May 192013
 

Details is an image-heavy feature in which I discuss accessories I’ve created or purchased and how they fit the overall vision of a character. 

One of the things that stood out to me last year was when we met a guy with an awesome costume and he handed us a calling card so we could find him again. Calling cards are the predecessors to modern business cards; while they are not meant to contain information about your business, I figure tucking the blog’s address on the back would be a great way to ensure any new friends we make can find us again. To that end, I designed a calling card for each character that will be portrayed at the Empire Symposium and had them printed on cardstock.

Business Cards

Four business cards, front

While it’s not really good manners to put your employment on a callling card, Lucas can’t resist; so much of his identity is tied up in the running of Warren Industries that it’s become almost like a title. Still, in a nod to convention, he’s put the company name in much smaller font so it doesn’t take too much emphasis away from his name.

Ricky, by contrast, is very no-nonsense. He put a small, subdued flair above his name, but he elected for block-printed cards off a newfangled printing press rather than the more classic hand-engraved cards, and his military rank is displayed prominently  as that was perfectly acceptable to put on a card.

Erika’s card is the most elaborate; as an unmarried woman, her card size is smaller, which makes it seem a bit crowded in comparison. She spared no expense promoting herself as both elegant and ladylike as well as mechanically-inclined, as though there were no contradiction inherent in her dual identity, and she managed to pull it off well, I think.

Bob doesn’t do frills. Or frippery. Or borders. He has his name, his profession, and a hat. So what if it’s not done to advertise yourself so blatantly? He doesn’t care.

Cards with Holder

The reverse side of Kendandra’s card, propped in front of a holder

The reverse of each card is the meta-side; it contains out-of-character contact information, including a link to this very blog. This is the practical side; we hand these out anywhere we go in costume, so it needed to have actual contact information in case people want to find us again. Or I suppose you could collect them like baseball cards?

The cardholders were a lucky dollar-store find Chaos made a few days before the Empire Symposium.

Bob Card

Bob’s card again, with the envelope he uses to carry them

Originally I planned to make a custom holder for each character; however, as time grew short, this was the only holder that got made. Bob wouldn’t bother with a leather card holder, instead going for an old envelope he had lying around. The envelope was fairly fun to age; we used some underflavored teabags we bought a while back and weren’t fond of, brewing 2 of them in minimal water then saturating an envelope with the tea. We let it soak for a while, then poured off the excess tea and baked until dry. Voila, aged envelope, just add crinkles.

May 182013
 

Kendandra here!

So I’ve not made it a secret that Ricky’s theme is going to have a military march vibe to it.  I’ve kept everything else about it a secret, even to myself.  It’s a secret to everybody.  But the drum beat is public knowledge.  Now I’ve mentioned many times before I’m really new at this whole music composing gig.  And by new I mean I have no idea what I’m doing.  That’s alright though, everyone’s got to start somewhere.  I mean, where would Dorothy be without her Kansas?  Actually that’s a dumb analogy, she’s be in Oz.  Duh.

But the bottom line?  Basically drums are hard.

Well, not really.  FL Studio has a nifty little beat sequencer and several great samples to choose from.  It really should be a piece of… some sort of baked confection.  However, what I ultimately want to do, a military snare march, is not something the beat sequencer is particularly good at.

That said, I don’t play the drums.  I’ve always thought that would be an instrument I’d have a lot of fun with, but drums are expensive!  Now normally, not playing the instrument wouldn’t be a big issue, but the strictly percussion instruments are pretty different from most other instrument families.  So I decided to do the sensible thing and practice with drum synths in FL Studio.

First I laid down a jazzy piano track, something I improvised in one take at three in the morning from a song I’m in the process of learning.  Then I attempted to add a simple high hat rhythm.  Nothing too fancy:  A standard kick drum on the down beat, a light crash on the first and third beats, and a couple closed hat hits to fill in the gaps.  This is when I realized something.  I’ve been away from formalized music far too long.  I can’t keep time anymore, apparently.  I had a hard time trying to sync up the high hat track with the piano track because I didn’t keep my measures in time.

I futzed around with it for a while; altering the time-span of the drum track and lining up the kick drum with the supposed down beat on the piano track.  But it was tedious and when I listened to the whole thing it sounded like the drummer was constantly missing his mark.  You can even hear that at around the 53rd measure, I just gave up.  Oh well, I’m at least fairly happy with the piano track.  It’s not useful for any of the character themes though.

This entire issue could be resolved by coming up with a basic drum track first and then playing the rest of the song.  Or perhaps there’s some mystical device that is able to keep time via some form of sound wave.  Like a metronome!  (Though I’m not sure I trust them.  I mean you start the thing and sometimes you get Hyperbeam other times… splash).

So I basically fail at getting FL Studio to make percussion tracks.  But you know what they say: if at first you don’t succeed….

That’s all for now, people capable of reading.  Next time I might have something more concrete for drum practice.  Though probably not.

–Kendandra, we’re done here.

Mar 312013
 

Transcript:

Yami: Hey everybody. We’re talking to Kendandra today. Why don’t you tell me what your biggest steampunk influence was?

Kendandra: Well, I’m a huge Whovian, so, anyone who’s ever watched Dr Who for more than a few episodes knows that every now and then it gets a little steampunky. Or a lot steampunky, depending on which episode you watch. And, um, I guess I’m more into the clockwork side of steampunk, not so much the hissing and the stuff like that, but uh, more massive amounts of gears.

Yami: What would you say is the most steampunky episode of Dr Who?

Kendandra: Um, I’d have to say the, uh, the Next Doctor special. Though “Girl In The Fireplace” was pretty close.

Yami: I did enjoy “Girl in the Fireplace”.  Now why don’t you tell us how you came up with your character, Ricky Glaive?

Kendandra: Um, mostly I looked at what personas were actually in our little group, Radiant Vanguard, and um, we had a, uh, Airship Owner, an Airship Engineer, and a hired gun, um, but what we didn’t have was a pilot, which I thought was a little, um, important to running an airship.

Yami: Just a little bit.

Kendandra: The personality that I came up with was, uh, it’s an ex-military, ex-military because it’s easy to play if we ever do a uh, a, sk, uh,

Yami: A skit?

Kendandra: Yeah, that’s the word I was looking for. I wanted to say script but that’s not it

Yami: Well, there may be scripts later on.

Kendandra: Yes. So. It would be very easy to, uh, write such a character and play such a character, ex-military, you know, very hierarchical military jargon, ah, be sort of the “Straight Man”, basically.

Yami: What other character archetypes have you played in the past?

Kendandra: Um, I’ve played…. not just limiting it to Streampunk, I’ve played the wise old wizard character, um, I’ve also played uh, the cop with serious anger issues–

Yami: I remember that one, that one’s fun.

Kendandra: Yeah, um, and then, cop who is sort of checked out. Then I’ve also done boisterous fighter.

Yami: Interesting!

Kendandra: Like total hammy as hell, you know.

Yami: What would you say your biggest influence is for the character of Ricky?

Kendandra: When we were talking about a steampunk character, and I thought military guy, whenever I think uber-military guy I always think of… there’s a little artwork drawing in Sins of the Solar Empire of the, um, the human race and he’s standing there proud with five gazillion medals and a grizzled beard and sort of a gruff voice, “Ready to go. Everyone, is everyone secure?”  I sort of think maybe that’s kind of the influence for Ricky. He sort of carries himself in a regal way, but also has a sort of a dapper grittiness.

Yami: Interesting! Now let’s talk a little about your music. I understand you’re doing a musical feature for the Radiant Vanguard blog?

Kendandra: Yes, I’m doing a “musical feature”, for varying definitions of the word “music”.

Yami: Indeed. Why don’t you tell me a little about your musical background?

Kendandra: Um, well, I covered it in the blog, uh, I’ve played, uh, viola. I’m terrible at it. I quit because I was terrible at it. I don’t even know if I can make it make any sounds at all, it’s been so long. Um. I pretend to play harmonica, and by that I mean I can only play one song. But I can play it without hands, so that’s something. Um, and um, I’ve played piano practically my whole life, which sounds really awesome until you realize my skill level is so low that its actually a bit depressing, I’d feel better admitting that I played piano for about two years or so, but no, I’ve played piano my whole life. And, uh, so, most of my music is there, and just like in the blog I’ll say I’ve had a little bit of music theory in uh, some courses and some private lessons, just enough to be dangerous.

Yami: I like a little dangerous. Now, I won’t ask for too much spoilers, but what sort of musical influences do you see coming in for Ricky’s theme?

Kendandra: Ricky’s theme, again, straight from Sins of the Solar Empire, I’e taken the main human theme which is a very military snare drum and coupled that with a very strong brass section and some uh, well-played string sections to sort of carry the beat when the drums are not playing. And um, basically it’s got sort of a very military march to it, uh, with just a little hint of mystery with the strings in it.

Yami: Interesting. Now before we wrap up, is there anything else you think our viewers would like to know?

Kendandra: No. We’re done here.

Mar 242013
 

As I write this, the coat for Ricky’s first costume is structurally complete, though missing buttons, trim, et cetera. I’ve taken these photos from the final fitting. First the coat by itself:

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Kendandra tries on the coat bodice alone:

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Then we pinned the skirt-portion on:

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Finally, liking how it sat, I stitched the two pieces together and he modelled for the rest of the group:

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I was worried about the wrinkles in the back, but a little tugging shows that it’ll look just fine after I iron it. Which I haven’t done because I want to wash the lingering chalk marks off first.

Mar 172013
 

Let’s talk about the process of character design, shall we?

When Kendandra and I first started talking design for his steampunk persona, I mentioned that we don’t have a pilot for our airship and that might be a good role for him. I’ll admit, I was picturing a freelance pilot-for-hire, something inspired by pirate designs because pirates are sexy-awesome. But he was thinking something more in the vein of a military badass in a greatcoat. At least we agreed on the greatcoat idea!

The Royal Air Force (RAF) was created as a separate military branch in 1918. The general fashion inspiration for my costumes, however, has been the 1840’s or so. I considered not bothering to reconcile that and just having him be RAF, but first I dug a little deeper. Before the RAF, there were two separate air-force initiatives. The first was the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), which was an arm of the British Army (the only branch of the armed forces not to have ‘Royal’ in the name). The second was the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).

The idea of an airship pilot being a navy man sat well with me, so I began researching the RNAS. It turns out the RFC is a lot more popular; I could find out a ton of information about the RFC without hardly even trying, but the RNAS required more digging. Wikipedia, at least, has a good deal of information, but where Wikipedia leaves off it takes a lot of digging to find more.

However, the RNAS actually had airships. 😀

HMA R23, courtesy of Wikipedia

(Okay, so did the RFC and the RAF, but still.)

The thing I wanted to know most is what the uniform looked like. Obviously, as the RNAS was a branch of the navy, it was navy blue, though later I learned they had alternate uniforms created in khaki for when they’re stationed overseas. You basically have two types of people: pilots and observers. Obviously, this new character would be a pilot. Both types held a rank in the Royal Navy as well as an appointment on a given ship, and the insignia they wore reflected the appointment rather than the rank. Skimming over the appointments, we decided that “Flight Lieutenant” had a nice ring to it, and Kendandra decided on the name “Ricky Glaive” to go with it.

Of course, then we had to figure out why he’s on Sir Lucas Warren’s ship instead of in a military vessel. After serving a term in the armed forces, it was fairly common during peacetime for naval officers to step down into the Navy Reserves, also known as the Wavy Navy thanks to their using wavy trim to show rank instead of straight trim like normal officers. “Wavy Navy” being ridiculously fun to say, we decided that was a reasonable backstory for him that freed him up to have adventures while still being a military man at heart.

Fun fact: The British Army would issue you a uniform that remained property of the Army and which would be replaced every so often as it began to show wear. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, would issue you a uniform that became your personal property and gave you money to make the necessary repairs yourself. This is my excuse for making alterations to the historical design: Ricky has altered his greatcoat somewhat since he joined the Reserves.

Flight Lieutenant arm insignia, courtesy of Wikipedia

 

So, the uniform. Wikipedia has very little to say about the uniform design, which is a damn shame since the information they do have about the RNAS is fascinating. Searching google for “RNAS uniform” eventually brought me to a site called The Vintage Aviator, whose layout is terrible for finding things but who contains the single most useful page I found on the interwebs during this costume design. They’ve gone to great length to prevent saving or embedding their images, even watermarked, so out of respect for their apparent wishes I’ll let you open the site in a new tab/window to follow along instead of embedding.

The image called “RNAS tunic” has become the main focal image of the design; most of the coat design was based off this photo, as it’s in color and shows a significant amount of detail. The arm insignia shown isn’t the right rank, but wikipedia was able to provide me the correct one. The fabric color, buttons, sleeves, and neck style were chosen based on this image, though we did modify the neck based off the patterns we had available (For some reason, a basic suitcoat pattern was not to be found at my local fabric shop, and I wanted to get started ASAP. When I do a short coat, I’ll probably buy a new pattern online.)

The German uniform, ironically, was also a big influence, primarily because it was a longer coat design. We decided we liked the longer rather than the shorter, but never fear, RNAS officers were also provided with a greatcoat for winter use.

The French outfit also looked promising, but get a load of those cardinal-red pants! Lol.

The RFC helmet and goggles looked like a promising start to some accessories, and of course, the RAF cap, modified to be in a more naval pattern, would look dashing atop Kendandra’s bright red hair. The RFC flying coat might make a good alternate costume for later.

 

 

If you’re going to design a military character, I highly recommend Osprey Publishing. They have books on EVERYTHING. The particular book I purchased was from their Men-at-Arms series: British Air Forces 1914-18. It was hard to find, and I ended up buying from a site that was badly laid out and frustrating to use, but the book has been immensely valuable. It contains both text descriptions of uniform pieces as well as color illustrations and black-and-white photographs to give you a good idea what you’re looking at. It had the following to say about the RNAS Officer’s Greatcoat, for example:

RNAS officers wore the long RN double-breasted greatcoat which fell to 14 inches from the ground. It had six pairs of buttons set 4ins apart at the waist and gradually widening to 5 1/4ins apart at the shoulder. Shoulder boards showed rank lace with curl exactly as on the jacket cuffs, plus, in due course, eagle and star badges as described above. The coat had a half-belt at the rear with gilt buttons on either end, a full-length back pleat and a vent which fastened with four small plain buttons. There were no pockets or cuffs, but a horizontal slit for the sword to emerge when worn with Full Dress appeared at the waist.

(Incidentally, while looking for the book I bought, I found another book I want: Royal Naval Air Service Pilot 1914-18. I’ll probably buy that in a week or two, I’ve got costume materials to buy this week.)

So there you have it: Ricky’s Greatcoat influences, from start to building.