Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Badan Song: Nasford District 21-E Bloc cut 2 Background

Welcome to Genuaä

OK, time to get back to dropping some new TKP posts here. The past month has been busy with some internal studio related freelance but now it's time to get back to work on Theos KE Polemos material. 

Continuing from where my last post left off here's another look at some background art for the Theos KE Polemos: Badan Song project. This would be a shot within the Nasford district in the political bloc of Genuaä. Nasford, though located in the relatively populated bloc of Genuaä, is a largely abandoned industrial sector with aging buildings and several outdated wallrider wide tracks (current standardized tracks and vehicles are narrower and wide tracks were outdated and deemed unsafe). The power is still on in many of the buildings but, for the most part, it's a no man's land with occasional squatters, rouge sendai, and criminals. 

Nasford is sitting just on the edge of the border with the larger political bloc of Jaämas, which also has rather sizable expanses of abandoned no mans land real-estate and the criminal elements that can be found occasionally in Nasford often are based there, being out of Genuaä's juristiction. The policers of Genuaä and Jaämas often will cooperate regarding the border situation but policing dimensional borders is difficult. Borders are tricky in general, because Indus is more dimensional in laying out political territories, that is to say it accounts for the 360 degree nature of the purely architectural environment. Nasford isn't really overrun with criminal elements, it's mostly a ghost town but any I.P.I.O.s (Inter-Bloc Private Investigations Organization) or Policer's answering a call in this area would be on heightened alert.

Nasford was abandoned some 50 years back when one of Jeindel's FOIL component manufacturing plants (nobody really knew, even many of the workers, what the components they manufactured did) had a catastrophic leak of a deadly airborne toxin. A huge number of workers and civilians perished. Though Nasford is now safe to live in the incident left such a stigma that it was abandoned long ago to be left to the squatters, criminal elements, and nomadic travelers. It will become the stage that sets a chain of events in motion that begins Badan Song.

Below we have two stages of the shot. The final color image and the base pencil illustration with the shadow augmentation layers turned on.
Final paints done in Photoshop CS3 and Painter X

Foundation illustrations have always began as pencil to be augmented/edited digitally.

The color shot is just the background only as there will be a character element to be added in for the final scene. This is the full un-cropped image as the final shots will be in 16:9 widescreen format. Because Indus is a completely enclosed architectural landscape the lighting is artificial. For the Nasford shots I went with a sodium vapor look with the lighting being in amber and green hues. Indus will be lit with a variety of familiar and fictional lights, from the familiar sodium vapor, florescent, neon, and incandescent, to exotic bio-gel and organic bio-luminescent lighting. So, depending on location, Indus will have a rather varied range of hues and lighting styles in the environments though the familiar sodium vapor hues will be one of the most common. The nature of Indus's environment alone really makes it a classic film noir setting thus cementing further Theos's noir trappings.

Although posts had slowed to a trickle to none during the last 6 months (due to my Father's Magical Medical Mystery Tour. Yes he continues to do well) or so it's now time to catch up on a lot of this work and begin to share peeks at things in the works. You'll continue to see TKP concept work (including DA gallery favs the FOILs), work from Badan Song (the nature of the project to be revealed later), and some new TKP stuff developing. It's been a tough year but we're still here, still working, and still excited about creating new worlds. 

More to come...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Japanese School Life... the reality, not what the otaku think

In my travels around the internet I run my nose into a lot of dark and strange corners. Those corners inhabited by fanatical otaku and clueless Japanophiles are interesting in the same way that watching a train wreck is.

Uh-oh, here come the rotten tomatoes. Let me clarify: I don't judge anyone by what they like, mind you. I don't look down on anime and manga fans, since I'm one myself. Even if our tastes differ, what you dig and watch and relate to is your business. Note that my description said fanatical and clueless. Luckily for humanity, fanatacism and cluelessness, while serious conditions, are curable with a good dose of reality. It's just a matter of getting the medicine down.

So what am I on about? Well... in the aforementioned dark Intertube crannies, I sometimes read posts on blogs and on message boards that go something like this:

I will never experience Japanese school life. Woe is me. Bawwwww.

And I shake my head for several minutes. Where in heaven does this come from? I have a pretty good idea. Could it be... anime series that feature multi-hue-haired girls with cute sailor suits battling demons and giant mecha while wielding ancient mystic katanas? Or perhaps groups of giggly kawaii girls who spend their school days chatting with friends, eating cute box lunches and occasionally being instructed by a goofy and eccentric teacher whom they have a crush on?

Who actually buys any of this crap? Do you think life in the USA is accuratly represented by Beverly Hills 90210 (uh-oh, showing my age here) or Jersey Shore (that's modern, right?)
Yes, kiddies, open up. Time for some medicine.

I've lived in Japan on and off for a quarter of my life... nine years all told. I've worked in the Japanese public school system (mostly junior high) for eight of those years and I have a pretty good idea of what Japanese school life is really all about. Ready?

Generally speaking, it's a lot like school life in the USA, except much more regimented and stifling.

How about Japanese students?

Generally speaking, they're pretty much like kids anywhere at that age- balls of hormones, self-doubt, awkwardness, and acne, except they also have the crushing weight of compulsion on their shoulders.

Japanese kids rise at dawn, eat breakfast, and head to school, where they often have pre-school club activities. What's that? Yeah, clubs. Like you see in those shows. They aren't technically compulsory, but if you DON'T join a club you're pretty much marked to be a social outcast by both your fellow students and teachers as well. It's one of those things that everyone in Japan does because society dictates that there's no other true choice. Back to our day. School begins with the morning meeting. Rise. Bow. The teacher tweaks his or her class into a fine-tuned machine. Six classes plus lunch. Cleaning time. End-of-the-day meeting. Then club again, often until five or six o'clock. Then homework, usually lots of it. Weekends? More club, Saturday practices for half the day, Sunday matches for half the day, tournaments, etc. Summer vacation? Only a month long, if that, and not only are there summer projects to do (i.e. enough homework to last every day of the summer) but you are also restricted by rules... my current schools just distributed their summer break guidelines to the students (and we had a special assembly to teach them). They include such goodies as not being outside after 6 pm and knowing that if the teachers (who live in town) catch you riding a bike without your helmet, you're in trouble. The only actual vacation time is the five or so days of Obon. That's it.

If that's not enough, many kids also attend juku or other night schools or are forced into activities (like piano practice) by their parents. All of this is a really good dress rehearsal for Japanese corporate life (7 am to 11 pm) but not so good for anything else.

My students have to (by school rule) greet any teacher each and every time they pass them in the hallways, even if they see them fifty times a day. They have to show similar deference to their upperclasspersons (sempai). When entering the office they have to bow, greet, and state their purpose before being recognized and then granted permission to enter.

Not to mention that in some schools, there are the bullies to deal with.

Oh, and yes, they wear uniforms. Which at most schools are made of cheapass, ugly polyester (that melts if, say, you get too close to a bunsen burner) yet cost hundreds of dollars (the uniform manufacturers have sweetheart deals with the government and collude openly). They're hot and uncomfortable and while you do get lighter uniforms in the summer, everyone has to follow the changeover rules- no summer uniforms before June 20, say, no matter how frigging hot it gets... and remember that Japanese classrooms are rarely air-conditioned. I taught a class last week where, I kid you not, it was 37 celsius (that's 99 farenheit) in the classroom.

Colorful hair! Actually, kids aren't allowed to color their hair. Or wear it over a certain length or in certain styles. Or wear jewelry. Or makeup. Or paint their fingernails or allow them to grow over a certain minuscule length (there are clippers in every teacher's desk if they find violators). Or wear socks other than brands specified in the school codes. Or have pencil cases that are too ostentatious. Or carry any money. Or eat anything other than school lunch (no candy).

Add all this onto the normal pressures and mood swings of adolescence. Still having fun? Still baww-ing that you don't get to experience this wonder?

I'm not saying it's all bad. Japanese schools still recognize the value in music and art classes and these activities are well-funded (though still regimented and creatively not so exciting). I do like the fact that students clean the school, too. I try to have as much fun with my students as I can and try to let them be as casual as they please around me. They're good kids. And yes, I do go and watch the clubs play baseball and volleyball and other sports. They're fun to watch and when finally just allowed to play, they have fun with it.

Some of you out there might be applauding the regimentation and thinking what kids in your country need is a good dose of this. Well, the problem is that the rules in many places are breaking down and, as a result, the teachers and schools have no instructions and no idea of how to discipline the kids, much less a set of procedures. I taught for two years in one school that had kids in self-mutilated uniforms wandering the halls, disrupting classes, and taking swings at teachers that tried to intervene... and the teachers had no recourse to any authority to stop it. Generally, you cannot expel a student in Japan, and everyone graduates whether or not they do the work, so there's no way to get rid of bad apples. If the parents want to ship them to a private school or juvenile academy, great. If they don't, you're stuck with them.

Look, you know Japan doesn't have mystic swords and giant mecha (at least not yet). So don't believe the rest of the BS either. It's different, and it's not necessarily better. It has warts. Big ones. Japanese people are, after all, people. Their systems are run by flawed humans, for flawed humans. To ascribe anything else to them is, I think, ultimately downgrading their humanity.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Childhood's End

I'll always remember where I was on April 12, 1981. At my grandmother's house in Clinton township, Michigan, sitting on the floor of her living room, watching the TV as the first space shuttle lifted off. I remember it so clearly that I can now recall the fuzziness of the picture (ah, the days before HD everything), the rug burns I got on my hands from running them to and fro in pure excitement, even the texture of the corduroy pants I wore. It's like it was yesterday.

I was nine years old. I was very much into space, and at the time I wanted to be an astronaut (I would soon grow too tall and clumsy and have awful eyesight, all of which kind of put a crimp in those plans.) Young and Crippen, the two men test-flying the shuttle that day, were my heroes. It was the beginning of a new era, one that would open up cheap and easy spaceflight to all. And there I was, witnessing it. Anything was possible.

As I write this, I'm on the cusp of forty. I'm sitting in my apartment, in Kawanehoncho, Shizuoka prefecture, Japan, in my living room, on a futon on the floor. I'm watching the very last space shuttle launch ever, my wife at my side.

Thirty years gone by!

I finished elementary school, junior high, high school, college. I worked crappy jobs. I worked cool jobs. I went to Japan, worked, got married, came back to the States, watched the economy crash, went off to Japan again.

In those thirty years, I've seen a lot of wonderful things, and a lot of bad things. I saw the space program fall far short of expectations, saw the promise of cheap spaceflight go by the wayside as the system was still too delicate and balky and complex. I saw far greater advances made in computers than I could have imagined, as I sit here watching TV on my laptop, a device smaller than, and almost as light as, the three-ring binders I carried around as a nine year-old. Here I sit, blogging to the world, with all the information of our world at my fingertips. All of this, all those times, all that progress and heartache, bookended by a pair of fiery launches, a beautiful spacecraft rising in a familiar arc, taking to the sky.

It's gone now, the pad empty, off into orbit and into history. And as I watched it rise for the last time, I reached back across those years, and shook the hand of my nine year-old self, and I shared a moment, and a dream, and the adult that I've become felt, if only for a moment, that anything was possible again.