UltraRob

About UltraRob

Rob is a teacher, writer and entertainer based in London, Ontario, Canada. He is a teacher at Fanshawe College, Head of Wiseman Educational Services, Organizer of the Forest City Go Club and the founder/producer of the Kung Fu Action Theatre audio drama production group. He is married to his beautiful wife Connie, and owned by his dog Winston.

DNA Podcast 037 – Death and the Nerdly Arts

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In this episode, Rob, Don and Jack Ward explore the place of death in the nerdly arts. From superheroes who never die, to the real life celebrities who do (for now), and how our own fears of death shape our entertainment of choice, the trio head down a funerary rabbit hole. It’s an episode of grave humour, and sober considerations about the future of the kind you’ll only find on the Department of Nerdly Affairs.

DNA Podcast 036 – Interview with Will Meugniot

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In this episode, Rob and Don are joined by comic artist and animation director and producer Will Meugniot to talk about Will’s long history in the comics and animation industry. In this deep exploration of the animation industry of the 80’s and 90’s, they discuss the DNAgents, Will’s role as showrunner for X-Men the Animated Series and Exo-Squad, and so much more! All this, and how Urusei Yatsura shaped JEM and the Holograms is here for you in the 36th episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.

DNA Podcast 035 – The Hero’s Journey Strikes Back!

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In this episode, Rob and Don are joined by Jack Ward for a spirited debate about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Does Campbell’s opus really hold the key to writing satisfying stories? Jack thinks so, but Rob and Don aren’t so sure, and this leads to a long discussion involving comparative mythology, newspaper comic strips, 1970’s vampire hunting reporters, and more sitcom references than an 80’s flashback! All this, and Don’s unhealthy fixation with the obscure scifi comedy Quark are waiting for you in this, the 35th episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.

Dan Harmon’s Story Circle Evolved

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I’m fascinated by story structure, and recently I’ve been probing the depths of Dan Harmon’s Story Circle. The Story Circle was Harmon’s way to take Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and make it into something practical but still all encompassing. This isn’t new, Christopher Vogler did something similar in his famous memo, which he later turned into The Writer’s Journey, and other writers have done their own takes as well, such as Chris Woo’s fascinating take on it. This is possible because Campbell wasn’t writing a book about writing, but a book about comparative mythology, so he left the more practical applications of his work to others.

In any case, I’ve taken to Harmon’s Story Circle for its simplicity and practicality for writers. I won’t reiterate the details whole thing here (read about it on his original Channel 101 posts, which start here, but this is the most important one), but you can watch this video which covers the points of the thing pretty nicely.

So basically in simplest form it looks like this:

1 – You (a character is in a zone of comfort)
2 – Need (but they want something)
3 – Go (they enter an unfamiliar situation)
4 – Search (adapt to it)
5 – Find (find what they wanted)
6 – Take (pay its price)
7 – Return (and go back to where they started)
8 – Change (now capable of change)

Which is pretty good, and covers a lot of ground. But, as I was trying it out with different stories, I realized something- it actually resembles another story plotting approach utilized by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame. Now theirs, which I covered here, is a lot simpler, as it’s basically just about turning story outlines into series of cause and effect relationships using words like BUT, AND SO/THEREFORE, and MEANWHILE. But, I noticed that if we combine it with Harmon’s Circle, we end up with…

1 – OPEN ON You (a character is in a zone of comfort)
2 – BUT Need (but they want something)
3 – AND SO Go (they enter an unfamiliar situation)
4 – BUT Search (adapt to it)
5 – AND SO Find (find what they wanted)
6 – BUT Take (pay its price)
7 – AND SO Return (and go back to where they started)
8 – THUS Change (now capable of change)
And what do you know? It works! We have a story structure of cause and effect relationships that build up into a heroic journey. Who knew?

I’m still debating about the usefulness and nature of the Hero’s Journey monomyth as an all-encompassing story form, as you’ll hear about in an upcoming DNA podcast where writer Jack Ward and I go at it hammer and tong about the subject, but I will admit that this is a useful tool for writers. I’m always looking for ways to give my stories the solid underlying structure they need to become more satisfying for readers, and this is yet another tool in my writer’s toolkit to try out.

Rob

DNA Podcast 034 -What are litRPGs?

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In this episode Don and Rob are joined by the awesome Ramon Meija of the litRPG podcast to talk about the biggest new genre you’ve probably never heard of- litRPGs. The three discuss the origins of this fascinating genre, what makes a litRPG, what books your should be reading, and how the litRPG genre reflects the world we live in today. All that, and how to write litRPGs in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs!

The point where Anime and North American Animation Diverged

Earlier this week, I was having an email exchange with my DNA co-host Don and our frequent esteemed guest Jack Ward about anime and American animation. As part of that conversation, Don took it upon himself to write up a long blog post explaining to Jack how the two animation industries diverged from each other during the 1960’s with lots of examples thrown in. Since I thought that such effort was worth sharing, Don graciously edited it and sent it to me to share.

Enjoy!

Rob


So, we were having a discussion the other day and this came up:
>Aha! So Anime is akin to sixties animation in North America!
   And the truth is, sort of. N. American and Japanese animation parallel each other for a while, but split a few times along the path. The Japanese were always enamoured of Hollywood animation, notably Disney. Here we had Hanna Barbera develop the “limited animation” style, which made animation inexpensive enough for television. That style set the standard, and tv and for a long time was the ONLY way to do a show.  So…. back in the early days you get:



Stirring. And across the sea:



   You probably notice a lot of similarity in technique. TV animation was pretty new and there weren’t a lot of shortcuts and techniques available yet, so it tends to look cheap. Our stuff was all “staged;” that is, filmed like you’d film a stage play…. everything moving along a single plane. The Japanese used a lot more wide shots than us, as well as making attempts to induce depth to their tv animation. (That’s one of the reasons you see so many shots of things moving diagonally in Japanese shows, whereas ours usually have stuff move left to right, in profile.)
   I think this is in no small part due to the popularity of early theatrical animation in Japan; they were a lot less willing to sacrifice visuals than us. Even in the earliest shows the Japanese still use a lot of establishing shots and panoramic views. There’s also a tendency to write more detailed stories than us. We did a lot of one-off gags, whereas the Japanese were creating continuing stories right from the get go. Another holdover from the theatrical features maybe?
   These differences in conceptualization create one of the first big forks in the road between N. America and Japan.
Jump ahead a decade or so and you get:



  Drugs. You get drugs. Anyhoo, in Japan:



   I think more things should be called “Gowapper.” Anyhoo; you can already see a separation of sensibilities, although them AND us were still experimenting. The Japanese were WAY more willing to do straight up drama, whereas we ran screaming in terror from any serious story. Even our action stuff was really…. sterile. This gets to be important in a few years. The Japanese made a jump from “cartoons is just fer kids” to “animation is just another way of doing tv” that we never quite make. We come close, but there’s a lot of inertia to oppose. During the 70’s the Japanese were starting to do animated dramas, soap operas, comedies, SO MANY giant robots….
   By the 80’s in America you had a weird peak:
[Rob Note- while the designs and origins are American, the first four shows listed here were mostly Animated in Japan, and these are Japanese-made intros.]






   Mmmmm…. violence…. Fuck the Smurfs. Anyways; there’s a lot of high quality stuff there, mostly ‘cos the Japanese companies worked cheap, and where in the midst of a big animation boom. Even so, we were starting to sink some cash into the product. There’s a lot of technical quality. It didn’t last ‘cos animation is REAL expensive, and our studios turned to marketing tie-ins to cover the cost. So cartoons became half hour toy ads for the most part.
   Across the sea:



   Looks the same, doubtless ‘cos a lot of it was done by the same studios. The biggest difference was that the shows were leading the merch in japan; the cartoons would be made AS CARTOONS, and any tie-ins would come later.
   By the end of the 80’s; going into the 90’s animation was taking a dip, and moved towards the cheap. Especially here:




   Japan did something weird; since they had a more demanding audience they couldn’t lower quality too much (although they tried) so they just kept doing whatever worked, over and over and over…. So you get a lot of shows that LOOK nice, but are WAY boring:

Okay…. that’s a cheat….




   More recently you’ve been getting a mix of decent stuff and crap; although Japan is way more willing to sink a few bucks into their animation. Part of the solution/problem was South Park, which showed that you COULD do animation for an older audience, but set the standard that said animation must be as cheap and vulgar as possible.
   Still; in the years since we’ve done some good stuff:




   We tend to make up for funds with style…. a-la Batman:TAS. When it works, it works. When it doesn’t…. well….
   Japan still goes the technical route:




Holee Smokes, why can’t we have nice things like that? Japan isn’t afraid to get weird though:

   So to answer the question that started this; 60’s Japanese animation is akin to 60’s N. American animation, but thereafter things take some odd turns. As a result, animation in Japan gains general acceptance WAY earlier than it did here, and that allowed Japan to produce a greater variety of material and to achieve a level of technical skill we haven’t quite hit yet.
Don C.

DNA Podcast 033 – Writing Formulas

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Lester Dent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this episode, Rob and Don sit down to discuss story structure. They explore the origins of the 3-act structure, discuss Chris Fox’s Write to Market strategy, and break down the Lester Dent Master Pulp Writing Formula and Michael Moorcock’s How to Write a Book in Three Days method. All this, and why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is really a ninja, are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs!

The Crocodile Princess is coming to the big screen!

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Now that the ink is drying on the contracts, I have an announcement to make. My novel, The Crocodile Princess, has been licensed by Keller Entertainment to become both a graphic novel and a feature film in conjunction with a Major Chinese studio. (Not sure I’m allowed to say who yet, so we’ll leave it at that.)
I’ve been sitting on this news for two months now, since the fine folks at Keller Entertainment first approached me, but wanted to wait until the contract was officially signed before I made the announcement. I’ve worked with the Kellers to get the story down to a more manageable form (it’s a bit long for a film) and I’ll be scripting the graphic novel myself. (But not the film, although I will be working with the scriptwriter.) This is why I stopped writing stories for a while, as I’ve been too busy with the development process.

Now, there is something I should mention that isn’t going to make everyone happy, but I want to be upfront about it. The Chinese studio wants to make an adventure  film set in China, but which will also appeal to an international audience. What that means is that they asked that at least three of the main characters become foreigners so they could put famous Hollywood actors in the roles for some star power outside of China. This is part of the current Chinese strategy to reach a global market, and upcoming films like The Great Wall with Matt Damon are examples of this approach. Long story short- Little Gou has been replaced by a Scottish sailor who’s been living in China, and Sister Cat by a similar character (still Chinese) who is a little more petite than the mighty warrior nun of the Gou adventures. This comprise allowed me to keep Gou and Cat separate from the film rights, while finding the balance the producers wanted. I know there will be claims of whitewashing, but it was the only way the project would move forward. Think of it as an alternate reality version of my original novel’s story. 🙂

Speaking of stories, I have to say the revised version of the story is awesome, and much better than my original in some ways. Getting to work with entertainment professionals has really helped to up my writing game, and the story has only benefited from it. For example, the character replacing Sister Cat is no longer a sidekick character, but an equal partner to the roguish gambler, and helps to drive the story in a way Cat never did. I’m really excited to see this character and her story evolve, and this new pair are quite the swashbuckling duo! You’ll get to see them in action on the page, and hopefully on the big screen not too long afterwards.

The truth is, I can hardly believe it myself and it still seems unreal to me, but every word I’ve just written is true. One of my stories is jumping to not one, but two other media, and it’s going to be incredible to watch it all unfold.

I’ll update you all from time to time, and if there are any questions just ask! And, if you want to read the book that inspired all this, why not click this link and pick up a copy?

Rob

DNA Podcast 032 – Voice Acting with Kimlinh Tran

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In this episode, Rob and Don explore the possibilities of sound by talking with voice actress Kimlinh Tran about her experiences and perspectives gained voice acting in anime and video games. They talk about her efforts to improve her craft, why being near entertainment production centers is a must, and why recording walla is so much fun. All this, and why having a voice acting safe word is a must, are waiting for you in this episode of the Department of Nerdly Affairs.

DNA Podcast 031 – Comics Creator Ben Dunn and Antarctic Press

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In this episode, Rob and Don are joined by comic book creator and founder of Antarctic Press, Ben Dunn. The three of them sit and chat about Ben’s long career in comics, how Antarctic Press came to be, and the ups and downs of running a comic book company. Along the way, Ben gives great advice about succeeding as an artist both in and outside the comics field and discusses the secrets to AP’s longevity and success. All this and a heaping helping of Ninja High School can be found in this, the 31st episode of The Department of Nerdly Affairs.