rydain: (Cao Ren Sunset)
This year has been a strange one for personal sense of accomplishment. I'm trudging up my own mountain, head down, one foot after another. The sense of motion is there, but the scale just doesn't seem to register until I turn and look back on the valley below.


Four years ago, I was scouring Dynasty Warriors fan sites and desperately wishing that I could draw. I was decent in high school, but severely out of practice at capturing any sort of likeness. The learning curve of my favorite characters seemed damned near vertical. I bought a Wacom tablet and a face anatomy book, and I struggled for months to make sense of poses and loosen up my stiff lines. After some more slow and painful progress, I put the hobby aside in favor of writing. Then came this year, a lightbulb of Getting It, and an avalanche of improvement. I don't like looking at my old work any more, and I've shoved my first cringeworthy finished piece into the deviantArt storage locker forever and ever, amen. But that's one small price to pay for being able to draw my choice of fan service in a timely and ever better manner. Case in point -

A Victory For Strategy - Cao Ren & Lu Meng playing strip weiqi - loincloth ahoy! )

I even colored it, which is a total WUT for me. Check the deviantArt submission for more on the technique used. I also plan to make a tutorial out of the hair at some near future point. Which is epic for me, as I used to fear hair and phone it in like whoa. If I can help one other person understand how to build it up and feel its form, I'll be happy.


Last summer, I got way into inFamous over Fourth of July weekend. I was simultaneously engrossed by its grungy, kinetic atmosphere and frustrated to high hell over its clownish back story and binary sense of morality. The sci-fi plot device had that wondrous air of handwaved plausibility until we found out that the Big Bad was really me who had traveled time for the future of mankind. The moral decisions boiled down to saving a schoolbus of puppies vs. trollface.jpg. At least the gameplay was hella fun, and it all kicked off this nebulous itch to write Something Really Big and Energetic and Way the Fuck More Nuanced. That collided with my other longstanding itch to make some form of full-blown adaptation of Cao Cao and pals being badass. Arise, my novel, was born.

That blasted thing is a monster. It went from speculative alternate future to modern day real world. It mutated and writhed out of my grasp as I researched and poked at it. I rushed my planning to be able to bang out enough draft to finish NaNoWriMo 2011. And then kicked myself, repeatedly, as I acquired the references I had lacked the time to discover.

My fast tracked research had given me a cursory sense of life in Nanjing, Chinese garment factory operations, business conventions, and the mentalities of counterfeiters. A stronger sense of the above cannot be rushed, and it slowly filtered in as I continued to read a wide variety of reference books and articles, from the specifically relevant to more general societal discourse. Some of my concepts turned out to be inapplicable. Even the better ones had seemed to be floating without context in that dreaded plastic sitcom realm, the Uncanny Valley of veracity. Somewhat quoth the raven - nevermore, yo. My notes are more nuanced, my foundation far more solid. Some subplots continue to frustrate me, and I need to remind myself to look well beyond that. At this time last year, I had shiny starry eyes for the setting and little else to go on. Is this progress? Oh hell yes I win.

I still find myself holding back from writing a single line of prose. NaNo may have put up a good fight last year, but I came out standing - and I'm itching for another round.
rydain: Mario bouncing in Kuribo's Shoe (Kuribo's Shoe)
Last week, we doubled the RAM in my computer and swapped in a faster hard drive. After three successful data migrations, from OS upgrades to moving all my business onto this current machine, OS X decided to put on its best trollface and only copy over some arbitrary subset of my profile. Repeatedly. Which kept me up past 4 a.m. on a weeknight until I decided to fuck it all and manually drag over all the missing data on my old drive, which was left untouched and mounted externally. A computer without satisfactory customization is like a fire hydrant that some other dog peed on, especially with the complication of Data Restoration Whack-a-Mole. I need to be able to come home and sit down and listen to my music while diving into any current project - and I was closing in on my latest artwork at the time - so I took a morning off to recreate that comfort for myself.

The silver lining? This gave me a good reason to go through assorted downloads and notes from long ago. I threw out all sorts of random offal just sitting around, and I came across quality amusement long since forgotten. I present to you a dream log from five years back, which still brings the relevant images to mind.

Not so happy Mr. Owl )

Murder on the desert ship )

Scary Pittsburgh tunnels and '90s celebrities )
rydain: (Cao Ren Sunset)
I spent the past three weeks on a new illustration, building up lines and torturing myself with the sort of fussy detail that has a way of bringing out every form irregularity and perspective fail. I finally enjoyed drawing hair, and I'm beginning to learn the ways of fabric. Both are cut from the same cloth, so to speak - flowing surfaces with volume that my brain just didn't seem to get for the longest time.

Also on deviantArt as usual. Pose was adapted from a photo reference.

Just a Dance - Cai Wenji x Cao Ren )

I want to color this. I tried for a long evening and set it aside, frustrated by my inability to choose flats in the sweet spot between dull bleh and oversaturated clown barf. At least Pennywise seemed to have been snacking on a cohesive set of Crayolas, so I figured it was a reasonable first try. Then I got to wondering why I was trying to choose flats to begin with, as I never seemed to get along with that process on any other prior failed attempt to color my work. The uniform fields of color look weird and trip me up. Instead, why not paint as I had drawn - built up and relaxed into, just as I'd done with traditional media in high school?

Inspired by this faux watercolor tutorial, I gave it another go. Damn, what an improvement. Slowly deepening washes just look right to me, and those stupidly saturated colors mellow into desirable brightness when layered in patient steps. I need some study practice before returning to the piece, but I should be able to finish it true to my nebulous vision.

While my conscious effort was focused on art, the rest of my brain was chewing away on my novel. The missing gist of plot came in one fell swoop, and I now have a solid high-level concept for the full story. I'm working on the next level of detailed planning for each subplot and conflict. Some specifics have changed or gone back up in the air, but I have a better handle on the more important aspects - thematic or plot purposes served, fundamental character motivations that drove the original ideas. The anti-counterfeiting investigation went from a giant question mark to quite the light bulb, not requiring any real stupidity on the part of a cautious supply line. Accidents happen, patterns can be seen with enough comprehensive surveillance, and fake bags aren't going to be guarded with the same extreme care as fake cigarettes. One bum link, no matter how temporary, can expose the chain just enough to be latched onto. What happens from there is a series of snapshots, further questions to answer, and a resolution satisfying enough that the rest will surely fall into line.
rydain: (Lu Meng in the Mist)
June, my unofficial 2012 month of Pittsburgh reunions.

The first was a meetup with some of my best friends ever at a noodle restaurant that hasn't changed since high school, from the menu to the blown-up photos on the striped orange wall. This week's occasion was my old neighbor's summer party. Her mom and my mom go way back, and we always got along well over the years. I invariably enjoyed loafing around with her friends as well, even though I tended to be the runt of the group because I was two years younger.

It was a hell of an awesome party. Nice buffet, cookie tray, keg of quality brew supplemented with a variety pack from the neighbors. Friendly dog, backyard up the hill, kids running around with Super Soakers and chasing fireflies in the dusky blue twilight. Very chill and down to earth and reminiscent of various others hosted by my parents' friends over the years, in which the young ones found their common ground as the grownups sat and drank beer. One's demographic may change, but the get-along aspect remains the same - with a bonus case of Small World Syndrome as I realized that I was sitting across from one of my first online friends. Conversation ranged from renaissance fairs to Halloween costumes and the Toledo Zoo, which apparently has quite the impressive hippo exhibit. Interesting people tend to be educational by sheer virtue of their variety of knowledge, and I was reminded of some American historical tidbits that I hope I had only forgotten rather than never learned in the first place. At least I remembered "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too", even if I didn't recall the specifics of Tyler's presidency itself.

My mom still lives in the house I grew up in, and I stay in my old room whenever I visit. The neighborhood noises are strange and the bed is rather short, but I always sleep well.
rydain: (Lu Meng in the Mist)
So I wanted to focus hardcore on novel outlining, and then my Department of Visuals whacked me over the head with an idea. And then it demanded said idea to be used as fodder for style study. Three weeks of grumbling and headscratching alternated with the blissful downhill slide of form and volume falling into place, and here we are. That's the sound of me leveling up as I perform the Done at Last Deskflop.

KOEI went joyously apeshit with fun anachronistic costumes for Dynasty Warriors 7. First came the school uniforms - more recently, fairy and folk tales. I imagined that Huntsman Lu Meng and Robin Hood Xiahou Yuan would have a friendly rivalry over the merits of bullets vs. arrows, and there you have it.

Shoot That Poison Arrow - Lu Meng & Xiahou Yuan, fairy tale costumes )

Also on deviantArt as usual, and named after a New Wave song that I unironically love, awkward dancing and gold lame suits and floating geometry and all.

This took on a storybook illustration feel that I like very much. I pushed the value range and line weight further than my prior inclinations, which was also fun when I figured out how to beef up outlines to enhance the form instead of smashing it flat.
rydain: (Cao Ren Sunset)
After two months of practicing anatomy on shirtless men, my brain craves words and stuff. I really should do small sketches and whatnot to keep myself fresh. I admit to having a serious motivation problem when I'm not studying for a specific piece.

I'm poking at some Mass Effect 3 ending fanfic. The mood is a cross between the Guardian Legend introduction and Nine Inch Nails' A Warm Place. Incongruous as that sounds, it works in my head, and I'm sure it will work once my notes congeal into actual prose. Said notes largely consist of disjointed snippets of conversation, scenery, and internal exposition. Say hello to pretty much my entire writing process.

Sometimes lightning strikes and I see a full scene all at once: the gist of conversation and expository balance, the intended mood, relevant plot development, any deeper symbolism or allegory that happens to belong there. More often, my inspiration comes piecemeal. I know what development I need, but I have no compelling idea on how to sell it. Or I have conversations and scenery floating around with no place to go. To plan the FIRST DRAFT FOR REALS THIS TIME of Arise, I have the following set up in Scrivener:

  • Basic list of shit going on: actions, character frustrations, primary circumstances driving the conflict. This keeps track of cause and effect propagation and helps ensure that it all makes sense at its most fundamental level.

  • Any scene ideas I can come up with, from specifics to development that eventually needs to be put somewhere. These are roughly ordered at best. A bunch are repurposed from the better fruits of my NaNoWriMo draft.

  • List of unanswered questions and relevant rambling. This includes research topics and undecided motivations and plot points.

To rebuild my foundation, I refined my basic plausible conflicts to strongly evoke the setting. Gao Feng Tao took over his uncle's handbag factory, but I didn't know the circumstances. Further research turned up the perfect solution - Tao stole the chops. In China, business and financial authority is conferred via stamps that are difficult to forge and respected as official word regardless of whoever is using them. It's a wonderfully specific detail, and it poofed into my head with a dramatic confrontation scene. Bonus!

As you may gather by my constant rambling about the brilliance of the show, I took yet more cues from The Wire. I found more court cases and business news to inspire tidbits of character back story. I rethought conflicts to arise from basic problems, such as supply chain price increases and the cutthroat competition inherent in the trucking industry. I got a better handle on understanding my characters' mentality of copying and skimming as fair game - it's just business and all. At around 60% sketched, my revised plot already feels closer to the natural result of an ecosystem than it did in the NaNo stage.

I'm almost ready to dig into Rough Draft 1.0. (NaNo was 0.1a.) I have enough scene specifics to work on, lots of promising rough prose to polish, and placeholders for undecided development including lead-in needed for the final act. There's enough to do that won't be invalidated by further research and planning. Chums up let's do this! (Again.)
rydain: Kaidan Alenko from Mass Effect 3 (Kaidan)
So last year I really got into Mass Effect. I finished the first game and made it through a bunch of the second before being distracted by novel brainstorming and my related marathon of The Wire. With the third game impending, I kept meaning to pick it back up. I was psyched to finish the story of Kira Shepard and her red beehive of mostly paragon no-bullshittery, especially due to developer promises of said story diverging with the choices I had made in the early games. The first two endings were limited to set up a trilogy. The third had no such constraints, and Bioware's creativity promised to knock it all out of the park.

I ran the other way from the script leak posted some months back. After certain rumors began to trickle in, and the vague hints only piqued my curiosity, I caved and spoiled myself for the details. Good news doesn't ruin much for me because a summary is nothing like the personal experience of gameplay. And if the news turned out to suck, I wanted to be forewarned.

Reactions incoming, yo.

Mass Effect 3 ending spoilers. You have been warned.

The tl;dr version )

The macro spam version )
rydain: (Lu Meng in the Mist)
I spent the second half of last year writing or researching or chasing my tail in novel-related frustration. I missed art, but had neither focus nor inspiration, so I included illustration study in my rotation of casual reading. I pored over pro illustrators' sketches to learn about capturing volume, form, and gesture in that crucial rough phase. I read Andrew Loomis' work for more examples in that vein. I found a fantastic gallery of muscle photography free to use for hobbyist work.

I referenced one of those pictures for a quick piece of fan art in response to a prompt. And shocked myself with that heady feeling of Wow, I Can Draw.

I did decent art in high school, but I was never much of a visual thinker. I also focused on still life and dreamscapes rather than the bodies and faces that I had to learn from scratch when the drawing itch hit me some four years ago. My sporadic art practice has been dragging myself out of rustiness while wrapping my head around the fundamentals that I'd never truly internalized, even when I could produce a reasonable representation of my hand or a leafy plant or a display of glass fruit. Human anatomy is a harmony of distinct lines and shadow shapes, of quirks and irregularities that must be maintained to preserve a sense of naturalness. Now that I've turned a corner with Getting It, I'm beginning to feel the blissful flow that I get from my best writing.

The following picture took about 12 days from initial sketch to completion. A year ago, I would have required double the time for half the nuance. Now to continue outdoing myself in the future.

Calm Before the Storm - Lu Meng, shirtless )

deviantArt submission with photo reference credit
rydain: (Lu Meng in the Mist)
I did this Manga Studio drawing with the reasonably successful aim of loosening up my style and improving the realism of my facial features. My hair remains stylized, but I like it that way. Pen doodling is the shit when you have an undo button.

Cao Ren in Pen )

I'm back to planning Arise, my modern day legend of Cao Cao. The NaNoWriMo draft got me some great scenes and broad strokes of subplots. Its general concepts are sound, but the motivations and conflicts need to be sharpened and finalized before the next draft. This involves a plot brainstorming file and a list of questions and sticking points. Some fundamentals of the story appear in my head as fuzzy and dreamlike - believable at viewing distance, but as yet hollow. I need to bring them into focus with full confidence in what lies beneath the surface. Rough drafting can flesh that out to some satisfactory initial extent, but NaNoWriMo taught me the limits of writing on the fly. Prose and conversation can and should be banged out - scene ideas can be explored and set aside if needed. Threads can be sparked with a rough idea, as in when I sent my main man to mahjong and wound up with a segue into his real estate endeavors. Yet their full realization requires more thought than I'm in the mood to bullshit without structure in mind.

On the subject of fiction, you may recall that I overhauled Tempered Will for hopeful inclusion in a wuxia fiction anthology. Said anthology fell through, but I got this lovely comment in response.

Thanks for your submission. It's a good story, from someone who obviously knows the subject. Have you submitted it to any magazines? I think it would do well.

I just might take him up on that suggestion.
rydain: (Cao Ren Sunset)
So I eventually got DW7 because it was in the bargain bin and I liked what I heard about the upcoming Xtreme Legends. The vanilla game had all the misgivings I gathered from watching live streams and not much in the way of hidden "it" factor to compensate. I never made it through all the stories, and conquest mode was a sheer borefest. I appreciate the largely successful effort to tell each kingdom's story coherently, and I'm not sorry I tried it out. Even so, DW7 was such a mishmash of promising ideas and phoned-in horseflop.

The spousal unit randomly found XL the other day, and holy shit does it feel good to be enjoying Dynasty Warriors once again.

In the classic era, special weapons and character-boosting items were unlocked by doing specific challenges within battle. DW7 failed by chucking this out in favor of samey samey gold grinding. XL brings the awesome back to the collect-a-thon. Unlockable weapons! Unlockable character-specific power-ups! Even more unlockable weapons on the all-new Self-administered Groin Punch difficulty level! It also fixes a poorly implemented weapon proficiency system which gave squeaky loli dolls a broader range of skills than some of the best historical fighters.

KOEI also paid some attention to fan feedback about weapons. In the upcoming DLC, Cao Ren gets his shield back. On steroids.

rydain: (Cao Ren Sunset)
Spousal unit: What do you want for $HOLIDAY?
Me: I just ordered myself another textbook. That counts.
Spousal unit: I want to get you something.
Me: I really don't need any more toys- Is that the Skyrim collector's box?


Two books on China )

Bethesda crack, fantasy style )
rydain: Vault Boy Winking (Vault Boy Winking)
Christmas road trip family baked goods overload, plus homebrew from the in-laws' neighbors. I even managed to keep my 6 a.m. - 12 p.m. vacation sleep schedule. Tomorrow my ass goes back to the gym.

I also spent a great deal of time dinking around with my shiny new Dreamwidth layout. (Peanut gallery: What's Dreamwidth, Uncle G-Funk?) It's based on a fork of Livejournal's code, and here's why I jumped there.

You may have noticed that Livejournal's comment page design has shat the bed. Massive customer outcry has had little effect, and signs point to worse interface mangling in the future. Between LJ higher-ups' disdain for its userbase and Dreamwidth's reputation for respecting its own, I figured it was about time to start mirroring. Until the end of the year, you can sign up free - no invite code required. In the future, I should have some invites to hand out. I'm not entirely sure how that works.

I will continue to cross-post, so feel free to stay with LJ if you prefer it. Just extending the offer is all.
rydain: (Yes Man)
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy master post.

I'm a software engineer with a hyperactive right brain and a fondness for the butch, tough, gruff, and burly. Writing is my passion - drawing a secondary focus. I'm a tortoise at both, but I get to the finish line eventually.

The door is always open to new acquaintances and friends. If you like what you see, feel free to add me.

Fandoms, works, and other interests )

August 2015

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