Friday, October 25, 2013

I'm moving blogs... again...

But don't worry, I'm leaving everything here this time!  And even better, I was able to export all the content here to my new WordPress blog.  It's a lot nicer on the eyes and has some better features.  I might still post something here every once in a while so it isn't all tacky old stuff for forever, but yeah.  I'm upgrading!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Webcomic Review - The Dreamland Chronicles

I spent my whole afternoon reading this webcomic called The Dreamland Chronicles.  I don't know what about it caught me this time around, since I've had people point me at it before and didn't pay attention to it, but somehow after reading the first fifty pages yesterday it managed to invade my dreams (which is unusual).  At the moment it holds the rank of #7 on Top Web Comics, and it deserves that position.

It's the story of a guy who travels to Dreamland whenever he sleeps and how he gets caught up in saving it while trying to help his friends and lady love.

Dreamland Chronicles has been updating on a regular, every weekday basis since 2006 and is done with 3D computer animation technology, which is a ton of work.  It has a grand scale of plot and action with good characters.  Over the years the art has gone from pretty good but stiff CG to having panels that look like they came out of a legit Dreamworks or Pixar movie.

The beginning is a bit rough for the first 2-3 chapters, but that tends to be the case with a lot of webcomics when they're starting out.  Some of the character interaction didn't make sense, but once the rough patch was over the characters stayed truthful to themselves and made a lot more sense.

Go check it out!  It's got romance, adventure, beautiful hard work, and fantasy all rolled into one story.  It also manages to stay pretty clean and family-friendly as well!  I give it four stars out of five.

Serpent Shenanigans - Animal Adventures with Andrea

About two months ago one of our neighbors got a snake in her garage.  She flipped out about it and my mom called me for help.  Being fifty minutes away and needing to attend a writing meeting before heading home, I was unavailable to come help catch it.  Then they wanted me to identify it long-distance.

My mom: "It's tan with brown spots.  Could it be a rattle snake?"
Me:  "Um, maybe?  Does it have a rattle on it's tail?"
Mom:  "We can't tell."
Me:  "Then I can't tell either!  I'll need a picture."

They managed to take a couple pictures and I felt pretty pleased with myself that I could identify it as a bull snake (turns out I was slightly wrong) from the little picture on the phone.  I told them it was safe, but not to get bitten just in case I was wrong.  After much panic, a drywall bucket, and a child's butterfly net, the snake was contained and they kept it around so I could take a look at it when I got home.

It was a pretty, pretty little boy gopher snake about eighteen inches long.  Easy to misidentify as a bull snake from a tiny picture since bull snakes are a sub-species of gopher snake.  These are my favorite snakes on the planet.  Dragon snakes are awesome too, but bull snakes are so much fun.  They have reticulated scales like a venomous snake, which are so cool to touch, and an attractive pattern with a beautiful tail.  I love their colors and dangerous-snake attitude.  They're big pushovers, though, unless they're super cranky.  They pretend they're a rattle snake and threaten to bite until they think they can get away.  Then they just run, and once you get them in your hands they stop bluffing and either settle down or try to get away.

My mom got scared when I put my hand in the bucket with him, since he postured, hissed really loud, and rattled his tail against the ground, but within moments I was holding him and he slithered around in my arms.  We kept him for a couple days so we could show him to some kids and my co-workers, and then I let him go near my work.  By the last day he was fed up with everything and bit me every time my hand got near him.  I learned how to tell the difference between his bluffing and his actual "I am so killing you right now" behavior.  It was interesting.  When he bluffed he was posed to strike, but kept lower and pulled back when my hand got near.  When he was going to bite he lifted higher and tracked my hand, following it and getting closer until he struck.

I'd been wondering what it felt like to get bitten by a snake, and now I know.  To my surprise, I found getting bitten by a spider hurts a lot worse.  When he bit me, it felt like that moment when you realized your skin split and bled due to dryness, but is done and just stings the slightest bit, except on in a microscopic area and the pain is gone instantaneously.  I thought it was pretty cool, but I'm weird.

Here, have some pictures!

For size reference.  He wasn't too big.  Bull snakes can get up to eight feet long, depending on the snake.  I'm not sure about gopher snakes, but they'd be similar.

Check out the narrow oval-ish/thin triangle silhouette of his head!  Rattle and some other venomous snakes like vipers have heads more shaped like an equilateral triangle that's fat at the base since their venom glands take up lots of space.  That's probably the key difference to telling a gopher/bull snake apart from a rattler since they try to imitate them so well.

He's so cute!  I love the blushing on his scales.

We only had him around for three days, but he managed to cause a ton of drama from his box.  A stupid ton.  I wish I had gotten more and better pictures.  It's hard to hold a snake and get pictures of it at the same time.  No one else was willing to handle him.

And that is one animal adventure story!  I've got some more coming up for you, but only a couple of them have pictures.

Friday, August 9, 2013

What to Do with Creative Block (writing, art, etc.)

So, have you ever found yourself lacking or stuck on your stories, art, or anything else creative?  That dreaded creative block or faithless muse seems stop a lot of people from moving forward and can be super frustrating.  I know I struggle with it at times.  When it hits it sometimes seems like it will never go away.  However, creative block is a challenge to vanquish, not to surrender to.

Here are some suggestions on ways to fight creative block:

  • Take a little break from your story/art.  Just a little one.  Maybe a day or two at most.  Go for some walks, listen to good music, experience something new.
  • Learn about something you don't know much about.
  • Do some writing/art exercises.  Find a prompt and write something with your characters that doesn't have to do with your story, or make up some new characters and have fun with that.  Or, for art, follow some tutorials and practice different techniques.  Some good books for that are: The Writer's Block and The Creative Block.  (These work great for both writing and art)  There are loads of books and websites with prompts, ideas and exercises to try.  I also own The 3 A.M. Epiphany, but have yet to crack it open and see what it offers.  It looks really cool, though.  I'll have to try it and let you know how it goes.
  • Write on a different part of your story.  Do some different art.
  • When writing, ask yourself what you think would be fun to see happen with your characters, then write that.  When arting, ask yourself what would be fun, ridiculous, or risky to try, then do it.
  • Talk to friends about your story/art.  They might ask good questions to get you thinking, or talking might spark ideas.
  • Go take care of things that have been piling up.  Clean the house.  Organize.  Write letters.  Catch up on the non-creative stuff you keep meaning to do.  Getting something done should help you feel better since you were productive, and it will also ease your mind and free it up so it can start having fun again.
  • Just slog through it.  I know this option stinks, but sometimes it's the only way.

Ultimately, though, once you do those things the most important part is to GET BACK TO WORK.  You have to push through creative block.  Write some crappy junk.  Make a mess on that "canvas," whatever it may be.  You can edit and fix it later.  You can even start over.  Just don't let it stop you.  SHOW your muse who's BOSS!

After all, good creative products are 10% inspiration and 90% hard work.  You are awesome, and you can do it.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Despicable Me 2 Review

I had the great fun of going to see Despicable Me 2 on the 4th of July.  It was fantastic.

The humor wasn't the same as the first one, but still very good, and there's much more minion madness and shenanigans.  It deals with different issues than the first one, so it's not the same, and that's good.  All of the characters get to be more developed.  The girls are well on their way to being awesome and cool, especially Edith.  I now want a story about Edith as a teenager.  She would rock so hard.

Illumination Entertainment stepped up their game on this movie.  The quality and detail of the computer graphics along with the compositions in some of the shots impressed me with their epic-ness.  Also, the water was mind-blowing.  Beautiful.

Granted, there are things I would have done different and jokes I didn't find funny and stuff I found pointless about the movie, but those things are more than made up for by the rest of the movie.  After all, no movies is perfect.

This is another sequel that is at least as good as the first one.  It's definitely worth a watch!  I give it four out of five stars.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Some Writing Exercises - Post 2

The second writing exercise for my class at BYU. (These exercises are from Dr. Tourney's English 318R class, with edits by me that make it more clear.)

Exercise 2 - Perspectives on Character

This exercise focuses on character presentation and development.  "Character" is central to story-telling.  It is the chief point of reader interest, and failure to present characters who are credible, engaging, and dynamic is not compensated for by any other success in the story.

Good characterization is achieved through careful selection of physical details and personal attributes, the author's social awareness, and consistency with psychological realism.  It also requires recognition that character is dynamic.  Characters change with the circumstances of the plot and interaction with other characters.  Like the real people they represent they are unique, complex, and potentially unfathomable, not merely stereotypical functions in the plot.  What is essential is not that the character should be entirely understood, but be believed and indispensable.

Like the first exercise, the second consists of four parts.  It focuses on the presentation of a single character.

  1. COMMENTARY:  Two to three pages on how the stories you have recently read have contributed to the presentation and development of the character about whom you have written.  Basically, this is a personal essay about your reading, writing, and the connection of both in this exercise.
  2. EXPOSITION:  A two page description of the subject character from and omniscient point of view.  This should entail physical description, background, personality and character traits, and social environment and relationships.  You may write this in a plain or more literary style, as you choose.
  3. MONOLOGUE:  A two page representation of the subject character from a first-person point of view.  (The character talks about him/herself.)  The context of the monologue is your decision but do choose a context where such self-disclosure is plausible.
  4. SCENE: A three-four page scene in which the subject character interacts with a second character.  This should be third-person restrictive from the point of view from the second character.  In essence this is a short, short story.  It should have a beginning, middle, and denouement--or significant closure.  You may use dialogue.
Here's what I did for this exercise in class:

This assignment was a challenge.  The hardest part was that I chose a challenging character who is difficult to work with.  How do you work with someone who never communicates the truth unless they’re drunk or you’re in their head?  I found it very befuddling.  The objective view is easy enough, since you can outright state that he’s a liar and how he copes.  First person is easier than third person, since in first person you can be allowed to sit in the character’s head and see the inner workings.  You can watch him struggle to know what he wants to say and how he figures out what to say to perhaps get it across to others.  Third person view restricted to a second character is the hardest, since now you’re limited to the other character’s mind and actions.  It was a big struggle for me to figure out how he would lie while still knowing what it was he really wanted to say.  That was what made the assignment the hardest, and also figuring out what scenes and situations to write to best communicate the character to the reader.
Situations are very important for characterization.  You can have a fascinating character, but if all you have them do is sit at home no one will know.  For example, in “Cathedral” Carver strategically placed the narrator in a situation where his prejudice and closed-mindedness could come out.  If Robert, the blind man, had never come to visit the reader would never know that the narrator was uncomfortable or thought that blind people were pathetic.  We also wouldn’t have known that the narrator was willing and capable of change.  Many different aspects of his character would have never surfaced without Robert being there.  The situation is critical.
In “Where are you going, where have you been?” Connie is shown in several different situations which help the reader to discover her character.  First she’s shown hanging with her friends and with her family, so the reader thinks she’s one of those annoying selfish pretty girls with a shallow personality.  Oates shows her being arrogant by her interactions with her mother and sister, confident with her interactions with her friends and boys away from home, and selfish with her refusal to go to the family barbecue.  The reader only learns that Connie has depth and actually loves her family when Arnold Friend shows up and successfully abducts her by threatening her family.  If Arnold Friend never showed up to create that situation, the reader would have never known how uncertain Connie could be, and that she was willing to sacrifice herself for her family.
For me to properly communicate the character of Eric I had to find a situation where he could finally find out what it was like to tell the truth.  That way the reader could see how ecstatic he would be and know that he doesn’t lie just to lie, he honestly can’t do anything else and would much rather be normal.  By placing Eric and Sarah in the party environment we get to watch Eric struggle to communicate before he drinks any alcohol.  We see him try to be social, fail, and retreat.  We see him try to cope with his disorder and state the opposite of what he means or be “unsure” and have Sarah interpret it for us.  Then after he takes a drink we get to see him celebrate and rejoice in finally being able to say that the sky is blue.  It is very liberating for him to finally have the truth come out of his mouth.  If I hadn’t focused on that scene, that moment in his life, the reader might not be able to fully understand in such a short narrative the same amount of depth in Eric’s character.  It also allows the reader to see that while Sarah wants to think she’s a cool, caring big sister, she can actually be quite shallow.
So after a lot of consideration I feel that situation is one of the most important aspects of portraying character.  The situation allows the details of personality come out for our inspection and enjoyment.  Without the proper situation, readers might not ever know a certain character is actually very interesting.  Bad situations lead to boring characters, no matter how cool they are.

Eric Kohei Jones, age fourteen, third generation Japanese-American on his mother’s side.  He stood about five foot nine inches.  His face was covered in acne, a breakout that had cursed him for the past six months.  He had the habit of scooting his thick glasses up his nose as far as they could go, so his eyebrows always touched the top of the frames.  He had shifty eyes, not that they seemed crafty, but they were always shifting in order to take in the world around him.  No one knew what he was really thinking, and most people never cared to try and find out.  They had tried in the past, but when it became clear that he never told the truth they all decided to quit.  It was a miracle he was even passing school, except for the fact that no teacher wanted to deal with him for more than a year.  He really needed an IEP, but his parents refused to give him any special attention.  They thought he lied to get attention, and they had no desire to encourage such behavior.  They did not bother trying to get him diagnosed, they just scolded him.  If they had taken him to a psychologist they might have found out that something inside his brain was broken.  Eric had a disorder.
Eric had Pseudologia fantastica, also known as mythomania or pathological lying.  Somewhere in his mind there was a big black hole that all the truth fell down.  The truth could never make it out of his mouth.  No matter how hard he tried he could never say the truth straight out.  He couldn’t even answer a test question without lying.  He learned ways of coping.  He found that he could skirt around the truth by pretending to be unsure.  When taking eye exams he always answered with a question, which ensured he actually got close to the right prescription.  It took him a few tries to figure that out, and for years he’d spent a lot of time walking into things because he couldn’t see.  However, feigning uncertainty didn’t help when the test questions were always multiple choice.
Eric really wanted to tell the truth.  His told elaborate tales that acted as complex puzzles one could find the truth in if they looked hard enough.  Sadly for him, though, no one bothered trying to find truth in the words of a liar.  He learned when to keep his mouth shut, because sometimes saying nothing was the best way for the truth to be told.  Then one day at a party he discovered alcohol.
Alcohol did something to him that he didn’t suspect.  It filled the gaping hole to overflowing and the truth could slide right over and out.  That discovery thrilled him, and he took to drinking.  It made him feel free.  He drank whenever he could manage.  He drank before school, and he snuck alcohol in his lunch.  His teachers wondered how his grades could suddenly improve so drastically.  He got pulled in to the principle’s office for cheating, and while in his inebriated state he could honestly say he hadn’t been cheating, no one believed him since they’d never been able to before.  Then he got in trouble for being drunk at school, as well as for being underage.
So now he mostly doesn’t talk at all, even though he has a lot to say.

Huh.  I wonder why Sarah has such a bunch in her panties over this.  Shouldn’t she be just as thrilled as I am?  I mean, I finally got to tell her the truth.  I’ve been wanting to tell her the truth for my entire life!  I want to tell everyone the truth, but I guess if I’m supposed to keep the alcohol a secret I might not be able to do that.  Does she realize how suffocating it is to not be able to tell the truth?  I mean, what if I witnessed a murder, or a robbery, or something?  If I was the sole witness the person would likely get away with it because I wouldn’t be able to communicate the truth to the officers!  How could I live like that, knowing full well someone got away with murder because I couldn’t tell the truth?  That’s a big heavy worry.
There’s been so many times I’ve wanted to give her good advice, or comfort her, or tell her something, but all I could do was just give her a hug and keep my mouth shut.  Better to stay silent than say something stupid.  It takes a lot of effort to hide the truth in my lies.  If I can’t work it in good enough the monster eats it.  I hate that monster.  He ruins everything for me.  I don’t know why I bother sometimes, the monster gets smarter and smarter and it gets harder and harder to sneak the truth out and nobody seems to get it or care.  Except for Sarah.  She gets it, she cares.  She makes the challenge of sneaking the truth out worth it, even fun.  It’s a good thing I like challenges and mind games, otherwise I might not be able to try, not even for Sarah.  Although, I do enjoy the challenge just for the challenge.  It’s become as much a part of me as the lying.  It keeps me on my toes, keeps my mind sharp.  It gives me something to do while everyone else around ignores me.  I don’t like to be bored.  It keeps me entertained.  What way can I sneak the truth past the monster this time?  Sometime’s it’s in questions.  Keeping the monster believing that I’m not really sure what I’m talking about is the hardest way, although it’s the way most people can get.  Someday, though, I know that won’t work any more.  I have to feed in pieces of the truth over multiple mostly-lies in order to be sure it all gets out.  People don’t usually listen to those.  Someday I won’t be able to get the truth out to anyone at all, maybe not even Sarah, maybe she’ll stop trying to dig and find the truth hiding in my word games.
Maybe she doesn’t want to know the truth?  I don’t know why she wouldn’t.  She worked hard to figure out how to understand what I really meant.  Sure, she doesn’t get it right all the time.  Actually, she doesn’t get it right often, but she still knows and understands me better than anyone else.  At least she tries, for now.  I love her.
I wonder what it would be like on her end of this.  I thought she’d want to ask a lot of questions, to find out everything she could in order to understand me better.  I know I would be brimming with questions.  I’m fascinated by people.  I love to pull apart how their brains work, and having a moment where a liar like me could finally tell the truth would be a wellspring of information I couldn’t pass up!  Well, maybe it would be too disconcerting?  I guess if Sarah were to suddenly start lying a lot it would really get me mixed up.  I still think it would fascinate me, but I guess if she really started lying in earnest I might get concerned.
But just think of all the opportunities that just opened up for me!  I could actually start doing well in school!  I could finally live my dreams!  It’s like I just won a million dollars.  Oh the things I could do!  I should go do my homework while I’m still drunk.  I think I could get an A!  I wonder how soon it will wear off.  Maybe I should go liberate a bottle of beer from the fridge, I’m sure Dad wouldn’t notice.  He’d think Mom took it.  I’ll need to be careful about this.  How little does it take to satisfy the monster?  I need to experiment.

Sarah was the life of the party.  She let her long black hair drift over her shoulders as she laughed sweetly at all the comments the boys made.  She retained much of her mother’s beautiful asian mystery, which she used to her advantage.  While she flirted she swayed with the music.  The bass thudded through her body, a jarring feeling she didn’t completely enjoy, but everyone was here in the range of the vibrations.  She would stay where everyone else was, which was away from her stuffy, strict parents.  It wasn’t that she didn’t love her parents or didn’t respect them, she did.  It was just, well, limiting sometimes to always be at home.
Sarah accepted a drink and a compliment from one of her classmates, laughing at his attempt to drag her away to the backyard.  She might have contemplated following him around any other night, but tonight was different.  She’d brought someone along this time.
A loud smack and shout from across the room helped her to find him.  She’d lost him for a few minutes in the large crowd of people.  Her baby brother stood there rubbing his acne-covered cheek and grimacing at the retreating back of an outraged girl.  Sarah shook her head and sighed, a small smile dancing over her lips.  He’d made it longer than she had expected without getting slapped, but it was bound to happen eventually.  She probably should’t have brought him along, but she knew how badly he hated being left behind.  He would always say he’d had a great time without her, but she knew that was his way of telling her he’d been miserable.  They had worked out a system so that she could always know what he meant, even though he could never say it.
She meandered over to where he was, now leaning against the wall trying to be invisible.
“Smooth Eric, real smooth.”  She grinned at him.
“Of course, I’m the slickest man here.”  She knew he meant he was the lamest.
“What did you say that made her so mad?”
“Oh, probably something that had to do with her hair?  Don’t you think it looks like she’s just wearing a wet cat?”  She knew he had said the girl’s hair looked like a wet dog, even though he meant to compliment how shining and full it was tonight.
“Things aren’t exactly going according to plan, are they?”  Sarah laughed.
Eric shrugged and acted as non-committal as possible.  She knew he agreed completely with her.
“Well, come on.  Try to have some fun before this party gets busted, okay?  Here, try a drink.”  She handed him the beer her classmate had given to her just moments earlier.
“Really?”  he asked.
“Yeah, try it.  I’ve already hit my limit.  I can’t drink any more without the ‘rents figuring it out when we get home.”
“Brilliant, I’ll just down this and solve all my problems.”  She knew he didn’t believe drinking would help him have a better time.  She didn’t really figure it would either, but it might help him forget about being so miserable by the time he woke up in the morning.
Eric took a gulp and gagged.  He looked at her and tried again, this time managing to down half the bottle.
“Tastes great, like lemonade and ice cream on a hot sunny day.”  Eric stuck out his tongue and made a face.  Sarah laughed.
“Yeah, I don’t really like it either, but it helps me loosen up.  Otherwise, I don’t know if I’d be able to handle such a big crowd of people.”
“Yeah, this little group is really tame.”  Eric watched as someone jumped off the table and started crowd surfing.  “I can’t believe people really prefer this to actual fun.”  He paused a moment before his hand flew to his mouth.
“Wait, what?”  Sarah was confused.  Eric hated big parties and the stupid things people did.  He preferred constructive activities and mind games.  What he just said did not follow up with what she’d managed to translate in the past.
“I said I can’t believe people really prefer this to actual fun!”  Eric grinned from ear to ear.  He grabbed her by the shoulders.  “Ask me a question!”
“What’s going on?  You’re confusing me!”
“I just drank half a beer, ask me a question!”  It was true, he had just drunk half a beer.
“Um, what color is the sky?”
“Blue!  Another one!”
“What do you do in the morning before I get up?”
“Sudoku!  Another!”  Also true, she was always finding his finished puzzles in the trash.
“What’s my shoe size?”
“Seven!”  Again, also true.  Eric laughed and threw his hands in the air.
“Wait, how can you be telling the truth?” Sarah was still very confused.  Eric never told the truth, not even to her.
“It must have something to do with the alcohol and how they lower your inhibitions.  It does absorb into your blood pretty quickly.  This is fantastic!  Sarah, you’re beautiful!  You have no idea how long I’ve been wanting to tell you that!  Oh my goodness, oh ho ho!”  Eric spun around and kept laughing.  People started to stare.  Sarah really didn’t want their attention just now.
“Eric!  Calm down, you’re weirding me out!” she grabbed his hand and took the beer from him.
“Why?  This is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me!”
“Let’s go home now, okay?  We can talk as we walk.”
“Um, okay?”  Eric obediently followed her out the door.
They took the long way home.  Sarah let him talk.  Her mind was racing as she learned things about him that she had no idea she could ever really know.  His favorite color was acid green, something about it really did something for him.  She had thought it was lilac.  His favorite subject in school was English, because you could totally BS a paper and he could still get a decent grade doing that since he could convince himself that BSing was in no way telling the truth.  Although, he would really prefer to be good at math because he liked how neat and manageable numbers were.  She’d thought his favorite subject was history.  He’d really like to be a lawyer someday, or maybe a doctor, but he knew those goals were out of his reach.  She thought he’d just wanted to play video games the rest of his life.  He really liked it when she wore her hair down, it made him proud to have such a pretty sister.  The truth just kept coming and coming.  Sarah didn’t know how to handle it, he seemed like an entirely different person now.  By the time they arrived home she decided taking him to the party had definitely been a bad idea.  She stopped him in the hall before taking out her apartment key.
“Hey Eric, can we keep our discovery our little secret?”
“I… well, umm… I feel like we had something special going on just the two of us before.  Now suddenly it’s all upside-down and I don’t know what to think.”  She couldn’t think of anything better to say.
“Oh.  Well, yeah.  Sure.  I guess it is a bit weird to hear me tell the truth.”
“A little, yeah.”  Sarah smiled a weak smile.
Eric nodded.  “You also probably don’t want the ‘rents to find out you’ve been to parties with underage drinking going on.”
“Yeah, that too.”  Sarah said, but it had only really just dawned on her after he said it.
“Don’t worry, you’re secret is safe with me.”  He winked at her.  “It always has been, hasn’t it?”
“Yes, yes it has.”  Sarah sighed with relief as she pulled out her keys.
She was halfway finished unlocking the door when it flew open, their father standing in the way.
“Do either of you care to explain to me why you were out so late?” he growled.
“We were out drinking at a party.” Eric said, not missing a beat.  For a moment Sarah froze.  Hadn’t he just promised to keep her secret safe?
Their father rolled his eyes,  “Sarah, I hope you can tell me what you were actually doing?”
“Um,”  That’s right, she thawed as she realized there was no way their father would believe Eric, “we got hung up at the store.  I couldn’t decide what color of lipstick to get, then we took the long way home.  Eric needs the exercise.”
“That he does.  Now go say goodnight to your mother.”  Their father stepped out of the way.
Eric winked at her as he stepped inside.  Sarah took a steadying breath and smiled.  It didn’t matter whether he was lying to her face or telling the truth.  She knew he would always be there to back her up and help her in whatever way he could.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Monsters University Review

I went and saw Pixar's new movie Monsters University recently, and I have to say it's amazingly good. The characters are deep, the action fun and exciting, and there's plenty of humor to go around.  It doesn't have the same feeling as Monsters Inc.  It's very different, but I guess that should be expected from a story about two guys becoming friends instead of trying to send a little girl home.  It's fun to see how Mike and Sully's personalities grew and changed from when they were in college compared to when they were working at Monsters Incorporated.

This movie has a ton of new, cool monster designs and beautiful textures.  I'm amazed at how some monsters managed to look scary when their designs were all cute and cuddly.

Mike Wazowski gets to shine in this movie, and Sully doesn't do too shabby either.  There are plenty of nods to the first movie and some things are explained or connected to the other one.

Overall, Monster's University is just as good, if not better than, Monster's Inc.  Go watch it!  It's awesome!  Five out of five stars!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Some Writing Exercises - Post 1

One of the classes I took at BYU gave us writing exercises that were fun and helpful to do.  I thought it would be nice to share those exercises with you all so that you can learn from them too.

Exercise - Description of Place

Using passages from stories you've read as models, write three fictional scenes of a page each describing a real place you know well.  But write the descriptions from the following points of view:

  1. An objective description of the scene with emphasis on accuracy of detail and emotional detachment.
  2. A first person description of the same place as a viewed by a character with distinct traits and some identifiable motivation for surveying the scene.
  3. A third person description of the same place, focusing on the character's strong emotional response to it.
Note that scenes 2 and 3 require that you create a character to view the place described.  You are not the viewer in either scene.

You can write a 2-page commentary on the scenes, indicating what models you followed and how your reading of the models influenced your own original scene.

-Identify scenes by their appropriate numbers.
-Position commentary as an introduction.
-Double spacing is recommended.

If you'd like to see an example, I've got mine from class.  I didn't do the commentary right since I split it up (I don't think it really matters). Please note I wrote this over a year ago.  I've improved since then.
Here it is:

Commentary for A
The models I chose to pull from the most on this assignment was Gilman’s The Yellow Walpaper and Faulkner’s Barn Burning.  While they both have character viewpoints affecting the story, the main character/narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper uses fairly objective descriptions between her opinionated comments.  She focuses on using exact details and some associations  to create an image for the reader, her descriptions were very visual.  For example the quote, “It is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village.  It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for the gardeners and people.”  This was the closest to objective description the models had, so I used that influence while working on part A of the assignment.  I tried to be specific and mostly visual in my description of the beach and backyard, mixing in a few metaphors to create associations as well.
  1. Objective Description
There’s a spacious back yard full of fescue grass on a lot wedged pie-shape between two others.  A tall metal pole stands off center in the yard, holding up the large purple martin house with a little painted roof to match the house to which the yard belonged.  Starlings squabble with the purple martins for ownership of the house, an annual battle.  A wall made of retaining stones, off-pink cement blocks ninety to one hundred pounds each—all hand-placed, create the border between lawn and beach.  It is a foot high on the north end, and while it stayed level on the top, the drop on the south end was about three feet.  A fortress against the weeds entrenched in the rough sand making their way for the lawn.
The yard was gently sloped down and in towards the notch at the north end of the wall, shepherding whatever rain that fell away from the house and into the dry creek bed which lay on a black rubber sheet on the beach.  The edges of the black rubber were buried in the sand, although it still showed, and it cradled a collection of stones.  Different stones ranging in size from a child’s fist to stones that took two hands for a grown man to lift.
The beach belonged to a lake.  A man-made lake dug to use the sand that now made the beach.  It wasn’t one of your sparkling blue lakes you could see the bottom of.  It was a Kansas sand-pit lake, one that had been filled and stocked long enough ago it could contain seven-foot catfish out in the main body.  This part was just a small cove, shaped like a sock puppet.  Where it connected to the main body buoys floated peacefully, warning boaters of lurking cement and rebar.  A person could swim in this lake, and on a late August evening the grey-tan water would be warmer than a bathtub.

Commentary for B
In part B, my biggest influence was again The Yellow Wallpaper.  The key thing about the descriptions in The Yellow Wallpaper I noticed was how the main character fixated on one aspect of the environment.  She focuses on the yellow wallpaper, obsessing over it, analyzing it again and again, and spending a large amount of time talking about it.  While I didn’t have the space to obsess over a certain detail as greatly as The Yellow Wallpaper did, I tried to pick a certain detail to focus on.  Namely the rocks.  By focusing on the rocks I was able to convey more about how the character was feeling after finding out her boyfriend was cheating on her.  The rocks stand as a metaphor for how she feels the state of her heart, the same way the yellow wallpaper was a metaphor for the state of the main character’s mind in The Yellow Wallpaper.  Also, just as in the other story, the rocks offer a form of expression for my character.  By throwing the rocks she expresses her anger, the same way the main character in The Yellow Wallpaper expresses her insanity by tearing down the paper.  It says a lot about the character to have her focus almost entirely on the rocks when there’s a fun beach with soothing water to enjoy.

  1. First Person
How dare he not be here!  I can’t believe him!  I storm down the cut lined with fruit trees to the back yard.  No one is back here either.  Fine then, I’ll just wait.
I sit down on the short block wall and lean on my hands.  The water here in the cove lazily strolls up and waves to the beach, but out on the main body of the lake the wind stirs up whitecaps.  The wind yanks and pulls at my hair, waving it like a white flag of surrender.  How dare it.  I would not surrender.  I would leave this battle the victor.  To prove it, I stand and start picking up the small stones embedded in the rough sand.  I don’t care if it scratches up my manicure, I can have my nails redone later.  I march down to the water’s edge and start throwing the stones out as hard as I can.  When I run out I go back to look for more, kicking the sand around.  Small chunks of asphalt come to the surface among the other rocks.  I pick those up as well.  When I throw them I yell out, “It’s Phil’s fault!” and as they splash down, no one calls out to defend him.
Stones.  This little beach is full of them.  Small stones, stones with fossils, stones with leeches hiding under them.  Stones turned into sand, and sand turned into stones.  There’s even more stones, larger stones, stones better for throwing lying in the dry creek bed.  The stones are held there, protected from the settling sand by a black rubber sheet that shows at the edges.  How tacky for them to not keep the rubber hidden.  Tacky, just like him.  They didn’t even bother to arrange the stones well, it was like some child just sat at the top of the bed and chucked them out there.  Well, I can chuck stones as well.  I walk up and down in the bone-dry rocks, carefully looking for just the right one.  I choose the one that fits the best in my hand and wait for the sound of his car in the drive.

Commentary for C
For part C I pulled mostly from Barn Burning.  In that story, the description of the world is given to the reader in more than one sense.  It focuses mostly on the two senses of sight and smell, while also giving the reader a peek into the main character’s mind.  By focusing on the smells it helped the reader to know the boy was hungry and doesn’t get to eat a lot.  By focusing on visual detail it helped the reader know that the boy was attentive an conscious of his actions.  By letting brief thoughts come through it helped the reader to know how exactly the boy was processing the information and his opinions he couldn’t say aloud.  I focused on smell and visual elements in my description.  Focusing on the smell showed how my character is very nature-focused and enjoyed being outside, even if it was a smell that most people might think questionable.  He pays attention to tiny details of the world around him, like the toad bug footprints.  This shows his curiosity and love of the world around him, which makes the death of the baby fish even more devastating at the end.

C.  Third Person
The warm water of the lake sparkled as it gently lapped at the beach edge.  The small boy crouched, watching the water move back and forth.  He could smell the water, the fish, that strong smell of sediment and fish dung.  A water smell, a living smell, a smell that thrilled him and made him long to race through open fields instead of this backyard.  He eyed up the sand-colored toad bugs skittering along in the water-soaked sand, leaving miniature footprints that disappeared with the next ripple.  The toad bugs were fascinating, but they made far too easy of prey.  This boy was a great hunter.  He knew it and puffed his chest out.  Then he saw the fish.
Tiny fish, wiggle fish, barely hatched carp and bass swimming in the lake’s edge.  At last the boy knew his quarry!  The fry flitted faster than birds, with barely a twitch they could speed off the opposite way.  Translucent, see-through, one had to track them by their black speck of an eye and their slight shadows.
The boy grinned and stood, crouching over with hands cupped and at the ready.  He tip-toed after the fish, taking long, slow steps like the egrets he watched from the windows.  Step, stay, step, stay, step, hold… and strike!  The fry dart away and regroup, he caught nothing and resumed stalking.  Back and forth along the little beach between the dock and dry creek bed he went.  Stalking, striking, stalking, striking, stalking, striking and stalking again, and then success!  The boy squealed with delight as he held up the waif of a fish, admiring his catch.  It was so small and fast, only as mighty and clever a hunter as he could have caught such a worthy 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Drawing for Animation Final

So for one of the class assignments we got to design whatever we wanted.  I had a character in mind named Hyacinth based off of the macaw, so I decided to do her.  However, none of the silhouettes really worked, but I picked a favorite and went ahead anyway.

After the silhouettes I did several sketches.

I colored the final sketch up with the Hyacinth Macaw blue and yellow, but then my husband pointed out that she looked like the cartoon hero Static Shock (who I had no knowledge of up to this point).  They had super similar outfits down to the yellow goggles.  I decided to try and make my character different and tried a Red and Green Macaw for the colors instead.  It turned out much more fun and my character Red was born.  She's from a future post-apocalyptic bio-punk type of civilization and is a genetically engineered being.

For the final project we had to come up with three characters, an animal, a prop, and two environments.    I wanted to create a story around Red, so I kept her in mind for the entire project.  Again, the first step was silhouettes.

I chose the silhouettes I liked best and also chose birds to base the colors of the characters off of.  The birds are, from left to right, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Ornamental Hawk-Eagle, and Blue-winged Mountain Tanager.  All of them are genetically engineered as well.  Their wings work, but they can't fly with them.  They're not quite structured right for that, so they need mechanical aid.  Red has no wings, just feathers where the wings should be.  Fledge has a robotic arm.

For the animal I decided to base his colors off a Tiger-striped Tree Frog.  They are so awesomely cool looking.

I struggled really badly with the environments.  I need to practice on those a lot more.


And the prop!  I decided that they would use speeder bike things to provide the thrust to let them fly.  The bike provides the propulsion, while their wings provide the lift and steering.  I think it's pretty sweet, and my teacher like the concept as well.

So there you have it!  My drawing for animation final.  I do intend to use all of this for a story someday, so please don't steal any of it.  :)  All this stuff is copyright to me.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Epic Review

Today I saw Epic by Blue Sky Studios.  It was pretty good.  I'll give it four out of five stars.

Epic is a beautiful movie.  The designs of the creatures and characters are brilliant and detailed with beautiful colors and shapes.  The characters were good and there was a decent amount of humor.  I heard some people complain that it had little plot, a symptom of most Blue Sky movies, but I thought it had enough.  Actually, I think it had more plot than most of the Blue Sky movies I've seen.  There was a little something from it missing that I couldn't put my finger on, (maybe the word is depth?), but it didn't detract too much from the movie for me.  The ending wasn't what I was expecting, but it ended well.  It had good themes, some of which were more obvious than others, such as we're all connected and you should never give up on your dreams or ignore the things that are most important.

If I could describe Epic in one word, it would be "pretty."  There's more to it than beauty, though, and I found it a very enjoyable movie.  It's definitely worth a watch.  I saw it in 2D, but I could tell that it had great potential as a 3D movie.

I want more stories from this world.

Star Trek Into Darkness Review

I finally got to see Star Trek: Into Darkness on Saturday, and I do have to say... it was amazing!  Five out of five stars for that movie.  It had character development, tearful moments, kick butt moments, awesome action, and a few laughs.  There are several nods to the original Wrath of Khan movie some of which could be considered cheesy, but I think it was good cheese.  Not that you have to see Wrath of Khan before you see Into Darkness, but I feel that it's a better experience if you have.  I actually watched Wrath of Khan the weekend previous since I'd heard that you should see it before, because somehow, in my life of being raised on Star Trek and Star Wars, that was the one Star Trek movie I hadn't seen.

Scotty gets to be a bigger part of this movie and do some cool stuff, poor Chekov has a hard time doing important stuff, McCoy gets some danger, Uhura is brave, and Kirk and Spock become better friends and both become more human/easier to connect to.  In a way, they all get their chance to save the day.

And Benedict Cumberbatch makes a fantastic Khan.  He does Khan the way I think Khan should have been done in the original movie.  Cumberbatch's Khan is brilliant, arrogant, conniving, and a perfect beast.  He's not a rabid, hurt beast, but a deadly predator waiting for the right moment to make the kill.

This is definitely up there in quality with the first movie.  Into Darkness gives Star Trek a run for its money.  I'm not sure which one I like better, but right now they're tied for me.

I hope this review was helpful!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Drawing for Animation with Jake Parker

Warning, it's another long post.  Lots of pictures.

So, my last semester at BYU I was able to take another class from the amazing Jake Parker.  Of all the teachers I've learned from, he is the one I learn the most and grow the most with.  The drawing for animation class is a basic concepts of drawing kind of class, and it was nice to go over those again.

You can see all the lectures and student's work on the class blog.  It's good stuff.  You should check it out.

Okay, now let's go through the whole semester!
The first assignment was to draw every day so that by the scheduled final we had 106 drawings.  I'll put the best of those together in another post and upload that another day.

Assignment #2 was to redesign a Mario universe character and practice inking styles/mediums on it.  I chose Princess Rosalina, who I did not know existed until this assignment.  The first time I used a micron, brush, and ballpoint pen.  I basically failed the assignment since I made them look all really close to the same.  

I redid the assignment with mechanical pencil, ballpoint pen, and a brush pen to try and get different results.  Jake like these much better.  :)

Then I colored her for fun and practice.

The third assignment was to redesign a character from the Nintendo franchise.  I picked the Mailman from Twilight Princess.  He weirded me out the first time I saw him and I decided he needed to be fixed.  The first step was to do silhouettes and design a character based off of the silhouettes.

The Silhouettes

My first pass.
 Jake didn't like this one so much.  He really liked the outfit, but the design was fairly standard and didn't push the shape of the figure.  I waited until the end of the semester to redo him since I wanted to learn more and improve my drawing skills before trying again.

I did more silhouettes.

This was the final redesign.

I don't know what Jake thinks of this one, since I turned it in after class was over before the final deadline for everything, but he did help me pick out the silhouette, so maybe he likes it?  I like it.  It's very different from anything I've done before, and nothing like the original character from Twilight Princess.

The fourth assignment was to draw a sea captain.  I decided to draw a lizard pirate.  I like lizards.  We had to do silhouettes for all of the assignments from this point on, but I'm not going to show them too you so that this post doesn't get horrendously long.

For the fifth assignment we drew different poses with our sea captains.  We were to do two expression poses, and two action poses.  This was the first assignment I didn't have to do any reworking on.

For the sixth assignment we got to draw anything we wanted, as long as it was a character.  I drew Red, but I based the big final project around her so I'll save her for my next post.

For the seventh assignment we drew animals.  I decided to take a stab at designing the llama in my webcomic!  Her name is Maple.  Jake really liked her and praised me for doing the structural drawing over the silhouette since that's what made the design really work.  This was the only other assignment I didn't have to do any reworking on.

Then the last assignment before the final was to do compositions with an environment, five exterior and five interior.  Environments and backgrounds are not my strongest thing, I struggle with them, but I'll still share those scribbly drawings with you.

Some of these drawings influenced my environment designs in the final project, so those might look a little familiar when I post that later.

So there you have it!  This is a significant chunk of what I did during my last semester of college.  There will be more posts following this one with more stuff from this class, but this is most of the big assignments.  I love learning from Jake Parker.  I grew a lot this semester and I finally feel like my art is on the good side of borderline!  I made a couple drawings for this class that I thought looked professional or better than I thought I could draw.  Drawing every day helped a lot.  I need to get back on that again.  :P

Sunday, May 12, 2013

All Terminal Cases Creative Process MEME Part 2

The continuation of that MEME that I got from Shazzbaa on Tumblr.  Apparently I've lost the original... the link doesn't work anymore.

First half in this post: LINK
  • red: is it hard for you to think up new ideas? list three of your biggest influences.
  • orange: what do you do when you’re inspired? do you scream eureka, write the idea down in a notebook, what? 
  • yellow: what do you do when you’re stuck in a block? list three sources of inspiration when new ideas are scarce.
  • green: how do you flesh out an idea? does it take a long time, do you mull over it for hours, or does it come easily? describe the process!
  • blue: depending on your form of art, what are some of your favorite ways to characterize, add detail, design, establish a settling, or otherwise elaborate on the piece? are you fond of world-building, or does that pose a problem for you? (customize this question if you’re an artist or otherwise)
  • indigo: picture of your workspace!
  • violet: describe your work habits. do you eat? do you need music? are you messy or organized? do you keep a notebook? how long can you work at a time? etc.
  • silver: what’s the hardest part of a piece for you? (plot, background, etc)
  • gold: the easiest? 
  • black: what is your least favorite part of the creative process?
  • white: your favorite? 
  • rainbow: do you believe in true originality? 
  • brown: what does it take for you to honestly be proud of something? 
  • pink: what is the most rewarding part of being a writer, artist, etc? 
  • magenta: what drives you the most insANE?
Indigopicture of your workspace!

Hey lookit!  It's my workspace!  These pictures are a little outdated now since I got an iMac as a graduation present and now have two monitors on my desk, but I've only had it for two weeks now and haven't really worked with it yet.

Violetdescribe your work habits. do you eat? do you need music? are you messy or organized? do you keep a notebook? how long can you work at a time? etc.
I like to listen to music.  When I'm doing art I can listen to anything, but while I'm writing I can't listen to music with words.  At least, nothing in English.  As you can see in the image above, I'm a little messy.  Not super messy, but messy.  
I have one sketchbook I carry around with me all the time, a folder of loose paper to draw on when I want to draw something bigger than my sketchbook, a folder with legal-size paper for drawing my comic on, an idea book for writing down concepts, ideas, dreams, etc. in, and right now I also have a small spiral notebook that I'm writing stuff in for a campaign I'm getting ready to run.  I used to have multiple notebooks for writing things down in, but just like my blogs that always seemed like too much effort to me, so I condensed it all down into one book.  That's working out much better.  :)
I can work for very long periods of time, especially while I'm listening to music, but I do periodically go surf the internet and see if anything has updated since I last peeked.
That's probably something important to mention.  I have a routine I go through on the internet in the mornings before I do much anything else.  I read the comics I follow, then check Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, then deviantArt.  This tends to take roughly an hour and is how I stay on top of everything that happens on those sites.  That way when I go peek at things later while I'm working I don't end up spending hours and hours trawling the web.
I sometimes work better when I have an audience, especially when I'm trying to do something I'm not so excited about or have gotten a bit tired of.  Other times I get lonely and don't feel like doing anything.  When any of that happens, I turn on livestream and work away on things or share my screen with a friend.  This helps me a surprising amount to focus and have fun doing art.

Silverwhat’s the hardest part of a piece for you? (plot, background, etc)
Backgrounds and setting.  My brain is driven by concepts, characters, and good plots.  Figuring out backgrounds in art or setting in story and actually drawing or writing it is the toughest part for me.  I need to practice more.

Goldthe easiest?
Coming up with characters and concepts.  I love doing this.

Blackwhat is your least favorite part of the creative process?
I'm not sure.  Maybe trying to find time to make progress.

Whiteyour favorite?
Playing with the ideas!  That could be drawing it out, writing, or even just thinking about it and asking questions to come up with ideas.

Rainbowdo you believe in true originality? 
Yes.  Originality is your unique way of taking the pieces of what you have and putting them together.  Originality is how you look at things.  Originality is being yourself and not being anyone else.  This doesn't mean you never copy others, never agree with others, or try to be different.  It means learning from everything around you and making up your own mind.

Brownwhat does it take for you to honestly be proud of something?
Being surprised or pleased by it in the end.  If I've managed to push forward a step, then I feel very proud of myself.

Pinkwhat is the most rewarding part of being a writer, artist, etc?
Creating.  Nothing is more satisfying than creating.  Even being with people (something I crave) can't hold a candle to the sense of fulfillment creating gives me.

Magentawhat drives you the most insANE?
People who are hateful, think they're better or know better, or refuse to educate themselves.  It's my biggest pet-peeve.  Being closed-minded and judgmental doesn't help you and makes things harder for everyone around you.