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!

Share

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!

Share

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.

If you argue with the ump she will banish you to Neverland.

If you argue with the ump 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!

Share

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!

Share

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!

Share

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!

Share

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:

rig_screenshot

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. 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!

Share

Why Networking and Marketing Your Business are Critical

IMG_0688-2.jpg

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!

Share

More Animated Logo Fun

I often joke that animated logos are the “gateway drug” for my Studio. It’s one of the most affordable services I offer, and it’s easy for prospective clients to see how animation can punch up their brand as they enjoy watching their logo fly, dance, and generally do crazy fun stuff. I can create them as an animated GIF file that goes on your web site exactly like any other image, or as a video complete with sound effects and a royalty-free musical soundtrack—heck, if you want, I can do it both ways! Once the primary 3D modeling and animation is complete creating the final product in various formats is comparatively straightforward.

I recently completed two more animations based on local brands and—lucky you—I’m going to share them here. As always, please visit the related page on my main web site to see a wider selection of the cool logo animations I’ve created.

This first sample is one of the more elaborate pieces I’ve done. Everything in this video is created in CGI, from the clouds to the horizon to the animated water. Special thanks to the art staff of the F.X. Matt Brewery for supplying the Illustrator files for their re-designed logo so I could create this using the most current version. I can always recreate vector logos from bitmapped images but having access to the original vector art makes my job a boat load easier. At a full 15 seconds this is also one of the longest logo animations I’ve done.

The next animation is much less involved, as it’s based around the simpler logo for Romanelli Communications. I decided to go with a more minimalist approach, and everything happens in just 5 seconds. I also cranked up the fun meter a bit because I like fun.

For this one I also made an animated GIF version. What it lacks in sound it makes up in ease of use on web sites as well as being able to loop the action indefinitely. This particular image, at 512 pixels, is just over 1.5MB which is a bit heavy for a web page as a rule. At 256 pixels, probably still somewhat large for a web page logo, it’s just over 400KB.

romanelli_logo_512

And there you have it. More to come!

Bonus content! Here’s a peek behind the scenes of creating the Saranac animation. This is a screen shot of the Lightwave3D scene file.

Screen Shot 2015-07-09 at 1.18.56 PM

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!

Share

RIP, Gerry Stroup

I just got the news today from my mother that someone who meant a lot to me in my youth passed away yesterday. He had already had one stroke which had debilitated him somewhat, and I guess the next one finished him.

Gerry doing what he did best

Gerry doing what he did best

Gerry was a singer. Not just any kind of singer, he was an operatic tenor with a rich and vibrant voice that would make anyone stop and listen. His musical exploits included a stint in the Dixie Echoes, numerous appearances in various city opera presentations, and he is even prominently mentioned on the web site of the author Anne Rice. He also taught voice, and I think his last teaching gig was at Loyola.

I knew him from the Catholic church in which I grew up (including going there for primary school), St. Thomas More in Pensacola. I’d like to lay claim to being his understudy but, in truth, it was more like we were the two tenors in the church choir so I got the position by default. I was good, yes, but not in his league by any stretch. I was once offered a full scholarship by his voice teacher and I wasn’t mature enough at the time to recognize the value of that gift so I didn’t follow up. I still regret that failure on my part.

Gerry had impeccable taste in music, and he helped open my eyes to the world of “real” music when the other kids my age were digging acts like KISS. It was he who instilled in me a love for composers like Rogers & Hammerstein, and for Rice/Webber rock operas. I would frequently borrow his sheet music and spend hours with it and the sound track albums, and I had every singing part memorized from pieces like Jesus Christ Superstar and Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. True confessions: one of my fondest fantasies as a teen was to land the part of Pontius Pilate in Superstar. I still consider the interplay between him and Jesus during the first interrogation scene to be one of the best musical dialogs ever written.

I attended many of Gerry’s performances, and he was the reason that a kid of my age was going to see Pirates of Penzance, Faust, Don Giovanni, and the like. I assign him full credit for the richness of my musical upbringing.

Rest in peace, Gerry. You are remembered with love.

Share