LGBTQ+ Representation in Mainstream Media

Slide1

Media is a pretty big part of life today. It’s such a prominent thing that we usually take for granted, but in reality, it’s what introduces us to many new ideas or things that maybe we were never exposed to or simply hadn’t thought of before.

Because it’s such a widespread industry with so many outlets, we’re introduced to representations we might not have otherwise had access to, especially with the worldwide reach and influence of so many places and people.

However, this can also mean that media can be the first and only mode of contact that a person has with things outside of their bubble of knowledge.

With that in mind, I would like to explain why I’m talking about all this. I’m trying to delve a little deeper into the debate about whether some of these representations are acceptable, or if they are inherently harmful and contributing to a larger problem.

Seeing as this week we are looking into gender, sexuality and media, my topic for today’s discussion focuses mainly on the representation of LGBTQ characters in TV – mainly streaming services like Netflix and Stan, as well as broadcast and cable networks.

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Thankfully, there are quite a lot of resources devoted to this, so my job was made significantly easier! Unfortunately, as soon as I started to flick through the resources, it was made abundantly clear that queer representation through these outlets is extremely limited. One particular source (a very handy report done annually by GLAAD) included this little graph to signify just how out of proportion the straight and queer characters were. While this graph focuses only on broadcast television in 2016 and 2017, it’s still a shockingly large discrepancy between the amount of representation on each side.

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For broadcasting networks like Fox, CBS, The CW, etc., this 4.8% of characters signifies the largest amount of LGBTQ regular characters across these platforms that has ever been recorded. 4.8. That’s 43 characters out of the counted 895 in the report. Cable boasts a slightly higher amount of queer representation, but a lot of it is poor, and characters are usually not recurring, and a lot of them die.

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The streaming services have pushed through here with a strong lead of 65 recurring queer characters this year. While this is a nice step up from other television, it still has a way to go in the regards of queer people of colour or trans individuals.

Good job Netflix for being the most LGBTQ inclusive streaming service this year! It’s iconic hit series Orange is the New Black contributes greatly to this, amongst many other shows it has produced or offers.

Slide5

While it has been wonderful to see a rise in the number of queer people represented on television in recent years, many sources claim that it is still not nearly enough. While some may argue that “we’ve seen more LGBTQ characters on TV than ever before, why do people need to push their agendas?”, they may fail to notice the lack of diversity with the characters provided.

It seems a bit tricky to assume that a set of characters can be considered diverse when they’re only a tiny fraction of the whole cast. Usually the queer characters in shows end up being one dimensional cut outs of the same few tropes to fill the role of token gay guy or something along those lines. These characters have little thought given to them, but are used to bring in wider audiences due to their ‘inclusivity’.

Slide6

GLAAD’s report stated that:

Since the beginning of 2016, more than 25 queer female characters have died on scripted television and streaming series. Most of these deaths served no other purpose than to further the narrative of a more central (and often straight, cisgender) character. When there are so few lesbian and bisexual women on television, the decision to kill these characters in droves sends a toxic message about the worth of queer female stories. Indeed, LGBTQ characters should be treated the same as their straight, cisgender counterparts by the rules of their series’ worlds. This means having the same opportunities for romance, nuanced motivation, developed backstory, and the same odds of death. When the most repeated ending for a queer woman is violent death, producers must do better to question the reason for a character’s demise and what they are really communicating to the audience. Moreover, it is not enough for LGBTQ characters simply to be present on screen; they must be crafted with thought, attention, and depth.

Slide7

GLAAD really hits it on the head here. With this being the main source of representation for queer people on TV, what should people be taking from this?

Firstly, people who have limited knowledge about the LGBTQ community might be jumping to conclusions due to the stereotypes enforced on television. A big one has been the stereotype of sexual deviancy or dangerousness within the community.

Secondly, imagine being a queer person (or not having to imagine) and seeing yourself portrayed as a deviant, vilified and destined to be unhappy or simply die to further the plot of others. Surely this blow to the community’s self-esteem and safety should have been addressed by now.

Media is a way for young people to find out about themselves. Being exposed to different ideals and values opens up the ability to decide for oneself. When the majority of these characters are viewed negatively, this greatly hinders the cause of the LGBTQ people and their struggles.

Slide8

But creators can create what they want, I hear some people say. I agree. Creators should be allowed to create the content they wish to create. HOWEVER, when that content directly contributes to a larger problem, I feel that some changes should be made.

 

So my question I’m posing to you:

Is it fair for creators to view their work as a standalone piece of media, or should they have to consider the implications of it being a part of a larger issue?

 

 

 

LGBTQ | The Critical Media Project. (n.d.). Retrieved October 13, 2017, from http://criticalmediaproject.org/cml/topicbackground/lgbt/

glaad.org. (2017). WWAT. [online] Available at: http://glaad.org/files/WWAT/WWAT_GLAAD_2016-2017.pdf [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Mediasmarts.ca. (2017). Queer Representation in Film and Television | MediaSmarts. [online] Available at: http://mediasmarts.ca/digital-media-literacy/media-issues/diversity-media/queer-representation/queer-representation-film-television [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

Lindsey, S. (2017). LGBT Media Visibility and the Traditional Sexual Ethic. [online] A Queer Calling. Available at: http://aqueercalling.com/2014/04/22/lgbt-media-visibility-and-the-traditional-sexual-ethic/ [Accessed 13 Oct. 2017].

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Specialisation Post Mortem

So we’ve reached the end of another studio unit, and the end of our specialisation projects. I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time on this as I wanted to, but I suppose that’s part of the job in the end!

Here’s my final dialogue animation, which went a lot better than I expected it to actually.

My main downfall with this project was my research I think. I got ahead of myself and rushed into starting the animation without planning it out properly or researching proper practices! So in the end I had to use the research as damage control to try and bring my animation back a little bit from being terrible. For a first go I don’t think I did too badly, but I definitely could have done better had I planned and researched thoroughly beforehand!

I also finally managed to polish an animation to be consistent for the first time with this! In previous projects I had always run out of time to make them look neater or refined, so this was a welcome change of pace – although it was a toss up between doing more work on the animation itself or cleaning it up unfortunately. I was already nervous that I wouldn’t have enough to show in my showreel so I opted to polish as much as possible in the end.

What I ended up doing for polish is rendering out a PNG sequence from Animate, which I then brought into SAI to line and colour so that it looked neat. Animate’s brush is horrible to work with and never looks clean, and I couldn’t stand the thought of another project looking like that.

I didn’t get to draw a background either, or add extras to the bat, so I feel it looks a little bit plain still, but I simply ran out of time, and other things needed my attention.

Again, like most projects I’ve worked on lately, I need to put more of a focus on research and learning how to implement practices before starting things. I feel that I learn better on the go, trialling different methods as opposed to reading or hearing about them, but sometimes it’s not a viable option, especially when on a very restricted time schedule!

Cross Discipline – Yet another game!

So due to a lot of circumstances, I’ve been too busy to even think about cross discipline for most of the trimester so far – but I finally got it sorted! (Turns out that making friends with some of the guys in games really makes life easy when it comes to this sort of thing)

I worked on a small mobile game for the studio 3 games guys. It’s a small mini golfing game, and needed minimal animation – mostly just UI design and buttons, which worked for me!

I did some simple backgrounds:

And a bunch of buttons for it as well:

mostbuttons.png

Unfortunately I was given almost no direction in regards to art style or even colours to use, so I had to make a lot of it up from scratch. The games guy I’ve been in contact with basically said for me to put my “own artistic flair” into it because he trusts what I end up producing, which is a nice little ego boost but at the same time I could have definitely used a little direction to start with. I could only use what the graphics designer had made, which wasn’t what was wanted either!

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So because I was brought onto this project at the last minute, the games guys were pretty lenient in what deliverables I was contributing. I tried to take on all the buttons that needed to be done, as well as the backgrounds, so I think they were just mostly happy that they had assets for their game in the end.

While working with the games students is fun and relatively easy, it is very hard to get much feedback from them other than “that looks cool!”. This of course, poses an issue when I need to try and improve my ability to respond to feedback and take it on board.

In the end, I think that the end product is a lot better than anyone really expected. I wasn’t told enough to make consistent assets that looked good, and they didn’t end up using half of the ones I made either.

Research – Lip Syncing

HOW SHOULD I BE LIP SYNCING?

Most sources say that lip syncing should be done in steps – roughing in the mouth movements, animating the face around it, and then adding body animation afterwards. Most people make the mistake of thinking that every phonetic sound needs to be shown in the animation, where in reality you only need key mouth shapes to really make your animation work.

The first step is to figure out what sounds you really need to make your animation believable. The general consensus is that hard sounds are usually quite easy to gloss over in a sentence, which means less mouth movements – this stops the popping and jarring all over the place mouth shapes. A good example of this was given in one of the sites that gave me a lot of good info – the example: “You hafta get” basically gets shortened to “oo-aaff-eh”. Another tip was that when a hard sound was necessary, to make it one or two frames long – the shorter and snappier the better.

From there, the animator needs to place the opens and closes in the right places to get the timing down. A good tip I found was to place opens and closes a frame or two before the audio, otherwise it seemed like the animation was lagging behind the audio.

This is when you get to focus on the rest of the face too! Animating a mouth means animating an entire personality. A character’s personality will impact how they say things – this affects the rest of the face!  Once that’s down, adding the rest of the animation to the character really makes a difference.

HOW DID I LIP SYNC?

Well, I started a little ahead of myself and got right into storyboarding out my animation sequence. At this point I hadn’t researched things properly and just thought that if I started now that it would give me a bit of a head start that I would probably need! (silly me!)

storyboard-thumbs-1

So what ended up happening was that I rushed ahead, got my storyboards done and started to animate them. This is when I started to actually do some research on the process. First up I started with the basic shapes that mouths made when saying different things.

I found the same image as TK! (It’s probably the most useful one that is easily accessible online) But then I remembered that the character I was animating was a bat… I’ve usually stuck to humanoid characters before now, so while he is still relatively humanoid in his speech, I realised I would have to try to animate a character with a snout.

In the end the bottom picture didn’t really help me at all because I went for a very cartoony look to make life a little easier on myself.

So I did the first pass without really researching much past mouth shapes, and it’s pretty easy to tell that I didn’t look much into it I think. The mouth shapes look very flash-like and unpleasant, which is when I decided to add more facial movement to stop the jarring frames.

Now in my second pass I tried to add more movement to the character as a whole, but I didn’t plan it beforehand! This led to a lot of floppiness that isn’t even consistent, so I basically made more work for myself by having to then clean it up afterwards! This is pretty much the point in the process where I remembered that I usually rush ahead without planning my projects properly, so I went back and did a bunch of research here.

Here you can see I’ve tried to smooth out some of the inconsistencies in the animation, as well as trying to add his little hands to make it more interesting overall. I feel that after reading up on proper techniques that my animation quality definitely improved a little throughout the course of the project, especially in regards to lip syncing and mouth shapes (at the beginning of the year I had like two different mouth shapes I could draw!)

I should have been focusing a lot more on research and planning the steps I was going to take before jumping into animating my little character. The good thing about lip syncing though is that it’s a relatively straightforward thing to figure out once you get the hang of it! I was doing most of the things that all my sources were telling me to do anyway, before I even read them.

While I was already doing most of what I read told me to do, I feel like I would have saved a lot of time if I had just researched and read into it properly before I even started. It’s a toss up because I usually learn a lot better by just jumping in and floundering for a little bit before I can read things and understand them properly, but sometimes I just don’t have the luxury of time!

References:

  1. Lango, K. (2001). Principles for Lipsync Animation. Retrieved November 21, 2016, from http://www.keithlango.com/tutorials/old/lipSync.htm
  2. Masters, M. (2013, November 18). Proven tips for Animating believable lip sync. Retrieved November 21, 2016, from http://blog.digitaltutors.com/proven-tips-animating-believable-lip-sync/
  3. Lip sync animation. Retrieved November 21, 2016, from Centre for Animation & Interactive Media, http://minyos.its.rmit.edu.au/aim/a_notes/anim_lipsync.html
  4. Lip-sync – mouth reference. (2016). Retrieved November 21, 2016, from DeviantArt, http://darkmanethewerewolf.deviantart.com/art/Lip-Sync-Mouth-reference-330070453
  5. artist-refs. Alyssa Penney. Retrieved November 21, 2016, from Tumblr, http://crazyhamlet.tumblr.com/post/111996038682/artist-refs-phoneme-chart-by-theendisnearus-this

Worldbuilders Post-Mortem

So we’re finally at the end of our first project of the trimester: the Worldbuilders project. It’s definitely had it’s ups and downs, but we’ve certainly pulled a finished product out of it!

Now for all the reflection stuff – Some ups and downs of the project:

1. Communication – both myself and others in the group were not as vocal as we should have been. I was struggling with some family issues and tended to fall short on the communication side of things.  Another person was pretty much always absent unless we tagged them and walked them through doing specific things (I definitely should have tried harder with them to be honest). Another tended to not communicate what they were doing as they compiled everything and didn’t upload them unless we specifically asked, which took up time that we could have used on something else.  Mostly just a lot of failure in communicating where individuals were up to, when people felt like they had too much work (I asked several times if it was too much load for some people) and what still needed to be done (and people possibly afraid of telling people that their work might not have been up to scratch – eg. my assets got redone – I don’t think I had a single asset in the final animation)

The main causes for these issues are probably me as team lead not asking for regular updates, other people not keeping everyone in the loop, some people simply not checking  (I know some people had some personal things that were a huge drain on them during the project, and probable language barriers)

Obviously, my being team leader, I should have been keeping communication going, trying to find what people were up to, etc. Another solution for people who may have too much in their plate telling the team lead that they might need a hand with something so that certain people didn’t get over stressed.

2. Art style inconsistencies – we settled on a nice art style, but only a couple team members could accurately create that look. We thought we got around this by some people doing certain jobs (me doing a bunch of rough assets, then handing them to someone else to clean up). This was good and bad – it meant that the style was relatively consistent throughout the animation, but it meant that one person had a lot of work to do with cleaning up the assets.

A way to fix this issue would have been to choose an art style that the entire team could actually create (a point that I tried to bring up a few times throughout the project), or rough assets being completed much earlier to give the clean up more time, or the person  doing the final assets should have sat down with the others and taught them a few tricks to make the styles much closer to each other.

3. Participation – a couple of us let down the others (even if we had reasons), and other people really picked up the ball to bring a really cool final product together. As I had a lot of personal and family stuff going on, I was pretty absent for most of the project, so I did what I thought was best and let everyone know, and did my best to keep the team going as the project lead. Although I don’t feel like I did nearly enough, the team really pulled a nice animation out of the last two months.

 

Although our team had many issues, I’m pretty proud of the final work that was completed. We used Photoshop for the assets and animation and After Effects for the scene composition.

While using Photoshop was the best option due to the variety in brushes, it posed an issue when two out of our four group members were not familiar with the program. If all of us were proficient in the program, I feel that our output would have been much nicer. Mich was also learning to use the animation feature in Photoshop from scratch for this project, so our main artist was too busy with the animation to really help us get our footing in the program. A solution to this would have been to possibly have pulled the schedule forward and allowed time for Mich to teach us how to create the style we were after.

After Effects seemed like a very intimidating program to learn the ins and outs of, but it turns out that if you’ve had some experience with other Adobe programs, it’s a lot easier to pick up on others. For what we had planned, After Effects worked wonderfully, and Aidan spent so much time learning the specific effects that we wanted and taught us pretty well. Our biggest problems with After Effects were 1. some of our computers simply couldn’t handle the program, and 2. The special addons that Aidan used to create effects for our scenes cost a lot of money that we weren’t able to spend, so Aidan kind of became our main Effects guy. A possible solution to these issues might have been to take time to stay at uni to do after effects stuff, as well as trying to stick to the standard effects available to us.

Through the course of this project, it’s become quite evident that I’ve stagnated and kept to programs that I’m comfortable in – this has led to huge problems when I need to learn new programs (for example, Photoshop is a big one). I also need to step out of my comfort zone in regards to art styles – while I’m developing my skills relatively quickly during this degree, I’ve stuck pretty solidly to my usual style, and I can’t use painting techniques at all. I think the coming holidays are going to be a good chance for me to really get into improving my quality of art and knowledge of industry standard programs by watching a LOT of tutorials, as well as the classic practice, practice, practice!

 

Out of all this, I feel like my communication and time management are the skills I really need to work on. As I said before, my communication has not been the best, and I can’t just say that I’ve had some personal issues to sort out for everything. While it has been a tough couple months, things like this are going to happen again in the future and I can’t just rely on an explanation to get me through things. Hand in hand with that goes the whole time management thing. I’ve had so much on my plate that my usual planning just went out the window. What I need to focus on is keeping calm under the pressure and remembering to plan things as I usually do, and that I’ll be fine!

While I was the team lead on the project, I didn’t really feel like I was. Yes, I was in charge of documentation, but when it came down to keeping the team going as a whole, I feel like I let everybody down. After a couple weeks of that, I think the others didn’t really feel my input was too important and I had less input altogether. I didn’t feel like the team lead for this to be honest.

Specialisation Intro

So we already know what my specialisation is! A short 2D lip synced animation using a relatively well known vine as the audio for it. I decided on making my character a little bat, to kind of pull away from the humanoid animations I have been focusing on lately. I’m going to use Flash to animate to make life a little easier on myself, seeing as I already know the basics of the program, and I’m so busy learning new programs and animation methods for my final project!

 

1.What sort of work would you like to be producing in 5 years?

I would like to ideally be working on character animation, either in games or for film/TV. Working as a texture artist would also be an enjoyable experience. I would of course prefer 2D animation, but I have to keep my options open! I would love to work on story-boarding and concept art for games/TV/movies, etc.

2. What are the quality standards of work expected in that area?

Proficiency across most of the Adobe creative suite, especially software like Animate, Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects. Proficiency in 3D animation programs like Maya, etc.

3. Evaluate your current skillset.

Currently, my skillset is rather limited, with a basic knowledge of Animate, After Effects, Photoshop, and some of the Adobe creative suite. I have a very basic understanding of 3D modelling and animating in 3DS Max, and no knowledge of how to sculpt.

4. What do you need to learn and improve on to get there?

As I have learned and improved my artistic skills on programs differing to the industry’s standard, I need to learn how to use the programs that I will encounter in the future. This means practising my art in Photoshop instead of my usual programs, and learning Illustrator as well. I need to focus more of my time into learning how to paint digitally, and I would ideally like to work on my art skills a LOT more – life drawing, classes on environment design, etc etc.

While I know how to animate basically in Animate, I would really like to expand my knowledge of the program, as well as other programs, like TV Paint and Opentoonz in particular. I plan to focus on learning the tricks of Animate, and probably start using Opentoonz to keep practising my 2D animation.

5. Set some goals in your craft to hit for this trimester.

Well, I suppose I started to mention some already. I want to really focus on learning Animate’s ins and outs, and get into digital painting techniques. I can focus on learning Animate while I complete my specialisation, so that’s definitely a time saver in a way, but the digital painting is going to be a new frontier for me to have to explore from scratch.

 

Specialisation Pre-production

So like I said earlier, I’m going to be doing the dialogue animation for my specialisation. I’ve definitely settled on the vine that I was using as the dialogue, and I’ve come up with a rough design for the character.

character ideas 1.png

I figured a super over-exaggerated bat is going to be a good character choice for it lol. And here are my rough thumbnail storyboards:

storyboard-thumbs-1

Working on a game!

So for my final project, I’ve jumped on board as art director and lead animator for an android rogue-like game! I’ve worked with these guys before, and decided that I really wanted to be involved in this particular project.

The original plan was to create a pixel rogue-like android game, but very soon into the project, we changed it to a very cartoony style, partly because I was a lot more used to that sort of style, and the game is going to be quite goofy and fun. I’m pretty lucky with my team, seeing as these guys are trusting a lot of the art direction and decisions to me, so while it’s a lot of work and quite stressful, I think it’s going to really be very fun in the end.

We massively over-scoped in the beginning. We’re still cutting things and rearranging to make the game better, but we’ve got a much neater list of things to do now. I have to admit, I am pretty intimidated by the list of things I need to do – I have most if not all of the animations to do for a few characters (good thing it’s minimal animation!), as well as environments and all the cards for inventory items. I have definitely had to learn how to say that I can’t do things in this project already!

My first job was to design two of the four characters for the game.

I was in charge of designing the wizard and hunter classes. My main problem with this was that I have a hard time trying to make small, simple designs for characters! I also forgot that seeing as it’s a mobile game, the characters are going to have to be VERY small and VERY simple. So while everyone enjoyed the designs I created, they still weren’t simple enough to read clearly on a phone.

It’s at this point that we had to re-scope, and we cut down our characters from 4 to 1. So, now I’m in charge of the sole character, so I’ve kind of had to scrap everything I’ve done already.

char thumbnails.png

So these guys are my quick test of how much detail is too much detail. We made a rough template to show the size in comparison to a screen as well, so I’ve been playing around with that.

phone size ref.png

So that’s slowly coming along.

I also had to design the app icon – we originally used the Paladin character for this, but seeing as we scrapped the different classes, I have to tweak this a little (but that won’t take long woo).

app-icon

As you can see, we haven’t really come up with a proper colour palette yet, but that’s next on my list of things to do for the project.

 

This project is turning into a HUGE learning curve for me. I’ve barely even touched anything games-related, and here I am suddenly doing a LOT. The added difficulty of trying to understand the games guys and have them understand me in turn has really slowed us down these first few weeks I think, but we do seem to be slowly understanding each other more now.

Specialisations

Obviously, this trimester I’m going to focus on character animation again! I’m picking the dialogue sequence specialisation.

I have a few rough ideas of what I want to use for audio, but so far my main plan is the Forest Nymph vine. I’ll probably just focus on the first one (the first 5 seconds or so) but may go on to do another if I end up underscoping.

I haven’t thought much past this, as there were some things that I needed to get clarified before I understood what exactly we needed, so that’s my job for this coming week. I definitely want to do 2D though. My next course of action is to brainstorm some storyboard ideas and figure out what my character will look like I guess.

The research topics that I’m going to focus on this trimester are probably going to be lip syncing and dialogue, and hopefully more in depth research into facial animation. I feel that these two topics will merge nicely and work a lot with the specialisation!