“Dammit, Jim! I’m an animator, not a marketer!”

"Dammit, Jim!"

“Dammit, Jim!”

From the very first day I created and textured some 3D objects in graduate school (my major was computer science but I was interested in taking some of the computer graphics electives available back in the day) using Designer’s Workbench on a Silicone Graphics computer, I realized that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. As the years rolled by, and the hardware/software barriers to entry to a serious 3D computer graphics career became ever easier to overcome, I began spending the disposable income available to me (first as a USAF officer and then as a software engineer for a major defense contractor) to build what was to become my own personal modeling and animation studio. I went through a series of software titles and workstations before I settled on Lightwave 3D (the story of my reasons can be saved for another day) and the Mac Pro running OS X (ditto for that story) as my personal flavors of poison.

Fast forward to March of 2012, and I felt I had finally positioned myself to “slip the surly bonds” of being employed by another and to take on the mantle of the self-employed entrepreneur. I was good at what I did, my service filled an obvious (to me) and needed niche, my “war chest” was flush with accumulated savings to see me through the early stages, I was essentially debt free, and the future beckoned. I even had a cool name for my business, steeped in silly USAF stuff, and a web site. Everybody loves web sites, right? Good to go! I pulled the proverbial trigger, quit my job, hung up my equally-proverbial shingle, and waited for the eager clients to line up at my door.

Heh. Of course all I found each time I checked was a happily-chirping cricket.

Welcome to the reality of starting a business: no one really gives a damn, at least not of their own volition. Before you can expect that eager, dewy-eyed client to show up at your door clutching a fistful of dollars you need to (gasp) market your wares in a way that first attracts their attention, then convinces them life will never again be complete without what you do.

But…I’m not a salesman. I hate selling stuff. I’m not a marketer, either. I just make kick-ass computer animation for great prices; isn’t that enough?

No, grasshopper, it is not.

Inertia is not only one of the more fundamental physical laws, it is a business maxim. The local small business owner is already doing things their way and, hopefully, that way is working for them. Why should they spontaneously get a crazy idea to change things up? Even if they did, how would they know that you are ready, eager, and able to make their craziest out-of-the box ideas come true? Marketing, grasshopper, marketing. Unless you started your shiny new business with some marketing and advertising staff off the bat, guess who has to take on that mantle? Yep, you. Welcome to Oz, please leave your flying monkey outside.

B-b-but…how am I supposed to do that?

I’m glad you asked me that question, because I’m gonna share some of the pain and glory of my own stumbling through the poppy fields. I by no means have all the answers—or even a lot of them—but I have picked up a few things here and there. Some of it might even be right.

Before I get into my own stuff, I’m going to share a concept that has been one of my touchstones. It was first brought popularity by the Wilson sisters (yeah, of Heart fame) and introduced to me by my friend, creative mentor, former Madison Avenue agency advertising dude, and published author of many books: Gary David Bouton.

The concept, because of course it does, has a nice little acronym: it’s called MAST. The letters stand for Meaning, Approach, Sensitivity, and Technique. Rather than try to reinvent the wheel I’m going to share Gary’s words on the terms, taken from a blog post he wrote over a decade ago.

Meaning: When you bring a child into this world, their own expression is what you’ve helped mold, but it stands on its own and speaks on its own. What is the meaning? What were your intentions? This is such a broad word in context, that it’s elusive! In essence, “Here is my Artwork; it speaks for itself as it speaks for me, and this is what it stands for.”

Approach: From what direction did you create this piece of artwork? What is your background, what is your concept? You approach an idea in your head; the direction depends upon from where you start—are you a starving artist trying to liberate Mankind? Is your background a happy one, and you intend to color your art with happiness? Essentially, art is a process of problem-solving—how can I forge the tools I need to bring an idea to the world? Your approach is what you’ve learned in the past, continuing to solve the present puzzle of the “imagination to reality” process.

Sensitivity: There’s a lot of insensitive art out there, but the Dada-ists early in the last century said that you could neither kill art nor disqualify it. That is, it’s rather hard to say precisely and accurately, “Oh, that’s not art”. More often than not, it’s Art, but it’s not good art—it might be insensitive or there could be scores of other issues that are unappealing, trite, or just plain disgusting in a particular piece. Sensitivity and Approach I think are key to getting the artistic message across. And lack of sensitivity to one’s self, one’s audience, the perception of the world, blah, blah…inevitably leads to art marred by this insensitivity. I think that once we tune the sensitivity up, the more pleased we are with our work, ourselves, and our outlook in general. Besides “insensitivity”, the opposite of “sensitivity” is also “numb” and “blinded”.

Technique: This is perhaps the easiest quality of the creation process to overlook. “Technique” is a good thing, for it is better to be skilled than unskilled, but technique without Meaning, Approach, and Sensitivity” is without context and fairly without meaning. I see a lot of brilliant technicians out there who seem to be without soul as expressed in their art.

All these recipe items need to be added in the proper amounts to make a savory feast for the eyes, the ears, or the palate.

So, what say you, O patient reader?

Okay, nice. Now I’m a qualified art appreciator, but what does all that feel-good stuff mean to me? I’m trying to pry clients loose from their money!

Spoken like a true, hard-bitten business mogul. Okay, let’s dive in.

First, before a client is willing to throw money your way, they are going to have to trust you—trust that you are not only not going to rip them off, but that you can do the work you’re promising. You can, of course, shower them with testimonials and work samples, but what will sell them in the end is the image they have formed of you—your brand.

Brand and brand, what is brand?

In short, it is everything that you and your business means to everyone else. It’s your web site, your logo, the impression others have of you, your business, and your product. In the wise words of Elon Musk:

Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.

So, here’s Spinny’s First Law of branding your business: until you have a brand in your own mind you cannot project one to others. The good news is this process is essentially free, minus your valuable time spent on working this out. The good offices of talented graphic and web designers to help you get your logo and site off the ground are certainly useful, and most likely not free, but before you even start shopping for such talent you need to have this concept fixed in your own mind—and following the MAST approach will help quite a bit.

Meaning: what does my brand mean? Why should others care about it, or about what I am offering? What’s in it for them?

Approach: why did I want to start this business in the first place? What does it mean to me, personally? What talents or skills did I bring to the table that I can leverage? What’s in it for me?

Sensitivity: what does the buying public want? What turns them on about what I’m coming up with—and what turns them off? What is their pain that I can step in and alleviate with my product or service? Why should anyone else but me care this business exists? Note this is closely related to Meaning.

Technique: how should I tell people about what I’m offering? Is it primarily visual? Aural? Is it something to eat? What color scheme sells my Meaning? What do I need to say on my web site? How should my logo look? What kinds of advertising work best for my brand, and what on that list can I afford? Can I cut some deals? Who are the people I need to reach? Now you’re at the actual “doing” stage of the process.

So, lots of navel-gazing here, leavened with some fun aphorisms. How does all this high concept stuff work in practice? Again, I will never claim to be an expert, but I’m in the trenches living this Go shi right now, so here’s how I’ve been doing it (things might seem about to devolve into an infomercial but I can’t share what I’ve been doing without also sharing how that’s supposed to make me look good)….

Meaning:

Everybody else is trying to market their business, too. The attempt to lift your brand above the background noise can be frustrating and expensive, and sometimes your attempts even fall flat. Motion catches the eye. We’re hardwired from our fight-or-flight days to key on things moving within our field of vision, and then to evaluate that movement in terms of how it might affect us. In that vein, given the glut of same-old-same-old marketing out there, making your message move is a sure-fire way to make certain people notice it amid the clutter. I can make that happen—affordably.

Approach:

Okay, everything else aside, 3D modeling and animation are just cool. Doing this stuff is hella fun for me, satisfies both my technical and creative appetites, and results in stuff that I like to think people get a kick out of seeing. I can make a living doing this stuff? Where do I sign up?!

Sensitivity:

Again, this very quickly relates back to Meaning. People want their brand to stand out from the crowd, but this 3D stuff is expensive. I won’t belabor you with what the Graphic Arts Guild guidelines say 3D animators should be charging per second of finished animation, but it’s insane in the context of Central New York’s economics—much less for start-ups. So, I must not only be good, I must keep my rates sensitive to local reality while still being able to feed and house my family. When I claim “Hollywood Animation at Hometown Prices” I’m not only being sincere, I’m aiming to appeal to the refreshing idea that you can, indeed, leverage this cool new tech even if you have a tight budget, and if you jump on board before competitors wise up you can gain a leg up on them.

Technique:

Okay, nuts and bolts. First, full disclosure: I did not design my logo all by myself. I had an idea of what I wanted it to say about me and my business, but I enlisted the aid of a professional designer to help me work out the details. In my case I was able to work out something in trade because, frankly, I can’t afford high-zoot help any more than any of you can. What we ended up with was a rather abstract form based on a graph of some strange attractors in chaos theory. The Meaning (see, those four terms pop up all over the place) is deriving form from chaos, which is literally what I do when I start with a blank screen panel and then create 3D shapes in virtual space. The colors were carefully chosen to project an aura of energy (orange) bound by honesty and integrity (blue), and the typography combines the technical with the artistic.

spinland_logo_blue_square_640

I didn’t stop there. Oh, no.

See, one of the reasons start-up marketing fails is the entrepreneurs don’t “eat their own dog food.” If you can’t project, immediately, to your target audience that you’re taking advantage of the very things you’re touting about what you do, why should they think you really believe in them? I’m first and foremost an animator, so my message to you had damned well better have some animation in it, right?

In that paragraph you just read I again hit the MAS of MAST; you just can’t get away from this, really. So, now the T. First thing was my web site. Of course I used the same color scheme as my logo, and populated it with all the rah-rah ad copy to make it meaningful to reader and web crawler alike, but I needed more. My home page, the very first thing you see and my default “landing page,” is homage to things being in motion. The main navigation panel is a scrolling “cover flow” that moves on command, and even each item in that flow is a small animation related to the page it links. In less than a second of your loading my landing page I’ve not only thrown down that I mean business, but I’ve also given you a fun toy to play with that might keep you on my site for a few extra precious seconds so you get an eyeful of what I’m peddling.

Don’t just take my word for it, check it out: http://www.spinlandstudios.com.

Oh, but there’s more. One of the products I push hardest, because it’s one of the most affordable and gets immediate results, is the animated logo. I can take your logo design (or help you get one if you don’t already) and bring it to life in all manner of fun and eye-grabbing ways. I use a combination of 3D and 2D effects, lighting and motion to get your logo to tell a little story. Oh, and the path to coming up with that story? See MAST again! Heh.

In the case of my own logo, the primary message I decided I needed to tell was that life is 3D, not flat. By illustrating that concept in a fun manner I intend to convey the idea that 3D is better, and hence you should let me improve your brand accordingly. In this animation the flat logo can’t stand on its own until Spinland Studios comes to the rescue, gives it shape, and helps it onto its “feet” again. Now drop in the slogan, and BoOm.

Here are a couple of other logos I’ve animated recently. These are animated GIFs so there isn’t any sound. See if you can get the mini-story of each:

uvc_logo_720

syracuse_first_logo_720

And that’s a tale of how I’ve been working to build my own start-up in Central New York: by following the MAST principle in order to build my brand and to get it out there where the paying public can see it. Is it working? Well, I’m not yet ready to buy my first mega-yacht but I’m still in business after these no few years—and I’m here writing to you!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Sample Stills from Civil Engineering Video I’m Working On

My current gig is creating a 2-minute explainer video for a civil engineering company to present at trade shows and to potential customers. The current situation in road construction results in intersections being torn up to get at the underlying infrastructure (water pipes, sewer lines, and so on) followed by an often-poor patch job that markedly degrades the drivability of the road surface. Over time things get progressively worse. My client’s product is designed to replace current construction methods in a way that eliminates that problem. I’ll give them a shout out and a link to the product when the video is done.

In the meantime, here are some sample stills from the first three segments of the video. This portion is designed to dramatize the current methods used and to underscore why they’re a problem.

In this first segment the camera swoops in showing a typical busy urban intersection. Cars are zipping back and forth, and the potholes and patches from various excavations are easily visible.

image of busy intersection

A busy (and bumpy) intersection in the Big City

The next segment is a close-up of cars bouncing and jouncing over potholes and poorly-made patches from utilities excavations. The cyclist has an especially rough time.

cyclist approaching a pothole

Cyclist about to have a bad pothole day

The final segment of the intro sequence dramatizes a new excavation to reach a burst water main, followed by the application of yet another poorly-made patch further degrading the road surface.

hole dug in road exposing pipes

New water main excavation about to become yet another crappy patch job

The full versions of these segments are still rendering as I type this. Pending client acceptance of these versions I’ll compile the intro portion of the actual video and post it up later.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine—for a lot less than you’d think. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Important Alert: Payments scam targeting web designers and other small business owners

caution-job-scams

I just received an email alert about this from my accounting company. Here is the warning:

The scam: An inquiry asking if you accept credit cards before discussing any project details. This will be followed by a request for work on a rushed timeline. The prospective customer will easily agree to terms and a budget. They’ll offer to place a large deposit and then ask if they can transfer funds to you that are destined for a third party. Once you agree to the project, this new customer will want to pay you with a credit card very quickly. Once you transfer funds to the third party the original credit card payment will be charged back to you and all contact will be lost with the scammer.

Details of the scam

Here’s a real world example received by real customers:

“i have small scale business which i want to turn into large scale business now it located in XYZ and the company is based on … so i need a best of the best layout design for it. Can you handle that for me ?. so i need you to check out this site but i need something more perfect than this if its possible .http://www._______.com…. the site would only be informational, so i need you to give me an estimate based on the site i gave you to check out, the estimate should include …and i have a private project consultant, he has the text content and the logos for the site.”

The customer often suggests a large deposit on the project, but insists on a rushed timeline. They do this because they’ll be paying you with a stolen credit card, and want to complete the scam before the card is reported as stolen or the true owner of the credit card detects the unauthorized transaction.

They’ll always involve a third party (such as a graphic designer, copywriter or consultant) who’s meant to help with part of the project, but wants upfront payment before they can send something critical to you, such as a logo.

The prospective customer will claim they are ready to make payment with a credit card so that work can begin immediately. Then, they’ll mention the third party, saying something similar to:

“…I will need a small favor from you for this to begin. I will send you my credit card to charge for the sum of $5000 plus any fees. You will then deduct $2,500 as a deposit for the design of the website plus an extra $200 as a bonus for helping me. Then, you will send the remaining $2300 to the graphic designer that has the logo for my website. … You won’t send the funds until after the money clears into your account, …get back to me so we can proceed with the payment immediately.”

The prospective client will provide a reason why the third party can’t accept the payment directly. This could range from them not being set up to accept credit cards to them being tied up with a family emergency.

Once you process the credit card payment and receive the funds, the fraudsters will be asking you to quickly deliver the funds to the third party and get to work on the project. Unfortunately you will now likely be looking at a loss as the true holder of the credit card will dispute the charge and you will receive a chargeback.

Preventing scams

Never experienced something like this before? Great! Be sure to keep an eye out and look for these telltale signs that you may be dealing with a fraudster.

  • New customers contact you via text message and ask if you accept credit cards
  • Emails from domains like outlook.com and fastmail.com
  • Being asked to pay a third party by wire transfer or Western Union
  • Poor grammar and spelling mistakes in communications

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine—for a lot less than you’d think. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Story Boards? Not a Real Fan

Never hurts to throw in a little barnstorming action.

Never hurts to throw in a little barnstorming action.

Story boards are a staple of the animation business. They enable you to block out the important action sequences in a proposed animated story and, with animatics, you can even capture a sense of the movement that will go on in the actual piece. They are valuable tools to get a client on board with your concept and vision.

I also don’t like them.

No, I don’t toss the concept out the window, but I just can’t get into traditional story boarding. I find the medium too stilted, too limiting, even with animatics. I have the de facto industry standard software for creating them, but it largely lies hidden in my hard drive, unused.

What approach do I employ instead? I’m primarily a 3D kind of guy, but I can bang out a conceptual animated sequence, or series of sequences, in very short order using none other than After Effects. Using AE as my tool of choice, coupled with my ability to hack out layered elements quickly in Illustrator, I can block out a nontrivial animated concept in about the same amount of time it would have taken me to sketch out those static board panels and chop in some animatics to make them look more interesting. In fact, by blocking out sequences to time in AE I can end up with a lot of the 3D timeline work already done, and the 2D elements I build in Illy are excellent reference when I go to build the 3D versions.

Don’t just take my word for it. This is an example of a recent story board concept I threw together in just a few hours for a local ad agency to pitch to one of their clients:

The agency emailed me a description of what they wanted, as well as a draft script, and I enlisted the aid of a good friend and local voice talent to record the piece for timing in exchange for a shot at landing the voice part for the final commercial spot. The rest was courtesy of my good friends Illy and Wacom with a lot of AE on the side. The final piece is intended to be modeled and animated in 3D but, as you can see, the layout, timing and look & feel of the elements are done even before I start laying down my first polygon. Icing on the cake: my 3D modeling and animation software imports Illustrator paths and objects so, with just a moderate amount of extruding, lathing and/or beveling, the foundation for many of the 3D elements is already in place.

BoOm!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine—for a lot less than you’d think. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Fantasy Baseball—Spinny Style

There’s an up-coming art show in Syracuse at the Tech Garden. The theme is “The Boys of Summer,” which is to mean anything related to baseball.

My main focus for my for-pleasure art is fantasy and science fiction. I am a junkie for dragons, faeries and spaceship porn. Okay, you want baseball, I want fantasy themes—I can work with that.

Here is my take on the theme. Your Fantasy Baseball team might be cool, but it will never be even a tiny fraction as cool as mine.

Fantasy Baseball League

If you argue with the umpire she’ll banish you to Neverland.

Bonus content: here’s a peek behind the scenes of setting up this render in Lightwave3D.

It's basically a virtual photo shoot

It’s basically a virtual photo shoot

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine—for a lot less than you’d think. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Service Before Self

Service Before Self

Those who start already at the top generally make poor leaders

The USAF holds forth with three core values:

  1. Integrity First
  2. Service Before Self
  3. Excellence in All We Do

Today I want to beat the drum about the second core value: Service Before Self.

When I was a youth going to religious schools, my teachers drummed into me the concept of “me third.” In this philosophy, God comes first, followed by your family, and your own desires rank a distant third. While I no longer lay claim to any sort of religious world view, that lesson still has power for me.

Who are you, that you should elevate your personal whims above those of everyone around you? What have you personally accomplished that your desires should trump those of your neighbors? IMNSDHO (work it out) far too many people feel entitled to push their own agenda to their benefit at the expense of those around them. You do not exist in isolation, and every single person around you is at least as important as you are.

As stated in the second core value above, your first inclination needs to be to be of service to others, not to push your desires ahead of theirs. It is only through humbling yourself in the service of others that you find the integrity and credibility to consider yourself worthy of striving for a leadership role.

When I went through Officer Training School, a school comprised 100% of future officers and leaders, we spent the first 50% of our training as underclassmen. Servers. Followers. If any of us were revealed as incapable of good followership…well, let’s simply say you did not advance to the next phase of training.

In everyday life I see examples of self-centered people pushing their agenda ahead of others. It happens in traffic, in politics, in the workplace…and it saddens me how little such people “get” what life is about. Everyone around you is a person of equal (or even greater) stature as you. Treat them accordingly, and as you strive to learn to place others ahead of you eventually you will find yourself rising into a deserved leadership role. Trying to get there via any other path is fraught with failure, as you attempt to assume a mantle you have not earned.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine—for a lot less than you’d think. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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What a Probable Phone Scam Sounds Like

Don't bite!

Don’t bite!

I recently entered into an arrangement with an online marketing agency to do some promotion on my behalf, including some search engine related stuff. The other day I received a phone call from what appeared to be a local number (I have no qualms about sharing the number, feel free to preemptively block it): (315) 215-2227.

The caller was female, and had a thick, almost impenetrable accent (possibly from India but I can’t be certain) and seemed to be reading a script and uncomfortable if she had to stray from it. The gist of what she was trying to tell me (I think I’m pretty good with accents but this was bad) was she was somehow affiliated with Google and wanted to verify my business information so I could “get on page one.” I didn’t hang up on her immediately, mainly because of curiosity mixed with the aforementioned arrangement I had made; this had the tiniest air of plausibility and that’s where they get you.

Um, yeah. Okay. So, that being said, I tried to draw her out a little to find out more of what she was about, but she didn’t want to veer from her canned phrases and eventually the line went dead before things went too far. I tried calling the number back out of curiosity and was just served some bland music.

That number tried calling me back three times that day, and once or twice the next. I eventually put it on my blocked list. I touched base with the agency in question and this was their feedback (besides affirming I should block that number):

Google will not usually call people unless we tell them to do so, on that hand you will be knowing that they are calling.

So, be forewarned and if a call sounds suspicious odds are it is. Also, anyone these days can spoof a call from anywhere. It’s a jungle out there!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine—for a lot less than you’d think. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Nail Creek 3D Logo Revisited: Animation Time!

So, when we last saw our hero he was looking pretty toon but he wasn’t very mobile. Well, that’s about to change!

For his first adventure as a “living” character I decided he should revisit the original logo but with a little story leading up to the static image. First things first: let’s have him emerge from the water, Rambo style (but with a smile)!

That sequence presented a problem: he’s holding a glass of beer. How would that survive being submerged? Easy answer: it wasn’t! CGI and animation are magic already, so it was a no-brainer to have him work a little hocus pocus to fill that empty hand. The nail in his other hand made for a perfect magic wand; et voila:

Bonus content! Here’s a “Beer Cam” shot from when I was working a detail camera while tweaking the surfacing materials for the glass and the beer:

Beer Cam

Beer Cam

And this is the hot mess my computer screens look like when I’m hard at work:

What are all those squiggly lines for?

What are all those squiggly lines for?

The top left window is in “VPR” mode, which gives me a real-time always-refreshing render’s eye view of what the currently-active camera is seeing. Very useful to get real-time feedback when tweaking surface materials and lights. The other two are currently in perspective mode, which is the standard fly-around god’s-eye view. I use the lower left one mainly to zoom in for grabbing controllers and seeing stuff close in, while the larger window on the right gives me perspective for the whole scene. The inset window is actually from my second screen and is currently displaying the graph editor for the curves controlling the left wrist (of the hand holding the nail). Every object in motion has curves defining every translation, rotation and scaling change in three dimensions, and for those motions to occur as desired these curves often need lots of tweaking of the slopes as they enter and leave key frames. You still remember doing derivatives from school, right?

Today a friend remarked that the image looks just like a movie sound stage, to which I replied, “You bet!” This work requires set dressing, lighting and camera work comparable to what they do for live shoots; the main difference is my equipment is all virtual and I never have to deal with meat puppets going all diva on the director (me).

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine—for a lot less than you’d think. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Giving Another Local Logo the “3D Treatment”

One of my favorite marketing tactics is to scout out local businesses with interesting logos and/or banners, create some fun 3D animated stuff around them, and then approach the brand owner with something concrete to show them. Show, don’t tell. Armed with a demo piece that’s directly enhancing their brand helps to make the demo personal and to bring the message home: this is what your brand can do! Let’s go places with this!

My latest target of interest is the logo from my favorite brew pub, the Nail Creek Pub & Brewery. The owner is already a web app client of mine and the bar at his establishment is the setting for my Schultz & Dooley animation. A local artist created a fun character they call “Kingsly” and I decided he was a prime candidate for coming to life.

For reference, these are the images I had to work from:

nailcreek_logos_combined

As you can see, not only is a “toon” style called for, the character has an air of sublime bliss—and even some whimsy. Fun stuff!

After about a day and a half of modeling (interrupted by some other appointments or I could have banged this model out in a day) in Lightwave3D this is the basic motif I settled on:

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 4.16.56 PM

There wasn’t much body image in the reference logos to work from, but I visualized him as somewhat short and a little pudgy, but not overly so. I kept the arms (and fingers) a little more spindly so they’d be more expressive when I start posing and animating him.

The first order of business was to do a “flyaround” beauty render to see how the model came out under different lighting and camera angles. This short video is the result of that test:

As you can see I experimented with a “photorealistic” surfacing treatment as well as the toon one that more closely matches the original logo design. For actual production I’d expect to use the toon style but it was useful to see the model under both conditions.

Once the model was essentially done, it was time to get that bad boy ready for posing and animating. First order of business in my workflow is to get the “morphs” done. That term means starting with the base model, pushing and pulling stuff around to alter the original, and saving those changed versions in the morph channel so you can swap between the versions later. This is the primary technique I use for facial animation: expressions, mouth movement for speaking, eye and eyelid motion, and so on. After I have a set of morphs I like I then move on to the rigging phase. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t enjoy rigging. The process (and I’ve done this in multiple modeling programs) is both fiddly and tedious, for all it’s vital that I be good at it. A poorly-rigged model (and/or poorly laid out rigging controls) is not only going to be a bear to work with, the results will stink.

Rigging Kingsly took me most of a day, mainly because I am very picky and spend a lot of time testing and tweaking sections before I move on. I expect any rigger worth their salt to be the same way. Here is a screen shot of the current rig and animation controls (I never say final because once I start posing I almost always find a spot or two for improvement) as of this morning:

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You can see why the deformers are called “bones.”

And, then comes the posing! Here is a test shot of a whimsical pose I came up with on the fly. He’s either bestowing a benediction or accepting praise, I can’t decide which.

kingsly_test_pose

You might not notice, but there are some problems with this pose (which is why I selected it as an illustrative example of the process). The left shoulder was the main issue, as revealed by the odd shadowing there, and that part of the rig required some serious tweaking before the shoulder joints started deforming correctly. The middle fingers also deformed oddly because I missed a couple of polygons when I defined the weight maps (which tell the bones which polygons they’re allowed to deform). Sometimes you just don’t see coming problems until those test renders.

And that’s the evolution of Kingsly from a static image to a fully-realized 3D character ready to make some magic. I’ll be doing some fun animations with him soon, so stay tuned!

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine—for a lot less than you’d think. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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Why Networking and Marketing Your Business are Critical

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This evening I had the distinct pleasure of attending another Business after Hours conducted by the Greater Utica Chamber of Commerce. These events are great because on one hand they bring together hordes of local business people who by their very presence are open to being approached with a pitch, and on the other the venue is always relaxed, social and informal (and invariably wonderfully catered).

This time around was typically fruitful and fun: I engaged several people in a position to do future business with me, and was rewarded with universally positive feedback and interest in my product. A couple of delicious locally-brewed Saranacs certainly did not hurt! The evening also delivered an experience which opened my eyes and prompted this post. Let me share….

I was chatting up the owner and founder of one of the cooler business start-up success stories in the area. I approached him with a half-jesting idea for an animated project to promote his business process, and that led to my opening to show him some of my sample work. While we looked it over he mused aloud about an animated sequence he’d been wanting for some time, but couldn’t find anyone local able to make it happen.

Um, hello? This is me waving my hand and jumping up and down making Horshack noises. I could meet his needs practically in my sleep. How long have I been running this Studio, getting in the newspaper, buying radio time, haunting social media and networking my figurative buns off? And yet here was vibrant evidence of just how far my marketing message still needs to travel. I’ve only been doing these events for, what? Three years now? Only now did I reach this top quality prospect.

You can’t skimp on this, people. There’s a strong opposing current of inertia your marketing and networking program has to fight; if you let up even a little it will sweep you back closer to the obscurity from whence you came. No one cares what you can do for them if they don’t know about it.

Spinland Studios, LLC is a full-service branding and marketing studio in the Mohawk Valley of Upstate New York. We leverage the power and magic of 3D modeling and animation to take your company’s image places you can only imagine. Defy conventional marketing and bring your brand to life! Visit www.spinlandstudios.com for more information and examples—then hire us to boost your company’s marketing image into the 21st century!

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