Category Archives: storytelling

Early Billgx Drawings

In a box of family treasures I recently inherited, I found this homemade birthday card I created for my grandfather Art Genereux. I’m guessing I made it during my middle-school years, around age 11 or 12.

Homemade birthday card with picture of fire truck and a cake with many candles.

I don’t think my usual drawing ability has advanced much beyond when I was 12. I know how to draw in a more detailed style, but I still prefer the cartoony look above all else, mostly because of the time involved in making drawings.

Hand written golf jokes

I can remember from early on not enjoying the process of writing words on paper. I always pressed too hard with the pen or pencil and my hand got tired. I’m quite surprised to see all of these anecdotes written out. But I loved my Grandfather very much.

After he retired from farming, he took up golfing, which came as a surprise to everyone who knew him. It was great fun to go golfing with grandpa. He had a golf cart and we would put around in what was essentially a cow pasture with sand greens. You had to drag the sand with a tool that made a smooth path for you to put on. When you were done, you raked the sand so there were no tracks left behind for the next golfer.

 

Go Fetch

This is a project from Chapter 4 of Ivan Brunetti’s Cartooning book. Create a character, an action, a location, then tell a story using only images and no words. I started working through this book several years ago, but didn’t make it very far. I resumed work this summer when presumably I would have some extra time on my hands. Ha! That’s funny. I’ve been constantly on the go.

But this week has provided me some relatively free time, so I did this project that required first to make four frames telling a story, then four more frames that adds more detail. The above sequence shows the result of that effort. It took me around five hours or so to make what you see here from sketching out different ideas and concepts to solidifying and building on a story.

I decided to tell a story that describes my Blue Heeler dog Daisy. I started out with a girl character using Brunetti’s simple geometric shapes. A circle for a head. A triangle for a body. Little lines for arms and legs. Add some decorations and that’s it. Then I played around with a doggie character also in simple shapes.

I think keeping things simple like this keeps the  focus on the story. I also think this approach might be useful in a class project with students that encourages visual storytelling without requiring an extensive background in art .

Even with the simplified forms, right away I see the flaws in my drawings. There are compositional issues. There are better solutions to problems, I think. See the second to last frame? I wanted to convey the dog zooming by the girl without stopping but it seems really rough here to me. I think one or two frames have too few environmental elements, and some of the others too many.

I’m experimenting here trying to get a good feel for what is the right amount. I want things to be visually interesting without being overwhelming. But this is a starting point, and I have finally resumed work on something I’ve been wanting to do for a while now. The Cartooning book.

 

 

Cartooning Week 3

I’m falling behind on my cartooning efforts. I made these drawings for the first assignment in Week 3 of Brunetti’s cartooning book last weekend, but haven’t had a chance to reflect or write on them until this morning.

For Exercise 3.1 Brunetti says to draw 12 scenes on notecards with prompts he gives like “beginning of the world” “end of the world” “something that happened at lunchtime” “an image from a recent dream” “something that happened early this morning” “something happened right after that” and so on.

These are drawn on notecards in order to facilitate arranging the scenes into a four-panel sequence noting the type of narrative you prefer, what visual elements connect the scenes, breaks in the narrative, reordering the scenes and so forth. According to Brunetti, “the haiku-like rigidity of the four-panel structure allows us quite a flexible starting point.”

One of my favorite sequences was “something that happened early this morning.” We spent the night in a hotel for my daughter’s softball tournament. I woke up in a panic because she wasn’t in her bed. I found her sleeping on the floor. All the while, her mother was sound asleep, oblivious to my panic over our missing child.

I wasn’t really able to make a four-panel sequence using that, as I only drew three scenes of it. But I did rather like the nightmare sequence of the person falling, the D-Day invasion, the asteroid falling towards the earth and the person in bed sleeping. I think that one worked with the sleeping person either at the end or the beginning of the sequence.

I think the ideas are connected by being nightmarish scenes, then the relief that they are only dreams. When I compared my 11 cards (I didn’t get the 12th one made) with Brunetti’s example in the book, I noticed that each of his panels (except one with an animal character) featured a person in it, whereas mine did not always prominently feature a character.

The other thing I noticed is his style of drawing characters with simple geometric shapes and background elements gives a consistency of visual elements in every panel. I don’t really have anything like that. He draws a line for the ground in every single scene. Many of mine have straight line elements, but some do not. He also uses a circle in the background in most of his panels, either a light fixture, the sun, or stars and planets in the futuristic scenes. This gives his work a distinctive and recognizable quality to it. He’s found his visual “voice” whereas it seems I’m still searching for mine.

Most Heartwarming Advertisement Ever

A year and a half ago, Gillette Razors released this short video, but it took me a year to discover it in my social media feed. It is probably the most heartwarming “commercial” I have ever seen. It is a perfect example of short-form digital storytelling. I often give an assignment to my students called mini-documentary and going forward I plan to show this to my students as an example of how it is done well.

The pacing, the lighting, the sound, the music and the story all flow effortlessly. It quickly draws the viewer in and you become absorbed in the story. That, my friends, is good storytelling. Please watch first, then come back and read what else I have to say after the video.

Did you watch the video? Read no further until you do. I will wait…

You’re back? It is really good, right? Ok, I have more to say, but that will come in another post. Click here to continue…

The Last Milkman Documentary

The Last Milkman is a video created by myself and Aaron Wertenberger for Twin Valley Television. It features Lawrence Schleuder, a resident of Concordia Kansas who delivered the milk to homes and businesses well beyond the traditional age for retirement.

Lawrence passed away in 2017. This is dedicated to his memory.

A Tale of Recovered Digital Media

Painting of woman searching for lost coinSeveral years ago a large external hard drive I had been using for home and work for about six years died on me. Because it was so large and expensive at the time, I had no backup. I lost most of my saved work from six years of my life.

When I finally realized that I wasn’t going to see that data again, it literally felt like being kicked in the stomach. Enormous pressure built up in my chest, my heart was racing, I couldn’t breathe and I imagined that people who experience a house fire losing all of their precious family photos must feel precisely the same way because that is what had happened to me.

“You idiot!” I thought. You call yourself a computer professional? You, of all people, know better than to rely on a single drive with no backup. Now you have lost all of the kids’ baby pictures, movies, and sound recordings, not to mention all of that stuff you created for work.

But this was a terabyte hard drive, back when most people did not have so much storage, and it cost over $500. I simply couldn’t afford to purchase another one to make backups (although I certainly could have used another media like CDs and DVDs to make backups of the favorite items). Of course, making print photos was still a thing when the kids were small and we have some of those too, but many, many of our family memories were inaccessible and presumably lost forever.

I looked into a data-recovery service. I was in luck, they told me. As a member of the staff of Kansas State University, I was eligible for a discount because my employer was a partner to that service. I was quoted the reduced price to recover one terabyte of data of approximately $1800 – $2000! So if I thought $500 for a backup drive was bad, try paying for the data-recovery rate!

I seriously contemplated paying for data recovery. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing all of those memories. The company sent me a special padded shipping box for my external drive. When the shipping box arrived, it was too small to hold my drive. It was meant to hold a (now) standard sized smaller external hard drive, but my terabyte drive was actually a Seagate enclosure that held two full-sized internal hard drives along with RAID electronics that make the two drives appear as a single drive. It was far too big to be shipped in the provided box.

So I hesitated, put off the data recovery idea, put my broken drive into storage in the closet, and tried to forget about it.

Every once in a while, I would pull that terabyte drive back out and test it just to be sure I wasn’t mistaken. Nope. Every time, it still was unreadable by any computer or operating system I attached it to. I even went so far as to remove the internal HDD drives from the enclosure and attempted to read them directly with a USB device that could read and power these devices. Still nope.

This process went on for nearly seven years. The last files that I saved to the failed drive were created in February of 2012. As I began working seriously on my doctorate, I purchased not one, but two external drives that are 2TB in size, and I was very diligent about mirroring one on to the second drive and keeping one at work and the other at home. I had no intention of ever letting a failed hard drive get me again.

Of course, over that time, cloud storage has made its appearance and is taking over the way we save data. I have moved away from using external drives altogether and mostly rely on the cloud. It actually is quite nice since I can access it from home or at work. But I still keep my own copies of personal files like photos and home movies.

Then, last week, something happened. I was doing some cleaning at home and came across that failed hard drive. There it sat, a symbol of my incompetence, mocking me once again. I don’t know why, but I’m going to pull it out and try again. I have a new Macbook I didn’t have before. Maybe my luck will turn.

So I hooked it all up, and the lights came on and… still nobody home. Sigh. Well it was worth a shot.

Hmm, here is something I don’t remember seeing. There is a tiny “reset” button on the enclosure. I wonder what would happen if I pushed that? Now I have seen these tiny little “reset” buttons before, usually on something like a router or other embedded computing device. You have to get a pen or paperclip to even push the button it is so small.

I pushed “reset” and guess what happened? Nothing.  A loud cooling fan noise, just like every other time the drive powered up, some blue LED lights, and nothing. No readable drive.

But after a couple of minutes, incredibly, unthinkably, that darned Seagate drive became readable again! Well, I don’t dare turn this thing off again. So I grabbed one of my other drives that had plenty of space and started copying things, beginning with the family photos, then the work documents, then the home movies.

Copy, copy, copy. I spent most of last weekend copying things to the backup drive. Soon, my daughter noticed what I was doing.

She – Dad, isn’t that the drive that quit working you were so upset about?

Me- Yep. It started working again.

She- So what is on it?

So we started poking around in the photos to see what was there. A big smile came across her face as she saw all of her classmates in pre-school. She’s a Junior in high school now. We saw photos of swimming lessons, wheat harvest, Watermelon Festival, birthdays, and family gatherings of all sorts,

Having gone through that difficult emotional loss, and just recently finding the lost thing again, I feel just like those people in the Bible who lost a sheep and a coin (Luke 15:1-10).

It has been a good week. Rejoice with me, for I have found my lost data!

 

 

A Dog Not For Everyone

We saw this great commercial on TV recently featuring a man and his dog, selling State Farm insurance. Whoa! That dog looks just like our dog Daisy!

I later learned it is NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Australian Cattle Dog, Rigsbee.

And yes, our Daisy is the same breed of dog as featured in the commercial.


My wife Wendy looked up on Google what kind of dog it was in the commercial, and found this article which made her laugh out loud: Please Don’t Buy This Dog! The author talks about how high-energy the breed is and how it is a working dog bred for herding cattle.

That’s why my wife was laughing so much. I am outside every day, usually twice a day, exercising the dog so she won’t destroy our home.A simple walk around the block is nowhere near enough. She’s a runner!  One of the only ways I’ve figured out how to get a good enough work out for her is if I take her along on a bike ride.

I have to take her every day, rain or shine. Today she and I went for a run in white-out blizzard conditions. I wish I would have thought to take a photo from today because it was crazy! Instead, you’ll just have to see this video of me and Daisy going for a run last summer. Just imagine this video with me instead wearing insulated coveralls, gloves, and a hooded parka, and you get the idea.

Rifftrax and Birdemic

A number of years ago, I heard about the so-awful-it’s-good movie Birdemic. It has been on my watch list ever since, and over the Christmas break I finally got a chance to watch it. The movie has been billed as “The worst movie ever made” and justly so. It is truly bad.The screenplay is bad. The acting is bad. The directing is bad. The editing is bad. The special effects are bad.

Here is an excerpt to give you a taste of how deliciously awful Birdemic is:

Now why would I want to see such a disaster? Well, for one thing, I teach digital media technology. In our program, we learn about film editing, digital storytelling and special effects. With Birdemic, I was thinking we could analyze a film that someone spent time and money to produce, discussing the things that went wrong, and how could things be improved. After seeing it, I’m imagining there won’t be enough class time for a comprehensive analysis unless we devote an entire semester to it. However, we can look at some excerpts and explore the possibilities presented to digital film makers.

One recurring theme in the courses that I teach is that of “working digitally” or doing digital work professionally. Because it is an emerging field, the possibilities are endless. I want students to begin to imagine the kinds of work that can be done using digital media technologies.

Birdemic was created by James Nguyen, a silicon valley software engineer with a dream. Through persistence and audaciousness, his film became a reality. Using social media and publicity stunts at the Sundance film festival, the film was picked up by a distributor, screened in several cities, released on DVD, and by all accounts became far more successful than what should normally be expected. So count Mr. Nguyen as a visionary of what “working digitally” looks like.

I also have a second example of how “working digitally” is associated with the Birdemic film. I’ve been aware of the Rifftrax comedy website for several years. The business model for Rifftrax is to create comedy sound tracks to play along with commercially released DVDs. If you are familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000, aka MST3K, you know how this works – basically it is a group of wise-crackers joking around about movies they are watching. After the MST3K television show ended, the Rifftrax website was launched. Below is a sample of how Rifftrax works with the Birdemic film. We see scenes from Birdemic together with the jokes by Rifftrax.

Normally, one buys, borrows or rents a dvd to watch, and downloads an MP3 joke soundtrack to play along with the movie. Over the break, I got the Birdemic film, downloaded the Rifftrax mp3, and had a great time watching this awful movie. But I think it is a perfect example of people doing digital work, creating a product that no one could ever even imagine before computers and the internet.