All posts in “Process”

Jenn Droid: Uncanny Valley

'Jenn Droid: Uncanny Valley' Cover

A few months back, while I was in the process of designing the title for Rob Imbs’ upcoming film Game Changers, he asked me if I could come up with some Jenn Droid materials for him to use in the film. I only had a couple sketches and the logo kicking around at that point, but I was pumped at the prospect of having some of my work appearing in the movie.

Rob left the direction of the design completely up to me. It was truly wide open. It may seem counterintuitive, but this often proves to be a quite paralyzing. Setting limitations on a design is very important from the get-go, without constraints things can go ‘off the rails’ pretty quickly. Approaching design in this way really helps me to focus on the process and develop a more clear vision of the desired outcome.

I made a series of limiting design decisions before I started any real work.

The first of which was to limit the color palette; aside from the black and white line work, I decided on using only hot pink and purple. In imagining Jenn Droid, these were the two colors that always stood out to me. Sticking with my original vision saved me from steering too far off course when I got into the thick of it.

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Ryan Haynes Identity

Ryan Haynes Identity

Sometimes I can’t believe I get to draw and design things for a living, but I do, and it kicks ass. Especially when I have the opportunity to create cool stuff for friends; without a doubt, these projects are the most special to me.

Local animator and former co-worker at Apple, Ryan Haynes, approached me a few months back about creating an identity for him, much like what happened with Nate Benson. Ryan and I sat down at a coffee spot to discuss the creative direction and had a few laughs. During our conversation I discovered a mutual appreciation for the history and tradition of classic animation. The likes of Max Fleischer and Walt Disney were the inspirations behind his love for the animation process. We both agreed that this connection to animation’s history was an important element in moving forward with the design process.

Every identity design project I take on is with the understanding that the finished product will be bold, strong, and geometrically sound. Nothing “trendy,” nothing “modern.” Absolutely no swooshes. I want to create versatile identities that could work just as well twenty years ago or twenty years from now. I’m on a mission to bring back logos to what they should be: simple, meaningful graphical representations of an idea. Ryan enthusiastically signed off on that philosophy so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

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Game Changers Film Title Process

Game Changers Film Title: Process

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

Game Changers Logo: Inspiration Board

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.

Game Changers Initial Rough Sketch

• Game Changers Initial Rough Sketch (Initially the title was “Game Changer” without the ‘S’)

Game Changers - Another Attempt, too "Goosebumpy"

• Another Attempt, too “Goosebumpy”

Game Changers - One of the final sketches

• One of the final sketches, getting closer

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.

Game Changers - Shaping the letters in Adobe Illustrator

• Shaping the letters in Adobe Illustrator

Game Changers - Title First Revision

• Title First Revision

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.

Game Changers - Title Second Revision

• Title Second Revision

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”.

Game Changers Logo Title Detail: Bezier Curves

• Detail: Bezier Curve Madness

Game Changers - Title with Strokes

• Title with Strokes

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.

Game Changers - Detail: Vector Pebbles

• Detail: Vector Pebbles

Game Changers - Detail: Full Color

• Detail: Full Color

Game Changers - Final Title

• Final Title

Game Changers - Blue Color Study

• Blue Color Study

Game Changers - Red Color Study

• Red Color Study

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!

Nate Benson Logo

Buffalo-based photographer, Nate Benson, approached me about creating a logo for him back in December and I was all for it. Nate and I worked together in Apple Retail back in the day, but this was the first time I really got a chance to sit and talk with him. I’m a big fan of his work and was pleasantly surprised to find out that we shared a similar aesthetic taste, not to mention a genuine love of professional wrestling. I mean honestly, what more could you possibly ask for in a client?

No matter if I’m working on a logo for a friend or for a stranger, my process always begins the same way; with tiny thumbnails on graph paper. Doing this benefits me in a number of ways. First off, it helps me determine the geometric shape and scale, if a shape is recognizable at very small sizes, I know it’ll work just fine scaled larger. Another way this helps, is that I’m working in basic black & white where the same general idea applies, if the shape works in black, it’ll work in color as well.

This particular process works great for me primarily because I’m a firm believer that logos should be the most basic representation of an idea. They shouldn’t be illustrations, but rather, simple graphical representations of a person or company. I like to think of them as “stamps” or monograms. A logo needs to communicate efficiently and effectively, there’s just no time for cheap frills.

I don’t move into the digital realm until I have a clear vision of where I’m going with the design. Once in Adobe Illustrator, I start with the primary shape and steadily evolve the look until I get it close to what I had in mind. At this point I may veer off in a few different directions if it isn’t quite turning out the way I had hoped. In this instance, I was pretty much right where I wanted to be with it. A few tweaks here and there and it was ready to rock.

After some initial feedback from Nate and a couple small revisions, this thing was a wrap. The whole experience was a pretty painless one because Nate knew what he wanted going in; kudos to him for that. Admittedly, we both share the same theory on what a logo should be, or more importantly, what it shouldn’t be. I realize that this factored greatly in the design coming together so quickly. However under normal circumstances, designing logos very rarely goes this smoothly, so I think I’m going to just sit back and enjoy this one for a little while.

A Look Back: MVM Logo Process

This is a very brief look at the logo process of a design I did for myself a few months back. I had originally intended to use this as my personal brand, however after much deliberation on the subject, I decided to go in another direction. I shelved this idea and went on to develop Swivelarms as my identity. I still enjoy this logo and plan to print it on some t-shirts in the near future, but as a personal logo it just wasn’t going to hold up in the long run for a variety of reasons.

Heading into this logo design, I had already spent roughly 3 months playing around with an image in my mind. So when I actually sat down to put pencil to paper, the thumbnail process was quick and straightforward. In the end, there was very little variation from the initial sketches to the final logo. The upside to spending more time refining an idea in my head before beginning the design was that it saved me a lot of time. A potential downside to this approach however, is that there is less experimentation during the thumbnail process.

Preliminary Sketches

Thanks to prior planning, I began my preliminary sketches with a focused vision. Each thumbnail was a variation of the ‘all-seeing’ eye. This was an idea derived from my interpretation of ancient alien influence and was originally intended for some funny branding possibilities. Unfortunately, I was painfully aware of the contemporary pop-culture interpretation of this type of symbol. The trendiness of the the free-masons and buzzwords like “illuminati” were key reasons as to why I soured on this particular idea. There were more practical reasons of course, but conceptually I was turned off by the pedestrian perception of the ‘eye’. Moving on…

Final Sketch

I continued working on more thumbnails until I had nailed down a consistent look, which I then refined into a final sketch. After that, it was time to get it into Adobe Illustrator and break out the Pen Tool.

I placed the sketch image on the first layer of my Illustrator document and traced it onto the layer above; I created several more layers for each additional portion of the logo. It didn’t take long to get it traced, thanks to the simplicity of the design and the refinement of the original sketch.

After the logo was fully traced, the next step was to flesh out the line widths and color palette. I decided on using different shades of blue on the primary logo, to give it a subtle  3-dimensional feel, however I also played around with some other color combinations and variations, some of which you can see above. The silhouette version could be employed in 1 or 2-color applications.

Finally, I added the type treatment with the logo mark, choosing ITC Avant Garde for it’s obvious 80s Atari-esque appeal. I have always really enjoyed the boldness and simplicity of the typeface and I had predetermined its use from the start, so there wasn’t much exploration there.

Oftentimes, during a design process, I stumble upon some happy accidents. In this particular case, I had been tossing around the idea of taking the logo a step further by creating an alternate 8-bit version just for fun. I hadn’t yet set out to do that when I hit up to make a 16 x 16 favicon. After uploading the completed logo to the online generator I was happily greeted by an almost perfectly rendered 8-bit version; with a few minor tweaks in Illustrator this ‘space-invaders’ version was ready for prime-time without ever having to create it from scratch.

As any graphic designer can tell you, creating an identity for yourself is often one of the most difficult projects to undertake. For years I struggled with this reality, designing and then re-designing logos for myself over and over again. In the end I wasn’t truly happy with any of them. I was constantly floundering around with my personal identity and it was taking me away from the projects that I’d rather be spending my time on. Eventually, I came to the realization that in order for my personal brand to be successful, it simply needed to plug into my inner child. That is where my obsession with art and design began and that is where it still stems from today. ‘Mars vs Moon’ was a stretch to say the least, while it had potential for some fun and interesting branding projects, I didn’t feel connected with it in any way. There was no real story behind it, no connection to who I am or how I started doing this; it just wasn’t me. Another tough lesson to learn for sure, but an invaluable one to learn from.