Fireworks Packaging (A Retrospect)
Currently listening to Stratosphere by Digitalism
Personally, I spend a decent chunk of time that I’m not actively working on something looking for new stuff and sifting through all the amazing creative work out there. While this is a very good exercise for inspiration, I also think it’s extremely easy to get caught in the now and forget how far I’ve come and the lessons learned along the way.
In the spirit of that mentality, I’d like to talk about a project that is still rather near and dear to my heart. It was during the exploration of this project that I formed the base of my personal illustration style. Which is particularly important because I enjoy finishing a good illustration almost as much as I enjoy working in the Z axis.
I begin with an opinion: working on packaging is pretty much always a good time.
Because it’s a tangible 3 dimensional item that people interact with and it’s basically the face for a given product. So it better be good.
The one apparent exception to this rule is fireworks packaging, which is by and large absolute rubbish; a cacophony of vomited rainbows, misguided copywriting, and blatant near trademark infringement. Which is a real shame, because material goods that are lit on fire for the express purpose of blowing up should be ringers for amazing design.
So when I was given the chance to redeem some of these beloved explosives, I jumped on it. (In hindsight, I also believe I thought my chances of failure were relatively low given the current status of fireworks packaging in general.)
My thinking going in went something like this: I want it to be simple, clean, and graphically striking because that will really stand out on a shelf next to all that other crap. Oh, and I wanna see some friggin’ skulls and stuff on fire. These packages need to approachable, but also have a swagger and sneer. Like a pet snake that’s coiled and staring coldly at you; sure you can pet it, but watch out——Klapow! It’ll bite ya.
I might have some mental issues.
Problem was, at the time, I hadn’t done that much serious digital illustration. But I took this fact as an invitation more than deterrent. I did know that I needed to ground myself in something, or I’d be spinning my wheels forever. So I began to look around for inspiration to guide me. I looked through a lot of stuff, but the two sources that really stood out to me were Invisible Creature and Kevin Dart. Like a good student, I poured over the breadth of their work and began analyzing why it worked. When I felt comfortable with my conclusions, I started work on the first label.
After much toiling, it looked like this:
(Bear in mind the final version did wrap around completely and contained plenty of room for all the disclaimers about blowing your arm/face off)
(Also bear in mind that I had absolutely no control over the title of any of these fireworks. See earlier comment about trademark infringement)
I was so happy with how it turned out. I was also really excited about how I was growing from an illustration standpoint. The client loved it too. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought skulls and fireworks should have been shacking up a long time ago.
After this personal success I began tackling other labels.
And Close Encounter pictured at the top of the post.
It was after this burst of creativity, though, that things started to get weird with the client. They weren’t paying that well from the get-go, but at least the work was fun. That changed when they started killing with revisions and making outlandish claims such as “Our customer is Bubba, and Bubba doesn’t like the color green.”
So we parted ways. But I learned some valuable lessons along the way and came out of it with work that I’m pretty proud about.
More importantly, the style that I developed through this experience I’ve kept and continue to evolve.
What I’m currently listening to…
What I’m currently listening to…
Why Co-op is the Greatest Ev-ar.
Currently listening to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
I’ve played a few video games in my life. Some good. Some bad. Some so-so. This used to not matter that much because the one thing I had in excess was free time. So if a game had a lackluster storyline or the controls were a little wonky, I didn’t care that much, because there was always another on the horizon. More and more, however, I’ve found that the time I can set aside to gaming is becoming scarcer and I’ve become a little more choosy.
While I would love to (and eventually will) write a post on the importance of craft, I’m not gonna bore you with that today. Instead I’m going to keep it positive and talk about where I most often spend my gaming free time: cooperative games.
First and foremost, a little background for those of you non-initiates into the gaming megasphere. What the heck is a Co-Op game? Well, as the name implies it’s a video game where multiple players (mind you that’s 2 or more) who work together to finish a mutual goal.
Many early arcade games employed this gameplay mode (i.e. Gauntlet, Contra, Rampage) probably because developers realized that not only is it a load of fun, but people tend to stay longer and spend more quarters when their peers are pressuring them to keep going. Which I’m sure, also made these types of games an easier sale to the arcades themselves.
These games were pretty basic, with paper-thin storylines and chunky graphics. But, even with the technological limitations, the promise of something great was there. However, as technology improved, the industry itself matured, and the audience began migrating out of arcades and into homes with consoles and PCs, it seemed that by and large this feature was thrown in as an afterthought; little more than a bulletpoint on a features list with very few exceptions.
And the world grew a little dimmer.
However, the internet was destined to change all this and handily did so when id Software released Doom. This one game not only pushed graphics and thematic boundaries, but also developed an interesting narrative that could be experienced cooperatively with other players (even if it was pretty straightforward).
As the speed of the internet improved so did the robustness of the Co-Op gameplay and storyline integration. Thus came Ultima Online, Diablo, and a host of others, ever evolving forward. Which brings us to today.
So why, given the choice, would I choose waiting around until one or more of my pals can play rather than squeezing the most game out of every free minute?
Because I believe in community and I believe in the power of shared experience.
It’s one thing for me to finish Bioshock by my lonesome and tell a friend what an excellently put together game it was in terms of storyline, art direction, and gameplay mechanics. But these are only generalities about the game, not necessarily my personal experience with the game. It would do little good to tell this friend about a particularly epic battle I barely made through. They weren’t with me, why would they care?
It’s quite another to play through Borderlands or Left 4 Dead from start to finish with a close friend or two. Not only can we play the game together and experience the storyline, art direction, and gameplay mechanics, but when it’s over we can reminisce about how it all went down. And it’s this sort of battlefield camaraderie that makes co-op games more compelling in my opinion. The human element just adds something.
Bear in mind, this is meant as no criticism toward competitive games or even single player games. I have every intention of playing through Bioshock Infinite when it comes out and when I get the chance.
But I’m also for sure going to pick up Diablo 3 and Borderlands 2 on day one.
What I’m currently listening to…
Currently listening to These Hopeful Machines by BT
Sometimes things work out better than planned.
Recently, I had one of these experiences that resulted in the above picture/trip to Vegas. However, it’s not only a fun story, but also an excellent case study in teamwork gone right and the power of creative work.
There’s a little background involved, but I promise it’s necessary. So grab some popcorn and a nice frothy beverage, sit down, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.
The story begins several months ago when a friend of mine (let’s call him Chris) asked me if I could help him and a co-worker (Joe sounds like a good name) on a project for his employer in a freelance capacity. I had some initial hesitations, because I’m pretty protective of my free time (I work very diligently at my day job and would rather not squander what hours are left on something that doesn’t interest in me in slightest just for a little more scratch). But, seeing as he was a good friend, I decided to hear him out anyway. So we scheduled a time to meet and talk it over in greater detail.
Here’s what I found out: In their particular industry, government compliance regulations are a big deal. Which kinda makes sense, because they exist to protect us against terrorists and other baddies. Except, as you might imagine compliance is pretty friggin’ boring and convoluted. So people often find themselves not being totally up to snuff on compliance subtleties. Problem is, if Uncle Sam catches you not being compliant, then you owe him money. Sometimes a lot of money. The stakes are relatively high.
These two gents happen to be managers and so are responsible to some degree for the people under them knowing these rules and regulations.
After a lot of noodling on the problem, they deduced that one way to help alleviate this problem was to streamline compliance in general and instead of having everyone know everything, they could re-write it in such a way that people would easily be able to see what they were responsible for.
This was actually pretty revolutionary.
But what it didn’t solve was making it interesting.
That’s where I came in. They told me they wanted to do something extraordinary that people would remember. Which was exactly what I wanted to hear.
I went away and began thinking about what would make this audience really pay attention to rules and regulations in a compliance manual?
I reasoned if their lives were at stake, I bet they would.
So I dreamt up a Robot Invasion of horrific magnitude; designed a few pages, complete with illustrations, sent it off to them, and fully believed that there was no way Chris and Joe would actually go through with it.
I was totally wrong. They loved it. So much, in fact, that they began adding to the fiction of the universe themselves.
The rest of the manual was pregnant with nerdisms, easter eggs, and sci-fi back story. However, we gave it all a very critical eye, because we didn’t want the fiction to outplay the fundamental facts it was supporting. If the manual was super cool and fun, but our intended audience didn’t learn the material, then we had failed.
Shots of the final result can be seen here.
It should be noted that none of their employees had any idea this was coming down the pipeline. So I did a series of teaser posters that Chris and Joe hung up around their office after hours during the week before the training was scheduled. They also took my Robot illustrations and had them blown up to gigantic cardboard cutouts that they placed in the office on training day.
Everything was so well received that Chris and Joe got a standing ovation after the training was over (yeah, people were clapping after compliance training…weird). Then, as further affirmation, everyone in their group scored extremely high on a random quiz about the material.
As luck would have it, word got around about the success of the project and we soon found ourselves asked to speak about it at an industry conference in Las Vegas.
Not content to deliver any sort of mediocrity, we once again set ourselves to do something extraordinary. To that end, we played the same game with our new audience that we had with the group before: Presenting them important facts and ideas alongside a narrative fiction that we invited them into from the beginning.
Our learning from round one let us bring a couple new tricks into the mix including audio transmissions and a botched presentation from the Robot Overmind. We didn’t let up for a second that the Robot Horde wasn’t a true threat.
As icing on the cake, we set up a series of microsites that functioned as an online game to invite them further into our fiction after the conference with a reward given to the first person who helped us solve the mystery of the upcoming invasion.
The whole thing was a total blast and the audience loved it. And, there’s definitely Someone watching out for us, because we pulled the whole thing off without a hiccup or hitch.
Further, in a world that shortcuts nearly everything and seems to place a lot of value on cheaper rather than well crafted, this whole experience was really encouraging. Imagination, design, and story-telling truly won the day and the audience.
And that is the moral of this story.
What I’m listening to now…
This album’s been at the top of my heavy rotation since it came out. If you dig sci-fi electronica (yeah, narrow audience I know) then you should totally check Polinski out.
And, if there’s a nostalgic place in your heart for old VGA/SVGA games from the 80s, then watch the Stitches video.
Probably the Reason I Do What I Do / The Best Game I Ever Played
I was introduced to game arcades at an early age by my father and after nagging my parents incessantly, had managed to get an NES; which I played…a lot.
All was well in the 8 bit world for many years. Games were relatively simple in mechanics and straight-forward in plot.
Then came the Super Nintendo promising another 8 bits of mega-goodness.
One of the earlier titles that came out for the SNES was a game called Final Fantasy II (yes, for those of you who aren’t game nerds the irony of the title isn’t lost on me; and for those of you who are game nerds, the title is really Final Fantasy IV). At this time in my life, I was going through a swords are amazing and monsters are phenomenal phase, which I technically still haven’t outgrown. Needless to say, I was completely on-board for this fantastical experience.
However, I wasn’t prepared for how truly ground-breaking it would be after I slammed the plastic cartridge in the console, pushed the power button to the on position, and picked up the fairly unergonomic controller.
First off, from a visual standpoint, the art was breath-taking. The characters no longer looked like a stack of lego blocks, but an actual person. Not to mention, there was shading in the colors. Holy crap, the trees even looked like trees.
After the initial shock of good product aesthetic, I played through the game and became increasingly convinced that I was experiencing something truly special (although only in continued hindsight over the years have I realized how much).
I’ll try to keep the recap of the story short and sweet, partly because if you haven’t played it, you should, and partly because I have no intention of making this a complete fictional narrative.
The story begins by following a character named Cecil as he leads a squad of soldiers into a neighboring kingdom and basically wholesale slaughters a bunch of innocent people to nab a magic crystal for his king. As this takes place, you (the player) see him struggle with the choice of blind loyalty vs the right thing to do.
Wait. Hold on. Internal struggle? Yes. Emotion.
He chooses loyalty, but upon returning to the king, questions the motives involved. This gets him thrown out of the kingdom and sent on a mission with his best friend to deliver a gift to a nearby town. This “gift” is actually a bomb that blows up most of the village, and you find out that you were basically sent on a suicide mission because the king was jealous of the village’s growing power.
Granted this plot seems pretty remedial these days, but consider the time it was released when the measure of success was a plumber jumping over the head of a giant monster turtle to save a princess.
After this point, things continue to get more complicated. Your best friend betrays you twice mostly because he has the hots for your girlfriend and you forgive him. You have to beg forgiveness of the kingdom you attacked during the prelude and seek their help to be reborn as a holy knight. Other characters join your party as you struggle to stop an oppressing otherworldly evil. Many sacrifice themselves to the struggle. There’s a ton of other plot twists, an over world, an under world, a mechanical giant programmed to destroy all human life, and you have to fly to the moon to combat the final baddy where it resides.
Y’know, the stuff dreams are made from.
This game not only inspired me to visually create stuff for a living, but also to keep pushing for that which is good and fight against that which is evil. I’ve bought it on three systems, played through it multiple times, and it’s still every bit as good each time I do.
I only hope that some day, I’m able to work on something that affects someone the way this moved me.