This is the old Tutorial for Chaos Theory style comics.
By now I’m still no great expert in the world of comic making. In fact, the truth is that Halo Webcomics are really a first step into real comic-making. The only problem is finding a dedicated artist for free. So I turned to one of my favorite games—and I don’t think anyone is going to be able to guess what it is. I’ll just leave you with the suspense and mystery of trying to figure that out.
I’m going to take this tutorial in steps. I want to break down everything I do from start to finish, and with each step I will provide some analysis as to why it works for me, or what could be improved.
This is a Guide for Extended Length comics that are released in PDF format.
So here is a guide to each step I will cover:
Acting/ Lining Up Shots for Theater Mode
Taking the Pictures
Photoshop/ Color As A Unique Medium
Merging Images with Dialogue/ Issues Therein
Working With a Fan Base
So here we go:
Part One: Brainstorming
Being an intense writer means you are always daydreaming when you are supposed to be doing something else. Luckily though, you don’t need to be an intense writer. I write short fiction on top of the comic here, but none of that is necessary. What do you really need? Dedication.
You also have to enjoy the process. It simply isn’t going to work if you don’t. I had made Episode Two before I even thought about releasing it to the public. I just enjoyed producing them.
Part of brainstorming is just sitting back and fantasizing about what would make the perfect story. Most people have done it in some form or another. When you picture yourself as a hero or villain, who are you? Think about it and form stories around yourself in this alternate form. Don’t be afraid to take notes. Jot things down. If you have more than three ideas at once, you are going to forget one of them.
Sit, relax, play a good RPG, read a book, watch a movie. Just don’t start plagiarizing lines directly off the movies because they sound cool. People have seen the movie. They are going to know.
Part Two: Scripting
There are classes for this kind of thing, so what I’m going to tell you are just some of my favorite tips.
1.) Don’t Steal Lines:
I said it before, I’ll say it again.
2.) Develop Style:
Make sure that your characters are unique. Don’t follow stereotypes! Why? Because they have already been used; that’s why they’re stereotypes. Even if you think James Bond is cool (he is, I know, I love the movies), don’t write a James Bond fan fiction. It is still James Bond even if he’s called Jeff: your character needs to have discerning traits.
One of my favorite things to do is to write morally ambiguous characters. He killed his mother? Great. Why? It’s ultra violent, but it proves that he isn’t the regular hero. Even better is producing characters that are the protagonists of the stories simply by virtue of them being “less bad” than their evil counterparts.
3.) Don’t Over Do It:
I used to be pretty guilty of this. Characters need to have two sides. Nothing is all bad or all good. Don’t be afraid to make your character more human. If he loses a fight, it’s okay: he isn’t God; that makes readers empathize with him or her.
Make sure that your dialogue doesn’t involve “bad-assness” all the time. It is important to even out the good moments by providing conversations that don’t sound like an escalating series of clichés. They should talk like real people. Here is the trick though: these are people, BUT they are your characters. If he’s an ex-marine or she’s a scientist, let them talk as people of that sort would. The marine can yell, and the scientist can have a huge vocabulary. It is important to make sure that the realism in the characters doesn’t offend or bore your readers.
What’s the most important thing? I’ll say it again and again. Give them what they want. If the Marine basically speaks in an elaborate string of curses, don’t let him talk at all. No one is there to read the tale of an undefeatable bad-ass with an ego the size of Montana. No one will grow attached to him, no one will care.
Another important part to this: You can only have such moments work in two places.
1.) The introduction of a character. E.g. Horizon enters and swings the back end of the car around to meet the Merc’s face, knocking him backwards. He stands.
Merc: Who are you?!?
Horizon: Me? I’m your worst nightmare.
End Chapter One.
2.) After the character has been developed through out the story. E.g. Gunner looks down at Rev’s corpse. Blackness. Sound: CH-CHK
Gunner: Jesus, man! What happened to your face Horiz-?
Sound: BLAM. Gunner falls down.
Axel: Please. Call me Axel.
End Chapter Five.
The point is, whether you enjoyed those particular moments in the series or not, they represent appropriate times to include intense moments. However, make sure not to have too many of those.
4.) Grammar: How much is too much?
Quick note here: Using standard grammar is really important. Your punctuation and capitalization must be correct, but writing with style means breaking some of the rules. Don’t conform to the conventions of standard written English. Use fragment sentences. End with a preposition. Do it. Who’s going to question you? An English teacher? Your fans will enjoy it.
5.) Write for the audience:
They want to read something fun, something suspenseful. If you don’t like what you wrote, get rid of it. You’ll be happier in the long run if you do. Make sure to read the script immediately before filming.
Part Three: Forging
This can make or break a comic. If it looks like you’re playing Team Slayer on Guardian, it’s probably because you were. Delete everything, then go back and place all the weapons or objects each character will need in one place on the map that will never be seen during filming.
You will notice that very little forging is necessary. The maps on Foundry that I have used were not made by me, but because they have been changed and re-saved by various people, I can never be sure who to credit. So I credit the public and Bungie—see Chapter 11 for copyright info.
Part Four: Grouping
When you’ve got your map and script ready, it’s time to start acting, or Puppeteering as it’s called. It means that you need to find people who can help you maneuver the characters in scenes requiring action, or more than four characters. (1 Xbox360 = 4 characters). It’s best to find friends or other comic makers who will sympathize with you and work hard to get it done. This isn’t to say you can’t fool around a bit, but you are here to make a comic—so, don’t forget to have some responsible people join you.
Next, set the characters to the right colors and armor combinations. Don’t forget the armor detail. In close-up shots, it can really stand out. People are going to wonder why your character has a blue ring around his arm and leg when he really should be all red. Check before you start. Make sure it is right: sometimes Halo3 will revert the player’s armor back to Mark VI before the game starts. Watch out for that.
Part Five: Acting/ Lining Up Shots for Theater Mode
This is what leads to all your visuals. Set yourself up for dramatic moments and great shots. A lone character in front of a wall of light is cool, but it can’t be every shot. Comic making is all about the balance of amazing and just merely good. You make the great shots stand out by having them alongside standard shots.
Make sure each character is doing what they should be doing. It’s really frustrating to go into theater mode and find out that someone was over by the cliff for no reason. Additionally, if you make a mistake and you find yourself re-organizing or shuffling your characters because something wasn’t to your liking, just restart the game. You’ll save time not having to fast-forward through 10 minutes of unusable film.
Part of working by yourself means controlling all the characters alone. It can be advantageous. People are eager to help, but if you are going on 4 hours, someone is going to have to leave. If you work alone, you can stop and restart however many times you like.
If you are alone, make sure to use the “Local Play Weapons Down Glitch.” By holding a series of buttons when you are in a local game, you can lower several of the weapons in the game to produce a less offensive stance on the part of your characters.
One problem is that, unless you have two decked out accounts with which to work, multiples of the unlockable armor types will not be available to one of the characters. In a scene with Gunner and Rev, I set one character to look like Rev and then one character (Gunner) to be just purely green. Then I only included Gunner’s feet. Then I restarted and set Gunner up on my main account to include a few shots of him moving without Rev in the picture. It usually goes unnoticed if you fill the page with dialogue and text. People aren’t looking for ways to question your every move. Make it believable.
Part Six: Taking the Pictures
Read a few comics right before you do this. Notice the shots they take, or take a course in film production as I did. It will cue you in to what works and what doesn’t as far as angles go. But you are the artist; don’t let anything hinder your creativity. Go for what you like because chances are you won’t be the only one.
Save each picture as a letter (I do it this way) or as a number to the tenths place: (123.5) (Jim Stitzel does it that way.) It won’t matter what you call them: on your Bungie page they will appear in the order you took them. Up to 30 of the pictures will be saved at a time, so be sure to download them if you are going to be taking more than that.
Make sure you have enough space on Halo3 to take as many shots as you want. If you like collecting your favorite screens, you may have a problem. Halo3 can only save 50 shots to you hard drive at once. Either delete some entirely, or put them on your computer to save before trashing them.
Make sure you are connected to Xbox Live when snapping your pictures. Halo 3 will automatically upload them to your Bungie.net profile. You won’t need to sign in.
To do this, follow these steps:
1.) Go to Bungie.net
2.) Enter a random search term. Wait for the page to load.
3.) Scroll down. You are going to see a box that says “people finder” on the right side of the page.
4.) Enter your gamertag.
5.) Go to your screenshots.
6.) Then find recent screen shots.
7.) To download the shots. Click View Hi-Res.
8.) Save them.
Part Seven: Photoshop; Color as a Unique Medium
A lot of people already know how to use some image editing software and have chosen their favorite program with which to create their comic. I’m not going to use program-specific jargon to describe what to do here.
One of the most important things in generating a unique and fresh comic is to have unique images. Work with filters. In Reclaimer, the filter used is similar to ink-sketching. It is a popular one that arrived on the Webcomic scene when Jim Stitzel decided to use it to make his comic appear hand-drawn.
In Chaos Theory, I use a different filter to soften each image. It reduces the graphic glitches such as clipping that are apparent in unfiltered shots.
Color is important. It sets the mood of the story. HolyJunkie (Dead.halo3webcomics.com) introduced a character that sucks the color out of his surroundings. Ominous, no? I use muted colors on all my shots to convey a very desperate atmosphere. I also use several photoshoped elements on my characters to display their personalities.
Part Eight: Merging Images with Dialogue—Issues Therein
Putting the script dialogue to the images can be tricky. This is where you are going to want to spend a bit of money.
Virgin Comics has a program called “Comic Book Creator” which basically allows you to very easily move, format, and space out your images in a variety of styles. The various dialogue bubbles are easy to use as well.
Sometimes though, certain sequences can be unclear. First a character is jumping, and then he is in a car. If you didn’t take one particular image or forgot to take an image that should have been placed in between to indicate motion of a character, what has just happened can be unclear. One solution is to have the character explain it casually. (E.g. “I was scared. I didn’t know what to do so I ran—ran hard, and jumped into the car before speeding off.)
I use narrators in my comic. Each character has a different “level of narration,” something you might not pick up on right away. It works like this:
Some characters only narrate in the present tense/ recent past tense. Characters such as Axel will only speak in the moment of the action, unlike characters such as Gunner or Horizon who are narrating in the present. They occasionally address the reader directly.
The levels of narration go as such:
If two or more are present, the character with the highest score will narrate the encounter with the other. If Horizon is present with Disk, Horizon will narrate. If it is Gunner with Catcher, Gunner will narrate.
Part Nine: Revision
Plan on reading and re-reading your final comic for errors. The problem that we Extended Length comic makers have that others do not is that we face tons and tons of dialogue when it comes time to edit. When I get to that stage, I have seen it all a hundred times, and I tend to miss things. It is a fault I still suffer from, but someone has offered to spell check for me recently, and I took him up on the offer. It certainly helps. Don’t think spelling doesn’t matter. It does, and a large vocabulary helps. It lets people know that yes I am intelligent, and yes, I take pride in my work. It is not appealing to see typos or grammatical errors when reading something. You begin to question the author’s maturity, something no writer can afford. Read out-loud. And do it slowly. You won’t miss anything that way. Keep Google open. If you think you spelled it wrong, you probably did. If you think you probably spelt it right, chances are there’s an “sc” or “ei” reversed.
Part Ten: Publishing
This is the best part. Once you have exported to PDF from your program of choice (again, I use Comic Book Creator) you need to find a place to host your material. Jim Stitzel recently released halo3webcomics.com (the site you are probably reading this on), a site that allows you to have a spot on Jim’s personal server. He has a great set up, and is more knowledgeable in the ways of fixing bugs and errors than anyone I know. I recommend him to Extended Length and Daily comic producers alike. Having the right kind of site is important. Make sure the site’s theme reflects your comic’s theme, and take yourself seriously. Make sure everyone knows you for who you are in real life. People with aliases are fine, but when being called DarkLord7 becomes your online personality, it gets weird.
My comic is dark, yes, but I post with a happy outward attitude that reflects me in real life. I’m not pretending to be fighting some great spiritual war inside my soul; I make comics, and I’m not Satan. Make sure you are ready to make that distinction.
Make your world the best it can be, and invite people to join you. If they like the atmosphere they feel when reading your stuff, they will come back for more. Give the people what they want.
Part Eleven: Copyrights
Microsoft takes no prisoners. Use the following disclaimer provided by Microsoft for people who use their games to make creative material:
[Title Here] was created under Microsoft’s “Game Content Usage Rules” using assets from HALO 3, © Microsoft Corporation.
The following is what I use, in conjunction with Microsoft’s “Game Content Usage Rules.” My material is in fact legally copyrighted and was renewed this year:
All material is copyrighted unless otherwise indicated. Please refer to the copyright page on each comic for reference. Infringement on this is legally binding and offenders will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
A note on Halo 3 Maps as Sets: in as much as the rights of forged maps in Halo 3 belong to their creators, they receive credit. However, due to the impossible nature of proving who created which map, I can only credit the general public. If you made a map, and have some legitimate form of proving it, I will give you credit. Until such a time, I give credit to Bungie for the Copyrights on Halo 3, and to the anonymous creators of the maps I use as sets in Chaos Theory. You know who you are. Thank You.
Part Twelve: Promotion
If you want to make it, your product has to be good. Promoting your work can bring attention to you. Using community sites such as HBO (Halo.Bungie.Org) and posting in their forums can be a great way of attracting attention. HBO manager Louis Wu often checks these forums and features the good stuff on the front page.
If you feel lucky, you can post on Bungie.net. The only problem with that site is that all the material that is submitted is reviewed before being published on the site. It has to be “worthy,” in the words of the Bungie Webmaster.
Part Thirteen: Working with a Fan Base
This is the last thing. I’m always working on this kind of thing because I’m no Internet star. All I can say is that the art of working with fans is to work with them and never forget them. They are the engine that drives you forward. They keep the fires lit and they promote you. Give them what they ask for. Ask them to be patient, but never tell them “no.” They will always know what they want better than you do. The real question here is: who are you doing this for? The answer should be “for both my audience and myself.”
I hope you found this useful, and I thank you for reading all the way to the end!
Adam Susskind, Writer and Producer, Chaos Theory