Robo Force

Robo Force Magazine

Maxx Steele & Hun-dred

Robo Force Packaging

Ideal Robo Force 1984 Toy Fair Catalog

Robo Force Read-Along Book

Robo Force Fan Club Certificate

Remember Robo Force? Didn’t think so. Even if you grew up in the 80’s there’s a pretty good chance you missed out on these radical robots. Ideal Toys debuted them at the 1984 Toy Fair; unwittingly pitting them head-to-head with the Gobots and the Transformers, both of which apparently caught the company by surprise. Without the power to transform and very limited poseability, Robo Force simply couldn’t compete with rival toy lines. Ideal pulled the plug on Robo Force in 1985, a planned second series was prototyped, but never saw the store shelves.

Ideal put a huge amount of marketing muscle behind Robo Force for its initial launch, with a one-shot cartoon special, commercials, story books, board games, lunchboxes, a magazine…and that’s just the short list. There was even a Maxx Steele telephone and an official Robo Force fan club. They really went all out, unfortunately it just wasn’t enough to overcome the toys inherent shortcomings.

My brother and I had a few of these, he started out with the mighty leader Maxx Steele while I went for his evil counterpart, Hun-dred. My fondest memories of these toys was in the early summer of 1984 when we left Western New York to live in sunny Florida. My parents packed us up in the Chevy Monte Carlo and we were off on a three day journey to parts unknown. Keeping my brother and I company in the back seat were our Robo Force guys, mini command centers my dad carved out of solid styrofoam, and a cooler full of Dr Pepper. To this day, with the potent combination of indestructible robots (these things were built like tanks), squeaky breaking styrofoam, and a seemingly endless supply of caffeine, I have no idea how my parents retained their sanity. By the time we had settled in Orlando, Transformers had taken over our robot play time and good ol’ Maxx and Hun-dred were relegated to the dustbin. Sorry guys.

My Robo Force figures are long gone and trying to find quality images of them on the web can prove to be insanely difficult. Thankfully, there are a couple of sites that helped me put this post together: BattleGrip & Roboplastic. Give them a look, they are both bursting at the seams with awesome stuff.

Tutorial culture vs. Two Goldfish

First thing this morning I followed a link dealt on Twitter by friend Tom Muller entitled You Are Not a Designer and I Am Not a Musician. I’m not one for reading high-falootin articles labelling people this and that, but this article is very well written and got the gears turning. I enjoy articles like that. Interesting points, makes us question our progression and all that, something we should all do to keep things in perspective.

Then, right after that I went to check out someone’s new design and caught a comment below: “This is great! You should write a tutorial on how you did it.” Since the gears were already turning, this one little comment kind of hit home. Right time? Wrong time? Who knows, but here we are.

I got into using Photoshop and Illustrator way back in ’95 when the internet was still getting it’s footing. Years before it would transform from something neat to something very useful. And certainly long before the rise of the tutorial. Back then we had nothing to go on, just the small classes on how to use the basics to create projects in school. Outside of that, thousands and thousands of hours noodling around. In order to achieve new things we had to figure it out. Just want to repeat that, we had to figure it out.

Most of what I know about Photoshop came from one of my favorite artists, Dave McKean. Back in ’97 he and Neil Gaiman released a children’s book called The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish. Beautiful book with brilliant artwork by McKean. I spent hundreds of hours pouring over the pages, closely inspecting his art and dissecting the layers of texture. Looking at the effects on his hand-drawn linework. Trying to discern what was paint, drawings, photography or scanned texture. Then jumping into Photoshop (or my sketchbook) to figure it out. I failed miserably most times, but that wasn’t the point. I learned a huge amount about how Photoshop worked … but more importantly, how I worked.

Fast-forward to now. We have a crazy amount of great tutorials online. Some of my best friends are tutorial wizards who have created a living doing so, such as Fabio Sasso and everyone at the Tuts+ Network. The most important reason I think these resources are valuable is because they teach people technique outside of base-level knowledge of graphic software. They show a concept, then how to make it. Awesome. I’m a big advocate of helping people out, and it’s one of the core reasons I run Signalnoise.

That comment I mentioned above, I’ve been seeing that more and more these days and it’s concerning. When I read that today an immediate translation popped into my head: “I don’t want to figure this out, so why don’t you just tell me?” That’s it, and that’s big. So many levels to that which can’t possibly by contained in one blog post.

I learned skills from my time with Two Goldfish which I still use today. Heck, I used them in creating that graphic above. I’ll probably use them forever. No step-by-step instructions, no downloadable pre-made assets. Just a kid with Photoshop and a lot of time on his hands. That’s what it comes down to.

So why on earth am I writing this? Well, I’m getting the impression that more and more people are becoming dependant on tutorials for what they make. That makes me sad because it’s the complete opposite of how I learned. If you only do tutorials without exploring things on your own, then you learn only 1 thing: how to read. They’re a wonderful place to start, but it’s up to you after that. You should figure out how to do that thing you want to make instead of waiting for the tutorial to emerge. What does Fabio do before he writes his great tutorials? He figures it out.

When you figure things out for yourself it stays with you forever. It’s a sense of pride and richness. It’s an adventure. It’s fun. Because of that, those 2 little goldfish are more valuable to me than all the tutorials in the world.

My Winnipeg Jets logo

As most of us Canadians (or hockey fans at large) know by now, our beloved Winnipeg Jets will be coming back to the NHL real soon. Being a hockey fan back in the ’80s and ’90s those Jets were part of our team, and by “our team” I mean being on this side of the border. We’re a patriotic bunch up here and tend to cheer for our Canadian teams. So it was a sad day to hear that Winnipeg’s team was being packed up and shipped down to Phoenix. Sad day indeed.

Well here we are. The Jets are back and us Canadians are pretty happy about it. I was cheering for you ‘Peggers the whole time, hoping luck would swing your way and your team would come back.

Now for what it’s worth, I loved their old logo for too many reasons to list. BOTH of them actually. Simple, obvious and whatever else. Nice colors, somehow very Winnipeg and it fit in nicely with the other Canadian teams at the time.

With the team returning to Winnipeg it was inevitable that they go through the process of a re-brand. I would have been ecstatic to see that old logo return as their official, but this is 2011. Fat chance with all the re-brands that sports teams go through these days in the first place. Last Friday, Buffalo correspondent Paul Pants gave the word that they’d be releasing the new identity “in an hour” so I was pretty excited to see what they came up with. I was also a bit frightened …

I’ll go on record here. Just personal taste so don’t chew my head off. I have a pretty strong dislike for modern sports logos. It started back in the 90s when teams started going through all kinds of changes in identity and the logos moved away from the simple and iconic to these over-beveled, character-based, swooshing, snarling hunks of shit. They became interchangeable pretty quickly, and it wasn’t only with one sport. Baseball, basketball, football, hockey … they all started to look the same. No respect for individual identities or team legacy. I completely understand that design and printing technologies are far better than they were before, allowing us to do much more with jerseys and stuff, but just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Logos transformed into illustrations.

I urge you to look through the logo histories on this site. So much good stuff lost to the years.

This is why I was frightened while waiting for the new Jets logo unveiling. “What if it’s some jet zooming forward, shooting fire, with a big angry mouth on the front?” Seriously, could have happened. I was pretty nervous. So when I’m in a situation like that I always ask myself “What would I do if given the opportunity?”. I fired up Illustrator and threw together a Jets logo that I’d like to see on a jersey. That’s it at the top, and here it is mocked onto a player.

I’m still tampering with the logo even as I write this post. I did it for fun. I did a Jets logo the way I’d like to see it done in an attempt to play off the previous identity, something you Winnipeg inhabitants might recognize and enjoy. Not much more to the story, really.

Just a little note in conclusion for what they did release as the new Jets identity. My first reaction was genuine relief. They didn’t go the direction of “crappy, hip, typical sports logo” and for that I send every thumbs-up I can to the team involved in creating it. Huge relief. It was obviously created with respect to the team and Canadian air force history.

It’s catching some beef online and I’m not sure it deserves it. Yes it looks a bit military, and I’m curious to see the logo from afar (like on a player’s jersey during a game) to see if the design holds up, but it DOESN’T look like a damn beveled raptor, or a silver shark or whatever that “thrasher” was supposed to be. It’s simplified, plays off the Royal Canadian Air Force roundel, and has the leaf worked in. Not so bad.

As for my little logo, might get some stickers of this guy printed up. This one’s for you, Winnipeg.

Who I follow on Twitter

I’ve become quite fond of Twitter after using it for the past couple of years. It’s a great way to maintain direct contact with pals and colleagues as well as keeping up on the latest projects and links posted by fellow designers. I use it every day and it’s great. I’d like to take this opportunity to give a few shout-outs to interesting people I follow.

This is by no means a “must follow” list, just a condensed list of people I enjoy watching as they post new work or interesting things in general with a design focus. The majority of these links are individuals rather then companies or agencies. Here we go in no particular order.

@nopatternChuck Anderson
@JoshuaDavis - Joshua Davis
• @vpietersVeerle Pieters
• @abduzeedo - Fabio Sasso
@cameronmollCameron Moll
@jonburgermanJon Burgerman
@ISO50Scott Hansen
@JamFactoryGavin Strange
@NatzkeErik Natzke
@hydro74Joshua Smith
@MWM_GraphicsMatt W. Moore
@draplinDraplin Design Co.
@nickvegasNick Campbell
@bartondamerBarton Damer
@markweaverMark Weaver
@alexVaraneseAlex Varanese
@flight404Robert Hodgin
@justinmallerJustin Maller
@ollymossOlly Moss
@brendandawesBrendan Dawes
@robdobiRob Dobi
@icreatureInvisible Creature
@MondoNewsJustin Ishmael
@DaveMckeanDave McKean
@brand_nuRadim Malinic
@adellecharlesAdelle Charles
@Wanken - Shelby White
@Friendswithyou – Friends with You

Enjoy! And while you’re at it, why not drop by and say hello: @Signalnoise.

Happy Holidays from Signalnoise

Since we’re into the final week before the big day and people will be taking off for vacation soon, I wanted to take this opportunity to wish you all the very best over the holidays. Hope you have a safe and happy one.

Just a note, things might get a little slow on the blog after I head home for the holidays. There will be no Signalnoise Broadcast this week, I’ll be returning at the regular time on Thursday, December 30th.

Happy holidays from Signalnoise Design Studio!

Signalnoise Saturday Morning: My old toys

I was a kid of the 1980s, which I maintain had the best selection of toys and cartoons of any decade. I’m sure many folks think their childhood was the best and kids nowadays are missing out on the wonder and magic that we had back in the day. But heck, our toys were the absolute best. In terms of technology, our toys weren’t the most advanced pieces of equipment which forced the designs to be simple and colorful. Just because you CAN make toys advanced, doesn’t mean they need to be.

Because I have the best parents in the world, my folks discovered this box of my older toys and set it aside for me. Click here to see a larger view. Most of these I hadn’t seen in 15 years, so I was thrilled to be introduced to these guys once again. Check out all the WWF toys in various forms, Biker Mice from Mars, the California Raisins, Garfield, Muppet Babies, M.A.S.K. and a bunch more. So much color, I love it. A few of these were given to me by my buddy Cal at Strange Adventures as I tried to re-acquire toys from my childhood.

Of course a lot of my older toys are long gone, but it’s awesome to have so many of them still onhand today. I take a lot of inspiration from my childhood, so these little guys will be getting a special place on my shelf. What were your favorite toys?

Happy Halloween

Here I am as Don Draper from Mad Men.

Colouring Contest Winners: May 21, 1986

While rooting around my parents’ photo albums this past weekend I came across this newspaper clipping from May 21, 1986. I get frequently about how long I’ve been doing this art thing, and here is a small story that shows it’s been quite a while. That’s me, second in from the left at 9 years old winning first place in a town-wide colouring contest in Goose Bay, Labrador when my family lived there.

Now, the article says we submitted a page when we actually submitted an entirely coloured book of around 8 pages. Way more work then this clipping let on, to the point where I missed submitting the book in class because I put so much effort into it.

On the last night my parents let me stay up late to complete the colouring, then drove me to the police station the next day to submit the book directly to them. A week later they contacted my school to tell them they had a finalist. I was picked up at lunch time in a police car, siren blazing and drove to the town hall with the other 6 finalists from other schools where we met the mayor. Me and another kid (I believe the girl beside me) were awarded first place and scored $30, a small fortune for a kid of 9. I often wonder if any of those other kids are doing anything creative today.

And what did I buy with my riches? I didn’t even have to think about it…