Today’s Art (15th November 2017)

Well, although it took me a while to work out what to paint, I ended up making a digitally-edited gothic cyberpunk painting of a futuristic nightclub in Berlin (probably vaguely inspired by playing “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” a couple of weeks earlier).

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“11:46pm” By C. A. Brown

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Three Ways To Rush A Comic Update Well

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Well, at the time of writing, I’m still busy preparing this year’s Christmas webcomic mini series. Although, annoyingly, I had to rush one or two of the comic updates. But, hopefully, this won’t be too noticeable when they actually appear here in mid-late December.

So, I thought that I’d talk quickly about the good ways to rush a comic update if you have to make one in a hurry. I’ve probably mentioned this stuff before, but I’m also writing this article in something of a rush too.

1) Don’t skimp on the writing:
Generally, audience members are more likely to overlook rushed art than they are to overlook rushed writing. So, if you have to focus on making only one part of your comic update good, then focus on the writing.

After all, if the audience are laughing or thinking because of the dialogue, then they probably aren’t going to notice any hurried parts of the artwork as much.

On the flipside, a comic with a small amount of acceptable-quality dialogue and lots of reasonably good art can also be a good way to make a comic in a hurry.

2) Have a plan: It’s easier to make a comic update in a hurry if you’ve planned it out in advance. After all, one of the huge time sinks when making a comic update is working out what the comic update will actually be about. So, if you have this planned out in advance, then you can get on with making the comic update straight away. So, try to plan as many comic updates as you can in advance.

But, if you don’t have a plan, then either just make some quick filler content (eg: a quick sketch of one of your characters and a brief explanation that you didn’t have time to make a comic) or use something like a previously-established running joke, or possibly make a more art-based comic or something like that.

But, if you have a plan made in advance, then this can be incredibly useful if you have to make a comic update in a rush.

3) Backgrounds: If you have to hurry, background detail should always be the first thing to go. For example, when I was making the comic update that originally inspired this article, my original plan was for the whole comic to be set in an outdoor location. But, since this was a Christmas comic, I realised that this would mean that I’d have to digitally add falling snow to every panel (which is a fairly time-consuming process).

So, I set the first panel in an outdoor location (because the events of the comic required it to be set outdoors), then I just showed the characters returning home in the next panel (and spending the rest of the comic there). This just meant that I had to draw a simple hallway in the background of the rest of the comic, with no snow effects required. Like in this preview:

Yes, this scene was originally supposed to take place outdoors. But, due to time reasons, I used a simple interior location (The full comic update will be posted here on the 23rd December)

Yes, this scene was originally supposed to take place outdoors. But, due to time reasons, I used a simple interior location (The full comic update will be posted here on the 23rd December)

Yes, I had to make a slight change to the punchline of the comic to account for this change of setting – but, surprisingly, this actually improved the comic. Plus, I also saved a ridiculous amount of editing time too 🙂

So, if you have to hurry, then make sure that the first thing you do is to make the backgrounds as undetailed as you can get away with. After all, most of the time, the audience are more focused on the characters, events and dialogue than the backgrounds.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Two Random Tips That Might Help You Plan Your Webcomic

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Well, at the time of writing, I’m still busy preparing this year’s Christmas webcomic mini series. But, unlike one or two of my previous mini series, I actually planned this one a day or two before I started making it. This has made the whole process of making the webcomic run a lot more smoothly, as well as increasing the quality of the writing too(compared to slightly more unplanned mini series, like one that will appear here at the end of the month).

But, surprisingly, the planning process for this webcomic went surprisingly quickly. I literally planned the entire thing out within less than an hour (not only that, I was also fairly tired at the time).

Although I won’t be talking about the practical details of planning a webcomic here (since it’s different for everyone – I like making ultra-rough sketches of the comics, but some people prefer to do things like writing scripts etc..) I’ll be talking briefly about two things that can help the planning process go more smoothly:

1) Music: Unless you need absolute silence in order to think creatively, a good choice of background music is essential when you are planning a comic. Whilst only you know how your imagination works, it’s usually a good idea to go for music that sums up the theme and/or the emotional tone of your comic.

For example, when planning my Christmas mini series, I listened to “Anxiety” by Bad Religion on repeat. This is an ultra-fast, ultra-cynical punk song from the late 1980s, and it might not seem like a “Christmas song” at first. But, since my Christmas comics tend to take a more cynical view of the holiday and since Christmas also tends to fill me with retro nostalgia (usually for the 1990s, but occasionally for things made in the 1980s), this song seemed to encapsulate both things perfectly. Like in this preview of a panel from the upcoming mini series:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st December.

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st December.

So, choosing music that sums up the emotional tone of your comic is probably more important than music that just fits into the theme of your comic. But, music that fits into the theme of your comic can still be useful when you need to get into the mood for planning a comic.

2) Have a vague idea (before you plan): I know that this might sound obvious but, comic planning tends to go best when you already have a vague idea of what sort of comics you want to make. Many of the times that I’ve gone into making a webcomic mini series without sufficient planning have been when I’ve thought “I should really make some comics, since I haven’t made any in a while. But, about what? Meh. I’ll make it up as I go along.”

Most of the times when I’ve planned a comic properly have been when I’ve at least had some vague idea that I could start with, such as “I want to make cynical comics about Christmas again, like last year“, “I want to make a cyberpunk comic“, “I want to make a comic that’s like something from ‘Sherlock Holmes’ or ‘Poirot’ “, “I want to make another cyberpunk comic“, “I want to make super-detailed large comics“, or ” I want to make yet another cyberpunk comic” etc..

So, although planning will help you to work out the details of your webcomic updates, make sure that you have a vague idea of the general concept of your comic before you start planning. If nothing else, having a basic idea to expand from gives you the confidence to get on with planning straight away (rather than just sitting in front of a blank notebook page uncertainly).

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (13th November 2017)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting was another experimental attempt at using an overhead perspective. Although it possibly turned out slightly better (in technical terms, although it lack atmosphere) than yesterday’s painting did, I don’t think that this is a perspective that I’ll be using very often.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Stairwell" By C. A. Brown

“Stairwell” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Total Recall 2070 – Machine Dreams” (Film/ TV Show Pilot)

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I can’t remember when I first heard of “Total Recall 2070”. But, once I’d heard of a Canadian TV series from the 1990s that looked like “Blade Runner“, I just had to watch it. There was only one problem – it bizarrely never received a UK DVD release.

Luckily though, a while before writing a review, I found a reasonably-priced second-hand US import DVD of the feature length pilot episode “Machine Dreams” on Amazon. Surprisingly, this episode was released as a stand alone straight-to-DVD film in the US.

So, I was curious to see whether even a fragment of this TV series was worth all of the waiting and searching. In a word, yes.

But, before I go any further, I should warn you that there might be some PLOT SPOILERS in this review.

Yes, it even has the close-up eyes at the beginning, like "Blade Runner" :)

Yes, it even has the close-up eyes at the beginning, like “Blade Runner” 🙂

As you may have guessed from the title, “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” is based on Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 cinematic classic “Total Recall” and it features both the recall machine and the nefarious Rekall corporation. If you’ve never seen “Total Recall”, it’s a film set in a cyberpunk future where a company called Rekall gives people virtual reality holidays by using technology to implant artificial memories into their brains.

“Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” follows trench-coat wearing detective David Hume and his partner, who are investigating a mysterious shooting at the Rekall facility.

And with that kind of moody lighting, you can tell that it probably isn't going to just be a routine investigation...

And with that kind of moody lighting, you can tell that it probably isn’t going to just be a routine investigation…

After a gunfight with several rogue androids, the androids get away and Hume’s partner is killed – but the Rekall corporation don’t seem too happy about co-operating fully with the subsequent investigation.

Soon, Hume finds that he’s been assigned a new partner (called Ian Farve) and has been reassigned to desk duty.

On the plus side, Farve seems to be in his element behind a desk.

On the plus side, Farve seems to be in his element behind a desk.

But, after an Eastern European woman with no prior criminal history and no apparent motive is arrested for kidnapping, there seem to be some strange elements to the case that prompt Hume and Farve to investigate further…

Since “Total Recall” and “Blade Runner” are both based on stories by Philip K. Dick (eg: “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” and “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” respectively), “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” takes a lot of influence from “Blade Runner” too.

Yes, this is pretty much “Blade Runner – The TV Series”! Again, why didn’t this entire TV series, or even just the pilot, get a UK DVD release?

Seriously, this is basically a low-budget version of “Blade Runner” and it is awesome! Yes, the precise details of the story are somewhat different to “Blade Runner” but there are a lot of wonderful similarities. To say any more would spoil the story but, if you like “Blade Runner”, then you’ll be right at home here. Everything from the grizzled detective to the philosophical issues in the film is pure “Blade Runner” and it is amazing!

For example, this scene is a really cool homage to "Blade Runner", although the events of it play out somewhat differently....

For example, this scene is a really cool homage to “Blade Runner”, although the events of it play out somewhat differently….

However, that said, this is bascially “Blade Runner lite”. In many ways, this is more of an amazing sci-fi noir detective thriller than a slow, contemplative, intellectually deep masterpiece. The plot of this film contains a certain level of complexity, but it’s a lot more “streamlined” than the plot of “Blade Runner” is. If anything, the pacing and plot of this episode reminded me of a cross between an “ordinary” detective movie and an episode of “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“. Which is never a bad thing!

Thankfully, although the episode quite obviously sets the scene for a larger TV series, the film’s story is (mostly) self-contained. Yes, there are a couple of small plot threads that are left hanging, but there aren’t really any major cliffhangers. The main story of the episode is resolved by the time that the credits roll. Likewise, the US DVD thankfully seems to be free from any puritanical American TV censorship too.

The acting in “Total Recall 2070 – Machine Dreams” is reasonably good and is what you’d expect in a TV show or low-mid budget movie. Hume is your typical weary and cynical film noir detective character and many of the other characters are fairly well-acted too. But, the stand-out character in the episode has to be Ian Farve, who manages to be both subtly amusing and intriguingly mysterious at the same time.

Although, if you're a cyberpunk/ sci-fi fan, Farve's personality and demeanour is probably a plot spoiler in  it's own right.

Although, if you’re a cyberpunk/ sci-fi fan, Farve’s personality and demeanour is probably a plot spoiler in it’s own right.

The set design in “Total Recall 2070” is surprisingly good too, considering budgetary limitations. Yes, the film contains a few (surprisingly good) examples of late 1990s CGI landscapes, a few “futuristic” locations that look like something from “Red Dwarf“, a few scenes set during the day and a few repurposed “ordinary” building interiors. But, there are also some truly spectacular set designs here.

In particular, both the interior of the police station and the street outside look like something from “Blade Runner”.

Yes! The set of EVERY TV show should look like THIS!!!!

Yes! The set of EVERY TV show should look like THIS!!!!

Seriously, this is a TV series that looks like "Blade Runner". WHY don't we have this in the UK?!

Seriously, this is a TV series that looks like “Blade Runner”. WHY don’t we have this show in the UK?!

Yes, the street location is re-used for quite a few scenes but it’s busy, visually complex and atmospheric enough to stand up to a fair amount of screen time. Likewise, the police station gets the whole “cyberpunk noir” aesthetic right in quite a few scenes – with stone carvings and pillars, an array of glowing screens and lights, a gloomy atmosphere and lots of interestingly-shaped windows. It looks really cool:

Plus, it gets the "ordinary film noir" thing right too. There's even someone with a trilby hat!!

Plus, it gets the “ordinary film noir” thing right too. There’s even someone with a trilby hat!!

All in all, this episode is amazing! Yes, it isn’t quite as good as “Blade Runner”, but it’s still probably one of the coolest pilot episodes that I’ve seen! It’s dramatic, atmospheric, visually spectacular, thrilling and filled with cyberpunk goodness 🙂

Yes, it’s as much an ordinary detective thriller as it is a sci-fi film, but no doubt that the sci-fi elements are probably expanded on during the rest of the TV series. My only real criticism of it is the lack of a UK DVD release of the entire series! Seriously, this shouldn’t be some kind of obscure single-DVD US import. It should be a large, well-worn boxset on my DVD shelf!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Mini Review: “Tears In The Rain” (‘Blade Runner’ Fan Film)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to write an extra review tonight, I happened upon a really interesting-looking “Blade Runner” fan film on Youtube called “Tears In The Rain“. Although this fan film was released in January, I somehow didn’t even hear about it until earlier tonight. So, I thought that I’d review it.

Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS.

So, let’s take a look at “Tears In The Rain”:

“Tears In The Rain” is an 11-minute unofficial prequel to the original “Blade Runner” created by Christopher Grant Harvey. Taking place in some unspecified year in the early 21st Century, the film follows a Blade Runner called John Kampff, who travels to a diner in order to retire a Nexus-3 replicant called Andy Smith.

One of the very first things that I will say about this short film is that it is remarkably true to both the spirit and the look of the original “Blade Runner” (kind of like the official prequel anime to “Blade Runner 2049” was).

Although it is probably bordering on heresy to suggest this, this low-budget fan film is possibly more “Blade Runner” than “Blade Runner 2049” was in terms of style, atmosphere, dialogue, tone, characters and music.

Seriously, I loved “Blade Runner 2049”. But, there really wasn’t enough of this in it!

A lot of why this fan film is so true to the spirit of the original film is because of it’s small scale. Unlike the vast barrage of different locations in “Blade Runner 2049”, this fan film focuses on a tiny number of detailed locations (like how most of the original “Blade Runner” just took place in a few buildings and a couple of streets). Likewise, the drama of the film is a lot more small-scale too. Again, this is much more in keeping with the original “Blade Runner”.

Yay! Small-scale drama 🙂

Plus, the dialogue and acting in this fan film is amazing. The main centrepiece of the film is a discussion between Kampff and Andy in the diner. Whilst Andy dies from a slow-acting poison, Kampff taunts him about his memories and expresses jealousy about the enhanced lives of replicants. This discussion is filled with the kind of philosophical exchanges and ambiguity that you would expect from a “Blade Runner” film. Plus, the ending to this fan film is absolutely genius. But I won’t spoil it.

Like in both the original “Blade Runner” and “Blade Runner 2049”, this fan film explores the theme of the replicants having more humanity than actual humans. Throughout the film, Andy comes across as a friendly, likeable old man.

His costume design also evokes both Chew’s and J.F.Sebastian’s outfits in the original film too.

Kampff, on the other hand, comes across as a cruel man who seems to relish the task of killing replicants. Not only is this in keeping with the themes of the original film, but it also highlights the fact that the Blade Runners are probably the villains in the official films.

Seriously, I cannot praise the chillingly understated menace in this scene highly enough. This actor needs to be in more films!

Of course, being a fan film, there are some clever references to the original film too. Although the verbatim quoting of Deckard and Leon’s dialogue when Kampff and Andy meet seems a little bit contrived, there’s an absolutely brilliant scene where Kampff points out that one of Andy’s artificial memories involves his wife leaving him for J.F. Sebastian. When Andy questions how Kampff knows this, Kampff says that it’s an “inside joke” and then talks briefly about J.F’s terrible love life. Then there’s also the part where Kampff talks about how he can tell someone is a replicant by looking at their eyes.

[Edit: Plus, of course, Andy’s name is a reference to the androids in “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” too. How could I have missed this?]

Although he doesn’t appear in the film, I’m curious about Voight too. Where’s his film?

In terms of music, this fan film is beautiful. Whilst the film features new and original music, it is very much in keeping with the general style and tone of Vangelis’ spectacular score for the original film. Likewise, the film includes some brilliant “Blade Runner”-style ambient background noise too. The musical consistency in this low-budget fan film evokes a consistent atmosphere in a way that the more varied music in “Blade Runner 2049” doesn’t always achieve.

In terms of special effects, lighting and set design, you wouldn’t believe that this film was apparently only made for $1500! The film covers up it’s low budget status very well by initially dazzling the viewer with a really cool-looking CGI sequence and then spending the rest of the film in a small, but convincingly detailed, futuristic diner. Seriously, this film looks like it was made with ten times the budget it actually was. My only complaint is the heavy use of lens flare in some scenes, but this can be excused since it helps to cover up the low-budget set design.

J.J. Abrams take note, this is one of the few situations where lens flare actually improves a film.

All in all, Hollywood needs to hire the director of this short film to make the third “Blade Runner” movie! If he can do something as spectacular as this for just $1500, then imagine what he could do with even a small Hollywood budget! Although the “Blade Runner” films were never box office blockbusters, this unofficial fan film shows that this amazing series could potentially have a glorious future as a more low-budget thing.

Plus, this fan film focuses on the heart of what makes “Blade Runner” Blade Runner. I’m talking about small-scale drama, ambiguous characters, semi-realistic set design and an oppressively gloomy – yet visually beautiful- atmosphere. Best of all, since it’s a non-commercial fan film, you can watch it for free on Youtube. Even though it obviously isn’t canon, it’s still a must-watch if you even vaguely like the “Blade Runner” films 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.