J.R.R. Tolkien’s Writing Process Teaches You How to Create Work That Matters – Special Reblog from Melissa Chu


This post was originally published on JumpStartYourDreamLife.com by author Melissa Chu. Sci Fi-Fantasy blog is pleased to be able to repost her excellent content.

Have you ever wondered how J.R.R. Tolkien wrote “The Lord of the Rings”? How he went about creating a world, various cultures, and a body of work that we continue to enjoy reading today?

If so, read on to see how he did it and what you can learn from his process.

On a dreary afternoon, a professor sat at his desk marking examination papers. He noticed that a student had left a page blank. Without any explanation, he found himself jotting down the sentence: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

This line sparked J.R.R. Tolkien’s idea for The Hobbit, which was published in 1937. It was an immediate success. Stanley Unwin, the Chairman of the publishing firm, asked him if he had any other similar stories available to meet public demand.

In response, Tolkien wrote a full book of tales and named it The Silmarillion. Some of the tales were sent off to Unwin, who decided that they weren’t commercially publishable. Instead, he asked Tolkien if he could write a sequel to The Hobbit.

Disappointed, Tolkien agreed to Unwin’s request and went back to work. The publishing firm did not expect a profit and decided they would incur a probable loss of 1,000 pounds. But, when they published the story during 1954 and 1955, what came next surprised them.

The trilogy immediately captured the public’s attention. It was adapted to radio the following year, and it has since gone on to sell over 150 million copies [1]. Later, The Lord of the Rings was turned into one of the highest-grossing and most critically-acclaimed film series of all time. The trilogy is considered one of the greatest book series of the twentieth century.

The Complex Process of Creating a World

It took J.R.R. Tolkien over a dozen years to plan and write “The Lord of the Rings.”

If you’ve read the trilogy, you can see the level of detail he put into creating the world of Middle-earth. The world contains many different peoples, languages, regions, geographies, and histories, amongst other elements.

So, how exactly did he manage to complete such a gargantuan task – and weave engaging storylines into the invented world on top of it all?

In his words, he “wisely started with a map, and made the story fit” [2]. To create the map of Middle-earth, he sketched small pieces here and there. Some were hasty outlines scribbled onto the corner of a page, while others were painstakingly drawn in detail.

Tolkien revised his maps repeatedly. Over the course of multiple sketches, Saruman’s tower changed from round and tiered to a more severe structure. This change is reflected in The Two Towers, where his final description of Orthanc reads: “A peak and isle of rock it was, black and gleaming hard: four mighty piers of many-sided stone were welded into one.”

While the maps were the foundation of the story, the plot later shaped what the map looked like as well. For one thing, Tolkien took care to ensure that Frodo and Sam’s traveling speed and location matched the map dimensions. He also accounted for mountain slopes and steepness.

Why? It was important that the two arrived at Mount Doom at the same time that Aragorn led his army to battle at the Black Gate. To fit his evolving storylines, Tolkien placed new maps over old ones throughout the course of his writing.

Tolkien’s Strategies for Creating Good Work

What I found most interesting about Tolkien’s process was that he didn’t simply sit down and write. Before he began writing the first novel, he planned, drew, and revised the world of Middle-earth.

What can his approach show us about creating good work? Three things:

1. Lay the groundwork.

Tolkien’s writing wasn’t just based on words. It was the result of imagery that he pictured, sketched, and perfected. To describe objects and places, he first had to visualize them on paper.

Before you start on a project, you need to set the foundation. Understand the basics first. For instance, if you’re a beginner in tennis, you don’t start by competing against an opponent. You have to understand the rules of the court, the game set-up, and the right posture. There’s a lot of preparation that comes before you hit your first ball.

2. Perform little failures.

Tolkien looked at his drafts with a critical eye, calling them “amateur”. He frequently changed the names of places and peoples, and he changed the routes his characters took. He sketched out places knowing full well that they would be revised repeatedly until they suited his liking.

Testing out concepts helps us create something concrete that we can use and build upon. Failure isn’t always bad – we can use it as feedback for the future. We can figure out whether our design makes sense and how to improve it. When developing a business idea, entrepreneurs use the same process of testing the validity of an idea on a small scale.

3. Let the work reveal itself.

It’s hard to believe that one individual created a volume of work like “The Lord of the Rings”. At one point, Tolkien offered the trilogy to a rival publisher, which backed away when the editors saw the scale of his creation.

As for his writing process, Tolkien didn’t see himself as creating a story from scratch. Instead, he let the story gradually unfold on its own: “I have long ceased to invent… I wait till I seem to know what really happened. Or till it writes itself.”

Sometimes the work you create takes on a life of its own, and that’s a good thing. We can only plan up to a certain point. Situations change and new ideas sprout up along the way. You may end up going down a path that you hadn’t expected before.

Start with the Foundation

Tolkien must have had a lot of patience to spend over a decade building a world and creating a story within it. Even though his story grew longer and more complex than expected, he managed to put everything together into a finished product.

In life, many of us want to go right to the end result without doing the important work first. For instance, we want to:

Earn money without figuring out how to provide value.
Perform at a concert without practicing our music.
Become fit without evaluating environmental factors we’re exposing ourselves to (i.e. what type of food and snacks we surround ourselves with).
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and drained when we think about all the steps we have to take to get to a destination. These feelings can make it hard to make any sort of progress. We focus so deeply on the end result that we forget where to start.

You don’t know exactly where your journey will lead you. Instead of fixating on every single detail, work on the things that are within your reach.

Lay the groundwork first.


Weapons of Sci Fi-Fantasy: Part 1 – The Sword

A mythic weapon common to both Sci Fi and Fantasy genres, the sword was probably invented as an improvement on the caveman’s club. Requiring several blows to defeat an enemy, the club lacked the swords bladed edge which could dismember or slay in a single blow. From Ogami Itto‘s Dotanuki to Luke Skywalker‘s lightsaber, the sword continues to be a remarkable topic.

The invention of the sword dates back to around 3,500 B.C., when the nomadic Kurgan peoples of the steppes of northern Europe and Asia Minor first learned metal working techniques from the Transcaucasians, who inhabited the border region between Eastern Europe and Asia. The warlike Kurgans, based on archeological evidence left behind in their early cave drawings, worshiped the life taking power of the sword like a god (from The Chalice and The Blade, by Riane Eisler, pp. 45-48).

Past, Present, Future

Today we see the sword brandished by warriors in films, books and video games ranging from Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones to the Star Wars and Gundam franchises. While modern day combatants prefer the gun (“a coward’s weapon”, according to the Dark Knight, Batman), the sword remains THE battle instrument for champions both heroic and villainous. Perhaps the blade is making a comeback based on the hyperpopularity of contemporary fictional characters such as Deadpool, Wolverine and Psylocke.

Book Review – Thought Power: It’s Control and Culture – Remarks and Observations


While doing research on the relationship between the pineal gland and the ether, I discovered a most interesting book written over a hundred years ago. Thought Power: It’s Control and Culture, by Annie Besant, is an eye opening text on the nature of thought, memory and associated phenomenon. Thought Power was written in a time before the complete burial of Ether theory by mainstream science due to the flawed Michelson-Morley experiment and Einstein’s omission of it in his famously overrated Theory of General Relativity.

At the turn of the last century (1900’s), belief in the ether as a universal background for both energy and matter was commonplace. Just as sound waves need a substance like air or water to travel through , the ether is an ultrafine carbon based substance which carries light, matter and even thought energy. Today, mainstream science believes that most of the volume of space consists of an empty vacuum. Ether is another word for the Oriental concept of chi (from The Tao of Physics, pg. 199), the harmony of form and spirit expressed yin-yang-symbolin the logo of yin and yang (see illustration). Thought Power explains (pp. 14-15) ether as The One, a static ether field that mass (i.e., the Universe) moves through at tremendous speed, causing atomic motion or spin and therefore electric charge in the electrons of all matter in the universe. Besant states that vibration (motion) is the root of all life and consciousness, separate manifestations out of the infinite static One. This is similar to the Hindu myth of Indra’s Net, an intricately arranged jeweled fabric surrounding Indra’s palace which  stretches out in all directions. Looking closely at any one of the jewels, an observer sees a reflection of every other jewel in the net, and also sees the reflections in those reflected jewels. Our minds form a “network of consciousness”, individual units which are the jewels strung together by vibrations in the fabric of the ether.

Last week in the office an annoying co-worker smelled burned toast from the break room in the air, and asked aloud “who’s burning toast?”. Immediately, I thought to myself “your mom” and then, half a second later, another co-worker in the next cubicle said the exact same words out loud. According to ether theory, my thought to say “your mom” came from the ‘sound’ of thought made by my neighboring co-worker. “Your mom” was carried through the ether and was picked up by my pineal gland (a rice-sized organ in the center of the brain) entering my mind as a thought. The reverse is also certainly possible; that I thought of the snippy remark and my more vocal co-worker picked up on it and spoke it aloud.

human_response_to_vibrations.pngA large number of thoughts surround us constantly. Public opinion, Besant writes, is the result of certain thoughts existing on a national scale. The habits, beliefs and desires of everyone contribute to this ‘thought atmosphere’, which influences us on an unconscious level. It is important to guard oneself against the influence of unwanted thoughts by occupying our minds with thoughts about subjects of interest. Also, by dwelling on virtues like honesty and patience we can immunize our minds against negativity, fear and other unsavory mental energy swirling around through the ether surrounding us.

Besant writes that the nature of thought itself is consciousness or knowledge and the form that attains the knowledge. This can be illustrated as a mirror and the reflections that appear in it. By themselves, neither is complete  reality. Just exactly as I wrote the preceding sentence, I got an email announcing Liz Bard’s latest blog post entitled Shared Perspective, a haiku poem that I’ll repost here for its eerie relevance to the subject of this paragraph:

we stand on this shore

separate yet together

your outlook is mine

Thanks, Liz. I always appreciate your daily poem. Using her poem as further illustration, a mirror (the mind) stands on the shore where mind meets matter, reflecting the ocean (matter). They are separate, but seen together they are a complete image of reality.

Besant quotes The Book of Golden Precepts (p. 19-22) “The mind is great slayer of the real”. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage depending on one’s point of view. Positively, the mind as ‘creator of illusion’ is an limitless tool for visualizing positive possibilities, dreaming up works of fiction spanning all forms of media (film, literature, artwork, etc.) and creatively altering fate through affirmation and faith. Conversely, the mind has an equal capacity to imagine all sorts of negative associations, to take offense when none is really given, and to create fear out of neutral situations and circumstances. Both positive and negative mental projects are only speculation on a larger unknown reality; therefore why not choose to imagine what is positive and desirable? I find positive thinking to be more useful than self-defeating beliefs such as Murphy’s Law, ‘do unto others before they do unto you” and other such banal tripe.

Images in the mind are reproductions of the things themselves, portraits of reality that differ from the actual subject. Besant states the importance of remembering that although it might not think so, the mind is not who we are. Ours minds are part of us, the same as our hearts, eyes and hands, but need not define us. This reminds me of the most important takeaway from Marcus Arelius’ Meditations. Namely, that our opinions are the problem, not the subject of the opinion. Put another way, this time from a Twitter feed “The problem is not the problem. Your attitude toward the problem is the problem”. Cognitive dissonance? Perhaps. But if it is, choosing to be angry about things we have no control over is also cognitive dissonance.

Besant also has some useful remarks (pp. 30-32) on studying books and other written material. Her suggestion to “read less, and think more” means considering the information in the book for twice as long as it took to read it in order to reach our own understanding of the content. Putting the subject in our own words and associating it with our own the experiences leads to a better assimilation of knowledge stored in books.

As obvious as it seems, Besant advises us to be careful what you think (p. 39) . To paraphrase a statement by Jack Canfield, we only have control over three things in life; what we think, what we visualize, and what we do. Here is the real secret of Thought Power, that individuals have a choice of what to think. Since we can only think one thought at a time, it becomes simple to dismiss negativity, unhappy memories and any other useless content by replacing it with inspirational quotes, beautiful imagery or other uplifting subject matter. The mind is fertile and will grow whatever concepts the thinker focuses on regardless of the utility of their substance.

Thought Power offers speculation on the nature and origin of thoughts and memories themselves (pp. 48-49). The purpose of thought in essence is to distinguish objects and physical phenomenon which cause sensation as coming from self or from non-self. More than just sensations or feelings, thoughts are presented as “opinions” of sensory data, cross referenced with the thinkers memories. Thoughts about the object that caused the sensation are colored primarily by associations with pain or pleasure. Besant’s example of this is the pain experienced by an infant as he or she grows hungry (pain), remedied by feeding on mothers milk (pleasure). It occurred to me that this simple equation of sensation categorized into pain or pleasure could be applied, conceptually at least, to the development of artificial intelligence. The ‘pain’ of running low on battery power is akin to the hungry baby, solved by the pleasant flow of life giving electricity.

Besant mentions the “Akashic Records” (p. 53), an immense field made up of every sensation ever experienced by all thinkers throughout time. Created by consciousness and always growing, this ‘cloud’ is an energy database of memory and experience. It has been said that it is possible to access the information stored in the Akashic Records through meditation, dreams and other intuitions, but the author does not go into detail about how to do so. While everything we know and ever wanted to know is available in the ether surrounding us, that does not mean we necessarily remember it. Our opinions of the sensory data we constantly receive from the world around us affects what we retain in memory.  We only remember what we care about, but improving one’s memory is possible. By insisting to ourselves that we will pay attention, observe accurately and think steadily upon the information, we can exercise our mental muscles of observation and recall. I have made an exercise of remembering the names of people I meet face to face and over the phone, and this practice has improved my ability to retain information.

Besant also has some remarks about attention. There is a significant difference between the intent behind paying attention. Subjects that we consider interesting are naturally easier to give attention to than subject matter that we consider boring. When attention is drawn forth by topics of interest, the attention comes from desire. When attention is sent forth to subjects we’d rather ignore, our willpower sends it out. An example would be how it’s easy to remember the name of our favorite character in a TV series, compared to remembering when it’s time to renew our car registration. The metaphor of photography (p. 60-61) fixing an image on a silver salted plate for impressions on the mind becoming memories is only relatively accurate. It seems subjects that interest us form clear, focused memories, while topics we find boring form blurry memories.

TuningForks.pngOne sure practice for improving mental faculty is to surround oneself with intelligent people. Besant says how the higher vibratory rates of the minds of ‘strong thinkers’ (p. 75) can evolve the power of our own minds through a kind of “tuning fork effect” (see illustration). This reminds me of the Master Mind Principle from Napoleon Hill‘s Think & Grow Rich. As one of thirteen key concepts in the process of gaining wealth, Hill states the importance of meeting with a group of like minded, positive individuals at least once a week increases intelligence, among other benefits. Similarly, an ex-marine I worked with years ago on a number of 3D training simulator projects said “none of us is as smart as all of us”.

In the absence of a mastermind group, Besant suggests that reading books written by great minds is the next best way to increase mental faculty (p. 77). By reading in a receptive, ’empty’ state and concentrating intently on the written content, we can “pierce the mind of the writer through the veil of their words”. This passage from Thought Force evokes p. 40 of Cyril Davson’s Physics of the Primary State of Matter, where he compares the ‘remnant consciousness’ stored in the a library to a kind of potential energy that can transfer from the books to the minds of the readers once read and understood.

Due to the connection between the mind and body, concentration has several physical effects on us whenever we listen, watch or feel with great interest (p. 80, 102). Concentration can cause muscle tension, perspiration of the palms of the hands and change the nervous system. Attention is tension, Besant writes, and cautions beginners to only do concentration exercises for short periods of time. Concentration channels the energy of the mind in a single direction, effectively making it stronger for the duration. With practice, the mind can concentrate on something for a long time, just as working out regularly increases physical strength and stamina. While building the powers of concentration, it is important to take breaks and be aware of tension arising in the body. This will eventually break down the association of tension in the body with concentration of the mind and improve the quality of attention and focus.

At a more advanced level (p. 84), those interested in strengthening their concentration are advised to practice the following technique. Focus your full attention on an object in order to form a mental picture of it, then drop the object itself from your mind’s eye while remaining concentrated. Ignore all incoming impressions from your senses. In this critical fleeting moment after dropping the subject of concentration, there is a narrow empty space leading to sensory impressions and inspirations from ‘higher worlds’ (p. 89). It should be noted that these ‘higher worlds’ are dimensions or frequencies of consciousness rather than physical places. Access is gained through changing states of consciousness rather than traveling elsewhere.

Indeed, Besant writes that (p. 87) the “Heart of Life”, representative of the whole universe, exists in everyone. Located in a small chamber inside the heart, this point of concentrated ether is connected with the vibrations of everything and everywhere. Since we are immersed in the ether, a continuous medium of latent consciousness blanketing all matter, our conscious attention can be directed anywhere through this connection with the inner ether in our hearts. Through inner knowledge of ourselves can we gain knowledge of everything outside of ourselves. However, we may not understand things we encounter because of a lack any prior reference (p. 89). This is somewhat like the disorientation of instantly appearing in a crowded market in a city of a country that we have never visited before, where everyone speaks a different language.

A passage I find especially relevant (p. 97) is quoted from a text written five thousand years ago; “The Mind is hard to curb and restless, but it may be curbed by constant practice and indifference”. Besant cautions us to beware of unwanted thoughts through the agent of the will, our guard against the wandering nature of the mind. Using our willpower enables us to direct our minds back to thoughts about more savory topics of interest (p. 92). The repeated exercise of willpower, along with concentration on virtue help shape the mind into a more effective form, crowding out negative thinking. The mind is like a magnet in that it tends to attract all sorts of thoughts, both wanted and unwanted, so thinking efficiently becomes a filtering process as much as a choosing process. Don’t fight bad thoughts, just walk away from them toward something you like. The habit of saying to yourself “oh well” when the mind wanders to unsavory subjects is also a useful practice.

I found Thought Power to be a very enjoyable, informative and inspirational book which I am glad to have discovered. Thank you again, Google.

My Sci Fi Fantasy: The Story of Sword of Arreon – Part 4


The following is the final part of the story on the development of Sword of Arreon.

Storyboarding took years to finish. I worked on them steadily at times like lunch breaks, while my son was at swim practice and anywhere else I had to wait. Meanwhile I still had other elements of Sword of Arreon to sort out such as the voices of the characters. The voices of certain people I knew stood out in my mind, so I contacted them about a job opportunity and asked if they had done any acting in high school. We arranged a table read of a scene from the script where three characters are talking, in order to get a feel for the tone and pacing of the dialogue. My three voice actors read their parts from the scene out loud while I sat in the corner and listened. The table read went well, leaving me invigorated as I paid the three for their time.
Later, we arranged a recording session at one of the voice actors place of business. The session consisted of setting up my laptop in one room and the microphone and sound isolation unit in another. Both the actors and myself listened to each other through headphones. I also had a small microphone at the recording workstation to give directions and speak the other characters lines during dialogue. When recording was finished, I thanked and paid the voice actors for their time. Back at the studio, I made backups on DVD of their vocal performances.
castle3With an animation project of this scale I need a production team. My plan to get the funding to hire animators is to make a minute and a half trailer for Sword of Arreon. This video will show the final look of the animation and outline the basic premise of the series, serving as proof of concept for potential investors and crowdsourcing campaigns. Since reading Reiss’s book on independent film distribution and marketing and being made aware of the new phenomenon of transmedia storytelling, I decided to turn my idea into a franchise. Therefore Sword of Arreon will also be a graphic novel and web-based 3D game which expand on the world of the animated series. These other wings of the transmedia franchise are still in development, but tentatively will tell the backstory leading up to the action seen in the Sword of Arreon pilot.
In Edith Hamilton‘s Mythology, a very enjoyable book brilliantly illustrated by Steele Savage (best name ever), she points out some intriguing things that all myths have in common. She states that fundamentally, myths connect us to a time when the world was young and people had a connection to nature. Today this connection is lost, as most of us live in cities or rely on them to some degree. My intent with Sword of Arreon is to weave stories that are both science fiction and ancient legend, set in worlds of the distant future. I wish to evoke the same “once upon a time” atmosphere as the tale of Sleeping Beauty, the legend of Perseus, or the epic poem Beowolf, where there is little distance between the real and unreal.

Another aspect of independent filmmaking brought up in Reiss’s Think Outside The Box Office is that of pitching the franchise to investors and crowdsourcing platforms. The picture needed a short description that stated plainly what it’s about and quickly generate interest. As conclusion to this story on the creation of Sword of Arreon, here is what I came up with after much consideration: “Sword of Arreon is space mythology. Fables of heroes, dragons and powers beyond imagining. When humankind is forgotten, and the Kingdoms of Nature take to the stars.”

My Sci Fi Fantasy: The Story of Sword of Arreon – Part 3

The following is part 3 of the story of how Sword of Arreon got started.

Other elements I needed where 2D animation software and a good quality microphone to record dialogue, all within a microscopic budget. I researched Adobe Flash, ToonBoom Harmony and Smith Micro Anime Studio (now called Moho), finally settling on the latter after seeing a YouTube clip of authentic style anime produced with it. For just under a hundred dollars, I bought a software license for Anime Studio 9.5. I then researched what kind of microphone to buy, and ended up getting a broadcast quality USB condenser microphone for $40 on Ebay. When it arrived, I tested it out and found the sound quality to be excellent, almost too good in that the mike picked up room echos and other undesirable noises like paper rustling, airplanes flying overhead and dogs barking many blocks away. I solved this issue by constructing a sound isolation box out of a $15 foam mattress pad and a $3 dog leash. I then laid out a blank storyboard 18 up on the page and made a few dozen copies to get started. Total cost for all software and hardware I needed to make an animated film was about $165.

workstation1Another custom piece of equipment I made was a standing workstation, created by retrofitting a painters easel with a graphics tablet and flat panel monitor. I find standing more comfortable than sitting, and this workstation allows me the freedom to sit down on a tall stool when my feet and legs get tired. The monitor, keyboard and graphics tablet are hooked up to an Alienware laptop which sits on a small step stool just behind the easel that keeps it off the ground. The retrofit cost very little, only the price of two metal shelf brackets from a second hand hardware store. The rest of the pieces came from my supply of leftover lumber and spare parts such as screws and bolts. This setup turns out to be very ergonomic, with the tablet and keyboard at waist level and the monitor at eye level. As with writing the script, I’m concerned with imbibing the process with a mythic, supernatural feel so that this quality will carry along to the final product. The easel stands at the corner of a waist high work table in our studio which I share with my wife who makes fused glass art and jewelry. On the corner of the table is a brass candle holder which always has a red taper candle lit so I can see my keyboard. The rest of the studio is dimly lit, creating a mysterious atmosphere conducive to imagination and possibility.

I needed to develop the look of the characters. I started by collecting every high quality character design I ever remember seeing in a 3 ring binder for easy reference. My collection included favorite anime characters and robots, heroes and villains from comic books and monsters from Dungeons & Dragons. Many of the designs in my inspirational collection are also content for my Instagram feed, @sci_fi_fantasy.

When creating my own designs, my process began by peeking at this reference collection and then drawing a thumbnail sketch of either the silhouette or head design. My main concern was creating designs that viewers could identify with and think were really interesting. I approached this by keeping the drawings simple and memorable, like most other iconic anime and comic book characters. Originality and leaving traces of their ancestry were also concerns when developing the look of the characters. For instance, the main character, Jom, belongs to a race of humanoids who evolved from big cats such as tigers and panthers. I studied the faces of tigers from a book on animals and worked the shape of the tigers eyes into the character, and also the orange coloration and stripes into the hair. The races in the Sword of Arreon universe are all highly evolved, so they resemble humans much more than Lion-O from the ThunderCats cartoon series, for example. Like script development, the characters were still a work in progress after making my first pass on their designs, with many changes and refinements happening after the fact.

With script, character designs and my burning desire, I moved on to storyboarding the film. Storyboards are typically miniature thumbnail sketches that show what the camera (and therefore the audience) sees in any given shot. Actions such as character movement, dialogue and camera zooms are indicated. Drawn in sequence, these images serve as a kind of comic book version of the picture in order to visualize how it will play out on the screen. Storyboards are also typically rough sketches which omit detail in favor of basic composition and action in any given shot. Once finished, a storyboard is turned over to the layout department and rendered more fully in order to determine lighting, detail and color of both foreground and background elements. For Sword of Arreon, I saved time by drawing the storyboards in more detail so I could skip the layout process and go right from storyboard to final animation during production. While these more detailed storyboards took longer to draw, I feel it saved me time during the pre-production process.


When the storyboards were finally all drawn, I had 50 total pages equaling 900 shots. I then scanned them all into the computer and sequenced them in order as a video to see how it played out on the screen.  Are some parts not working in context with the rest of the film? Do other sections drag, potentially putting the audience to sleep? This was the chance to gauge those and other factors and make adjustments. Doing so during production as opposed to  in pre-production would be more time consuming. Estimated run time without ending credits was 45 minutes, putting it in the feature category, allowing it to be both a standalone movie and a pilot for an ongoing series.

Part 4 in 2 weeks

My Sci Fi Fantasy: The Story of Sword of Arreon – Part 2


The following is part 2 of the story of how Sword of Arreon got started. Read part 1 here

In addition to reading science fiction and fantasy novels, I also studied non-fiction. Since my picture was to be about an ancient sword, Riane Eisler‘s The Chalice and the Blade was an invaluable asset. Chronicling the rise of patriarchal society from a matriarchal one some 5,000 years ago, Eisler’s important work gave me much more than history about the invention of the sword. Her book went into depth about the intent behind the invention of the blade as life taking technology and the conflict between it and the life giving technology of the human female womb (the chalice). I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in changing the world for the better. It concisely states the essence of the problems all societies face today and points to a solution. In doing research on the history of swords, I discovered other interesting concepts which helped inform the story and cosmology of the picture.

I also needed to acquire certain specialized knowledge and technical skills in order to create my anime. I bought and read a book on writing original screenplays, gaining the understanding of why audiences watch movies and TV and how to write scripts that deliver what they want. Also, I bought and read a book on the process of anime production. It came from Japan, written in Japanese but filled with pictures and illustrations that explained some important concepts. For example, to draw a highlight such as the tip of a nose or corner on a box, you actually leave a blank point in your line work (see illustration). Another skill I needed to learn was marketing and publicity, and having researched what was the most current text on these subjects I found David Meerman Scott‘s The New Rules of Marketing and PR. In it, Scott explains how to advertise in todays world of people using Google to find what they want instead of learning about products and services through commercials and other ‘interruption-based’ methods. This blog was actually created according to knowledge gained from Scott’s book.

Finally, I am currently reading a book on film marketing and distribution which is proving to be very useful. Think Outside The Box Office, by Jon Reiss, details his experience as an independent film maker and offers information about best practices and the many different models of theatrical release. Especially interesting is the concept of transmedia storytelling, where the narrative extends out beyond the film into the video games, graphic novels and other platforms. This creates a convection effect, recirculating fan interest through a variety of media. The Matrix film of 1999 is an example of transmedia storytelling, with it’s combined launch of film, animations, video game and comics all conveying different angles of the narrative. Aspects of film marketing and distribution which I never would have considered are presented, making the $10 spent on the book a great value.

Having studied the work of a few fantasy and sci-fi authors and with a basic story idea, I began outlining the script for my animated feature. My main concerns were to weave an intriguing story and erase the line separating the sci-fi and fantasy genres, delivering a cinematic experience that no one has ever had before. In order to maintain an atmosphere of fantasy and mythology, I wrote the screenplay by candlelight sitting in an old Victorian style chair. Since this tale was not pure fantasy, I wrote on a Blackberry with its lighted keyboard in homage to the science fiction genre. I read recently that you write three scripts when you make a movie, during pre-production, when shooting, and then when editing. Currently in production, I can attest to this fact.

When developing a script, it seems more important to move forward than wait until every word is perfect before going on to the next step. Get the story as tight as possible and then proceed to character design or storyboarding, knowing there will be many chances to improve the script later on in the process. With the working version of your script in the back of your mind, you can constantly be watching and listening for ways to improve it during your day to day routine. For example, after having written the script you hear an interesting phrase or new slang, you can work it into the dialogue of your script. I realized that in order to make progress on a project this big, I needed to forget perfection and focus on process instead. During pre-production, there were no clear boundaries between character design, cosmology and story; instead I just opened up my imagination and wrote or drew whatever came over. I didn’t even have a title in mind. Many of these elements were incomplete as development progressed, but I pushed forward knowing it would all come together when production started.

Continues in 2 weeks