The making of DigiWidget

DigiWidget was originally designed, in 1997, as a cartoon strip.
I played with ArtWorks and decided that despite it's power, it was missing a few of the things that were really useful for accurate and easy placement of the pieces.
We won't discuss Draw. It is pretty poor, but for all the opposite reasons to ArtWorks!
In the middle comes Jonathan Marten's DrawPlus. This is, really, everything that Draw should have been, had Acorn bothered to carry on the concept. It offers layers, really drop-dead simple point placement, and it is so much like "Draw with extras" that you don't need a user guide or anything. In fact, apart from one keypress that I don't like, DrawPlus is my vector graphics designer of choice. In fact, when I'm making pretty textured stuff with ArtWorks, I'll rough it out in DrawPlus and import it 'cos it's a hell of a lot simpler. :-)

This isn't intended as an advert for a software package, so we'll move on...

The entire strip was drawn out as ten frames. Unfortunately due to space requirements, the first two frames were omitted in the original published version. These frames basically set the scene and were not actually necessary for the gag to work.
In the animated GIF, the frames have been restored. Two extra frames have been added for a 'closing', as well as a few little tweaks... The ghost has been given an outline as, well, it is a ghost, not a postbox! The ghost should be a sort-of pulsating cyan, but since this is a monochrome strip...
I am especially proud of the blobs in the eyes of the ghost, as now instead of being a 'generic ghost', the pupils have allowed the ghost to become wonderfully expressive!


Digiwidget strip; GIF, 25K
Above is the original strip as it appears in issue 14 (page 14!).


I have been asked, in the past, if I would consider making another digiwidget strip. The answer is both Yes and No. I think the stories were useful to 'flesh' out the character in the same sort of way that the Tomb Raider movie took Lara Croft and made her something more than a gun-toting action babe. There is a certain challenge in getting a gag sequence down to a mere few frames. As you'll know if you bother to ever look at the 'cartoons' in the newspapers, it sometimes works to great effect, and sometimes it just fails. Or in the case of The Far Side, sometimes you just look at it and think "huh?"...
...the only problem, I can't draw! You'll probably have noticed that the picture of Digiwidget wearing the slinky black dress is used quite a lot - that's because it took forever to draw a girl with the right sort of proportions.
The ending scene of the animated GIF has her wearing a button-up blouse and a skirt, though I pinched the legs and shoes from the slinky-dress drawing. You'll notice that the arms are a bit too thin, she looks like she's stuck in the '80s with shoulder pads. Though when I widened the arms out, she looked like some sort of ape. So I've gone for narrower arms, as the rest of her body is curvy and not podgy...
We won't discuss the face. All I'll say is that InterGIF's anti-aliasing adds a hell of a lot to the face. I'm utter sh*t at drawing people's faces. I did try to go for a vaguely manga look (you know, cute babe with huge eyes) but it looked a bit silly. Maybe it's something that is better on paper?

I've also been asked why it was monochrome. The drawfile can support any arbitrary set of colours, GIF can do any 256 (or 255 with transparency). Even on the old systems as the original drawings were made upon, we have 4 shades of 64 colours. So why monochrome?
That answer is simple. Simplicity. I like to take black and white photographs because sometimes less is more. Sometimes things look so much better when you remove the clutter introduced by colour. In the café, the wall is a mid-grey. Is it blue, green, yellow? Maybe it is a vomit-inducing hot pink? Well, colour it in how you want. It's just grey in digiwidget.
Additionally, I think it sets the scene more to have everything appear in shades of grey. I notice both Evanescence and Christina Aguilera have released videos shot in monochrome (the excellent 'My Immortal' and 'The Voice Within') - so I know I'm not the only one to think monochrome is sometimes better!

How this was done, was to decide to set all (but one) scene in the café itself. The external scene was one that was cut (oh well!).
As you can see from the picture below, I figured out a rough perspective and then drew a room. The original room was more complex than you see here; so I used that as a template for the room you see below. It's the Homer Simpson principle - simplify it. The room did not need any sort of shading in order to look like a room! As simple as it is now, it draws instantaneously.

Digiwidget room; GIF, 9K
The room template, with all objects selected.


The next step was to design Digiwidget herself. As she was originally in a sitting position, I did not need to worry about anything below the waist - which is probably just as well as it took a long time to get her shoes right, as they come forwards slightly, the perspective was... interesting (read 'bloody annoying').
I opted to dress her in a basic part-buttoned shirt. This is like a polo shirt crossed with a standard secretarial blouse. Normally, she might be expected to wear a 'business suit', but since her job involves hitting things with a mallet - she'd dress a tad more casually. And, let us not forget the ID badge!
You can see what I mean about her arms - and especially her shoulders. If the angle goes down, it is like she's slumping, and if the angle goes up, it's like she has shoulder pads. If the angle is dead horizontal, we're into Metal Mickey territory... so I opted for the shoulder-pad look as (while not pleasing me), it was the most acceptable of those choices!
Her arms are a bit too big here, and actually I don't think she looks like an ape. No, I think if her polo shirt was bright yellow, we could maybe call her McDigiwidget or something...

Digiwidget; GIF, 3K

A lot of little detail may have been missed...

Digiwidget's badge; GIF, 5K
Digiwidget's badge.
Knowing me, the barcode actually means something - but I have no idea what, these days. Did you realise that the barcode on the front of the Frobnicate magazine is actually a barcode for "Frobnicate"? I don't think it is EAN-13 as I'm pretty sure that only codes numbers; I'll leave it to you to work out what type of barcode it may be...
The "Deunan Sector" is a manga reference. I'll leave it to you to work out what, suffice to say that if you like manga, you've probably come across "Deunan" already.

And, yes... Her real name is Angela Hopkins.

Next, the can that she is given...

Digiwidget's tipple; GIF, 2K
Digiwidget's tipple.
Actually, at the time it was my second favourite tipple. My first is root beer, but for some reason it never really 'took off' in the UK. As for France... well, I'll just have to make do with actual beer as there's neither root beer nor Dr. Pepper.

Digiwidget's menu; GIF, 4K
Digiwidget's menu.
Above is the menu she had in front of her. Now, I could lie and fix up all the bad French - for example, what the hell does "ou au lait" mean? I suspect it should read something like "noir ou avec du lait", though they seem to call a milky coffee a "grand crème". It's the closest I can find to a cafèlatte...
Incidently, where does one find a coffee for 70p these days anyway? It's like everything is two euros - be it a grand crème, an expresso, a tea (which is foul as the French like their tea weak), or an Orangina... Two euro.


Well, put that all together and you have one Digiwidget strip!

Sadly, I think the creation of that one strip took longer than writing all of the rest of them, but who knows - maybe I'll do another strip?

I hope you enjoyed it.


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Copyright © 2004 Richard Murray