Tamron’s New 28–75mm F/2.8 Di III RXD (Model A036): The Perfect Match for Mirrorless

Tamron’s New 28–75mm F/2.8 Di III RXD (Model A036): The Perfect Match for Mirrorless

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The new Tamron standard zoom for Sony mirrorless full-frame cameras is light and small, checking in at 19.4 ounces and 4.6 inches, making it smaller than a soda can. Despite its bantamweight, this zoom delivers outstanding image quality, maximizing the capabilities of high-resolution, full-frame mirrorless cameras.

The fast, constant f/2.8 aperture delivers stunning bokeh and allows portrait photographers to isolate their subjects from the background for dramatic effect. The fast aperture also makes street shooting and other photography more potent.

New Rules for Close-Focusing
New close-focusing capabilities open doors to new creative expression. Have you ever focused to within less than three inches from a subject with a wide-angle lens? Unlike most zoom lenses that have the same hardwired Minimum Object Distance (MOD) at every focal length, the new Tamron 28–75mm can be focused at 7.5 inches (subject to film plane) at the 28mm wide-angle end of the zoom range, delivering a magnification ratio of 1:2.9. The subject is only 2.24 inches from the front lens element! At the 75mm setting, image magnification is 1:4 and the MOD is 15.3 inches.

Quiet—and Blazing Fast
The only sound you’ll hear is your heart beating—the new Tamron zoom is that quiet. Thanks to an AF drive that incorporates an RXD (Rapid eXtra-silent stepping Drive) stepping motor unit, video shooters will be delighted by the absence of extraneous noise.

Also, the addition of a dedicated sensor that accurately detects the position of the lens enables high speed and precise autofocus that allows you to maintain razor-sharp focus when shooting continually moving subjects or filming video.

Because Tamron knows your lens doesn’t stay inside all day, the lens features Moisture-Resistant Construction for extra protection outdoors, plus hydrophobic Fluorine Coating that’s highly resistant to fingerprints and debris.

Specifications

ModelA036
Focal Length28–75mm
Max. ApertureF/2.8
Angle of View (diagonal)75°23’–32°11′ (for full-frame format)
52°58’–21°05′ (for APS-C format)
Optical Construction15 elements in 12 groups
Minimum Object Distance0.19m (7.5 in) (WIDE) /
0.39m (15.3 in) (TELE)
Maximum. Magnification Ratio1:2.9 (WIDE) / 1:4 (TELE)
Filter Size?67mm
Maximum Diameter?73mm
Length*117.8mm (4.6 in)
Weight550g (19.4 oz)
Diaphragm Blade Number9 (circular diaphragm)**
Minimum ApertureF/2.8–22
Standard AccessoriesLens Hood, Lens Caps
Compatible MountsSony E-mount

 



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Tamron Upgrades Its Legendary Ultra-Wide-Angle Zoom Lens: Introducing the Tamron SP 15–30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2

Tamron Upgrades Its Legendary Ultra-Wide-Angle Zoom Lens: Introducing the Tamron SP 15–30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2

Daisuke Fujimara

 

Ultra-Optimized Optics Create Yet Another Incredible Image

The SP 15–30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (Model A041) is a high-speed ultra-wide-angle zoom lens with ultimate image quality that lets you capture all you see. The lens integrates engineering with human touch design, aiming at intuitive operability, while still emphasizing minute details and texture. It is more user-friendly because of innovations including a new switch box design, an improved distant-scale window, and the precision and stability of the metallic mount. By utilizing specialty glass materials and aspherical lens elements, Tamron’s engineers have further minimized the distortion and lateral chromatic aberration that can be an issue with wide-angle shooting. The lens also has triple lens coatings consisting of the newly developed AX (Anti-reflection eXpand) Coating, plus eBAND (Extended Bandwidth & Angular-Dependency) and BBAR (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection) Coatings that all combine to provide sharp and clear images even in peripheral areas.

The Newly Developed AX Coating Enables Sharp Images

A new revolutionary AX (Anti-reflection eXpand) Coating is accomplished through Tamron’s proprietary deposition technology that addresses the difficulty of applying uniformed coating using existing technology. Now the coating can be applied uniformly edge to edge, even if the convex surface has a strong curvature. As a result, the reflectance and color rendition at the peripheral part of the element is the same as the center. The new AX Coating, which is especially effective for wide-angle lenses that tend to let in harmful light from peripheral areas, effectively minimizes ghosting and provides outstanding uniform image clarity.

André Costantini

A Great AF Performance and Image Stabilization Bring out the Lens’s Optical Performance

In order to engage the full optical performance of the lens, it is essential to control the slightest blur and precise focusing. In this respect, the lens applies a Dual MPU (Micro-Processing Unit), which includes two dedicated MPUs, one for lens system control including AF, and the other for vibration compensation processing. The AF drive uses proprietary Tamron technology, USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) providing high torque, response, and silent operation. Manual focus adjustments can be made on the fly with the lens’s Full-time Manual Focus Override system. The Model A041 has an improved VC (Vibration Compensation) mechanism with vastly better image stabilization performance from the previous Model A012, now reaching 4.5 stops (CIPA standards). This enables sharper images over a wide range of photographic situations, including indoor and outdoor shots as well as landscape photography at stopped-down aperture settings.

Bastian Werner

New Fluorine Coating for Improved Durability

The durability of the front element coating is greatly improved with the development of new Fluorine Coating. With the new fluorine compound that has excellent water- and oil-repellent properties, the lens surface is much easier to wipe clean and less vulnerable to damaging effects of dirt, dust, moisture, and fingerprints, and enabling your important lenses to be continually protected on a long-time basis.

The Rear Filter Holder Enables Greater Creative Flexibility

A filter holder that allows you to attach gelatin filters to the rear side of the lens is included as a standard feature (for Canon EF-mount only). You can now shoot with filters much more easily, traditionally rather difficult when shooting with ultra-wide-angle lenses with large front lens elements.

Ken Hubbard

The F/2.8 G2 with VC Trinity Is Completed

Now three of high-speed zoom lens with VC, SP 15–30mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (Model A041), SP 24–70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (Model A032) and SP 70–200mm F/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (Model A025), are reborn as Generation 2, providing you with the feeling of luxury and operation unique to the human touch design.

For more information visit www.tamron-usa.com.



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From Afrofuturism to politics to Kafka, Greek studio Beetroot has done it all – Features

From Afrofuturism to politics to Kafka, Greek studio Beetroot has done it all – Features

We chat to the very inventive Beetroot about colourful electoral campaigns, lab-made type tools and their rather striking visuals.

You may not have heard of Beetroot, but they’re definitely a creative studio to emulate.

Based in Greece and London, the studio has tried its hand at theatre productions, election campaign posters, Minotaur sculptures and even their own custom type tools for InDesign. This is an outfit that does more than branding and the occasional font – Beetroot is constantly evolving, with a little unit working on type projects and even a forthcoming shop selling their custom wares.

Digital Arts reached out to Vangelis Liakos of the group for a deeper look into their projects, and Beetroot’s history since its inception back in 2000.

GL: Let’s get the basics on Beetroot – how did you begin, how many are there of you, and why did you choose the name Beetroot?

VL: “Three friends from school, a small loan from their parents to buy a single PC, some enthusiasm and a splash of ambition.

We became four soon after, then five and so on. The rest is history. Now the team consists of seventeen highly energetic individuals from various creative fields.

“As for our name, back then we were huge fans of Tom Robbins who in his book Jitterbug Perfume refers to the beet as the ‘most intense of vegetables’ and states that ‘Beets are deadly serious.’ It didn’t take much to inspire our young selves.”

GL: What makes Beetroot different from other design groups, and what are your core beliefs when approaching a project?

VL: “Our mission is to blend colours, shapes, sounds and ideas to build brands, have fun and inspire people. As a team, we focus on our well-being and quality of life as much as on design. We have developed strong, family-like bonds between our members. Teamwork and creativity flow from our everyday lives.

“Not having a particular style is, maybe, what makes us different from other design groups. We always dive into unknown territories design-wise. We like to suffer. We try not to follow rules when approaching a new project. Every project is different and deserves its own study. We try to be as free as is humanly achievable.”

GL: What was your latest project?

VL: “This is a tough one cause we simultaneously run many projects we love. We should mention our identity branding for art space Ypsilon Project (below), which was awarded as the Best of the Best in the Red Dot Awards in Germany.”

GL: We haven’t yet seen an electoral campaign as eye-catching and contemporary as your work for Yiannis Boutaris. Was it an easy process, or were many people ‘scared’ that this would be too radical a look?

VL: “Thank you very much for your positive comments. Mr. Boutaris and his team were excited with the outcome of our work from the get-go, which of course made our lives easier.

“After that, implementing the design for the electoral campaign came naturally with little to no fuss.”

GL: At Digital Arts we often look at illustrated labels for beer and spirits, and we’re wondering how did you approach the wine labels of both Ploes and Eros & Psyche?

VL: “In the early years of Beetroot, it was rough here in Greece. Trying to follow their previous aesthetic legacy, spirit brands were lost in a sea of repetition. The hardest part was to convince our first clients to shake off the old-fashioned thinking about the image of their brands and be bold.

“When it finally happened they soon realized those new labels were standing out. After that, every other client was asking for the same thing.”

GL: Let’s break down your epic, colourful visual identity design for the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens. First, what inspired the font design? Also, how and why did you develop the Flow Type text tool for the project?

VL: “After our annual meeting with the OCC team, we decided that the visual identity of the OCC should express a very important contradiction. The heretic and intense use of typography, on the one hand, reminds us that culture ought to be restless, unexpected and disruptive, while the use of ‘pop’ colours emphasises the desire of the OCC to recommend contemporary cultural work to the widest possible audience.

“By developing Flow Type for InDesign, we managed to handle the large volume and diverse needs of the OCC materials. This specially designed typographic software was the main design tool that helped us deliver the 2017-2018 OCC visual identity.

GL: I love your Afrofuturism posters for the OCC. How did you decide on their look?

VL: “Last year we got involved in the communication design of more than fifty OCC performances. In some of them, we delivered everything from scratch to finish, while in others we used the artists’ photos, artwork and even music to create the necessary materials like posters, flyers and digital applications.

“Both instances are very intriguing to us. We gladly accepted the challenge to implement our design on the artwork and create a great outcome of merged aesthetics that will satisfy both our client and the artist. The Afrofuturism and the Sun Ra Arkestra posters were two examples of this kind.”

GL: You designed a torture machine made out of text for a 2016 opera production of Kafka classic In the Penal Colony. How did Kafka’s original short story inspire you, along with the adapted libretto?

VL: “Kafka never directly describes the machine in a physical sense. His descriptions focus on function, process and goal. His machine is a literary device. Its mechanic is the writer. Its builder is the reader. This narration technique thrilled us. Our main goal became to translate it into our own visual language. In this line, we decided to create the machine out of Kafka’s text itself(as it was adapted in the English libretto of the opera by Rudy Wurlitzer).

“Our previous collaborations with director Paris Mexis helped us to understand his mindset and the tone of the performance.”

GL: Did the Beetroot Lab come about organically, and what are your future plans with it? Will it always be typographic based, making type tools? It seems text excite you the most in design.

VL: First of all, luckily for us, we get easily excited about every aspect of the design world, not just typography. We always have been naughty with graphic design, playing and experimenting in both print and digital media. Beetroot labs came naturally when we decided to make it somewhat more precise and provide a platform for our members to bend, trial and form new ideas.


Sculpture for Greek monsters exhibition, 2014

“Eventually, this platform would play a critical role in our creative journey and would produce aesthetic breakthroughs and innovative tools.”

“It may look like it at the moment, but Beetroot Labs is not just typographic based. We have developed many tools for the broader domain of the communication design, waiting to be presented. Our interest shifts from illustration to photography, from industrial to information design, from visual storytelling to copywriting.”



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Beatles artwork comes to life in Trunk’s inventive anniversary videos for the White Album – Features

Beatles artwork comes to life in Trunk’s inventive anniversary videos for the White Album – Features

Celebrate 50 years of the Beatles’ White Album with two inventive new videos made by Trunk for some of the album’s most beloved tracks.

White and yellow. Two colours that can mean many things to different people, but which have a special resonance in 2018 to any fan of the Beatles.

Earlier this year saw the 50th anniversary of the Fab Four’s animated classic Yellow Submarine, and this month marks the same half century celebration of the group’s seminal White Album, with some brand new videos coming out in celebration of the LP. Glass Onion, one of the album’s best known tracks, was given a very ambitious stop-motion promo from animation house Trunk, and today sees the launch of their lyric video for Back in the U.S.S.R.

Reaching out for an interview with Trunk directors Alasdair Brotherston & Jock Mooney, we learnt a bit more about each video, both of which are embedded below.

The video for Glass Onion takes as its inspiration a poster that came with the self-titled LP on its release back in November 22 1968 (shortly before it was dubbed the White Album by the world at large).

The collage featured a montage of images including photographs, strips of film, drawings, and hand coloured elements, all of which were provided by the Beatles to pop artist Richard Hamilton and Paul McCartney. The pair then assembled a varied and detailed collage that reflects the eclectic nature of the album’s tracks, and which Alasdair and Jock brought to life for the video above.

After completing Glass Onion, the pair were asked to do a video for Back in the U.S.S.R., with which they chose to focus on one technique from the many used on Glass Onion – scratching and painting on film – and expand and explore it over the course of a full video.

“It seemed like a very natural thing to explore the ‘scratch film’ technique,” Jock tells us. “At a very early stage we knew that the two videos should be like ‘sisters’ of one another. The scratch film stuff was also very fun and vibrant and has an energy to it that really suits a song like Back in the U.S.S.R.

Obviously, working on both films was a treat for the duo.

“Doing both of these projects was a huge honour and privilege,” Alasdair says. “It doesn’t get any bigger than the Beatles in terms of popular culture and so we were quite aware of the importance of approaching both projects with that in mind. The Beatles mean an awful lot to an awful lot of people and we wanted to make work that felt like it respected that legacy.”

Alasdair explained to Digital Arts about the importance of the original collage piece from 1968 for his and Jock’s work in 2018.

“At the outset of the project we heard an interview with Paul McCartney,” he says, “in which he explained how important it was that the collage he made with Richard Hamilton was created real scale – no elements were scaled up or shrunk down during the creative process and this gave rise to particular juxtapositions and techniques that informed the finished piece.

“We were adamant that we would approach this project in the same way, in the full knowledge that it would cause us some problems on the shoot. (As such) I am most proud that everything you see in the video was created at the scale originally intended and we embraced the challenges that those constraints threw up and that overcoming those really informed the look and feel of the finished piece.”

Such problems came from the pair’s determination to shoot as much as possible in camera.

“There were some things that it just wasn’t practical to capture on the main shoot – the 2D animation of John & Yoko escaping the U.S censors pencil for example,” Alasdair continues. “It would have been crazy to attempt that live in camera. But even with that we animated at the same scale as the original drawing and was artworked in pencil on paper. The vast majority of what you see was captured in camera, which is largely thanks to the skill of the art department at Trunk and the crew at Clapham Road Studios.”

Asking both directors whether there were any other visual influences from the Fab Four’s rich and illustrious history, Jock mentions the Beatles’ second foray into the world of cinema.

“Early on when we were talking about footage possibilities we really loved the idea of using Paul, on an organ, from the scene in Help! The camera itself was also talked about ‘as a character’ from a fairly embryonic stage. That feels incredibly ’60s to me.”

“Less of a subtle influence,” Alasdair adds, “but I did a shameless lift of a shot from the video for A Day In The Life where the editor cuts in on Big Ben and does a really simple camera shake to go with the alarm clock on the track. I used exactly the same technique to cut in on some footage of a jet mid-flight to crudely suggest turbulence.”

And on the music itself, I ask both directors what Beatles songs they love the most.

“We are all massive Back in the U.S.S.R fans anyway, and I still am,” says Jock. “It’s very rare to have to listen to a track over and over again, over some late nights, and to still love it. My total ultimate favourites Beatles song is probably Something though.”

“Oh boy,” Alasdair replies when asked the same question. “Half of my family is from Merseyside and so I grew up listening to the Beatles and it is really really tricky to pick. However, I’m a huge sucker for a great string arrangement, so any of Across The Universe, Eleanor Rigby or A Day In The Life. Oh, and I love Strawberry Fields of course, and you can’t forget Dear Prudence and – oh damn, you can’t really narrow it down.”

The 50th anniversary 2018 mix of the Beatles’ White Album is out November 9th.



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Film graphics marvel Annie Atkins on designing the past and ensuring future talent in the field – Features

Film graphics marvel Annie Atkins on designing the past and ensuring future talent in the field – Features

Annie Atkins on designing graphics for Isle of Dogs, taking influence from the past – and why she’ll never do sci-fi.

The last day of Adobe’s annual MAX conference is always an odd one. Journalists fly out, all the big announcements have been made, and more than a few folk are still recuperating from the night before due to the MAX Bash, a concert that takes place on the penultimate evenings and which this year paid host to none other than Mr. Beck Hansen.

As such, finding a jewel in the post-party MAX comedown is always a welcome discovery, and I was surprised to discover one of the most intriguing events for this year’s conference scheduled on its closing day. There in the long list of workshops and technological presentations was  a talk by Annie Atkins on the hidden art of production design, something which ended up being one of the best MAX happenings for 2018.

This’ll be no surprise to anyone familiar with Annie, one of the biggest names in graphic design for cinema thanks to work on Wes Anderson classics like The Grand Budapest Hotel and this year’s Isle of Dogs. You’ll also have ‘seen’ her meticulous, vintage-led work in Spielberg’s Bridge of Lies and animations like The Boxtrolls.

A wide body of work, then, and after her packed out MAX talk I ask what genres she’d like to try next, or whether she’s up for anything and everything. Anyone expecting ‘Annie in Space’ won’t like the next answer, where she talks about working on a shelved sci-fi project from a few years back (which eventually morphed into a certain two-hander from a few years back).

“I hate science fiction,” she confides. “I used to think, ‘God, it’d be so interesting to do the future, to get a job and do something futuristic, that’d be fascinating.’ And then I did a sci-fi movie, set on a spaceship flying 200 years in the future, and I actually found it really weird. 

“I had to design interactive screens for use on a spaceship. So, my instinct was to look at the interactive screen that I have on my phone, but it’s tricky with sci-fi, because what do audiences expect? The golden age of sci-fi was the ‘70s, so we started letting that inform the design instead. 

“It was interesting, actually, but I was totally out of my comfort zone. Even contemporary stuff doesn’t really interest me that much. I like to work in the past.”

The through line of Annie’s work does indeed involve more historical pastures, starting with her early work on shows like The Tudors and Camelot. The past also coloured her talk at MAX, where Annie revealed her main influence is junk, or “stuff you find in your grandmother’s attic.”

She enjoys showing her working process on films, explaining how she breaks scripts down to pull out all the relevant elements that will be shown on screen — or, as Annie says in the talk, “all the things everybody sees and nobody cares about.”

“It’s just not something there’s a lot of information out there about. That’s what people wanna know about,” she explains.

The MAX presentation revealed how Mai ’68 protest signs from the ’60s Paris riots inspired the various placards we saw in Isle of Dogs, or how her research on fascists’ business cards for The Grand Budapest Hotel turned up one belonging to Adolf Hitler, meaning they did exist (although such paper credentials in those days were more like ‘calling cards’ to leave at the home of someone you’ve visited to find they’re not there).

When I ask Annie what’s the most fascinating historical tidbit she’s found during her many researches, she gives me an intriguing tale from her family history.

“I find that we’re with any kind of period piece that’s set pre-mid century, we’re always making telegrams. Screen writers and directors love bringing telegrams into a narrative, because they’re so of their own time, and I remember a story of my grandfather, when he was a boy in Germany just before the war started.

“He got a telegram one day while he was over there that said, ‘Your brother is ill, come home at once.’ He didn’t have a brother, so he knew immediately that something was up, and he’d got straight back on a boat over to Dover, and within days the Second World War had started.”

It’s a story Annie loves, and she still wishes she had the telegram in question.

“After he died we found all kinds of pieces of things from his past in his house, and the telegram wasn’t there, but maybe I’ll make it myself,” she hopes.

Continuing our discussion of time, Annie reveals how she finds all of Wes Anderson’s time periods to be fascinating.

“I really enjoyed working on Isle Of Dogs with Wes, because it was almost like a fictional time. In the script it was said to be 20 years in the future, but from when? It wasn’t clear, you know. 

“The Grand Budapest Hotel (meanwhile) was in four different time periods. The ’80s, the ’60s, the ’30s and then present day. But again present day wasn’t necessarily ‘now.’ So, I love that playfulness with time. I’m a technician when it comes to working with Wes; I’m making stuff to his vision. It’s always a really fun way to work.”

Asking Annie what time periods she’d like to play with next, and she has a few ideas.

“I’d like to do some more fantasy periods from the past, you know? Like, Game of Thrones is very much a fantastical time, but it’s all rooted in real historical times as well. Maybe also a ‘Gold Rush’ Western. I’ve never done anything like that, that would be fun.”

Looking to the future, Annie is bringing her much loved Graphic Design for Filmmaking workshop to the States for the first time, where students will learn how to design graphics that can help tell a director’s story.

“Traditionally, graphic designers in art departments didn’t necessarily come from a graphic design background,” Annie notes about what inspired her to set up the sessions. “They often come from a general art department background and fell into the graphic design role, because they knew a bit about Photoshopping. Whereas now, I think there’s been a little bit of light shone on the field, and professional graphic designers are wanting to make that transition.

“That’s something I’m encouraging in my workshops. I want to teach people who are graphic designers how to get into the industry.”

Annie enjoys the luxury of time presented by the workshops with her students.

“I find that when you’re working on a movie production, it’s really high pressure,” she bemoans. “Time’s always against you, everyone’s up to the nines; there’s not a lot of time to actually enjoy what you’re doing. Whereas with the workshops, I’m spending time with students who are really into the subject and we can explore things a little bit more and have some fun with things.

“It’s just nice being with people who are so interested in the subject, and being able to inspire them and help them make great portfolios and get into an industry that they think is like a closed door.”

I hark back to how after her MAX talk, various attendees came up for a chat with Annie about getting into the industry, full of questions.

“I remember I did a screen writing course years ago, and somebody said at the end of the course, ‘Film just feels like a closed door. It feels like you have to know somebody to get your foot in the door.’ And I’ll never forget what the tutor said,” Annie recounts. 

“She said, ‘Yeah, that actually may be true. But the best way to get to know somebody is to introduce yourself to them. If you can introduce yourself to somebody with a really great piece of work, they will want to bring you on board. They’re always looking for good people.’ That advice has actually stayed with me forever; I thought it was a really encouraging thing to say to people, and I try to teach my students that same thing.

“I want film to be an industry that’s open to the best talents and the best people, and I want to be able to give people opportunities to get in. After people come to my workshops they go off and they make props and I see such good work, and I think the door should be open to them all.”

Aside from the US debut of her workshops, Annie also has her first book in the pipeline.

“I was approached by Phaidon over a year ago now, because I sometimes post online about each subject and they asked if I had ever considered writing a book about it all.

“I’ve been writing it for the last year or so. It’s basically everything that was in my MAX presentation, but it’s much more expanded upon. I’m coming towards the end of the deadline now, then it’ll take a year for it to be edited and published.”

Moving away from future and past, we look at the present and Annie‘s recent projects.

“The last big thing that I worked on was Isle Of Dogs, and it was such a treat to sit down in the cinema and watch it, and see what happened with all the pieces that we made.”

“Every time I work on an animation I definitely feel like I’d like to stay in that field,” she continues, “because you really are creating everything from scratch.

“It’s always a very imaginative world. Nobody every makes a super realistic animation, you know? It’s kind of a nicer way to work because you have that little bit longer, and it’s much more involved.

“I think this is also why I love working for Wes Anderson so much, because he takes that ‘involved’ approach in his live action and his animation. We’re always building everything from scratch and taking care of every tiny little detail.”

And in the end with Annie, it’s those little details that shine  – even if not everyone notices them.

Read next: Lettering master Jessica Hische on her new book’s essential message for both adults and kids



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30 years on, animation classic Akira is still inspiring artists around the world – Features

30 years on, animation classic Akira is still inspiring artists around the world – Features

In celebration of the anime classic’s 30th anniversary, we look at Akira tribute projects from around the globe, and how the film still inspires creators to this day.

It’s been 30 years since the release of Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s anime classic Akira, the cyberpunk tale of biker gangs, telekinesis and a post-apocalyptic Tokyo city. The film looked and felt like nothing else at the time, and is to this day a stunning tour de force of animation, music and even adaptation, distilling the original multi-volume manga by the director into 124 minutes of dystopian delirium.

No surprise then that three decades on and Akira is still inspiring artists across a variety of fields, with 2018 seeing some intriguing tributes to the movie from illustrators and designers alike. We’ve seen film studio Post Panic reference the film in their award winning short  A Report Of Connected Events, with Kaneda’s bike lurking in the background (check here for the full film and a VFX breakdown of the CGI motorcycle). A more recent example that will please Akira heads is this mock sleeve design for the film’s stunning soundtrack, as designed by Italian Luca Longobardi.

Speaking with us about his record sleeve, Luca explains Akira‘s hold on him as an artist. Interestingly, the original manga has its own part to play in the story.

“The project was born after reading the complete work by the master mangaka Katsuhiro Ōtomo, republished in Italy in six volumes of about 400 pages each. When I was a child I was passionate about the animated version, but I had no idea how it represented only a small part compared to the paper version.

“When the film recently turned 30 years after its release, it was rereleased in some cinemas in my country with a new dubbing, and I decided to go and watch it again. The animated version, which before reading the manga seemed cryptic to me, this time was enlightening and also made me dwell on the power of the soundtrack made by Geinoh Yamashirogumi.”

That soundtrack was rereleased by film music giants Milan Records last year, but we love Luca’s stripped down take on the sleeve, which differs from this version and the original Japanese release with its focus on type.

“As a graphic designer I decided to realise my idea of a limited edition that would differ from the official releases produced so far, including the one from Milan Records. As a result, I made an artwork concentrating mainly on the typographic part, combining it with two images taken from the manga, trying to restore the dystopian tone present in Ōtomo’s work”, he explains.

That simple, brutal backbone to the manga is in raw effect on the sleeve, reflecting Luca’s love of the stark aesthetic and power of both film and book by Ōtomo.

“The motivations are simple, its communicative power has always fascinated and excited me for the message that the author has decided to transmit to us.

“Moreover, both the manga and the anime have been realised with a crazy care for the drawings that page after page and frame after frame are able to give the work a unique character of its kind,” he continues. “Each of us should be aware of and enjoy the timeless beauty of this masterpiece.”

Someone who’d agree with Luca is US-based concept artist Gus Mendonca, who created a stunning 3D visualisation of Akira protagonist Tetsuo earlier this year. Like Luca’s vinyl sleeve, the work is a passion project, but could be a nice bit of concept art should the much-mooted live adaptation ever take off the ground. But what does Tetsuo mean to the artist personally, and why did he depict this particular image for his piece?

“I find Tetsuo an incredibly interesting and tragic character that harkens back to some of the classical elements of Greek tragedy,” Gus tells me by email. “Watching his powers grow and slowly destroy his mind and body is a powerful experience to say the least, especially because Katsuhiro Ōtomo does such a masterful job with the presentation of his character allowing the viewer to see him as a real three-dimensional character with grounded and believable virtues and flaws.

“I have always been fascinated by the psychological aspects of characters and their struggles to come to grips with power and its corrupting influence, so when I decided to create an Akira homage I knew Tetsuo would be the focus of it.”

The art was created over a couple of evenings during the 4th of July holiday in the US, just in time to mark the film’s original July release in Japan.

“In my gut, I knew I wanted to create an image that symbolised the rebirth of Tetsuo, and that decision led me to create this visual representation of Tetsuo’s rebirth with him being ‘born’ out of this mechanical tunnel inspired by Brutalist architecture,” Gus explains.

“I was also looking at medical illustrations of internal organs and started to create a simplified directional pattern for the mechanical pipes based on those.

“The other hidden visual cue in this piece is the two overlapping circles (one created by the energy sphere around Tetsuo and the second by the entrance of the tunnel) that together create the infinity symbol as a way to communicate the potential of the power Tetsuo is channeling. Fans of the anime will remember Doctor Onishi’s remarks about the power of Akira as well as the spherical UI interface that showed the viewers the growth of Tetsuo’s powers.”

The piece is a mix of 2D and 3D, which Gus set about with by first making a loose thumbnail sketch on a Post-It note.

“After that, I created a black and white character sketch in Adobe Photoshop and from there I started to block out the scene in Maya. Those elements were done on the first evening I worked on the piece and the second and final evening was focused on modelling the environment and the Tetsuo character in Maya and Z-Brush respectively. After the models were ‘done’ I did a quick lighting pass in Maya and created a 4K render that I painted over in Photoshop.”

For Gus, the experience of making this homage was “incredibly fun and humbling”, and a nice love letter to his beloved anime.

“I love the believable and gritty look of Akira and Ōtomo has always been a huge influence on me even though I don’t necessarily try to emulate his style,” he says. “To me, Ōtomo’s work is a representation of excellence and that is something that I always aspire to achieve.

“It formed my understanding of a benchmark for artistic excellence that I constantly try to bring to my work no matter the subject matter. I try to focus on the the foundation of his work as well as the work discipline and dedication that goes into it. In many ways, it represents my artistic true north.

“I was born around the same time the anime was released so I ended up watching Akira for the first time when I was a teenager,” Gus recounts. “I lived in Brazil at the time and I think it took several years for the anime to be released there. I just remember being completely blown away by it. I had seen nothing quite like it then nor since.

“It hit all the right notes for me,” he gushes. “I loved the characters, the world building, the action, drama and particularly all of the surreal elements of it. The music of Akira also had a huge impact on me and in my opinion, it still holds up today.  I was actually listening to the soundtrack the entire time I worked on my illustration. I just love that musical style.”

Music plays a key role in the Akira legacy, and a ‘synthwave’ tribute to the soundtrack from this year saw a great cover based on a poster by Brazilian artist Lucas Mendonça (no relation) which is imbued with a lovely ‘manga paper’ feel. Check out Lucas’ rendition of Akira and Tetsuo in full, grainy glory below.

“The rivalry and complicity between the two characters is very unique, so I decided to use them in my artwork, says Lucas, who says the film will “always be one of (his) greatest inspirations.”

Another artist inspired enough by the film to make a personal tribute project is US illustrator Ash Thorp, who collaborated with China’s Xiaolin Zeng on the gorgeous Awaken Akira short, a one minute CGI piece made from glimpses of objects, symbols and buildings from the film set to some heart pounding music. The work acts like a post-modern tribute to the original animation, and is full of references only fans will recognise that stand in a kind of ceremonial, deconstructionist light.

“Our goal with Awaken Akira was to pay homage to a piece of our childhood that was very special to us,” says Ash on the project’s Behance page.

“We had to be very cautious of not breaking the rules of the world and playing within its creative boundaries yet elevating the art form. I feel that we were able to pay homage yet give it a new voice by translating the art form to CGI.

“(But) instead of trying a CGI route, we decided to use in-camera effects to symbolise the metamorphosis of Tetsuo.”

Speaking to Digital Arts about Akira‘s impact on him as an artist, Ash’s thoughts chime in with the other creators who’ve paid homage to the anime this year.

“The first time I saw Akira, it really and truly shook me to the core as a creative person,” he tells us.

“The level of craft and detail combined with a relatable yet abstract world, showed me that a whole other reality could exist within the world of art.

“Akira helped define me as a creative, and I reflect on it throughout my life as a touchstone of quality and overall level of craft,” he concludes.

Three decades on, Akira‘s star shows no sign of abating, and no doubt its influence will be seen over the next 30 years. Who knows, maybe we’ll even see something Akira-related pop up at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics; after all, the event was foretold by both the film and the original 1982 manga, somehow.

Read next: This fantastic short film from Post Panic is packed with hidden TV and film references like Akira



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How to make the jump from a junior to a middleweight designer – Features

How to make the jump from a junior to a middleweight designer – Features

Designers at some of the world’s best creative agencies tell us how they went from a junior position to a midweight role.

So your studies are a thing of the distant past and you’ve been in you current design role for a few years or so. You like the opportunities given to you so far, but are ready for more – and why not? Moving up the food chain is a natural impulse for all of us, even creatives. A promotion to a more senior role usually means more power, more responsibility, more interesting work and – let’s not forget – more money.

But how do you do that as a junior designer? What does it take to be considered for a midweight role, where you’ll be leading juniors whilst supporting a senior designer or art director? We asked designers who have made the jump working for some of the world’s best creative agencies for their advice.

Elle Eveleigh

“You’ll get quicker and more skilful as your experience develops and that will boost your confidence – so embrace it. Be proactive about taking on more responsibility. Think about the big picture of the projects you’re working on too. Get under the skin of the design strategy and understand clients’ business objectives.

“As you progress you will start to run with an idea from the beginning and see it through. Take ownership of your design and show how your idea can translate across different touch points and come to life as a brand in its own right.

“Finally, learn from those with more experience – and learn from supporting others. And remember that all ideas count, regardless of experience.”
Elle Eveleigh, Middleweight Designer, B&B studio


Erin Delaney

“I was looking for a new job as a junior designer but the feedback I was getting was that I was too experienced. So, I started applying for midweight positions instead and made the move that way. Working as a midweight didn’t feel like a big leap as I had been gradually progressing towards this role.

“My advice is to work on your confidence and stand up for your design decisions. You need to prove you can do the job of a midweight designer by taking control over the work that you’re already doing, showing initiative and being enthusiastic to learn more. The best way to prove yourself worthy of being promoted to midweight designer is by taking on work at that level.”
– Erin Delaney, Designer, ODA


Matthew Holbrow

“When you’re a junior you’re less sure of yourself, so you present all your ideas. When you reach midweight, you’ve got the confidence to focus on the ideas that are the right ones. Being a midweight is about having more confidence in yourself and your ideas, but you need to remain humble and open to learning. These are things that come gradually with time. They shouldn’t be forced.

“You get to a point when you think: ‘OK I’ve got this, I’m ready for this challenge. I know how to conquer this.’ You also begin to feel and think: ‘I’m a midweight now’.

“As a creative, it’s easy to put yourself down a lot but have faith in yourself as you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve.”
– Matthew Holbrow, Designer, ODA


Andrew Kitchener

“Present work whenever you can. It can sometimes feel like the hardest thing to do but if an opportunity comes up, take it. You only get better through practice.

“Attitude is key. Always show you’re up for it. Sometimes projects don’t always go your way, but it’s how you deal with that and prepare to tackle the next challenge that counts.

“Take the initiative. Whether that’s taking part in an extra project or learning a new set of skills. Getting ahead of the game and showing determination to be the best you can is always a good thing.

“Ask. Sometimes it’s best just to ask what you need to do to get to the next level.”
– Andrew Kitchener, Midweight Designer, Ragged Edge


Mike Foster

“We push all our designers continuously, giving them new experiences and responsibilities so they can reach their full potential. But we don’t rank people as junior, middleweight or senior.

“We’re all about ideas, not hierarchy. For our designers to progress, they simply have to get involved and take responsibility. We’re a small studio so there’s lots of scope for the whole team to liaise with clients, take on projects and run with them.

“A project could go to anyone. Our newest recruit is just as likely to be briefed on a global redesign as an amend on a poster. We’re able to do this because we nurture, we collaborate – and we make it safe for people to get things wrong.”
– Mike Foster, Founder and Creative Director of Straight Forward Design


Pat King

“It’s an experience game. For me it was all about building on knowledge from previous projects so I could bring more to the table on future projects. This process built my confidence to make larger, more thoughtful decisions on projects and was essential to taking the next career step. 

“Say yes to absolutely everything. Treat everyone as though they’re your dream client. Whether it’s a friend who needs a poster or a big client at the studio — everything is a stepping stone to the next project.

“Amidst all this, take the time to step back and recognise what kind of projects you’re really passionate about so that in the future you can work towards more projects like that.”
– Pat King, Designer and Animator, Trollbäck+Company

Read next: Graphic designer (and Yorkshireman) Craig Oldham’s 7 Tips for Working in the Industry™



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Rovina Cai describes the process behind her emotional illustrations for Patrick Ness’ And The Ocean Was Our Sky – Features

Rovina Cai describes the process behind her emotional illustrations for Patrick Ness’ And The Ocean Was Our Sky – Features

The artist explains how her illustrations “set the tone and atmosphere” for Patrick’s short novel that tells Moby Dick from the perspective of the whale.

Author Patrick Ness is one of the biggest names in Young Adult literature with 11 books under his belt, including the incredibly emotional A Monster Calls and the Chaos Walking trilogy, which is currently being adapted into a star-studded movie with actors including Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen and Tom Holland.

His latest book, And The Ocean Was Our Sky, is a short novel that Patrick describes as a ‘fantasia of Moby Dick’ rather than a retelling, told from the perspective of the whale. It explores the power of prophecy and rumour, and how they can infect us – how much does being told something is going to happen make that thing happen? It’s illustrated by the talented Rovina Cai, with stunning artwork that is integral to the story.

In And The Ocean Was Our Sky, gravity meets at the surface of the ocean. To the whales, the surface of the ocean is below them, but men see the world the other way round, like we do. This concept is beautifully brought to life by Rovina’s illustrations, as are the emotions of the characters. They are largely greyscale, with flashes of reds and oranges throughout.

At the book’s London launch event on board the HQS Wellington, Patrick spoke about working with Rovina and why he decided this particular novel should feature illustrations. “I had ideas, but I’m not an illustrator at all,” he explained. “Certainly nothing like the incredible Rovina. So I wanted to hear what she thought, and hear what she was excited to draw after reading the book.”

“There’s an amazing sequence near the end just full of action, and there’s no text. I love the idea that a book is a beautiful thing, so I thought if I bring my best and she brings her best, maybe together we can make something incredible,” Patrick continued. “This is book number 11, so I just want to keep pushing and trying something new, to see how much further I can take things.”

We spoke to Rovina to find out more about what it was like to work on this project, the challenges she faced and her processes. Based in Melbourne, Rovina has also worked on other novels and picture books including Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series and award winning picture book Tintinnabula by Margo Lanagan.

Her illustrations have a very distinct style: her use of lines to create shadows and textures is particularly striking. “It’s difficult to see my work from an outside perspective,” Rovina said when we asked how she would describe her style. “Others have described it as poetic and surreal with a lot of moody atmosphere.”

Rovina says that her inspiration can come from a variety of places, including music or museums. “I do like to draw on my experiences where possible. Whenever I start a new piece, I’m always thinking about the emotions I want to convey, and the feelings I can tap into in any given piece of writing. I’m looking for something I can relate to in the text.”

After seeing some of Rovina’s work online, Walker Books art director Ben Norland reached out with the manuscript for And The Ocean With Our Sky to find out whether she’d be interested in illustrating it.

“Patrick Ness is an amazing storyteller, and I was really drawn to the unusual narrative; I thought it would be a great challenge so I jumped on board,” she said.

Rovina had previously read Patrick’s A Monster Calls and loved it. It too is an illustrated novel, with art by Jim Kay, who is also behind the illustrated editions of Harry Potter. “I’m really interested in the way that text and images can work together, and A Monster Calls is an excellent example of that,” said Rovina. “So when I was offered the opportunity to work on an illustrated novel too, I was really excited.”

The freedom of the sea

The brief was fairly open. Aside from discussing where each illustration should be placed and technical things like how the characters or locations should look, Rovina was free to interpret the text as she liked. “The book contains a few sequences, where there are several consecutive spreads of illustrations with no text. It was particularly fun to come up with what to do with these pages, and it was left up to me to decide what to show, and how to use the allocated space.”

“The main goal was to set the tone and atmosphere of the story with the illustrations,” Rovina explained. “Showing just enough to guide the reader, but leaving enough room for their own imagination to fill the gaps. The story is really unique and unconventional, so the illustrations are there to visually help readers understand concepts that might be hard to imagine.”

Describing her process, Rovina said that she notes down the main themes and emotions in the writing after reading a manuscript, and decides what the illustrations need to convey overall. She will then create a moodboard of colours, reference images and textures to guide the mood she’s going for.

“After all the research is done, I do rough sketches. These are sent to the art director, who will consult with other people at the publisher and author, before coming back with feedback. I really enjoy this part of the process because it’s very collaborative, and different people are able to contribute ideas that ultimately make the illustrations better.”

“After the roughs stage, I then move on to the final. This is pretty straight forward, since most of the “work” has been done via the sketches. It’s just a matter of making things look nice and polished.

“My process for creating finals is split into two stages: I first make a graphite drawing on paper …

“… and then I scan it in to edit and colour in Photoshop.”

The narrator of And The Ocean Was Our Sky is a whale called Bathsheba. Led by Captain Alexandra, she and her pod fight a never-ending war against men, until on one of their expeditions they come across something that will change their lives forever.

“It was important to convey that Bathsheba wasn’t just a whale, but a multi-dimensional character with thoughts and feelings,” Rovina said when we asked her how she faced the challenge. “I looked at images and videos of whales for research, but found that they looked too stiff and emotionless if I were to draw them accurately. So I had to put the reference away and just rely on my imagination. In the end, a lot of the illustrations are close-up shots, with focus on the eyes, which I think helps the reader feel a connection to the character.”

And The Ocean Is Our Sky is available to buy now from Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes and Noble.


A detail from one of Rovina’s graphite drawings.



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Jorge Gutiérrez on the Power Being Autistic Brings to his Creativity – Features

Jorge Gutiérrez on the Power Being Autistic Brings to his Creativity – Features

The director of The Book of Life and animated shows for Nickelodeon and Netflix discusses being autistic, mixing Mexican culture with sci-fi and kung fu, and how he stays positive in the face of cancelled projects.

“Autism is my super-power.”

This is the most striking thing Jorge Gutiérrez says to me as we’re sitting in a small chamber in the Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta, Malta – a bland name for a grandiose 15th-Century building originally built as an infirmary for soldiers.

It’s the new home of the boutique digital art, animation and VFX conference/festival Trojan Horse Was a Unicorn (THU to attendees). This intimate ‘digital rave’ combines workshops from intense life-drawing by Nadezda to VR painting with now-Facebook-employee Goro Fujita with talks from fantasy art heroes like Cynthia Sheppard to game studios like The Last of Us developer Naughty Dog.

Jorge kicked off the talks on the first day proper of THU, detailing not only his career as an artist, animator and director on a succession of shows including the Emmy-winning El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera for Nickelodeon – with its highest point so far being his Golden Globe-nominated feature film The Book of Life. All of these draw on the visual motifs of his native Mexico, where he lived until going to CalArts too study experimental animation under legendary Disney animator Jules Engel.

Jorge is an incredibly open and engaging speaker, telling us a series of funny and affecting tales about the moments of failure from his career and personal life that lead to his proudest successes.

This story arc recurs through how in his youth, he convinced Jules to let him into CalArts – and convinced acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro to be a producer on his feature film. For Jules he had prepared a derivative portfolio of the type of characters he thought Americans were looking for. The great animator’s response was characteristically blunt.

“Why do you poop in my eyes,” he said, before saying the worst thing a young creative can hear.

“You are not an artist. A copy machine could make this.”

Crushed, Jorge ended up leaving his office without his other portfolio, as featuring his personal work that was entirely based in Mexican culture. Jules happened to open this and called Jorge back to both berate him for not showing this portfolio to begin with – and invited him onto the course. While studying, Jorge created the CG animated short Carmelo, which won the 2001 student Emmy award for animation – prompting Jules to praise him with the words, “Maybe you’re not an idiot.”

A similarly nightmarish interview almost ended his chance at getting The Book of Life (below) made. He had managed to get in front of Guillermo del Toro to pitch the film but had to contend with doing in outside in the LA sun, so he was sweating profusely and had to do the pitch in less than a third of time he’d practised to. While almost being drowned out by the booming sounds of leaf blowers from the house next door. Using a script of the film he’d managed to spill tequila all over.

Luckily, the Pan’s Labyrinth/Hellboy director was already aware of Jorge’s talents and backed the project.

Jorge has a thousand of these stories, and an infectious exuberance that brings you into their highs and lows, but there was one thing he mentioned that didn’t have a story to go alongside it – that he’s autistic and that he’s found this beneficial to being an artist and director. Like me, he also has a nine-year-old son who’s autistic, so when we sat down the following day for an interview, this was something I wanted to explore with him (after first checking that we was happy to discuss this part of his life).

With the high interpersonal skills necessary to direct feature films and TV shows – as well as appear on stage to give his talk – Jorge doesn’t match the preconception that many neurotypical people (as some within the autistic community use to refer to non-autistic people) have of how an autistic person behaves: introverted and made anxious by the disconnection they feel from most of the rest of the world.

For that reason, Jorge wasn’t diagnosed as autistic until he was nearly 40 – it was only when his son was diagnosed that a connection was made.

“My parents said, ‘well that’s weird. If he has autism, I think you have autism too’.

“I asked them why and they said ‘everything your kid does is what you did. You didn’t talk until you were five; all you did was draw very specific things.”

Lost in creation

Hyperfocusing – getting caught up in a task to the exclusion of nearly everything else – is a common trait in autistic people. Jorge has found the ability to hyper-focus to be advantageous when working the long hours and to the tight deadlines required by animation production.

“If I’m told [that] we have to get this done by tomorrow, I can [hyperfocus] and just work and draw for hours without even getting up,”, he says, “to the point that my wife gets worried, saying ‘you should go to the bathroom’.”

“So to me, autism has been a very positive thing. My wife says I’ve managed to take it and put it to work for me … You have to figure out how to harness its power. “

Jorge says he isn’t alone in finding that the animation industry suits – and benefits from – his form of autism.

“Honestly, maybe 60% of the directors in animation are on the spectrum,” he says. “Most are just not public about it. I would say half my crew on The Book of Life and El Tigre [below] are people on the spectrum that either weren’t diagnosed, or they just didn’t know.”

Another ability that Jorge has that he sees as one of the positives of being autistic is his exact and complete memory when it comes to his own creative projects, and those of others.

“I remember movies completely,” he says. “I can tell every shot, every actor, every writer. The same [is true] with music. When I’m writing a script for anything, I’m basically digitising the whole thing.”

Not everything about being autistic has been positive for Jorge, of course. He has the same difficulties with social situations as many autistic people. While he’s an accomplished speaker both on stage to a thousand people at THU – where he received a rapturous response – and to teams of animators and production crew, he freely admits he hates it. After his talk, he took a long nap due to feeling overwhelmed

He’s modest about his speaking skills, but from the way he explains it, he knows that to make the shows and films he wants, this is something he has to constantly work on.

“As a film director, you talk to big crowds of people all the time,” he says. “In the beginning, it was very scary and I would have to convince myself that I have to do this stuff I don’t want to do in order to get the stuff I want. And so I made it into a game and I trained myself socially.

“Meeting new people is also something that again is a little challenging for me, but I make it happen. I want to get better at it.”

Getting ‘super-macho’

This drive to succeed is something that Jorge got from his parents and especially his grandfather, from whom he acquired a mindset that Jorge calls being ‘super-macho’ – not the usual macho bullshit but a willingness to fight for what you want and take the difficult path if that’s how you get what you want.

“If you suffer, you earn the things that are most delicious,” he had said in his talk earlier, also remarking that “any success comes from taking chances.”

This outlook is necessary in the world of film and TV animation, where – with the exception of completed feature films – every project ends in failure. Every TV show is cancelled in the end – if it ever makes it to the screen in the first place. Jorge is currently working on projects with Netflix that he can’t discuss, though he does mention that he might do a show with them called Kung-Fu Space Punch [title card below] that combines his love of Mexican culture, kung fu movies, westerns and sci-fi. But even with Netflix’s famously ‘let’s try it’ policy, shows that don’t find an audience don’t continue to get made.

Kung Fu Space Punch brings in elements from a wide range of sources, but is still rooted in the culture of his native Mexico. For him, it’s not only because he has such an affinity to his familial culture, but because he wants to improve the representation of Latino people in animated movies and TV.

“I’ll tell you a story that happened to me when I saw Star Wars as a little kid,” he says by way of explanation. “I’d been excited to see this movie, but on the way home I was super sad.

“He said ‘Did you not like the movie?’. I said that I loved it. It was my favourite thing I’ve ever seen. So he asked me why I was sad.

“I told him, ‘did we not make it Papa? No one looks like us in the future’.

“His reply, “Chewbacca is Mexican’,” Jorge laughs.

But from here, he really began to notice the lack of representation of people like him in movies – and when there were Mexicans on screen, it was in negative roles.

“I looked at sci-fi movies and there were no brown people,” he says. “In Westerns, usually the Mexicans were the bad guys. So now I want to retell my version of that.”

Even though diversity has improved in mainstream genre cinema – both in terms of the number of non-white, non-male, non-straight roles that are on screen but also where on the spectrum of good to evil they sit – there’s still a lack of Latino people.

“We live in a post Wonder Woman/Black Panther world,” he notes. “But when I walked out of Black Panther, I said ‘Why is there no Brown Panther’? There are no Latino Marvel superheroes. I’m bummed by this. I think we need new heroes.”

So Jorge wants to create those heroes. In space. With kung fu. And the results will be, in the words of his grandfather, “Super Macho”.



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Illustration duo Brosmind on branding the universe with their cartoon designs – Features

Illustration duo Brosmind on branding the universe with their cartoon designs – Features

We talk to Spanish duo Brosmind about comics, branding wheelchair covers and giant hungry robots.

Brosmind know how to celebrate their work in style, whether releasing massive monographs of their work or giving unique masterclasses that are more surreal than sober.

Their most recent retrospective Boom Boom Brosmind happened all the way out in Taipei, Taiwan and saw brothers Juan and Alejandro Mingarro put on a show that consisted of more than punters appreciating their work with a stroke of the chin.

“Every time we do an exhibition we try to break the boundaries between the audience and the artworks,” the brothers tells us in an email interview for Digital Arts. “We want people to feel part of the show, so we want to transport them into our universe though interaction.

“In order to create that dialogue with the audience we brought to Taipei some already existing interactive pieces like our motorbikes and video games, but also created some new ones. One of the most successful pieces was a huge sandwich where people could become one of the ingredients, and become an offering to a huge robot we also built.”

Such inventiveness shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who’s been following the brother’s free-spirited body of work, and reaching out to the brothers we caught up about their very varied commissions. The brothers responded as a single entity, two brains united as Brosmind. But what does each Bro bring to the table on a project exactly?

“When we started working together we developed a new method, combining our previous drawing skills and learning from that in which the other was best,” the brothers respond. “Today we have exactly the same working style, which allows us to create the pencil artwork together, working on the same canvas. That’s the most important stage of the process, where we define the idea and composition. After that, we specialise for the next stages, with Juan being in charge of the inking and Alejandro of applying the colour.”

The same working style then, but the brothers’ work has kept evolving over the years, even if this hasn’t been in the field of ideas as such, as they explain.

“It definitely has been an evolution, but in the technical aspects only. We became illustrators by chance, so we had to improve techniques on the go. Our first drawings looked messier, the lines were more shaky and insecure, and the use of colour was very basic, using just different shades of a same colour.

“Over the years our tracing has become more perfect, the finishings better, the compositions more well balanced, and especially our palette has evolved into a much more colourful combination of colours, which is one of our distinctive characteristics. In terms of complexity,” they continue, “some of our first pieces were extremely busy. We feel that now we can express our ideas in a more accurate and effective way, using simpler and cleaner compositions.”

A good example of this simplicity is the brothers’ work on designing labels for wine brand Spanish White Guerilla all the way back in 2010. Pretty pioneering stuff, considering the trend for goofy and illustrative alcoholic labelling has only risen in recent years with the advent of craft beer and more adventurous marketing from spirit brands.

“You’re correct, back in the day that was not very conventional,” the brothers agree, “at least for the wine industry in Spain which is really traditional. Luckily, there were some graphic design studios trying to change that, proposing riskier designs to smaller (and younger) companies. In the case of the White Guerrilla project, the real pioneers were Moruba, a graphic design studio from Logroño. They had a long experience working for the wine industry, and they wanted to demonstrate that stepping out of the tradition was a good idea.

“For us it was an interesting period. We were in the midst of conflicting opinions. Some people though the industry was getting more modern and that would make these brands reach a bigger audience. Others thought these kind of labels involving cartoonish illustrations made the product look cheaper or less serious.”

A more recent example of the brothers’ adventurous commissions are the wheel covers produced for Ireland-based brand Izzy’s Wheels, designing fun covers for wheelchair users. Interestingly, this was something else that had the sibling magic about it.

“The sisters Ailbhe and Izzy contacted us by email and explained their awesome project,” the bros explain. “We just couldn’t say no as we totally loved it. We do a lot of commercial illustration for magazines, billboards, posters and its easy ending up a little bit frustrated because working in this kind of media, the interaction with the audience is too fast. As we said before, our goal is to create a dialogue with people, and projects like Izzy Wheels allow you to do that. Someone is going to choose your design and it’s gonna be part of their life for a long time. This doesn’t happen everyday.

“It was a really smooth design process. The sisters are super nice, and our optimism and slapstick characters fitted really well into the project, so the designs came out naturally and easy.”

Those Brosmind characters can work everywhere, like Christmas exhibitions for Chinese malls or womens’ canvas shoes. They can even work on record sleeve art, like this in this glorious commission for the band Gloriosa Rotonda.

“Gloriosa Rotonda are a young band from our hometown and they already knew our work, so it was really easy to collaborate with them. The illustration was inspired by the concept behind the band’s name, which is a kind of metaphor of the nonsense of our contemporary urban society. In this case we didn’t do only the cover, but the graphic design of the whole album. We had a lot of fun, and both the band and us are really happy with the result.”

One obvious place where Brosmind’ toons work is in comics, and the brothers have plans to release more follow-ups to their 2012 one-shot Lydia Lopez is SHE, a spin-off of a specially created trailer/short film which the brothers worked on for Barcelona’s OFFF Festival.

“We feel really comfortable doing comics and for sure will do more,” they promise. “It’s just a matter of finding the moment, as we always have a really busy agenda and comics require a lot of time. But definitely it’s something that will happen in the near future. In fact, we are planning on a reboot of the Lydia Lopez universe. Hopefully we can share more info soon,” they tease.

We can’t wait, bros – here’s hoping the Boom Boom Brosmind exhibition makes it to the UK soon.

Read 14 character design tips by artists including Brosmind, Dan Woodger, Gavin Strange and others.



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10 Tips For Being Happier and More Creative as a Designer or Artist – Features

10 Tips For Being Happier and More Creative as a Designer or Artist – Features

Taking care of your health and well-being can really make a difference to the work you produce, but you need to kick these 10 bad habits first.

Over the years, we have developed work styles and adopted habits that are detrimental to our physical, mental and emotional health. This has impacted our creativity and our performance in negative ways and has stood in the way of the most effective ways to increase both of those while at work, says Leigh Stringer, a workplace design specialist, writer and researcher as well as author of The Healthy Workplace.

“It’s not that we’re bad people, or that we aren’t working hard. The problem is that what our minds and bodies need at a basic level is in conflict with our work style. We are so focused on work, on getting things done, that we’ve changed the way we eat, move and sleep in a way that is actually counter-productive,” Leigh says.

To achieve a healthier workplace, Leigh offers examples of 10 bad habits you need to address immediately and how you can start to break those habits.

1. Sitting down to work

You’ve read the news and have heard that sitting for long periods of time is bad for your health. Extended sitting can cause, among other things, deep vein thrombosis and poor cardiac and metabolic health. The issue isn’t that we sit, the issue is that many of us sit and work without standing or walking for many hours at a time, without getting up to move around, Leigh says. Of course, at the other extreme, walking at a treadmill desk for eight hours a day is not the answer either (at least for most of us), she says.

Instead, stand up every 30 minutes and walk around every hour and a half, even if it’s just for a few minutes, she advises. If you can request a standing desk, try it out. If you can’t, at least try and find surfaces around your workplace that are bar-height where you can stand and work for a few minutes each day. You also can take phone calls, watch presentations, read or perform other activities while standing up, or even walking if it makes sense for the task at hand.

2. Ditch the lift

Lifts in modern buildings are typically placed front and centre, which is great for “universal design” and accessibility for people with different physical abilities. However, if you do not need the lift, you are missing an opportunity to make a healthier choice.

Instead, take the stairs and use prompts and cues to encourage stair use across your office, Leigh says. You can paint the stairwell a lighter colour so that it appears brighter and less foreboding. Add artwork to give the stairwell a personal touch and add visual interest. Pipe in pleasant music; some buildings are actually taking music out of lifts and putting them in the stairs to make the stair experience more desirable. Finally, install a magnetic ‘hold open’ gadget on the stairwell door which will release in case of a fire. Psychologically, having a staircase that is more open feels safer, which increases use.

“Want a really simple trick to encourage stair use? Studies show that just by putting up signs explaining the health benefits of taking the stairs (such as a sign in the elevator lobby that shows how many calories you can burn), stair usage increases by 54 percent,” Leigh says.

3. Mindless eating

Mindless eating – eating while your head is focused on something else – typically results in eating faster and consuming more calories than if you were seated at a dining table and paying attention to what you eat, Leigh says. Even worse than eating at your desk? Eating takeaway food at your desk.

Instead, encourage workers to bring in their own snacks and meals, and to eat away from their primary workspace. Not only does this encourage mindful eating, it keeps food and drinks from infiltrating keyboards and computer equipment, Leigh says.

You also should invite your colleagues to have lunch with you and use that time to connect face-to-face. An option for those working from home or their own studio is to “have lunch” together via Skype or another video messaging platform, she says (which works remarkably well once you get past the initial feeling of ridiculousness). You also can work with local catering companies to add healthier options to bought-in food or when catering meetings and events, she says.

4. Junk food’s front and centre

Image: iStock

“You know how you walk into a grocery store and find yourself buying the junk food at the end of the aisle? Or, have you noticed how candy is located at child’s-eye-level by the checkout counter? Foods that are easy to spot and presented well are not put there by accident, and food companies pay for the privilege. The secret is ‘choice architecture,’ a term for different ways in which choices can be presented to consumers, and the impact of that presentation on consumer decision making. Don’t fall victim to this at work!” Leigh says.

Instead, hide unhealthy foods in the kitchen or break room by putting them in opaque or translucent containers (versus placing healthy foods, like fruit or nuts, in glass containers). Companies that provide subsidised snacks are starting to opt for refrigerators with glass doors to encourage employees to grab healthy foods with a shorter shelf life (boiled eggs, salad, fruits) versus processed foods that can be left on the counter, she says.

Some organisations have negotiated contracts with their food and snack vendors that explicitly tell them to provision, place, package and label food in ways that encourage healthy choices.

“One large company I interviewed for the book has an online catering service that provides healthy choices for meetings, including a ‘celebration guide’ that offers smaller portions of sweets for employees to use when celebrating employee birthdays, work anniversaries or retirements,” Leigh says.

5. Piles and piles of paper

Those piles of paper on a desk are likely full of dust and dust mites, especially if they’ve been sitting there a while. For many people, these can trigger serious allergies and asthma. Interestingly, in a 2009 study, Xerox found that as many as two out of every five pages printed in an office for “daily use” – email, web pages and reference materials – have been printed for a single use. So, before you print, think: do you really need all that paper in your workspace?

Instead, file paperwork and put a removal and storage system in place to get rid of excess paper and documents that you don’t need access to on a regular basis. Part of that system should include a digital filing and scanning system and/or a system that’s entirely digital from start to finish, Leigh says.

“You’ll get rid of dust mites, and a cleaner desk can improve air quality. Also, removing paper can give the appearance of having more space. Big piles of paper, not to mention all the furniture that stores it, eats into the physical workspace and makes it more crowded. This feeling of being crowded in increases stress and decreases our satisfaction with our work area,” she says.

6. Late-night messaging

You might think it’s urgent and important, but late-night chatter only serves to increase stress, shortens sleep and impacts long-term productivity, Leigh says. It’s not only detrimental to you; if you’re someone’s client, report or supervisor, you’re also directly impacting their stress levels and sleep every time they’re cc’ed on an email, String says. A survey put out by Good Technology found that some 80 percent of the 1,000 Americans polled said they spend seven extra hours a week or 30 extra hours a month checking emails and answering phone calls after hours.

Instead, wait until normal business hours to send emails, or if you must write something, don’t send it until the next morning, or Monday morning if you’re working on the weekend, don’t, Leigh says. You also should consider using project management and/or communication tools that allow your team members to choose when they want to work on something, and remove them from a situation where they are pushed information and in reaction mode all the time, she says.

7. Not taking holiday

Image: iStock

A survey for the career website Glassdoor found that US employees use only 51 percent of their eligible paid holiday time and paid time off, according to a recent survey of 2,300 workers who receive paid holiday. Even more frightening, 61 percent of Americans work while they are on vacation, despite complaints from family members. Twenty five percent reported being contacted by a colleague about a work-related matter while taking time off, while one in five have been contacted by their boss.

Instead, plan your holidays ahead of time, use all the time allotted to you, try to push thoughts of work out of your head and enjoy yourself. Even if you do end up checking in a few times during your PTO, you need to give yourself permission to unplug, Leigh says.

“You need time off to refresh and revitalise to be more effective. And, your family will love you for it. According to John De Graaf, who made a documentary about overworked Americans called Running Out of Time, there is a high cost to not taking holiday. He says women who don’t take regular vacations are anywhere from two to eight times more likely to suffer from depression, and have a 50 percent higher chance of heart disease. For men, the risk of death from a heart attack goes up a third,” Leigh says.

8. Going to work when you’re sick

When you come into the workplace sick, you are very likely spreading germs to your colleagues and making them sick. As tempting as it is for you to “power through” and minimize sick days, the overall health risk is not worth it, Leigh says.

“Researchers from the University of Arizona in Tucson placed a tracer virus on commonly touched objects such as a doorknob or tabletop in workplaces. At multiple intervals, the researchers sampled a range of surfaces including light switches, countertops, sink tap handles and push buttons. They found that between 40 percent and 60 percent of the surfaces were contaminated within two to four hours. If you didn’t have one already, this may be a reason to adopt a ‘work from home’ policy, and barring that, everyone should frequently wash their hands,” she says.

9. Staying indoors

A good portion of our global workforce spends about 90 percent of each day indoors, which essentially puts workers in a state of ‘light deficiency’ that negatively impacts sleep cycles, Leigh says.

Instead, you should take every opportunity to get outside, preferably earlier in the day, and stay outdoors for as long as you can.

“We need more intense light to reset our circadian rhythm, which helps us sleep. Some sleep experts recommend being outside as much as two hours a day, but even going outside for 30 to 60 minutes during the day – say, over a lunch break or during a walking meeting outdoors – will provide roughly 80 percent of what you need to anchor your circadian rhythm. That’s according to Dan Pardi, a researcher with the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department at Stanford, and the Departments of Neurology and Endocrinology at Leiden University in the Netherlands,” she says.

10. Putting work first

If you aren’t healthy, you can’t take care of your family, you won’t be there for your colleagues and work performance plummets. You should always take care of yourself and your physical, emotional and mental health first, especially if you are dealing with chronic health issues, Leigh says.

“Make your health a priority, and build time into your calendar to work out, to relax or do something that gives you energy and sparks your personal passion. Healthy workers are more productive; another obvious benefit to the bottom line is the avoidance of health care costs. But companies that make investments in employee health and well-being also see increases in engagement, productivity and growth. It’s time to get our priorities straight and make worker health and well-being a foundation for good business,” Leigh says.



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Dodging and Burning | Planet Photoshop

Dodging and Burning | Planet Photoshop

One off the key factors in making a believable composite is to handle how the light falls on your elements. One of the best ways to wrangle the light is through dodging and burning.

Here is a recent composite that I created.

We are just going to focus on the Ent creature on the right side. Here is what he originally looked like when downloaded from pixelsquid.com and the following one is what he looks like after dodging and burning.

The original element is pretty good, but the contrast and shadowing are not quite right

Here is the same element after dodging and burning

Hopefully you can see the difference in the original and the final result. This allows the viewers eyes to accept the element into the scene more readily. So how do you know where to dodge and burn?

Once you place an object into a scene and get it positioned where you want it… then you will want to make sure the highlights and shadows work with the rest of the image, but how do you know how it should look?. If we take note of the lighting and contrast of the castle in the background image, we see that our Ent is a little flat when compared to the shadows on the castle. We are giving all the visual clues we need by the shadows and especially by the rocks on the water, that help us figure out the light direction and intensity of the shadows. Pay attention to the darkness and the fall off of the shadows. Your goal is to match the look of those.

using the shadows on the water help set the angle of the light

There are several ways to dodge and burn, and depending on what day it is, I will use a different method… but for this example I simply made a copy of the Ent layer by pressing Command-J (PC Ctrl -J) and then hid the original Ent layer to use for a backup if I screwed up. I am going to use the dodge and burn tools in the way most folks will by applying them directly on the element, but I don’t want to be trapped if somewhere along the way I mess up. Also in the end I can change the opacity of the dodged and burned layer if I get to heavy handed and blend it with the original layer for a more natural look.

I tend to start with the shadowing… so I grab my burn tool (O) and work from light to dark. In the options bar I choose highlight and set my Exposure fairly low… usually under 12%. This will allow me to slowly build up the burning and mainly focus on the lighter areas. This is also very handy when you have a few little white jaggies left over from a selection because it is only going to try to darken the lightest parts and leave the rest of the image alone.

If you use a brush with a very soft edge, then you can start painting just on the edge and there will be more of a gradient than a solid line of burning. Now you will want to think as if this object is actually three dimensional and how it would be lit if it was in this space. What light would make it onto the body and what parts would be in shadow. I will draw little direction lines on a separate layer like the image above to help remind me of the direction. The key to dodging and burning is patience… which is a word that I am not a fan of… but I have tried to rush through this process and I end up having to redo it more slowly the second time around, so in a sense slow is fast. (Shooter reference for those of you playing at home. :D)

There might not seem like a lot is happening with the highlight burning, but it is important because it brings those pesky light areas up to a tonal darkness that will allow the midtones burning to affect them. Nothing screams fake like a couple of bright edges where shadows should be, so practicing good highlight attention will pay off in the end.

There are subtle changes to the shadows in this image… but don’t fixate on this image… the next one is where more of the action is.

In the options bar, change to the Midtones so that they will be the area affected by the burning and leave your Exposure at a low setting.

change the settings to Midtones and keep Protect Tones checked

Now you will begin to see a more dramatic affect of burning, because most of your Ent’s brightness is in the mid-tone range. Slowly trace down the edges of the Ent that would be in shadow and the follow the contour of the body to help emphasize a roundness and not just a flat creature. This is what will take a lot of practice, but it will make your elements work so much better in the long run.

now the edges are starting to feel more rounded and the shadowing is helping to add contrast to the Ent

You will want to finish with the tool set to Shadows, and this will bring in the darkest burning so it needs to be handled gently. I will often bring the Exposure setting down to about 4% or so, this may mean that I have to apply more strokes, but it helps to keep from making the image too muddy. (Sidenote: depending on your style and skill level with each step, you may want to create a new copy of each burning phase as a backup before you move to the next setting.) Really try to match the darkness and look of the shadows that are falling on the rest of the image. There is a level of artistry here and it is where most folks get lazy or frustrated and they abandon the process because it looks weird or it is too much work. But, if you will push through and be ok making a mess the first dozen times you try this, you will begin to get the hang of it and things will start to become more natural and faster… I promise.

now the Ent has some much darker areas and shadows… all that is left is some highlights

The payoff for all of this usually comes when you switch to the Dodge tool and add some highlights. It is the combination of dark shadows with bright areas that gives us contrast and makes the image pop. Remember dark areas are read by our eyes as receding and bright areas as coming forward, so two dimensional images can only look like they have mass and take up space in a image through contrast. Most of the time you will only need to set the dodge tool to Highlights and paint with a low Exposure setting over the lightest areas that you have left. If you have done your shadowing correctly, then it should be fairly easy to see where to paint. Remember that it will always be on the opposite side of the shadows… so since the right edges are in shadow, then you will want to increase the highlights on the left edge of the Ent. Just like with everything else… go slow and softly build up… thinking how the light will fall across the body.

notice how the addition of highlights really makes things pop

When you are done, make sure to zoom out and see how it sits within the space… you will probably need to go back in and adjust some areas. Remember that if you have the original layer, that you can mask out parts of the new dodged and burned layer or decrease the opacity to take away any over the top areas.

Dodging and burning is an art, and a lot of folks (myself included) would rather spend time doing other things… but almost nothing else can hinder you composites than bad lighting on your elements. Don’t cut corners and don’t be lazy and in the end you images will start to really standout. I have given you a few tips and a look at my process, but you will need to practice… practice… practice. That reminds me… I need some practice too. 😀



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Let is snow

Let is snow

 

create new document

You will want to start out with a new document… size it according to your needs… I tend to make them fairly large so for this one 2400 x 2400… If you forget to fill the Background with white like I do… then file it with white using the Fill dialogue Shift + Delete.

Make a selection

Use your rectangular Marquee tool (M) and drag out a rectangle about half the height of the document. Command-J (PC Ctrl-J) will copy the white section from the background onto a new layer

convert into Smart Object

Convert that new layer from the selection into a Smart Object. This will be the base for all the legs of the snowflake. Double click on the new Smart Object layer to open up the .psb file.

In the Smart Object window… use Fleur de Lis shape

Now grab the Fluer de Lis from the custom shapes tool and drag out the shape… you can decide to have it floating or have the base of it cut off like this one. The bottom edge of the frame is going to be the center fo the snowflake, so minute changes there can really affect the look of the flake. If you don’t have all of the shapes available… go up to the icon in the upper right of the shapes panel and click to bring up the drop down menu. Choose All and hit OK.

 

Saving in the Smart Object window means changes show up in the Snowflake document

Once you have the shape placed where you want it, Command-S (PC Ctrl-S) will save the changes to the .psb (Smart Object) and that will show up in your Snowflake document. (You don’t have to close the .psb file unless you want to. I leave it open to make changes on the fly… but if you mess up or the link between the open .psb file and your original document get messed up, then just close the .psb file and double click on the Smart Object layer in the Snowflake document to open up a new refreshed Smart Object window to make any new changes.)

Copy and rotate Smart Object 180 degrees

Command-J (PC Ctrl-J) will allow you to copy the Smart Object and then Command-T(PC Ctrl-T) to Transform it. Right Click and choose Rotate 180 degrees form the drop down menu. Drag the rotated shape down beneath the original while holding the Shift key to keep it constrained on line.

Copy both layers and rotate 60 degrees

Select both Smart Object layers and then Command-J (PC Ctrl-J) will make a copy. Use Command-T (PC Ctrl-t) to bring up the Transform handles. Up in the Options bar at the top type in 60 to the degrees window to rotate the two shapes 60 degrees. Change the blending modes of the new layers to Multiply so only the black shows through.

Repeat step one more time to complete snowflake

Repeat this last step one more time but change the rotation to 120 degrees if it doesn’t line up correctly with 60 degrees. Hit Enter twice to apply changes and your snowflake is ready.

Adding a couple of white dots/circles to the Fleur de Lis in the Smart Object window

What make this technique so handy, is that each leg of the snowflake is made from the same Smart Object, so a change to the original Smart Object will populate throughout the snowflake. It is like you have your own Kaleidoscope maker in a sense. Try adding black and white shapes and brushes to create a myriad of different looks.

The white dots instantly change the snowflake when the .psb file is saved

Now it is just a matter of seeing how many different looks you can make with this simple shape… and then try others. Have fun!

 

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Quick Production Backdrop | Planet Photoshop

Quick Production Backdrop | Planet Photoshop

One challenge that designers have is how to showcase their companies product in a simple but effective way. This is a great way to quickly create a dynamic stage for your products to be showcased.

Find a good ground image

Start with a good looking section of ground… it can be whatever you want from concrete to grass to dirt… it is up to you and what you want to show.

cut out the ground

Now simply cut out the ground from the rest of the image and leave it on its own layer.

find a background

Find a suitable background image to be the setting for the product… Iconic skylines from around the world is a great way to give your product an international flavor.

place background

Drop the background into the document. Don’t worry if it is a little smaller than the ground image… as you will see in a minute the background doesn’t have to be tack sharp.

Resize and place behind “ground”

Resize the background to fit the image… be more focused on how the elements look rather than sharpness

Adding the product looks ok, but the clarity of the background is a little distracting

Once you have the background in place, and you drop in your product image… the depth of field of the overall image can be a bit distracting. The eye doesn’t know whether to focus on the product or the skyline. Not what you want.

blur background to taste to help bring focus forward to product

Adding a Gaussian blur to the background will help focus the eye on the product while still giving the flavor of the background. Play with the amount of blur to find the visual sweet spot.

Darkening the background will also help

Along with sharpness… having the background too bright will grab the eye as well, so darken the background with an adjustment layer or Photo filter.

And there you go, in a couple of quick steps, you have an effective stage setting for your product.

You can try different backgrounds very quickly

It is now very easy to swap out both the background image and the ground image to change the flavor of the scene.

A new ground and background give a whole new look in no time



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What the heck is Blend if?

What the heck is Blend if?

In the Layers Styles panel at the bottom of the first tab “Blending Options” is one of the unsung heroes of Photoshop that gets overlooked so often, and I think it is because it seems a little weird or scary… so today i am going to try to eliminate some of the confusion and hopefully give you a reason to take the Blend if sliders for a spin… er… a slide.

“Blend if” works on the amount of tonality the element or its background has according to the sliders. Most of the time you will use it set on gray, but the same principles apply if you change to a different color. The key is how much white, black or shades of gray the element or the background has in it, that will then determine what is blended. (Think of blending as allowing parts of one layer to show through parts of the other.)

It will be easier to show you… so I have created a layer that has the word Blend on it in different shadings and gradients to show how they will react to the next layer which is a light and dark (inverted) version of a piece of paper. So we are only dealing with two layers… the Blend layer and the background light/dark layer.

Different shadings of the word blend on both light and dark backgrounds.

Now you will want to make sure that you have the top layer selected… otherwise the bottom layer would try to blend with what is below itself which won’t do anything. Double click on the layer to bring up the Layer Styles panel. On the first tab called Blending Options at the bottom of the tab is the “Blend if” section. Grab the top slider on the right (white) and drag it to the left.

Blend if set to gray and sliding the top right slider to the left

When you do this, you will notice that parts of your Blend layer disappear. Notice that it is the light/white areas that become transparent. This is pretty cool, but it is pretty clunky… as you can see where it cuts off part of the letters and isn’t very subtle.

Blend if with the top right slider moved to the left

There is a more precise way to use this slider… simply hold Opt/Alt while clicking and dragging any of the sliders and it will split into two halves. Now you can leave the right half alone and just drag the left half… this gives a more subtle blending. What it is doing is instead of just blending one specific tone, it is blending everything within that range of tones, and the end result looks more natural.

Splitting the right slider in two gives you more control

The blending is more precise and you see the letters fading instead of being chopped off.

Notice the letters that were chopped off before are now faded and more subtle

The right side slider affects the look of the layer based on the range of white to gray elements on that layer… so pure white is transparent and you see semi-transparency as you move through the light areas of the gradients.

You can also see the same thing happen with the top left slider (black).

moving the entire left (black) slider starts to affect the darkest areas…

Notice how some of the letters are chopped off… because we haven’t split the slider

Just as before, splitting the slider is going to give you more control and a better final look. (I think the sliders should be split as a default but that is just me. :D)

Splitting is better

Now the letters are no longer chopped, but faded

But this is just half of the equation… depending on how you want things to look, you may want to use the background as the blending control… if so, you will want to use the second slider called the Underlying layer. Now the blending will be determined by the amount of white to black (light to dark) tones in the background. This is why you will get different looks on the two different sides of the images coming up. One half of the background is light and will respond in a certain way, while the dark (inverted) right side will respond differently. Let me show you.

If you slide the right bottom slider you will see different results than the top slider

As you can see the letters are faded according to the lightness of the background while the darker background barely changes.

Once again splitting the slider gives more control

Now you have a nicer fading so that the letters look like they are interacting with the background.

What is happening is that you are telling Photoshop to hide/fade anywhere that the background is between the ranges of the slider, so the right slider (white) has more of an impact on the left side because of its lightness, while the right side is more affected by the left slider. (black)

Both sliders are split and adjusted for best results

With both sliders split and adjusted the letters look like they are part of the background instead of floating on top

Once you have an understanding of how each slider affects the look, then you can simply try moving the different sliders to get the look you want. The great thing is that if you mess up or change your mind later, you can just double click back into that layer and readjust the sliders.

Final adjustments include barely moving the top sliders along with dialing in the right amount of the lower sliders.

The text looks aged and blended with the paper as if it has been part of that page for years.

So hopefully the “blend if” sliders will become a go to technique that you use over and over again since it can give you subtle looking blending with just a couple of quick slides. Enjoy!



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