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Watch Me Draw LIVE!

I’ve started broadcasting my drawing process regularly live on UStream. It has been a lot of fun and has served to motivate me and help hold me responsible to continue delivering comic updates on time.

It has also turned into a “drawing circle” of sorts for other cartoonists to come and hang out, discuss cartoons, movies, and other geek stuff as we all work on our own comics simultaneously. It’s great to have such awesome talent showing up and has been a surprising inspiration in my own work.

So, I encourage anyone who is interested in seeing my process, or any other artists or cartoonists who would like to hop in the room and hang out and draw with the rest of us to stop on by my UStream channel on Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:00pm CST and check out the action.

The Pilots who burn through space while lighting their enemies on fire. (or relax peacefully in an asteroid belt as they mine for rare ore) in the massively multiplayer space simulation game Eve Online were recently treated with a much anticipated upgrade.

CCP, the company behind this wildly innovative game has been working for years to continually upgrade graphics and game mechanics to keep Eve one of the most talked about games around. Yet it is a game that is perhaps just as famous for it’s innovation and immersion, as it is for it’s insanely complex and unintuitive user interface.

When CCP announced that they would be taking the process of character creation to a level never before achieved in video games, players went wild with anticipation. Everyone was extremely excited to get an opportunity to give their old faces (many of them being seven years old) a facelift.

However, as is so common with Eve Online, the conversation within the community quickly turned from one of praise, to one of frustration as they found the interface to be frustratingly difficult to discern. No real explanation of interface controls were provided which lead users to miss key options for customization. Perhaps the biggest grievance of all was that no warning dialoge box popped up at the end of the process to warn users that their changes were now permanent which resulted in pilots with strange, often hilariously awful looking portraits.

Now, anyone who owns a drivers license can tell you that having a picture of yourself with a goofy sideways grin and half shut eyelids is perhaps the most true to life aspect of the entirety of this game about “internet spaceships”. But, if you are going to pay a monthly fee to play the game, you might as well look good doing it right?

So, after thousands of complaints, two update patches to the game client, and another opportunity for players to re-do their character portrait, all is well again in the far reaches of space. And CCP has learned once again, just how crucial clear and intuitive interface design is to the overall experience of their game.

(honestly, the technology behind the character creation is really incredible and totally worth a look.)

Design to Draw Them In

When I was in college I attended all of my video classes in this great converted dockside warehouse. The exterior was plain and non-descript. The brick was old and crumbling. A fresh layer of dark green paint was the glue that held many of the window frames together. However, inside the building was sleek and modern. Clean, white rooms framed in steel and glass reminiscent of museum displays held the latest and greatest in video technology. And in the lobby, near a cluster of leather chairs, a large grid of tube televisions arranged floor to ceiling and eight feet wide. Perhaps twenty sets flashing colors and images on a three minute loop. Each set displaying something different from everything around it, all adding to the overall effect of frenetic disarray.

As cool as that installation was, (and honestly, it really was cool) Its function and appeal was rather limited. The videos on the displays never changed and the general lack of focus in the design of the piece led most visitors to loose interest in it fairly quickly or not even bother to give it a glance as they hurried on to their classes. Nothing about the piece really drew the viewer to it.

And so, when The Iona Group took on the task of creating a large display for Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, The possibilities for what could be done with interactivity through user submitted photos and videos, and design and animation being shared and moving across all screens simultaneously had me really excited to take part in the development of this project. I was tasked with designing the layout of the LCD display screens and I jumped at the chance to get involved with such a cool project

The challenge in creating a design for the layout of the monitors was that considerations for both content and available space were required. Design called for a large field of adjacent monitors, which could display a single image or message across multiple screens simultaneously. Additional monitors would then fan out from there to carry images across thirty feet of wall space.

Early designs placed the monitors in a more deliberate grid-like structure with individual monitors spaced equidistant from each other. However, once it was determined that content should flow across the layout in a fluid motion similar to leaves floating in a stream, it was decided that the monitors should have a more organic, fluid appearance in their arrangement. Finding the right balance of randomness and structure took a few iterations. Too random, and the design looked unpolished, too rigid, and it looked lazy and uninspired. The solution was something in-between, something more akin to controlled chaos.

The next steps were to build a three-dimensional virtual space on the computer and begin laying out modeled elements in various configurations. This step proved to be invaluable because it allowed the designer to place virtual cameras in the created space to view the proposed layouts from every possible angle. This step led to additional refinement of the design to ensure that spacing between monitors worked within the final real-world location and that the viewing angle felt natural across the entirety of the piece.

The result is an arrangement that captures the energy of the piece. From every viewing angle the design is dynamic and interesting. The monitors explode outward from the center and hang lightly in space. The organic layout of the design contrasts appropriately with the architecture of its surroundings and draws the eye to it.

I may be completely biased, (in fact, I am sure of it) but I’d like to think that any student hurrying past the piece on their way to class would stop just for a moment to regard the piece and perhaps be compelled to add their own contribution, if only to see it displayed on the funky monitor formation.

(This is going to be one of those grumpy old men, shaking his fist at the absurdity of the modern world kind of posts. Fair warning.)

I have always had a soft spot for Thomas, the cheeky little British steam engine who will often cause quite a fuss for Sir Topenhat and the other residence of the Island of Soddor. His adventures are simple enough. One week he would be in a hurry to get his yard work done early and his loud bashing and clanging will disturb the poor people waiting in the passenger terminal, the next week he would be perhaps a bit over confident and would try to pull one too many cars up Gordon’s Hill. There will always be some small disaster, perhaps a runaway car or a spilled load, but in the end all is be fine and Thomas will have learned an important lesson about being polite and knowing your limits. (this is after all, a British show.) It is all very charming and very hard not to fall in love with.

Perhaps what most drew me to Thomas originally was the wholly unique and wonderful animation technique the creators used to bring these engines to life. Essentially, The Island of Sodor was a glorified model railroad. Little spray painted sprigs of dried moss dotted the landscape along long, winding stretches of hand-laid model track. Beautiful metal engines would chug along spewing wonderfully out of scale fountains of steam from their little boilers.

If all this sounds like the wistful ramblings of a model railroad geek, you would be correct. I cannot deny that much of my love for the show’s stylistic qualities comes from my own love of model railroading. Yet there was more to it than just that. Because of the “model-like” quality of the show, no real motion was ever shown outside of trains moving forwards and backwards along the track. The human characters stood stoic as simple little wood-cut forms. A figure of the train conductor waving at children as he passed by a school yard would be replaced with a second figure of the train conductor with his hands back on the controls in a second shot. The train engines themselves would have little grey faces on them who’s eyes could move around freely, but again, much like the the rest of the world, expression changes happen between shots.

On top of all of it, each and every character was voiced by one person; A storyteller named “Mr. Conductor” who would narrate the adventures of Thomas and his friends. Throught the years, Mr Conductor would be played by several famous personalites including Ringo Starr, George Carlin, and Alec Baldwin.

This simple stylistic approach to the storytelling not only gave the show a great deal of charm, but also allowed for great freedom and flexibility within the mind of the viewer and frankly, a story about a railroad told through the art of model railroading is really a no brainer.

Which is why the recent (ok, it’s been a while now, but it’s been weighing heavy on my heart for a while now.) switch to a full CG Thomas the Tank Engine is really very sad. Gone is the simple charm that made the show such a joy to watch. Instead we now have yet one more slick, 3D animated kids show with a bunch of talking characters performing in a really pretty virtual world complete with complex camera moves and all the other amenities that Computers can offer.


My kid likes it though, so who am I to complain?

The Beauty of Pixar

Leandro Copperfield created this wonderful tribute to the beautiful films of Pixar.

He writes:

Pixar’s films have always been very important in my life. I was 6 years old when I watched Toy Story the first time, and his films made my childhood more happy. So this video is a personal tribute for, in my opinion, the best animation studio of all time.

via: Slashfilm

The Marketing Lesson

Mike Witmer Pointed this article out. Very fascinating thought on the importance of presentation when it comes to displaying your work for a client or a customer.

We all know presentation affects consumer perceptions of quality and value, and people will frequently assign one of two identical items as being proportionally better than the other simply based on more attractive packaging or presentation.

This same concept not only applies to consumer products, but for services and art as well. No matter how great your talent, Delivering your message to the wrong crowd will get you nowhere fast.

Check out the article here.

I have been given the fantastic opportunity to attend the 2010 Festival of Cartoon Art at the Ohio State University this October. From what I have gathered from cartoonists that have attended in the past, it should be an exciting weekend of fellowship with other artists who share a passion for cartooning.

However, this weekend also holds very special meaning for me because Dave Kellet of my favorite webcomic Sheldon will be speaking to a room full of professionals and academics about the future of cartooning. Yes, Dave will be talking about Webcomics.

In his own words:

At the 1989 Festival, Watterson spoke of the incredible potency in comic strip cartooning: This rarest of arts that let one artist, one voice, speak to millions. This artform that lets the personal outlook shine through, where so many other mass media arts do so by committee.

So to be invited, some twenty one years later, to speak at the very same gathering of professionals and academics, is magical to me. (It’s humbling beyond words, too, in a stomach-churning way…but let’s focus on the magical aspect of it.)

Because, the funny thing? The thing I want to talk about? Is actually that very same Watterson speech from 1989. Or rather, to offer a loving and respectful rebuttal to it, from 21 years on. I want to speak to his concerns about the space allotted comic strips in newspapers; about zombie comic strips still being drawn long after their original creator had died; about why so many features have stale, interchangeable voices; or why so many are merely advertisements for dolls and greeting cards; or why comic strips in general have been on this slow, downward trend of diminishment in American life for the past 20-30 years

Because basically, I’m going to talk about this incredible change of fortune for the comic strip. I’m going to talk about Webcomics.

This means a lot to me because I feel that, in many ways, Dave Kellet is the spiritual successor to Watterson. The work he produces speaks to the adults who grew up reading Calvin and Hobbes, as well as their kids who are now turning away from newspapers and looking to webcomics for their cartooning entertainment. Plus, Dave is not only a very funny guy and a talented artist, but he has the educational background and the knowledge to speak with long time professionals and educators on their level about comics. Webcartoonists have been looking for an “ambassador” to represent us and “legitimize” us for a very long time, and I think that Dave Kellet may just be the man for the job.

So anyway, It should be a very interesting weekend for webcomics and I am very excited to get the opportunity to go!

alt=Tom Racine is one of those really lucky guys that you just can’t help but have a tinge of jealousy toward. As podcast host, he has had the pleasure of interviewing many of the greatest cartoonists working today, from Jeff Keane (Family Circus), Tom Richmond (Mad Magazine), Jef Mallet (Fraz), Dave Kellet (Sheldon), and Patrick McDonnell (Mutts) to name just a few.

So when I got a little email in my inbox from Tom saying that he wanted to have me on his show, Tall Tale Radio, as a guest, naturally I was a little surprised at the invitation. When He said he wanted to record the interview on April 1st, I was sure it was a prank. But it was no prank! Tom had me on to discuss Robot Beach, and to take the opportunity look at the cartooning world through the eyes of someone who is brand-new to all of this. Hopefully I was able to provide some insight on the subject.

The interview has kinda forced me to reflect on the state of Robot Beach over the last week or so, and I want to take a moment to thank everyone who reads my strip. I am just a few months away from my one year anniversary and I am sure that I would not have made it this far had it not been for all of the support I have gotten from everyone in the form of comments and personal emails. I have made a lot of really great friends because of Robot Beach and those relationships just push me to constantly do better. Robot Beach originally started as a simple three year project. A simple story with a finite end. However, I have been having so much fun lately that I have recently decided to drop the original plan and continue drawing the strip for the foreseeable future. So, as long as you keep coming back, you can find new Robot Beach strips here for many years to come!

So go check out my Interview with Tall Tale Radio and please forgive my nervous incoherent ramblings. ;) Thanks again for the wonderful opportunity Tom!

Orson Welles gives us six minutes of what he does best. Cartoon Brew frames it up perfectly:

This video of Orson Welles has absolutely nothing to do with animation, and it has absolutely everything to do with animation.

That host seems rather uncomfortable around Welles doesn’t she?

Eddie Pittman pointed this out: Watch this video taken from an interview with Frank Zappa and substitute the word “Music” with Comics, Animation, Film, or any media of your choice.

Here is a snippet of what he said:

“One thing that did happen during the Sixties was some music of an unusual or experimental nature did get recorded or did get released. Now look at who the executives were in those companies at those times. Not hip young guys. These were cigar-chomping old guys who looked at the product that came and said, ‘I don’t know. Who knows what it is. Record it. Stick it out. If it sells, alright.’ We were better off with those guys than we are now with the supposedly hip young executives who are making the decisions of what people should see and hear in the marketplace. The young guys are more conservative and more dangerous to the art form than the old guys with the cigars ever were.”

More discussion on this can be found over on Cartoon Brew.

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