Thursday, 31 December 2009

Oxford Steampunk Exhibition

Some things in life terrify me a great deal. I think other people are perhaps a bit less afraid of the world than I am. My friend Bella is one of them. "Do you want to go to Oxford to see the Steampunk exhibition?", I asked. "OK", she said, "but I am due to give birth in two weeks' time so I could go into labor at any moment". She went to collect the nearest streetcar. On her bike. "She'll be fine" said her husband, "she cycled to Harrods a few days ago".

Despite her soon-to-be firstborn jabbing his little limbs into Bella's bladder, we made it to Oxford in good time. The Oxford University Museum of the History of Science is host to the UK's most high-profile Steampunk Exhibition to date. I had done little reading on the content of the show but was pleasantly surprised - the curators have picked works from the sub-culture's most prominent Makers. It was great to see so many things in the flesh that I have only viewed online. Kris Kuksi's work, in particular, is stunning. The building that houses the museum is amazing and, with its permanent collection of scientific artifacts, is an admirable venue given the subject matter.

My little Canon Ixus was no good for wide shots in the low light, so I leave you with some close-ups. Bella was very envious of Molly Friedrich's Mechanical Womb.







FroDOH!

I have just stumbled across this and thought I would share it with you. It seems AJ and Jeremy can only agree on one thing - that Kyle is gay. www.lamebook.com via BoingBoing.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Russian illustration mashups

I download a lot of images from the internet. I have no idea where I got these from or (beyond being hilarious and subversive) what they are. They would probably make more sense if I could read Russian. Maybe.






Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The job that never was

As some readers know, graphic design is not my main source of income. By a long shot. I work for the UK's National Health Service (the NHS, our state-funded healthcare system). I could not possibly hope to survive in London without a steady income. This makes my life a game-of-two-halves but I like it that way for the time being. Quite a few of my colleagues know I do design, but I don't make too big a deal about it in the office.

One day a colleague asked me to quote for an interesting little job. Her family have owned a large house in Ireland for several generations and she had a lot of photos she wanted presented in a montage of some kind. Amongst the shots were pictures of a wonderful stained glass window. My colleague explained that this window is in the house and is made from fragments of beach glass, shells and whatnot that she and her family had found on their walks along the coastline. I did a mock-up for her showing the photos composited into the window. It is shown below. I was quite satisfied by this but ultimately it was not a go-er. The labour involed would have made the job too costly and this was compounded by her not having any high-rez shots of the window (I mooted re-creating it in Photoshop but that would only add to the hours). I presented a few other ideas to her but I think her enthusiasm had faded. I sometimes come across my mockup in Picasa and a bit of me regrets that the job did not go through as it would have been a nice thing to do.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Plasma Kreaps

There are some films that affect you profoundly when you are young and, in particular, in your teenage years. One such film for me was Coppola's Dracula. It has many flaws, but is an amazing example of art direction and style. Numbering amongst the art department's members was the young Patrick Tatopoulos. He has gone on to add his unique visual signature to other spectacles like Stargate and Silent Hill (unfortunately along with many other more forgettable outings). A piece of set dressing from Dracula that really caught my eye were the crates used by Dracula to transport earth from his native home to Carfax Abbey, his London haunt. These crates had fabulous augmentations allowing them to be hauled by cranes featuring chains and canvas stretched over their corners.

When I amused and entralled when I saw the MEGA Bloks range of Plasma Kreaps toys feature boxes which are unmistakenly "inspired" by the Dracula crates. I have just picked one up (the Ghoul) whilst doing my Christmas shopping at a local supermarket. The thing is awesome! The little plastic crate opens to reveal a horrific polip-like thing. This is a white, sticky, rubbery bag containing the pieces for the figure. Having extacted the bits you pop them together using ball-and-socket joints. The result is a satisfyingly morbid and detailed little beast. The pose is very good and he stands nealy on top of the crate.

Mine was discounted to a very reasonable £2.50 so if you see them do pick one up. I can imagine modders and custom-figure artists having a ball with them. Images of the Kreaps range below.





Monday, 21 December 2009

Merry Krampus!

About three years ago I was at my Mother's house for Christmas. I keep my old collection of VHS tapes there and I watch them when I visit because I don't have a VCR in London. I settled down to the James Whale Frankenstein and its sequel and I thought, "These are awesome!". I was struck by how much they had influenced Tim Burton, and proceeded to watch his films that holiday as well. Which are also awesome. That year became my "Tim Burton Christmas" and since then I have themed my Christmasses. Latterly I have had Narnia and WWII-Home-Front holidays where I would surround myself with books, films and other paraphernalia related to the theme.

It seems that one day an Alpine fellow had the same idea. Except he was bat-shit-mental and his theme was God help us all - the Gates of Hell have just opened. I kid you not. These chaps dress up as a incubus-like creature called the Krampus. And by "dress up" I mean "make amazingly realistic costumes that you would expect to find in a high-budget horror film". Just in case their children are not freaked-out enough, the wearers carry firebrands and run around the streets. Awesome! I'll leave you with the images below.

You are no doubt wondering what my theme is this Christmas. It was "Pagan", but is steadily turning into "work", which is slightly less sexy than a 6-foot, hairy, fire wielding demon.






Sunday, 20 December 2009

Comments

I gather there is a problem with leaving comments. It seems readers cannot see the field into which they must enter the answer to the captcha. I borrowed the code for this blog's layout from someone (I think there are links at the foot of the page to the author).

I don't know enough xhtml to understand where the issue is, so please bear with me. If anyone thinks they could help and is willing to have a look I would be happy to email them the code.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Dance of Death

I have just completed a new logo. It's all a bit ninja-style and I can't really talk about it at the moment, but I can blather on about logos in general.

For the last two years logos have been the aspect of my work that I have pushed most. This seems to be bearing fruit as people now come to me for logos based on recommendations. I love doing them for the following reasons;

They involve typography, which I adore. The choice of type has an extraordinary affect on what you are saying, and never more so than in a logo. I also love all the fussy aspects of typography, like adjusting the tracking, kerning pairs and leading to make it just-so. With logos I often break the text to shapes in Illustrator so I can tweak them to within an inch of their lives.

Logos, in general, must tell you something about the entity they represent. In the case of game logos, they have to tell the viewer about the world in which the game is set. They are therefore a microcosm or fractal of the fictional universe. This is visual poetry to me - a concise and abbreviated form of the larger whole.

I have always been a details person and this is also true of my design work. I would prefer to lavish attention on one single, small thing to make it exquisite rather than generate a great number of things less well. A large quantity of things can itself be impressive, but it's difficult for me to sacrifice details so I am more comfortable with individual things.

There's plenty more where this logo came from so stay tuned.

It's alive!

After the full gamut of emotional states usually associated with giving birth, Grindhouse Games has just become the proud parent of the real, boxed version of Incursion. Of the initial run of 1000 all but 300 copies were sold on pre-order, which means that at this point Grindhouse breaks even (an amazing feat for a first-time game publisher). The development and production of this game has been a huge part of the lives of everyone who worked on it, and foremost of them our leader, Jim.

I met Jim as the result of a coincidence only the internet could allow. Someone posed a question on an open thread at TTGN about what was readers' favourite rule book. I don't usually post but took a dive this time. I wrote a few paragraphs on the graphic design of rulebooks. Jim read this, got in touch and the rest is history.

Jim gave me the amazing opportunity to direct the graphic design for the project. I am extremely proud of my work on Incursion and it has given me the taste to do more board games. Below are a selection of images from the project from the talented hands of the team.

You can buy Incursion in Europe from West Wind.




Above is Jim, our proud leader, with the advance copy of the boxed game.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Entropy

There is a scene in the wonderful Withnail & I when Jake the poacher accuses Withnail of “prancing like a tit”. This pretty much sums up one of my hobbies – historical re-enactment (specifically, ancient Greek). I love the social aspect, the performance element and, most of all, the dressing up. There is one facet of the latter that is bothering me – that of decay. It’s all too common for reenactors’ outfits to be very clean. It is not unreasonable to suppose that, back in the day, a hoplite’s kit could, upon occasion, have been pristine and his armour polished to a mirror like finish. However, it is far more likely that the lack of detergents, the limited durability of natural dyes and paints and the varying quality of materials, when combined with a month or two of campaigning, would render all his kit pretty unkempt. And that's before he got into a fight. Even when made from the same materials, today's cloth is more uniformly woven, our paints more waterproof and lightfast and our factory-treated leather extremely supple.

There was a definite shift in the cinema of the 80s to render historical scenes with a more realistic level of decay. A wonderful proponent of this is Terry Gilliam whose Jabberwokcy (his first solo directorial effort) is a shining example. Most film makers who needed to film a scene in a castle would, until then, have built a set. Gilliam simply filmed in real (ruined) castles. The reason I mention Gilliam though is that his vision of Agamemnon in Time Bandits is simply stunning. Sean Connery's costume is caked in dust, his tunic threadbare and his helm so rusty it has lost its shine entirely. This is a far more realistic and exciting depiction and I think it would be great to see more reenactors follow suit.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

M.A.R.K.-13

I saw Richard Stanley's Hardware the other night and was most impressed. I had watched Dust Devil when I was in my teens and was instantly hooked, but by this point in time Hardware was stuck in ownership-rights-hell and could not be obtained for love nor money so I went without.

From the screengrabs and stills I had seen I assumed Hardware was a very low-budget outing and was not really expecting that much. However, this is not the case and the set design and lighting are pretty good. The film is tightly edited, except perhaps at the end where it drags a little. The Wiki page summarises the plot so all I will say is that it's about a post-apocalyptic scavenger who brings back the corpse of a droid to his sculptor-girlfriend's flat. The thing, of course, is not quite a corpse...

The tech-designs are very of-their-time but have aged well and don't seem quaint in the light of today's 80s enthusiasm. The droid is rarely seen other than in close-ups of its head, which is one of the most horrific techno-skull things imaginable (it features a dragonfly-lava like set of hypodermic mandibles which are slung under its jaw). I am a great fan of juxtaposed imagery and so the American flag design which Jill, the artist, stencils onto the cranium really appeals to me. It is unfortunate the paintjob seems to disappear halfway through the film for no good reason.

There is an interview with Richard Stanley on YouTube which is very interesting. It was only upon watching this that I realised that the young Chris Cunningham worked on Hardware which may go some way to explaining the slick effects.

Oh, and it's got Iggy Pop and The Fields of the Nephilim's Carl McCoy in it!

More on Richard Stanley to come, but below are some images from Hardware.




Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Dieselpunk

I am not a big fan of sub-cultures whose cool-ness derives solely from their obscurity, but Dieselpunk is genuinely awesome. I was fortunate enough to be asked to pen a little description of it for The Chap magazine's Steampunk issue a while back and this kind of punk is still "where my head is at". I don't want to repeat the article here, but I'll just paraphrase by saying Dieselpunk is Steampunk but set in the 20s, 30s or 40s. Think Buck Rogers, Sky Captain or The Rocketeer. Admittedly these films are not known for their challenging plots or great acting, but you have to admit they look great. In my mind (and I realise I might be alone here) Dieselpunk melds with Weird War II which is a topic I'll no doubt come into in the fullness of time.

Steampunk is delightful and I appreciate its ingenuity and charm, but it's a bit too frilley for me. Dieselpunk is more rugged, hard-edged and militarised by comparison. That said, the Maker culture that Steampunk hooks into is a very refreshing antidote to today's throw-away mass-produced economy.

On that note, I am going to leave you with a lovely rendering of one of Kow Yokoyama's amazing creations.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

First!

Hello all,

This here little blog will augment my portfolio site www.tearsofenvy.com

See you soon,

ToE