Sunday, 20 October 2013

Internships Bad Idea?

I have been following 'Concept Art World' on Facebook lately, and they have been sharing some interesting links. They linked a page where concept artist Marc Taro Holmes responds to an email asking about internships:

The article raises some interesting points about concept art and the industry. Firstly, Holmes talks about productivity. Interestingly, a concept artist is expected to be working at the highest level from the start of their career. Their artwork is crucial throughout production in  driving the visuals. For this reason, employers would expect to see a portfolio that fits seamlessly with the work their current concept artists are producing. The message here is simply work on producing an impressive portfolio!

Holmes also talks about focusing on your goals. Find companies you want to work for, and produce artwork that fits the style of work they are already producing. If your strength is hyper realistic AAA title artwork, don't take up a job with an indie company that produce 2D stylized games. Again, this comes back to not wasting your time.

The key message with Marc Taro Holmes' response is to basically practice, create a industry standard portfolio and start from the very begging with experience. It seems that unlike most other job titles, being a concept artist does not necessarily require you to work your way up from the bottom. If you are producing high quality artwork, you can apply for work as a professional concept artist.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Important Dates

There are a few events that I plan to attend which I have entered into my Google calendar. The first of these is 'Thought Bubble' the comic book convention that runs in partnership with 'Leeds International Film Festival'. I attended this event last year, where I explored the conference halls and saw artist's work on display. This year however, I hope to attend talks and discussions where possible, that might relate to my extended essay topic.

As part of the film festival there are also some screenings that I am interested in. Firstly 'Batman: The Dark Knight Returns' will be screening on Monday the 18th of November, 6:00pm at the Everyman venue. With relevance to this, 'Masterpiece: Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns' will be screening at the same venue, same time on Wednesday the 20th of November. This is a documentary features Frank Miller himself and discusses the creation of the 'classic work'.

I look forward to attending these events in the hopes of further informing my Cop3 study.

Citing More Academic Texts

After my second Cop3 tutorial, my tutor and I discussed the fact that I had lots of web articles (which are informative and relevant), but it would be beneficial to look at more academic and reliable texts. I have been looking at various online library resources within college to aid me in expanding my sources.

I had a free set up for 'Athens', an ebook database. This is very useful as it allows users to read and even download full ebooks. Unfortunately, the content mainly consists of art theory and tutorial books. I couldn't really find anything relevant to superheroes and their cultural political impact. Despite this, I will keep checking back to see if any relevant ebooks are added.

Perhaps the most useful resource I have used yet is 'JSTOR'. This is an online academic journal database that we fortunately have access to through our college. There are plenty of relevant results when searching the key words 'politics' and 'superheroes'. Another useful feature is that you can save texts onto your account and access them through a list. I have began gathering relevant academic journals to inform my extended essay:

Monday, 14 October 2013

Florian De Gesincourt (Deges Art)

Florain is a freelance concept artist and illustrator from France. He gained his concept art abilities over the course of three years, with an existing knowledge of Photoshop and perspective drawing. He plans to release a series of Youtube videos documenting how he broke into the industry in a short space of time, which will be very helpful for me as an aspiring concept artist. People have been contacting Florain through the video thread, and he has been responding. Due to the fast rising success of the video however, I imagine he will be receiving lots of questions, perhaps too many to respond to individually. I would be interested to know what custom brushes he uses (if any). Sometimes artists upload their brush sets online. On one of the his other videos, a user asked about a water colour looking brush used for the background. Floren replied:

'For the brushes, It must be one I made, or the other one I use are the basic one.'

Perhaps I need not go much further that the basic brushes within Photoshop:

Here Florain uses the canvas rotating function to control the direction and flow of his strokes. I am reminded that when working with pencil and paper on a flat surface, I am constantly rotating my work, sometimes to the point where my subject is almost upside down from my perspective. Perhaps if I experiment with this function in photoshop, I can achieve smoother line work, with more controlled weighting. I know that in another video from, the artist talked about creating line art with a calligraphy brush and constantly flipping the canvas to control the line weight.

Again, Florain demonstrates in his videos the fundamental importance of values (black and grey) and perspective. I learned in my last academic year that these principles are key, and colour can be experimented with subtly through blend layers. In these videos, other interesting points are made, the freelance artist sometimes including primary photographs in his environment pieces. Also the contsant sketching and life drawing is something I need to push myself to do, which will help improve my observational and perspective skills.

Admittedly, if I am serious about trying to reach an industry level with my art work, I need to be more driven. I need be constantly experimenting with in photoshop, and extending my visual vocabulary. With this third academic year I will really try and push my abilities. I feel I still haven't made that comfortable transition between traditional media and digital painting. This is most evident when painting landscapes, an area I really hope to improve on.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Politics & Superheroes: Practical response ideas

In response to my research on various post 9/11 political superhero narratives, I have began writing down ideas for a narrative on my own. I began with possible political themes, and a few key character ideas that I plan to develop further:

Possible Themes: 

Surveillance culture,
Disaster capitalism/ war profiting,
Neoliberalism/ globalisation,
Ambiguity of the superhero (conflicting views and ideologies),
The origin story,
What is right and wrong?
Vigilantism vs. government (outlawed heroes and heroes that work with the law),

Initial character ideas:

Wealthy CEO of major enterprise. His superhero Identity helps endorse his business, as his true identity is known to all. Has the city covered with advanced surveillance equipment meaning he is omniscient. Capitalises on the fear of terror, by investing in surveillance technology (microphones in lampposts, UAVs in the sky). Convinces citizens that these measures are necessary in keeping the city safe. Enforces idea that he is watching over the people through billboard adds and television commercials (using the media to create sympathy toward his capital). Ruthless, handsome, self-centred ‘Yuppie’ type. Seen in the media as a patriot, yet is selfish and greedy in his actions.

Wealthy hero has a nemesis, a left wing ‘Che Guavara’ style revolutionary who opposes surveillance culture. Whereas CEO flaunts his business man/ masked avenger persona, Left-Wing activist must remain anonymous. Constant power struggle between government control and revolution among streets. Perhaps activist could obstruct rich hero’s surveillance network, but in doing so making the city more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. In brief window system is down, a large bombing takes place and the media instantly suggests the attack was pre meditated and orchestrated by left-wing hero and religious extremists. Possible twist: the catastrophe was actually orchestrated by rich CEO in order to both create witch hunt for left-wing hero and scare public into believing that had the surveillance equipment been operating, the attack would have been prevented, creating a demand for even more surveillance technology (disaster capitalism at work).

Other thoughts: 

Could be set in the aftermath of a terrorist attack similar to 9/11, in a paranoid and frightened culture. The world could have contained an array of masked crusaders previously, but their failure to prevent the catastrophe made their street level crime fighting seem redundant, when the much bigger threat became relevant. Left Wing activist could have always been slightly out of place within the superhero community, focusing on bringing down the wealthy, existing at the source of street level angst and acts of desperation, whereas other heroes were simply seeking adventure and their motives were more transparent. Most other heroes have retired after the arrival of rich CEO and his surveillance agenda, making them feel powerless and obsolete. 

I am initially focusing on a hopefully rich narrative, along with developed character concepts. It was also discussed in my first tutorial that there is transmedia potential with this direction. I raised a theory of synopticism, which is the idea of the many watching the few. Through various forms of media, we (the observers) become the many observing the protagonists within the narrative. This sometimes creates balance with the theory of panopticism, particularly with the television series ‘24’, where we watch and scrutinise Jack Bauer's every move until we reach the conclusion that he can be trusted with this power of omnipotence. The optimistic conclusions within the show act as reassurance for the government’s drastic surveillance measures in preventing terrorism. Perhaps this could be applied to a video game, where a third person perspective gives us the feeling that we are surveying the character’s every move, giving the sense that they can hide nothing from us.

My main aim at this stage is to produce some conceptual artwork, and a well developed narrative.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Superheroes and Neoliberal Surveillance Culture

Reflecting further on how the 9/11 attacks have influenced politics and the superhero genre, I have been studying the legitimisation of panopticism with modern protagonists. above is a clip from Christopher Nolan's 'Batman: The Dark Knight'. Here, Bruce Wayne (Batman) has used his wealth and access to military technology to develop a device that not only hacks telephones, but also uses the information to map out a virtual environment, giving him an all seeing edge. Dan Hassler-Forest wrote a chapter on theory of this authoritative gaze in his book 'Capitalist Superheroes: Caped Crusaders in the Neoliberal age.' He mentioned that although Morgan Freeman's character vocalises his concern on the ethics of Wayne's intrusive device, the outcome (where batman secures a building full of hostages) clearly suggests that the protagonists controversial actions were necessary. Bruce Wayne is also shown destroying the device after the job is complete. 'Hassler-Forest' also discussed the phenomenon of the 'Cyborg' with heroes such as 'Iron Man' and 'RoboCop' creating glamourous fantasies of future military technology. Iron Man's advanced weapons and armour allows him to quickly distinguish terrorists from civilians, defusing a hostage situation with zero casualties:

Again we are presented with idealistic situations where wealthy protagonists use their advanced visualisation  capabilities to prevent catastrophe. 'Jack Bauer' from the '24' television series is perhaps the strongest example of the media legitimising surveillance. Bauer uses his panoptic capabilities to monitor terrorism, the show also necessitating torture as a means of extracting information. Where these potentially controversial methods could be questioned and explored in the show, they are simply glorified. Bauer never accidentally spies on or interrogates an innocent civilian. Viewers are in fact encouraged to intrust this large responsibility in the hands of the protagonist.

Hassler-Forest went on to discuss Alan Moore's 'Watchmen' graphic novel. With the character 'Adrien Veidt', Moore explores the panoptic gaze of the entrusted superhero and places it under scrutiny. Veidt uses a wall of screens to monitor both television broadcasts and surveillance footage simultaneously. By analysing trends in advertising, Veidt in one sequence decides a war is imminent so tells a servant to invest appropriately. This depicts Veidt as a Neoliberal, partaking in disaster capitalism. Although he is entrusted with his great wealth and power, he ultimately destroys Manhattan and arguably betrays its citizens.

I plan to elaborate on this concept of panopticism within the superhero genre in my extended essay.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Watchmen Review

Whilst studying political narratives within the graphic novel genre, I read Alan Moore's highly acclaimed 'Watchmen'. The story is set in the 1980s, in an alternative reality where Nixon is still president. Two superhero groups are followed in the series, the 1950s minute men, and the Watchmen. Moore's work interestingly discusses how masked vigilantes would exist within society. Through fictional autobiographical snippets and magazine articles, Moore discusses the whole mentally of becoming a 'masked adventurer'. Hollis Mason (Nite Owl) was already working in law enforcement, while 'Dollar Bill' was a college athlete who was actually commissioned by a bank chain as an 'in-house' superhero, reassuring the public that there money was safe. Some of the minutemen's legacy was carried on through the next generation of heroes, with Dan Drieberg (a fan) adopting the Nite Owl persona, with the 'Silk Spectre' alias being passed from mother to daughter.

Moore offers some very well crafted characters in his graphic novel, particularly among the most recent generation of masked vigilantes. 'Rorschach' is an unhinged Travis Bickle-esque character. His narratives are depicted with a film noir style, narrated by entries from his own journal. After the passing of the Keen act (which banned costumed adventuring apart from those who operate for the government) Rorschach is the only vigilante to refuse to hang up his costume. Because of his conservative views, Rorschach sees the world in black and white, and when Eddie Blake (The Comedian) is murdered, Rorschach becomes obsessed with tracking down the killer. 'The Comedian' is one of two adventurers to continue his work under the rulings of the government. He becomes of kind of cultural icon, his costume incorporating the stars and stripes of the American flag. Despite being marketed as a 'Hero', Blake is a very violent individual guilty of rape. The second Hero to operate under government ruling after the Keene act is 'Dr. Manhattan'. His arrival among the other adventurers was significant, as he was the first to posses superpowers. After a lab accident, Jon Osterman became a living embodiment America's defenses during the Nuclear arms race. He becomes a government weapon, his existence causing a leap in scientific development, notably, genetic engineering. Another Key character is Adrien Veidt (Ozymandias). Hailed as the smartest man on the planet, Veidt seems to be the most liberal of the former group. Despite inheriting his family’s wealth, he chose to give the money to charity. Veidt realized that his intervention in the world of organized crime was futile with a massive nuclear threat looming, so decided he would devote himself to ending the much larger threat at hand.


This leads us to the challenging ending of the story. We learn that Veidt was responsible for the death of Eddie Blake and the earlier exhile of Dr. Manhattan. This was to ensure nothing stood in the way of his plan. Veidt decides that the only way to end the imminent nuclear threat is to unite the planet against a larger more incomprehensible threat. Utilizing the advances in genetic engineering and teleportation technology, Veidt creates a colossal squid-like atrocity. Knowing that the teleportation process has not been perfected, and that the monster will explode on arrival, Vedit sends the squid to Manhattan, where thousands are killed. When the other Heroes witness Veidt’s actions, they are understandably shocked. Veidt then explains that the media will interpret this attack as a potential alien threat, causing the Russians to pull out of Afghanistan and aid America until the alien threat is dealt with. Veidt conceives that by sacrificing one city, he is ultimately saving the planet. The other adventurers present begin come to terms with this. Unfortunately Rorschach, who operates on strict principles, understands only that Veidt has commitment an act of terrorism, and is determined to inform the masses. Dr. Manhatten, knowing that the news of an American orchestrating an attack will abolish the peace, decides he must kill Rorschach.

What is brilliant about the conclusion of this story is that we have to ask ourselves, who given the situation was right? Veidt killed thousands, yet he claimed it was in the interest of world peace. Rorschach’s conservative moral code meant that he couldn’t accept Veidt’s sacrifice, and was willing to risk reigniting the nuclear arms race in order to maintain his values.

In conclusion, Moore takes an insightful and sometimes satirical look at the Superhero concept. I am reminded of a sequence where Dan Drieberg (Nite Owl) can only perform sexually after he and Laurie Juspeczyk (Silke Specter) suit up and head out on a nostalgia trip (one which involves rescuing reidents from a burning building). Moore also amusingly satires right wing tabloids with the fictional ‘ New Frontier man’, where one article tries to justify the actions of the Klu Klux Klan clan as acting out of fear. Also, the finely crafted characters (my favorite perhaps being Rorschach for the stylized film noir narratives and an ever-changing mask that resembles the Rorschach ink blot test) really add depth and help the reader become invested in the events within the narrative.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Cop 3 Introduction (Key Practitioners)

Over the summer I have been reading texts in preparation for the extended essay element of our 'Context of Practice 3' module. Through beginning to study a combination of both academic texts and graphic novels, I am starting to realise some key practitioners that will prove important in realising my current working title: 'The Politics of Superheroes.'

Firstly, the university professor and author 'Dan Hassler-Forest' has produced a body of essays investigating comic books and graphic novels. I purchased his latest book 'Capitalist Superheroes: Caped Crusaders In The Neo Liberal Age', which focuses on post 9/11 politics, and its relationship with the trending superhero movie genre. The book raises various issues, examples being disaster capitalism in response to the attacks and the representation of the traumatised hero, the 'victimisation' of America portrayed through the trend in the origin story (9/11 allegedly launching America into a new age), and the concept of surveillance culture within the 'Neoliberal City'. Hassler-Forest writes with a very analytical style, linking relating political and cultural theories seamlessly with the entertainment genre that is the Superhero movie. His insights will be crucial in exploring the political connotations behind the superhero phenomenon. To gain further insight, I will follow 'Dr. Dan's' word press:

A second practitioner is renowned comic book writer 'Alan Moore'. He has produced a celebrated body of work within the comic book genre, his most famous being the 'Watchmen' series. He is recognised as a left-wing writer. This contrasts with the alleged right-wing writings of 'Mark Millar', another hugely influential figure in the genre, recognised for works such as 'Kick-Ass' and the Marvel 'Civil War' series. Over the summer I read Millar's 'Superman: Red Son', a re-imagining of the classic tale where Superman lands in Soviet Russia, and is raised as a communist by Joseph Stailin. By comparing and contrasting some of the works of these two writers, whose views lie on both ends of the political spectrum, I can accomplish a broad understanding of some of the themes that appear in Superhero narratives.

I partake in these studies as a person who is relatively new to the superhero genre. I was original enticed by the idea of political undertones within superhero narratives, through Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Christopher Nolan is a recognised conservative, ideologies which are apparently presented in his movies. With the awareness of political agendas often glorified through this popular action genre, I look forward to analysing both film and texts to produce an analytical and informative study.