"Building an Epic!" Part 1 - Scale!

Ahoy Shipmates, Crew and Visitors!!!

Welcome to the first in a short series of tutorials of an epic proportion!!!

Building an Epic! Part 1:

Intro to this tutorial!:

     Hello All!! Ok, first and foremost, welcome to my short tutorial series on building epic visual content for your art and stories. I am a huge fan of grand tales and I sit in amazement at how some creatives pull them off. For this first lesson I will pass on the knowledge I have gained from studying this type of story style so continue reading for fun tips! 

     I know that most of the artists reading this are capable and creative people. What I realized a long time ago for myself is though I am capable, I wasn't equipped. I know how to draw an make awesome art but I wasn't always aware of what pieces were missing or how to make it better. That is what made me study other successful pieces so often and it helped me to learn about the elements that come together to create real, grand impact. That is what this series is about; increasing your awareness of the pieces of epic art and how you can use them in your tall tales! Many great books, comics and movies have just the right mix of each of the topics of this series so I just want to give you ideas on how each piece can work for you!

    For this first post I will be discussing how the size of the obstacle can raise the stakes and why. Notice how I said obstacle and not just enemy. Yes, many great epic stories have mighty monsters to face ( I have an awesome video example of this further down the post), but I do also refer to the size of the tasks the charters face. By scale in this lesson, I mean the relative size of the conflict in comparison to the hero or heroes. 

    I first wanted to learn this for a comic I was starting for myself call "CloudMakers." In my story humans had built huge, floating city-sized machines to protect the planet and the stories revolved around maintaining and shielding the machines from many enemies. I realized that I created something I had no idea how to draw. Guess you could say that I was a little over zealous. When I then began to design my new character and story, Kodi the Starfish, I put myself in the same situation. As I taught myself how to build these different elements I learned a few lessons on the way. Here they are below but first, a video example of scale in action!!

Video Example: 
Final Fantasy Advent Children - Cloud vs Bahamut

Visual Elements of Scale:

1 - Size:
     Obviously, when discussing things that are epic, size is absolutely one factor. The bigger the task, the greater the threat or potential failure. This is where the intensity of a story can really hit home. If you create an opportunity for the character's failures to effect more than just themselves, you have created an opportunity for a hero's drive and a chance for a great character to show it. That vacuum of risk and drive is one of the best methods of getting your audience cheering for your hero.

2 - Complexity:
     This is the balance to the monster who destroys the city. Sometimes the task is not a monster but a machine, or an organization. All of which are larger than your hero and will take more than a fight or two to take down. Complexity gives you the chance to create an obstacle with intelligence. Machines have creative design. Organizations have leaders, contingency plans and loyal, self-sacrificing members. With these opponents, how big your weapon is nor how hard you punch is of no consiquence. They are so far removed that "fear" is not a factor and to defeat them you must infect or disassemble their pieces. This can be an intense task for a hero especially if he is not equipped. A writer friend of mine, Omar, love to write stories with this kind of content. It makes him giddy to create opportunitues to thwart the hero with elements he was not expecting just to increase the difficulty. Something that cannot be done with a monster alone.

3 - Quantity:
    This is a pretty straight-forward concept but I wanted to get it down. With quantity you have the opportunity to overrun your characters to either destroy them or hinder their ability to finish needed tasks. Just think of the insane battle scenes from Lord of the Rings. Power in numbers has always been epic. 

Visual Scale In Action:

Why this? - 
In this example we see a combination of all three elements, Size in the ships, Complexity of the machinery and the overpowering feeling of the numbers. The artist does an amazing job of staging all of the content to allow you to "read it" invisibly. In the breakdown image I use rough blue lines which point out the major elements that show scale; the earth, space city, mid-ground ship and then the window frame of the viewer. That last element is what put the audience inside of the situation. Then the red line represents the common way to read the composition to read the story and then, only at the end, do you realize that you are in it. This is one of the greatest features of an epic tale. It's ability to take your breathe away then force you to take it back when it is brought back to a human level. That is were it begins to matter to us.

I try to put this into some of my own, light-hearted practice with a page of my children's story when Kodi the Starfish meets his dad out in space. Kodi, by nature, is a smaller creature called a White Dwarf Starfish. His dad is a Red Giant Starfish so I wanted to express it literally and turned it into something really cute. Click below for a bigger picture.


     Ok, I think I have tortured you all enough with all of this crazy "BIG" awesomeness! To end each post in this series i just want to suggest one thing. How you use this information in your story matters but it will not mean as much unless it affects or relates to your character in some powerful way. Use the power of scale to empower or threaten your hero or audience. Use it to enrich the setting or destroy it but please, use it wisely. In the end, it is only theatrics if your protagonist and audience do not care. 

In their hearts is where the epic happens.

I will be back soon with the second installment of the Series of the epic, "Negative Space." Until then...

Best be to yee' me mateys!
May the winds be at your backs and friends be at your sides. Blessed be your journeys.

Captain Dutz

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