Today is International Red Panda Day! Since my comic‘s main character is (something similar to) a red panda, this is an important day to me! Here‘s a quick little sketch on the occasion:
Ever since I started drawing, trying to understand how ‘real artists’ work and think, I was often surprised to learn about something I knew from my own profession! Even between two activities so apparently far apart as pure logic and abstract thinking on one side and making colorful marks with emotional impact on the other, one can find resonance.
Here’s the shortlist of some of my obvious and not-so-obvious findings:
Programming is obviously a problem solving activity. It was really news to me how artists would view much of their work as problem solving, though. It may be a concept artist, who is given the task of designing a vehicle within given constraints until tomorrow, or a painter figuring out the perfect composition, shape language, lighting, color palette…
I think the analogy carries pretty far. To solve your problems, you can work methodically top/down (resp. rough to detailed), or employ trial and error. If you didn’t solve your fundamental problems properly early on, they will come and bite you later (I haven’t heard anyone talking about a ‘bug-ridden picture’ so far, but they certainly exist 🙂 ).
Attention to detail
This seems quite obvious. What is a single misplaced character breaking a program, can be one wrong line ruining your sketch. And you should absolutely know what every element in your program / picture is doing to help achieve its goal. Useless clutter, anyone?
Teams of introverts
It seems both programmers and artists generally prefer to be left alone to work on their piece for endless hours. In professional reality, it is important, though, to communicate a lot with others, as projects get bigger and bigger all the time. Feedback is also a topic here (code reviews, art critique).
To me, at least, doing something that you’ve never done before is the essence of software development, always expanding your mental toolbox, so you can tackle bigger tasks the next time. There is no finish line, where you have learned everything there is and will be. The same seems to be true for passionate artists, as far as I can tell.
Creative bursts and discipline
In coding, painting, and I guess all creative endeauvours, there are spurts of energy and inspiration, followed by long stretches of filling in the gaps, where great discipline is required to get through the project. Understanding how much making art also requires discipline and quite simply showing up and getting to work helped me a great deal. You’re not a failed artist, if you aren’t inspired every day. You’re not a bad developer, if you can’t produce brilliant code like a machine.
Composition and architecture
As much as a good initial composition can decide over success or failure of a picture, the software architecture of your system can determine the fate of your project. There are functional as well as pleasing designs, concepts such as symmetry and readability in both worlds.
Looks too easy
From personal experience, I know the complete inability of, say, upper management in some companies, to understand why all of this software business is taking so long, when certainly it can’t be that complicated and the computer is doing the work, after all. And if things seem easy and fast, nobody can see it’s the result of years of training and countless hours of practice. Then again, you’ll hear ‘oh, I could never do that’ very, very often 🙂
I’ve heard the same, anecdotally, from working artists.
Obvious in the arts, but there’s personal style in programming as well! Even if everyone in your team is following the same coding guidelines (where to put the braces, etc.), chances are you’ll be able to recognize who in your team wrote a piece of code after a while. Also, you’ll find people able to adapt their style to fit into whatever project they’re working on, while others value their freedom of expression higher than anything else – they might be brilliant, but substantially harder to work with.
I could elaborate on some of these topics, but this is essentially what I found so far, Anything missing? Probably 🙂
It might be worth writing about fundamental differences between making a drawing and making software, too. Have to think a bit about that.
A major milestone: chapter four of my comic “Clara & Pong” is done – 72 pages into the storyline. If you can read German, please head over to clarapong.com to check it out!
Before moving on to drawing the final chapter, I thought it might be interesting to share some details about my process. Since this is – especially for a relative beginner like me – a massive project, with around 100 pages, running already for more than two years – it’s pretty important to me to have a smooth workflow.
It all starts with the script in text form. The major lesson I learned: Know where you’re going! I did have the major story points in mind from the beginning, and that helped me tremendously in keeping the story together. Mind you, I didn’t have all details fleshed out before starting to draw, but I could always be certain I wouldn’t draw myself into a corner.
I guess the “Right Way” to do this would have been:
- write the script
- draw the storyboard
- layout the pages
- render the pages
In my case, it turned out to work best incrementally, in overlapping “pipeline stages” with three tracks:
- detailed script, chapter by chapter
- storyboard, scene by scene, feeding from finished script parts
- layout, page by page, feeding from finished storyboard panels
So, I finished the script first, the storyboard later (just a few weeks ago), and by now am conveniently pulling off panels from the storyboard, assembling pages (obviously, I’ll make corrections and put in new ideas all the time, but so far I never had to go back and change major parts of the story).
The only non-digital part of the pipeline 🙂 I draw my storyboard on big sheets of paper, in a 6×6 grid. The drawings are just barely enough to show what’s happening in each panel, so I get the sequence down. (The picture only shows chapters 3 to 5 – before, I didn’t have a consistent approach.)
Layout & scribbles
Picking panels from the storyboard sheet, I assemble the layout for the next page. Usually I try to end each page with a transition into the next page – a smaller or larger cliffhanger, if you will. For layout and scribbling, I use my iPad Pro, moving stuff around and drawing in layers until I’m happy enough to move on to inking. Important: Make sure there’s enough space for the text!
Inking & text
Next, I transfer the scribble to the PC (a Mac, in my case), where I import it into ClipStudio Paint, as a background image layer. My template already has two vector layers for foreground and background lines. Dividing the page up into panels gives me separate folders for each panel. The image on the left shows the layer setup of the finished page.
I love drawing in vectors, because it allows for easy corrections of shapes. When I’m done, I usually go over all the lines and adjust line weights to keep them consistent across the page.
After adding text and drawing the balloons around it, I move on to coloring the page.
Here, I usually work on just one foreground and one background color layer for the whole page. I select all the frame folders, and choose “combine”, which results in a new folder masking out all the frame border areas of the page. I place my two color layers in that folder.
My coloring style is very simple, so I typically can just fill areas with flat colors. I restrict myself to a fixed color palette – which I did carefully extend over the first few chapters, but has now become very stable. Most importantly, it contains bright and dark values in warm and cool grays, plus the essential colors for my characters. A palette like this is really helpful for keeping things consistent and efficient.
… and done
Upload the page to the my website, announce it on FB, and that’s it, really. It’s all working pretty smooth and painless by now, so I can keep my pace of doing one page a week. With the completed storyboard, I now know how many pages are lying ahead, so projections show it’s quite possible to finish by the end of the year. Yay!
So, I moved my existing Joomla website over to wordpress. Which hopefully makes things easier to maintain for me in the future. Will be posting new content RSN!
Pocket Observatory at Make Munich! Slipped in at the very last minute, and probably had the tiniest desk in the hall. But the response was great, I am still totally overwhelmed by the positive response and all the enthusiasm. A huge THANK YOU to everyone who came over to check out the app on Gear VR! Nice people, great conversations, useful feedback, and even more ideas for future development. After two days working the desk non-stop (together with my wonderful GF) I feel a little spent but very inspired 🙂
On 3/16, Pocket Observatory has been released to the Oculus App Store for Gear VR! It has taken a lot longer than expected, but in the end, the additional iterations and feedback have improved the product tremendously. Of course, this is only version 1 – there are tons of additions on my list already, and I am open to suggestions 🙂
Here’s a link to the product page in the store.
The past few weeks I’ve been working away on a really exciting feature for the upcoming Gear VR version of Pocket Observatory: You will be able to invite a friend (on the Oculus platform) and start a voice chat beneath the stars! GPS coordinates are exchanged between the app instances, so players can visit each other’s GPS locations. This is currently under review, and will hopefully be up in a few weeks in the Oculus Store.
To my knowledge, this is the very first social VR astronomy app ever! I’ve been thinking about this for quite a while during initial development, but didn’t realize how easy it would be to integrate using the Oculus platform SDK. Mind you, setting up peer-to-peer networking can still be nerve-wrecking, given the unreliable nature of network communication, but still… managed to pull this off in just a few weeks. Happy!
Check out the updated page at https://pocketobservatory.com for the details. Here’s a screenshot of the chat UI: (thinking about avatars and a shared space experience, too, but that’s for later.)
Now that I’ve gained some experience with Virtual Reality and my astronomy app, I’m thinking educational software for VR could be a worthwhile field for future projects. So I’ve started tossing ideas about, one of which involves playing with molecules in a VR environment.
Just finished and submitted the iPhone / Google Cardboard version of Pocket Observatory! It really paid off to use Unity – porting from Android with the Oculus SDK to iPhone with GoogleVR turned out to be really easy.
Here are the quirks I encountered, might be useful to know if you’re embarking on a similar project:
- In Gear VR, system messages (e.g., asking for permissions) are displayed properly and can be confirmed while you’re in VR. On the iPhone, a standard system dialog pops up. To deal with location service permissions, I trigger the message from within a special startup scene, before entering VR mode in the main scene.
- Texture compression support has to be adjusted with the platform. On the iPhone, compression defaults to PVRTC, which requires square textures. The Unity importer stretches non-square textures to make them compressible with PVRTC. This results in awful artifacts, so I had to go over the compressions options for all of my (non-square) textures.
- Make sure the text for camera use permission is set in the iOS player settings – in GoogleVR, there is a UI button to allow the user to switch viewers. This will activate the phone’s camera in order to scan the QR code on the viewer. Not setting the text will result in an app crash.
- Unfortunately, the Cardboard app doesn’t run in the simulator – there is no suitable architecture of the gvr library, so the app crashes at startup. I guess it would be possible to build the library from source, but haven’t tried that yet.
Visit https://pocketobservatory.com for details regarding app features and release plans!
Haven’t posted as many updates here as planned, because I was terribly busy finishing implementation. But I have started
- an Instagram channel (@pocketobservatory)
- and a Tumblr blog, just to share the IG posts to the web: pocketobservatory.tumblr.com
Now it’s all about finishing materials for submission to the Oculus store, and setting up a landing page, etc. Coming soon!