Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Most Honorable Indeed - M&M's World Shanghai

There are times when I forget how awesome my job is and what incredible privileges God has allowed me to enjoy. 

With product design, there's always the next design, the next big deadline, the next season's line, the next store opening.  There's always so much coming up next that sometimes, you forget to just step back for a minute and look at what you've been a part of for the past decade.  


I've had the unique honor and privilege to be a character artist at Entertainment Retail Enterprises since 2005.  Before that, I learned the ropes of merchandise design at the Disney Design Group as a Creative Assistant Intern.  

To say that the past 10 years have been a whirlwind would be both true and untrue at the same time.  It has gone fast, but there's been a lot of growth, a lot of challenges, and a lot of work...I mean a LOT of work.  But then, there are moments like this of pure, unvarnished joy.  You get to step back from your computer screen for a moment and see what all your work actually looks like in real life.  

You do so many mockups and concepts and "virtual" art that sometimes you forget that this stuff is actually going to be real.  And then, one day, you see a kid walking through the mall wearing something you designed...something that was YOUR idea.  Forget the sense of pride in convincing your team or your client that it was a good idea.  This is a person who doesn't know you or anything you do and THEY thought it was a good idea.  They thought it was so good, that they bought it and now they're wearing it around...IN PUBLIC.  

That is an incredible feeling.

So I hope you'll understand that this post is, in no way, a self-promotional piece.  It's just a chance for me to share some of the immense happiness and profound joy I've experienced in being a part of something big and seeing it come together in real life.

M&M's opened their newest retail store this summer in Shanghai.  We at ERE had the unique opportunity to be a part of what was an immense collaboration of creative people, managers, merchandisers, buyers, and quite a few positions I don't even know about.  Let's just say it took a lot of minds and hands to make all of this happen.  

We got started immediately and began to research, concept, create, design, produce, and ship new, original, and creative product to a store that had not yet been built in a culture that was entirely new to us.  Scary?  Sure.  Motivating?  More than anything you can imagine!  

The combination of high-pressure and high-creativity is my favorite place to operate.  Being involved on the front end of the creative process allows you to think big and try absolutely everything as you slowly funnel down to what works and what doesn't.  Some of the ideas you'd think would be a home run don't resonate culturally.  Sometimes there are connotations you'd have never guessed - even down to which colors are popular and which ones aren't...I'll give you a hint though...red is VERY popular in China.  All of that combines to make the experience of working with the M&M's Shanghai team one of the most memorable, challenging, and rewarding times of my life.

The majority of the pictures you see here are of what we'd typically call "photo ops", affectionately titled in the store as "character moments".  No matter what you call them, they're life-size 3D M&M's characters with whom guests can pose, photograph, and remember their trip.  

When I was given the unique honor to design the character moments for Shanghai, I was absolutely elated.  I hardly had time to appreciate the excitement, because as soon as I found out, I had to start working on it.  On the concept end, there were meetings, sketches, 3D mockups in ZBrush, focus group feedback, revisions, research, cleanups, final sketches, and then one day, it was done!  The designs were approved and sent off...including a nod to the immortal Bruce Lee in his trademark yellow jumpsuit.

The intervening days were quickly filled with other work as most days are.  There are rarely slow days at the office, so as soon as I sent the designs off, I was on to the next project, almost forgetting about all the work that had just been completed.

And then...a few months later...

The pictures of the completed store started coming in.

At this point, I'll stop writing and let you see how the whole thing came together.  I've included some concept art in various stages of refinement so you can get a feeling for how these things actually happen.  Sometimes, you're creating turnaround drawings, sometimes you're creating fully realized airbrush renderings.  Either way, I really hope you all enjoy seeing the process.  

It's a privilege to not only be a part of something big, but also to realize that these "big" things are made by teams of normal, and totally awesome people.

It truly is a privilege...

and, yes, it is also an honor.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Microsoft Surface Pro 2 - Everybody's Workin' On the Weekend

I've been meaning to post about my experiences as a professional illustrator with the EXCELLENT Microsoft Surface Pro 2 for some time now.  Given that they've just introduced their new model, the Surface Pro 3, I figured my timing was just about perfect.

Although I plan to write more in the future, I wanted to highlight my "mobile office" setup using the Surface Pro 2.

The key point I want to highlight at the beginning of this is the concept of being "MOBILE".  There are always trade-offs when you include that term with anything, but in my experience with this setup in particular since January, I can say that framed in terms of being a MOBILE setup, the Surface Pro 2 (SP2) is an almost ideal setup for doing professional work on the go.

So much has been said about the Surface in its many iterations being a "laptop killer" or "iPad killer" or "desktop replacement".  I've done marketing, so I understand that positioning your product is important, but as you can see from the photo, I'm not exactly concerned with using the product as THEY INTEND, I want to be able to use it as I INTEND.  This is where the SP2 really shines - its customizability, flexibility, and portability.

If you're going to be working as a professional for 8 hours / day doing nothing but illustration, graphics, etc., then you're going to want a full size computer and the best full size graphics tablet your budget allows - be it Wacom Cintiq, Yiynova 22 HD, or the many other interesting options.  If you can only afford one setup and you have an office, that is where you want to spend your money.  Size matters tremendously with ergonomics and comfort.

If your budget allows, however, to have a second setup for travel or, as in my case, just so you can get out of your house for 1-4 hours at a time, then you want to find something that fits those priorities well. I think the SP2 is an EXCELLENT choice for that purpose in particular.

The SP2 is ALWAYS with me.

•Meetings - I take it to meetings so I can quickly sketch out ideas / take notes, save them to Dropbox and they're waiting for me when I return to my desk

•Church - I take it to church where I have the outstanding Glo Bible application where I can read / highlight / take notes just like my physical Bible

•Working From Home - When I have to take work home, I can sit on the couch with my wife rather than quarantining myself to my office all the time.  We can spend time together while she grades papers and we can watch the latest episode of "The Voice", "Covert Affairs", or even better - the NY Rangers hockey games.

•Figure Drawing Class - a few friends and I meet up once every week or so for a figure drawing club.  My SP2 combined with Manga Studio 5 is my mobile art studio.

•Reading - I subscribe to 2D artist and ImagineFX, so I keep the PDF copies of the magazine in the cloud so I can read them anytime I like

•Fun - Here you see I'm just sitting at the mall practicing my animal drawings.  (Just try to sit in a food court for any length of time without drawing caricatures of the people...nearly impossible).

•Finished Work - Here is the surprising part.  The display and color accuracy on the SP2 is so good and the performance is so powerful, that I've been able to routinely complete finished pieces on it over the weekend when necessary.  To be honest, I've found that I almost prefer the drawing experience on the SP2 over my Wacom 22HD at work because it forces me to draw a bit smaller and focus on the big shapes rather than all the tiny details.

1).  The Case - This is a small leather portfolio case that resembles the one that came with the ASUS EP121 Tablet PC.  I bought it specifically because it allows you to prop up the SP2 at an ideal sketching angle.  You can use it with or without the attached keyboard and it can also prop the unit upright as well.

*Best of all, it has a stylus holder, so you don't have to worry about losing it.

2).  AOC LED USB Monitor - You read that right...this monitor requires NO secondary power.  It just runs off of the USB 3.0 port on the SP2.  It's better than you'd expect and the colors are very very good.  I use this primarily for reference pictures or for menus as you can see from the picture.  But, again, when the priority is being MOBILE, this is an excellent choice.  It packs right up into its own neoprene carry bag and slips right into your backpack.  I have no problems carrying the SP2 along with this.

Does it affect battery life?  Sure.  But not nearly as much as you'd think.  Like I said, I'm able to work with this setup routinely away from a power outlet (often on high performance) for 3-4 hours before I need to find a plug.  That's REALLY not bad for running two monitors on the go.

*If you have questions about this part of the setup, Tweet me and I'll be happy to help. @bucktoothstudio

*The trick for setting this up properly is to actually disobey the installation instructions.  Just plug it in rather than installing the DisplayLink drivers first.  The DisplayLink drivers it automatically installs are actually BETTER than the ones from the support site.  Don't ask me why, but I talked with tech support about it and we both arrived at the same conclusion.  

Just plug it in when you get it and go.  It'll work better.

3).  Mouse - What's there to say?  I find it invaluable to have a mouse with me.  Not everybody needs one, but I despise trackpads and this little guy is actually EXCELLENT and very affordable.  Get one!

4).  Stylus - Here's where I probably differ from most.  I really like the Wacom Bamboo feel stylus, but I got so used to the stylus that came with my old ASUS Ep121 that I've kept it around.  I don't know if you can find it anymore, but for me, it's perfection.  It's like drawing with a lightweight Col-Erase pencil.  I don't like a heavy, beefy pen, I like pencils, so if you can find them, they're worth their weight in gold as far as I'm concerned.  The tip accuracy is actually the best of all that I've tested between the Wacom, SP2 pen, and even Modbook pens.

Here's the Wacom Bamboo Feel stylus which is still the most popular choice.

5).  Keyboard - I actually really like the SP2 type cover, but not for doing work.  When I'm working, I like to have the keyboard off to the left, so I can use my keyboard shortcuts.  For that, there's just nothing better than the standard Microsoft Bluetooth Keyboard.  The key difference for artists between this one and the type cover is that it has Ctrl buttons on both sides of the keyboard rather than just the left.  So, keyboard shortcuts are much easier and can be accomplished with one hand, like my setup at the office.

So, there you go!

Hope that was informative and hope this helps get another lonely artist out of their studio and at least into a Starbucks near their house for a few hours.  ;)

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Ray, A Packer, and 2 Really Nice Guys

No, neither one is named "Ray", but I did run into Carlos Peña (of the Tampa Bay Rays) and Nick Collins (of the Green Bay Packers) recently.  Really nice guys as most pro athletes I've met have been.  

I asked them if I could draw their caricature sometime and after showing them my drawing of Lebron James, they were more than willing to oblige.

Thanks, guys!