Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Book review: Setting the Scene

The following book review was originally published in Technical Communication, Volume 60, Number 1, February 2013, the quarterly magazine for The Society for Technical Communications.

Setting the Scene: The Art and Evolution of Animation Layout
Fraser MacLean. 2011. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books. [ISBN 978-0-8118-6987-4. 270 pages, including index. US$60.00.]

Setting the Scene: The Art and Evolution of Animation Layout is a detailed history of layout in animation. MacLean writes with obvious passion and love for the animation industry and layout in particular. I was thoroughly entertained as I peered behind the scenes of beloved animated movies.

Some of MacLean’s passion gets away and the details begin to overwhelm someone with no history in animation. He writes, “Usually drawn in red pencil with the wording in bold capitals, …camera guides indicated what the required fielding (or aspect ratio) of the scene was, where the N/S, E/W (North/South, East/West), and START and END (first frame and last frame) positions were for any requested moves” (p. 43). It begins to make my head spin trying to imagine the work he describes with the cameras.

The book also has many passionate quotes from leaders in the animation industry. MacLean interviewed those he could and the mentees of those he couldn’t. They all sound just as passionate as his writing. You can flip to nearly any page in the book to find one. In discussing lighting in computer-animated movies compared to physical lighting, he quotes Pixar Director of Photography Sharon Calahan saying “If you really want that bounce light there, you have to add it, you don’t get that for free” (p. 198).

However, it does not include the theory of layout design. Some discussion of theory comes about as part of the process of the evolution of layout design, but none of the theories are discussed in detail. This book may aid you in thinking about how to lay out videos that are more fun, but I didn’t read anything that would apply to training videos for software. For example, MacLean points out “how important it is for scenic design to make its impact at the unconscious level” (p. 31).

Setting the Scene also, importantly, includes many spectacular pictures. Again, you can flip to any page in the book and come across beautiful art. These inspiring examples of layout are all described in a caption that lets you look at the movie snapshot under a new light, examining why they decided to lay out a scene the way they did. MacLean describes a background painting by Tom O’Loughlin as “heightened perspective and strong diagonal compositions are used in these Sylvester and Speedy Gonzales backgrounds to help emphasize the contrast in scale between the cat in charge of the gigantic ship and the tiny mice” (p. 130).

If you are lucky enough to create videos, video games, or even photos with humor and heart as part of your technical writing, this book might provide a new way to think about your visual layout approach. As a software technical writer, I did not find any information to apply to my work as much as I enjoyed it.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Figure drawing

We got a body builder. She was a new model so she couldn't hold the poses for long. Initially I was annoyed, but it just got me practice at faster ones, which is good.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Figure drawing

End of my second quarter. I had hurt my back, so these were all done sitting.

Figure drawing

Figure drawings

Figure drawings

And an inked one. I injured using teaching paper and my fountain pen.

Book Review: See What I Mean by Kevin Cheng

The following book review was originally published in Technical Communication, Volume 60, Number 2, May 2013, the Society for Technical Communications' quarterly magazine.

See What I Mean: How to Use Comics to Communicate Ideas
Kevin Cheng. 2012. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media. [ISBN 978-1-933820-27-9. 202 pages, including index. USD$39.00 (softcover).]

Storytelling is great for conveying information in a memorable way. Comics can make storytelling even more effective through images. See What I Mean shows you how to present business information using comics. Cheng writes, “Comics are like a Trojan horse for information” (p. 165).

See What I Mean is written for non-artists and the comics uninitiated. It starts with an overview of what comics are and how to read them, such as what a gutter is and the order to read speech bubbles. Then it details how to make comics. Cheng creates an example comic that describes the purpose of Square, a new credit card reader for smart phones. Finally, Cheng goes over how to use comics for business. Each chapter starts with an overview comic. These comics are good examples of his method.

If you give someone this book to convince them to use comics, I suggest starting them with Chapter 8, “Applying Comics.” Start with this chapter to get an idea of how you want to use comics, and then apply the ideas learned on your own work. I make comics in my spare time and wanted to get ideas about using comics in my day job. Chapters 8 and 9 were the most helpful. Also, the table of contents and the overview comics make it easy to find your information if you are not sure.

Cheng is an enthusiastic writer with an obvious passion for comics. Most of the book is spent on creating comics. Cheng is encouraging to the non-artist, but he might spend too much time convincing you that you can draw. If you are that reluctant, I do not think any amount of text will convince you. Because there are already so many great books on creating comics, I was hoping for more information on how comics can be used specifically with business.

Cheng discusses a number of benefits to using comics. Relatively speaking, creating a comic does not take much time. The skills are easy to learn. You can work with tools as simple as a pen, sticky notes, and stick figures to create a story that readers relate to. “By reducing the amount of detail in a drawing, you can encourage your reader to relate personally to what’s being presented” (p. 24). And the restrictions of the format, such as length, can help you present your idea in a concise way.

People are finding that comics are a good way to no only help them retain information, but to get them to read it in the first place. “. . .a senior user researcher at Adobe, used comics to convey her research findings...she found that more people actually spent time reading her findings” (p. 168). People will actually read our content if we format our business information to be enjoyable or entertaining.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Figure drawings

More crappy phone pics of figure drawing. The paper is 18*24 so I can't scan them.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Figure drawings

Been a while, but these are old. Sorry. These are crummy phone pics.

Meerkats in top hats

Based on a suggestion from Abe. If you can't tell, I had a lot of fun with this.