Speed Sketch: Coal and Damsel

Worked on some more animation today and decided to leave a footprint online. So here’s a quick sketch of the two main characters of the story: Coal and Damselfly. I am well into chapter five, which explores some of Coal’s backstory. Damselfly the not human one. The species has multiple names including “Free Drove” but an individual is usually referred to as a “drover”. The story of this species is central to the plot.

Sketches: Major Kite Armor

I’ve written a bit on kites already. There are two major kites and one minor kite in the unit. Each has a very different role, so they have different equipment too.

Lir’li’se (Leer-Lee-Seh) is a female kite and somewhat of an aberration among her kind. She first appears in chapter 1 (as part of the combat scene) and is featured more prominently in chapter 3. Lir’li’se is very quiet and unassuming, and has eschewed flying during combat in favor of a heavy ground support role. Her armor is heavy with both kinetic composites and energy shields to protect her relatively delicate form. She also makes use of exoskeletal motors that help her carry her equipment. The bulkiness of this equipment rules out flight, but being committed to ground-combat allows her to carry much heavier weapons.

Lir’li’se has a heavy armor pack and is land-bound. Her advantages are full battle composites and the ability to go prone (bottom-left) to significantly reduce her profile.
Hessness’ equipment is designed to allow him to retain his ability to fly. Note the shield generators on his head, back, and on the last segment of his tail.

Hessness is quite different. A male kite, he is more typical to his species, being more outspoken and judgmental. He also fully embraces his natural abilities as part of his fighting style: Serving as aerial support. Hessness fights alongside his bonded minor kite, Apriva (more on her in another post). His equipment is more superficial, relying heavily on energy shielding to protect his body. The lack of battle composites allows him to expand his flying membranes and take flight. Shields can be very effective, especially at range, but Hessness undertakes a considerable risk by not using composites. The intent is for the speed of his flight to make him harder to hit and thus make up for the lack of armor. Along with the shield generators on the dorsal side, lifting engines on his ventral side enable him to take flight without the high winds that kites require to take off (these thrust-creating engines are also commonly used by both minor and major kites in civilian settings).

I really enjoyed drawing these sketches, since the armor strongly hints at the personalities of these two characters. Although I designed kites to contrast my own personality and sensibilities, I can’t help getting attached to these endearing critters.

Sketches: Human Armor

Continuing with the armory sketches: Next we move to the human armor. The humans in the unit will have some differences between their armor designs, to suit their personalities, but for the most part the variations will be minor. The armor is basically unisex and the customizations allow for different body types. All armor worn by all beings in the unit is a light and resilient material – armor is usually referred to as “Battle Composites”. The battle composites have adaptive pigmentation that can acquire any color, allowing for the wearer to remain camouflaged in any environment.

The image above shows Sarine: An important, though not main character at this point. Her first appearance is in chapter two (already written). Sarine is a veteran of the Proxima-Aggregate war. Level headed and wise, Sarine is looked up to by others and is, by far, the oldest being in the unit. In Free Drove, humans do not age externally, so you can’t really tell how old a person is by looking at them. But Sarine has chosen, as a lifestyle choice, to allow her body to age. As a result, her external appearance reflects a fraction of her age and sets her apart from most of her fellow humans.

A note on the design and aging

The lack of aging is a source of internal conflict for me. On the one hand, I truly see aging as a technicality. It is probably a trait that favors species as a whole from an evolutionary perspective, but there’s nothing inherently necessary about aging, from a physics perspective. I am certain that technology will allow us to eventually do away with it completely, if desired.

On the other hand, I do enjoy depicting characters at different stages of humans’ natural life. I think TV and movies often neglect older characters and the beauty of the aged human form. It’s something that I do want to represent in my story…

This means that if there are any people who have an aged appearance in Free Drove they have to choose it. This makes an aged look more cosmetic than anything, which I kind of like. Isn’t it funny? All the generations of people struggling for eons with mortality, the existential dread, the pining for lost youth. What a terrific irony: Now that all people have everlasting youth, an aged appearance is used as a mere article of clothing.

Sketches: Marvan heron armor

Doing a sketch drop. I’m getting pretty close to the battle scene in the first video. And because representatives of almost all the species are in this scene, I have to figure out what each one of them looks like in armor.

You might have seen the Marvan heron in some previous posts, now I’m working on an armor design for it. Marvans are very intelligent but few in number and mostly solitary. As a result they have never developed a civilization of their own. They rely on other civilizations’ technological bases and most of their personal technology is custom made.

Herons have some shortcomings in combat. One is the long neck that has to be protected. Another is their short wings. I have to work with this, so I don’t think they’ll be carrying an long arms, or even any double-handed weapons.

The heron figure on the left shows the hand structure, wearing armor, the heron’s plumage would have to be tucked into the armor.
The figure on the right shows the heron with the head lowered. In combat, herons will naturally lower their heads to protect the neck and keep a low profile. Segmented armor protects the parts of the neck that remain exposed.

Instead of relying on brute strength I’m designing their battle capabilities to be based on speed and cunning. Herons are master problem solvers and have a knack for finding the relevant information in any situation. This would make them natural tacticians, sensing the tide of battle and ferreting out the enemy’s weak-points.

I’ll update later after I settle on a final design.

Paper Kites

This one is mostly a visual post.  When I was drawing the sequence of the minor kites’ folding wings I started to feel a bit uncertain about the actual geometry of what I was drawing.  The first fold was easy, but when I flipped the hind appendages, my spatial rendering device (brain) started maxing-out.

So, I decided to create a physical model:

Ya starts with a drawing of a kite, in this case, minor.
Once you are done drawing, bring out the reciprocating knives.
All done with the scissors, I measured zero times and cut once.
This is the kite fully opened and “in flight” posture.
Time to start folding it up. The forelimbs start by bending inwards.
Next, flip the rear limbs backwards
The nature of the flying membrane’s folds came out right, but in my actual design, minor kites rest their hind quarters on the “tail”, rather than the rear limbs.
Awww, look at that face!
Throw in some family for good measure!

The results showed me that despite the aforementioned “max-out”, I got it roughly right. 

One thing that the paper models didn’t fully cover was the articulation of the hind appendages: the drawn model folds them back and holds them flush against the flanks.  The paper model just goofily kept them splayed. Beyond that, the hind quarters are not supposed to rest on the hind limbs, which are too weak to carry the kite’s weight for long. Instead, what appears to be the “tail” serves as a single back-foot.

Here it is again so you don’t have to go back to the last post. Note the hindlimbs up against the flanks. The talon on the rear foot is used to hook prey in flight.

The other aspect that the model couldn’t account for is the elasticity of the flying membranes.  Being living creatures, minor kites are not rigid like paper.  Their flying membranes stretch out for flight and contract when the limbs retract.

It was a fun little experiment. Compare to the drawings from last post:

Thanks for reading!!

Kites (Minor)

Minor kites are mammalian in appearance and about a meter in length.  They accompany major kites, gliding in similar fashion and feeding on larger flying animals that majors don’t eat, as well as defending major kites from pack predators and parasites.  Minor kites have a furry body with bare flying membranes, much like bats or Colugos.  They have sharp teeth and raptor claws that they use to snatch prey from the air.  Their fur color can be monochrome from gray to white, or colourful – sometimes green or blue, depending on geography. Their bare skin ranges from beige to dark gray.

They have powerful visual acuity and stereoscopic vision common to raptor species such as hawks. Because they traverse their planet’s twilight region, they are adapted to both low-light and bright-light environments, often spending days flying through one or the other.

This sequence shows how a minor kite folds up its wings. minor kites are decent walkers and good climbers.

Their sense of smell is also very advanced, allowing them to sense their prey in high wind environments. Their hearing acuity is about the same as humans, though slightly skewed to higher frequencies. Minor kites have teeth and tongues, and communicate using similar palates to humans. Minor kites and humans are linguistically compatible: their languages rely on roughly similar vocalizations. This allows the two species to speak each others’ languages without artificial assistance.

Living together

I couldn’t resist adding this song for the beginning sound sample: “Is it difficult you two being together?” “No~~

Minor and Major kites are so well adapted to each other that major kites have rough patches on their backs that allow minors to latch on with their claws.  In this way, minors can ride major kites in flight.  This gives the smaller creatures time to rest while still in the air as their raptor hunting is more energy consuming than the major kites’ basking.  Minor kites will also latch on to major when at rest and will form long term bonds.  A major kite might accommodate anywhere from one to four minors living on it. In return minor kites dote after their major kite hosts: cleaning them, removing their parasites, and even tending to wounds.

Write Anywhere

If you have access to a smart phone or other digital device, it is hard to make an excuse for not writing. If you have more than one internet enabled device such as a tablet, laptop, or PC, you are truly empowered to write anywhere. I have written in all of the following:

  • Trains
  • My house
  • Other people’s houses
  • A public park
  • Airports
  • Airplanes

I store all my writing on the cloud. This means that I can write on my phone and then switch to my laptop and keep working on the same file. I use Microsoft OneDrive, it’s free, but you can use your choice of storage provider. They all offer premium services with more space, but OneDrive gives you 5 GB for free and you’ll never fill that up with just writing, so you don’t have to worry about that!

There are many writing tools out there, but I use Microsoft Word. I subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 for $100 a year, which gives me access to their full suite for 6 users on all my devices. This has been a bargain for me since I use Excel and the other applications for other purposes. Again, you can use one of the free services out there, or even just send yourself an email with your writing.

I am sad to say that I have done most of my writing on the phone. I’ve never been good at using mobile devices, they’re too small for me. Maybe I’m old school, but a proper keyboard, screen (or two), and mouse are my favorite mode of work. I’m just not as effective on a mobile device (are you? I’m interested to know). I spend more time in traditionally inconvenient places that only allow me to use my phone. I commute on public transport every day, so I have plenty of time to write, if not in the most accommodating spaces.

This is not so bad, actually. The truth is, writing takes time. So even though a phone doesn’t allow me to type at 60 WPM (I just tested myself, pretty good!), it doesn’t matter too much because each sentence takes a minute or more to concoct.

If you don’t have a personal device, I would recommend using a computer at a public library. I’ve never done it myself, but it would be the perfect, quiet place to write. You can use your free cloud storage to save your work and come back to it whenever you have time.

Do you write? What are your habits and tools? Leave a comment and share.

But seriously, we need to address the ages-old question: who would win in a fight, Astronaut or deep sea diver?

Major Kites (continued)

Major kites have a broad, flat head. Large eyes on either side of the head allow them to keep track of their flock while in flight.  They have good eyesight in both dim and bright conditions, allowing them to range to either edge of their planet’s twilight zone. Their eyes also have pigment cells that can change color. They use the varying ranges of color communicate.  A bioluminescent layer behind the pigments is used as a backlight to communicate at night. The backlight might also be used to suggest increased emphasis on the message, much like a human raising their voice. Major kites have no eyelids and the surface of their eyes is a transparent chitin, making their eyes naturally hard and resilient.  The mouth is located in the front of the head and can open to more than twice the head’s width.  Major kites use this large basking mouth to collect swarms of small prey.

Behind the head are two long skin flaps. These prehensile wind vanes serve multiple purposes.  First, they are used as semaphores to communicate visually, or through direct contact (especially with embarked minor kites).  Second, they can be used for general light utility such as scratching, lifting, and grooming. Lastly, they aid in flight, sensing changes in air pressure and providing assistance in maneuvering.

Major kite language is visual and auditory. In flight, they will use their bright eye colors and wind vanes to signal each other. This is more reliable than using sound in high winds that can distort the message. When on the ground, major kites will rumble and bellow in low tones using vocal cords in their throats. Humans and major kites do not have the same vocal abilities and require translators or voice synthesizers to communicate effectively.

Kites (Major)

In this installment of universe information I will be writing about Kites: Two of the August population’s constituent species.

Kites: An Introduction

Major kites and minor kites are two species from the same planet.  Despite the closely linked names, they are not actually very close relatives:  Their most recent common ancestor lived 200 million years ago. Many millions of years after divergence, their species began to converge.  At first this was by pure chance as mutations pushed the two towards similar adaptations. As their morphologies introduced them into adjacent niches, they began to share habitats and formed a symbiotic bond.  Eventually, the two species became so closely dependent that they began co-evolve; with one species’ mutations affecting the other. 

Major kites are the largest species on August: Larger than humans and dwarfing their minor kite cousins

Major Kites

Major kites look like large caterpillars when at rest.  At an average 4 meters long, they are August’s largest inhabitants, though they are not the heaviest; the average adult major kite weighs a little less than an adult human.  This is because major kites they are not actually giant caterpillars, but a vertebrate species whose greatest distances are traversed through the air.  When major kites unfold their rolled up, pillowy skin membrane, they become even wider than they are long.  This allows major kites to glide on the high winds of their native habitat, a tide-locked planet orbiting a red dwarf.  The planet’s capricious sun makes for turbulent weather in the twilight habitable zone between the permanent night and day sides of the planet. This creates a need for nearly constant migration.  Major kites can remain in flight for weeks, feeding on insect-size flying creatures which they collect in their large mouths.  They will follow their food source across the planet’s habitable zone, ranging for thousands of miles.  But they are not alone on their journey…