I was thrilled when good friend and independent filmmaker Rob Imbs approached me a few months back about designing a film title for his upcoming feature, Game Changers. Rob and I have known each other since our days as technicians in Apple retail, and we’ve collaborated together on creative projects several times since. Working directly with talented friends is an absolute blast, there’s nothing better in my opinion; and I’m lucky enough to have done it twice now in recent months.
Here’s Rob’s synopsis of what Game Changers is all about:
“Game Changers is about friendship and success in the world of professional gaming. Brian and Scott are two life long friends, their identity and value has always been tied to their notoriety as professional gamers. Now in their late 20’s and working together at a failing IT company, they begin to feel the responsibilities of adulthood sinking in. Brian resents the feeling and will do anything in his power to reclaim his status as a pro gamer. Scott is finding that he doesn’t identify with the pro gaming circuit like he used to. He’s also conflicted over the stability of his job and the prospect of being single for the rest of his life.”
Let’s get to it…
I. Setting the Mood
Rob sent over a bunch of imagery my way to use as inspiration in developing the first concepts. He put extra emphasis on the look of Magic: The Gathering and we both felt that the chrome-like examples wouldn’t quite fit the feeling he was going for with Game Changers. Eliminating them from the mix really helped narrow my focus moving forward.
II. Pencils & Paper
Right from the get-go, I was shooting for a more hand crafted look to the title rather than a computer generated one. I love the style of the titles from The Dark Crystal and The Secret of NIMH, and they fit right in with the look Rob was going for in referring to Magic: The Gathering. I used all three examples as my foundation for moving forward, which obviously meant that I would be hand lettering the title and not simply choosing Trajan Pro from the font list on my Mac. Wouldn’t have it any other way.
The early sketches were pretty rough. I was keenly aware of the look I was trying to achieve, but the letterforms needed to be worked through. It’s a process that evolved slowly over time. My aim was to have the letterforms look as if they had been chiseled or carved from a single piece of stone, with their individual shapes interlocking a bit.
Naturally, the closer I came to the general look I was going for the closer I was to moving it to the computer. When I felt I could do no more to clean up the sketches, I beamed it up to Adobe Illustrator.
III. Going Digital
Once I had scanned the final sketch onto my digital canvas, I began loosely tracing the letterforms in Illustrator. Once the entire drawing was traced, I went back and tidied up the letterforms. This was a time-consuming process, with the ‘G’ giving me the most difficulty, I didn’t actually get it right (in my opinion) until the very last revision. Issues aside, I kept plugging forward as the title began to shape.
Around the time I began to get serious in Illustrator, Rob was looking to launch his Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to make this thing happen, so we needed a logo for the campaign page and his accompanying website.
Now here’s the thing, the title wasn’t close to being ready and we both didn’t want to rush it through just to get it done. So instead, we decided to use what we had for the campaign itself and keep developing the title on its own timeline. After all, the movie was in its pre-development phase and the Indiegogo campaign was just a part of that process. Although it seemed pretty strange to release a half done logo into the wild at first, it made perfect sense being where we were in the film’s development. In fact, it proved to be a great testing ground to get more eyes on the title and take in feedback that I otherwise wouldn’t have had.
IV. Fit & Finish
I wasn’t looking to make any wholesale changes to the overall design, so it was just a matter of addressing a few trouble spots and adding polish to the existing title. I focused my attention on the problem areas and went to work on them one by one.
First off, I jettisoned that uppercase ‘E’ in ‘Game’ that we were stubbornly holding onto for some ungodly reason. Secondly, I eliminated the strange gap between the ‘a’ in ‘Game’ and the ‘an’ below it in ‘Changers’ by altering the shape of the ‘n’ to fill in the space. By doing so, I created a more even distribution of spacing throughout the entire title. Next I added a more chiseled look to the ‘G’ and ‘C’ so that they better fit in with the rest of the characters and touched up a few other minor details until I has the title right where I wanted it.
The version we put up on the Indiegogo site was given a quick Photoshop treatment to give an otherwise flat title some life, but this was only done as a minor stop-gap. I wanted this thing to be all vector, even the textures.
With the rocky, chiseled look under my belt, I decided to go with a softer stroke around them to accentuate the letterforms in a subtle way. I wanted to give the outer stroke a fluid, tar-like look; almost like liquid leather if that makes sense. Bezier curves took over my life for a couple of days during this stage, but I know how to wrangle those little guys. After I had the title outline under control, I returned to add several imperfections throughout to give it some more character. I also tossed in a double stroke to give the title one more layer of depth for specific situations where the title may end up “reversed”.
After the strokes were added, there was just that business of texture. Like I said, I was going all vector with it; I could have easily transported the title over to Photoshop and had at it there, but that didn’t feel right to me at all. I didn’t want to end up with some resolution dependent, raster texture shoe-horned into a vector illustration. No freakin’ way.
After hours of trial and error, I finally created some little vector “pebbles” to use as a grain-like texture to hug the inside edges of the letterforms. They were just what I was looking for.
More hours were spent meticulously repositioning and scaling groups of the pebbles to create a sense of “organized randomness.” I didn’t take any shortcuts here, there were no patterns, no brushes; they were all created and positioned manually. It was old school, time-consuming, and totally worth it.
Once the texture was complete, I created a few different color studies just to see how they looked. Being so early in the development of the film, there’s no telling where or how the title will need to be used in the future so it’s never a bad idea to explore different looks at this stage of the game.
V. Final Thoughts
One of the many joys of my “job” is having the freedom to collaborate with friends on cool projects. The impromptu iChat discussions and brainstorming sessions are always fun and inspiring. I’ve always imagined myself doing film design in some capacity and this was a great chance for me to jump in with both feet.
In the interest of full disclosure, I may have a small onscreen part in this film once Rob begins shooting so I’m extra motivated to help get this thing made. If you’re interested in gaming, independent films, contributing to the creative community, or just seeing me embarrass myself on the big screen – head over to the Game Changers Indiegogo page and become a backer. You can give as little as one stinking buck…there’s no good excuse not to!