Designing a grumpy, spoiled little kid called Pete. So this is what the main character in my new picture book will look like. Maybe I make a few minor modifications before I complete the design, but it’s more or less finished now… phew!
When I first started thinking about Willisa, the witch in my picture book, I knew I didn’t want her to look like a typical witch. You know; long black hair, green skin, big pointy nose, black clothes, striped witch-tights, pointy witch hat, a cat companion, etc. The only traditional witch paraphernalia that I wanted in Willisa was a flying broom.
But I didn’t have much success in designing a new kind of witch. No matter how much I tried, it just didn’t work. I ended up with a witch that has pretty much the same characteristics as your traditional witch.
I kept the long black unruly witch hair. I didn’t make her skin green but I gave her a pointy witch-nose and a pointy witch hat! She may not have a cat companion, but she does wear an outfit that has cat paws all over it. A subtle (?) reference that she does love her cats maybe?
In terms of her personality, I imagine Willisa young and very outgoing, full of energy and with a positive outlook in life. Willisa is not an evil witch, she can be mischievous, as most people with a young mind tend to be, but I did write her as naïve. And it is her naivety and her inabilities to foresee the consequences of her actions that lands poor little Pete in huge trouble and drives the plot of my story.
If you observe children on a monkey bar or playing on a balance bar, you will note that more often than not they’re fearless, blissfully unaware of any danger. Gymnasts have a fierce attitude and look amazingly confident when performing. I wanted to combine these two qualities in Willisa; the child and the professional. So to convey her youthfulness, confidence and child-like energy, I decided that, whenever Willisa appears in my book she will be riding her flying broom posed in a way only a professional gymnast would be able to pose, but with the facial expression of an excited child.
Ever since I first heard of the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality (VR) headset I’ve been following its development very closely. The idea of VR has been around since 1950s with the arcade-style theatre cabinet Sensorama, or depending on your definition of VR, as far back as 1838.
Unfortunately, to date, all attempts at commercialising VR have failed. The first affordable VR system was release by Nintendo in 1995. It was called the “Virtual Boy” but the technology requirements for VR, to deliver an exciting and immersive experience, just wasn’t ready. So unsurprisingly it flopped.
Fast forward to 2016 and we’re in the year where several well- established companies (HTC and Valve, Oculus Rift owned by Facebook, Samsung and Sony) are releasing the first affordable VR system for the home. Will VR flop again? Well, only time will tell but if you believe the many thousands of online reviews, 2016 will be the year when VR is finally ready for primetime.
A discussion that is ubiquitous in its absence is whether VR will affect how we consume books and in particular, picture books. Audio books could be setup like campfire stories. Storyteller VR has a very interesting concept which I really liked. You could have the author of your favourite book reading the story to you in an appropriate environment. Imagine J.K. Rowling reading from the Philosopher’s stone at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Cool huh? Equally, you could be sat next to say, Oliver Jeffers while he reads you one of his many charming books! Or, you could have a Virtual copy of a book, where you choose the environment you want to read it in (a forest, a desert, on top of a skyscraper in New York, you name it) with soundscapes and sound effects to enhance your reading experience.
I illustrate my books in Blender, a 3D software package, which means I create everything in a 3D space. VR would permit me to put the reader in this space, and with a bit of clever programming, allow them to walk around and explore my imaginary world. But then I wonder whether a static world and its statue-like inhabitants would work as a VR experience.
I have noticed that many authors turn their picture books into simple animations. Have a look at The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers here. This is something I would love to do with my books but having the option to turn it into a VR film would be amazing. The animation could be projected into a virtual cinema, in a traditional movie like experience, where the viewer will look at a huge screen while remaining seated. You could have things coming out of the screen towards you, like 3D cinema but in a much more immersive way. You could, for example, have one of the film’s character sit next to you while you watch the film. Or, as mentioned before, put the viewer in the middle of the action. This would present a whole range of new challenges, the main challenge being: how to keep the viewer’s eye on the action. I guess cues like, light, sound and action would direct the viewer’s attention to the story being told, much like the tricks employed by a theatre play. But this would be more like a movie and not a reading experience.
I do not know how this technology will affect the way in which we read picture books. But I do know that I’m incredibly excited about VR and I hope that this time around, it will be a success. A new medium brings so much opportunity and I’m hoping that one day I will be able to experiment with VR and introduce you to my stories in this virtual environment. Imagine that!
I don’t want to get carried away with this notion just yet. My own experience with VR has been extremely limited and the technology is at its infancy. But on the 30th January I will go and see David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef Dive at the Natural History Museum in London. This is a VR – 360° video experience that takes you into deep underwater to explore Australia’s world famous reef system. It’s supposed to make you feel as if you’re being taken on a private guided tour sitting in a submersible beside Attenborough. The Virtual Reality headset used is the Samsung Gear VR. I’ve heard some pretty cool stuff about it, so I will finally find out whether VR lives up to the hype. I’ve looked for online reviews of the event and although reviews have been generally positive, very little mention has been given to the VR experience itself. No word about how immersive or the effectiveness in showing the film in this new medium, which is very odd, considering it’s one of the first VR events organised by NHM. Anyway, on 30th I will get to experience this and I can’t wait.
According to an article in the Daily Telegraph, our traditional TV viewing habits are changing dramatically. It is noted that: “major shift in viewing patterns persists after so-called millennials get their own home and have kids”.
I came across the article just as I had just started to illustrate the part in my book where millions of people across the world fall under the spell of Pete’s enchanted book, when the spell is broadcasted around the world.
Personally, I don’t consume media exclusively on one device and these days it’s pretty safe to say, that’s true for most people. I guess that how we consume our media depends entirely on the type of media and the situation / environment we’re in, so my illustrations reflect that, I hope.
Although the Telegraph article is mainly talking about the millennial generation (people born in the early 1980s to the early 2000s) I would argue that today’s major shift in viewing patterns is not exclusively applicable to them. I’ve seen the changing viewing patterns of my parents who, in their early 70s, have abandoned the traditional way of consuming media (newspapers and TV) for the internet, devouring their news and entertainment on laptops, mobiles and tablets.
Go “Silent Generation” go!
Changes in the way we consume and share information have changed at incredible pace. Just think – in 1982 in the UK, there were just three TV channels that, like the pubs, usually ‘closed down’ at about 11pm. By 2002 major consumer brand owners could no longer advertise on TV effectively anymore – not only were there numerous competing channels, but a wide number of media appliances competed for the general public’s time too, like DVDs and with the arrival of the internet, computers.
Then came social media and suddenly people spent more time in front of the computer screen than the TV, interacting and connecting instead of sitting passively on the couch. By 2014, there were six billion mobile phones in operation, worldwide. Thirty-two percent of the world’s population has Internet access, and is rising faster because you no longer need a computer for media consumption.
This fast pace of change has a moral for artists. Certainly, what I’ve learned from illustrating this particular section of my picture book is that including today’s gadget is not necessarily a very good idea if you want your story to have relevance and longevity. I’m certain that in a few years’ time my illustrations will look very dated. But I’m curious to see how thechnology and the way we interact with it, will develop over the years to come. I’m sure a revised edition of my book will be necessary in the not too distant future.
I’m currently in the process of testing out different styles for my latest picture book, entitled Pete and the Enchanted Book. Mostly I’ve been concentrating on the style of the characters, which are a bit more detailed than the ones in my Amelia Dyer story. This is mainly because I’ve learned a bit more about modelling and texturing since I finished work on Amelia, so I’m putting these new skills to work.
Pete and the Enchanted Book contains several characters. The picture below introduces the TV crew, which has a small but very important role in the story of Pete. When they appear in the story, they will be reporting outdoors, but I wanted to experiment and play a bit with the lamp settings in Blender, so I built a very simple TV studio background, to allow me to play a bit with lighting and colour.
In the last couple of years, I’ve learned just how important lighting is and the difference it can make to a 3D render. Lighting a 3D scene is an area I would like to learn more about, so I’m hoping to find a course or book in the next few months that could teach me more about this.
This is probably my last blog entry before Christmas and New Year, so Happy Christmas to you all and thanks for following / reading my posts in 2015.
My first illustration of my new picture book is almost complete. Below is a little movie that I made, to show the different stages I go through when creating an illustration using Blender.
If you’re ever in Birmingham and love comics, then you must visit “Nostalgia and Comics”. It’s been around since 1977 and is one of the oldest comic book stores in the UK.
It’s a stunning shop with a huge stock range and lots, and lots, of graphic comics and novels. This bookstore is so cool they even have a small press section where they sell small press/self-published books at no extra cost. Yes, they’re that awesome; they associate themselves and support us cool independent authors. And guess whose picture book they currently have in stock … mine of course 🙂
I’ve now started work on my 4th picture book. I’m looking forward to writing and illustrating a children’s book again after a two-year break from the genre.
The book is about a little boy called Pete and his encounter with a witch called Willisa.
Below are two characters from my book with their corresponding rigs. A rig is like a digital skeleton bound to the character. Like a skeleton, the rig is made up of joints and bones that are used to act as a handle for bending the character into different positions. As I have no intention of animating my characters – my knowledge of building complex rigs is limited – the rigs I use tend to be very simple. But, as I hope you’ll appreciate, that simplicity will do the job just fine!
Wow, time really does fly. When I started posting my Amelia Dyer story on this blog, I imagined I would do it over a couple of weeks. However, it’s been such an incredibly busy summer for me, I haven’t really had the opportunity to log on as often as I had intended. It’s taken me over two months to post the whole story but here’s the last instalment. Enjoy!
Note: Amelia Dyer is part of my Horror Vault stories and is NOT suitable for younger readers. The story contains no strong language but has occasionally some gory moments.
Proceed with caution… part 5/5