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

psyche-olympus

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.”

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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.

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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