Sunday, 29 August 2010

Old work: first ever Photoshop efforts

My "career" in graphic design really started in 1999 when I was studying Art History in London. I took a module in theatre design and concocted sets and costumes for Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. They were the happy days before tuition fees were imposed so I spent the greater part of a student loan on a shiny new PC.

Below are my first ever efforts. I was massively influenced by Dave McKean, Floria Sigismondi and mecha at the time. I was also baffled and frustrated by concepts like resolution, paths and WHY THE HELL CAN'T I APPLY FILTERS TO TEXT? (Answer: because it's a vector and needs to be rasterized).

So now you know.

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Friday, 27 August 2010

The Tripods

A while ago I posted the intro sequence to the 80s BBC sci-fi series The Tripods. This review of the series has been a long time coming mainly because the show goes severely downhill in its later episodes, and I only got through them because there was nothing else to watch on my iPhone on several long train journeys.

The Tripods is based on the collection of four novels by John Christopher who was inspired by the premise of what had happened if Wells' martians had won the war of the worlds. The story opens with humans having been pacified by alien overlords and reduced to a pre-industrial state. The tripods keep humanity docile by "capping" them when they reach their late teens. This involves a circuit-like plate being implanted onto the head of all youths. The aliens have also instilled a quasi-religious belief system which encourages humans to view them as benign saviours of their race. The world, therefore, resembles a kind of post apocalyptic Merry England.

In the first series the tripods are an ever-present but rarely seen threat. Wisely the series concerns itself with the human drama of three boys on the run to escape capping. The tale is therefore a coming-of-age travel yarn where puberty, romance and the nature of free will drive the narrative. So far so merry. We British excel with costume drama and, with its alternative history slant the BBC was well placed to make a decent adaptation of the story. The quality of the filming aside (it looks like it was shot on video rather than film) the sets and costumes are sumptuous.

Things go very wrong when we hit the second series. Main characters drop out of the storyline for too long, and events are stretched out over too many episodes. The rural sets are dropped for high-tech interiors which, although they were costly at the time, have dated badly. The show was cancelled after the second series, and it's not hard to see why.

The DVDs come with an excellent "making of" documentary where cast and crew fondly remember their work. A thing of note is that the great Brit model-maker Martin Bower (the Gerry Anderson of the 80s, and Alien veteran) numbered amongst the technical team. A rather sad epitaph is that the actress who played Elouise, Charlotte Long (the youngest daughter of the 4th Viscount Long), died in a car crash shortly after filming the first series.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

New work: Werewolf

Werewolf is a social party game where players use cunning and subterfuge to outwit their opponents. The game emerged from Russia and is thought to have been created by Dimma Davidoff. It is played across the world and is sometimes known as Mafia. Players are randomly selected to take the role of either a werewolf, villager or magician. The cards below are intended to be used for this random selection.
The Wikipedia article on the game can be found here, and a good article listing many variants here. You can download my version of the Werewolf rules here and click here to download a print-able PDF of the cards below.
This was the game I took the The House of Fairytales event at the Vintage at Goodwood festival. I didn't really know what the deal was in terms of audience and it transpired the game was too complex for the children, and most of the adults were not really in the mood to engage in a game that lasted more than ten minutes. It makes a great late-night party game though so I intend to rope in my fellow Ancient Greeks at this weekend's reenactment fair.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Top 50 Music Videos of the 1990s

The 1990s were the heyday of the music video. The industry was awash with money from the boom in CD sales as everyone rushed to update their old vinyl collections. Digital piracy had not emerged, and the time and quality loss involved in home-taping meant analogue piracy was no threat to sales. Record companies had money to piss up the walls, and those walls often took the form of ever more extravagant videos. Brilliant Hollywood directors dipped their toes in the genre, but more importantly hot-shots who would become brilliant Hollywood directors cut their teeth on promos. These prodigies ranged from the king-of-the-bleak David Fincher to the mad-as-a-hatter Chris Cunningham.

Here is a link to an awesome post on Pitchfork showcasing the best of the decade’s output in this field.

The medium still exists, but, as the wonderful Slacker Chic points out in this amusing post, in a more bargain-basement form. The only notable exception at present is the clearly-bonkers Gaga, whose creativeness is unfettered by budgetary constraints or, indeed, any sense of decorum.

Below is the awesome video for Daft Punk's Around the World by Michel Gondry.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Bandai Armouron

While fighting my way down London's Regent Street yesterday I glanced in at the window of Hamley's, the UK's biggest toy shop. On display was some kick-ass child-sized sci-fi armour (or "armor" to you Americans) which grabbed my attention. The stuff was made of grey and brightly coloured rubber foam and included helmets, chest plastrons and shoulder pads. Alas it was too small for me, but a quick google this morning shows the stuff is billed as 2010's "must have" toy and I can well believe it. It seems you can also buy add-on kits to pimp out your techno-protection even further.

It transpires Armouron is designed and produced by Bristol-based toy company Cod Steaks and the Hamley's display is a vanguard promotion. More info here, the Bandai mini site is here and here is the Amazon page showing all the available kits.

Alas there seem to be few high-rez images of Armouron around so I'll leave you with some thumbnails.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Logos by Rodney Matthews

Logos by Rodney Matthews - one of the grand old masters of fantasy art. From his very comprehensive website here.

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Sunday, 15 August 2010

Vintage at Goodwood

Yesterday I spent the day performing at the new festival Vintage at Goodwood. The brainchild of Wayne Hemmingway (the man behind the phenomenally successful 80s/90s fashion brand Red or Dead) it is a "boutique festival" celebrating all things vintage from the 40s to the 80s. It was held in the idyllic grounds of the Goodwood Estate and patrons were driven from the local station to the site by a vintage Routemaster bus complete with urbane conductor.

This is the festival's first year and it has attracted mixed press during its preparation. The retro community has always been a fiercely independent and has reacted with varied emotion to what is the biggest event ever for the scene. Vintage fashion and lifestyle have experienced a boom in the last ten years and are now mainstream. The fact a major festival has been planned is clearly seen by some as adding insult to injury and accusations of exploitation and over-pricing have been rife. However, others have embraced the inclusiveness of the event and I must say I was heartened to see so many people enjoying themselves. Hard-core retro enthusiasts rubbed shoulders with historical reenactors, folk who interpreted it as a fancy-dress event and the casual public who were just out for a Saturday afternoon. I opted for a Steampunk look and the sub-culture was obviously news to many who were rather agog at my interpretation of the retro-futureverse.

I had been invited by two groups to join their events and had consequently been awarded the status of "staff". The Chap magazine (a satirical periodical on the life of the English gentleman) held another Olympiad where chaps and chapettes competed at ridiculous "sports". The audience was held in amused rapture at the Daily Telegraph joust, the hop, skip and jump with a G&T and the one hundred meter loaf. This was until the heavens opened and the typical British summer rain shower descended. But, the chaps put on a stiff upper lip and carried on once the weather had cleared.

I also joined The House of Fairytales to run a gaming session. The House is an arts organisation which runs creative learning events for children themed around fantasy, dreams and imagination. I will blog more about them and the game I ran in future (as both deserve more space and I am already breaking my three-paragraph rule). Unfortunately my game was rather misjudged and proved a wash-out but working with the children on other tasks was amazing.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

NSFW: Ellen von Unwerth - A Naughty Fairytale

I discovered this awesome video via Facebook the other day. It's directed by the ever-amazing Ellen von Unwerth. Not only does it have great vintage cine photography and wonderful costumes, the music is Schubert's Trio in E-Flat.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

New work: Sedition Wars logo

I completed this logo late last week. I can't say too much about it at present, but keep your eyes peeled for news on this exciting product.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Ghost Pirates from Playmobil

Playmobil release an awesome (and slightly surreal) collection of Ghost Pirates. Check out the mental Ghost Whale Skeleton in particular!

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Monday, 9 August 2010

St Trinian's! St Trinian's! Will never die.

My sister leant me the boxed set of the original St Trinian's films, which we remember fondly from our childhood. Along with the Carry On and Hammer Horror films they played a key part in our formative years.

St Trinians was the invention of the fantastically talented British illustrator Ronald Searle. Still alive today, his career spanned much of the twentieth century and included stints as a children’s illustrator, war artist, animator and contributor to titles like Life, Punch and The New Yorker. He began StTrinian's during WWII before he saw active service, and continued the cartoons after his return to civilian life. His illustrations of the terrifying school girls were much darker after his experiences of being a prisoner in the war, with decapitated children, weapons and fire being more abundant in these later drawings. His whimsical depictions of the goblin-like girls caught the public’s imagination and were highly successful. They tap into the British’s fascination with mischief, practical jokes and black humour within the setting of an English public girls’ school (the bastion of respectability). No doubt they were also popular because they hark back to the idyll of the inter-war years, before the threat of a German invasion.

A series of four films were made in the late 50s and early 60s. A strong cast took the productions forward in the decade that followed the heyday of the Ealing Comedies. Many of these actors and actresses had long careers in British television and film and became household names (like Joan Simms and Sid James, who formed part of the core Carry On team). Alastair Sim does a wonderfully camp turn as both the headmistress Miss Fritton and her brother Clarence. Joyce Grenfell deserves special mention as a policewoman who is an overgrown schoolgirl herself (complete with a hilarious gait, a crush on her boss and a fondness for hockey). The sets depict the rickety, ink-flicked interior of the school very well, and the girls appear in all manner of ravaged and ravishing costumes. Miss Fritton is suitably frumpy and, like Searle's original sketches of the school mistresses, Victorian. Flash Harry is the epitome of the comedy Spiv with rediculous shoulder pads and, in the second film, a wonderful three-wheeled bubble car.

There was a film released in the 80s and, of course, the new version in 2007 which proves the enduring popularity of Searle's wonderfully wretched creation.

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Sunday, 8 August 2010

Old work: Tears of Envy portiolio site

New readers might be forgiven for not knowing I'm a graphic designer, as I have poster few "finished work" entries of late. I thought I'd rectify this by showing the screengrab below, which was my portfolio website a year or two ago. I used to do lots of Flash animation, and my portfolio site was always a test-bed for new interfaces. However, I found updating the Flash too onerous and the general trend towards simple HTML portfolios meant I eventually ditched this design.

I was very pleased with the graphics though, which successfully gave the impression of an infernal device, much like some bizarre, baroque iPad.

A quick note of explanation about my apparent inactivity - I am working on something big. I mean really big. It's the largest and longest creative project I have done (ever, I think). It's drawing to its conclusion and I hope to show readers some results soon.

Bam! Bam!

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Thursday, 5 August 2010

Nick Knight shoots Lady Gaga

Kick-ass photographer Nick Knight has shot more-than-slightly-bonkers Gaga for Vanity Fair. Result? Win!

Via Haute Macabre

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Rulebook goodness

Publishers putting PDFs of their rules manuals online is like crack to us game-graphic designers. With GenCon coming up fast, Fantasy Flight have gone into overdrive and put three manuals up in the last couple of days. In addition, the Dark Age ruleset has also been posted.

Short of buying a game, manuals are the next best thing for designers because they show what the thing is going to look like. Gone are the days when the rules were a dodgy mono pamphlet with the odd ham-fisted illustration. Advances in DTP mean that full colour layouts with lots of photos are the norm. Thus we get to see samples of the components and all the gorgeous artwork which has been commissioned.

By the looks of things, the Dungeonquest box is going to be a slick (if slightly unimaginative) affair with high quality visuals. The long-awaited Cadwallon; City of Theives looks suitably bonkers and features the amazing illustrations from Rackham’s back catalogue. I was a bit disappointed by the Dust: Tactics rules, which are pedestrian in their layout and feature little artwork. Finally, the Dark Age quickstart rulebook is quite text-heavy but manages to include some good photos and some of Brom’s excellent paintings. I am not a fan of the title font they have used though, which I find very difficult to read.

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Monday, 2 August 2010

Rammstein at Sonisphere festival

My sister and I were lucky enough to be given some Guest passes to Sonisphere festival this weekend so off we trucked to see the Monsters of Rock. Amongst the acts we caught were Gary Numan, Placebo, Alice Cooper, Motley Crue and Rammstein.

I am not especially into live music and am used to performing at festivals rather than spectating. As a result I tend to appreciate things like the set design and lighting more than I do the sound. For this reason my favourite gig was a Marilyn Manson tour I caught back in about 2002, for Manson's theatrical sense is second to none. Second, perhaps, to Rammsetin who were just plain awesome. They set people alight, performed while walking on treadmills, had flame jets, fire works and rockets that shot into the stage (yes, at the stage - see the third picture below). The keyboard player is obviously a bit of a character and did a spectacular little piece where he got an inflatable dinghy and crowd-sailed rather than surfed.

Their set was a clever combination of movable lighting and a painted backdrop giving the impression of an inferno-like industrial interior. Everything from the pyrotechnics to confetti was immaculately timed to the music to produce a truly stunning spectacle.

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