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.

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 🙂

Sarine and Thoris

Today’s illustration is of the unit’s odd couple, Sarine and Thoris. I wrote a bit about Sarine earlier in the post Sketches: Human Armor. Sarine is a respected veteran far older than her appearance. While she is not the most extroverted or social person, she is known to be a reliable asset on the battlefield and a trove of sparingly-shared wisdom. Having lived for centuries, Sarine is fairly particular in her tastes. She has seen many people come and go over her long lifetime, so she doesn’t spend much time on people unless she sees a the potential for a meaningful and lasting bond. Most people won’t get much more than an impatient acknowledgment from Sarine. But those she takes a shine to can gain a loyal and supportive friend.

Working out which pose I wanted for Sarine. Both of these seemed too off-guard for her character.

Born in the late 20th century, Sarine was of the first generation of humans to become non-aging. In many ways she is the leading edge in the great human experiment that has unmoored the species from its original limitation. Sarine is a fairly well-known among this first generation. Scientists and academics still treat her as a bellwether of the new human condition. For her part, Sarine describes her life as “fairly normal, just long”. Her decision to restart her aging has led many to speculate that she has resolved to die at the end of her newly established lifespan. But not being prone to melodramatics, Sarine has kept her reasons to herself.

Thoris on the other hand is a wildly different creature. Thoris is what is referred to commonly as a Mod: A being whose origin is biological but that has modified itself artificially to be physically different. Mods range from those with minor or unnoticeable changes to those who bear little resemblance to their original form. Thoris was born a human male, and despite only retaining few human organs, still self-identifies as such. Thoris’ personality is obsessive and quirky. He is enthralled with patterns and numbers, ceaselessly attempting to tease out hidden meanings in the world around him. He holds the number three in particular reverence and sees it as underlying all things. So deep is his obsession with the number, that he has reconfigured his body to have three eyes, three arms, and three legs. He has even gone to the extreme length of physically reconfiguring his brain from the natural two hemispheres to a three-lobe configuration. Thoris lives in a state of being that is nearly uncharted, altering the very nature of his psyche and delving into a level of self experimentation few would risk. It is for this reason that some in the unit are somewhat wary of him. But despite a nature that many find unnerving, Thoris is a stalwart defender of August and Proxima and has always come through for his allies.

What a guy… Thoris is a real wildcard. I’m going to have to really bend my way of thinking to see the world his way.
This is the rough sketch of Thoris’ pose, I’ll write more about developing his design later.

Unit members are divided into pairs. The pairing process is heavily based on personality profiles and extensive trial exercises. It is unclear what bizarre force holds Sarine and Thoris as such compatible teammates. But their effectiveness in combat, leadership, intelligence, and a swath of other tasks has been impressive.

The featured illustration at the top of the post shows Thoris and Sarine in the story’s first battle on August Beach.

Present

Dropping an animated gif your way. This one shows the arrival of an armored Marvan Heron through some sort of teleportation method. This actual shot doesn’t show up in the video, but I’m not ready with the actual shot, so I threw a background behind the animation just so it looks decent.

I like the way this turned out. I created the “appearing” effect by first drawing the full figure of the Heron, then slowly erasing segments with each frame. I then reversed the order of the frames so that the figure is appearing rather than disappearing. Let me know if you think it looks Ok. The idea is to have it look like a three dimensional character appearing out of a two-dimensional “slice” in space.

I’m working on the last minute of the video, and hoping it doesn’t take me much longer. I’m kicking around the idea of posting the rough video on the blog before I clean it up and post it on YouTube. I’ll see how I feel about that.

I am not a binge watcher

Don’t know if you’ve ever seen this sentence before, but I haven’t: “I am not a binge watcher“. This is true for me, I’m not much of a binge watcher. In case you haven’t heard the term, binge watching is a term used for watching multiple episodes of the same tv show in one sitting. It seems like most people I know do this, so I’m a bit of an oddball here. Then again, few are the individuals who ever accused me of being normal.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with binge watching (unless it’s eating up your sleep hours on a worknight 🙂 ). For me, it’s just that I like to take my time. If I watch more than an hour of one tv show, it feels like I don’t have time digest it – to let it sink in. It also helps that I don’t really have the time, so it’s not all premeditated moderation – I’m certainly no monk when it comes to willpower.

Another reason: Some shows are really good and have a limited number of episodes, so watching only a few episodes a week gives me more time with the setting and the characters; gives me time to daydream about things that happen in the show. I think I am a relatively “deep viewer” – I memorize details and allow the parts I really like to ferment and become part of the readily available landfill of trivia that I store in my think sack. If I were to cram a bunch of episodes into my brain, I wouldn’t be able to remember as much.

Just a share… I did get some work done on my morning transport, which is pretty cool. Will update more soon.

What are your viewing habits? Do you like to pile-on the episodes? Do share!