My Exploratory Journey or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Ph.D. (Part Three)

This is the third travel log entry of my ‘exploratory journey’. I’m developing a practice-based Ph.D. thesis – entitled “Transmedia Storytelling and Speculative Worldbuilding: Graphic Literature and Cinematographic Strategies in the Construction of a Transmedial Franchise” – in Media Arts at the Lusophone University of Humanities and Technologies. This log entry will address the artistic input illustrator Matthieu Pereira [01] is developing for the sci-fi graphic novel “Uluru”, part of the hands-on practical component of my thesis.

The production of the graphic novel will be in itself a journey with specific stopovers. Because I’m using audiovisual strategies and adapting them into the production of comics I will be dividing the production of the book “Uluru” into four stages: 1) pre-production; 2) production; 3) post-production; 4) promotion.

These four steps seem to be able to be encapsulated by the overall structure of my exploratory journey. On part two (check the last article) I presented the structure I’m using, taken from Carole Gray and Julian Malins’ book – “Visualizing Research: A Guide to the Research Process in Art and Design” [02]. The research concept of the exploratory journey they present is divided into several stages: 1) Planning the Journey; 2) Mapping the Terrain; 3) Locating your Position; 4) Crossing the Terrain; 5) Interpreting the Map; 6) Recounting the Journey.

As I see it, the overall stages of my journey can be encapsulated into the production of the graphic novel (a journey within a journey). On pre-production, it’s important to plan and understand what kind of product you have at hand and what the market has to offer. On production, one has to produce the pages of the book. On post-production, it’s important to look at the book as an object and prepare it for printing. On promotion – I intend to create a crowdfunding campaign – it’s kind of a look back to the process of thinking and building the book; the crowdfunding campaign is often filled with elements from the pre-production and production for a better understanding of the product. Storytelling is mighty important not only to the story but also to the webmarketing strategies involved with funding online. People enjoy storytelling but, because we are bombarded with stories every day, they are more demanding, and that’s a good thing. The illustrator and I are both aware of this and doing our best to create a good product that people will enjoy. Matthieu Pereira is drawing and conceptualizing graphically the worldbuilding I generated in the script, on the Production Bible, and other documents. He’s not just the illustrator; he has ‘carte blanche’ to come up with different ideas, making this a collaborative project. The first task he handled was the concept art.

The researchers Abu Shamsuddin, Baharul Islam, and Kabirul Islam, on their paper “Evaluating Content Based Animation through Concept Art” [03], share an interesting definition of ‘concept art’ that I will use here:

“Concept art is an appearance of illustration where the focal purpose is to express a visual demonstration of a design, thought, or mood for applying in video games, films, animation, or comic books before it is put into the ultimate creation. Concept art is a major element of idea generation, environment creation, background design, retail design, set design, fashion design, and architecture design.”

It’s also important to understand the origins of concept art and make a distinction between illustration and concept art. The Finnish concept artist Julia Rässa, on her bachelor’s thesis – “Concept Art Creation Methodologies: Visual Development of “Rock Boy” [04] –, cites the author Didier Ghez [05] and shares the information that the ‘concept art’ expression was coined by Walt Disney during the production of “Snow White” (1937). When making a distinction between concept art and illustration she says as follows:

“In brief the key difference between illustration and concept art has been defined as illustration’s need to be visually appealing and concept art’s need to be visually informative. Those qualities are not to be mutually exclusive in both disciplines but their core functions are fundamentally different.”

The ‘mood board’ helps the artist understand the intended narrative atmosphere and make better concept art. The mood board is a crucial element of the pre-production for the graphic novel. This is an important tool for creating concept art. Both Matthieu and I researched images and concept art from videogames and movies that best show what we envision for our book. Some of the images are on the Production Bible, which helps us understand how we will resolve the story visually, and functions as catalyst fodder for brainstorming. I also shared with the illustrator Matthieu the concept art that Vasco Mariano did before he got in this project and the pages of three short comics within this universe I produced with the help of the illustrators Ana Lopes, Filipe Duarte, and Diogo Alves.

The indie director Jason Boone has several tips on how to create a mood board in his article “The Mood Board: Set the Tone for Your Next Short Film” [06]. For him this is one of the most important elements of his ‘pitch deck’ (brief presentation with investors, partners, or customers) because it “helps convey the look and tone of the film”. The most important elements he mentions, and the appropriate ones for a black and white comic book, are the characters, locations, wardrobe and props, framing/ composition, lighting, and similar projects. A mood board can be done in several ways but is always composed by several images; the example bellow is a compilation of a few images used in the project (taken from the web).

As for similar projects, or references, it’s easier to talk about the stories I used as inspiration for narrative, visual, or conceptual reasons when I was writing the script, and working with the illustrator. My personal list of references is much bigger than the one I share here because the book “Uluru” has three sequels.

Most of the narrative – “Uluru” – takes place 200,000 years from now, in Australia. The climate has changed quite a bit and the sea levels have risen, changing the natural landscape of the continental island. As a reference, I’m using an interactive article entitled “What the World Would Look Like if All the Ice Melted” [07]. The continental drift (Australia is moving north), the passage of time, the gigantic inland sea, and the loss of the narrow coastal strip would most definitely change the flora and fauna of Australia. The map bellow was taken from the afore mentioned article, available at the National Geographic website.

To understand what kind of fauna and flora could exist in the future, it’s important to know what exists now on the Australian biomes. For this, I made an inventory of images for the Production Bible where I ‘studied’ the common animal species, trying to decide which ones would enter the narrative. Extinction and evolution is part of the equation: which species would survive the Anthropocene Era and how would they evolve in 200,000 years. The book, “Uluru”, will feature a few species: a feral pig, dingoes, kangaroos, rams, octopuses, crabs, small horses, roly-poly bugs, crocodiles, several types of birds, etc. For the flora and landscape, I suggested the illustrator a book on the matter that I find very suggestive: “Forest Trees of Australia”, coordinated by M. W. McDonald.

Concept art can be more or less complex depending on the project. I guess my Ph.D. project is just the beginning of a much larger one, which includes speculative worldbuilding that is not shown on this first tome. The complex and thrilling task of developing my transmedial imaginary world for a sci-fi franchise will continue long after I finish my thesis.

Gareth Wild, on an unfinished text [08] he partially shared online (“Visual World-Building: Developing a Conceptual Framework for Concept Design in Fantasy Role Playing Games”) talks about the creation of imaginary worlds as a important component of our lives:

“The earliest experience of creating and exploring imaginary worlds often occurs in childhood play. Children create their own fictional universes – labelled “paracosms” by psychologists in the field – to house their games of make-believe. This activity is often extended throughout adolescence with an engagement with toys, board games, and video games, where play is removed even further from direct experience. This engagement is frequently continued throughout adulthood, and extended with the enjoyment of novels and other interrelated media. The relationship between early childhood world-building and creative success in adulthood is well documented. Well-known authors such as C. S. Lewis are prime examples, as they not only created “paracosms” in their childhood, but also continued this activity in their adult life.”

When developing the character’s design it’s important to understand how the subject moves and interacts with objects and other people (movements and facial expressions). The character’s ‘model sheet’ is usually composed of several poses and expressions showing the dramatic and physical range of the character. This model sheet usually comes with a ‘turnaround’ scheme that shows the character from several points of view (front, three-quarters, side, and back). For the facial expressions, I think Scott McCloud’s book “Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels” [09] can be a very interesting starting point. In the chapter about facial expressions (page 80), the author gives us a lot of crucial information.

Before starting with the storyboarding and page layouts I decided to understand how the 140 pages of the graphic novel “Uluru” are divided, in terms of the narrative. The following simple infographic show how I divided the story and which sections are flashbacks or dream sequences. This helped me to better understand the narrative flux I developed on the step-outline (known as ‘escaleta’ in Portugal). The infographic establishes which pages are flashbacks, dream-sequences, and splash-pages (one page or double-page).

I want to show, visually, the difference between the ‘present’, the past (flashbacks), and the dream sequences, therefore, I’ve decided that the layout should show the reader which section he’s reading. For the present, a more traditional approach with several grid types, for the flashbacks the panel gutters will be black and not the traditional white, and we will use subpanels (panels inside panels), and some of the panels will bleed out of the page. On the dream sequences, we will use crushed panels (panels without gutters, just the lines) and ‘abnormal’ grid templates.   

It’s often said that the first act and the third act should add up to 50% of the story, and the bigger second act the other 50%. With the prologue and epilogue, I managed to achieve the equilibrium people aim at when writing the script.

This number of pages will change a bit and more pages will be added during the storyboarding. Matthieu is already doing the page layouts (storyboards) in quick and small drawings (thumbnails) and a few pages had to be added to avoid over-paneling some layouts. The process of storyboarding will be as such: 1) drawing thumbnails; 2) drawing A5 sized more elaborate pages to define the final layouts; 3) digitizing to work on Photoshop on details; 4) printing the final versions in blue in A3 format paper; 5) penciling details on top of the blue lines; 6) inking the page (final art); 7) digitizing and inserting balloons and text.

Below, I share the transition from thumbnail into the A5 page sized study of the page. The more detailed A5 is not yet the final version but it serves the purpose of helping the production team to discuss the final layout these pages will have.











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