Saturday, September 24, 2011

Day 186 - The Spaceship Has Arrived, But... Lights ON or Lights OFF?

Well, the cover is really close to done (maybe even today!). I have spaceships now, and they are so flippin’ cool. It took a while to hammer out the right look, but Cris Ortega is a master and a professional, and she put up with my picky B.S. and kept at it till she captured just the right look to match my descriptions.  Talk about having to create images from nothing. Cris Ortega has such skill when it comes to bringing out totally original imagery, making real, with little or nothing to refer to or serve as guide, amazingly detailed images that become tangible objects at the tip of her pen. It’s like magic.

You have to think about that for a minute… she has to take my words, which I write down trying to describe what I see in MY head and turn them into images of actual things. Then, she has to send those images back to me and hope that what she created looks like what I saw in MY head. She’s never seen the images or the things they depict. She has to hope I describe them well enough, and that she, who is not a native English speaker, mind you, has interpreted them in the way I hope she interprets them, and then, with all those complications in play, she has to put in  her time to create the image, then send it to me, knowing full well that I might go, “WTF? This isn’t want I wanted at all.”

So, all that said, with incomparable skill, she crafted from thin air, exactly what I wanted. Here’s my (well, Orli’s) ship (light issue aside; I’ll get to that shortly):

The Aspect - From The Galactic Mage

Freaking amazing, yes? I think so. I’m totally stoked.  And here’s the kicker. Check out how this started. This is the first sketch she sent, way back in the beginning of this project when she only had my first crude attempt at trying to describe the ships to guide her.

It’s actually pretty cool, but it doesn’t have the length or feel of the ships in the book.  At that time, we didn’t need to worry too much about it, because that was an initial layout for the whole deal. So, after that initial sketch, we were working on the characters (Orli, Altin and Taot), and then dealing with the sky and castle walls. When we got back to the ship, this next one was the first sketch Cris sent back, after my explaining the ship was sort of pointed at the characters, and hovering relatively close.

This one, while also a nice design, looks more like a shuttle or something. Much too small of a ship type. This would carry five or ten people, not a few hundred. So we had to go back to the drawing board (literally).  I knew I wasn’t explaining my ship very well, so I went through my book and copied out the scene where the ships first appear and sent that to her. I also, very quickly, using the mouse to draw, made a really gross picture for her to use to get a sense of shape and perspective.  This is what I sent:

Pretty terrible, eh?  Hah. But, look what she came back with:

As you can see, that’s essentially the ship we have now, with a few minor changes (I didn’t like the jet engine looking thing as an example).  And this is where the lights conversations began.  From that original, we’ve played with lots of color schemes and lighting. In the version at the top of the stack below, you see where we started. Below it are the iterations of thruster colors and external lighting variations that we went through as we tried to capture the right look. In the first, you’ll see the bright yellow lighting at the thruster end. I felt it was too bright and made it look like the ship was moving (which it’s not in the way the cover is intended). Plus, frankly—and I even told Cris this—it made the thrusters look like flashlights. So, the colors that follow, well, followed, with the last one being the one I chose (front window lighting still in question, and sort of the long-winded point of this whole blog post). Here they are; some you might have to look at to figure out what changed (which is fun):

In the end, we both agreed that the blue thruster color was the best. It’s subtle. It shows there’s some sort of energy going on back there, but it doesn’t overwhelm the image. It helps establish perspective and orientation of the ship, and, well, it’s just freaking sweet looking.

The only thing remaining is to decide: lights on or lights off.  I've put in a short video below that shows the two flipping on and off, which makes a cool comparison, and I tossed in a static side-by-side for those who don't want to watch the cool light-switch effect.

I keep going back and forth between the ominous look of the lights off. It’s dark, imposing and intimidating with those black windows. They strike me as being that way to repel radiation and intense light from stars and stuff. But then, with the lights on, it looks like someone is in there, looking out. It’s seems more alive.  I kind of have a preference after staring at this for two days, but I’m curious what other people think. Alive or ominous… on or off?

Tell me in a comment, or go to my Facebook page and vote in the poll. Or both.  (Here's a link to my Facebook Page for the poll).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Day 173 - Graphic Updates and a New Dilemma

Well, finally after a long run of nothing, we’re making progress again. In what seems an eternity since last I had something to talk about, we’ve matured Altin’s face on the cover, AND we’ve added stars, stone and selected a font for the title. Now, those of you who are of discerning dispositions might think, “That seems a lot to suddenly do, John. Are you sure none of that happened over the last three weeks, well before now, and you were just too much of a lazy piece of crap to write about it?”

Now, while that might seem a fair question, the truth is, it’s not so much laziness as it is really a long wait for progress, and then the beginning of a new college semester (my last if there is a loving God or a generous Fate or any epicurean anything that chooses just to let things fall in place). In fact, there is so much going on right now, and there has been such immense delay, that I can’t help but consider heavily delaying the release until January or February. I have three months of brutal graduate level lit class to deal with (including a scant 3 weeks for reading Moby Dick and lots of critical essays about it, not to mention writing about it all, all included in that time), and it seems that—if the delay you've seen in my just getting this posted is any evidence at all—I might not be able to do the initial-launch marketing for my book with suitable diligence, dedication and strategic attention to detail. 

All that said, I’m not sure about the release timing now, so you tell me what you think I should do. If one puts aside one’s enthusiasm to see the book right away, doesn’t it seem like a better idea to release it when I can launch it quickly and well, given that the delay is only 3 or 4 months, which, given that it was supposed to be out in July, seems like not much difference at all at this point? The other advantage is that, if I wait, I can write the sequel and have it out within a year of release, which is particularly good for sales and marketing (made possible given that, once this semester is done, I will have my life back for the first time in over a decade). What do you think?

So, with all that covered, it's time for some actual project updates, since I imagine a few of you might be curious on what’s transpired. First, Altin’s face (new version depicted above). Have a look at this video and you’ll see I am shifting back and forth between the changes. The “Before” has a narrower jaw line, and in the “After,” it’s more square, and there is subtle but very tactical shadowing under the eyes and on his brow. Cris Ortega shows her mastery in being able to, with such delicacy, add a matter of two to five years to this character. Think about how abstract a request that really is in a matter of carrying off a person in a work of art?  Anyway, have a look.

Pretty cool, eh?

Okay, also, we’ve got some stars in the sky, and we’ve got some stone in the background, and we have some title fonts.  Here’s the sky (the white lines are the breaks between front cover, book spine, and back cover):

I cut out some stuff that counts as "surprise" material.

Very cool, I think. Some of it will be blocked out by the spaceship, about which Cris and I are going back and forth working out ideas. Science fiction isn’t something she’s done much of, so she’s having to do a lot of work learning what has come before when it comes to space ship design. She’s having a lot of fun with it.  Now, opposite that, when it comes to medieval technology she is rock solid, and, speaking of rock, look at how beautifully she has rendered the stone of Altin’s tower:

Yes, that's the tip of Taot's tail and a claw (or is a duclaw on a wing?).

Isn’t that amazing? Look at the cracks and texture. It’s just incredible. Reminds me of Disney, Pixar and even of the old-school Warner Brother cartoons when they used to render backgrounds with similar care to the first two studios. 

Okay, last, I’ll show you the font I’ve chosen. There were several choices, which I’ll toss in below, but the first one is the one I am going with. Some of the others are actually cooler to look at and I even like them better from a strictly aesthetic standpoint, but I felt that from a distance, they would be hard to read, particularly the very gothic looking ones in which, if you shift your eyes right, the “M” can actually be seen as an “A” and an “L" (3rd, 6th and 7th), plus the 5th looks like a "D" and an "I". The second one down is very cool, probably my actual favorite, but the cross in the "M" might confuse readers into thinking there is some Christian undercurrent to my story (or blasphemy), and I don't want to send out messages that run anyone off. So, that said, here they are, with winner on top, then the rest:

Alright, that’s all for now. Let me know what you think about the waiting till January thing. I really am still on the fence. I want to get it out. It’s been so long, I’m eager to get going. But my rational mind thinks that a new release is only a new release ONCE, and with each passing month becomes less so. I think there is some advantages to be had in having all my ducks in row so I can really capitalize on that first few months for generating buzz. Which means patience. Not my strong suit.