A 3D Man In A 2D World: Sava On "The Dreamland Chronicles," "PSI-KIX," & "Ed's Terrestrials"

Tue, June 28th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

As all comic readers know, every artist has their own style and method. Most prefer using pencils, some like paint brushes, and a few utilize pens. However, when it comes to artist Scott Christian Sava, we have to ask the following: while the pen is mightier than the sword, where does the computer stand?

As the artist of "Spider-Man: Quality of Life" and the writer-artist of "The Lab," the computer has been Sava's tool of choice for his artwork. In the next few months, we will get to see new stories and art from Sava thanks to a deal with Alias Publishing. CBR News contacted the writer-artist to find out more about this new partnership and what fans can look forward to in the near future.

Fans of Sava may know that he was partners with Mike Kunkel ("Herobear and the Kid") in a venture called the Astonish Factory. Consequently, the news of a deal with Alias might seem a bit perplexing. When asked where things stood business-wise for him, Sava explained, "Well, we never announced it 'officially,' but Mike Kunkel and I split up as of the beginning of this year. Well, maybe 'split up' is the wrong term. We are great friends and both had big hopes for Astonish, but with us both so entrenched in Hollywood with our television and film projects, we just weren't giving it the attention it needed.

"I sold my shares to Mike and he's running The Astonish Factory now, and he's going to continue with what he started-- producing incredible all-ages books.

"I've brought all of my titles over to Alias, and Mike Miller and Brett Burner have been wonderful. While I miss Astonish dearly, they have made producing comics with Alias as great of an experience as I could have hoped for."

At the moment, the projects on the front burner of this deal include "The Dreamland Chronicles," "PSI-KIX," and "Ed's Terrestrials." These are three very different books, with Sava wearing many different hats in the work he does on each one. To begin with, we discussed the project which currently takes the majority of his time-- "The Dreamland Chronicles."

THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES

"'The Dreamland Chronicles' is quite simply epic. With over 200 characters and over 100 environments, it's too great a task for one person. I have to treat it as a feature film. With that in mind, I've written a script, done the layouts, designed some characters-- but after that, I need help.

"Since I have an animation studio with incredible artists from all over the world, I've been able to draw upon that resource. Designers, modelers, riggers, and even software engineers are at my disposal. Otherwise, I could never do something like this."

Listening to him explain the amount of work that goes into one issue alone is simply staggering. The series is planned for twenty-four issues though, so this is a process he and his team will be repeating for awhile. Sava shared with CBR News his process for creating an issue.

"Well, I have the whole twenty-four issues plotted out, so that's the start of it. Then I thumbnail out the issue on paper, scan in the sketches, then color them in Photoshop. Then I make a couple of Excel spreadsheets to determine how many characters, environments, and props we'll need.

"The Dreamland
Chronicles" #2, Page 1
"The Dreamland
Chronicles" #2, Page 2
"These then get turned over to Karen Krajenbrink, who works her design magic and gives me turnarounds of the characters in that issue. We spend quite a bit of time together getting each bit of costumes, hair designs, body proportions, and just plain attitude down right. These then get handed over to the character modeler, Ivan Perez, in Spain. While Ivan's modeling the characters, Karen also works with me on the environments. Once they've been approved, we send them to Taiwan so Stefano Tsai can create the incredible scenery for our characters.

"We also have a great band of modelers, riggers, morph targeters and such who help out as well: Frank Lenhard from Germany, Peter Starostin from Russia, Jenn Downs from here in the U.S., Kobi Alony from Israel, Joel Carlson from Vancouver, Antero Pedras from Portugal, and Marcello Bortolino from London. It's a huge job, and everyone has done great work!

"Once I'm given all of the parts I need, I load up the environment-- say, the dorm room where (the characters) live. Then I set up the lights to give it the proper mood. After that I bring in the actors: Alexander and Daniel. They have multiple layers of clothing so that they're not in the same clothes throughout the series. So I hide the clothing they aren't wearing and pose them for the first frame. Once they're posed correctly, I then position their eyes to look where I want them. Then I select one of the pre-made facial expressions that we designed and call up that on the head. Then once everything is just right, I render the scene.

"Because the computers are way too slow for calculating lighting, shadows, and all sorts of other intricate things in real-time, a render has to be set up so the computer can calculate everything needed to make it look great. If I didn't do this, it would look like video game art.

"And since I'm trying for a more Pixar-type look, I want to let the computer do its business. Within an hour, a frame is usually rendered (though some frames can take as long as 24 hours to render), and I then bring the frames into Photoshop to combine them for my page.

"Just 48 times and I have a book."

"The Dreamland
Chronicles" #2, Page 3
"The Dreamland
Chronicles" #2, Page 4
Not wanting to exclude anyone, Sava also mentioned someone else who recently joined his team, animator Heather Shipman. Beginning issue #3, he said Shipman has been a big help in setting up the scenes for him. "She's taken my layouts (pencil sketches of each page detailing how the story will be told) and set the characters in the proper environment, put all the props in the right place, posed the characters in the general position, and even added proper facial expressions."

While you and I may not know a lot about comic industry finances, it doesn't take a genius to see that this is an expensive comic to produce. This begs the question: is profit on a book like this even possible? Sava's response to this query confirmed our suspicions: "No, no profit. Nothing but a big heaping of debt."

If this is the case, then it would be only logical for him to switch back to pencil and paper, wouldn't it? So why hasn't he? Sava explained, "Well, there's a few reasons: when I first got into comics, I was an illustrator. A painter. I would do some covers for Star Trek, maybe Mortal Kombat, and also some fill-in work for various Marvel graphic novels. But nothing really stood out.

"A few years ago, Marv Wolfman suggested I take what I was doing in my successful CGI Animation career and apply it to comics. I was hesitant, but-- come on-- he's Marv Wolfman. He may know a thing or two about comics…

"I mocked up some pages of Spider-Man, and he showed it to Axel Alonso. Next thing I know, I'm doing Spider-Man!

"So, basically, I found my 'look.' It's something that I know, since I deal with it every day in animation. I like it as a medium, and I know how to manipulate it. Another reason could be that no one else is really doing it. I know that sounds strange, but even just a small part of me I know feels that I'm doing something unique. It's not a driving force, but hey, I know it's in there somewhere as a small reason.

"And lastly, I just like the look."

"The Dreamland
Chronicles" #2, Page 5
"The Dreamland
Chronicles" #2, Page 6
After going through all this work and expense, one would hope that Sava has a story that warrants all this trouble. From the description he gave us, it sounds as though he does. "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," said Sava.

Due to some extenuating circumstances that occur on his twelfth birthday, Alex is denied access to Dreamland until fate intervenes and grants him access again in college. "The series basically tells of his adventures in Dreamland as a young adult, how his friends have grown up and the adventures they have together. But at first, he's just trying to figure out what the heck is going on…

"Then he finds out (in issue #4) that Nastajia's parents-- the king and queen of elves-- have disappeared, and he's asked to help her find them. This, of course, turns into something bigger, which of course turns into something even bigger. Next thing you know, there's all out war between the inhabitants of Dreamland and the denizens of the Nightmare Realm.

"It's a really fun story that develops as it goes. I'm really happy with the script and I honestly can't wait to see it all come together visually."

As Sava is an experienced animator and runs his own animation studio, it seems natural that this comic would be the first step towards making a "Dreamland Chronicles" film. Therefore, CBR News asked him if the computer files he creates for the comic could be used as a "first step" in making a movie. He responded, "Everything is designed and set up for feature film. It's all done the same way we do it for film work, but since it's at such a low budget, when we move to feature film on this, I'm going to start from scratch.

"You can't compare a comic book done out of my pocket to a $60 million budget feature film. 'The Dreamland Chronicles' is chock full of flaws, and I see every darned one of them. Those will all be gone come feature film time."

Feature film time? When asked to elaborate on this comment, Sava said, "The film version is currently being developed, but honestly I can't say with whom yet. We're working out all of the details out, but it's still early yet. I'm not funding this-- this is a big studio thing. As for when it's due out? Again, I wish I knew. Once all of the parts are in place, I will have a better idea.

PSI-KIX

The next series Sava has up his sleeve is also computer-drawn, but this one will be considerably less taxing on his time and pocketbook. "Psi-Kix" is a computer-generated animated show from Korea that will be turned into a comic series with Sava's help. According to him, the story is "about a group of kids who have psi-powers (they can control stuff with their minds). They form an elite team to protect earth using giant robots, of course."

Sava said, "We've been given the whole animated series in digital format so we can get the best quality screen grabs. We're producing a whole episode into a 120 page manga book. Each manga issue is an episode of the show. I'm heading the adaptation process, but I had nothing to do with the production of the television series. I'm just making them into books.

"I was working on a television show for PBS with a company called Krislin, and they had this cool-looking show. I explained to them my idea, and we negotiated the rights. And here I am. I'm very proud of the look of these books. They're going to be very fun reads. And I think once the show hits America it will be that much more popular.

For those fans interested in watching the actual show, Sava said the series will be coming to America "very soon" and hopes to make an announcement about this in the near future.

"Psi-Kix" #1,
Page 1
"Psi-Kix" #1,
Page 2
"Psi-Kix" #1,
Page 3
"Psi-Kix" #1,
Page 4
"Psi-Kix" #1,
Page 5
"Psi-Kix" #1,
Page 6

ED'S TERRESTRIALS

The final book coming out of this announcement is "Ed's Terrestrials," which stands apart in this group because the art consists of…pencil and paper. Sava explained, "I had met this great artist - Diego Jourdan - who I'd been wanting to work with. 'Ed's Terrestrials' was our chance to finally collaborate on a project.

"I created the story about a year ago when Mike Kunkel and I were working with Disney on a possible 'Lab' television show. I wanted to see if it could be a children's book, and so I wrote an eighty-page script. Diego Jourdan was available, and we got working on it. I'm very pleased with the look.

As for the story, Sava gave us the lowdown: "Three aliens escape from the Intergalactic Food Court where they and the rest of their people are slaves, serving the masses of space travelers. They are pursued to Earth by Mall Security and crash land into young Ed's treehouse.

"Ed hides them and helps them bring more of their people here to Earth. In doing so, they have to help them adjust to Earth culture and 'blend in.'"

According to Sava, this is the first project he has done where he wasn't the artist on it. Of this experience, he said, "It was kinda weird, but a lot of fun."

"Ed's Terrestrials" #1,
Page 1
"Ed's Terrestrials" #1,
Page 2
"Ed's Terrestrials" #1,
Page 3
"Ed's Terrestrials" #1,
Page 4
"Ed's Terrestrials" #1,
Page 5
"Ed's Terrestrials" #1,
Page 6

OTHER PROJECTS

As if he weren't busy enough, Sava and his studio are also working on a show for Nickelodeon, doing videogame cinematics, and animating commercials for several companies. He responded to all this work by saying, "Life's very busy, and that's a good thing. I wish I could do comics full time. I just love them. Maybe one day, if I'm independently wealthy-- but in the meantime, they're my passion, and that's cool.

Issue #2 of "The Dreamland Chronicles" and the first issue of "Psi-Kix" will hit stands in mid-July, and "Ed's Terrestrials" will be out in November with copies available at Comic-Con International in San Diego.

 
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