Every great story begins with great characters. If there was one thing that Lucy Maud Montgomery was excellent at, it was the creation of her characters. They aren't one dimensional individuals that grew on a page and stayed there. Her characters are living, breathing individuals that reek of humanity with all its quirks, both good and bad. Anne of Green Gables LIVES for her fans and Anne is so real that we all want to be her best friend and we, too, are searching for "kindred spirits" in our modern lives. Josie Pye might be the "villain" in Anne's story, but she also can be found in every high school today. And somewhere in our past, is a wretched schoolteacher that pretty much fits the description of Mr. Phillips. Hopefully, we all have a Miss Stacey somewhere back there, too.
Point is, LM Montgomery already did our job for us, in creating characters that leap off the page of "Emily of New Moon". The least we could do was attempt to find character references that somewhat fulfilled her beautiful vision.
Sometimes, things are just meant to be. Bridget's brother Kyle had the right look. We set up an audition time and then met him in person. When we introduced him to the character of Cousin Jimmy, he was interested and willing and the man can ACT for photos.
The rest is history. Kyle IS Cousin Jimmy to me now, and I think he always will be.
It's definitely a team sport, this graphic novel creation thing. Sure, there's the actual drawing of the art, and that's in Christina's ballpark. Sorta. Because it actually starts earlier than that. Back in the conception stage, Christina and Daniel work together to brainstorm the storyboard.
The storyboard concept is crucial. It serves as a blueprint that we work from. We use it as a reference for lighting, a reference for the photographs and a reference for the final layout and animations.
Once the storyboard panel is complete, we can begin taking photos. The photography is Daniel's department. Photographer extraordinaire, he sets up lighting and tries to recreate the poses in the storyboard as accurately as possible.
Animals are tricky by the way. And we have a great cat who helps us out with cat poses with incredible grace and cheery attitude (for a cat). But she's not a lap-cat naturally and seemed to be saying, "What the HECK, guys?? I'm outta here!" Not a problem: we snapped her looking content on another day and still got a pose that worked.
Once we have photos, it's Christina's turn to take those references and draw them as art. Usually, they're drawn a little larger than they will appear on the page. They're also drawn in separate layers from their cell image. This is so that we can reuse the art later, when we are putting together the graphic novel as a "Graphic Novel VR Experience".
Surprisingly one of the easiest steps turned out to be rather tricky: scanning the art. Daniel tried traditional flatbed scanners but was disappointed in the color reproduction and clarity. Ultimately, he ended up shooting each piece of art like a panorama with multiple shots and stitching them together. He also shoots, using cross-polarized light and filtering because otherwise the reflections of the artwork can corrupt the values. It was a bit of a trial and error process but the end result is at full print resolution.
Once all the pieces are drawn, we cut them out and put them together in our layout. Then it's time for the animation. Daniel takes the element that we previously decided would be used for the movement and creates a "cinemagraph". This is where that little added animation adds a ton of visual interest. Some of these might be developed in an effects program but many are simply basic frame by frame, hand animation.
Ultimately, these cells will also be presented with depth to each layer in virtual reality. That is why we are producing and isolating each element separately. We are developing the coding to map each dimensional and animated page into a virtual 3D book experience.
We talked a lot about what a virtual reality graphic novel experience might incorporate and what really adds value, versus simply costing more development time. We want the experience to feel like traveling into the world of "Emily at New Moon". We're working to scan actual historic locations so that as you progress through the story you virtually experience those surroundings.
We also question how much we should gamify the experience and what role audio will play. It isn't really a game so we've decided to keep gamification to a minimum and simply offer the viewers easy access to this rich experience. Likely, we will have more than one experience mode.
Great audio is paramount to great presence in VR, but we also don't want to rob our readers of the experience of reading. So the audio supports the environment ambience primarily instead of giving us a full narrative or character performance. We want our readers to have a heightened experience of hyper-realism not to feel like they sat through a movie.
We have our first cinemagraph pages up and running! In other words, the first two pages of our graphic novel experience our up and available for viewing.
We have locked down the actors we're using as character references for the first 30 or so pages of our graphic novel (introduction to Emily and all her relatives). There were a surprising number of costumes to be created, but, we pulled on our creative sewing powers and little by little, our characters began to come together.
Having character reference photos helps keep my art consistent, and also helps it go faster. Drawing out the artwork completely off the cuff takes me (Christina), more time. But when I can begin with one of my characters photographed in the pose, it cuts down on the time I have to spend making sure that an image looks accurate, and is what I wanted. I'm hopeful, that working this way will cut my creation time down immensely. This is why the upfront time spent on costumes, and historical research is worth my while.
Here's how it works: We start with a beautiful, well-lit image (thanks to Daniel's photography prowess) and then I take that basic image of Emily's father sitting and recreate it as a drawing. Obviously, there are still a few things I have to artistically adjust. Our cat was not cooperating here, so I used a different photo where she was sitting pretty. And this modern chair was not going to work, so we tracked down a different image reference for a chair from the Victorian era.
But simply beginning with this photo, helps me to draw and color an image that is realistic to lighting and clothing folds much more quickly than I could do, without the help of photography for a reference and gives me more upfront control of the finesse of my art.
But with the drawing beginning, this is where it all gets so fun. The story is about to start coming together, and we will be sharing it with you here. Keep checking back, because we'll start sharing our pages here on the website, as they come together!
Back to my original dilemma. Christina is a fantastic artist with amazing skills in multiple art formats. She's done lots of traditional acrylic paintings and frankly I'm jealous of her 2D tooning skills. In our process she'll use the photographic reference and paint the artwork. In this project she will largely be using colored pencils and Copic markers. Her results are beautiful.
The challenge here is that we want to deliver a graphic novel art style. What we want is simplistic details and highly expressive faces in the language cues of a beautiful graphic novel. For this process we explore different art styles and dial back the details. To be honest this is one of the most difficult parts for me because I love resolution and I love Christina's traditional art. But we finally find our desired graphic novel art style and we are off to the races. Only six hundred or so more of these to design and paint!
We have found our Maywood House Location! We drove up to Breckenridge the other day to check out several potential Victorian house museums (turns out that Breckenridge, Colorado was a hub of Victorian society, back in the day--who knew?) and we were delighted with the "William Briggle House" for Emily's home where she lives with her father.
Even under a foot of snow, you can see the "Victorian bones" of this home's structure.
And the inside was just as delightful!
In L.M. Montgomery's story, Emily describes her Maywood home as looking a bit like a "big, brown, mushroom", so when the house is drawn, we might adjust the roof slightly to have a more mushroom-like appearance, but other than that minor change, we feel confident that this Victorian home will make a perfect art reference for the first 34 pages of the graphic novel.
Of course, this is just the first of many locations that we will be scouting and utilizing for the graphic novel. Even the Maywood location will require more art reference locales. For example, even though most of the action in Maywood takes place on the interior of the home, the outer scenery of Breckenridge is a far cry from Prince Edward Island in appearance, and anyone who has read any of Montgomery's works can vouch that the outer landscape of her beloved island was incredibly important to her stories. Yet, this location discovery is a good step forward and we can move on with preliminary background sketches right away.
Okay, to be fair I made up this train wreck of a descriptor... but I have a reason. Have you ever seen a cinemagraph? It's just a GIF file but with a fantastic little detail; one single element is in motion. It might be swaying hair, a moving reflection or a liquid eternally pouring as the GIF loops indefinitely.
These are the kinds of effects we intend to tastefully add to our digital graphic novel and the virtual reality experience. This is where we get our name for a graphic novel enhanced with cinemagraphs... cinemagraphic novel.
We've seen even more enhanced and animated comic experiences but they seemed overly done and seemed to detract from the main story. So this is where we landed. Not every cell will have a cinemagraphic effect. Instead, we will utilize a cinemagraphic effect at a rate of about one per page. We think you'll enjoy it!
Deja Vu Dimensions has been busily ingesting the story of Emily of New Moon and translating it into storyboards to plan our virtual reality graphic novel. It's a little like how a director does a breakdown of a film script to account for locations, characters, costumes and the like.
This is also a period production which is set in the 1880's so we are all doing our homework in the development of the design bible. We're looking up hair styles, architecture, clothing, facial hair, social norms and more. It's just what it takes to be confident that we are serving the period and original work with honesty and authenticity. But there is also a point where the text we utilize from the original story goes through a slight modification for the audience that will be reading it.
We believe it is somewhat unique to present a graphic novel both for the web and for virtual reality. We'll be 3D scanning locations, casting reference actors, creating reference costumes and even possibly integrating the use of neural networks for depth prediction of imagery. It's quite a production and we can't wait to share it all with you. Christina Morrison is our head artist and she's doing a fantastic job.
The web delivery of the graphic novel will be freely available and updated as pages are completed, so be sure to bookmark it and follow along. The virtual reality graphic novel will be available for purchase for popular VR headsets. This blog will offer viewers a behind-the-pixels view of the production and development process. We are so excited to have you along for the ride. Enjoy!