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Look, it's a new animation reel!

Examples of animated content produced from 2005-2014. Mostly new footage, but there's a few old bits I just can't give up. :D

In all of the traditionally-animated sequences collected here I served as Key Animator, if not full Animator. Often that's included the choreography and layout of the action as well a drawing the frames. Scenes for The Awesomes were produced in Toonboom Harmony, all other sequences animated with Photoshop and composed in AfterEffects (sequences prior to 2007 produced with finely-ground minerals pressed into pulped and pressed wood shavings).

For Darksiders II I acted as the Cinematics Director, coordinating and guiding the production of animated story sequences. Sequences were animated by teams both internal as well as outsourced, domestic and international. Animation for these sequences were produced either by the dedicated crew at Plastic Wax Australia or the talented team at Vigil Games (circa 2012, now scattered).

Sequences were animated by keys (no mocap) in 3DS Max and imported to the engine, actively integrating live assets within the game to allow for custom appearances and seamless transitions from cinematic to gameplay. It's tricky stuff, man, buy me a drink sometime and I'll tell you all about it.

* * * :D * * *

Life continues to be interesting, and eventful. 2015 marks the start of many new adventures.
Check out "Pageant", episode 08 of The Awesomes, over on Hulu! I was privileged to choreograph and key out a little bit of fight action for this one... 50 seconds (1200 frames), 20 characters, no camera cuts, all for a background joke. So worth it.

Most of the show uses traditional vector puppeteering (though we did a LOT of in-house drawing, maybe 60/40?), which is more-or-less the standard now for TV animation. The original boards on this shot called for a classic old cartoony cloud-with-fists fight. That would have been easy to loop in, but not really in the style of the show. They haven't been tapping that sort of trope up to this point and it would have looked pretty strange to go there 4/5 of the way into the season.

But this is where puppet animation is often most limited... working out a good, physical action scene kinda requires straight-up, old-school, frame-by-frame skills. Puppets can't do it without either a lot of sacrifices or a LOT of pre-planning. Even drawing the action frame by frame, I used most every trick I knew; loops and cycles, copy-pasta and shifting as often as I thought I could get away with it.

Still, there's really no way to have a character slide into scene, fire off a slingshot three times, cartwheel over an ally kneeling on the ground, spin around in mid-air and slap a three-foot gopher in the face with a shovel that she pulls out of her purse, then use that shovel like a quarterstaff to take out a half-dozen more gophers before leaping into a double-spin-kick and being thrown to the ground unless you draw it. Never mind when the umbrella comes into play.

This is the problem with keying out big action sequences, especially those containing lots of characters (and this was not my cherry pop on multi-character actions shots);  in order to set up good timing and make sure nobody steps on anyone's moves, I just can't leave a lot undone. I find that by the point where I've gotten all the timing and motion worked out, I've rarely left more than a 3-6 tweens gap (6-12 frames) on any one character, and with all the characters moving around that means something's happening on pretty much every frame even when it's just the keys. I guess that's normal, certainly no-one has told me otherwise, even if it means taking a lot of hours to draw.

In practicality-motivated heresy I pushed for the framerate to dip as far as the fours (at least whenever it slowed down), pulled characters in and out of the scene, inserted holds wherever practical, and still ended up drawing a few hundred frames per character. I'm indebted to my man Josh Durst at Bento for riding alongside and drawing the tweens that smoothed it out, not to mention all his Z-depth network wizardry that made a pack of gophers dogpiling a sumo wrestler look halfway coherent.

I also keyed out a half-dozen other small shots in episode 08, but if I did my job right you'll never know which ones. That fight scene though... such a beast. So many hours. So much fun. I'm glad they let me do it. If I could, I'd do it all the time.

* * * :D * * *

On that note, I'm sad to say that my adventure with Bento Box has come to a close. I had some expectations that my time there would end with the traditional post-production downsize (the nature of the beast, unfortunately), but the show was a great experience, I got to try out some new stuff and I made a lot of friends that I hope to see again soon. Bento was a great studio to work at.

Thankfully I kept active in publishing, and it's probably better that I take the hit, rather than any of the guys who depend on their steady studio employment to survive (oh, regular checks, I shall miss you). I've just wrapped a 7-page bonus for the collected edition of a particular webcomic (more on that when I get the clear) and for the next couple months I'll be throwing myself fully into Words of Radiance (finally!). As we move further into "The Stormlight Archive" that series just becomes more fun. I think you'll love some of the things we're doing with Shallan's pages, plenty of new stuff to see. And if you were lucky enough to attend Crafty's playtests at GenCon this past August, then you might have also glimpsed a preview of their "Alloy of Law" supplement to The Mistborn Adventure Game. This also has a bunch of my work in it, and I expect to put together some more before the book is done. Illustrating in the Alloy world is almost as much fun as Stormlight, with its slightly Weird West flavor. I'm totally going to be an Allomantic Lawkeeper this Halloween.

So it's back to illustration for the near future, and full-time freelancing whatever storyboard, comics, design or animation gig comes along. Working on Stormlight will keep me fat and sassy for a couple months, anyway, and we'll see who books me next before that wraps. 
If you're in the NYC area this coming week, you might like to come down to Books of Wonder, in Manhattan on 18th between 5th and 6th Ave. There you can meet Brandon Sanderson as we release his newest novel, The Rithmatist... and what the heck, you can meet me too, if you're into that sort of thing. We'll both be signing from 6-8PM, and who knows what happens after that? Nothing too crazy, I hope... I gotta catch a plane early Wednesday morning, and get back to Bento and The Awesomes by lunchtime.

The Rithmatist is the first novel that I've worked on exclusively with Brandon, and in an generous move (not uncommon for him) he suggested that we share the cover credit. My name is written very small, beneath his name written large, but that's just fine with me. I'm definitely the sidekick in our partnerships. Inside you'll find that I've illustrated the map, the chapter ornaments, a variety of interior spot illustrations, and the diagrams that explain the magic of Rithmatics (based heavily on strategic attack/defense dueling, not unlike RTS and Tower Defense games). Everything is drawn in a different style than I'm usually called upon to provide, which was both challenging and exciting... I've never actually done a book map before this one, but I believe I did all right. It certainly looks good to me, and I look forward to sharing some of this work with all of you, but if you want to see it sooner rather than later (especially with my update history), I suggest you head out to the bookstore this week and pick it up. I'm pretty proud of it.

Actually, as a Young Adult novel, I'm expecting to see this one on the shelf more often than I do books like The Way of Kings or The Alloy of Law. Stores like Wal-Mart and Target and such have significant YA sections. I wonder if I can get away with Brandalizing these books, now that I can at least point to the cover and say, "that's me! No, not the big name, the little name! Awww, please don't make me buy all these copies..."

Don't let the YA label turn you away... the label "young adult" is more a factor of the protagonist's age, rather than an indicator of reading level. Much like Pratchett, Brandon doesn't dumb anything down just because he's writing about teenage characters. At worst, you can point out that he's following two or three people, rather than his usual two or three dozen, and that's possibly a relief for some of us.

* * * :D * * *

In other news, entering Month no. 2 as a Key Animator at Bento Box Atlanta, steadily gaining familiarity with ToonBoom and the ways in which this production process differs from the sort-of-traditional work I've done in the past. I like some things that TB does... compositing is pretty easy, so is ink & paint, but god do I hate drawing in vector software. Some of that is due to the usual gripes and grumps of working with unfamiliar tools, knowing that you CAN do something, but being balked by the toolset. But some of it, I fear, is inherent to the nature of the beast.

Mostly it bothers me that the damn lines keep twisting under your hands like a greased snake. I understand that you can adjust the correction settings, but that means creating more points as you draw, which make manipulating the vectors (which you WILL have to do) that much more messy and difficult. In the end, I find myself pulling a line, and then fixing the line, and then pulling the next line, and then fixing the line, and so forth. Maybe two or three lines, but then I have to go in and delete extraneous points, or adjust curves, or connect points. I'm told by some of my more experienced peers that all of this is not unusual, which isn't exactly encouraging... when I worked with raster lines, I nearly never had to correct like this... In raster, much like with paper, the line you draw is the line you drew.

Not so with vector, these lines are alive and occasionally they need to be beaten with a hammer. It slows me down, and I find that irksome.

That being said, I do like using deformers to make subtle key changes, and I like the scalability, and the ease of things like Drawing Substitution (though it makes reusing repeated frames pretty much a standard action, rather than an occasional technique). And I enjoy working on this show, the episode I'm on now had me genuinely laughing as I watched the animatic. It's still a nice thing to work on material you enjoy watching.

This week was better than last week, which was better than the week before. Ask me again next week.

* * * :D * * *

Beyond that, I'm working on a lineup of characters for Crafty's sequel to The Mistborn Adventure Game, which is (of course) all about The Alloy of Law. Twinborn and Ferrings and Mistings, oh my. Some of you know what a sucker I am for Wild West mythology and steampunk trappings, combined with my usual affection for all things Cosmere... so you can imagine, I'm enjoying myself there. And you haven't seen the last of Allomancer Jak, either.

I've agreed to produce a short backup story for the collected edition of one of my favorite webcomics, written by one of my favorite comics writers, and so I'm incredibly excited about that. No specifics to discuss, can't comment until it's in the can, but I might have made a little *squee* noise when the offer came through. I am so going to rock the hell out of those pages. Look for that later this year.

Not much else going on, working the 50-hour week means that freelancing (not to mention free time) is in light-load mode. Reading steadily; I recently burned through Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven (excellent story, and a good example of what makes some authors perfect for visual adaptation but not others), I'm about halfway into Larry Corriea's Monster Hunter: Legion, and next I'll read either The Last Ditch by Sandy Mitchell (part of the Warhammer 40K 'Ciaphas Cain' series) or Halting State by Charles Stross (I enjoyed the hell out of Rule 34). Maybe both at the same time, I'm a maniac like that. My new commute has me regaining a love for audio books, but with only a CD player in the car (no line) I'm basically picking them up used from The Book Nook (great used bookstore up in the N. Druid Hills neighborhood). Currently I'm listening to Hurricane Punch by Tim Dorsey, read by Oliver Wyman. I already read it years ago, but not so recently that I can remember much of the plot, so it's good stuff while I drive.

What's up with you?

Animator Once More

Fri Apr 12, 2013, 9:28 PM
Hey all, I've been busy, but we're fine here, we're all fine... how are you?

For 10 years (2001-2011), I was what I referred to (against wise advice) as a "garage animator". I worked for a small house, and we made small projects... lots of commercials, short subjects, pitch pieces, and the occasional music video. There were moments in which larger works were attempted, but costs and a lack of talented manpower were obstacles we just could not overcome. I worked on a lot of cool stuff, but it was hard work and low-paid and ultimately, I tired of it. I couldn't see a happy future anymore.

And so I sort of let it go...  The world I thought I would enter when I began my career turned out to not exist, and while I loved making animation, I'd grown to accept that I didn't live in the right place or know the right people to do the job I wanted to do... what can I say, I'm a weird one. I like drawing frames to make action, and that puts me at odds with modern production methods, which often go to great lengths to avoid drawing as much as possible.

And over the past year, I was actually doing all right as a freelance illustrator/storyboard artist. Wasn't making mad money, but the rent got paid and I didn't do a single job this past year that didn't make me smile. Heck, there were even occasional opportunities to make use of those animation skills I worked so hard to learn (watch out for the "LEGO Marvel Super Heroes" commercial coming sometime in the near future. I made the faces move). I reckoned that if I ever did another animated project of note, it would be some small, personal short film. It'd be awesome, of course, but there's only so far you can take that.

And then, less than a month ago, a buddy of mine on the Facebooks (Sam Ellis) clued me in that Bento Box, makers of Bob's Burgers and Out There as well as several other shows, were looking for key animators. Actual, frame drawing, experienced animators. On a whim I threw in the reel and the resume.

And this past week, I started working on The Awesomes, a new series set to premiere on Hulu later this year. I've moved up to Atlanta, and I've been dragged kicking and screaming (as always) into ToonBoom, which was inevitable I suppose... I'm pretty sure I'll never love drawing in ToonBoom, but you can't completely avoid it, not if you want to work on the big stuff. There are some things it does quite well (just... not drawing).

One of the only things I hadn't ever done at Fates was work on a full 22-minute series. Largely because we were a small house, and mostly because full series are not made in Florida... often, not even made in America. Just "moving out there" to where it WAS happening was never a real option... I didn't exactly relish the idea of being homeless in LA (or Korea) while trying to "break in" to an industry that I realized hadn't been what I thought it was for over 20 years (if even then), and the older I got the less likely it became. But to give up without the experience of a full TV production was to quit without ever fully practicing what it means to do this job. That was a sadness I thought I would just live with.

But now I'll know. For better or worse, when this is done I'll have checked at least that mark on the bucket list.

So far, the best part has been the people. At Bento, I'm surrounded by people who do what I do. Many of them do it better than I do. I feel like I belong amongst them in a way that's hard to explain, unless you spent a chunk of your life getting good at something only to find out that everyone likes it, but nobody wants it. I'm not a director this time around, but that's just fine... I loved being that guy, but I don't need to be that guy... it's stressful! Though if someone wanted to offer me another shot at it, I'd do it in a heartbeat... I'm not (totally) stupid.

I like being an animator. I get to draw frames again. Maybe not in the way that I want to (for good and logical reasons), but it's damn close. And I'll know that I've tried, at least.

Week 1 was pretty good, I think. Ask me again after Week 2. :D

* * *

In other news, I'll be at JordanCon (AKA Deep South Con) just north of the ATL next weekend, the 20th and 21st. Brandon Sanderson will be there, of course, and I try not to let the rare opportunity for us to actually be in the same state pass by. But even better, we'll have Peter Ahlstrom and Isaac Stewart with us, which means for the first time in three years we'll have the whole Stormlight Crew together. If you're a fan of Mistborn or The Stormlight Archive, it's an opportunity not to be missed!

I wrapped up my work on The Monster Hunter International's Employee Handbook, an RPG based on the series of novels by Larry Corriea. I love working on visual adaptations of books, and I like the MHI series a good bit, so I had a lot of fun with that project. If you like the sound of paramilitary monster slaying, I can't recommend it highly enough. Larry has real-world experience in working with PMCs and knows his stuff, and if one day it turns out he really has shot a werewolf in the face I won't be surprised one bit.

Because the Bento work is full-time and then some, I've put the freelancing back into the freezer. The only projects I'm keeping on the table are Sanderson-related (because the only person dragging me off Stormlight is Brandon himself, and even then I'll cry like a shameless toddler about it), but that includes a bit of character work for the upcoming Alloy of Law book for the Mistborn RPG. If you like what I've done for Mistborn Classic, I think you'll like my Alloy designs even more. It doesn't hurt that I'm a fanboy for Old West mythology... mixing it up with the Mistborn world makes peanut butter and chocolate taste like cardboard in comparison, that's how sweet it is. For me, anyhow... I just have to trust that you'll love it too.

Wanna bitch about ToonBoom? Got any good suggestions for tutorials? Does anyone know what the FUCK this glitch where substitution frames just disappear from the Library is about (I'm told it's a common problem)? Hit me up, let me hear your thoughts.

Current Projects and updates

Tue Feb 5, 2013, 9:39 PM
Hey all,

Currently on the table:

> Wrapping the map on Brandon Sanderson's The Rithmatist, due out this May. Interiors and ornaments for this were finished back in October, and if you'd like to check out a sneak peek of those (along with the first couple chapters of the novel) you can head over to the excerpt at
> Illustrating scenes for the tabletop RPG based on Larry Corriea's excellent Monster Hunter novels (not relation to the videogame, this is paramilitary urban fantasy about finding those things that go bump in the night, and shooting them repeatedly with .357 hollowpoints). All full-color work, something my portfolio is desperately short of, so that's a treat.

Next on the big board:

>Working on facial animation for one of the various LEGO games
>More interiors for the Alloy of Law supplement to The Mistborn Adventure Game
>Prepping for interiors in the second of Sanderson's "Stormlight Archive", which (last I checked) is still tentatively titled The Book of Endless Pages. This means doing a re-read of The Way of Kings, and probably accompanying that with new sketches and roughs just to flesh out things a bit and build the archives for a collection in the future.
>Illustrating a new, original, physical work that will be auctioned for charity at the Rooster Teeth Expo later this year. As some of you might know, I designed the logo for RTProductions (the rooster and teeth) back in 2003, and for the first time in 10 years I'll go back and do it again, this time for Child's Play. Not sure what it'll look like, it's a tricky thing to work on.

Staying busy. Can't complain. Or at least, won't complain to you. :D

Projects Update - Have Pen, Will Work

Tue Nov 27, 2012, 10:23 PM
That Daily Dev brought in a lot of new faces (hello new faces!) and I realized I hadn't updated on projects since before the move. So, update!

I've wrapped up most of my part for Brandon Sanderson's next novel, The Rithmatist, which ought to hit sometime in the middle of 2013. It's a standalone, non-Cosmere, Young Adult novel with another custom Sanderson system, this time for chalk-based magic where drawing certain diagrams and shapes and creatures leads to forceful outcomes, resulting in strategic battles of attack and defense. It's pretty cool stuff, I've drawn a wide collection of spot illustrations for the book in a style outside of my normal box, so I look forward to sharing those.

The cover for Crafty's Alloy of Law supplement to The Mistborn Adventure Game is about done as well, though I've been abusing my loose deadline something fierce as I fiddle about with the details. It's got a lot more going on in terms of action when compared to the cover to the Mistborn book, and all the guns and bandits and horses and such lends to endless fiddling. I need to be done with it, partly so I can move on to the interior illustrations, but mostly 'cause I can't get paid until I wrap it up with a kiss and a bow.

I think that puts the count at five covers I've done now, maybe six? Not a bad start. I'll need to do better.

I've been filling in the rest of the spare spaces this autumn with storyboards for Plastic Wax Animation and general pickup-work here and there. That's pretty much the day to day of a freelancer, spinning each job into the next one.

On the board for upcoming projects, there's sprite animation and more Joe is Japanese for Studio Fates, the aforementioned interiors for Crafty, and a few other bits besides. There's been a lot of opportunities lately for small, quick jobs, and if you've been wanting me to do some work for you, now's as good a time as any to drop me a line and let me know what you need. Character illustration, design work, you name it and I'll draw it for money.

I've got room at the moment for maybe five jobs, so we'll start the count there. As with the books, I'll update the Journal to reflect the number of currently available slots.

-EDIT- 00 remaining! -  Sorry folks, looks like the calendar's full out to February. It's a good thing!

But keep checking, I'll update again.


Paperman and Prince of Cats

Sat Sep 22, 2012, 9:00 AM
So, in just a handful of days now I leave Austin (very sadly) and return to the lands I once did know, my oldest stomping grounds of Tampa Bay. These days I'm entirely a free agent, which is working out all right thanks to my flavorful combination of powerful talent, skillful technique, hard-bitten experience and willful self-deception (arguably necessary for anyone living on the hustle). I must confess, however, it was nice to be a comfortably kept in patronage. I should Defy The Man and Fight The Power, but dammit... they provided health insurance.

As I say though, for the time being I'm busier than I expected to be and happy for it (even if I'm consciously overworking in the days leading up to a three-day torture marathon of heavy lifting and long-haul trucking). I've done some nice work on Brandon Sanderson's next YA novel, and in addition to my usual bank-account boost I'm being rewarded with a cover credit, my name and picture below his, and that's a first. I also took on a storyboard gig for a famous fighting game (that must be done before I leave), and I've got enough people lining up to fill my dance card to the end of the year that I'm feeling slightly less stressed lately about the little things (rent, food, that sort of silly shit).

I even got to check out some crazy awesome content of late, which I will now recommend to you:

* * *

Paperman is the next Pixar short film, due to show before Wreck-It Ralph. I was lucky enough to see it at Fantastic Fest, a surprise screening I hadn't expected (I came to see my own work on the big screen... PostHuman, the last animated film I worked on with Studio Fates back in late 2010 was showing as part of the "Drawn and Quartered" collection). Holy shit, I'd heard about this, but until you see it in motion the stills don't show you what they've done here.

That the animation itself is brilliant is no surprise; it's a Pixar joint and I expect nothing less, but there's way more than usual going on beneath the surface. This is a hybrid production, "2.5D-animation" being done in an outrageously ambitious fashion that allows a degree of texture to the lines and smoothness to the motion that aren't often associated with this level of depth. There's a commentary being made that it's "just rotoscoping", but to dismiss it as such undercuts the technology and the technique being applied.

Still shots don't do it justice. It looks like 2D, it moves like 3D, and you need to see it in action to really appreciate it. If you're an animator or a student of animation (professionally or not) then I have no doubt you'll be as impressed as I was. I don't know that it's something that we'll see a lot of anytime soon... people always hype up something like this as "the next big thing", but I think that the production is a lot harder and more specialized than it looks. Of course, that's always been a mark of real skills: making something incredibly difficult look smooth and easy. When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all. That's zen, baby.


If I had one criticism, it's that until Paperman showed, I think PostHuman had gotten the loudest and longest applause out of the audience. I was feeling pretty full of myself, and then I was blown right out of my high-horse saddle. Amazing stuff.

* * *

I picked up the graphic novel Prince of Cats on the recommendation  of LeSean Thomas and the sample of pages you can see in that link, but holy shit I was not prepared for how much I would love this book. Seriously, it's the best thing I've read in weeks or months or more.

There's an artful mix of hiphop and anime stylings, rap lyrics blended seamlessly with Shakespearean prose and characters redesigned that makes this the most interesting adaptation of Romeo & Juliet that I think I've ever read, especially since it's probably one of the only ones I've ever read that isn't about the titular characters. Instead this story follows Tybalt, the antagonist of that play, cousin to Juliet,  and eventual cause of exile to Romeo. It's an examination of pride and respect, the cycle of violence and the dangerous lives that youth may thrive in, themes that resonate with our culture today as well as they did four hundred years ago.

There's an inevitable comparison to Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, but I put forth to you that while both modernize the material, Wimberly's book is far superior (especially as it takes liberty with the original to create something completely new, rather than just revising the setting and the style while sticking to the script). Even if you hated that movie, I recommend checking this out. If you liked that movie, or Shakespeare in general, then this is a far more refined redefinition, and unlike anything else on your shelf

Highly recommended. Check out Wimberly here on DA, he's :icond-pi:

* * *

I'm sure I'll think of something else, but there at least are a couple of things that recently kicked me in the teeth and made me pay attention. It's good to get a slap now and then, it reinforces my focus and drives me to strive for better things.

Austin, I shall miss you. There's so much to like about this town, from the best comics shop I've been to in a decade (Austin Books) to the best theater chain anywhere (Alamo rules) to the best bookstore for a bibliophile like me (oh, Half-Price Books, you wallet-draining bastard you). I'll miss driving the twisty hills of 2222, and I'll miss those awesome little U-turn lanes at every highway exit. I'm glad I came here, I'm sorry to leave.

Tampa... I'm on the way back, best beware my stride. I look forward to seeing all my mates again, if I have one regret about my time here in Texas it's that I've failed to find any friends as true as the ones I left behind. Plus, I miss good Cuban food. Ooooh, proper puerco asada I can almost taste you now. I'm having a Pavlovian moment here.

I've only got a few days left to do far too much. Best get to work.

Heyhey! So, that was kinda awesome. I was at GenCon in Indianapolis for all four days of the convention. I signed a LOT of copies of The Mistborn Adventure Game as well as a several dozen copies of my very first art book, The Crafty Work of Ben McSweeney, and I generally had a great time.

For those of you who expressed an interest in purchasing the book but were unable to attend the convention, I've got a couple options for you. You can either attend Archon 36 in St. Louis or PacifiCon in Santa Clara, both this October 12-14. Crafty Games will be at both conventions and will be offering my book along with hardcover and softcover editions of The Mistborn Adventure Game. Afterwards, whatever remaining stock from the print run will be made available through their website, but that probably won't be available until later this year.

OR you can buy one of the dozen copies I brought home, right now! Same price ($15), but I'll sign it AND I'll provide a free sketch on the inside cover! Such a deal you will not find again soon (for one thing, I don't expect to attend any cons for the rest of the year). I thought I'd grabbed more than a dozen, but a dozen is what I got.

If you're interested, contact me through the Notes or send me an email and let me know your address. I'll break off a copy and tell you the number as well as the Paypal information, and once the payment's confirmed and done I'll bundle up the book in a padded envelope and mail it straight to you via USPS. I'll even eat the shipping cost, because I love you guys that much  (unless it's international shipping, then we maybe gotta talk about it). All my copies are low-numbered, below 50 (out of 100), and some of 'em are even below 20. They'll go on a first-come, first-serve basis and once they're gone, they're all gone!

It's also possible that we may release a PDF edition in the future, but I can't promise when. It'll be significantly less expensive, but it also won't actually, physically exist, and it definitely won't come with an autograph or a sketch. It will come with all my snarky comments and anecdotes (not to mention all the same illustrations) though, so there is that.


* * :D  * *

In other news, Darksiders II came out and it seems to be doing well. It's got an 85 on Metacritic, which ain't bad at all. If I've detected any systemic complaint amongst the reviews I've read, it's all technical stuff that tends to happen when your parent company cuts the workforce by more than half only a handful of months before release. Nevertheless, the remaining crew at Vigil Games really threw their might into finishing the project, and from what I've played it totally shows. This is a very pretty and very large game, and it's surprisingly fun for me to see how it changed from the last time I saw it back in May.

If you're wondering what I actually had to do with any of it, you'll find my credit is right between "Technical Art" and "Additional Art and Animation", about a minute into the list ("Cinematics - Ben McSweeney"). Specifically, I directed the cinematic cutscenes (but I did not animate them, that's Plastic Wax and the animators at Vigil), which mostly means that it's my fault if the cameras suck, and possibly, maybe to my credit if they're awesome.  I do still like these scenes even six months after I last saw them, so I must have done something right.

I also helped develop many of the other moments in the game where the camera cuts away to show the action without the player in control, such as execution cameras and boss fight cinematics (these were usually worked up by the animators themselves, with my assistance where it was needed). I did not direct the camera action during gameplay (like traversal cams), that's the design team. I did develop several of the camera angles that play during character dialogue scenes. And lastly, I helped to design several of the execution animations themselves (a couple I'm proud of are the skeleton executions, the Legion kills and the kill on the Stalkers, the big cat-faced looking critters in the Maker Zone), though again I can't take credit for the animation. The 2D cutscenes were developed by Powerhouse Animation, where again I mostly made their days harder by pushing them to do it this or that way (they also provided invaluable assistance with storyboards in general).

Oh, and I set up the cameras that you see any time you quit out of the game back to the menu (where it rotates around Death and shows off his costume and the environment he's in). Rather proud of that bit. I just hope the various combinations of weapons, armor and unpredictable environmental hazards don't create a hilariously awful clipping disaster somewhere.

I've only just started playing the game myself (had to wait until I got back from Indy) and while I can run through it a little faster than most 'cause I know a lot of the levels, it's still going to be a few days of fun before I've seen it all. In the end, I can say that I like this game, and I'm proud to have worked on it. And I guess that's about all I got to say about that.

If you're playing, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the game so far. Is it awesome, or just merely fantastic? You know where to find me, I'll be right here.

* * :D  * *

Going to Gen-Con! With a book!!

Sat Aug 4, 2012, 11:15 PM
I will be attending Gen-Con in Indianapolis from August 16-19, working with both Crafty Games and Brandon Sanderson. I think I'm only signing with Brandon during the Crafty events... Brandon is a Guest of Honor, and as such he's the main course (I'm more of the after-dinner mint), but I'll have a signing of my own as well at the Crafty Games table (so okay, maybe I'm a dessert or an appetizer?). In any case, I'll not be hard to find. Also, I think I skipped dinner.

What might I be signing? Well, that's the other bit of news; ol' Inky's finally putting out a bit of an artbook.

Nothing big mind you, just a very slim (64 pages) semi-exclusive, limited-run artbook. Entitled The Crafty Work of Ben McSweeney, it's a collection of my favorite designs and illustrations from books I've done with Crafty, namely Fantasy Craft, Spellbound, and of course The Mistborn Adventure Game. The book showcases several pieces at larger size, includes sketches and thumbnails, and an excessive amount of commentary and notes by yours truly. Some of these illustrations you may have seen here in my DA Gallery, but there's plenty of work you'll have seen o if you've bought those books.

For the fans of the Final Empire out there, Mistborn-specific work comprises just under half of the book (the rest is a collection of traditional fantasy-themed work), and it includes a lot of sketches and a few exclusives that have never been published anywhere. There's the first draft sketches that got Brandon's attention, and the story of how I ended up working with him in an official capacity, and a bunch of material that I did before the RPG.

Personally, I love art books with commentary. Plenty of guys just put nothing but illustrations and sketches in their books, but I like to know what the artist was thinking when they made one decision or another, and I like to learn about insider-type stuff. And because it's always been my philosophy when making my own materials to create something I'd want to buy myself, I wrote quite a lot of commentary. Most every piece has some description, and I tried to write something new about everything. And if you're a fan of the hidden-logo game (or if you've never played before), I included a bit about how that got started, how it's played, and an answer key in the back. Where better to play a game than a book about gaming illustrations?

For now, this is a really small print-run, just 100 numbered copies, and the only place I'm sure you can buy it will be at Gen-Con Indy. I'll be signing both my book as well as anything else I've worked on (you can find a complete bibliography here), and probably doing free sketches at my own signing. If we don't sell out (I should be so lucky!) then I reckon I'll have some overstock available either through Paypal or through Crafty Games (depends on quantity).

I'm excited! I hope to see you there!!

Cigarette and blindfold

Thu Jun 14, 2012, 10:24 PM
This update is long past due, but given all the upheavals that happened in the last few months I'd been waiting to see it settle out before I wrote about it at all. I suppose it is what it is, for now.

The THQ stock closet skeletons finally came around to our neck of the woods, and about 100 throats were cut over at Vigil Games. I wasn't particularly shocked that that I went up against the wall with a cigarette and blindfold, I'd been there just under a year and far more valuable people than me were being cut that day, but it burns just the same. It's nice to be told that it's a "corporate restructuring" decision and not a performance-based issue, but that's small comfort when your desk is in a box. I really liked that place, that project, and the people I worked with. I'm sad that I can't be a part of that anymore.

I suppose about 95% of my work was done by that point anyway, and at least I can I trust the people still left there to complete it beautifully. Darksiders II is scheduled for an August release, and it's a damn cool game.

Being a Director was fun while it lasted. I'm told I do it well. I'd like to do it again.

* * *

I did an interview with Animation Insider just before it all went squirrely. It doesn't reflect the status change, but you might find it interesting.

* * *

Currently I'm painting a new Mistborn-related cover for Crafty Games, and doing some interior work. Might look into comics again, I had a lot of fun with Skullkickers and lord knows I got a lot out of those 350+ pages of Joe is Japanese. Did a quick run of storyboards with the old crew at Fates for a Disney/Marvel TV joint.

All of it feels a bit like a step backwards, but I'm on my own again. Without any particular contacts to springboard through, I've got no inside track with studios like Titmouse (who appear to be producing the best indie/action content on TV lately, have you seen Motor City? Black Dynamite? Sexy stuff). So I'm applying through the slush pile, which is somewhat like playing the lottery but without the easy odds. Digging into Flash, because everyone I speak to insists that it's necessary (while at the same time admitting it's flawed when it comes to frame-by-frame production, but always with the same "what else can you do?" shrug of the shoulders).

Feeling kind of at sea, treading water. Reaching for my bootstraps. Remembering that I don't wear boots. Note to self: purchase boots.

A bit over five months since I've written last... yeah, that's about typical.

As I've mentioned before, I don't generally write new Journal entries unless I've got something to say. But in this case I have been a bit remiss in my duties, because the last few months have been anything but boring.

Late in November the 12th issue of Jim Zubkavich's fantasy comic series Skullkickers hit the shelves, an anthology issue entitled "Four More Tavern Tales". I was lucky enough to land one of the four short stories in the book, and it was also a hell of a lot of fun. That one actually overlapped with the new job and the move, but somehow I still managed to put together a halfway reasonable showing that didn't leave me ashamed to be bound in the same pages with a group of artists and writers who's work I genuinely admire.

Skullkickers 12 - 'The Beholder' pg 01 by Inkthinker Skullkickers 12 - 'The Beholder' pg 02 by Inkthinker

Earlier in November the latest Mistborn novel from Brandon Sanderson, The Alloy of Law, hit the shelves in hardback. For my small part I illustrated a mock-newspaper page that expanded on the world in four parts scattered across the book. The work was actually done before the big Career Upheaval, but such is the nature of the beast that it takes 9 months or more to see print. It's my first official Mistborn content, and it's the kind of exceptionally fun and exciting storytelling that I've wanted to work with ever since I set foot in the water.

Alloy of Law - Elendel Daily Original by Inkthinker Alloy of Law - Elendel Daily details by Inkthinker Alloy of Law - Allomancer Jak by Inkthinker

And then of course, today (12/15) marks the release of The Mistborn Adventure Game, a fully developed tabletop RPG that expands upon the world of Sanderson's original Mistborn trilogy. Here was a dream gig, one where I was given the full illustration contract, cover and interiors. I did my damndest to do my best, and I'm extremely proud of my participation in this project, but I still wish I had done even more. As it is, the book contains about 50 illustrations of characters and locations based across the Final Empire, from the kandra to the koloss, from skaa farms to the canals, noble ballrooms to skaa slums.

Mistborn Adventure Game - High and Low Society by Inkthinker Mistborn Adventure Game - The Nobles by Inkthinker Mistborn Adventure Game - Vin and Sazed by Inkthinker

Then there's the day job; Cinematics Lead for Vigil Games, currently on Darksiders II. Part of the reason I haven't posted is that there's really nothing I can say, and given the NDA and corporate considerations I've got to keep in mind, I'm better off saying nothing.

The game looks really pretty. And whenever I think I've seen the coolest-looking environments or weapons or characters, it's usually no more than a week before something else tops it.

I can only hope that my work on the cinematics keeps up with it. I'm trusting a lot to all that I've learned over the years about composition and framing and camera motion. Not everything I learned as a 2D animator carries over, and some of it carries over in unexpected ways. I'm having to learn a lot of new tech and technique on the job, and I really wish I wasn't such a muggins with 3DSMax, but thankfully I'm not actually responsible for the hands-on animation of the scenes. In some ways I wish I were... down in the trenches, the concerns are more direct and easier to attack.

Thankfully the animation team I direct are dedicated powerhouses, and they've proven adept at rolling with every twist and curve I throw at them. I'm extremely lucky in that respect.

* * *

Austin is a pretty damn awesome town. In many respects, I wish I'd come here a lot earlier, I love just about everything I've experienced with this city.

Surprisingly, I still feel a bit of homesickness. Not for the city so much, though there was a certain comfortable familiarity there. Tampa Bay is an industrial armpit of a town that long ago ran out of opportunities for me, but dammit... it was the armpit I was born in, and where I've spent most of my life. I can't shake it off in six months.

What I really I miss are my friends. Even if I was an unsociable grouch, they were the people who loved me best even when they had no good reason for it (and some reasons not to). So I'm looking forward to seeing as many of them as I can over the holidays. If you're one of those people (you know who you are) hit me up one way or another. I'll be back in town between Christmas and the New Year, and my dance card isn't full yet.

Updates (where to start...)

Tue Jul 12, 2011, 11:31 PM
So let's see....

Since last I wrote, I've finished up my work for Brandon Sanderson's next Mistborn novel, Alloy of Law. That should land in November, but I hear rumours you might be able to see my part sooner if you can catch him at a convention later this year (don't know if SDCC counts, but you can ask him if you can find him).

I've finished the cover and about 4/5 of the interior illustrations for the Mistborn RPG/World Book from Crafty Games. That ought to hit the shelves just before Alloy. Some of that work will be previewed at Gen Con, in the form of posters and banners and other goodies.

I'm scheduled up for six pages in the next anthology of Skullkickers, I think that's issue 12. Not sure when that hits, check your Previews solicitations.

And as of two weeks ago, I'm the Cinematics Lead for Vigil Games (THQ), working on the story bits of Darksiders 2.

My wife and I are in the process of relocating to Austin, Texas (I'm here now, she's on the way soon). Did I mention that I got married? I got married.

So, y'know... stuff.



Heyhey, turns out they will be ready by SDCC. Check it out:!/BrandSanderson/…

Pretty sweet.

Joe is Japanese

Mon Mar 28, 2011, 4:31 PM
So! A bunch of Joe is Japanese pages have gone up on the newly polished Joe site:

>> Joe is Japanese <<

Part of the catalyst for putting the story up now is the recent tragedy that struck, with the earthquake and subsequent tsunami affecting anyone who has friends and family living in Japan. Most of the people we know were in Tokyo, and so far they've weathered the disaster safely, though not unscathed.

It was Koga Sato, one of the various real-world people who serves as the inspiration for a Joe character, who sent us an email telling us how he personally experienced the disaster and his thoughts afterwards. That in turn sparked the creation of a short, 11-page side-story to the main Joe is Japanese narrative. It's a quirky little bit that we drew for a good cause, and because I'll take any excuse to put John Wayne and The Humongous on the same page as Jesus pouring water over a cracked Fukushima nuclear plant.

>> Koga's Email <<

Joe is Japanese has been a very weird project for me... it's an unusual story (to say the least), about a place I've never been and a society that I only know personally through the twisted lens of pop culture and media. And I'm just the guy who draws the lines, it's not something I've written. Often I don't know much more about what will happen next than anyone else does. But in a way that all works here, as it's ultimately a story about people who don't fit in. Given that our main viewpoint character is a foreigner himself, we might argue that any oddities or inconsistencies in the rendition of the land he's visiting are a reflection of that.

Or you can blame it on me. I usually do.

Pretty much all of the Joe comic you'll see as they post new pages consists of stuff drawn as far back as 2009, but Koga's story was done about a week ago, so it's a little fresher. Let me know what you think.

And feel free to pass the links on to anyone you like, we're interested in getting it out there. If you like it, talk about it!

Handsome Killer

Sun Jan 30, 2011, 8:04 PM
So my face tried to kill me. Quite literally, from what I can tell... a bowl of bad lo-mein led to a bacterial infection that made my jaw swell up like I was doing old Brando impressions on one side, and ultimately led to my busted teeth finally coming out (long past due). Doctors seemed certain that I was about 24 hours from septic contamination of the bloodstream, after which it's a toss-up whether it gets to your brain or your heart first (either way, it's extremely lethal). Luckily I heal up pretty quick, but that's been a fun couple weeks.

So, bullet dodged, and I'm thankful for that. Dying from a terminal toothache is such a third world way to go. It would not have looked classy on my urn.

Other than that, things have actually been going pretty well. Privateer Press brought some new work to the table, I did a round of Horde designs last year that I'd wished I done better on, but I guess they were good enough to get me a second round this year. They're a lot of fun, it's basically the kind of concept art I've always wanted to do but rarely get paid for. There's a great deal of reference material to pull from that influences the design, and I'm not as familiar with the overarching content as I'd like to be, but the more I get into it the more I like what I get to do.

Sanderson's next book, The Alloy of Law, was announced some time ago. Scheduled for this November, it's a bit of a surprise novel for fans of the Mistborn books. I'm not to talk about it (Allomancy + guns = fun!), but I will say Brandon continues to be pretty progressive about the use of artwork to enhance his books. I think there's a bit more of that going around, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan, for instance, is extra awesome with the design and illustration work of Kieth Thompson. It's good news for anyone interested in conceptual illustration, as it represents a potentially expanding market.

Sanderson's focus remains on adding content that fits "in-world"... the artwork should represent something to the characters as well as the reader. His initial inspiration was Tolkien's map in The Hobbit, which isn't just a map for the reader but also the same map which Bilbo and the Dwarves are following on their journey. So for instance, each of the drawings that I put into the Way of Kings represents a page from a sketchbook belonging to a main character, and every map or diagram contributed by Isaac Stewart represents a map being seen within the story. I kinda dig this philosophy; a more extreme example might be JC Hutchin's multimedia book Personal Effects: Dark Art, where the novel comes with a package of accompanying documents and items that are intended as literal interpretations of material from within the narrative (in addition, voicemail numbers and websites within the novel have real-world equivalencies as well, sort of like an ARG). I'm not suggesting for a moment that Sanderson wants to take anything that far, but as a philosophy for visual development, I can dig it. It makes things a little more immersive, and that adds to the fun.

Lord knows physical media has to do something to maintain marketability. Tablet technology is making ebooks and infinite paper a feasible reality at last, which has some interesting repercussions for writers and artists. Sadly, not all of them are encouraging... with digital illustration, the barriers to entry are lower than ever. And that's good on the surface, as more and more people are able to express themselves and learn the skills to become illustrators, but it also means more than ever that only those with exceptional skills, contacts, and luck are able to stand out in the sea of new content being generated. You've got to be better at this than before, because there's a lot more competition out there.

Aside from alpha reading and designing miniatures, I've spent a lot of the last three months or so drawing commercial storyboards, first for an insurance campaign and then more recently for chewing gum ads. Commercial boarding is, as it turns out, a bit of a different beast from production boarding. See, when you draw storyboards for a production, your primary focus is on designing a shot or establishing actions, and doing so requires you to focus on practical, functional aspects of composition and performance. The point is to set up shots for the director and production team that follows. Your boards are important, because they establish a foundation for others to build upon, and that can be pretty rewarding.

When you draw storyboards for commercial presentation, your primary focus is on casting and product placement. The marketing agency that's hired you may not know exactly what it is that they want until you show them something they can respond to, and even if you do a good job the first time out they're going to make changes (if for no other reason than to justify their percentage), so you can expect a lot of notes. Most of the redraws involve making people more (or less) ethnically diverse. Adding people, taking people away, and generally attempting to visualize some rambling concepts. Expect to be pushed towards ideas that are wildly impractical from a variety of standpoints, and expect to be chided when it turns out that adding all the notes has thrown the timing out the window (remember, commercials must hit 15/30/60 second spots). You can't warn them, and you can't correct them, because that's not your job; your job is to draw whatever they ask for.

Out of several dozens of boards (that's groups of storyboard panels, usually consisting of 12-24 4:3 illustrations), a tiny fraction will make it to production itself (so far I've seen three of the insurance commercials go to film, and we drew up material for over three dozen). Your work might even be used by the unit tasked to make the commercial itself, but most likely your boards are adapted as animatics and presented to focus groups. They are not practical production material, but rather disposable marketing material.

So it's not very rewarding, but it does keep the rent paid. Thankfully it's not particularly difficult work either, just time-consuming. The sad part is that if you do the job well... then you get to do more of it. Sweet, evil irony.

I console myself with occasional comics work and the fun jobs. I need to go re-design a giant dragon-worm now, and then work out some spear/standard with lots of pointy bits. Now that's fun stuff.


Puppies and Dental Plans

Wed Dec 15, 2010, 3:16 AM
Who here has two thumbs and never updates his Journal?

Don't feel bad. I've got an LJ page that's straight-up dusty cobwebs.

Let's see... when last we spoke, I was heading to Dragon*Con in Atlanta. That went pretty well, I spent a great deal of time hanging out with Brandon Sanderson and Peter Ahlstrom and Isaac Stewart and occasionally Dangerous Dan Wells, and they're all pretty great people. Having met so many stereotypically douchey characters in the course of the last couple decades of Drawing for Money, it feels sadly bizarre to meet people who just seem genuinely good. I suppose it could be a facade, wouldn't be the first time I've been faked out, but I don't think so. I think they might have just been... really cool guys. The Rooster Teeth crew were the same way when we hung out in '07. It was like visiting with aliens.  

Must make a note, work for nice people more often.

So the convention was a lot of fun (all work, but fun work) and it's the sort of thing I wish I could do more often. I'm scheduled to attend GigaCon this upcoming January 14-15 in Washington D.C., where I'll be speaking on the subject of traditional animation techniques applied to digital drawing platforms. This mostly means watching me draw some frames, talk a lot about how classic technique is vitally important even in a world of mo-cap and puppetry, and answer whatever Q&A comes up. If you're in the area and might attend, then I'll look forward to meeting you there.

I admit, the best thing about Dragon*Con was that it was very gratifying to hear how much people like the artwork in The Way of Kings, and it really makes me happy to be a part of the team that brings that world to the page. The sad thing about working on the Stormlight Archives is that I don't get to do it more. From what I understand, I probably won't start the next round of Shallan's sketches (and whatever else I can elbow my way into doing on Book 2) until the middle of 2011 at the earliest. There might be some other neat stuff I can do for Brandon before then, but it's pretty much up to me to take initiative and see how far I can push before someone tells me to shove off. That's a fun tightrope to walk.

On a day-to-day basis this past week or so, I've been drawing Joe is Japanese pages again. Principal animation on the most recent Fates project tapped out a couple weeks back, just in time for another round of hellish storyboards for a series of :30 TV ads. That only lasted a week, but it was one of those 7-day no-break weeks made up of 16-hour days, and of course this business does not know the concept of overtime (not something mentioned much in school).

So THAT was kinda awful, but over quick and it paid out all right, and so that's done. Might do it again before Christmas, but I won't know for sure until the call comes in. Gotta chase them nickels.

The animation work was superfun, but as usual I'm not sure what I'm allowed to talk about so I'm not sure what to say about it. Lots of good old traditional line-animation, some interesting action bits with guns, but no really interactive fights. Did get to build a couple good explosions, one pretty straightforward and one that involved lots of detailed debris collapsing into a center point before sparking a spinning sphere blast. Couple of cuts where we exploded people Tetsuo-style (extra chunky sauce), which I hadn't done before. The client wanted gore, so my anatomy studies and references got to pay off new dividends (the secret ingredient is intestines).

I got saddled with character design as well as keys, which would normally be great fun. But having spent a year drawing comics, I made some stupid design mistakes on one of the characters to the point where it was a straight pain to animate, making my own job more difficult (and then everyone else's by the cascade effect, since keys are the first link in a chain). It was a rook mistake, all I can blame it on is rusty gears. I'd much rather have someone else doing design and layout, so I can concentrate on good timing and assembly, but circumstances usually demand that I wear extra hats. Nobody else's head is fat enough to fill 'em.

But I'd gladly pass it over. It's better to do a couple jobs really well than to do many jobs badly.

Not that anything ended up looking bad, mind you. It's in final frame check, FX and composite phases now, so it's still a work in process, but I think the finish frames look damn nice. The rest of the Fates Crew is working hard on it, and they're a skilled bunch tempered by fire. And they're used to covering my ass by now, of course.

So nobody needs me to animate anymore, but they've put me back on Joe pages for the first time in six months (really, it went on pause in July).

I wish I knew more what the distribution plans are for the book, 'cause then I could tell you, but I'm not in that loop. I can say that there's a lot of pages in the hopper, and ultimately I try not to complain too much. I'm still getting paid to draw comics pages, and I enjoy the practice. I could be doing something much less enjoyable (pretty much every one of the myriad gypsy jobs I did to survive once upon a time, for example), and all things considered the distribution isn't my bone to pick, so long as I'm clearing a check every 30.

Besides, today was a boobies day, and it's just really, really hard to complain about any frustrations with the work, no matter how logically legitimate they may seem, when someone is paying you to draw cartoonishly oversized bouncy bared breasts. You've got to recognize the fun times when they're happening.

Mostly it's not breasts I've been drawing, but I have drawn a lot of headlights (rimshot!) There's been a plethora of cars in the recent scenes, which required me to build up new muscles I'd previously avoided working out. Lightboxing helps establish the base sometimes, but that really only works for glamour shots. The rest requires that I step up and freehand, so over the course of the last 40-odd pages I've probably drawn more cars than I ever thought would be needed in anything I would ever draw (not being into cars myself), and that's XP in the bank. I now feel at least moderately comfortable with drawing vehicles from the outside and I can fake it better than ever (I could only fake it very badly before). But I still don't know a lot about the actual workings of engines and such. This of course limits how effectively you can depict those in real detail, and that can be a weakness when you suddenly need to do just that.

I don't know what a Beams 3S-GE is, but I had to draw one (probably wrong). Most of the time I guess I shouldn't sweat it, but I think that people appreciate it when you get the details right. They'll forgive you for getting them wrong, but the disappointment is palpable to me.

On the up side, I've now have a bit more appreciation for classic European rally racers. They're so often adorably ugly little beasts that move like a cracked-up hamster with a rocket up its butt. Seeing 'em rip around corners and fly over hills is crazy fun to watch.

I'll see if I can't free a few more pages from the stack. Probably not the ones with boobies. Sorry.

* * *

Life could be worse. I'd probably be more content, less stressful, if I didn't know that at a deeply personal level. I've got a warm home and a full belly and a good woman. Was a time once when I had none of those things, and less. Been a dozen years and a bit, but you never forget.

That drove me to where I am today. It'll burn as long as it must to get me wherever I'm going.

Someplace with puppies. And dental plans.

Dragon*Con and 'The Way of Kings'

Tue Aug 31, 2010, 3:04 AM
I'll be attending Dragon*Con in Atlanta this weekend (Sept 3-6). It's my first time at D*C, and while I have San Diego '07 to compare it to, I hear it's not even quite the same thing. I think we'll have a good time.

I'll be there to hang out, meet people old and new, and take in the sights for the most part. Monday I'll be part of a panel discussion regarding the conceptual artwork created by Greg Call, Isaac Stewart and myself, for the new epic fantasy novel The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (from Tor Books, out today in bookstores and on Kindles and Nooks across the US).

I'm a bit psyched up about that.

Back in 2007-2008 I began reading Sanderson's stories after hearing him describe his new series Mistborn on a podcast (Dragonpage C2C). He knows how to make a pretty good elevator pitch. I read the first Mistborn novel soon afterwards, and then everything else I could find. I was hooked.

What I like about Brandon's work is tied intrinsically to who I am and what I do as an artist. His novels effortlessly spark my imagination. He presents scenarios and environments and characters that beg to be visualized. He describes moments and actions in time with refreshing clarity.

Simply put, his ideas are cool. They're fun to draw. The narrative is exciting, the worlds are beautiful and strange, there will be magic and it will make sense and it will be useful, not just sparkly. These are the marks of a Brandon Sanderson novel.

Through a combination of mercenary intent and serendipitous timing I found myself, quite unexpectedly, helping him to visualize the world that lies beneath his newest work; a world-spanning tale of epic fantasy entitled "The Stormlight Chronicles", beginning with the first volume, The Way of Kings.

The Way of Kings engages its scope without reservation. It's ambitious, and that's just fine, because it's also quite entertaining. An exiled soldier, now a slave, is forced into back-breaking suicidal charges through enemy fire to serve the convenience of callous men. An artist is called upon to play a sinister, dangerous role in the service of a brilliant, heretic scholar. A devoted general is caught up in political machinations that threaten to shatter his honorable convictions, while tortured by visions he cannot understand.

All of this is set upon Roshar, a world ravaged by frequent hurricane-force storms, scoured by wind and rain, and thriving with uncommon but strangely familiar life. Plants and grasses sprawl across the stone, pulling in upon themselves for protection. Massive crustaceans and arthropods rule the food chain, cities shelter within cliffs and knife-edged mountains, and men wage war across shattered plateaus with power-enhanced armor and blades of uncommon shape and size.

For a certain generation of artist, this is pure nerd-nip. It feeds into a body of common concepts that are extremely entertaining to envision, and here they are presented in an original, imaginative narrative that flows easily and tells a rousing story of honor, betrayal, loyalty and courage. These are two tastes that taste frickin' great together.

My part of the published novel is actually very small. Within the book itself there are six illustrations representing a tiny portion of the unique ecosystem that serves as setting for the story. Professedly pages from a naturalist/artist's sketchbook (one of the characters within the story), each illustration details a familiar plant or animal seen commonly in world; from giant crabs that grow boulders on their backs, to the tiny insects that crawl amongst the crevices. Beyond those six pages is a small but growing collection of behind-the-scenes thumbnails, sketches and additional illustrations that represent the evolution of each concept, which remain yet to be seen.

If you're a fan of George R.R. Martin, Dave Duncan, Frank Herbert, David Farland, Jim Butcher, Dave Eddings, Tolkien, or Robert Jordan (Sanderson is the author tapped to continue Jordan's legacy, completing "The Wheel of Time" series), then I know you'll love the world, the characters and the adventure of The Way of Kings. If you grew up a fan of Escaflowne, Nausicaä, or any of the many incarnations of Final Fantasy, then this is a novel you've longed to read even if you never knew it. If you're a fan of both, then I suggest you schedule some time off to recover from the nerdgasms you're going to have with every other page.  

There's so much more of this world that I want to draw than just these tiny portions. Attend our panel, "The Art of The Way of Kings" at Dragon*Con, Monday Sept. 6 at 11:30AM (I know), and see a part of that.

Style Isn't About Mistakes

Fri Jul 30, 2010, 4:50 AM
If you'd like to skip the ramble (aaawww!!), drop to the bottom for some new News.

In the meantime, it's been a while since we did one of these but I had some thoughts on the  good ol' Subject of Style. Grab a snack, this one goes down a ways.

An interesting conversation came up recently wherein someone mentioned the age-old adage, "style is in the mistakes that you make". I'd heard this 20 years ago when I first started taking stuff seriously, and I'm sure it goes back further than that.

I think the statement suggests that a "style" is made up of things that you do your own way, rather than the "right" way, and that making mistakes lets you create a unique style of your own. Which isn't wrong, exactly, but I don't think it's a very good way to talk about creating and maintaining effective style as an artist.

Just to clarify, by "style" I mean "a particular series of aesthetic design decisions made by an artist while creating a work". It's not just how the work looks (although that's a big part of it), but also how it "feels", and how it makes many different people feel and think when they experience it.

Creating a "style" is something that a lot of artists (especially those just getting started) tend to obsess over, because they see a unique, cool and appealing style as the path to fame, fortune and free fajitas. And while there's a lot to be said for happy mistakes and the unique aesthetic results that may be born from them, I don't know of any professional illustrator who makes a regular habit of screwing up a part of their "style".

Rather than say that "style is in the mistakes you make", I would say, "style is in the shortcuts that you choose to take".

Here we go, down the rabbit hole. :D

Say I choose to illustrate the human nose a certain way, with a little line and a tick (very Japanese). Someone else may choose to draw just a "c" shape, others will delineate the edge of every contour currently oblique to the plane of vision.

ALL of these choices are equally "correct", assuming that they all fulfill an all-important criteria: anyone who looks at those lines sees "a human nose".

In order to consciously control your style and make it your bitch, you need to fully understand what your stylistic choices represent and how they'll be interpreted by others. If you draw it "your way" but nobody else can understand it, you're not doing the job of communicating effectively. You may be able to work as a fine artist (good luck with that lottery), but working as a commercial artist will be... difficult.

Over time each of us builds up a library of techniques for handling whatever we're required to illustrate at a given time, whether that's expressions, or technology, or anatomy, or storytelling devices. I sometimes also refer to them as "shortcuts" or "tricks", because in my experience they're usually time-saving devices.

When we combine all these techniques in our own personal ways, people call that a "style". Every technique you create, copy or re-invent in order to feed the needs of the task at hand becomes one of the many elements that make up your "style".

When we do it in a way that induces someone to see and feel what we want them to, just by looking at the image or reading the story, they call that "good style".

If you make a mistake and it looks cool, it's still a mistake. If you do it on purpose because it's an effective way of illustrating something, then it's part of your style.

This is why it's difficult to copy someone else's style and really get away with it... because no matter how thoroughly you study someone's body of work, you're not likely to understand the reasoning and methodology behind whatever choices the artist is making unless you have a complete understanding of what led up to them (something only the artist is likely to know).

Likewise, you may have mastered a body of tricks that you use in order to represent anatomy or visual effects or emotions, whatever, and you might be REALLY good at using those techniques. And they're probably a hodgepodge of stuff you've seen and stuff you've done a lot and stuff you know "just works", but it's all based on some precedent that you've observed. It's a style based on other styles, and it can take you a long way, but it's ultimately hollow and will lead to tears when precedent fails to address the next challenge.

When you are Drawing To Get Paid, you must be able to function effectively when the game calls for you to draw something for which you have no stylistic precedents to rely upon. And in Work For Hire, this happens ALL THE TIME. Even if you got a kickass hold on your kickass "style" that you've been drawing in for years, in no time at all you're guaranteed to be expected to draw some goddamn thing you've never thought of before, in some way that's completely alien to whatever line of creative philosophy you've been currently tacked to.

This is also why it's important to learn all that incredibly tedious, boring shit that every art class everywhere attempts to cram down your throat. I hated drawing "realistically" when I was a student, and it took me a long time to understand the value of those basics back then because I couldn't see how they applied to the way I wanted to draw. I had "style", what did I need all that boring crap about grids and muscle groups for?

No instructor ever explained to me that if you master the basic, fundamental rules (rules of Composition, Anatomy, Lighting, Perspective, Storytelling, etc) then you possess a framework from which to consciously direct your style. And the more thoroughly you understand the basics, the more effectively you can work to create a style that suits your needs best, while simultaneously being able to improvise when you are forced to think outside the box.

You've must master the basics if you want to be an unbeatable illustrator. Without them, you'll always have a weakness. Something will drag you down until you fix it (I can't draw feet, I can't draw ears, I can't draw backgrounds, I can't draw cars or guns or cyborgs or interplanetary comet-dwelling space llamas). And the less you know about the basics, the more vulnerable you'll always be to a moment where you're expected to effectively, skillfully illustrate something that you have never seen, heard of, or thought about before.

It's in those moments that the basics, the damnable Basics, the stupid, boring, tedious BASICS will not fail you.

I'm not saying that you can't have a good-looking, effective style without a solid understanding of fundamentals. What I am saying is that without 'em, I don't know if you're really in control of your style, or if you're just relying on what you know and making it up as you go whenever you don't.

You can be stylish as heck, but if your style is reliant upon "happy mistakes" or the use of particular techniques to the exclusion of all else ("this is how I draw, this is the only way I know how to draw"), then sooner or later (barring a lottery-odds lucky break that propels your stylish-but-fundamentally-unschooled ass into the spotlight) you will hit a wall and be unable to do something the job requires. Actually, if you get famous BEFORE you have a full mastery of your skills, it can be worse because your embarrassing mistakes are going to be on display for a lot more people, and at that point you can really damage your reputation.

It's the difference between riding the tiger and holding onto it by the tail.

As an Editor or an Art Director looking for an illustrator to fill a role, I may decide not to offer you the job if your fundamentals are weak. I can't take a chance that you'll drop the ball if I need you to draw something you've never thought about before.

When you're a master of the fundamental principles, you will never (hardly ever) hit a situation where you don't know what to do or how to work around it effectively. You can always break it down to the basics, and then build it back up so that whatever it is, it's a part of your style that's entirely yours. Furthermore, every time you do you'll pick up a whole new host of tricks that vary your arsenal even further.

Best of all, you can more easily make up new styles that will be fundamentally attractive, well-rounded and capable of wide application. If you need to draw cartoony, you can do it. If you need to draw real, you can do that to. It's easier to break down any style that you study enough, and pick it apart for the good bits. This is why both Cho and Frazetta can (could) draw the hottest women and the goofiest cartoon critters with equal skill.

Anyone can be stylish by accident, but it takes work to do it on purpose.


If you're into the subject, this DA posting says many of the same things I just did, but more clearly and with pictures:…

Well worth reading.

* * *

Whew! Some news:

I'm animating again, hooray! The Joe is Japanese graphic novel goes on hiatus for a few months while Fates gears up on a new 2D short production. This means I had to pack up all my comics thinkin' and dust off the parts of my brain that focus on keyframing and timing and element composition, and actually I'm damn rusty. It's been almost two whole years since I've worked the lead on a production like this. The Nike spots last year were intense, but they were a trio of 30-second solos, and this is several minutes with lots of cool action and sci-fi elements. It's basically the stuff I'm always dying to do, so it's a welcome switch-up, but I've got to shake the squeak out of my gears because it is on, baby.

I'm wrapping up the final touches on a new cover for Crafty Games (not sure of the book title yet but I think they'll show the art at Gen Con in a couple weeks), it's the most intense painting job I've done since the last cover I did for them, back in late 2007. Color and I are wary acquaintances at best, but I'm getting over it with practice, as always. I'm feeling good about my current brush technique (basic additive/sampling process, though I think I accidentally reinvented the Flemish method) but I'm having a hard time consciously directing overall palette decisions and maintaining even values. Thankfully PS painting allows for easy manipulation of the color range and contrast, but it's a crutch. The sad thing about all that crap I wrote up there is that it applies perfectly well to me too, whenever I need to paint anything outside of a flat or 'animated' style. The only gratifying aspect of the whole mess is that lately I feel a genuine sense of progress almost every time I sit down for a good painting session. I think the new cover looks pretty nice, certainly better than the 2007 painting, and I can't wait to share it.

Last off, I've got six fully-painted (monochromatic) illustrations featuring in the pages of Brandon Sanderson's new epic novel The Way of Kings, coming out from Tor books at the end of August. Brandon is the author tapped to wrap up Robert Jordan's 14-volume fantasy series "The Wheel of Time" (totally separate series, but its given him a huge publicity boost this past year), and he's also the author of the "Mistborn" trilogy, which inspired several works you can find in my Fan Art gallery. I'm super-psyched about The Way of Kings, I've read it and I love it even more than the Mistborn books. Being an actual concept artist and illustrator for this new series is just pure sugar, and I hope it lasts a long time.

If you're attending Dragon*Con this September 3-6, I'll be on a panel with Isaac Stewart, Brandon Sanderson and Irene Gallo (art director at Tor) where we'll discuss the art in the book and the unique way that Brandon is approaching the visual development of his new fantasy epic. It oughtta be interesting stuff, I hope to see you there!

And that's about all I got for now. Lots of stuff keeping me busy, if you know where to look (and you should, 'cause I've told you before) you can follow some of it, but as always the updates here on DA will be unpredictable at best. I do check the messages frequently though, so don't hesitate to drop a Note or a Comment and let me know what you're thinking!

Second Verse, etc.

Thu May 27, 2010, 2:32 AM
Whoaow, almost let six months go by there. Sorry 'bout that.

Very little has changed that's worth speaking of, and I resist writing about stuff like What My Cat Did, Omigawd So Cute just to put up a regular entry. I had a birthday. We moved to a new apartment. Lately I like Red Dead Redemption and Harry Dresden and Birdy The Mighty: Decode which is finally on Hulu. My cats are adorable and evil.

I'm still drawing the Joe is Japanese graphic novel for 2.5-D Animation Studio "Fates", more formally called "Humoring The Fates". But I have not been drawing a lot of animation, because there has not been a lot of animation for me to draw. Business is bad for drawing-type animators, at least in my neck o' the swamp. If anyone knows different, I'd sure like to hear about it.

Instead I continue to build up EXP in Comics Illustration, where I've settled into a pretty steady routine of layout-sketch-finish-layout-repeat, a page goes out every day that they don't have me doing something else. There's been some commercial boarding for :30 spots with national campaigns, and I guess they'll be neat to see when they get on TV, but it's not real thrilling to talk about "the killer 25-panel washing machine sequence that had to be done in 6 hours". I'm having much more fun illustrating a 3-sided gang rumble between yakuza and bosouzoku tribes in a street-racing junkyard. I got to draw a lot of punching. And a hood slide!

At over 250 pages (we're into the third act, though, I swear) it's kind of ridiculous huge for one book. I have no idea how this will look in print, but it won't be a slim volume. I'm pushing for publishing it online as a webcomic in order to bump visibility and sales of a print edition... at a schedule of 3/week it's already got a nearly two-year buffer to guarantee steady updates (possibly the most important factor in a properly successful online comic), but I'm running into some resistance at the idea of basically "giving the whole thing away". I'm not sure what solid data exists to support the argument that an online publishing model doesn't negatively affect total returns, but I'm poking around to see what I can find out. It's a subject with lots of anecdotal and testimonial evidence, but not a lot of hard info.

In the meantime, alpha readers of Joe is Japanese have been pretty positive. It's apparently "a very weird but entertaining story". It is "different", but it has stuff people like (boobs), and that's gratifying to hear. Some of the most recent pages have been a hoot to draw, and if my nascent faith holds true then it oughtta be a hoot to read.

In the home studio, there's a new cover for another Crafty Games book in the early stages. We'll see what tricks I've picked up since the cover to Fantasy Craft, which I painted back in late '07. Lots more intense lighting in this one.

And there's a new book coming out in August which I'm really excited about. More on that soon.

I'm not real good with answering messages lately, but if you ask me anything in a Note or Comment I can usually be relied upon to get back to you soon. I've been trying to work out another one of those long Journals on some topic of the business that so many people have liked in the past, but juggling has kept me from being too thoughtful lately. If there's a topic you'd want me to talk about, let me know!

Check it out

Wed Dec 23, 2009, 2:31 AM
Something I haven't promoted in an official capacity lately:

Humoring the Fates (aka Studio Fates) is the animation studio through which I contract the majority of my work. I'm the lead animator for most of the studio's traditional 2D projects, as well as a board artist and designer, and lately comics illustrator.

There's a 2009 Studio Reel up. If it's 2D or 2.5D traditional, odds are I worked on it.

There's also a metric crap-tonne of content there that I have never posted here, or even talked about. You can find all three of the Nike commercials, there's a Joe is Japanese short, a whole bunch of illustration stuff, all mixed in with the work of everyone else at Fates into a collective presentation.

Fatescrew is the studio's production blog for most (but not all) projects. Some stuff is behind walls but there's a LOT of work-in-progress pieces that go back a ways. It updates irregularly, usually in bursts that coincide with a particular project.

The Joe is Japanese comic is proceeding along at what I suppose is a regular clip, we passed the 170 mark at some recent point. The latest pages are a good bit more dense than the examples I've posted recently, I got a talkin'-to about backgrounds and the dialog has been flowing pretty thick, and between this and that I've been much more conscious of layout and composition. Nonetheless I'm still keeping up with the page-per-day rate, with the rare hump, which I'm told is pretty standard. Faster, of course, is better.

For the most part I start the day with a thumbnail layout from the writer, and I finish it with a completed page of line art ready for paints. I'm following the Eisner method of placing the dialogue into the composition during the layout (rather than the Marvel method where the dialogue is placed after the artwork is drawn), which I think I'd like to keep going with. Heck, if time were no obstacle I think I'd really like to try lettering by hand, go for something in a Dave Sim or Matt Howarth vein. Done right, it's amazing how well it conveys tone and inflection, you can hear the voice of the character so much more effectively.

Still not sure how many pages it will ultimately come out to. I just draw 'em as they pass 'em down.

* * *

Maybe a little early to do a 2009 wrap-up, but then again at the rate I post lately, it'll be 2010 before I come out again, only to be scared away by my shadow. All in all the year was pretty rough, but I'm determined to accentuate the positives. Drawin' comics has been a challenge that I'm happy to finally start walkin' more than talkin'. There wasn't a lot of animation work in '09 but what there was I enjoyed doing, I was allowed to stretch more often and have fun with the action, as opposed to needing to toe a line with model sheets and style guides.

In 2010 there should be some neat stuff to look forward to. Crafty Games has me on another RPG book, and I believe the Mistborn RPG is scheduled for the later part of this coming year as well. I'm definitely looking forward to that one a lot. The JiJ graphic novel I'm doing now will wrap up at some point in there. There's one particular book that I'm VERY excited about, which should hit the shelves somewhere in the summer or fall, but I've taken a Vow of Shut the Hell Up until I get the high sign from the author.

All things considered, we're hanging on all right. I hope you're all doing the same.

What Am I Doing?

Fri Sep 25, 2009, 2:20 AM
Drawing comics, mostly. The Joe is Japanese comic, to be exact. Somewhere around 140 pages so far, not sure where it's going to stop (probably in the 250 range, near as I can tell, but that's pretty hazy territory), and all in gorgeous Fatescrew colors. I'm just doing the line-art and some of the layout/pacing... as it's always been with JiJ, it's written by Joe himself and el Nortega, and then I mangle it up and give it back and they hammer on it some more and eventually something comes out the other end looking like, in this case, a graphic novel.

It's certainly not the sort of story I thought I'd end up working on... fantasy, crime, horror, even superheroes, sure, but bizarre semi-biographical treks through foreign lands of socio-personal mystery and adventure? Didn't even pop up on the radar. When they pitch "The Meets" it's usually Lost in Translation meets A Million Little Pieces, which you must admit is at least something different. And it's got jubblies and fight scenes and downhill street races (I'm told, haven't got there yet), which are all fun to draw. Wally Wood helps get me through the talky bits.

Before you ask, I haven't "quit" animation. It's just that I'm a contract animator, and so I animate when I get contracts. Something which isn't happening a lot lately, probably on account of this "economy" thing I keep hearing about [/dry_voice]. Still, I hear there's some positive noises from the people we did the baseball bit for, so I'm sure I'll be back on the frames again eventually. In the meantime I guess I'm dedicated to drawing at least another 100 pages of Joe is Japanese. And after that, who knows... comics is the ultimate do-it-yourself storytelling media, and I haven't forgotten the material deep in my archives. Those concepts aren't dead, just sleeping, and I'm a lot more confident in my ability to draw comics now than I was back then.

It's weird how I get into jobs... it's never through the front door. I can count on one hand the number of times I've gotten a job through the use of a resume, or an interview. Instead everything happens because of some other damned thing, a hurly-burly chain of happenstance combined with my general willingness to bounce along letting the current take me where it likes (usually someplace where all the drowned squirrel corpses pile up).

I've been wanting to draw comics... well, pretty much since I decided I wanted to draw for a living. Comics was where it started, The Spirit, Pogo, Little Nemo in Slumberland, Krazy Kat, ZAP!, Cheech Wizard, Deadbone, Those Annoying Post Bros, Arzach, Blueberry, The Airtight Garage, Appleseed, Akira, Usagi Yojimbo. When I set my single step on the journey of a thousand miles, comics was the destination. And yet somehow I ended up taking the scenic route... the one with all the soggy squirrel bits, through Animation Alley by way of Kiddie Korner with a couple detours along T-shirt Trail. And now it's Comics Canyon, at least until I hit the next fork. There will probably be Curves Ahead (aaand we're done with that metaphor).

There's nothing like throwing yourself into the deep end to impress upon you the need to learn how to swim, and to learn very quickly. You would think that the past 8 years or so of drawing animation, and the previous 5 years of drawing cartoons for the kids' magazine (including a stack of two-page comics stories, there's a couple in the Gallery) would have left me in a pretty good position to draw a long-format graphic novel in a realistic setting.

Ahahahaa... no. The last six months has been a fairly non-stop continuous slamming into a wall labeled You Suck. I've had to completely re-learn perspective, AGAIN. Anatomy needed boning up, composition, all the crap I'm constantly harping on in these Journals, I got a nice taste of my own foot (mmm, toe-cheesy). Easier to talk than to walk.

Thankfully I can still fake it pretty good, to the point where lately I've even begun to fool myself. David Chelsea's Perspective for Comic Book Artists helps a lot. So do the old Loomis books. But ultimately, as always seems to be the case, the only thing that really helps is practice. You gotta burn to earn, talk and study is fine but it's time on the table that hammers it in.

The first 50 pages were harder to draw than the next 100. I can hope that trend continues, can't i?

It's slightly reassuring to find that most of what I've been saying is still valid. The three most constantly required basic skills that keep coming up (outside of actual drawing technique) are still Perspective, Composition and Anatomy. Might be I'll have to add Architecture in there someday, though I might humbly suggest that Architecture is a subset of Anatomy (the anatomy of buildings), and that the same important parts of anatomy that you need to know (what parts go where, what they're for and how they attach to other parts) are the same important parts of architecture that you need to know. And in the same way that I've built up an internal library of physical variance (which I apply far too rarely), I'm slowly building up the same for architectural details.

Still, comics ain't easy sailin'. You've got to employ a wider range of artistic disciplines, simultaneously, than in any other creative field I can think of. It's like drumming, keeping track of time and several beats and all your limbs do different things all at once, and somehow from chaos emerges rhythm.

Though I think this disturbs the neighbors less. At least until they read it.

* * *

I'm not done posting Fantasy Craft bits, but the flood is back to being a trickle. I put over 60 illustrations into that book, including the cover, which makes it the largest single body of my gaming work to date. If you've been wanting me to put out a collection, then I suggest you buy it for the artwork and get a free game.

Crafty Games also has the license for the Mistborn RPG, and I guess it's safe to say that I'll be doing some work on that (though to what degree I can't say yet). I wasn't wasting time with all those Mistborn fanart pieces so much as getting some practice in. And it won't be the last Brandon Sanderson project I get to play with, I think. The internet is wonderful for making connections.

So that's the news from my end of things. Not particularly thrilling, I could use a little more sunshine and lollipops, but nevertheless I do abide.