Little Sava in Dreamland: Scott Sava talks the digital 'Dreamland Chronicles'

Mon, October 20th, 2003 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

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"The Dreamland Chronicles" #1
As a genre Fantasy, you know the kind with elves and swords and what not, for the most part was relegated to a niche section of the world. While stories of that sort have been popular, had legs and sold well, they generally sold well to a small, yet disproportionately dedicated group of fans. When it came to everyone else, their experience in that niche started and ended primarily with "The Lord of the Rings." That is until recently. With the rise of "Harry Potter" and the success of both the "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter" films, fantasy has seen unprecedented levels of interest. Hollywood's recognized that, developing fantasy novels into films as fast at they can.

While it may have taken the rest of the world a while to discover that fantasy is cool, comics fans have known it for a long time. Fantasy has been well represented over the years in comics and in December it will be represented once again as elements of the fantastic will be fused with advanced computer design. Scott Christian Sava, the digital artist behind "The Lab" and "Spider-Man: Quality of Life," will bring a new fantasy adventure to fans with "The Dreamland Chronicles." Published by Astonish Comics, "The Dreamland Chronicles" is an all-new 24 issue series, released quarterly and running 48 pages. Each issue carries a $3.50 cover price. Sava spoke with CBR News about his latest adventure.

"The story is about a boy named Alexander who, as all children do, goes to Dreamland every night and has great adventures with his Dreamland friends Paddington the rock boy, Kiwi the fairy, and Nastajia the elf princess. On his 12th birthday he uncovers a sword, encounters a dragon and wakes up wearing a necklace with a sword pendant on it. His mother takes the pendant away from him and he never dreams again.

"Now in college, Alexander and his brother Daniel are roomies in a dorm and their mom sends a package of old things: hockey cards, an old teddy bear and a sword pendant she found. Daniel remembers it from when they were kids because he's the one who wrote the Dreamland Chronicles when they were young.

Alex from "The Dreamland Chronicles"
"Daniel never had dreams and pretty much lived vicariously through Alexander's descriptions of his nightly adventures and wrote everything down, hence the name 'The Dreamland Chronicles.' Anyway, they brush up on old times and basically just write it off as kid stuff. Alexander puts the sword pendant on and later that night falls asleep only to wake up back in Dreamland holding that same sword.

"The series basically tells of his adventures in Dreamland as a young adult and how his friends have grown up and the adventures they have together. It also deals with some fun topics such as faith (believing in something you can't see), forbidden love (he falls hard for Nastajia) and forgiveness. It's just a fun adventure and I'm really excited!"

The origins of the story come from Sava's fascination with science fiction and fantasy and simply wanting to tell a story littered with elves, giants and dragons. Getting more to the point, Sava is a huge fan of Winsor McCay's "Little Nemo in Slumberland." "One day I thought to myself," said Sava, I wonder if Nemo still dreamt when he grew up. Did he fall in love with the princess? And 'Dreamland' was born."

Two frames from page 6 of "The Dreamland Chronicles" #1.
Sava told CBR News that "The Dreamland Chronicles" have many influences on top of "Little Nemo in Slumberland." Edgar Rice Burroughs' "John Carter of Mars" plays a role, the last name of the title character being an homage. "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" play an influence, with "The Chronicles of Narnia" providing even greater inspiration. Sava also said that the legendary comic "Elfquest" was an early influence as was Robert E. Howard's "Conan"

The characters within the pages of "The Dreamland Chronicles" run the gamut of your every day college student, to elves, rock giants and other characters sure to capture the imagination of readers.

"Well, there's Alexander Carter, of course. He's our main character. He's a little athletic, but not enough to get on a team. He and his brother are a bit nerdy, but of the two he's a little less nerdy.

"Daniel Carter is his brother who wants to be a writer. Of anyone on earth he's the only one who believes Alexander. He's his closest friend.

"Nastajia the elf princess is the love interest, but there's alot more to her than that and since she's not seen in her adult stage until issue 3 I'd rather not say.

Nichole and Alex
"Paddington is the fan favorite. He's a rock giant (though when they were small he was the shortest and everyone picked on him). He's loveable and easy going and has a great job, which I'll reveal later, too.

"Kiwi is a fairy who's basically a fun loving sprite. She's just happy.

"Nickodemus, well, he'll have to wait, too.

"Nichole is the Med Student at the University who takes the scientific role in the story and this lends to some great discussions about what is real, what is possible, etc.

A Paddington teaser page developed for Comic-Con International 2003
"All told there are over 200 characters in 'The Dreamland Chronicles' each having to be designed, modeled, textured, rigged (putting bones in them) and set up for facial expressions. It's the biggest undertaking I've ever attempted."

Sava has all 24 issues of "The Dreamland Chronicles" plotted, but admits that the actual dialogue and script for each issue isn't written out yet, preferring to write that out as he and his team work on each issue of the book. With 24 issues of comics plotted, he's working towards a specific goal, but that doesn't mean "The Dreamland Chronicles" will necessarily end with issue 24.

"I've left the ending so that, of course, there's a lot of room to do more stories. I'd love to, but with this being so big, over 1000 pages when it's all done, I'll have to see if I'll keep it going. Jeff Smith's 'Bone' is a big inspiration for me, he's done over 50 issues or so and I'd like to achieve something like that one day."

"The Dreamland Chronicles" is a fully digital comic. It's a process that's just too much work for one person and Sava has assembled an international team of computer artists and designers who handle different aspects of the production. And just because computers are being used as the main tool doesn't make it any easier to produce this comic compared to your standard comic production.

Facial morphs of Kiwi and Paddington done by Karen Krajenbrink.
"There are approximately 200 characters and 120 environments for this epic adventure. Each has to be designed and I've got a great talent with Karen Krajenbrink doing all of the design work on both characters and environments. Originally I worked on my own designs, but when I saw Karen's work I said. 'Yes! That's Dreamland!' She's brought a great look to the book. She's an incredible artist! Oh, and best of all, she's local, here in LA!

"On characters we have a great team of modelers starting with Ivan Perez from Spain. He's done the bulk of the work since day one and he's a real great guy! He doesn't speak a lick of English, though, So we Google translate our emails.

"Also helping out are some of the animators who work with our studio on TV, film, and games. To be honest, I didn't know they could model. (laughs) But Jenn Downs and Peter Starostin have really helped me keep things on track and have kicked out some really great work!"

"For environments, one guy is doing everything, and he's great. Stefano Tsai from Taiwan is a great talent and such a nice guy, too! He's just done some incredible work. It's blowing me away.

Another sketch by Karen Krajenbrink.
"And of course helping out in every other way is Frank Lenhard from Germany, and my buddies from Spidey, Marcello Bortolino from London and Antero Pedras from Portugal."

"There's alot more that goes into this: rigging, texturing, morph targets, lighting, and so much more. There's alot of people to make note of, but the list gets too long for now and I'm sure it'll keep getting longer by the end of the project.

"Needless to say...we have people from Taiwan, Spain, Israel, Turkey, Canada, London, Portugal, and many many other places around the world."

Due to the nature of the production, pages for "The Dreamland Chronicles" go through a bit different process than compared to traditional comics production.

Paddington Model Sheet
"It takes about 2-3 months to get all of the characters from design, to modelled, to rigged, to setting up morphs for facials and concurrently there's also environments being designed, modelled, textured, and lit," said Sava. "Once that's done, it has taken me about a day or two per page depending on the amount of objects in the scene the computers have to calculate to render. I can work non-linearly, but I prefer to see a page done at the end of the day and therefore still go that way.

"The look I'm using is also new. It's like nothing I've ever done to date. The technique I'm using is called Global Illumination and I'm using a renderer called Brazil which does the calculations. What this software does is it calculates how the light bounces off of objects naturally, thus giving an almost toy like feel. You can almost touch the characters. It's a really cool look, but it's very heavy on the computing side, making it very difficult to get the pages done quickly."

For you tech geeks out there, we asked Sava what kind of computing power he's been using. He works only on Windows machine with his main workstation loaded with Dual Xeon 2.2 Ghz chips, 2 Gigs of Ram and a Quadro 900 XL Video Card. The other machines in his office are other name brand work stations, all running 2 or 3 ghz chips. Software tools used in the production that haven't already been mentioned include Photoshop and 3D Studio Max.

An early sketch of Paddington by Sava completed long before he wrote "The Dreamland Chronicles."
With such a huge team working on the book and the number of man hours necessary to complete just a single page, $3.50 for a 48 page comic seems like a bargain considering most monthly comics cost $2.95 with 22 pages of story and art. Sava recently merged his own Blue Dream Studios with Mike Kunkel's Astonish Comics (Kunkel's the two time Eisner award winning creator of 'Herobear and the Kid'), creating the Astonish Factory, with Astonish Comics, Astonish Books, Astonish Toys and Astonish Studios being sub-companies. When the two got together they discussed keeping the prices down on their comics, deciding 32 page books would be $2.99 and 48 page books getting the $3.50 cover price.

"We just want our comics to get into peoples hands," admitted Sava. "We love the reaction we get at conventions, through email, on forums. That in itself is worth it."

That being said, "The Dreamland Chronicles" is a costly labor of love for Sava.

"This project is a small movie. In fact, I've seen movies done cheaper than what it's costing me to do 'The Dreamland Chronicles.' I've got so much invested in it. I made the decision a long time ago that I wasn't doing it for money or fame or awards. I'm doing this to tell a story I want to tell, something that hopefully has meaning. It's that whole artistic thing I guess. (laughs)

"Of course I want it to do well, but I needed to make sure I was doing it for the right reasons. My wife and I have 8 month old twin boys (Logan and Brendan) and I'd like to spark their imagination one day with 'The Dreamland Chronicles' the same way C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Edgar Rice Burroughs sparked mine when I was young. T hat would be totally worth it!"

Artist Mike Wieringo provides an alternate cover for issue number one. Here's a look at his rough sketch, his full pencils and finally the finished piece inked by Karl Kesel with colors by Sava.

 
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