Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Steve’s Quest Official Trailer

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!

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My New Album, Slow Burn, Is Here!

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Well, it happened much sooner than I actually thought it would — my new album, “Slow Burn,” is now available for download on iTunes here, and at Amazon here!  It’s the culmination of several months of writing, recording, mixing and MIDI programming.

It’s funny how things build momentum — like I mentioned in my last post, six or seven months ago, I probably wouldn’t have taken seriously the idea of playing the “lead singer” role in performing pop or rock material, which (having grown up in the ’80s) I associated with a lot of Spandex, preening and posturing that didn’t really suit my personality.

But I kept hearing from people (and by “people” I don’t just mean “my Mom,” although she was one of them) how much they enjoyed hearing me sing the songs, and I decided I wanted to try performing my own material at least once, just so I wouldn’t end up wondering what it would have sounded like.

As for the style, I’d call it a quirky hybrid of rock, country, musical theater and mid-to-late ’80s video game console music.  Whatever else might be said about it, it’s definitely unique.

If you get the album, I hope you enjoy the tunes, and I look forward to hearing any feedback you might have (constructive or otherwise).

P.S. — you can listen to one of the complete songs, “At War,” here.

Song From My Upcoming Album

I’m excited to share a song, “At War,” from my upcoming album “Slow Burn.”  It’s a four-song album that I guess you could say I put together “by popular demand.”

Basically, I wrote a bunch of songs that I planned to have other people perform, and I wanted to license the rights to use the songs to movies and TV shows.  I recorded some rough, homemade demos of myself singing the songs, purely as a guide for the vocalists I thought were going to perform them.  But I kept getting the same feedback from people (even one guy I paid to perform one of the tunes):  ”why don’t you sing these yourself?”

Although it’s true that I do some of the vocals in Steve’s Quest, for some reason it never occurred to me that I could play the “lead singer” role in performing pop or rock material.  But once people raised the idea with me, I realized that, if I never tried it, I’d probably end up regretting it, and wondering what it would have sounded like and what I might have been able to accomplish.

So, without further ado, here’s one of the songs from the album — looking forward to sharing the rest with you soon!

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The New Look of Steve’s Quest, Part 4: Some Superlative Screenshots

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.

Seeking Album Cover Help

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!

Photo #1

Photo #2

Photo #3

Photo #4

Photo #5

Some Radical Holiday Reform Ideas

Ideally, at least in my view, the holidays would be a time for people to relax and enjoy the company of family and friends, without a lot of pressure to perform or please others.  But it seems like the reality, for many people I know, is just the opposite.

For them, the holidays are a time to stress over whether their homes look good enough, whether the gifts they plan to buy will be well-received, the uncomfortable interactions they can look forward to having with people they’re going to see, and so on.

‘Tis The Season To Be Neurotic?

My sense is that, for a lot of people, the source of holiday-induced stress is the long set of “rules” they believe they have to comply with during the season — rules like “you must look like you’re in a happy, festive mood,” “your house must be decorated appropriately,” “you must buy gifts for everyone you know, and they must enjoy getting them,” and so on.

All this leads me to wonder — what if, just for one holiday season, we tried doing away with all the traditions and rules, and just bringing together a bunch of people we care about and want to celebrate having in our lives?  For just one year, what if we experimented with getting rid of holiday-themed gifts, meals, decorations, and so on, and simply invited a group of people over?

To get even more radical, I think it would be fun to play some games with the group of people who came over that encouraged honesty and connection.  For example, what if we played a game where each of us talked about the neurosis that the holiday season tends to inspire in us?

If I were playing this game, I’d probably say something like “I worry that I ‘haven’t done enough’ during the past year.  After all, I didn’t win any Nobel Prizes or become a bestselling author or something like that.”  After I admitted that, I’d probably find myself laughing in wonder at my mind’s ability to play tricks on me.

The “Plain Get-Together” Proposal

If my own family tried this out (at least the “plain get-together” part), I suspect I’d be a lot more enthusiastic about the holidays than I usually am.  Not that I try particularly hard to keep up appearances or follow traditions as it is (I don’t think I’ve ever owned a Christmas tree, for instance), but I think people around me would be a lot more relaxed and fun to be with if they stopped trying to do that as well.

That being said, I can respect the fact that, for some people, preparing for the holidays gives them a sense of purpose.  Some people may see decorating the house, choosing gifts, and so on as a worthwhile challenge that it’s satisfying to overcome.

What’s your take?  Would it be worthwhile to try a holiday season with nothing but “plain get-togethers”?

In Search of the “Bulletproof Song”

Lately, it seems I’ve been on a mission to get as much feedback about my songs as possible — beyond sharing my work with family and friends, I’m involved in two songwriting workshops and have been getting some one-on-one coaching.

Being the inquisitive type, one question that occurred to me during this process was whether I could refine a song to the point where it would get virtually no criticism.  In other words, was there such a thing as a “bulletproof song”?

Adventures in Criticism-Getting

To figure out the answer, I took one song and played it for twenty different people.  Each time, I’d incorporate the suggestions I got from the listener into the song.

As it turned out, every person who heard the song, from the first listener through the twentieth, had ideas for making it better.  More strikingly, a few people heard the song twice, and gave me feedback on the second listen that contradicted what they told me after the first.

Maybe, if I’d been patient enough to go through this process with a thousand people, I would have eventually ended up with a “perfect song” that would have been met with nothing but contented silence from my listeners.  But I doubt it.

I Guess I’ve Learned . . .

What this exercise showed me is that the “bulletproof song” is probably a myth, and that there’s no point in trying to create one.  Not only is it impossible to please all the people all the time — probably, it’s also impossible to completely please one person with my work.

This makes sense when we think about all of the factors that play into a person’s reaction to a song — things like what genre of music they like best, how much they enjoy hearing themselves talk, what they had for breakfast, and so on.  These factors can change from day to day, which explains why the same person can have different, and conflicting, opinions about a song at different times.

Remembering that it’s impossible to write a criticism-proof song makes the creative process much more efficient.  The less I focus on staving off every possible critique while I’m writing, the less time I’ll spend second-guessing myself, and the more progress I’ll make.

Do you find yourself trying to come up with, and address, every potential criticism somebody might make while you’re writing?

The New Look of Steve’s Quest, Part 3: The Backgrounds

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!

Why I’m Doing Steve’s Quest, Part 2: Resurrection

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!

The New Look of Steve’s Quest, Part 2: The Storyboards

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!

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