Possess the Original

Spoilers for The Originals are likely to follow. Warning done.

In general, I’ve tended to find The Vampire Diaries spin-off show The Originals more interesting than its parent. I think the pull of the latter comes in part with the way the writers seem to play with moral ambiguity in more interesting ways. A fair amount of that is the fact the titular original vampires are often and repeatedly painted as Not Good People. And unlike in TVD, they generally aren’t seeking redemption. The Mikaelson clan are callow and selfish and back-stabby. That last quite literally, though they’re often as happy to stab you in the front if it’s more convenient.

The original vampires are, then, protagonists rather than heroes. The nature of series television, of course, means that casting them in that central position required some level of softening from the soulless lot they first appeared as in TVD. Largely, this takes place in the extended familial interactions: sibling rivalry and the burdens of unplanned parenthood and long lost relatives with which they have … unpleasant pasts.

A significant frustration is that, though set in New Orleans, the show’s first season wasn’t what I’d call especially diverse. The Mikaelsons are all white. Most of the added supporting cast, as well. The first arc’s adversary (Charles Michael Davis’s Marcel) was one of the few POC in the cast. I can’t say he reformed, because I’m not sure anyone does that on The Originals, but he has moved his way onto the protagonist side of the equation, insofar as anyone can really be certain of an allegiance in a show built around betrayal by those you most trust.

Another adversary was a body jumping witch, who was — both in her first life and in the body she inhabited in the 21st century — a woman of color. There’s an argument to be made that it’s also problematic the percentage of POC characters who fall on the antagonist side of the equation. I go back and forth about it, because the show makes it pretty clear that most of the people who want to hurt the Mikaelsons have entirely valid reasons for doing so. The originals are horrible people who’ve earned a fair share of the ire directed toward tehm. Which is likely to happen when you’re centuries-old bloodsucking murderers.

And given how often the Mikaelsons are plotting against each other, it’s often difficult to decide who the hell’s in the right. Usually no one. I mean, the number of times the siblings have imprisoned, tortured, or tried to murder one another, and then justified it with speeches about loyalty and betrayal that don’t really makes sense but obviously feel right to them … yeah.

Still, even if they’re all Not Good People, season one had a woeful dearth of color given the setting.

The second season has made a little progress to fixing that, though the storyline behind that is as murky in how it makes me feel as the title characters themselves. You see, while there are more black actors working on the show, they’re almost all playing white characters.

Bear with me. I’ll explain

This season, Esther Mikaelson, the mother of the original vampires, returns from the dead, and brings back deceased Mikaelson siblings Kol and Finn with her. The returned Esther’s originally played by white Natalie Dreyfuss, Finn by black actor Yusuf Gatewood. After a few episodes, Esther’s spirit slips into that of a different witch, and she’s thereafter played by black actress Sonja Sohn.

Esther, it seems, has a plan to remove the taint of vampirism from her children. She wants them to stop being the murderous animals they have been, to move all of their souls into new, human bodies and thus grant them a chance to live honest, human lives. She even takes steps to try to give them recognizable vessels, preparing human ally Cami (Leah Pipes) to receive the soul of daughter Rebekah.

It’s at this point that the narrative finally pauses long enough to point out what’s been obvious for some time: Esther’s magic hasn’t fashioned new bodily shells for herself and her children; they’re possessing bodies which belong to living souls. Though she doesn’t wind up in Cami, Rebakah does — through the twisting nature of plots and traps and double-crosses the show so enjoys — wind up in a new body. That of black actress Maisie Richardson-Sellers.

Surely by now you’re sensing the pattern.

I find the potential of this pattern incredibly intriguing. I mean, for all that Esther keeps saying she’s trying to save her family, for all that she denounces the evil of her children’s monstrous existence, she’s effectively trying to rescue them from being predators by making them into parasites. She’s giving them a second chance by taking away several others’ first one.

And nearly all the folks whose lives are being stolen by these white Europeans are black.

It’s just downright fraught with prickly, twisty dynamics. Especially when you consider that Marcel explicitly comes from a background as a slave. He lived his early life possessed by a person, though not in the mystical sense. Even after he was ostensibly freed by Klaus (Joseph Morgan), he wound up a recurring pawn, fought over by the vampire family, each of whom has variously wanted him for him or herself, as a sibling or child or lover or whatever, but almost never as an equal. Marcel has been bandied about as “belonging” to one or more Mikaelson for a significant portion of his life and later undeath.

There is, too, the choice to have Yusuf Gatewood continue to play Finn when, in a recent episode, the minds / souls of the Mikaelsons are all gathered in a magical holding area outside of their bodies. That Kol is played in that sequence by Daniel Sharman (the current “host body” for Kol and not the character’s original actor) suggests this is probably only a logistical expedient, but I couldn’t help myself wondering if it might suggest that long-term possession impacts the sense of self, and then wondering in what ways.

The frustration of it all is, however, that other than that brief period wherein white Cami is at risk, no one seems to be commenting on what all this possession means to the possessed. Indeed, in the most recent episode, the only person anyone’s morning as one of the possessing Mikaelsons dies is that of the possessing soul, and not the young man whose life was co-opted by him. Even more noteworthy: though there’s been much hand-wringing about how to get Rebekah back into her original body, the same scenes of a dying brother lead to Rebekah’s promise to stay in her (black) witch body until she can manage the magic to bring Kol back.

As I said in the beginning, this isn’t an especially new turn of events for these characters. They’ve perpetually only cared about their own well being, and marginally the well-being of those mortals with whom they happen to be fond at the moment. That the Mikaelsons don’t think twice about what their choices mean to the humans they force themselves on is a pretty consistent narrative of the show.

But it’s not just them. No one is commenting. Not Davina (Danielle Campbell), who still wants Klaus dead for his callus treatment of her loved ones. Not Marcel, whose previously-mentioned background might suggest he notice this kind of thing. Not even Cami, who is not only known for pointing out just how completely messed up all these supernatural characters’ moral compasses are, but who was actually in danger of being possessed. If anyone might sympathize with the suppressed person in these bodies, it should be her.

I suppose I can take this as indication that the Mikaelsons’ philosophy is seeping into all those with whom they associate. It wouldn’t be the first time. Stay around these people long enough, and you seem to develop a taste for blood whether you’re a vampire or not. I have a hard time believing that’s not the intention, though. And it’s just frustrating to see what feels like such an intriguing subplot languish un-commented on.

New Ways to Fly: Fight the Clock

I didn’t make quite as many promo posters for our upcoming local production of Peter Pan as I intended, and with the holidays and a show I’m actually in starting to rehearse, this is likely the last. I did want to get some equal time for our antagonist, though.

And the Facebook version for those so inclined:

I think I did a better job with Hook than Pan of getting that more animation-y palette I was wanting. Also, I got to play around with a few different material textures, with the shiny leather of the coat and the brass in the hook.

I also got to play around with Sketchup, which is where I built the base model for the ship. This was my first time playing with it, after seeing it suggested over on ye olde Ctrl + Paint. I know my own perspective skills are sorely, sorely lacking, so I figured I’d give it a shot.

It worked pretty well for what I needed it for. I basically just put together the very basic shapes of things, then I was able to spin it about until I got an angle I liked, and use that as my guide for the line work. Helped, too, when it came time to do some of the shadows.

While I got lazy and found some free custom brushes to (awkwardly) render the water and cloud textures, the other thing I got to play with the first time with this: trying to make a wood grain. This isn’t bad for a first shot, though it still feels a bit “look at me! I’m wood grain patterns!” Still, learning curve and all that.

Also, I’ve been playing with clock-inspired taglines for ages, so I’m happy I got to do one. :)

Coloring Masks (Not That Kind of Mask)

Amy Reeder’s posted a great look at her personal coloring process:

I’m not an uber-experienced colorist and I have no idea what the standard technique for coloring is—so maybe this is common knowledge—but there’s something new I’ve been trying occasionally when I really want to play with opposing hues as light sources. And I thought I’d share.

The short of it: I create three hue versions of the base color and give each a layer. Then I use layer masks to choose which layer comes through.

I’ve watched a fair number of tutorials, and definitely binge-watched a lot of the videos over at Ctrl+Paint, which is an excellent resource. I vaguely recall mention of the Channel Mixer over there as a tool for helping pull together color schemes. And I knew layer masks were a good way to edit less destructively. But most of the stuff I’ve seen previous to this is about adding colors to a base layer.

This is the first I’m seeing of this very cool, full-colored multi-layers technique, though. I remember reading something about stone carving being about revealing the shape already in stone. This feels a bit like a similar philosophy, as all the potential palettes are there, and the colorist sort of brushes away the layers to find the right mix of them all. Well worth a look and a read for anyone interested in coloring techniques. Or just a kick ass Red Sonja picture.

(via Gail Simone)

New Ways to Fly: Crimes Against Adulthood

Still working on images for Peter Pan. This time more of a gag image:

Wanted: Peter Pan

I’m still not doing anything particularly sophisticated to achieve the effects. A multiply layer with rendered clouds to give it the mottling, then some manual erasing of that layer so it hopefully didn’t obscure Pan’s face. Threw in some darkening at the edges to try to achieve a bit more distress there.

I still have issues getting the text tool to play nice with me, but eventually I managed that, erasing away a little of the line art to make the “list of offenses” readable. It’s probably a bit crisper than it should be, but that’s something to shoot for in the future, I suppose.

I tried using the native sepia tone filter, but really didn’t like the color it produced, so instead I mucked around with colors manually on a color burn layer until I liked the level of sepia / old paper it gave me.

Also, “spurious directions” amuses me far more than it ought.

New Ways to Fly: and Straight on ‘Til Morning

I’ve been fiddling with some of the costume sketches for that production of Peter Pan of late. I’ve been wanting to do something more than just coloring figures, and I thought maybe trying my hand at a full-blown poster might be a decent first step.

I’ve got a couple of these in mind, but the star field background seemed the least complicated one to try. Plus, you know, it’s always good to start with the title character, right? In any case, this is my first go at a promo poster of a sort:

Pan Poster

Also, because we are in a Facebook world, after all, I tried a Facebook cover photo style banner:

Peter Pan Banner

I sort of hit a wall trying to figure out various raster programs to do the text, and eventually just gave up and did what I could in Photoshop and GIMP. It’s not winning any kinds of awards, but I managed a few different things I’ve never done before, including putting together the star field (yes, it was mostly a matter of manipulating filters, but even that takes a fair amount of time).

So, hooray for trying something new if nothing else.

Phone-y Fiddling

Inspired a lot by these minimalist super-icon iPhone wallpapers, and the fact that my old wallpaper and lock screen didn’t play as nice with iOS 7, I started playing at trying to make some Power Pack symbol wallpapers. So far, I’ve managed to do the boys:

 photo Gee_zpsfc284095.png

Gee is all square edges, of course, so he was relatively straightforward. Mass Master took a bit more mucking with, but I like the way it turned out:

 photo MassMaster_zps87d36ae0.png

I was trying Energizer’s symbol earlier, but it’s been giving me fits. Two is all I really need. But, well: completist obsessive, here, so I’ll probably still be trying do the girls at some point, as well.

This Means I Need a Twitter Account, Doesn’t It?

I’ve been a big fan of Ctrl+Paint since I started really trying to play with digital coloring / art. I’m not especially good, but, seriously, Matt Kohr’s videos are responsible for both most of the small improvements I’ve made, and the fact that I haven’t yet thrown up my hands in defeat and utter self-loathing.

There are a lot of tutorial videos floating around out there on “how to color / draw / paint / render” with Photoshop or Illustrator or a host of other graphics programs. I watched a bunch when I was starting out. And a lot of them have useful information. I’m not trash-talking anyone here.

Once I found Ctrl+Paint, though, I was pretty much hooked. It’s an impressively large storehouse of free instructional material (there are a few low-priced “premium series,” but most of it’s free), and each video does a great job of breaking down something specific into its component parts.

And, unlike general speed-paint and “recipe” type videos, which present the process as more color-by-number than as a malleable process, Ctrl+Paint videos are largely geared toward giving you enough information to go off and work on your own. Most of the time, the assumption is that you’re going to watch this video, then take the core lesson and start playing around with it to find the best application for your own interests.

In the end, though, I think the core element that keeps me going back is Kohr’s attitude. He fully admits when a particular exercise he offers isn’t necessarily as exciting as drawing a full scale dragon, but he also makes clear that he feels it’s essential. Important. It gets you to the super-cool space aliens and orc hordes and whatever else you’re into. And he wants everyone to get there, because, dammit, it is amazing when someone does. Despite his soft-spoken, even tone (which I appreciate. I don’t need people screaming into my headphones), I get a genuine sense in each of his videos that he loves this stuff to death, and he wants everyone to love visual art just as much as he does.

His latest project falls right in line with that “I want everyone to get in on the rush of art” philosophy he’s shown in the past. He’s working on setting up a concept art co-op , where anyone and everyone who’s interested can get together and create what might be a truly massive accumulation of world-building and element design pieces under a kind of collectively agreed-upon banner. It’s kind of the ultimate “everyone in the pool!” cry.

At the moment, there’s no official site for the project, so he’s making announcements via Twitter feed. I don’t know how much or little I might contribute at all, but I find the whole thing kind of fascinating, so I’ll definitely be following along.