Shows We Never Made – 2

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Are We There Yet?
Some years ago we developed a series about a girl in the back of a car who, like most children on long car journeys, was bored.  She was surrounded by the sort of toys you might find in a car: a nodding dog, a cute alien character stuck to the window with plastic suckers and a long fabric snake.  When the girl says the words Are We There Yet? she is suddenly propelled into a fantasy world inspired by the view outside the window, where she and her toys have an adventure.  If it’s raining, she might be plunged into a submarine adventure.  If she is passing large cooling towers she might be transported to a kitchen where a giant is cooking in some extremely large pots.  It it’s night time she might visit the moon.
We thought this was a good idea, mainly because it was a situation that everyone could recognise.  To make it interesting, and as a respectful nod to Disney’s Alice  series from the 1920s, we designed it as a combination of a live action girl with 2D characters and backgrounds in the fantasy sequences.
Here is an extract from the Bible:
You know the situation.  We’ve all been there.  You’re stuck in the back of a car on a journey to a place you may or may not want to go, and you’re bored.  You’ve tried the Gameboy, but it gives you a headache.  You’ve played “I spy”, you’ve counted telegraph poles, and that’s just made it worse.  These are two of the most boring games in the world and now you feel even more bored than ever! Added to which, you’re not the sort of girl who will tolerate being bored for very long.  It’s not that you’re hyperactive or anything, but you’re an imaginative kid and you have a will of iron.  There’s no reason why you should have to put up with a future that seems to hold nothing but the sight of the back of your parents’ heads and the world flashing by outside.
The nodding dog on the back ledge agrees.  Especially when you’re going over speed bumps.  But the alien stuck to the window just grins stupidly, and the felt caterpillar in the side looks so… well, floppy and useless. 
You know you have to do something, but what?  There’s something bubbling up inside you, and you’ve just got to let it out!  Then you hit on the question .  It’s not that it winds up your parents, though, perhaps that helps.  It’s that this question changes everything. It brings your toys to life, and propels you into a world fashioned entirely by your imagination.  So, with a glint in your eye, you ask:
Are We There Yet?
We wrote a couple of scripts, made a trailer, and took it to the Cartoon Forum, where the response was underwhelming.  We liked the project because it gave us unlimited scope for fantasy, because the combination of live action and 2D was attractive and, at the time, unusual, and because it was a classic situation that children all over the world could sympathise with.
Later, we realised that it was not really a concept for a series at all.  It was a concept for an introduction and ending to a story but there was nothing inherent in the idea that would generate conflict.  Fantasy stories about a girl and her toys who tangle with an octopus, or escape from a giant’s cooking pot do not need to start with a girl in the back of the car.  We found ourselves writing stories that had little or no connection with car journeys.
Children’s stories should start with a bang.  There is nothing duller than watching someone else looking bored and, however much we might empathise with the situation, this was not going to make riveting television.  Although the concept provided a catchy way of getting into the stories and we came up with characters for the toys that provided both humour and conflict, we had problems coming up with a device to get us back into the real world.  If something happened to bring the girl back to reality before the fantasy story could conclude dramatically, e.g. arriving at the destination, or a comment from a parent, then the viewers would feel cheated.  If the fantasy story was allowed to resolve satisfactorily, then there was no real point in returning to the dull reality of the interior of the car.
Even the technique, which we thought attractive and interesting, was a deterrent to overseas buyers.  As soon as you have a live action character, foreign buyers get nervous about dubbing costs and ask whether lip-sync can be achieved credibly.  Cultural differences come into play that do not apply when you are dealing with animation.  Children from different countries dress differently, whether the major clothing brands like it or not.
Are+we+there+yet - Shows We Never Made - 2
So we didn’t get anywhere with this project. Since then we have taken more care to ensure that the concept itself generates enough conflict to drive storylines.  I believe that the characters we came up for this project could generate the dramatic narrative we required, but this had little to do with a bored girl in the back of a car.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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