Sep 272016

Carving out a career as a successful creative isn't just about creating great work, you also have to make sure the right people see it. So getting your name and face known is central to building your career.

Some people are terrified by the idea of networking and selling themselves, especially out in the 'real world' and away from the relative comfort of social media.

But it's really nothing to be scared of. Simply adopt a positive attitude, follow the se tips and you'll soon be on your way to self-promotion success...

01. Follow the golden rule

We've all met people like this at events

The golden rule when networking as a creative is to remember that it's not about schlepping around design events and shoving your folio or business card under everyone's noses. That's just rude.

Instead, it's about extending your creative network by meeting similar-minded people, so you're in a better position to hear on the grapevine of potential work opportunities, happenings or moves in the industry.

02. Show genuine interest

Chill - it's not speed dating

Creative networking is very organic. If you have a genuine interest in design you'll naturally gravitate towards those who share that interest, and with whom you might want to collaborate in the future.

It's a slow burn process: it definitely isn't the creative equivalent of speed dating where you bounce from person to person asking: "What's your going rate?", "Any jobs at your place?", or "Would you like to see my PSDs?". No, no, no: it's not all 'me, me, me'.

Instead, take an interest in the designers, creative directors or technologists you encounter socially, because you can genuinely learn something about finding work, managing clients or how to deal with annoying creative event speed-daters.

You can learn great things from great people and it will only help you extend your network that bit further.

03. Spot the differences

Seek out people who produce work in a slightly different field to yours. Don't be afraid of this, because you could find there's something you do that they don't. Which means you could both be a great fit for future projects together.

04. Use social networks

If you're not comfortable with face-to-face networking there is of course the less-imposing internet, with any number of social networks that'll help you get in touch with like-minded designers.

Twitter is the obvious choice; it's a great way to find fellow creatives to share banter, work and industry knowledge with, and it's the perfect place to post your latest work (with fingers crossed that it'll pick up loads of retweets). But beyond Twitter there are plenty of places make friends and get your work seen. Instagram, Dribbble, Behance, Pinterest and DeviantArt are all ideal places to post your latest creations, and if your work moves then don't forget Vimeo and even YouTube.

Even Snapchat, with its visual focus, has networking potential. But don't overstretch yourself to the extend that you're spending half the day updating your social shizzle; keep things to a small handful of networks that work for you.

05. Go to meetups

There's sure to be something happening not far from you

Creative types are a social bunch and there are plenty of local meetup events for you to go along and throw your creative twopenneth in.

In London, the big one (if it's not sold out) is Glug, although other meetup events ARE available. Up North there's Northern Digitals and if you search around Twitter you'll find many more local meet ups such as the Portsmouth Freelancers Meet (check out the hashtag #pfmeet).

06. Seek out creative clusters

Creative people tend to form clusters in certain areas

Outside of virtual meetups there's some good old thirst quenching to be had with fellow creative bods. Any given evening in London around Shoreditch or in Manchester's Northern quarter you'll find creative clusters around boozers (usually those with a pool table).

It's a great way to meet friends there and do a bit of networking (chatter, banter, who's doing what and to whom). Every area has these clusters - usually found near creative studios or branches of All Saints.

07. Hit the pub

Even if you don't drink yourself, the fact that others are doing so makes for a relaxed atmosphere

At the end of a conference, event or road show, people usually swarm out of the auditorium at a rate of knots to race for trains or to beat the rush hour. Critically this is where most of the event bonding and networking happens as there'll always be a few who want to 'go for one' in the local pub.

Usually these are genuinely passionate and interesting creative folk (and you might find some speakers/event people will tag along as well). Keep your ears primed for chatter about a trip to the pub afterwards and pop along because it's a great way of extending a creative network.

Of course we advise you to drink responsibly and remind you that waking up in a hedgerow, public park or in a different county is an indicator that your networking has become a little counterproductive.

08. Conquer conference dread

Going to an event or conference on your own can be a bit daunting especially if it's for a few days. The thing to remember is that you won't be the only one who's feeling a bit of a 'Billy no mates'.

Take the initiative and use Twitter to find out who in a similar field to you is going and drop them a friendly tweet and arrange a meetup with a couple of them in the bar or over a coffee.

When people are transplanted away from their normal environments they become much more social and willing to make buddies. If work comes from it then great, but even if it doesn't, you'll extend your network a bit and make some new mates in the process.

09. Arrange your own meetup

If you can't find a local meetup, create your own

You could of course arrange your own meetup, just like Franz Jeitz and a few buddies did with LDN meets where creatives come together to attend design themed events. Instant popup creative companionship, banter and chatter.

10. Pick events that encourage networking

Not all design conferences do all they can to encourage networking between attendees. Sometimes, in the breaks between talks and other formal sessions, you'll see a depressing sea of uncommunicative faces buried in laptops - not an environment where it's easy to strike up conversations with stranger. At other times, it'll be the opposite - you won't be able to move without people introducing themselves in an open manner and with a smile on their face.

The difference is often down to the fact that the conference organisers haven't just paid lip service to the idea of networking, but actually put things in place to ensure it happens.

For example, at our own conference, Generate, there'll be a pre-event Dribbble meetup to encourage attendees to get mingling early on. There'll also be an after party to loosen everyone up – if that (and a few beers) doesn't get people chatting in a relaxed atmosphere, nothing will.

11. Find your design heroes

Look for your design heroes on Twitter and strike up a conversation. Follow those who inspire you and periodically ask for opinion or advice on your own work.

Pointers and tips from those in the know are invaluable for pushing you in the direction of those who can help make your work reach a wider audience.

12. Learn to listen

Listening is a skill. It's an absolute art form. Most of us only half listen when we're engaged in social communication because we're already planning in our heads what to say next so as to appear we've been paying attention.

Try to turn this off and truly listen to what's being said. You'll retain more and your attentiveness will be picked up by the speaker and they're more likely to listen to you in return!

13. Ask open-ended questions

If you're feeling a bit awkward or nervous at an event or conference and want to know how to keep conversations bubbling along with fellow industry people then try to remember to ask open-ended questions.

Questions that start with such words as 'who', 'what', 'where' and 'when' open up a conversation beyond questions that are subject to closed responses such as 'yes' and 'no'. It's an old trick but a good one.

14. Start your own industry-related blog

Show your passion through a blog, and others will be drawn to you

Create your own creative beacon by starting a blog about what inspires you. Give people something to know you by besides your own creative work by giving something to the creative community.

A blog is not only an outlet for what floats your creative boat but is also a great conversation starter, either virtually or at meetups. You'll find tons of advice in our article, How to craft killer content for a creative blog.

15. Keep up with new work

As a creative you'll never be stuck with something to say either on Twitter or at meetups if you keep up with who the innovators, creators and movers-and-shakers in the business are.

New work should naturally draw you in, and getting out of a siloed way of working and keeping up to date with the industry around you will reap rewards long term. Networking doesn't happen in a vacuum.

16. Seek referrals

Look for potentially useful contacts, but keep it subtle

At any networking do or social gathering you'll always find someone who knows someone who needs something that you do doing. Sometimes this is alcohol-fuelled hot air but at others it could be a genuine opportunity.

The key thing is to find the pertinent information such as 'who, what, and when?'. But instead of pestering this individual during the evening, make a note of it and email them for the details the next day (preferably late morning if it's been a big night).

17. Remember it's a two-way street

Golden rule of networking: give back as much, if not more than, you take

Networking is about listening and helping others. It's a reciprocal type of 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours… later'. Just remember you have to scratch first and don't always expect a scratch back.

Adopt a philanthropic approach to networking and you won't ever be disappointed by it.

18. Don't be too sensitive

If you speculatively contact someone by Twitter or email and they don't reply to you, try to take it on the chin.

You're not going to set everyone's world on fire and quite frankly, if these people can't be bothered to return an email or a tweet, would you want to do any business with them anyway?

19. Play nice

There's a misguided notion that to give a 'critique' of something means to 'rip it to shreds to show how clever you are'. In fact, the best critiques are those which are balanced and examine what worked and what didn't.

This also means they're harder to do. But position yourself as someone who knows how good creative works and is genuinely enthusiastic about what DID work. Being an overly critical smart arse won't win you any recommendations or indeed entice anybody to want to network with you.

Contributions: Creative Bloq staff

Sep 272016

The latest preview from Adobe is here, and it looks like good news for designers who need to prototype and preview their work on mobile devices. As part of the ready to download Preview 7, Adobe have announced today that both iOS and Android users will be able to access Adobe XD companion apps for iPhones, iPads and Android phones, with tablet support not long off, either. So if you're struggling with how to make an app on a desktop, you'll now be able to visualise the results in real-time on an appropriate platform.

All you need to do is connect your mobile device to your computer via a USB cable, open you XD project on your desktop, and you'll instantly see the results in real-time. Don't worry, they're currently busy working on wireless support, too.

Further updates in this preview include an aspect ratio lock for when you need to resize objects, a new zoom shortcut that allows users to focus on any section, and a scrolling option that gives you the option to make any artboard scroll vertically.

A range of new slide transitions and the ability to share URLs unique to specific artboards finish off the update, with Adobe hoping that these will help designers guide clients and colleagues through web prototypes.

Sep 272016

No doubt you've read our recent article The future of web apps by Chris Mills and are thirsty for more. Here are some resources that will help you dive deeper into this topic and hopefully build something great. 

Tools and blogs

Platform status – Platform status dashboard for implementing modern web app APIs in browsers

Emscripten – Tool for transpiling native code to fast JavaScript

Service Worker and Push DevTools – Additions to Firefox DevTools to help debug Push and Service Workers

WebAssembly – Early news and info on WebAssembly 

The Service Worker cookbook – Useful real world recipes for Service Workers and Push

Oghliner – Node tool for converting apps to offline using Service Workers


The MDN App Center – Mozilla’s hub for modern web app development techniques

Progressive Web Apps – Top-class Google tutorials on implementing progressive web apps

Offline First – The offline-first landing page, containing information and further links to DevTools to help debug Push and Service Workers 

Reference docs

Web App Manifest – Guide for the Web App Manifest format

Service Worker – Reference for the Service Worker API

Push – Reference and tutorial for the Push API

Notifications – Reference for the Notifications API, including related tutorial

Channel Messaging – Reference for the Channel Messaging API, including related tutorial

Sep 272016

A passage from Tony Haile’s recent “The Facebook papers Part 4: What’s a publisher to do?” conveys the power content can have:

The value of a media company will be predominantly tied up in its brand; the amount of incremental revenue or reach that content can derive from being associated with that company. This will not depend upon another layout redesign or logo refresh. When content is atomized and accessed far from the publisher’s site, the content itself must act as an expression of brand. Its style must be a fingerprint, an instantly recognizable promise of quality that can inform, inspire or engage.

Today, almost every brand is a “media company.” Because we crank out blog posts and infographics, videos and whitepapers. Because we publish ebooks, webinars, and podcasts. We’re all publishers now, and we always have been.

Design will not carry your brand in this “omnichannel” age. Content will.

Content has come into its own as a brand’s foremost missionary. Each day, it embarks into a wild world far beyond the safely branded spaces of our own designs to spread the word — sometimes even without a logo or a backlink to let people know who made it. Which means that, in a world where people may not encounter our content within our “owned” ecosystems, design can’t save the day.

Let me repeat that: Design will not carry your brand in this “omnichannel” age. Content will.

To ensure it continues to derive (and drive) “incremental revenue or reach” from its publishing brand, our content needs to bear our brand’s indelible mark as surely as any design element or website does.

Which means 3 things:

  1. Your brand needs a content style
  2. That style needs to be documented in a format your whole team can easily access
  3. Adherence to the style guide needs to be automated as much as possible

Hopefully, points 1 and 2 are clear from the above. But as for point 3 …

Why you need to automate content style adherence

Poor editors can’t be expected to enforce the style guide on everything!

The one question people inevitably ask those who build style guides is: “Great. Now how do you enforce it?” And it’s a good question. After all, when you’re hustling to publish your latest blog, build out your help center, and get that landing page live, like, yesterday, who has time to check the style guide?

The traditional answer is: that’s why you have editors.

And yes, you absolutely should have paid, professional editors on staff (or at least freelancing). Or at least somebody who can tell a gerund from an infinitive. I can’t stress that enough.

But editors aren’t enough. Because when a horde of team members count content production as one of their duties, one or even a handful of editors will struggle to keep up. You need to make their lives easier — and help ensure brand consistency in content — by giving everyone the means to follow the style guide.

And then you take it a step further by integrating your style guide right into your CMS, so your team doesn’t even need to check the style guide. It checks your team for them.

How to incorporate your content style into your CMS

Autmoate your CMS for uniform content

Before we dive in too deep, keep in mind that how much of your style guide can be worked into your CMS depends on the system you use and how customizable it is.

With that in mind, here are a few system-agnostic suggestions for automating your style guide:

  • Create highly structured content types. For example, almost every listicle post follows a subheading + image + body copy formula. Make sure the content structure follows that pattern, then let CMS users reproduce these fields as many times as they need.
  • Include guidance text directly from the style guide for all CMS fields, especially for freeform inputs like rich text fields and images
  • Add brand-specific grammar and spelling prompts to the CMS. If you use the Oxford comma, the CMS should tell writers when they forgot it. If you always cap a product name, include that in a custom dictionary. 
  • Give CMS users fields for meta title, description, and OG data (or map fields that display on-page to these off-page meta details) and include brand guidelines for these items in the help text.
  • Set character limits on post titles and metadata to ensure they’re the right length. For titles, make sure to subtract the domain name and any separating characters if you use these.
  • Set dimension and filesize limits on images
  • Require alt tags for images

Content styles that build brands

Not convinced content can build your brand — and a significant audience? Here are just a few examples of (often, highly structured and “branded”) content that has moved far beyond the publishing brands’ “owned” properties:

Buzzfeed listicles

Love it or loathe it, you can’t deny that Buzzfeed built its whole brand on a particular type of structured content. Just say “listicle” in a word association game, and the answer will inevitably be Buzzfeed.

And yes, this format has proven a bit divisive. Many content strategists and marketers have even come to hate the term. But the reality is that most strong brands are divisive — the controversy itself exemplifies the brand’s power and relevance.

They might be controversial, but Buzzfeed listicles are successful

Tasty short videos

Not everybody loves a listicle. This wildly popular series of short videos has brought another vast audience flocking to Buzzfeed’s content. Each and every video follows what is obviously a very specific set of stylistic guidelines, so the moment you see a Tasty video, you know it.

Interviews have long engaged readers, and the designer interview has practically become its own subgenre — in part due to InVision’s long-running series. It’s branded with an immediately recognizable name, and even though each article serves to advertise the product, they’re also very interesting, offering tantalizing glimpses into how design works across the tech world, and beyond.

InVision’s Inside Design series

Interviews have long engaged readers, and the designer interview has practically become its own subgenre — in part due to InVision’s long-running series. It’s branded with an immediately recognizable name, and even though each article serves to advertise the product, they’re also very interesting, offering tantalizing glimpses into how design works across the tech world, and beyond.

What unites these forms of content?

Each of the examples I’ve cited shares three things:

  1. A clear and consistent structure 
  2. An identifiable point of view and voice 
  3. Predictability that retains room for deviation

All ingredients of a great style guide, carefully and consistently applied and adhered to.

So if your team is in the midst of building a new style guide, or is in charge of maintaining an existing one, be sure to 1) include content guidelines and 2) incorporate them into your CMS!

Oh, and if you’re looking for a CMS to help you enforce that brand-new or revamped guide, you could do worse than Webflow CMS. It empowers you to design with real content, incorporate your guidelines into the CMS, and, of course, create clean, semantic code — without actually writing it.

Sep 272016

WordPress powers some of the web’s biggest sites, and mastering this popular and malleable content management system is a must for any aspiring web designer. Pick up the skills you need with a lifetime membership to WPacademy Pro, now just $59 (approx. £46)!

While anybody can learn WordPress, it takes skill to make the most of this powerful platform. With a lifetime subscription to WPacademy, you'll gain access to over 100 online videos created by experts, with more being added regularly. Learn about everything from building simple websites to setting up dedicated digital storefronts, and master SEO and Google Analytics.

Plus, you can get a full year of hosting from WPEngine, which will make it easy to get your website online and put your new skills to use.

Lifetime access to WPacademy Pro, plus a year of hosting, is valued at nearly $850, but you can get it for just $59 (approx. £46). You won’t find a better deal on such an in-depth collection of courses, so nab it before time runs out!

Sep 272016

If you watch hit fantasy drama Game of Thrones, you'll know the show's producers don't shy away from blood and gore. And season 6 was no exception. VFX studio Imagine Engine was responsible for many of the death scenes, using 3D art and VFX to create an impressive bodycount of 72 characters throughout the show's 10 episodes. 

So the studio's already impressive design portfolio also now includes 22 killed by sword, 14 by slit throat, one by pike and one by dog (ouch!). But its not all doom and gloom, the team also harnessed the power of VFX to bring one character back to life.

Some shots were really specific, like someone getting their head smashed directly against a wall

Edwin Holdsworth

Gore galore!

Blood and gore was, in fact, something of a specialty for the Image Engine team, who built on the effects they previously delivered for season five. 

“Some shots were really specific, like someone getting their head smashed directly against a wall,” says compositing lead Edwin Holdsworth. “To get the look right for that we filmed real meat being smashed. We used the same technique for shots where one character has their hand pulled apart. The best way to match the level of gore needed was to pull some meat apart, and use that in the comp. It all felt more realistic that way!” 

Watch Image Engine's breakdown reel below, which digs deeper into the blood and gore witnessed, from soldiers hit by arrows to Ramsey Bolton's grisly demise. Warning: don't watch while eating your lunch. 

Sep 272016

In case you hadn't noticed, there's a presidential election coming up in the USA quite soon, and it's turning out to be one of the most contentious and divisive campaigns yet.

Never ones to shy away from sticky subjects, Sagmeister & Walsh have waded into the election with a new project: "Pins Won't Save the World". They've created a set of 40 illustrated badges with the aims of protesting against Donald Trump, encouraging people to vote for Hillary Clinton, and promoting love, tolerance and kindness.

Don't want a badge? Get some stickers instead!

Why badges? It's basically because enamel badges and patches are a hot trend right now, especially amongst those headline-grabbing millennials. And while millennials are largely very liberal, only 26 per cent of them voted in the 2012 election – amounting to around 48 million missed votes – and they're not actually that keen on Hillary Clinton.

Which, if you had your heart set on Bernie Sanders for president, probably seems a reasonable position to take. But with the polls narrowing and President Trump seeming like a possibility, Sagmeister & Walsh are out to try and motivate the millennials to register and vote for Hillary Clinton.

Hate stickers? How about some temporary tattoos?

The eye-catching collection of badges – with some also available as patches, tees, posters and stickers, not to mention bumper stickers, and some awesome tattoos – features Sagmeister and Walsh's own designs, alongside contributions from a variety of their friends and colleagues including Brian Rae, Jean Jullien, Timothy Goodman, Olimpia Zagnoli, Ward Sutton, Will Bryant, Coucou Suzette, Adam JK, Ro & Co Studio, Jon Contino, and HORT.

Maybe some attractive patches? Just buy something, okay?

They're available now from S&W's new ecommerce website; get your orders in at the Pins Won't Save the World store, safe in the knowledge that they won't cost you a fortune. "We want everyone to be able to wear their heart (and politics) on their sleeves (or bags and jackets)," say S&W, "so merchandise will be priced low." All profits will be donated to Amnesty International's "The America I Believe In" campaign.

Well, it wouldn't be Sagmeister & Walsh without a bit of full-frontal nudity

There's also an amazing-looking Instagram account showcasing the various badge design, that's well worth a follow. And while S&W are well aware that their pins won't change the world, they argue that wearing them will at least make them feel a little better. 

There's some great use of Instagram going on as well

"And we think convincing our like-minded liberal friends (especially in swing states) to remember to register and vote for Hillary could make a world of difference," they add.

Sep 272016

Maxon’s Cinema 4D has a vibrant and well-supported plug-in ecosystem, providing all manner of extensions for the app – from filling holes in its toolset to streamlining the workflow. And because of the way that Cinema 4D is structured, not only are these plug-ins nicely integrated into the app (often seamlessly at times), they all play well together.

So you can find Cinema 4D tutorials that mix third-party Modifiers and Effectors with native tools, use Turbulence FD to convect X-particles and then visualise them with the Hair shader, shatter meshes with Nitroblast and then animate them with Signal... the combinations are endlessly creative.

In this feature we’ve rounded up a few of our favourite plug-ins (although not all of them by any measure!). There’s something for everyone here.

01. X-Particles 3.5

The latest version of X-Particles includes support for MoGraph Effectors

The latest version of this amazing particle system can now be combined with Cinema 4D’s Effectors, enabling you to colour, scale, randomise and distort the particles with the familiar motion graphics toolset.

02. TurbulenceFD

This heavy sim was rendered at 2560 x 1600. The default settings took 46 seconds; by tweaking the settings we got it down to just 13.

TurbulenceFD is a voxel-based fluid dynamics simulation system for making fire and smoke. TFD is used in movies, TV shows and video game promos, and you only need to use the plug-in and see the end results to agree it’s pretty special.

03. Nitroblast

Nitroblast can be applied to animated characters

Lazaros aka ‘NitroMan’ has created many useful plug-ins, but he says Nitroblast is probably his best. This great little tool automatically shatters objects and lets you blow them to pieces using C4D’s dynamics.

04. Scroll Roll Deformer

The Scroll Roll Deformer can be used for more than just rolling out the red carpet

Scroll Roll was designed to help create rolling paper and carpet-like effects, says Daniel Fitzgerald, developer at Curious Animal, but he found it was also a fun way to create sprouting animations. Scroll Roll also turned out to be perfect for growing sprouting objects and growing feathers.

By scaling these objects up from nothing as they unroll he was able to transition them on smoothly, but in a much more interesting way than a simple scale.

05. Lumen 2

The Falloff shader describes areas of different slope

Lumen 2 was created by Chris Montasano, and although he’s no longer actively developing it, it still works fine under C4D R17 and has loads of useful functionality. Chris says that one of the cool things he likes about Lumen 2 is the ‘visibility’ adjustment, which is useful to quickly populate an area with random objects.

06. Motion Stretch Deformer

Models can be animated with and without the Stretch Deformer applied

The second entry from Curious Animal, aka developer Daniel Fitzgerald, is Motion Stretch Deformer. When applied to a mesh, Motion Stretch Deformer – as you might guess – stretches the geometry according to its movement, creating things like motion trails.

07. Signal

The Signal plug-in allows easy procedural animation for any parameter inside C4D without using the timeline

Signal is a GSG plug-in that’s aimed at automating the animation process. It’s applied as a tag to an object or deformer and you simply drag any animatable value into it (including colours). It’s then a matter of setting some values and letting Signal do its thing, generating random, noise- based animations and seamless loops.

08. Effex 2.7

These images show the impact of deformers on an object

Effex 2.5 is a framework for physics-based simulations, able to create fire, smoke and fluids of various viscosities while also combing these effects with Bullet rigid body dynamics. So now, for example, you can have objects that fall, hit one another, create splashes and float or sink depending on their mass and densities.

09. SplinePatch 3.0

This image is an example of a Solid Extrusion to a SplinePatch on a transparent material

As its name suggests, SplinePatch 3.0 brings spline patching to C4D, which enables you to create smooth, curved surfaces from intersecting splines. This is ideal for creating complex forms, such as cars, clothing, characters, packaging or other convoluted shapes, that remain editable and animatable.

10. EdgeShade

EdgeShade can be applied to multiple intersecting meshes, despite being separate objects, and works across different materials

Chris Montasano says that there are a few tricks for EdgeShade’s Soft Edge shader that keep surprising people, even though he’s posted information about them. The main features are a Ray Traced Render Mode, which lets you soften edges, even those between objects. The Ray Traced mode also allows you to adjust angles.

11. Forester

A selection of Forester rocks with the various texture maps applied

Reviewed in issue 202 of 3D World and receiving a five-star recommendation, Forester is a procedural vegetation creation plug-in that makes an endless variety of grass, trees and plants, and that also comes with a rock generator and a scattering function, called the Multicloner.

12. Transform

Transform works really well with objects shattered using Nitroblast.

GSG’s Transform is a neat plug-in for generating animation without the need for keyframes. It provides a set of 65 presets for various animation sequences, which can then be tweaked to suit. It works well on text, clone arrays or fractured objects made using Nitroblast.

13. Unfolder

With some clever workarounds, you can cache Unfolder’s animation ready for other effects to be applied

This tool by César Vonc unwraps an object as strips of connected polygons, like peeling a banana. It’s a very cool effect with plenty of options to alter the way it unfolds and disappears. However César explains that you can’t easily cache the effect as Unfolder changes the point and polygon count by default, and the PLA cache needs them to be the same.

14. Difference Map

Here we’ve used the Difference Map with Curious Animal’s Impact deformer to generate a layer mask in the colour channel.

The Difference Map is a handy plug-in that enables you to layer effects on
top of your deformation by creating a vertex map describing the effect of the deformer on each point in your model. So, if using Impact deformer to create ripples, you could use the Difference Map tab to create a vertex map that you reference in a material to give those ripples a different colour to the rest of the object.

This article was originally published in 3D World magazine issue 210. Buy it here.

Sep 262016

Every designer has met – or will meet – at  least one client from hell in their career. For some, it was a toe dipped into a lake of fire. For others, it was an impromptu cannonball.

Think of this advice as fireproof water wings: in theory, it's something for you to chuckle at, but the moment you find yourself wading into the inferno, it's indispensable.

01. The prideful client

Prideful clients force designers to carry the weight of their 'genius'

The proud client thinks every suggestion is avant-garde, and every obstacle is someone else's fault. Treated with the same respect the client has for something that sticks to their shoe, designers are forced to carry the weight of the client's 'genius' as far as the next pay period.

My client wanted to have blinking carrots in each of the login fields.

Me: That is against all UI and user experience guidelines. Visitors would not know where to type. It is a line that shouldn't be crossed and something I can't recommend under any circumstance.

Client: I'm a pioneer. I'm drawing new lines.

Client: We want to put a QR code on a sign in the lobby that gives users information about the building's address, department name, and which floor they're on.

Me: How about you just put that information on the sign?

Client: We'd like to, but there wouldn't be room for that and the QR code.

There are a few ways a designer can deal with a prideful client. 

First of all, humility may be seen as a virtue, but it's also a great way to be ignored or overlooked. Take a page out of the client's Necronomicon and have a little pride in yourself and your work; you are a professional employed for your expertise. Do not be afraid to share your insights in order to create something you can be proud of – but remember, nobody knows what the client needs better than the client. 

That said, a client may not have their best interests in mind when they demand you design a logo complete with lens flare and their nine favourite colours. Push back, but if the client refuses to budge, produce the abomination and simply leave it out of your design portfolio

02. The envious client

Envious client will happily rip off anything they like the look of

The envious client sees something someone else has, and they're willing to take it – law and logic be damned. Inspiration comes from all sorts of sources for this client, but it's rarely accredited, and it's almost always in poor taste. 

Always eager to be ahead of the curve, the envious client embraces every fad and marketing buzzword they come across, regardless of relevance. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they're a gold star on a platinum medal hanging from a certificate of excellence. If that metaphor seems overwrought, wait until you see some of this client's ideas.   

Client: Can we have a logo that says we're an official 2016 Olympic Games sponsor on our website?

Me: Are you an official sponsor of the 2016 Olympics?

Client: No.

Me: Then no.

"Our in-house designer can do a lot of the work you do, so we're going to start taking your contracts to him. What do you recommend we buy – Adobe or Photoshop?"

The envious client is usually insecure and typically more concerned with looking a certain way rather than actually being a certain way. Suggestions that are reinforced with a little ego stroking tend to do better than those based on the flimsy foundation of 'good sense' and 'good taste'.

And never break the law for a client. Just don't. Though you can point the finger at your client or otherwise claim ignorance, the potential fallout rarely justifies the possible rewards. Plus, you know: principles. 

When you're creating a mood board, or otherwise trying to get an idea of what this client is after, make it absolutely clear that these are only sources of inspiration, not carbon copies. If you've done your due diligence communicating this, it would be a real dick move to rip off a design – using professional language and reasons justified by your expertise, of course – and if the client still insists, do as much as you can to separate the design from the original. And then separate yourself from the client.

03. The wrathful client

Your wrathful client's a simmering mess of barely-restrained fury

Prone to excess anger, the wrathful client preys on the meek with exaggerated claims and over-the-shoulder suggestions. Never afraid to exploit a weakness for the win, this client requires the designer to hold on to their scruples tightly. Client solutions are what most sane people would refer to as a last resort, and their reaction to problems is similar to how baking soda reacts to vinegar: there's a lot of frothing, things quickly boil over, and a mess is left in their wake.

"If this situation is not rectified, I will be issuing a worldwide press release through online mediums, social network and fax."

"We were going to pay you, but seeing as your lawyer has sent a letter of demand and threatened legal action, we're not going to."

"If you act like an infidel, I'm going to treat you like an infidel." [Ironically, the word this client was thinking of here was 'imbecile'.]

Unaligned expectations are usually at the root of a client's anger. The longer you and your client have had a different idea of what the outcome will be, the bigger their potential explosion will be. Clear and consistent communication before the big bang is the best solution. 

However, like a particularly devastating natural disaster, there isn't always a warning that something terrible is about to go down. If you do find yourself the subject of your client's wrath, don't take it personally; take it like a professional. There is rarely a (good) reason to get worked up because of a crappy client. Instead, craft a response and sit on it for a few hours – days, even. 

You should never expand the scope of a project or bend over backwards simply because a client gets loud with you. If they have genuine criticisms, address them, but remember: you are only responsible for what your contract stipulates. If anger turns into abuse and there's no amicable way to close the project, it may be time to walk away. 

04. The slothful client

Don't let yourself do all the thinking for a slothful client

The slothful client always wants to take the easy route. They refuse to do their due diligence and live up to their end of the contract. Crucial files and feedback often arrive late, if at all. If the slothful client simply took the time to learn or listen, they'd find their life free from their otherwise small and self-imposed problems.

"Please change the file name of the document and send it back to me ASAP. I need this done immediately."

"How do you spell HTML?"

"I wanted zipadeedoo-dah, not zipadeedoo-nay!" [This was a client's explanation for why he didn't like my work.]

A slothful client omits their own responsibilities. The best way to deal with them is to introduce consequences to their dereliction of duty. For example, if your client is unable to get you resources before a milestone, make sure they know the deadline will have to be pushed back as a result. 

If a client consistently fails to do the work necessary for you to do yours, drop them. At the end of the day, these clients are an insidious drain on your time and effort. 

05. The avaricious client

Always get a down payment when dealing with an avaricious client

Less worried about the next pound than they are about losing the one in their pocket, the greedy client isn't afraid to coast on lax attitudes and unpaid invoices. Quality is never a concern for this client. In fact, the cheaper, the better – anything to make the client's bottom line bolder.

"You mean every time you do work for us, you charge us?"

"They say that art is a passion. Do you really think that it's right to charge someone for something you're passionate about?"

A down payment is the first step to identifying a deadbeat client. If they baulk at the idea or can't be convinced to invest a little money in you before you invest a lot of time in them, walk away. 

Along with contracts, billing clients on time and notifying them about non-payment should be standard practice. Start by confirming a client has received your invoice. After the payment period passes – I suggest 15 days or so – follow up. The first reminder should be friendly; the second one should remind them about late-payment fees. The longer the client goes without paying you, the more regular these reminders should be. 

An email can prod a client to action, but a phone call or a face-to-face meeting are even harder to ignore. Don't bend to a client's sob story. You're a professional, and you need to get paid. With that in mind, never continue working if a client has failed to meet your agreed upon payment procedures. 

If all else fails, turn to a collection agency or small claims court. You won't get the entirety of what you're owed, but if you did your due diligence with a contract, you'll likely get something. 

06. The gluttonous client

Try to keep gluttonous clients at arm's length

Whereas a revision or two is a perfectly reasonable expectation, the gluttonous client is always hungry for more. Overwhelming your inbox with ideas, demands for updates, and unreasonable requests – like the logo in fourteen different palettes by this time yesterday – this client's zeal for instant gratification means they often ignore their own ignorance before asking for 'just one more thing'. 

"When someone with a Facebook account visits our site, it should automatically save their Facebook password and send it to my e-mail address. I need this feature within the next two hours."

Client: I don't like that blue, make it a bit lighter – just a small bit!

I send the (unchanged) file back to her.

Client: Hmm, ok that's too light, make it a bit darker.

I send the same file – again, unchanged.

Client: Ok just ad a hint of brightness and we're done!

Again, same file, unchanged.

Client: Perfect! Has anyone told you that you are amazing at what you do?

A gluttonous client tends to enjoy getting instant gratification, so you need to teach them to get that sugar high elsewhere. 

Instead of jumping the moment a client calls on you, take the considered approach. A designer who bends over backwards to accommodate minor revisions and tiny tweaks sets a standard the client is all too happy to keep. Don't respond to every email the moment it arrives in your inbox; communicate a set number of revisions; charge an hourly rate for out-of-scope work. 

Simply put: set standards and keep to them. 

07. The lustful client

Lustful clients love a good innuendo; try not to give them one

Lustful clients crave some sizzle with their service. Everything's an innuendo, and nothing is off limits from their hungry gaze. It's not all sex, though; anything can be the object of their over the top or out of line desire.

"You're pretty enough to be a stripper. If this 'graphic design business' thing doesn't pan out, talk to me."

Client: I have to fire you. We love your work, but my boyfriend is worried about me working with an artsy guy.

Me: I can assure you, I'm very professional.

Client: I'm sure you are! But I'm not.

"If I were ever going to sexually harass anyone, it would definitely be you."

There are a lot of ways lustful clients can make you uncomfortable; it can be their use of an outdated term, their lack of respect for your personal space, or an outright ignorant attitude. Only you can determine when it's worth pursuing a problem out of principle. There are a lot of potential (and often personal) factors to consider.

If a client is making you genuinely uncomfortable in a not-so-okay way, tell them in no uncertain terms what they are doing and how this is making you feel. Try and make it a one-on-one interaction if you can. A private meeting probably isn't how you want to approach things, but it saves the client from a lot of embarrassment and, as a result, makes them much more receptive to your input. 

Illustration: Mat Roff

This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 257; buy it here!

Sep 262016

For years I was intimidated by working digitally. Something about the plastic nib on a plastic surface felt too jarring to me. I love the scratch of my best pencils and the sway of brushes on paper too much, the pop of the ink from a pen nib – there’s a romance in traditional work that I can’t separate myself from.

Now, Cintiq’s and Kyle Webster brushes make this gap a little more bridged for me, but I still love paper. So here I present you with a process that enables you to keep your traditional connection strong, while utilising the power of digital.

I dance back and forth in the beginning, drawing my sketch in my sketchbook, scanning and changing my lines to blue, and then printing it out to give it more detail traditionally again. I encourage you to keep a sketchbook: this is the place where you can hone your skills, play with different paper types and drawing materials, and see how you can lay layers and washes.

I encourage you to keep a sketchbook: this is the place where you can hone your skills

Go crazy in your sketchbook and enjoy yourself. You’re making art, an act that rewards innovation and the new. Not only do your skills come out in your final pieces, but the fun you have in a piece naturally shines through as well. Learn to enjoy your process, and keep that level of excitement high and the skill will come.

Going back to my sketch, you may notice there’s no strong mid-tone. This is because I was working a certain way with pen, had an idea in my head on how the lighting would work, and I was itching to start the piece. Be sure to use reference, and use a mid-grey or coloured marker to act as a mid-tone in the layout stage. Your presto pen will also be handy in this stage to mark your light areas as well. That foresight comes from a lot of drawing and a lot of observing.

So, after I’ve printed out the sketch, it’s on to the inking, which I love. This is where you really mould your piece, much like a sculptor. I like to jump around, building up the whole piece, not just focusing one area. This keeps your piece balanced. Working with washes and strong values enables me to build my form, which you’ll find guides you throughout your digital colouring, and works towards your goal of creating a striking piece.

Find the resources for this tutorial here.

01. Layouts and concepts

Rough sketches establish a shape for the piece

I play with shapes and values on paper to create an interesting composition. I stay loose – sometimes doing literal scribbles, moving my pen around and falling in love with the motion of the marks. Here’s a rough one, which enables me to have fun in the inking stage. I like to play with three values: dark, medium and light. This helps to create depth and balance.

02. Scan and tweak

Scanning is a useful time saving trick

Next I scan in my sketch at 600dpi and print it out larger to save time redrawing the image. First, I take it into Photoshop, scale it to size, and add a layer of Cyan, with the Lighten or Screen layer option. You’ll see a lot of options in your Layer dialog that you’ll be able to play with in later steps.

03. Print your blue sketch

Blue lines are used for drawing guidelines

I use Strathmore Comic Art Boards (100lbs/270g/m2), but there are so many options with paper, and it’s fun to explore. I mainly use this because of the guideline, but with a large enough printer you can make your own. The only trouble is that the blue lines sometimes peak through, and need an additional clean up in the digital phase.

04. Blue pencil touch ups

Working large keeps the details loose

Now I have a large physical copy of the sketch and can touch up any details. I’ve been able to retain the energy and looseness in my sketch by working smaller, but now it’s about the details. Reference is highly recommended for beginners. Col-Erase Indigo Blue pencils are great: dark enough to see, but light enough not to stain the paper.

05. It's inking time

Inking can be done in any order you like

This is my favourite part of the process. Here I like to jump around the piece, starting in areas that grab my interest first, going through and moulding my image. I love Sumi Ink, and keep Copic's Super Black in on the side to get those solid black areas. Some people can’t stand the smell of Sumi, but I love it, like gasoline or liquorice. It comes in black and Chinese red, which enables you to create areas that can be easily selected in the computer. But more on that later…

06. Washes

Get to know your paper before you apply washes!

My wash is a 40 to 60 per cent grey mixture in tone (0 per cent water, 100 per cent ink), a consistency that enables me to start relatively light, but I can add layers to achieve a darker grey. It's important to know how much water your paper can take, so test, test, test!

07. Keep your values strong

A strong contrast keeps the image lively

I check my values, trying to not have too much grey, and keeping a nice balance of black and white. Contrast is important. Squint at your image and if you can still make out your shapes, it’s good. If it loses contrast and focus, punch up black and white areas. I use White-Out pens and FW Acrylic ink to resurrect highlights and white areas.

08. Scanning in the artwork

Details are fine-tuned in Photoshop

Now I scan in my inked image at 600dpi to capture all those details. I don't mess too much with the settings quite yet – I can do that in Photoshop, where you can fine-tune it a little more accurately.

09. Duplicate layer to create your first tone

Different layers are assigned different values

I open the scan in Photoshop and duplicate the inked art layer. I adjust levels (values) and contrast. On a second layer I exaggerate the dark levels, so the dark range overtakes the piece. I create a new layer, choose a base colour (cyan), and select the Screen layer option. Then I merge this layer with the darkened image.

10. Make selections and save them

Areas are selected by colour

This is where the red ink comes in handy. I select those areas by using Color Range and the stylus turns into an eye dropper, for selecting and adjusting colour ranges. Selections can be saved by clicking Select Menu>Save Selection. Label them to cut down on confusion.

11. Adjusting the order of layers

Play around with colours to see how they stack up

Now you can start filling in flat colours and playing with how your shapes lay on top of each other. In the comics industry this is know as flatting. I usually use cyan, magenta and yellow, as they are bright and different enough that you can easily select them with the Magic Wand. Layer order also enables you to play with how your layers affect each other, depending on the layer option you use and what’s below it.

12. Finding your palette

Colour positioning affects the mood of the piece

I like to have a set palette that reflects the mood of the piece, and sometimes I like to just find it. I start to shift Saturation, Lightness and Color using Ctrl+U. Colour is relative, meaning your perception of one colour will change depending on its surroundings. So a lot of the action here is shift, react, shift, repeat. If you feel stuck, search the internet.

13. Fine-tune your lighting

Colours are given realistic textures

Thankfully with all the work I’ve done in the traditional stage, my values and lighting are set. But now, it’s time to make them sing. I pop them out with Color and Layer options. I want the muzzle flare to be softer, so I go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and adjust. To give it some texture, I go to Filters>Pixelate>Halftone.

14. Final touches

Check everything's finished before you flatten the layers

Now I save a layered file, and then save a flattened file. Having a layered file enables me to go back to make bigger edits, but if I think that the image is good to go, then now I can flatten and edit the piece as a whole, playing with Color Balance. This makes the piece more cohesive and ready for print.

This article was originally published in ImagineFX magazine issue 137. Buy it here.