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Character and set design art and writers' guide for the free-culture animated web series about the first lunar settlers.
Funded pre-production for "Lunatics!" series in 2011, now completing production of our first episode to be released Spring 2015. Please visit our main project page for up-to-date information!
Funded pre-production for "Lunatics!" series in 2011, now completing production of our first episode to be released Spring 2015. Please visit our main project page for up-to-date information!
47 backers pledged $2,410 to help bring this project to life.

Themes in Lunatics - #6 "Risk Averse Society versus the Thrill of the Frontier"

Continuing with themes in the stories for Lunatics... Here's number six:

Theme #6 Risk Averse Society versus the Thrill of the Frontier

Of course, being too safe is a little scary in itself. Part of the reason people want to go is because it's exciting. But the mores of Earth-bound society make it a sin to take too large a risk. How will that morality conflict with the ambitions of our settlers? Will they be blocked "for their own good"?

Past frontiers on Earth have been very dangerous places, and the people who lived on them were accustomed to that danger. They often had lower expectations of personal safety, and thus taking risks was easier. Some of the things we worry about today wouldn't bother them because they simply didn't have the expectation of living as long.

Is that a problem? Are we "too soft" now? Or can we resolve that conflict? Is it about making the frontier safer, or is it about a lower expectation of safety? I'm not sure we'll resolve that conflict, but it will certainly be present as a conflict in our stories.

Themes in Lunatics - #5 Failsafes and Adaptation

Continuing with themes in the stories for Lunatics... Here's number five:

Theme #5 Failsafes and Adaptation

Space is a dangerous place, don't get me wrong. But then again, so is Siberia or Alaska. Or the Sahara. There are dangers all over the world that are quite sufficient to kill an exposed human without important life-support or supplies. We don't worry about that most of the time, because we've adapted to these dangers. We do that through the equipment we carry (starting with clothes), through the behaviors we learn, and through the environments we create for ourselves.

Part of that adaptation happens already when engineers work through the problems. It may be a staple of science fiction for an airlock to suddenly and unexpectedly open, venting all of the air in a room. It's a simple plot complication. But it's very unrealistic, because engineers spend a lot of time making sure that things like that won't happen -- it's too obvious. So those things are built to be extremely failsafe. When things go wrong in space, it's usually a lot more subtle than that.

What will matter for space pioneers is developing the new repertoire of equipment and habits that they will need to be as safe in space as people are in hostile environments here on Earth. Space isn't all that different or all that dangerous -- as long as we are prepared for it. And space pioneers will be.

Original Concept Artwork - Now 50% Off!

I've reduced the prices on the original concept artwork sheets drawn by Daniel Fu by 50%. I've also made each one a separate reward, so you can pick which one you get. And I will include with each one a copy of the full-color concept-art poster, which includes portraits of all eight of the main characters, digitally inked and painted by me (I've been posting examples of these portraits as updates as I finish them).

It's getting pretty close to the end of our Kickstart, and we seem to be stagnating at 29%, so I discussed this with a friend who suggested that perhaps what we needed were "tangible" (pre-existing) rewards, so that you can see exactly what you are getting. Also, it seemed like perhaps $250 was simply too much for the concept artwork, even if they are signed original drawings. I'm hoping they are a little more attractive at $125 -- each should make a very nice display art piece, especially if combined with the full color poster (which is now included!), and assuming "Lunatics" is successful, they should have some collector value. The posters are fairly inexpensive to print, once you print the first few, and they've been our most popular item so far.

Even if we sell out these drawings, we won't quite make our goal -- but they would get us a lot closer to it.

I've uploaded full-color scans of all of these so you can see exactly what you'd be getting. These were drawn in mechanical pencil on 8.5"x11" ("US Letter" size) heavy drawing paper (like card stock). Here's our "catalog" of concept art sketch sheets by Daniel Fu (along with names and ISF bios -- i.e. as written by themselves -- from our "Characters" page):

"Dr. John Robert Lerner" / "Rob"

"Dr. John Robert Lerner, founder of the International Space Foundation, will be joining the first true human settlement on a planet beyond the confines of this Earth. He and a group of pioneering colonists will be settling permanently at the International Space Foundation Colony on the northern Border of Mare Imbrium at the Laplace Promentary. This is a crowning achievement for the Mechanical Engineer who has given the last twenty-five years of his life supporting this cause which soon will come to fruition."

"Hiromi Aoki Lerner" / "Hiromi"

"Hiromi Aoki Lerner, wife of Dr. Robert Lerner, is the field doctor and nutritionist for the International Space Foundation's Lunar Colony. Mrs Lerner holds a Masters in Health Science from the University of Toronto's Mississauga Academy and a Masters in Space Nutrition from the University of Texas Online Branch. Only daughter of David Aoki, founder of Aoki Aerospace, Hiromi has been interested in space travel from her youth. She has a daughter, Georgiana Lerner age seven."

"Georgiana Lerner" / "Georgiana"

"Daughter of ISF founder John Robert Lerner and Hiromi Lerner, Little Georgy has charmed the hearts of all who have seen her. Despite her popularity as the first child in space, Georgiana is very down to Earth. She likes trees and bunnies and she wants to be, 'just like mommy' when she grows up."

"Anya Titova Farmer" / "Anya"

"Anya Titova Farmer (M.B.A.) is business manager of the ISF lunar colony. She comes from a long line of Russian entrepreneurs, astronauts, and rocket engineers. Her father Anatoly Titov and her Uncle Konstantin Titov manage the Titov Space Industries, founded by her grandfather Igor Titov. She received a degree in international business from the Russian Academy of Economics (RAE) and a Master in Business Administration from the University of Arizona. She is also founder and part owner of Sputniki Zvezda Serebryaniy (Silver Star Satellites)."

"Dr. Joshua Farmer" / "Josh"

The original for Josh also has some of Daniel Fu's earlier concept sketches for Josh on the reverse side.

"Joshua Farmer (Ph.D.) received his Doctorate in Space Agriculture for his work on rapid-growth high yield crops. He was recruited to work at the Lunar Installation and Biological Research Interprise (LIBRE) to prepare crops for the colonization effort. He remained on as one of the colonization candidates and was chosen for the first team."

"Igor Timothy Farmer" / "Tim"

"Timothy Farmer son of Anya Titova Farmer and Joshua Farmer is the communications assistant on the ISF colony. He runs his own highly ranked web channel about the LIBRE project. He has plans to get a degree in computer science."

"Robert Allen Emerson" / "Allen"

"R. Allen Emerson is a Conceptual Artist most known for his work in active and intelligent materials media. He made his name in the New York circuit winning the Andy Warhol Prize in Experimental and Performance Arts for his ground-breaking installation "Consciousness and Mechanism" presented at the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Arts. His visionary exploration of non-static images of dramatic simplicity, and his pioneering work in interactive art has made Emerson a leader in the modern trans-humanist zeitgeist movement.

During his Guggenheim Fellowship term, Mr. Emerson will be in residence at the International Space Foundation's colony on the Moon."

"Dr. Sarah Allison" / "Sarah"

"Dr. Sarah Allison is one of the foremost authorities on moon morphology and geophysics. She has clocked over 100 EVA hours exploring the moon's surface. She holds the George P. Kokh Chair in lunar planetology at New Mexico State University. Currently she is to be found at the European University Collectives Marius Hills Lava tube expedition in the Ocean of Storms on the Lunar surface."

The full-color poster will include portraits of all of these characters on an 11"x17" sheet. The design is not completed yet (still working on inking and coloring), but I can show you an incomplete version below which should give a clearer idea of what I'm creating (the ovals of course, are just markers for where the remaining portraits will go):

  • Image 80033 original.png?ixlib=rb 1.1

"Georgiana Lerner" Portrait

I've realized that I haven't actually posted scans of the original artwork that Daniel Fu created for us as concpet art. This is the sheet for Georgiana Lerner. Remember: this original artwork is for sale as one of our rewards!

On Flickr

From this, I created the digitally inked & colored version of "Georgiana Lerner" below, which will be on the "Concept Art Poster":

  • Image 79948 original.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Why Soyuz? (Minor spoilers)

If you're an anti-spoiler purist, you might not want to read this one, but...

Implicit in some of my posts about "No Children in Space", is a story choice some American space fans probably find a little questionable, which is my decision to have Hiromi and Georgiana go up on a Soyuz launch vehicle which is (at least superficially) very much the same as today's Soyuz launch system and Soyuz-TMA orbiter. Why not an American spacecraft? Are we (as Americans) being unpatriotic? Is this some liberal PC "world peace" thing?

Photo Credit: Isaac Mao @ Flickr / CC By

Actually, it's deeper than that. There are three separate kinds of reasons that favor Soyuz: production, aesthetic, and plot. So let me handle those separately.

Production Reasons

We set this story in 2040. Originally, we were going to make it closer to 2020, but as we examined the backstory we needed to explain the "present" of the story, we found there was a little too much to fit into just 9 years!

So we had to push back the date. But that has its own problems, because by 2040, the world will have changed in a lot of unpredictable ways, and we didn't want to get into a complex set of assumptions about world politics. Nor did we want to make the naive assumption that nothing would change (and wind up with the US-Soviet Cold War still raging in 2010, as it was in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, let alone 2010: Odyssey Two).

I suspect the next star American system for transportation to LEO will be a commercial one. On the other hand, I don't really want to "pick the winner" -- which would be an extremely political act in today's climate. I did think briefly about trying to do a massive "product placement" campaign, but I don't know if we have the clout to get SpaceX or Blue Origin or Armadillo Aerospace or some other such company to pay us to use their system in our story. Nor do I really want our show to become an advertisement for them. I'm very excited about all of these companies, and I want to see space transportation become a vigorously competitive marketplace.

More importantly, I suspect that whatever the next hot launch system is, it will not be the same system that is popular in 2040.

Even if we don't consider the commercial options, though, the history of American space engineering has always been a serious of complete redesigns. The Space Shuttle looked very little like a Saturn V/Apollo, which in turn had only a passing resemblence to the previous Titan/Gemini and Atlas/Mercury systems. Constellation, if it ever gets built, is yet again another complete redesign.

What this means for me as a science-fiction producer is that any American system I come up with will be pure science fiction. It is unrealistic to think that any American system running today will still be operating in 2040.

Meanwhile, what are the Russian flying now? Soyuz. What were they flying 40 years ago? Soyuz.

Certainly, to the trained eye, the Soyuz of 1967 was a very different creature from the Soyuz of 2011, and no doubt, the Soyuz of 2040 will be even more different. However, there's at least a plausible chance that Soyuz will still be flying in 2040, even if there are many other options available.

Photo Credit: J Brew ("brewbooks") @ Flickr / CC By-SA

Clearly, with Russia and ESA just completing work on a new launch complex  for Soyuz-type launch vehicles at the equatorial launch complex in Kourou, the Russians are planning to fly some form of Soyuz for quite a few more years. It's likely there will more variation on the Soyuz orbiter, such as the relatively new "Kliper"  design, but it's also pretty likely that some version of the original Soyuz orbiter will still be around.

Soyuz is the only fully documented, existing spacecraft, which will plausibly still be flying in 2040. This is not intended as any kind of criticism of either the American or the Russian approach to space engineering. It's just an observation of a real difference in design philosophies, and from the point of view of minimizing our art design problems, Soyuz is clearly the more convenient option.

Aesthetic Reasons

Still, we could've gone with the science fiction approach and invented a launch system. Perhaps something that vaguely resembled one of the US commercial designs, but with a fictitious manufacturer. That would've worked, but it's undesireable for aesthetic reasons.

First of all, it would immediately throw us into the realm of science fiction before we leave the Earth. This is conventional and a bit of a cliche by now. I would prefer to have that transition happen in orbit -- what I am saying by that is that _space travel_ is a present reality. _Settling the moon_ is the science fiction part.

Secondly, and this is specific to the structure of the pilot episode, "No Children in Space", the Soyuz is part of a "progression from the past into the future" that we see on screen: we start with 19th Century technology -- a train (and we see Camels which hark back to an even older mode of transportation), we move on to early 20th century technologies of cars and buses,  then to the spaceport where we encounter the late 20th century Soyuz. On orbit, we meet the early 21st century International Space Station (though it is known in the story as "Space Station Alpha" and has been expanded beyond its present design). We transition to the mid-21st century (and for Lunatics, "state of the art") "Lunar Transportation System".

This is a statement about technological progress and continuity. Using an existing space transportation system for the Earth-to-LEO leg of the journey helps to sell that continuity in a way that I don't think we could get from any science-fictional launch system.

There is one more aesthetic reason, too, which is that I don't feel anyone has done it well. The Saturn V launch was dramatized brilliantly in Apollo 13, and Shuttle launches have been well-photographed in real life and have appeared in more than one Hollywood movie. But the Russians have historically been secretive about their launches, and the modern coverage is still somewhat limited. As far as I know, no movie has really done justice to the Soyuz launch process, and as it is a really cool design, I think it would just be a fun thing to animate.

Plot Reasons

While all of that makes sense outside of the story, I still owe you some explanation for why the choice was made within the story to for ISF to send Hiromi and Georgiana up on a Soyuz. Fortunately, this is not that hard to justify.

The first reason is simple conservativism. Whatever the hot launch system is in 2040, it doesn't exist today -- and that means it will have less than a 30 year track record for safety. Soyuz, will be something like 75 years old. Assuming that the excellent Soyuz safety record continues, that's going to make Soyuz the vehicle of choice for nervous space colonists who are selecting a way to take their seven-year-old daughter into space. Also, from what I've seen from cabin video, Soyuz is a less-scary ride than some -- pretty gentle rocking compared to the fierce vibration the Shuttle SRBs generated. Coming down is a different story, but that isn't an issue for Georgiana.

Secondly, the choice to launch Georgiana into space is a somewhat controversial one. In the 2040s, there will be some of the same voices decrying the "irresponsibility" of letting untrained people fly, especially children, fly into space. This would of course, be a media circus. Flying from a spaceport in the western desert region of Kazakhstan, with limited media access, not to mention going there by train (a decision they will not have announced), could be a good way to duck the paparazzi and the press -- or at least some of them.

Finally, our backstory says that this Soyuz launch vehicle is essentially a "surplus" vehicle. This flight was promised to Anya Titova's satellite services company ("Silver Star Satellites"/"Sputniki Zvezda Serebryaniy") in a prior business arrangement. However, the aging Soyuz technology is no longer the preferred option for her satellite business and Anya, as both a colonist and a sponsor, has donated this flight to the project.


Having said all that, the Soyuz in "No Children in Space" will be an evolved version of the system. We call it "Soyuz-SF" behind the scenes -- I would love it if somebody could come up with a plausible Russian meaning for the "SF" part, of course it really stands for "science fiction". Looking at the way the Russians have incorporated newer ideas into the older Soyuz design, I've considered some possible improvements that might be made -- more reusability, higher mass-ratio, and so on -- the sort of incremental changes Russian space engineers might be expected to add over the next 20 or 30 years.

The orbiter will have a newer control panel and avionics system, so the interior will look somewhat different. Also, this particular vehicle will need special modifications to accomodate the small frame of a seven-year-old girl. Soyuz-TMA height requirements would not allow such a short person to fly, and Georgiana's spacesuit is not a Sokol-type suit. Instead, she is wearing a custom-made IVA/EVA convertible suit that has been specially designed as an ISF project to accomodate a child. This would all involve special training and equipment.

Hopefully, this makes our thinking a little more clear (and maybe shows that we did think?)