We finally have a definite release date for Steve’s Quest, the animated musical web series I wrote and directed! Episode 1 will go live on March 14. The weird idea for a musical I had on one fateful plane ride in September 2011 is, at long last, coming to fruition.
I know I’ve given some release date estimates in the past that proved to be, shall we say, overly ambitious, but this time I have the full episode in hand (or whatever the digital equivalent of having something in hand is), and there are no remaining obstacles in Steve’s Quest‘s path toward domination of the interwebs.
Enjoy the trailer — I’m looking forward to hearing your reactions!
Well, unfortunately, we didn’t end up releasing the first episode of Steve’s Quest last month, because some of the visual effects needed to create the episode proved to be more involved than we expected — you know, stuntmen flying through breakaway glass, CGI dinosaurs and digital skin-grafting on the characters to create a younger look in the flashback scenes.
Okay, because technically we’re doing 2-D animation, we didn’t do any of those things. However, we are doing some complex visual effects and artistic flourishes that I think you’ll find to be worth the wait. We’re expecting the episode to go live in mid-February.
Here are some screenshots that will give you an idea of what I mean:
Gain, the hero of Steve’s cyberpunk novel, charges through Tron-style digital tunnels.
Gain does battle with the minions of futuristic crimelord Wotan.
Gain leaps off a building, like any self-respecting superhero should do at least once.
Gain streaks through the skies of Metro City, powered by his jetboots.
Steve is not a morning person.
I’m excited to announce that I’m putting the finishing touches on a four-song “EP,” which, for those of you who weren’t around in the days of vinyl, means basically an album with four songs on it. The album will be called “Slow Burn.” It’s the first music I’ve recorded with myself as the “lead singer” (unless you count the singing I’ve done in Steve’s Quest), and it’s been an intimidating but rewarding experience.
As part of putting the album together, I did a photo shoot on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, California with superlative photographer Suzette Hibble. We were there for a few hours, and ended up with literally hundreds of great shots, including photos of me in front of about sixteen different graffiti displays.
I’m now left with the daunting task of choosing which photo I’m going to use for my album cover. Naturally, I decided to seek the expert advice of people who read my blog. So, I’m going to post the finalists among the photos we took, and ask you to let me know which ones strike your fancy.
I’ll put a number underneath each one, so that you can tell me which one you like. Thanks for your suggestions, and I’m looking forward to sharing more music with you soon!
So far, I’ve shared samples of the animation, the new character designs, and the storyboards for the upcoming Steve’s Quest web series. But the crown jewel of the new artwork, in my opinion, is the backgrounds. And in this post, Dear Readers, I will be your, er, crown jeweler.
The following backgrounds are from Metro City, the gritty, futuristic metropolis in which our hero Steve’s cyberpunk novels are set.
I think Michelle, the artist, does a great job creating a sleek Blade Runner-esque landscape, but keeping it somewhat cartoonish and lighthearted, consistent with the spirit of the show:
Gain, the protagonist of Steve’s novel, surrounded by the obligatory flying cars and floating ads.
The high rise belonging to Wotan, arch-crimelord and Gain’s main nemesis.
A closeup shot of Wotan Industries.
In early December — just a month away — we’ll be unveiling our first episode. I can’t wait to see the visual final product!
In the last chapter of this epic saga on what brought me to develop Steve’s Quest, I talked about what led me to shift my focus away from impressing other people with my way of life, and toward doing something I actually liked to do.
Conveniently, my decision to do something more fulfilling came at a time when the pace of my law job had slowed. Before, during lulls like that, I hadn’t known what to do with myself, and I’d usually ended up, like any self-respecting office worker, browsing videos about dancing kittens and people falling off jetskis or roofs.
The Power of Positive PowerPointing
Now, at least, I could make better use of my time by looking at career alternatives. Seeing as how I was in Silicon Valley, the first idea that naturally came to mind was to start a company that offered some kind of best-in-class, results-driven, turn-key, workflow-automation solution, and sell it for big bucks.
So, I spent the next few weeks putting together PowerPoint presentations describing what, at least at the time, I saw as killer startup ideas.
The funniest part of these slide decks was definitely the clip art. In one slide, I wrote that starting my proposed company would be a “professional resurrection” for me. Next to that statement, I put the cover of Judas Priest singer Rob Halford’s solo album Resurrection (pictured above). Totally rockin’ album, by the way.
PowerPointing Proves Pointless
Anyway, in the midst of this frenzy of PowerPointing, the idea occurred to me: if I did build a tech company and sell it for millions, what would I do with the money?
The answer, I realized, was that I’d somehow use it to help people forge their own dream careers. No one, I thought, should have to suffer through days of online kitten-watching, or anything else they’d rather not be doing at work.
Inevitably, then, the question came up: why spend years producing turn-key workflow solutions in order to make millions I can then spend on helping people find something they love to do, when I can find more direct ways to help people do that now?
Thus began the next chapter of my lifestyle explorations, which I will call the “life or career coaching, or consulting, or workshop leading” era to express my uncertainty about what I was really up to.
This ties into the more intimate and risqué aspects of my lifestyle redesign. But more on those later!
By now, you’ve probably seen the excerpt from Episode 2 of Steve’s Quest that shows the new animation style we’re using for the series. But unless you’re into animation, you might not be aware of how much work it takes to put together even a 1-minute clip like this.
For this clip alone, the current art team of Hoyt Silva and Michelle Poust prepared 30 storyboards showing, in detail, what the characters are doing, and what part of the background appears, in each “shot.” The entire Episode 2, which is about seven minutes long, spans a whopping 117 boards.
The most impressive part of this, to me, was that Hoyt and Michelle drafted these boards based on an audio track I sent them. In other words, I didn’t record the music and sound to match the animation — they prepared the animation to match the soundtrack they got from me.
This takes precision work — particularly in a musical like this, when the animators are trying to get the characters’ mouths to move in sync with the singing.
Here are some of the boards used in putting together the Episode 2 clip, which will give you an idea of the detailed work it takes to draft them:
Late for work, Steve frantically tries to boot up his computer.
Steve’s co-worker, Tord, urges Steve to focus on his work instead of office romance.
Steve tells Tord that the party he wants to invite Sabrina to is tonight.
With Tord’s grudging consent, Steve makes a beeline for Sabrina’s cubicle.
Just think, you didn’t even have to wait for the Steve’s Quest DVD to watch behind-the-scenes bonus materials (and yes, I do plan to eventually release a DVD once the series is done). More glimpses into the inner workings at Steve’s Quest HQ are coming soon!
A mentor of mine suggested that I explain what drove me to create Steve’s Quest, because that might help people connect with the show and understand what it has to offer. And, by golly, I think I will.
Basically, as odd as it may sound, I came up with the show as part of an effort to feel comfortable talking to people about myself.
About seven years ago, I really didn’t have anything going on my life other than my career as a lawyer, and that wasn’t just because of the amount of time I spent in the office.
Granted, I can’t recall how many times I stayed up all night working on a project, or (perhaps worse) the number of times I woke up at 4 a.m. to make sure I could turn in a document I’d drafted by morning. (At 4 a.m., the coffee in the office was really stale.)
But despite this schedule, I did have a good deal of “free time” — I just used it in unfulfilling ways. Basically, outside of practicing law, my life consisted of going to the gym, playing video games, and going on uninspired dates with women.
I Needed Others to Show Me My Life Sucked
The funny thing was that, when I was by myself, my lifestyle seemed tolerable. After all, I lived in a comfortable, sunny environment, and all my basic needs were met. It was when I got asked about myself that I struggled.
When someone asked what I did with my life — whether they were talking about my career or my spare time — I’d find myself getting irritated and I’d usually try to change the subject. Somehow, talking to other people about my life revealed how dissatisfied I was with it.
Living to Impress Others = Solitary Video Gaming
Eventually, I found myself asking a strange question: “what can I do with my life that will make me feel better when I talk about myself?”
This was a sea change in my view on the ideal lifestyle. Before, consciously or not, I’d been designing my life based on a very different question: “what can I do with my life that will impress people when I talk about it?”
Naturally, this way of thinking led me to a career I thought would sound lucrative and prestigious to others, and to a secluded, risk-free life that was calculated not to offend anyone.
But that . . . was soon to change.
In the next thrilling episode of “Why I’m Doing Steve’s Quest,” I’ll talk about my various lifestyle experiments and the hilarity that ensued.
It’s been a long journey since the inception of Steve’s Quest on that fateful plane ride back from Boston I took about two years ago. We’re almost at the finish line – well, the first of many finish lines, anyway, since we’re scheduled to release Episode 1 in December 2013, and ideally to put out another episode each month after that.
Without a doubt, the biggest struggle we’ve had here at Steve’s Quest HQ has been with finding an art and animation style that works for the show.
Ladies and gentlemen, I think we’ve finally hit paydirt. If you haven’t seen the brief clip from Episode 2 of the show that we put together, I think you’ll definitely get what I mean if you check it out.
Our original approach was to do the show’s art in a classic, Hanna-Barbera style. I wanted to employ the visual gag of depicting Steve and his fellow office workers with the same art style used to draw the Superfriends, despite Steve’s lack of superpowers and fairly mundane life.
For example, this was the original poster design for the show, which was actually inspired by a Superfriends poster I own:
And this is the original NextComm, the software company where Steve works:
While I think these designs look great, the feedback I got from a number of people was that they’d seen this kind of art a few too many times before. I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise, because lots of people have watched Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
Just a few months ago, I started working with the art team of Hoyt Silva and Michelle Poust, who came with their own ready-made vision for the look of the show. The art is a lot more stylized now – the characters’ facial features are more like geometric shapes, and contain unusual color, like Tord’s (below) solid green eyes.
The new Steve
The new Tord (Steve’s co-worker)
This gives the show a distinctive look, and one that I definitely wouldn’t have come up with on my own (I draw a mean stick figure, but that’s about it as far as my visual art sensibilities go). And it’s made the show all the more exciting for me to work on.
There are a lot more HBO First Look-style vignettes coming soon for Steve’s Quest – watch this space.
Okay, so it took us a while to work out the “look and feel” of Steve’s Quest, but I think we’ve settled on an art and animation style that is equal parts sleek, sci-fi and silly, which is exactly what I’m going for. But don’t take my word for it — check out the sample scene below!
By the way, we are all set to release Episode 1 of Steve’s Quest in December — looking forward to sharing the finished product. If you enjoy the video, I’d appreciate a “Like” on YouTube.
My sense is that people who ask this question are assuming that no work is worth doing unless you know you’re likely to get paid for it. I think that assumption not only limits the joy we can get out of life, but probably, and ironically, also limits our ability to make money.
My Most Fun Work Is Unpaid
For me, the most enjoyable activities in my life take up a lot of time and energy, and don’t carry any promise of financial reward. Songwriting, for instance, involves hours of trying out and throwing away musical ideas.
Not only that, but I don’t get paid for the time I spend songwriting. Maybe (and that’s a big maybe) I’ll earn something later from the sale of a song, music downloads, or something along those lines, but I don’t get to charge anyone by the hour for messing around on my piano in search of inspiration.
All the same, if I stopped writing songs because there was no guarantee that I’d be compensated for doing it, I think my life would be much less interesting than it is right now.
We Get Paid More For Risking Getting Nothing
What’s more, it seems as if the people who make the most money — who are, increasingly, entrepreneurs — do so because they’re willing to try something others haven’t attempted, and take a higher risk of coming away from their venture with “nothing to show for it” than most of us can stomach.
So, if money happens to be our priority (not that it really is for me), it could be that we actually do ourselves a disservice by refusing to do work that doesn’t come with a guarantee of payment.
And for that matter, can we ever really know for certain how likely we are to make money doing anything, at least in the long term?
After all, even if I have a job that appears stable and safe on the surface, I can’t say for sure whether I’ll still have that job two weeks from today. There’s uncertainty surrounding everything we do for money, as hard as that might sometimes be to admit to ourselves.
That being said, I do think, on occasion, about ways I can make money doing music-related stuff, and how I can “monetize” all the other weird projects I’m involved in. But I find that my life is a lot richer when I’m willing to accept the risk of not getting paid for the activities I do, and I spend as much time as possible doing things I like enough to do for free.