Production Update – 01.12.11

Wow, what a ride this has been so far.

That is not a statement made purely of warmth and wonder, by the way.  Not entirely, at least.

It has been WAY too long since the last update, and I realize the question marks are popping up over heads all over the internet regarding the status/future of CotG.  It is long past time I starting answering those.

CotG is NOT dying, it is NOT going away or podfading.  Well, not if I have anything to say about it, which, hey!  I do! :)

Work on Chapter 11 has been progressing, though certainly at a drastically reduced rate, compared to what I would like to see.  Currently, production is at the last scene of 11 and is still moving forward.  I’m shooting for a release in no more than two weeks, though it remains to be seen whether the day job and “meat life” will continue to infringe on my ability to start making good on my estimates.

That said, production was indeed stalled for months because of a hardware failure on the production computer, which was injecting a whining sound into every new recording I tried to create, and was impossible to remove without degrading everything noticeably.  Thanks to user donations, that issue was overcome with a replacement sound card, and production was able to resume.  To you folks who have dropped a donation: THANK YOU SO MUCH! I would’ve been stuck a lot longer in production limbo if you hadn’t stepped in.

However, none of previous blurb is meant to imply that I sat idle on my hands during the production downtime.  Oh no, not at all!  I have been putting some heavy focus on improving the back end of things for our cast and potential volunteers.

CastAgent

In the past, I attempted to provide some kind of organization to the growing crew, while enabling fans and volunteers to air their thoughts, ideas and questions.  Lacking the coding skills necessary to customize my own solution, I kept attempting to rely on existing forums packages to do the job.  But, it seemed no matter what I turned to, they inevitably devolved into a field of spammers, or proved to be so rigid or poorly-designed as to eventually create more problems than they solved.  Through it all, I had an idea trying to materialize in the back of my mind about how our unique requirements really need to be met.  I’m pleased to say that idea has finally started to become reality, in the form of CastAgent, formerly known as SunDance (which was a project name that could have some obvious legal implications if I attempted to stick with it when it went public.)

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the LiveView panel over there on the sidebar, you might have noticed the changes that have been taking place within.  The LiveView offers a breakdown of the casting status for the next coming episode.  The content of that panel is provided by CastAgent, but (now) it does SO much more than simply tracking casting for episodes.  CastAgent was always intended to have a public interface, and is meant to make the whole process of producing episodes more automated and streamlined, smoothing out the tedious parts of the process for myself, the cast and potential volunteers alike.

Final work for the public portion of the interface is just about complete.  When it’s completed, the following features will be available:

Completed - SCRIPT AUTOMATION
Users will be able to access the scripts directly from the site as a live display, rather than flat pdf downloads distributed by email or web link (these can be printed to pdf or paper without disrupting the formatting too).

Completed - SCRIPT HIGHLIGHTING
To help eliminate missed lines, script views will highlight every instance of a particular character’s lines, simply by clicking on the character’s name in the script.  Click the name again to remove the highlighting, or click a different name to change it over.

In Development - CASTING AUTOMATION
Volunteers will be able to register with the site to gain access to the scripts for auditioning, and for uploading their audition to the site for review.  Upon acceptance, their credit name will appear beside the character to await receipt of the final voice work.  The site will communicate with the user at each major step, keeping them in the loop as to what’s going on and what their next step should be.

In Development - CASTING AUTOMATION
Cast members with an assigned character will see their part automatically highlighted for them when they view a script in which their character appears.  (This can be turned off by simply clicking an instance of the character’s name in the script).

In Development - WEB EXPOSURE
Cast members will have the ability to include links to their website, Twitter feeds or Facebook pages in their account profile, which can be included as part of their credit listing in the episode feed, or held back from the feed to be used exclusively for internal communications.  These, of course, are completely optional, and can be left out entirely if desired, but I’m more than happy to find a way to give something back to the people who so graciously donate their time to this project.  I’ve always felt it was only fair to offer some additional exposure to a cast member’s web presence in exchange, but lacked the ability to make it happen without adding a lot more manual work to the release process.  Finally, that is no longer the case.

Completed - SCRIPT AUTOMATION
Scripts are imported and tracked with a couple of clicks, making the process of releasing a new chapter for cast viewing much, MUCH easier than it had been previously.  Script revisions are available to the site the very second they are saved here at the studio, and revisions that occur after voicing begins (which will be in very rare cases) will prompt the site to send a notice to all the cast in that script via email.

Completed - CAST MANAGEMENT
CastAgent is fully integrated with the CotG site, which means if you have an account here, you’re already set up with CastAgent as well.

In Development - FILE MANAGEMENT
Auditioning volunteers and cast members will have the ability to upload their sound files (up to 180 megabytes) directly through CastAgent.  The file is processed and packaged according to the credit name of the logged-in submitter, the character being voiced, and the chapter in which the character appears.  The submission is then transmitted directly to the studio, and confirmation emails sent to both the submitter and myself.

There are a couple more features I’m still trying to work out, but they’re mostly on the admin side.

Oh, and though it goes without saying as far as I’m concerned, potential volunteers and cast members are to be assured that their account details, especially their email addresses (which can be used as login names for the system), are not considered anybody’s property but their own, and will not be used in any form other than for internal communication.  Passwords are encrypted, and the login system in general is protected under the same set of security measures that the CotG site itself employs.

CastAgent’s ScriptView is completed and the chapter StatusView is nearly there.  These features are now publicly-accessible, so by all means, have a look!

Story development has also been getting lots of attention.

Script Vault

I haven’t been slacking in the scripts department, either.  At present, chapters 12-17 are completed and ready for public viewing.  I actually have more coming down the pipe, but I’ve been doing some editing after receiving  input from other writers, and having done of bit of looking back over my shoulder as well.  I’m making it a point to drastically decrease the amount of narration that occurs in the scripts, opting to let the soundscapes do as much of the picture painting as possible, instead.  I think the end result will definitely be worth the effort.

So there you have it.  Chapter 11 is just about “in the can”, CastAgent is live with cast tracking and script distribution, and more chapters are being released in-advance.

‘What about the day job is interfering with my long-overdue new episode,’ you ask?  Well, for those who really do wonder, I work for FedEx in Las Vegas as a technical specialist.  I install and maintain all the fun blinky bits in the 19 FedEx Office stores across the valley.  Las Vegas is the (unofficial) convention capital of the country, if not the world.  Conventions need signs and banners and business cards.  The company is constantly looking for ways to expand and enhance its capabilities and repertoire.  You do the math.  We be busy! :)

It’s all good, though.  The weekends are all mine, and that’s when it’s time to break out the Red Bull, slip on the headphones, and get cracking on some more CotG production!

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