Inspiration: Mastodon, Crack the Skye

Crack the Skye: Mastodon

Crack the Skye: Mastodon

Crack the Skye: Mastodon

My favorite metal act, Mastodon is set to release their fourth album on March 24th entitled Crack the Skye. My friends and I have been anxiously anticipating this release for the past year, so we are all adequately losing our minds with the launch date so rapidly approaching. I have been avoiding listening to online previews or downloads, my favorite bands deserve my undivided attention once I have their new CD in my hands.

Mastodon’s album artwork has always impressed me. Not only are the paintings for each album simply beautiful, but the overall design and identity of the band is always consistent with each release, which hasn’t changed for Crack the Skye. They launched the Crack the Skye promotional website yesterday which almost took my head off with the artistic quality they put together. Beautiful paintings and drawings, esoteric imagery and animation with great icons and symbolism.

To make this even better, my good pal and fellow metalhead Jonathan Mitchell over at Delicate Machines created the intricate and stylized 3D clock used as the navigation at the bottom of the website:

Crack the Skye: Mastodon

Crack the Skye: Mastodon

There arn’t many things better then seeing your buddy’s work on the website of your favorite metal band :) Well done, Jonny.

Support for Shepard

Support by James White

The topic of Shepard Fairey has been a hot and cold subject with artists and designers over the past few years, and the arguement has recently been thrust into the spotlight with the lawsuit over his photo referencing for the now famous Obama poster. There are those who disagree with Fairey and his work calling him a plagiarist (see Obey Plagiarist Shepard Fairey), while others are coming to his defence as an artist (see The Medium is the Message).

Given the nature of Fairey’s art and his methods of appropriating found imagery, the argument is quite understandable and I’ve read countless valid points on both ends of the spectrum. Obey Giant blurs a lot of lines. I have been following Fairey’s work since 1998, discovering his website shortly before I graduated from college and entered my career as a designer. I watched him grow from an obscure street artist with a modest selection of posters for sale to the almost household name he is today. His work and ambition has been a constant inspiration for me as an artist, and I’m sure many others.

The reasons for my supporting Shepard Fairey are mostly personal as I believe in him and the work he is doing. He’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes in, which is obvious given the political and social subject matter he deals with in his art. In his book Supply and Demand he cites many of his inspirations, sources and reference material outlining how he goes about making his art and the ideas they hold.

Creating the poster above is my own small way of showing support to one of my favorite artists, and I completely understand and respect that some do not agree. This is a touchy subject, so please feel welcome to voice your thoughts on the matter. A healthy dialogue on such topics are always good.

As far as this poster goes, I will be printing a very small run of 40 to be given away to those interested in showing their support for Shepard. I will write a post soon on how I will make these available.

And for the record, I used the press photo of Fairey from this article to construct my design :)

Contemporary Japanese Posters: Mitsuo Katsui

Mitsuo Katsui

Mitsuo Katsui

Mitsuo Katsui

Mitsuo Katsui

A number of years ago a friend gave me a thin booklet entitled Contemporary Japanese Posters 1992, with the thought that I might like what I saw inside. I took a flip through after it was handed to me and he was right, I was quite intrigued by the poster designs it contained but had shortly afterward misplaced the book on my bookshelf and it was lost in the sea of magazines and hardcovers I owned.

By chance years later, I rediscovered the book while cleaning up my book collection and was floored by what it contained, in both imagery and literature. Outlined is 15 prominent Japanese poster designers from the 70s, 80s and 90s, and the book was, I believe, a companion piece to the exhibition held featuring these artists and designs. One of the artists within is Mitsuo Katsui. I apologize for the quality of the posters above as I had a hard time finding references to his posters online.

Instead of talking about Katsui in my own words, I would like to take the very interesting piece he wrote for the publication (I assume) in 1992 at the time of the exhibition:

“In no other time were such questions raised as often as today: What is the relevance of communication in graphic design, and more importantly, what aspects of humanity and social missions can graphic design fulfill? I understand that too well graphic designs do not normally make direct statements with regard to the issues of society, such as global environmental issues. But I think graphic designers interested in communication must be brave enough to suggest in their designs, ways of thinking about various issues by giving favorable influences on peoples’ minds. I have to keep reminding myself what it means to be a creator, and that I should continue challenging my goals with an open mind.

The 20th century was witnessed a considerable progress in technology. Now that a new reality – our heritage of the era of “visual images” – is in our hands, what will this rapid transformation of information bring to future generations? We haven’t a clue. Visual designs will eventually take over the functions of multimedia in communication design.

I very strongly feel that I carry a heavy responsibility as a creator who witnessed the shift from a low-tech to a high-tech environment.”

A pretty profitic writing. Very interesting considering this was written before the rise of the internet. Something to think about.

A Signalnoise Odyssey: Part IV

Part IV: Creating a Planet

After deciding on a project direction for my little robots, and creating a cast of supporting characters, I started all of my pre-planning to create the additional elements I would need to adequately animate things. As I stated in Part III: Here Come the Bad Guys, I had a loose idea of how I wanted these characters to move but I had done no further work on it at that point. I have had very little character animation experience at the time, so the entire process was very new to me.

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

My first step was to create some models with different views so I would know what these guys looked like from a few angles. I had only created one point of view at this point and needed to explore some rough rotations, so I created these studies:

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

I wanted the animation to be pretty simple, where I could create loops, still frames and effects I could easily use with tweens in Flash. Nothing new, but I thought it would look nice seeing the scenes I created using such bold colors come to life.

In order to understand just how versatile these guys were, I did a couple of animation tests using the old and revised versions of the Brothers. I had to figure out how many pieces I would require when looping and rotating the characters, not all that different then the kind of animation used on my favorite web cartoon, Homestar Runner. So, I went about creating a few animated tests in Flash, click the images below to check them out:

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

After spending a few weeks prepping these character designs and animation tests, I set about solidifying back stories, mapping out more realized plot lines, and the daunting task of storyboarding out all of my ideas. I had to see how everything fit together before I started creating the animation for characters and backgrounds, so I spent a great deal of time roughing up thumbnails to analyze the flow and to make sure things moved intuitively.

This is where I hit an impasse. I was looking at the various animation tasks ahead and began to feel buried under a project that had started out on a small scale but had steadily grown as I explored the designs, the story, and my potential as an animator. As much fun as these characters and environments were to design, it was time to move on to the brooding production work that lied ahead . . . and it started to look a bit grim.

Next up . . . Part V: A New Start

Need to catch up on the previous parts in A Signalnoise Odyssey? Be sure to check out:

Part I: A Long Time Ago…
Part II: Rise of the Brothers
Part III: Here Come the Bad Guys

A Signalnoise Odyssey, Part III

Part III: Here Come the Bad Guys

After creating the main character concepts (see Part I) as well as refining the design in vector format (see Part II), I was now at a critical point in the project which was mapping out exactly how I wanted it executed, in what medium, and what additional elements or characters I needed to create.

While designing, I had been loosely thinking about what the characters might look like in motion with different scenes, angles and poses. So I decided my little alien robots would be the lead characters in a little online animation project, maybe webisodes or a few short films. I would write and animate everything in Flash with some painterly backgrounds, an ambitious but fun little project I simply dubbed The Planet.

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

With that decision made, I set about writing some basic outlines for plots and stories I thought would be fun to work on. As the story grew I started adding more characters into the mix to foil, and be foiled by, the Brothers. These additional characters got further flushed out as I bounced ideas off of friends for plot ideas, and I eventually started the design process to see what these guys looked like.

The first was the main bad guy, the Coyote to my little Roadrunners, who I wanted to resemble a small spoiled child. His name is Ikaru:

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

Darth Vader had his Stormtroopers, and I wanted Ikaru to have his own posse of minions to do his dirty work:

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

And a race of super-intelligent robo-beings I simply named The Elders. Nobody knows whose side the Elders are on:

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

And what bad guy would be complete with a castle lair where he can plot the demise of his unsuspecting enemys? As a kid, I always loved how elaborate the villains’ hideouts always were, so here is a concept design for Ikaru’s castle:

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

My overall goal for creating a cast of characters was to not only make them unique from each other, but paying strict attention to how they looked as a whole. Styles can change, but they needed to look consistent as a group to enforce they were from the same universe, or planet in this case. I have been drawing cartoons my whole life, but with this project I was concentrating on applying my design abilities to keep things as consistant as I possibly could.

So at this point I had a more explored idea of the band of characters that inhabited The Planet, and a good idea of how they interacted to one another based on their archetypes. It was then time to move from the conceptual stage and into some pre-visualization and storyboarding based on the storylines I had come up with, and the trials that come with it.

Next up . . . Part IV: Creating a Planet

Inspiration: Tape cassette inserts

Tape cassette insert

Tape cassette insert

Tape cassette insert

My pal Loukas brought this fantastic Flickr set to my attention today. Jubru on Flickr has scanned and uploaded a bunch of oldschool cassette inserts by BASF, Scotch, Memorex and many more. Lots of great examples of bold linework and oversized typography, and looks like Avante Guarde was the typeface choice of tape insert designers.

Check out the Tape cassette insert stream for the full selection.

A Signalnoise Odyssey, Part II

Part II: Rise of the Brothers

Here is the second part of A Signalnoise Odyssey, a series of posts where I’m outlining a project I started 3 years ago, the processes involved, and where the endeavor has led.

After drawing my little robot character for a week or so (seen in Part I: A Long Time Ago…), I naturally started to build up his personality in my head while expanding on some design ideas. I started thinking about his purpose, an environment he might reside in, and ultimately what his origins might be. I always saw him wandering about a forest on a distant planet, which sounds like a lonely existence for such a little guy, but more about that later.

My next step was to move into Illustrator and sharpen things up. I always do a first vector version quickly to nail down posture and expression in a very 2D manner using basic shapes, which led to this version of the little robot:

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

The funnest part of making this very rough version was messing around with the floral design on his torso. Offsetting it over his arm, imagining what it might look like in rotation, the variety of different styles I could pursue, etc. A lot of fun was to be had.

Over the next few days I started moving the design into something a bit more 3-dimensional still using strict vectors and basic shapes while continuing to experiment with floral designs from various dingbat sets I downloaded. As I said earlier, I imagined this little guy in a fairly lonely existence which is pretty unfair :) But through experimenting with the new design and different patterns, the Brothers were born.

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

I nudged the design more in the direction of my initial concept sketches while trying to maintain the posture, expression and general silliness of the flat vector version.

So what started as a little sketch had grown into a little band of forest-dwelling robots. But the obvious question was what did the forest look like? I wanted something simple to compliment the shapes of the Brothers, but it needed to be alien enough to make it distinctive from anything found on earth. I opted for the biggest different being expressed through color, which set me free to design a simple environment for the Orange Forest where the Brothers could peacefully go about their business.

I first painted things out quickly in Photoshop…

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

… then moved into Illustrator to clean things up and design the landscape around the characters.

A Signalnoise Odyssey: James White

I had been watching a lot of Samurai Jack at the time, and the Asian style Tartakovsky used for his background designs had an influence on what I wanted to achieve.

Things were now starting to take some shape, but I had still done very little planning as to what the Brothers actually were, what they did in the forest, where they came from and ultimately what I saw this project becoming. Every character needs a good backstory to give them purpose, so for the next several weeks I set about exploring the orange world where the Brothers lived and what they might encounter along the way.

Next up . . . Part III: Here Come the Bad Guys

100 Hours of Astronomy event poster

100 Hours of Astronomy by James White

Here is my poster design promoting the 100 Hours of Astronomy worldwide event happening in April, put on by the International Year of Astronomy 2009. After creating my New Years graphic in early January featuring the organization, I was asked if I would be interested in creating a poster for this global event.

Here is a bit of information outlining the event and its’ purpose:

The 100 Hours of Astronomy Cornerstone Project is a worldwide event consisting of a wide range of public outreach activities, live science center, research observatory webcasts and sidewalk astronomy events.One of the key goals of 100 Hours of Astronomy is to have as many people as possible look through a telescope as Galileo did for the first time 400 years ago. 100 Hours of Astronomy will take place from 2-5 April when the Moon goes from first quarter to gibbous, good phases for early evening observing. Saturn will be the other highlight of early evening observing events.

Space is the place, so be sure to get out your telescopes. For more information on what is happening in your area, check out the 100 Hours of Astronomy website.