rydain: (Yes Man)
This year is primarily marked with work (which I'd prefer to leave summarized as A Lot But Satisfying and Relatively Non-Apeshit Compared to Past Deployments), fitness (highlights - getting a 4-pack for the first time in my life, biking around town a lot, getting back into powerlifting and finally squatting my own weight again without hurting myself), and stuff I made. It's been a pretty good one so far. So here's the stuff.

I broke my 2-year art hiatus with an '80s Miami gangster interpretation of Dynasty Warriors. Cao Cao - the boss. Xiahou Dun - the right hand man. Xiahou Yuan - the straight shooter. Cao Ren - the conflicted idealist. Or, what happens when I mainline New Wave for the 3 months it took to draw this. It was totally worth the effort, as I leveled up a buttload in the process. I'm happiest with my improved nuance in anatomy and clothing, and my new way of drawing hair.

Our Brotherhood )

Here's my con report from the 6th year of Intervention, a relaxed and down to earth convention for independent content creators, which also happens to be the brainchild of one of my best friends ever. This year I learned more about voice acting - and even got to act alongside Terry Molloy, a.k.a. Dr. Who's Davros. We also had breakfast together. Yeah, pretty awesomesauce.

My coworker Brian loves terribad movies. He insisted I watch R.O.T.O.R., a cheesetastic Robocop ripoff. It was so surprisingly hilarious, I had to write a review.
rydain: (Yes Man)
In my haste to prove my continued existence to friends who primarily communicate via DW and LJ, I forgot to feature one of my more ambitious projects of this past year - narrative video.

Specifically, retrospectives of my two favorite Dynasty Warriors characters - their history and lore, portrayals throughout the series, and my thoughts on how the best aspects thereof should be built on in the future. Each video is ~13 minutes long, which I considered a reasonable compromise between detail and length.

Cao Ren

Lu Meng

These. Took. Forever. The editing process takes some time to learn and maintains unavoidable bottlenecks, and of course there's the scripting challenge of distilling my points into an efficient combination of game footage and narration. I did the stills in Photoshop and the editing in Screenflow, an excellent middle ground between the very limited iMovie - which frustrated me by making a terrible mess of said stills - and the expensive and complex likes of Final Cut Pro. Screenflow also does low overhead full-screen capture with separate A/V (as in a mic or webcam), which will come in handy for any games I play on an emulator. I must get back to that Goonies II Let's Play.

I have a third video planned for Xiahou Yuan, but I've been dragging my feet on buying Dynasty Warriors 6: Special for high-resolution captures of his cut scenes. Ah, the sacrifices I make for shiny happy video quality.
rydain: (Lu Meng in the Mist)
The involuntary sabbatical continues. My first job prospect went to someone else, but I had a fantastic interview for a different one. There's more out there, and I continue to seek. Something will eventually come up Milhouse. At least I'm happily entrenched in Hobby Land in the meantime.

I'm loving the start of Mad Men. Period-relevant conflicts! Retro-flavored production! Entertaining, believable dialog! Characters amusing me even when their knuckles are dragging a groove in the ash-strewn floor! Hopefully it holds up - unlike The Sopranos, which lost me in the morass of Season 4 by shoving major conflicts in the background in favor of wallowing in pettiness and secondhand embarrassment. Wire fans, imagine Season 2 revolving around Ziggy, Valchek, and that fucking window, and maybe bothering to mention a major drug investigation once or twice.

I finished a new illustration, a month-long culmination of last year's improvement and then some. I broke some serious mental blocks with regard to fabric and hair, those dreaded flowing surfaces that I struggled to understand. I tend to do well with solid geometric constructions like heads and armor pieces. In an illustrated style, fabric and hair have to be felt out based on some understanding of their flow. I started to get it last year, but I wanted to learn the nicely variegated locks I envied in other people's art. With this, I found a style of my own to refine.

Ah-Meng of Wu - Lu Meng and Lu Su's surly study hour )

Dynasty Warriors 8 came out last month, so I was camping the live streams from Japan. It looks a good step above the disappointment of 7, with better battlefields, a fully decloned cast, and something for every character entertainment value with some prayer of approaching my reigning personal Jesus of DW5. While waiting for the English localization, I've been making up my own stupid captions. As well as terrible submissions for Facebook Warriors - the ideal home for all my languishing jokes.

Lu Meng's slacker pyromania backfires, pun naturally intended )

Xiahou Yuan demonstrates the hazards of borrowed leather )

With my art bender out of the way, I'm gearing up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April. I like to line up a bunch of detailed scene concepts and get into prose mode to have at them, and Camp is nice for this because it allows user-specifiable goals. Word count is not an ideal metric for me, but I can deal by assigning reasonable targets to each scene and picking my total accordingly. At the very least, I hope to do 10,000 words. If I really go on a tear, I might finish Acts 1 and 2 - the first third of the novel. The rest of my outline is trickling in and not nearly as built out. But it has gone from a giant question mark to anticipation of developing conflicts, and the new material should give rise to more inspirational specifics.
rydain: (Cao Ren Sunset)
My focus on drawing has slid me down into the asscrack of the Dunning-Kruger curve. I can see knock-kneed hints of professionalism, see how far they fall behind the superb form and gesture and composition and volume in the works I admire. Art is hard, for reals. You read the classic references, like the amazing Andrew Loomis. You study pro illustrators and browse critique threads on Concept Art until you feel unqualified to pick up a box of Crayolas. You gnash and sweat over your own work, wrest life into your flat lines through countless do-overs, feel the lightbulb flick on, still know there's Something Missing but can't tell exactly what. Then you get a fresh look at your finished piece and wonder why you never noticed its shortcomings to begin with.

And at some point, you remember how to give yourself a hand for progress well earned.

Cao Ren, booty shorts )

Yes, it's cheesy fan service. It's also an exercise in constructing anatomy. The original pose came from a badly lit snapshot. I reposed and rendered it with help from Loomis textbooks and muscle photography. My goal was to capture weight and volume while learning about the underlying structure and developing my own style for representing landmarks of the human body. For a first attempt at such an exercise, I'm proud.

Just a Dance - Cai Wenji x Cao Ren, colored )

I finally figured out this coloring business well enough for a start. I tried a couple of years back, but the piece fell flat and weird because the underlying structure just wasn't there. Simple as this style is, it was a pleasant and fun surprise. And I can build on it in the future.

The Scars of War - Cao Ren portrait, 2 years better )

Say hello to the best damn lines I've done. Ever. The original took me weeks of on and off poking while I was still shaking off a load of rust from my post-high-school art inactivity. The redraw took 10 days - including the challenges of learning proper facial construction, further loosening up my style, and starting to comprehend hair in locks. Still, I have to give the original fair credit. It shows the symmetry and parallel line measurement I brought over from my cosplay drafting experience, and the tassel has reasonable volume. And I would have never improved if I had been afraid to try.
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: (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)
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: (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.

August 2015

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