her with showers of bulldog clips, staplers and papers, and quickly threw her essays into the submission box. And, with that flourish of barely concealed dread, Annie’s 2nd year of university was over.

We started heading to Passionflower, but as we were leaving the campus I realized for the first time that my phone wasn’t in my pocket – a curious event, considering how large the phone is compared to how tight my jeans are. Josh found it in the library, after a blessed soul handed it in without stealing it. We went to Passionflower – but not after getting our 2nd free Slurpee – but Mela and I had to leave earlier because we’d been out way too late the night before.

And now I will finish my final Writing for Screen assessment, and be free like a candy wrapper caught in the up-drought.

Alex.

So let mercy come

[What I’ve Done – Linkin Park]

Today, Annie and Jen did their presentation for Understanding Australian Media, and since their topic was advertising, their group activity was to get everyone to design a billboard ad for a made up brand of chocolate called Ganache, and two groups had to make it super sexual and stereotypical, while the other two had to be innovative and family friendly.

I was in the super sexual group – yerp – and I was with Mai, Brian and Lisa, all of whom I’ve known for longer than this semester, at the least. We weren’t sure of what to do, so ultimately we drew something along the lines of cream being slathered onto these two little pieces of chocolate that looked like the heaving bosoms of a young maiden.

It was quite awkward to draw, especially when I was drawing the cream being poured, and Brian was sitting next to me hissing “yeah draw it, draw it good” to weird me out.

Anyway, unnoticed to us, we’d actually managed to draw something else even more crude. Let’s just say that the picture was structured to have two spherical shapes down the bottom, and in between these spherical shapes stood a longer looking shape.

I don’t think our chocolate would sell.

Ganache – let it come all over you: Mai and I co-wrote this slogan.

Alex.

Where did all your love go?

[Is Anybody Out There? – Maroon 5]

So starts my bid to write in here everyday, or as frequently as I possibly can.

Today, I noticed how passive-aggressive is a lot more hurtful and spiteful than massive-aggressive. In my Asian PR tute today, for some reason people seemed to want talk over me all the time. It was one of those I wait for a pause in conversation, and try to cut in, but the moment I do so someone else talks over me, so I look at them and I do that semi-wave thing like, “oh do go on” but they keep talking instead of the usual “I’m sorry you started talking first” BECAUSE I DID.

Anyway, it got to the point where Annie had to say out loud, “wow you’ll never get to speak today will you” and the teacher actually had to point at me before I could get a word in edgewise.

In other news, today was the first day in almost 3 weeks where I woke up during single digits, and didn’t have coffee, as per an agreement with Cindy (a name which I know is new here, but a friendship whose genesis I am way too embarrassed to write about. Let’s say I met her at a party, and, incidentally, I was drunk). She broke the agreement, I didn’t. So, at lunch, the caffeine deprived Alex ended up having a shouting match with a good-food deprived Clare, but then I accidentally groped her and then she pinched my face, and everything was smoothed over.

Here’s to my best efforts at writing here everyday. Thankfully tomorrow should be eventful enough to fill out a good 700 words or so.

Alex.