The Mines (Part 2)

This post continues the post “The Mines (Part 1)“.

Fear and Fact

The mines’ ability to evade port-tracing filled many with fear.  If the Aggregate had technology advanced enough to port-in without being detected, the military outlook boded poorly for Proxima.  But the few communications that arrived from the embattled core worlds did not describe any attacks like the ones seen on August. 

Mysterious Origins

strategists on August surmised that the frequency of the mine attacks, usually days apart, hinted that the mine senders’ capabilities were limited.  Either the unique porting technology had a high energy cost, or the mines were being manufactured, one at a time.  Perhaps even both constraints applied?

The origin point of the mines was presumed to be single location.  This was assumed because of another characteristic of porting technology: While a single small or short-distance port is almost untraceable, multiple ports from the same origin point vastly increase traceability.  As long as the mines’ senders were intent on staying hidden, they would only send one mine at a time.  While this meant the origin remained hidden, it also allowed the colony a reprieve between attacks.

The Factory

Given these factors and the steady frequency of attacks, Augustans began to use the term “The Factory” as shorthand for the mines’ source.  Evidence seemed to point to a single location with limited porting capability, and/or a limited output of mines.  The Factory was conjectured to be small in size, cloaked, very closed to August, and possibly mobile.

This post adheres to Organic Realignment because it uses an image from the Free Drove Intro Video.


Organic Realignment

So I mentioned in my intro video post that I learned some things about myself and about the way I work. So here’s what I learned:

1. I have time constraints

I have a full time job, which I enjoy, but limits the amount of time I can dedicate to the project. So you say: “Seriously, Saps, you didn’t already know that?” No, Yeah, I knew that… But I overestimated how much time I have left after work and I also underestimated how tired I am at the end of some days. Of course, everyone has a limited amount of time, but we aren’t always aware how little time we have, or how long a task will take. Which brings me to…

2. I overestimated my productivity

So this was probably my biggest flaw. When I started the Free Drove Introductory Video, I thought it would take me a week! Hahaha 😂, what a dummy! It ended up taking me around 2 months to finish (late December to late February). Now, of course this doesn’t represent eight weeks of 40 hours, but still, I knew that when I started and it still ended up taking 800% more time… (and I’m a certified project manager, so FOR SHAME!).

Part of the overrun was due to me adding bells and whistles, wanting to enhance the video. Another was not really having the video storyboarded from start to finish, so I wasn’t clear on everything that was going to be needed. For the next video iterations, I will be sticking to this formula:

  • Record voice
  • Storyboard the video
  • Add drawings and animations

I’ll amend this process as needed. One more thing, I can feel myself getting better and faster at drawing, and getting more comfortable using the particular set of hardware and software that I have.

3. I lost track of scope

In project management, scope is the entirety of the work that will be completed in a project. There are many pitfalls that occur in defining what a project will accomplish, and sometimes the pitfall is having ambiguous definitions.

As I started posting on WordPress and Free Drove’s Twitter feed, I’ll admit, I got a bit dazzled by the quest for views, followers, and likes. This quest can lead one down a bad path, if you let it. In an effort to promote the project, I tried to create more art that fell outside the scope of completing the video and this slowed me down. My efforts were largely unsuccessful anyway, so can’t say it even helped out much 😅, I still have a lot to learn. So what’s my solution?

Organic Realignment

I’ve decided not to create additional art that falls outside the scope of the videos and the site. Instead, I’ll post progress shots and gifs that let folks see how the project is going and helps me focus on pushing out videos. So basically, realigning the blog and promotional efforts to use what I’m already creating as part of creating the video.

Let’s see how this iteration works out for me!

The intro video is up!

Yes, I wasn’t slacking off all this time!! Thank you for being patient.

So obviously I have been MIA for more than two weeks. Sorry about that. By now I have broken my promise to post at least once a week. That’s ok, I’ve learned a little about myself and about my work recently, and I’ll be posting a bit about that soon.

Friends, Aliens, Proximans!

More importantly THE INTRO VIDEO IS UP!😆 “Why you shouts, Sapling?” you ask, exasperated at your own bad grammar… Well, I underestimated the task, it’s that simple. It took me sooooo much longer than I thought it would that, despite being a bit disappointed in myself, I am very excited to have this first part of the project done. This is why I am shouting.

I’m actually really pleased with how the video came out. I know it may not seem like much, but there were a lot of animation tricks and techniques that went into it. The spaceships jumping in, the motion of the stars in the map, pans and fades, all were new for me.

The tactical overview took the longest to coreograph and animate

I knew what I wanted the video to look like and implementing it was a lot of fun. I encountered some bugs and stepped on my own toes a couple of times (erasing the previous keyframes 😩). But I emerged from it with lots of experience and best practices to apply in the future.

All the while, the story of Free Drove is alive and well. I’ve been adding plot points, imagining character interractions, and just generally loving creating this world in my head. Can’t wait to share more.

August City, our home

As I noted in the video, the first actual video in the series is Due March 20 (2020-03-20). Don’t worry, I’m not actually over-estimating my abilities on this one, I actually have most of it done. And I have a surprise coming with that video, you’ll love it!

Talk at you soon!

The Crew

August has grown accustomed to sudden attacks from autonomous incursor “mines”. Even though the war that commissioned these devices ended 35 years ago, they continue to attack, their automated factory evading detection and disarmament*.

Despite the real threat that these war machines pose, the Proxima Coast Guard stationed in the colony has grown adept at handling it with minimal casualties. When the factory creating the mines could not be found, Proxima first proposed a heavy naval presence to deal with the incursors. However, the colonists of August, traditionally pacifist and idealistic, felt this would make the war feel permanent and slow down the colony’s healing. Instead, the Coast Guard seemed a better candidate. A Coast Guard force had been stationed in the colony since its inception, tasked with a variety of law enforcement and military defense functions. The most common roles were trade stewardship (preventing piracy and smuggling), border enforcement, and preventing unauthorized settlements.

During the war, the Navy abandoned August for more strategically important worlds, but the Coast Guard never left. In fact, it was the Coast Guard’s modest fleet the prevented the colony from falling to the enemy during the siege.

Nowadays, the battle-tested Guard not only carries on its initial functions, but also employes a crew of highly mobile and adaptable special forces whose only function is to repel incursor mines. The First Picket Special Forces (commonly referred to as “The Picket”) is a small group of highly trained officers that are equipped with the finest technology available to the Proxima Alliance and trained to improvise against their ever-changing foe.

In the picture below are some of them.

Work in progress: The Picket unit crew. From left to Right:
Akrai (heron), Akilesh, Thoris (human, mod), Sarine, Coal, Damselfly (drover), Brin, Artemis, Apriva (minor kite), Hessness (major kite)

*The Aggregate surrendered but claims it does not have the means to find and disarm the factory

The Mines (part 1)

When the war broke out, Aggregate space fleets attacked August, landing ground forces to dislodge the colony’s defenders. Responding quickly, Proxima fleets arrived and scored a decisive victory against the aggregate, clearing the skies above August of all enemies. Most of the Aggregate’s ground forces were destroyed. But before all the invaders could be cleared, the Proxima fleet was forced to return to the core worlds where the Aggregate was attacking with its full force. This left August’s colonists to fend for themselves with only a handful of heavy military assets.

Animated strategic view of the battle of august. The landing craft of the Aggregate deposited a force of Shock Drove that was not eradicated by the Proxima Fleet.

The first of the threats to the colony was the Shock Drove: A hardy and versatile soldier species that had landed during the initial invasion. Now, their remnant forces were quickly multiplying and staging ever escalating attacks on the colony city. Due to their lack of sophisticated military equipment, they did not pose an overwhelming threat at first. Then the mines came.

A roughly humanoid mine assaults the streets of August City

Arriving through jump portals, these “mines” took on many forms. Always artificially intelligent and autonomous, they ranged from highly powered weapons platforms, to animal like monstrosities. Sometimes they were shielded craft that took incredible amounts of firepower to take down. At other times they were small, evasive agents of terror, striking at the civilian population and disappearing before they could be destroyed.

Aerial mines variants were also seen, such as this heavy weapons platform

The sheer unpredictability of the mine attacks, in both timing and form, eroded the colony’s morale. As the months dragged on, combined mine and Shock Drove attacks became an ever present threat to the population.

Most demoralizing and perplexing was the mystery of where the mines came from. For all their efforts, the colonists were not able to find where the mines originated. Jump portal technology is such that objects arriving via jump can usually be traced to their point of origin. The further away the jump’s origin, the larger the amount of energy required for the jump, the easier it is to trace. Likewise, the larger the object arriving via portal, the more energy required, the easier it is to trace. If a jump is sufficiently close, or the object sufficiently small (or a combination of both) the jump’s origin can avoid being traced.

The fact that the mines’ origin was impossible to pinpoint meant that they were arriving from a location that was reasonably near the planet or perhaps even on it.

This topic is continued in “The Mines (Part 2)“.

Preview of the preview

Here’s the first half of the intro video. I tried uploading it here but apparently I can’t do that. I also don’t feel like putting a partial product on YouTube, so we’ll keep this one as an underground release 😋.

By the way, did you know that, on PC, pressing the Windows Button and Semicolon (;) brings up the emoji menu? Yeah, discovery of the decade for me so far…

As for the work, I’m making some headway on the animation and will probably have the rest done in the next two week (trying to be realistic this time).

I know it’s not much yet, but I’d love your feedback.

Thanks! 🤗(Emoji from emoji menu, I’m free to express myself now!)

Weasel Work

Ever had to talk to someone about something you didn’t do?

Ever had to tell someone that you’re not ready for something you were supposed to do?

Ever had to call into work a little too late to let your boss know that you’re sick?

This is what I consider to be Weasel Work. Just like weasel words are used to pass off the need to back-up your claims, weasel work is the work you have to do to get yourself off the hook for not doing something. I dearly hate weasel work because it is a confirmation that I am breaking a promise. While most will forgive me, and a good reputation will help dampen others’ disappointment, the fact is I’m not doing what I said I would.

I had to do this today when I had to postpone a meeting because I did not set up the preparation session for that meeting.

I’m doing it again right now because I don’t have my video ready just yet. I also lost my stylus pen for my laptop this evening, which is slowing me down tonight. I promise myself I will recover it or buy a new one tomorrow!

I created the animation to lament an inexplicable error in Adobe Animate, but now it is also fitting in showing how I feel for losing my stylus!!

The knowledge that I couldn’t deliver, or will let someone down is hard to deal with in the moment. I try hold myself to a high standard and that means that when I don’t measure up to that standard, there is a personal and emotional consequence. While I don’t relish the emotional self-flagellation, I am acutely aware of the failing and have to willfully put it aside. After all, there is a real world out there that has to contend with my failure (however significant or insignificant).

My policy has always been to face my failings head-on. I don’t pass-off my failures on other people and I try my best to say “I forgot” or “I didn’t” rather than soften it with “we won’t be able to…”

I feel that lying about such a failure or mistake will only bog me down in a web of lies. When I screw up, I tell others, and face the consequences. It’s worked for me so far. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I think that when faced with reporting failure, there are two very natural but very unhealthy ways of doing it:

  1. Blame an external force
  2. Engage in self punishment

I find the momentary discomfort of confronting my failure to be preferable to the long term denial of #1 and long term damage of #2. #1 is particularly virulent because it requires building a narrative that makes me the victim. These mental contortions require more energy than I care to expend.

So, I just fess up. People appreciate contrition, and the truth is that my high standards usually result in a good reputation that shields me from small failures. Doing right by people most of the time makes them treat my screw-ups as exceptions rather than examples.

How do you deal with Weasel Work?

This week’s lack of apparent momentum is not for the lack of work. I had a family engagement on the weekend that took quite a few quality work hours off the table 😑. Here’s some progress on my current item – an illustration that will be featured in the intro video:

From left to right, Quince (Scarab), Ganrly (Aquian), Phylan and Artemis (Human), Akrai (Marvan Heron)
Getting back into practice with cel shading

And again, you can always drop by Free Drove’s Twitter for more frequent (but small) updates.

Thanks for reading!! 😆

I’m working on it!

This week has been fairly busy and productive. As you can see I have a color image in progress, I wanted to post it as a garland for the blog, but the block editor is being a bit clunky and I’m done messing with it today. Even though the image is missing details, it is good enough to post at the top of Free Drove’s Twitter page – since twitter page headers are usually small.

The intro animation is progressing well: it’s half done and will probably take me another week to complete. Here’s a snippet of some of the animation:

Due to all the artwork, I didn’t have much time to add any universe information. But I should be able to get back to that after the intro is done. Below is a sketch I hammered out of Artemis, one of the characters:

Some concept sketches of Artemis: one of the unit’s doctors

Nice to have on here on digital since I only had one other sketch of her and it was on paper. Artemis is going to be a fun character, as she has a nice layered personality.

Stay tuned and see you next week!

A Few Notes for 2020

Hello all. It’s been an exciting year. I started this project late in 2019 so I’m hoping 2020 is Free Drove’s first full year. Thanks to everyone who’s dropped in to check on the progress, this blog has helped me stay on track!

I hope you had a good year in 2019. If not, please know that we all have allies whether they are family, friends, or people we haven’t noticed are there for us. Don’t go it alone, let others help you through the tough parts. We are social creatures, we have only survived evolution’s gauntlet by hanging together.

I wish everyone a great 2020 – a year when we can reinforce what makes us strong, dispense with what holds us back, and continue to create a future that is good for us as individuals and empowers those around us.

A few quick updates on the project:

First, Free Drove is now on Twitter. I’ve been posting new messages on Twitter pretty much daily for about a week (so, just getting started). Please come check it out for updates on my progress and a daily visual! @freedrove.

I’m on Twitter!! Only one million years after everyone else…

Second, I’ve added a quick plot primer in the first two paragraphs of the About Page. This will give you a mini-expo on where the story starts.

Third, I’m hard at work on creating a new introductory video that will help explain the general thrust of the project and the story. I realize the blog might seem a bit discombobulated to people who are happening upon it for the first time. Part of this lack of focus has come from me not wanting to give away too much of the plot before the video series begins. As a result, I’ve written about topics that fill in background information without the benefit of a full context. So, given that this is a slow moving project that I’m doing on my free time, I feel I need to give a better foundation to those who want to follow along. I’ve come up with a quick summary of the initial setting of the story, recorded the audio, and am now working on animating it. I should be able to release the video by next week (I’m actually really excited about it!).

Working on animating the introductory video

Much more to come, drop by again soon!

Character Design: Thoris

First, I want to make a shout out to Meeka from Meeka’s Mind. I love reading her blog and she just recently posted a short story: The Christmas Roast. Along with this imaginative story, she has included some sweet technical drawings that went into the story. I love the depth of thought that went into her work; it reminds me of the process I go through, not being satisfied with a concept until it’s poked, prodded, and vetted.

Moving along, I really had a blast designing Thoris. I think I might still make a few tweaks, but I’m circling in on the final design.

I don’t remember how I came up with the character but the idea was to have one of the good guys elicit a sense of uncertainty and ambiguous motive. I knew I wanted to have some characters that looked very strange. In the future, beings will have such advanced technology, that they will be able to modify their physical form. I wanted some of the characters to make use of this, and Thoris has.

I knew I wanted Thoris to be obssessed with patterns. I started narrowing down on idea of having him be fixated on the number three. It gives him a cultish edge and rigidity of forcing his world through a dogmatic prism – one where every occurrence of the number 3 is an affirmation of his worldview.

This naturally lead to a few design guidelines: Three legs, three arms, three eyes, three-lobed brain. At the same time, I wanted him to have some throwback to an anthropomorphic form.

But despite having had a dreamlike inkling of what Thoris looked like, I never actually did a full sketch of him.

These cave paintings show some of my faint visions of what Thoris should look like.

Last Thursday I started throwing his design together. You can see in the picture above the concept for a human-like front leg and ungulate rear-legs. I considered putting the two legs up-front and only one behind, but it seemed too logical and too similar to the stance of a Major kite. Also note the broad shouldered design.

The broad-shouldered design

I followed this design for a couple of sessions and even went as far as animating how his torso would be composed of three pieces on a single axis:

Assemble the Thoris. We shall feast tonight!

I was happy with this design until I tried to place it in a scene. There was something wrong with it, the shoulders were too broad. He looked like a lumbering mechbot that should be lugging a giganto-cannon around and that didn’t fully mesh with Thoris’ personality.

So I started rummaging through some other concept sketches I did recently. Amongst a rough lineup of the protagonists I found this:

This raw doodle must have taken me 10 seconds to sketch out, but it was just right! It’s organic, weird, and unique. I love the sea-lion torso and sloping non-shoulders. It was so much more quirky and looked like the kind of affront-to-nature that Thoris would stage.

So I used the smoother, non-brutish lines and got these iterations:

The sleeker no-shoulder design felt better.

At this point I was pretty excited, he was starting to look way better. In the image above you can also see how I switched from a low collar to a high-collar design on the right. This design is much more dissonant. He looks both strange, because of the legs, and almost aristocratic, because of the high collar. This really goes well with a big ego :).

The final touches were smaller to the point that they might go unnoticed. First, I wrote into chapter 2 that Thoris’ head looks too small to house a brain, so I made the head smaller. The other was to turn the hind feet backwards. This looks creepy, but also allows his hind legs to be single-kneed, instead of ungulate, and still remain balanced. I thought of any animals that might have this configuration and immediately realized: Grasshoppers. Their rear leaping legs have a rear facing “foot”. This goes well with his high-collared “jacket” which also alludes to a grasshopper’s neckless head. The little geek irony here is that when his shoulders were broad, I felt like he looked a bit too much like the Grasshopper ‘Mech from BattleTech!

Final design with smaller head, rear-facing feet, and single joint knee (not fully visible). Note the human feet (creepy~~~)

Hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did 🙂