Monday, April 2, 2007

Interview: Scott Sava of Dreamland Chronicles

Last week we introduced you to Scott Sava’s The Dreamland Chronicles. This week we interview Scott and find out more about his inspiration, the process of making a CG comic, and taking a comic from print to the web.

Sarah: Where did you get the idea for the story of The Dreamland Chronicles?

Scott: I've always had an idea for a kid who goes to a world of dreams. I have several story ideas I've done over the years. When I was in college I was introduced to a comic called Little Nemo in Slumberland. That's when the idea really came together. I wondered what happened to Little Nemo when he grew up....and Dreamland was born.

Sarah: Did you base Dreamland on any place you’ve been to?

Scott: I think so. I don't remember any particular dream I've had that feels like Dreamland. But when I write feels like home.

Shelby: When you were a kid, did you want to be a writer or artist?

Scott: Always an artist. I used to draw Spider-Man when I was around 7. I could always draw and eventually took it up as my profession. Writing is fun...definitely. But I can't see writing without the art side of it.

Tracy: The Dreamland Chronicles really stands out on the shelf because of the art – it looks like a fully rendered feature film. Could you explain the process?

Scott: I start off with a script...much like a movie script. So far I've plotted out the whole series and I've written out the first 10 issues. Then I make lists of all of the characters, environments, and any other things needed for the pages. I give that to the artists who work with me to help design these things and they work up some sketches. Once approved, they're sent to modelers who create 3D versions of the drawings. For the characters – they're then given bones so they can move and facial morphs so they can have expressions.

I then layout each page...frame by frame. Here's where I get an idea of how the page will layout and what the position of the camera and body language will be. Then I take the characters and environments and put them all together. It's kind of like taking action figures and putting them into a doll house.

Once I'm given all of the parts I need, I load up the environment. Say, the dorm room where Alexander and Daniel live. Then, I set up the lights to give it the proper mood. After that I bring in the actors: Alexander and Daniel. Now, they have multiple layers of clothing so that they're not in the same clothes throughout the series. So I hide the clothing they aren't wearing and pose them for the first frame. Once they're posed correctly, I then position their eyes to look where I want them. Then I select one of the pre-made facial expressions that we designed and call up that on the head. Then once everything is just right, I render the scene.

Because the computers are way too slow for calculating lighting, shadows, and all sorts of other intricate things in real-time a render has to be set up so the computer can calculate everything needed to make it look great. If I didn't do this, it would look like video game art. And since I'm trying for a more Pixar type look, I want to let the computer do its business. Within an hour, a frame is usually rendered (though some frames can take as long as 24 hours to render), and I then bring the frames into Photoshop to combine them for my page.

I use 3D Studio Max for the main software and Brazil rendering system to get that nice look. I also have a plugin for Photoshop called Lenscare that allows me lens effects like depth of field, soft glows, and other lens effects. Photoshop is used to put it all together for lettering and clean up.

Tracy: How long does it take to complete a page?

Scott: Well the first few issues were longer to do. But now I've actually done issue 5 in 4 weeks. I did 3 pages a day (15 a week) for 4 weeks. It was really cool. I'm happy with anything over 5 pages a week. I have 420 pages completed so far. I am only 1/4 of the way through for the 24 issue arc. I estimate I have about 2 more years to go. I am doing about 15 pages a week now steadily, so maybe sooner.

Tracy: How is the process of creating Dreamland different from creating animation?

Scott: Not much. The only difference is that I'm only rendering a single frame rather than 30 frames per second. Other than that...we are doing pretty much everything we normally do for animation.

Tracy: How many artists are involved?

Scott: Over the years, several artists have helped out on Dreamland. Some have gone on to bigger and better things... but their impact on Dreamland is evident nonetheless. Others are still helping out. I think the total is around 20.

Character designs are Karen Krajenbrink

Stefano Tsai designed and modelled the environments....

Ivan Perez Ayala did character modelling....

And Antero Pedras did environments as well...

Other people working with me are Can Tuncer, Jeremy Chapman, Robin Mitchell, Peter Starostin, Jenn Downs, Frank Lenhard, Heather Shipman, Trung Tran.

Tracy: Most of us know that kid-friendly comics don’t make as much money as more mature titles and I would imagine it’s very expensive to produce this kind of work. Did you intend from the beginning to write Dreamland as an “all ages” story?

Scott: I never set out to do it as "All Ages". It's just how I write. I grew up on Speed Racer, Spider-Man, Looney Tunes, and 3 Stooges. To me, that's funny, that's entertainment, so that's how I write. It definitely is expensive...and I think comics in general, be it all ages or the other stuff, are not really selling well. I spend a lot of time and effort (as well as money) putting this story together. It's heartbreaking to get sales figures of like 800 copies.

Tracy: Many creators start publishing their comics on the web and then move to print. You’ve gone backward, so to speak. Has putting Dreamland on the web widened your audience?

Scott: That's why I took it online – to get more readers. Online I have 800 people read Dreamland every day before I wake up. I've had almost 200,000 unique readers see Dreamland since it's gone up in January. That's all I really wanted – people to read and enjoy it. It's been a great move. I was really inspired by Scott Kurtz and PVP. He's so happy doing his comic...and has such a great readership. The fans/readers so far have been incredible. They've helped me make the site better. They've promoted it. They've really taken me under their wing. I'm learning a lot. It's also quite fascinating to see people's reactions on a page by page basis. I'm so used to getting reactions from fans or reviewers on the WHOLE thing. This is on a microcosmic level it seems. They anticipate things coming up. They really get into it. I'm really happy.

Tracy: What advice do you have for other creators who would like to extend their printed work to the web?

Scott: Get a schedule and stick to it. I have over 400 pages now of I can let the readers know that there WILL be an update every day without fail through 2007. That makes them feel more comfortable in getting into the story. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of webcomics out there. But most of them disappoint readers because they're never updated, or they're always late. Scott Kurtz always said that he's been as successful as he has because over the last 5 or 6 years since he started PVP he's pretty much NEVER missed a day. His fans know they can count on him and he's taking it seriously.

Tracy: What do you think it will take for a printed version of Dreamland to be successful?

Scott: Well I think marketing to a crowd OTHER than the comics crowd. There's just not enough of an audience in comics anymore. I would like to see it get into schools, libraries, and generally into the mainstream. I would love to see them as oversized hard bound graphic novels, but I am investigating Manga-sized as well. I have so much behind the scenes art...I would love to add 20-30 pages in each book with features like a Director's Cut type of thing.


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