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15 Minutes of Fame: Gank Frank


15 Minutes of Fame is our look at World of Warcraft players of all shapes and sizes – both the renowned and the relatively anonymous.

There's no easier way to introduce the subject of this week's 15 Minutes of Fame than this: If you enjoyed the movie Kill Bill, you'll love Gank Frank: A Raging Rumble of Retribution. Fenrix of Bloodhoof has crafted a quirky graphic novel that somehow blends Gnomes, Kill Bill, World of Warcraft and even a sprinkling of The Simpsons. Like most creative types, Fenrix has a lot to say. Here at WoW Insider, he lets fly on art, gaming and the World of Warcraft.

15 Minutes of Fame: What inspired you to create Gank Frank?
Fenrix: My inspirations come from a lot of different sources: movies, novels, comic books, other video games, internet fads, etc. This all forms into a huge, hodgepodge clusterfuck of material swirling around in my brain. I love telling and reading stories, especially those dealing with revenge. There's plenty of classic literature out there dealing with the subject of revenge, something that has always fascinated me, so it kind of felt natural to me when I decided to tell a story based around that idea. Revenge is one of the most primal forms of justice; it's something that we're all familiar with.

Aside from the subject matter, other obvious big influences would be the Kill Bill series created by Quentin Tarantino as it is what I base my plot and character development around. I remember seeing it for the first time in theatres and really being swept away by the story itself. The amount of punishment and hardship that Uma Thurman's character endures is intriguing and engrossing to me. You want to see her bloody plotted revenge fulfilled in the end; you want to see her succeed. I wanted to do something similar, so I used the basis of these movies to build the framework of the story.

Let's take readers behind the scenes of Gank Frank. How do you assemble a chapter? Can you give us a walk-through?
Well, when I first started Gank Frank back in 2006, I had no idea it was going to evolve into what it has today. Most of the work done on Chapter 1 was done in game via screenshots, with minor touch-ups in Photoshop. Since Chapter 2 I have been progressively moving away from that method and rather taking screenshots in game, and using programs like WoW Model Viewer and Photoshop to get the results I want.

With any story, it all starts with a, this is where I start with Gank Frank. Having seen the Kill Bill series several times, I use that as the basis of the storyline and start fiddling with the story and characters. Once I have the basic idea ironed out in my head, I start writing. This usually ends up with my skipping around to several parts in the story, writing around areas, filling in, adding on, etc., before I settle on the finalized script. The script is never really finalized, as I am constantly making minor corrections up until the goddamn bitter end. This is hugely inefficient and widely considered by many as a bad idea ... and they would be right. Let this be lesson to others -- don't work this way!

Part of the writing process is image placement and timing. Generally, I try to keep the dialog sequences limited in terms of images to allow for more images for the kick-ass action sequences. I try to describe the action as I picture it in my head. I describe each individual image in relation to the text of the story. And this generally leads to very, very, very long scripts. For instance, in Chapter 3, there's about 60 images (with detailed directions on character placement, etc.) and loads of dialogue, as well as a mess of action sequences. This all adds up to about 2,200 words, or about 10 pages. After the script is hammered out, I begin to craft each image. Yes, that's right, craft.

All images in Gank Frank are created through three different programs: WoW Model Viewer, Photoshop CS and obviously WoW itself. Chapter 1 is different in this regard, as most of the images were just screenshots taken from in-game and Photoshop was just used for touch-ups. With the advent of Chapters 2 and 3, and through the growth of my own Photoshop skills, I began using Photoshop more to manually generate and arrange the images for the story. This is much more time-consuming, but the result is something that has its own unique style. It's not quite realistic, but it's not quite something you'd see in game, either. I really dig it.

I start with a screenshot from the game, usually taking three to four screenshots per image I intend on making, just to give me some options in terms of angles. I pick the angle I like the best, go into WoW Model Viewer and begin taking screenshots of the different characters. I keep a variety of outfits saved in Model Viewer to swap out whenever I want to play around with different colors and armor setups, etc. It's like a digital dress-up game but with Gnomes in yellow jumpsuits!

Next, I eyeball the perspective of the characters for splicing them into the screenshot. I usually get it on the first try, but sometimes it takes a few tries to get it right. If I'm off by a little, Photoshop has a nifty little Perspective Tool where I can correct things. Anywho, positioning and choosing the right animation is very important for every image. For every animation, there are hundreds to thousands of single animation frames to choose from. Choosing the right one with the right angle is usually the hardest part of this whole process. Once I have it where I want it, it finally goes into Photoshop!

As you can see, each image is usually filled with lots of layers. Layers help organize multiple elements like this mob of angry Defias bandits as seen below, and create a depth of field or blurry action. Also, I have lots of fun with the silly looking CGI-blood sprays. Perhaps too much fun.

Some of the images can get pretty large with multiple layers. For some of the images in Chapter 3, for instance, I had to search for NPCs in Model Viewer and arrange them all in Photoshop by hand. To get the positioning right, I had to give them all their own separate layers. You get the idea – lots of layers, large file sizes, slow working process, chews up my RAM. They eventually get flattened and saved as JPEGs, but I have a full size Photoshop file for every image in Gank Frank if I decide something needs touching up or if I want to make them into wallpapers. Most people probably don't realize the amount of time I put into crafting these images.

How much time does creating one chapter typically take?
With each subsequent chapter, I've gotten into this groove of raising a personal bar and improving upon my work of the previous chapter. Whether it be through better imagery or writing, more Photoshop tricks or better overall storytelling, I do try to improve upon each story. So each chapter has taken me slightly longer to produce than the previous one. Each one is so different in terms of number of images that it's hard to give a standard number. The last few days before Chapter 3 was released, I remember staying up for about a day and a half polishing each PSD file before compiling the images to be flattened for the web. I'd say about 40 to 50 hours on average if you were to count writing the script, taking the screenshots in WoW and in Model Viewer and finally editing them in Photoshop.

What part of producing Gank Frank do you find most enjoyable?
The reader feedback and the reactions of my friends, by far. I love getting reactions out of people after they read the story and look through all the images. I love surprising people and making them laugh ... making them look deeper into an image or do a double take ... like, "Did he really just -- whoa, he did!" kind of reactions. I really enjoy that aspect. After all the time I put into the images, to finally see that people are reading it, enjoying it and furthermore taking the time to let me know that they enjoy it, is really rewarding.

What's your art/design background?
I've been interested in the arts for as far back as I can remember. As a child, I would devour coloring books and go through crayons like a maniac. I am extremely fortunate and thankful to have supportive parents. My parents have been very encouraging throughout my artistic endeavors over the years, and I pursued my art interest all the way up through high school and into college (where I am right now). I am currently studying in the field of communication arts at Virginia Commonwealth University. We're trained to work in many different mediums, both digitally and traditional, so I do a bit of designing and a bit of illustrating as well. I work freelance right now, but eventually I would like to do concept art or storyboard art for a video game company (hint, hint, Blizzard).

When can readers expect the next and final chapters?
I'm already writing the script for Chapter 6, so probably sometime this summer. I have a lot of distractions in life that prevent me from devoting more time to it right now. Not sure on whether or not I will be doing a dual release like I just did with Chapters 4 and 5, but we'll see. I'd kind of feel bad if I did Chapter 6 and made everyone wait another 4 months while I finished Chapter 7, though. I post teasers on the Funkytown forums (where I post the chapters themselves), but I always post an announcement thread in Blizzard's official forums for everyone to see.

I unfortunately didn't get the reader response I wanted for these past two chapters, and part of that has to do with the fact that Blizzard moved my announcement topic from General Discussion to Off-Topic. I was like, "What the frick?" I've only gotten about 2,000 views on Chapter 5 so far, which is pretty meager in comparison to the 19,000+ I've gotten on Chapter 1. I was pretty crushed. I have declared shenanigans, but my lawyer hasn't gotten back to me on whether or not that's an actual legal claim I can make. So, here I sit, with the cards I have been dealt...

What keeps you busy IRL?
My work and studies at college definitely chew up most of my time. I draw, sketch and doodle constantly. When I'm not drawing or painting, I am usually hanging out with friends. I am a college student, so I do my fair share of partying, too. Family is also very important to me.

How long have you been playing WoW? Was Fenrix your original character?
I've been playing since the release in 2004. I am a little ashamed to say that Fenrix was not my original character, but a close second. My first character was a Human Paladin which I leveled to the lofty realm of level 24, wherein I got bored of playing a healer, promptly deleted her and began Fenrix.

The story doesn't end there, though – I leveled the original Fenrix up to 48, when I realized I wanted to be the first person on the server to have a cross-faction mount. This was way before the Runecloth quest was implemented, and there were very few ways to get Exalted with any other factions for the purposes of a mount. I found that the only way to fulfill my dreams was to delete the level 48 Fenrix and start over in Elwynn as a Level 1 Gnome Rogue, and do all the Stormwind faction quests I could until I hit 40. So that's what I did. Finally at level 40 I did the repeatable "Lost Supplies" quest in the Swamp of Sorrows a couple hundred times (a painful 25 rep per turn in) until I hit Exalted and was the first Gnome to buy a Horse at level 43.

What is Fenrix and his guild up to these days? What are you enjoying – and not so much -- about raiding?
Fenrix is the class lead in same the guild I began doing Molten Core in, from back in the day – Eternal Trinity. They are a great bunch of guys and gals, and I owe a lot to them personally. We've recently downed a slew of new bosses in SSC and the Eye, as well as Magtheridon, just to name a few. They are a great group of friends and I wouldn't change it for anything in the world!

Anything you're especially looking forward to in 2.4? What about Wrath of the Lich King?
Like most people, I'm looking forward to seeing some of the new badge loot. Granted, I don't exactly have a 400+-badge shopping list lined up like some of my friends do, but I will be eager to try out the upgrades. As for the expansion, well – the prospects of creating an "evil twin" Gnomish Death Knight sounds appealing. He'll look just like Fenrix does right now, only with a moustache. I think I shall call him Fenrox.

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