A Peek Behind the Curtain


Writers get asked a lot of questions about their process, with questions like “How do you come up with the names of your characters?”  (Answer:  We look at names all the time from the perspective of what strikes an emotional chord) or “How many words do you write a day?” (Answer: Lots more when I’m under deadline) and “How do you come up with your ideas?” (Answer: Sweat and fervent prayer) but today I got a question about our artistic process for Black Jack, and I thought that was a much more interesting question, since I could answer with pictures.

At one point in the story, Jack Swift comes across the kekubi for the first time.  One of them rips off its own head and hammers it into a crossroads post.  Nice and grisly.   We thought it would make a good piece of motion art for the book.  It started (as all these things do) with my awesome drawing.

9-AEat your heart out Michelangelo.  I’m pretty sure there are 4th graders who could do better. (By the way, if you want to send in your art of favorite moments in Black Jack, please send them to us; they can’t possibly be worse than mine.)   If you look closely, you can see my little notes about the art, the scene, the symbols on the sign, and the animation.  So I send my stick figure off to Turner Mohan.  He comes back with this:

head on stick 2This is a quickie sketch to make sure he’s got it right.  (He actually delivered a completely different alt. sketch for this one, and you can find it in the SWAG section of the Black Jack menu.)  He’s made good decisions like getting closer to the subject, eliminating the feet of the corpse, and focusing on the eyes, which will be the primary animation.  I say “way better than mine, dude,” and he delivers his final pencil:

Head on a Stick 001Awesome.  So then Ryan Wing and I go to work.  We layer the pencils over the Black Jack parchment texture, tatter the edges, give it some aging, pepper in a little vignetting and set the eyesockets on fire.  And zoom in a little more to focus on the green fire.

c-itunes-banner-cleanAfter this, we separate the foreground from the background, spin the circular hash-lines to provide a sense of queasiness, animate the green fire and let the hair start blowing in the wind.  Pepper in some creepy sound effects, and we’re ready for drama.  And that’s how we built all 24 pieces of major motion art for the app.

If you want to see the whole thing in action (it’s much better when it happens while you’re reading; a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing) you can see it in Chapter 9: Madrigal Verde of Black Jack: A Moving Novel on your iPad.


Click here for Black Jack: A Moving Novel on your iPad:


Programming by Any Means Necessary



I’ve been a part of a lot of projects while working under weird circumstances.  Build a completely new stage for a show overnight by 10am?  Done it.  Rip out an entire broadcast news camera setup and replace it with robotic cameras in four hours?  Cakewalk.   Make up a commercial on the fly while shooting on a frozen lake with Santa Claus in -21 degrees?  Easy.

Ken“This is the last take, right?”   “Just one more Ken, just one more.”

Being in the entertainment industry we get more than our fair share of weird situations.  But the one that stands out recently happened on the Black Jack App last week.

BJ Logo

This thing.  It’s a book for your iPad.  It’s awesome.

There are four of us working on the app right now and we’re all busy.  Getting all the developers together into one room took about 40 days to wrangle.  We had reschedules, last-minute bailouts and even a trip to the hospital for acute abdominal hemorrhaging.


Why, O why did I get the BK Triple Whopper?

 But at long last, we all got together.  We had a nice dinner, sat down in our chairs ‘round the ol’ app-making table to hash out all the remaining issues with the app and…blackout.  Total darkness.  Pitch black.


It was so dark even Vin Diesel was scared.

I run upstairs and check the breakers.  Nothing.  Check the rest of the house.  All dead.  Run outside the check the neighborhood.  The entire development is lights-out.   It’s like a satellite picture of North Korea at night.  The entire township is so black it would leave fingerprints on charcoal.  It’s so black—


So here’s the problem:  we’re all there to work.  And rescheduling is not an option.  So this is it.  There’s no lights.  There’s no power.  The solution?   Well, let’s go all Little House on the Prairie on this biznitch and get some beeswax & string working for us!   We’re programming by candlelight!!

Candlelight HelmetI have seen the way, and the way is the antler-lamp.

So here we are, the four of us, sitting in the dark, digging through creative problem-solving, iOS menu interfaces, UI layers, binary trees, responsive user input and conditional code paths, all in the warm glow of a half-dozen Yankee Candles.  And when you mix that aroma of Apple Nut Butter with Seagull Wind plus a little Cranberry Chutney you can start to trip out a little.


         “…then the pixies come out and crawl up your fingers and whisper a Push Notification in your ear…”

We hunkered down at the table for the next several hours; nobody missed a beat, nobody griped, nobody complained, everybody just buckled down and got to work.  It’s amazing to work with a crew like that.  When you’ve got a team constructing 21st Century software by 6th Century technology, you know you’re working with good people.


The Difference Between Good and Mediocre


Just had two very different experiences with artists tonight: the first failed to deliver and acted like it was no big deal. The second over-delivered and acted like it wasn’t enough.

The second man was working on Black Jack.

Just got some very very good work in tonight from Mohan. Extremely excited about the direction this is heading.