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  Ep. 3 WIP: darn that penApr 30, 2009 8:18 PM PDT | url
Flee from the space pen!
  A*'s entry in "Newgrounds Miniposters Girl"Apr 30, 2009 3:33 AM PDT | url
I whipped up an entry for a "Miniposters Girl" art contest started by poxpower on Newgrounds. Here's the b&w version with text removed (click for larger, and check the forum thread for color versions and more details):
  Ep. 3 WIP: some early FXApr 29, 2009 12:08 AM PDT | url
It was an FX-heavy day today.

Onion-skinning a scaled bitmap in preparation for animating it getting whipped to the left. It will enlarge and blur slightly as it moves for a subtle depth-of-field effect. This person is not having a good moment.

Another bit of onion-skinning going on here--and the black background is shown at only 50% opacity, which is why odd black edges around it are showing--as I set that darn supermassive space pen winging at Vero's face, and he dodges. Still working on this--gotta put some detail on the pen, tidy things up here and there.

Severe shaky-cam effect.

Messing around with an animating depth-of-field effect: alternating focus on face/pen. Normally I don't use dithering when I reduce the bitmaps to 8 colors, but I'll probably have to for this shot (as I did in this test version) since strong Gaussian blurs otherwise show lots of banding at low color ranges.
  Ep. 3 WIP: a few more storyboardsApr 27, 2009 10:52 PM PDT | url
Last of the teaser storyboard art for this espisode:



  A* on Facebook and OltreComicsApr 24, 2009 3:29 PM PDT | url
A* is now on Facebook (login required), and, thanks to SEPET, on OltreComics, an Italian webcomic site.
  Embedding A*Apr 24, 2009 4:34 AM PDT | url
Now that A* episodes 1 & 2 are on YouTube, feel free to impress your friends etc by embedding them all over the |nternets. You can just visit the YouTube page for episode 1 or episode 2, go to the "Embed" field on the right of the page, and copy the text from there into whatever HTML-compatible editor you're using.
You can also get more embedding options, like frame color and video size, by clicking the little blue button by the "Embed" field. I recommend having the "Play in HD" button checked even if you're rendering it tiny, because YouTube's player currently has a bug in non-HD that makes it jittery when playing new videos.
If you need a size smaller than 480, which is the smallest YouTube lets you configure, you can replace the two instances of width="[x]" and height="[y]" in the copied text with your own numbers; just make sure you keep them in a 16:(9 25) ratio! What that means is that you should come up with width and height numbers that are in a 16:9 ratio to each other, then add 25 to the height, since that's how much YouTube's play bar takes up.
For instance, Blogger's blog columns are only 400 pixels wide, so to fit an embedded A* video in, you could use 400x250 (400:225 = 16:9, then add 25 to the height).
Like I did in the A* on Blogger blog, for instance!
  Ep. 2 toned upApr 24, 2009 3:27 AM PDT | url
I've revamped the timing of episode 2: it is now timed to follow the spoken dialog, rather than the subtitles; when I made the original silent version, I had to leave time for everyone to read the subtitles, but with sound added, it was feeling slow, since we hear faster than we can digest subs. All in all I chopped out over 90 seconds of "slow" time, tidying up the lip-syncing while I was at it, so the result should be a much peppier viewing experience. Thanks to Yasamuu on the A* forum and frozenm on Newgrounds for their helpful comments about the issue.
If you've seen some of the earliest sound movies, you may have noticed that film directors in the early 30's went through a similar struggle when sound was introduced into that industry. For instance, the 1931 Greta Garbo vehicle Mata Hari, and the first film version of The Maltese Falcon, also from '31 (the famous Bogart Falcon was ten years later), still followed silent film conventions in their staging and pacing, and the dialog in those films feels very slow.
You'd have thought that I would've got it right on the first try here, nearly 80 years after those examples, but as it turned out, I needed a little more time. =p
  Ep. 2 voiceover contest winner: Starschwar!Apr 24, 2009 12:27 AM PDT | url
Starschwar won the episode 2 voiceover contest with this entry featuring sound effects and a custom soundtrack, and is now duly linked on episode 2's page. Nice work, Starschwar!
  Ep. 2 Voiceover Contest deadline in 24 hrs!April 23, 2009 2:16 AM PDT | url
The deadline on entries for the episode 2 voiceover contest is less than 24 hours from now--less than 22 hours, in fact! So if you've got an entry for the contest, be sure to get it in by then, and if you're not sure it qualifies, get it in at least a few hours early so I can check it and let you know.
  Ep. 3 WIP: lost pen?April 22, 2009 10:31 PM PDT | url
Some storyboard cartoons from the first half of episode 3 (I won't be able to show as many from the second half 'cause they'll be too spoilerish, probably):







*Obviously,* the plot is that Vero has lost his favorite pen in zero-grav, and they have to find it.
  Episode 2 is out thereApril 22, 2009 1:47 PM PDT | url
Episode 2 is now up on Newgrounds, YouTube, and deviantART.
Newgrounds has a rather unique voting system whereby anyone can vote on a submission. Submissions make their way down the lower left side of the Newgrounds Flash Portal, with their score and rank constantly being updated based on votes coming in. As it was making its way down the list, A* Episode 1 came within a single (good) vote of hitting their highest rating rank, "Awesome Score," which would have highlighted it in blue and got it a lot more attention. So watching a new submission on Newgrounds is always exciting!
  AX71120 ship schematicApril 21, 2009 9:46 PM PDT | url
Have kind of a complicated prop/set to deal with in episode 3, so I thought I'd better sketch it out as a concept/schematic sort of thing first:
(click for larger)


The idea is that it has a modular cargo/fuel/crew structure, so you can mount and move around different types of units as needed for whatever trip you're taking. Its strong cylindrical form can withstand the stress of powerful acceleration, and the large micrometeoroid shield at the front ensures relative safety even when moving at high speeds through dense zones.
  Episode 2 in ItalianApril 21, 2009 4:36 PM PDT | url
SEPET has produced episode 2 in Italian. A sound version may be in the offing once he rounds up some Italian voice actors to speak the parts.
  A* Episode 2: now with soundApril 20, 2009 3:29 PM PDT | url
Just for you A*'s--I'll put it out on Newgrounds, YouTube, and deviantART later in the week--A* episode 2 is now up with sound. There are a lot more speaking roles in episode 2, so let me know if I was sufficiently big-glasses-y as Proctor, sufficiently calculating as Mar, sufficiently female as Selenis, etc. I'm not sure if I did all that great in the bit parts--guards and things--but I do think that Selenis' computer is some of my best work; keep an ear out for its "Proctor, Core Sys Corp, private encoding" line. Go computer!
Now, the Episode 2 Voiceover Contest is still on like Donkey Kong, and in fact the deadline for entries is this Thursday, so mark that one on your calendar.
As for me, after a week spent learning the innards of YouTube, teaching myself voice acting and audio editing--oh and RSS--it's time to get back to what I really want to be spending time on, which is making new episodes! I'd been worried about episode 3 for a while, because it's going to be a flash-back episode, where we learn just what sort of dire accident struck Vero and his buddy Sig near the fateful binary system Tempus 477, and I wasn't sure that I could keep people interested in past action. But having worked out the episode's plot in my head a bit, I'm pretty sure it is in fact going to be the most exciting A* episode yet, featuring, among other things, a MASSIVE SPACE EXPLOSION. Omg spoilers.
So I'd better sit down here and actually start writing it before I forget how the explosion happens.
Update: Ohh, now I remember. Man, I have so much material I might have two episodes worth of explosions here. Sweet.
  The A* RSS feed is hereApril 18, 2009 7:54 AM PDT | url
A dude I know who goes by the handle "Flavor" suggested that I should add an RSS feed so the smart people out there will know when I post an update. I've kind of avoided learning anything about RSS all these years since it seemed like something I didn't need in order to live my life, BUT I have actually seen some in-the-know (ie not clueless and scared of change like me) people who use it and seem to perform modern miracles thanks to it. So I finally looked into it (did you know it stands for "Really Simple Syndication"? How cute!) and managed to whip up an RSS feed for A*, which you'll find linked with that handy little radar-like icon at the far-right end of the grey news menu bars on the news page.
As far as my just-learned-it-today RSS knowledge can tell, it's working correctly, but please let me know if something about it isn't working right, and I'll try to get it fixed up (except for some of the older news not having a date that validates in certain readers, I know about that and it'll fix itself eventually--I just now figured out how to make time zones work in Perl! >_<).
I learned most of what I think I know (or at least copy-and-pasted :p) from this page and this page.
  How an A* episode is madeApril 18, 2009 7:50 AM PDT | url
I wrote an article about how I make an A* episode: what software and hardware I use, the writing and drawing process, the sound process, etc.
I have to write everything down so I don't forget. ;)
  News script tweaksApril 18, 2009 6:55 AM | url
If you're seeing oddness in the news archive for a bit, don't be alarmed, I'm just tweaking the layout a bit for improved compatibility.
  A* on YouTubeApril 17, 2009 3:40 AM | url
There is now an official A* channel on YouTube. Episode 1 is there, and even in HD!
  A* at the bottom...of the topApril 16, 2009 4:22 AM | url
A* Episode 1 made the daily top 10 at Newgrounds today--way down at the bottom as number 10. Still, that means it'll be listed on the front page of Newgrounds for a day--way down at the bottom. In tiny print.
  A* Episode 1: now with soundApril 15, 2009 4:43 AM | url
Episode 1 is now online with sound! Let me know what you think. Voice acting by me, music from I kept the music relatively low-volume so it wouldn't drown out the voice acting; and I *think* I kept the overall volume at a decent level for normal listening--for some reason most other Flash I hear seems to be cranked way up--but you'll have to let me know how good a job I did at that, along with the rest of it. The "files" section of that episode now includes *, a compilation of the voice clips used.
Oh yeah, it now has a little "loading" screen, so all the sound will load up and be in synch before it starts trying to play the animation.
  Voice checkApril 14, 2009 7:04 PM | url
Got the voice work for episodes 1 and 2 done, now I just have to plug them into the animation, and select music tracks. Here's what I've got for voices of the main characters:
Selenis's computer
  Sound & remixes comingApril 13, 2009 11:23 PM | url
I had an interesting experience over the Easter weekend: for the first time, I got to watch a group of people watching A*. These folks had seen the original silent versions, and said they liked them, but when I showed them the voiceover versions of episode 1 by Starschwar, ArchDuke, and Josť Sandoval, they were really fascinated and excited.
That, and the discussion we had about it afterwards got me thinking. The voiceover competitions are fun, and we've had some really impressive sound work come out of them, but first impressions are big, and it's hard to get people's attention with a silent movie these days. So I'm going to take my own shot at producing A* with sound--voices and music, anyway; I probably won't be doing sound effects, at least not yet.
My first step is going to be remixing episodes 1 and 2 with my own sound tracks. I'll be using music by Kevin MacLeod from his rather astounding web site, and I'll be attempting to sound like this isn't my first time voice acting...although I'm a little worried about Selenis. ;) But I have Audacity and this alien-looking "Snowball" microphone from Blue that everyone seems to think is perfect for this kind of thing, so I've got no excuses for amateur results, do I? >_>
Now, the episode 2 voiceover contest is still on, and I'm sure what people come up with for it will be better than what I come up with myself. I'm not sure if I'll hold voiceover contests starting with episode 3, which will have sound by me from the get-go, but I will at least keep releasing the .gif versions of the scenes, so anyone can play with the animation as they like. It's the amazing results and response to the first competition's winners that have made me realized I need to take this leap into sound, so I'm very grateful for the time and effort star, Arch and JLS put into those.
Hopefully I'll have the audio versions of 1 & 2 done in a couple days, but I don't really know how long this will take me. I always hate hearing the sound of my own voice, so a psychological battle is impending. I'd love to be able to use work from our talented community here, but this is technically a commercial enterprise, and there would be licensing and rights complications; also, I hope to be able to streamline this one-man process enough that I can still release episodes in my target 3-week time frame, without having to juggle multiple episodes in different phases of development.
Well, the results should be amusing one way or another, so wish me luck!
(Oh! I've updated the current live versions of episodes 1 & 2, and their .gif files; I found that Flash CS4's publisher is much more efficient than the silly one I had been using, so the episodes are a much faster download now. I also updated some of the text in the credits sequences, and gave episode 1 the zippier title sequence that was first released for episode 2.)
  Episode 2 high-res art addedApril 13, 2009 10:54 PM | url
Episode 2 now has a little art section at the bottom with high-res remixed versions of some of the nicer-looking scenes, like this (click for large version):
  Deviants and other artApril 11, 2009 7:20 AM | url
My little promotional campaign spread to deviantART today: A* on deviantART.
This was partly because I decided to spend some time polishing up the high-resolution artwork for a few of the more successful scenes in episode 1, to brighten up the episode 1 page--scroll down to the bottom and you'll see a bunch of thumbnails you can click on for very large images, like this 4000-pixel-wide drawing of Vero as the reluctant assassin. Phew!
I'm going to continue cross-posting these in various strategic places around the internet this weekend. Episode 2 will be getting the high-res art treatment early next week. Hm and I still need to update the front page trailer to episode 2, don't I?
Hey, if you're on deviantART and you dig A*, go ahead and "friend" me, or whatever it is they do over there. AND you can also network with A* on Newgrounds and Blogger, if you happen to hang out at either of those places.
There's no escape!
  A* in Italian by SEPETApril 10, 2009 5:11 PM | url
SEPET has made a version of episode 1 with the text translated into Italian!
Check out Supermassive Black Hole A*: In Italiano.
Thanks, SEPET! Cool background, too.
  A* around the webApril 10, 2009 4:33 AM | url
Since there are now multiple (ie two) episodes online, A* is almost like a legitimate series or something, so I went on a little jag of shameless self-promotion around the intarwebz. I'm not really very good at that sort of thing, so if you know any cool places I should be sticking A* stuff on the Internet, please let me know, and I will see if I can/should stick it there!
If you check the "about" page now, you'll find a tidy list of links at the bottom linking to other A* stuff scattered around. The newer ones are:The shortcut page was for thewebcomiclist, which actually looks like a pretty cool project run by a very dedicated person. I'm going to have to rummage around in the sci-fi comic links. As of this writing, A*'s entry on thewebcomiclist doesn't have an icon, but don't send them one--I've already done so.
The icons and banners are things I've made for linking and stuff so far, and it seemed like about time to get them organized.
Blogger looks nice, but making a post with in-line images seems to be a pain. I'm not sure I'll be posting (or cross-posting, more specifically) there much, but I did at least want to get an account set up so I could start sneaking viral comments into some of the cool artist blogs I've run across. =p
The spelling and some of the functionality on is kind of iffy, but they're one of two directory sites linked from Wikipedia's webcomic list page, so hey.
  A* Episode 2April 09, 2009 8:23 AM | url
Yay, A*'s second episode is posted on the site. Visit the episode 2 page, and don't forget to check out the Episode 2 Voiceover Contest, too!
And let me know what you think of the episode!
(Oh, I still have to make a little teaser for it for the front page of the site. I'll get to that sometime today.)
  Episode 2 final animation in progressApril 07, 2009 5:24 PM | url
A* is drawn in a high resolution, then scaled down for animating!

When is an eye like a rainbow?

Hint: onion!
Anyhoo I'm pretty much done drawing the art for episode 2, so now it's time to piece all the eh pieces together into the actual final animation. Wonder how long this'll take. The last one took a couple days, but I was a bit rusty.
  Now taking contributions for episode 3April 07, 2009 12:01 AM | url
It's almost time for me to make the credits list for episode 2, so contributions for episode 2 are now closed. Persons making contributions to A* by clicking the gold button on the support A* page can now opt to get their name in the credits of episode 3!
Thanks to everyone who contributed to episode 2, including you lovely anonymous people.
  Ep. 2 WIP: Bubbling to the surfaceApril 06, 2009 11:49 PM | url
Working hard to finish up the art. Nothing can distract me!

Who's getting pumped for episode 2?

Hm, the juice is a bit slow, and I could sync it with the blinking better. Good thing I gave it this little test run!
  Episode 1 Voiceover Contest WinnersApril 04, 2009 3:54 AM | url
The voiceover contest for A* episode 1 had an exciting conclusion, with a last-minute entry from Josť Sandoval nearly—but for a technicality—forcing a vote-off with front-runners Starschwar and ArchDuke.
The entries for both winning teams are:
A* Episode 1 Voiceover Contest winners:
1st Place - Starschwar and ArchDuke
2nd Place - Josť Sandoval

Congratulations on the impressive efforts from all participants! I had a great deal of fun listening to the sonic interpretations of episode 1, and I look forward to hearing what people will come up with for episode 2.
  Monday deadline for Ep. 2 contributionsApril 03, 2009 3:06 PM | url
Since in theory I'll be close to getting to the point of having to put the credits of episode 2 together early next week, end-of-the-day of this coming Monday will be the deadline for contributions to episode 2, which means that if you want to have a shot at getting yourself listed as an A* supporter in the episode 2 credits, you'll need to hit up the gold button on the support A* page by Monday (and don't forget to include a "sponsor=[your name]" note when confirming your contribution!).
Contributions received after that time will go toward episode 3!
("End-of-the-day" is shorthand for saying "12:00am of the next day, Seattle time" but that's so confusing what with midnight technically belonging to the next day, and Seattle switching between PST and PDT all the time with Daylight Savings. The *default* forum time is the time I'm talking about--but your times shown on the forum will vary if you've put your own time zone in your forum profile setting. Darn time being relative and all!)
  Ep. 2 WIP: Dance! You're in SpaceApril 02, 2009 9:23 PM | url
Witness the fearsome power of the Black Hole Boogie.
  Ep. 2 WIP: Space SuitsApril 01, 2009 11:21 PM | url
A couple more frames or partial frames from today:

  Ep. 2 WIP: Background Spin EffectApril 01, 2009 8:45 PM | url
If I have a moving background I usually have to draw it on a larger canvas size (this is shrunk down to half size so it would fit on the news page :P):

So then when I set it spinning, I won't run out of stars at the corners:

Spinning 1 degree every tenth of a second turned out to be a little jerky, so I smoothed it out by layering transparent versions of the previous two rotation frames in there for a bit of an after-image or motion blur effect.
  Episode 1 Voiceover Entries Due TomorrowApril 01, 2009 2:40 PM | url
The voiceover contest entry period ends in one day! All submissions must be entered in the contest thread by the end of the day tomorrow.
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