Jun 232017

Ask any freelancer what their biggest worry is, and it’s likely to involve money. How do you decide what to charge for your talents when you're first starting out – or negotiate higher rates once you know what you’re doing? And can you get enough invoices paid on time each month to cover your outgoings?

Subscribe to Computer Arts and get 5 issues for £5!

That freelance dream of being your own boss, taking on the projects you want, setting your own hours, and working in your underwear (if you so choose) may be clouded by this financial uncertainty if you don’t get your affairs in order.

Cash in as a freelancer – advice on pricing, pitching, persuading and more...

But fear not. The cover feature in July's Computer Arts is packed with great advice to help you conquer all your cash concerns as a freelancer – from selling yourself to new clients, to chasing up late-paying existing ones.

Character design trends and branding tips

New trends in character design, according to Pictoplasma

With the help of the co-founders of Pictoplasma, CA also investigates the vibrant world of character design with an inspiring journey through the four hottest trends to watch out for this year.

How The Clearing creates "clear, defendable territory" for its clients

Elsewhere, take a trip to The Clearing to discover why finding ‘clear, defendable territory’ should be the goal of any branding project. The Brand Impact Award-winning agency sheds some light on its process, and shares some tips for how to defend that territory once you find it.

Buy Computer Arts issue 268 now!

This issue is bursting with other inspiring design content, including:

Sign maker Luke Stockdale reveals why signs should be beautiful as well as functional

Showcase features the very best graphic design, illustration and motion work

How to make judges notice your work, according to D&AD New Blood

Behind the scenes with Studio Sutherl&, most-awarded design studio at D&AD 2017
Jun 232017

We have a cracking selection of new tools for graphic designers in this month’s round up. From the new iPad Pro to a wildly discounted collection of world-class fonts, vintage Smart PSDs and all the best new books and design bundles, you’ll find all sorts of goodies here to speed up your workflow and boost your skills.

And don’t forget, it’s graduate show season. That means D&AD New Blood is back, and with it another bumper crop of talented creatives ready to set the world alight with their ideas – you’ll find details below. 

Read on for June’s 10 best graphic design tools…

01. iPad Pro

Apple brings the iPad Pro closer to the MacBook replacement you need

Out now, Apple’s new iPad Pros boast brighter and more colourful screens that respond faster to both touch and the Apple Pencil, so if you’re looking to create on the move, they’re worth a look. Replacing the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is a new 10.5-inch model, which benefits from a 20 per cent larger screen – meaning it can accommodate a full-size digital keyboard. And the 12.9-inch version has received an update, too.

See also:

02. SST typeface

The SST font has variations for Thai, Arabic, Japanese and other alphabets

Monotype has released a new sans serif font, SST. Originally designed for Sony, the typeface lies somewhere between Frutiger and Helvetica in design. It can support nearly 100 languages and numerous consumer touchpoints, and aims to strike “a careful balance between style requirements and cultural sensitivities”. Available in six different weights and italics, it’s ultra-legible.

03. The Ink Fanatic's Bundle: PSD Kit

Currently on sale for $49 instead of $79, so get in quick!

Need to quickly add some vintage ink effects to your designs? RetroSupply is running a sale on a massive bundle of seven of its best-selling Smart PSD ink packs. Effects include halftones, ink rollers, screenprints, letterpress, matchbook effects and 70s ink effects – and each pack comes with bonus brushes and textures.

04. D&AD New Blood

Plan your visit to spot some new talent

Ok, the D&AD New Blood Festival is in July, but now’s a good time to put it in your diary. From 5-6 July, once again London’s Old Truman Brewery will be hosting work from this year’s best and brightest design, advertising, illustration and animation graduates. Bringing industry and new creative talent face-to-face, this is the place to be if you’re looking for new gradates, collaborators or if you simply want to get a glimpse of tomorrow’s creative superstars. 

Plus, we’ll be reporting from graduate shows the length and breadth of the UK, so keep an eye on the site throughout the summer.

05. The Inspiring, Creative Vector Collection

Thousands of vectors are on offer, with a huge range of styles

Expiring on 3 July, The Inspiring, Creative Vector Collection brings you a huge collection of world-class vectors licensed to use in commercial work for $29. The full price of the bundle is $2,503 so it’s a bit of a bargain. Head over to Design Cuts for a full run down of all the fonts in the bundle. If you miss out on this deal, click on 'Current Bundle' at Designcuts.com to see if the current deal is of interest to you.

06. Bittersweet: Noma Bar (Limited Edition)

Noma Bar's illustrations have featured in Empire, the New York Times, Wired, the Guardian, Time Out and more

Illustrator and master of negative space Noma Bar has released a dazzling collection of some of his favourite illustration in this limited, slipcased edition, which became available on Amazon this month. Packed with creative inspiration, it’s perfect for the studio bookshelf – and comes with a print, too.

07. The Photocopy Hate Machine

Priced at $29, the Photoshop bundle is packed with gritty textures scanned at 1200 DPI

Inspired by 90s alternative rock flyers, half-dead high school photocopy machines and the possibilities of cheap, mass duplication, the Photocopy Hate Machine Photoshop bundle is packed with gritty high-res textures, texture brushes and a smart PSD for instant results.

08. Fur, Hair and Grass Brushes

These $10 brushes emulate the textures of fur, hair and grass

For $10 you’ll get 52 realistic, high-res, 3D rendered fur, hair and grass brushes for Photoshop in this pack from Instanbul-based Mehmet Sensoy. It contains two abr files: brushes below 2500px are for CS2-CS5 users, while brushes up to 5000px are for CS6-CS2017 users.

09. Stencil Type: Steven Heller and Louise Fili

Pick up the cheaper paperback version of popular 2015 title, Stencil Type

The paperback version of Steven Heller and Louise Fili’s 2015 hardback title, Stencil Type, is officially on sale from 6 July this year – but available now on Amazon. A follow-up to cult typography volumes Scripts and Shadow Type, this 352-page title presents hundreds of examples of stencils from the 19th to the 20th centuries. It’s a rich resource for any designer looking for type inspiration.

10. Watercolor ink Photoshop brushes

These brushes were made from scanning real watercolour brush strokes

After some realistic-looking watercolour Photoshop brushes? Try this set of 30 stamp brushes from MiksKS. Ranging between 387px and 1799px, the brushes were handmade and create a transparency effect when layered.

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Jun 232017

When you’re building a website, where should you place its logo? A quick glance around the most popular sites on the web provides a clear consensus. It needs to go in the top-left corner.

Need evidence? Just check out YouTube, Vimeo, Amazon, Instagram, eBay, Adidas, BBC, Wikipedia, Reddit, Dribbble, Netflix, Ford, BP, Levis, Shell, O2, Sony, NASA and even this very site.

McDonald’s website follows convention by slapping its logo in the top-left corner of the page

In these particular examples, the logos are all wordmarks. But it's the same deal when it comes to symbol logos, as can be seen on the Airbnb, Spotify, Nike, Facebook, Pinterest and Apple websites.

So is that it? Should you follow the crowd and stick your logo in the same place that everyone else does?

Centre logos for a print look

Well, if you were to centre your logo or place it in the top-right corner, you wouldn't be entirely alone. One category of website that often centres its logo is that of newspapers and magazines.

The approach here is to replicate the familiar look of the printed version’s masthead. Examples of sites that follow this convention include Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Times, Financial Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, British Vogue, Radio Times and Wired.

Online magazines like Wired replicate the print experience by centring their logo on their web pages

Even if you're not a newspaper, you may still want to convey the feel of a traditional printed document, newsletter or newspaper by centring your logo in this headline-style way.

Examples of this strategy can be seen on this sites for Virginia’s Smithfield Station hotel, the foundation for artist Richard Diebenkorn, and fashion house Sunspel.

However, let’s be clear: print publishers are in no way united on centring their logos online. Most British newspapers, for instance, stick to web norms by placing their logo in the top-left corner, including The Sun, The Mirror, Daily Telegraph, Mail Online and Daily Express. Doing so signals that the publications are forward-facing and fully immersed in developing their digital offerings.

Logo placement outliers

Away from traditional print publishers, examples of logos on websites that are centred or placed on the right are few and few between.

Samsung is among a rare breed of website that centres its logo

There are some other sites that centre their logos, including Samsung, while the sites for Amnesty International and the Guardian have theirs placed on the right. But in the main, these are lonely outliers.

Another notable exception to the rule appears to be search engine homepages, including Google, Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, Wolfram Alpha and Baidu, where the logo appears next to or above the search bar, although this can be very much considered a special category of website.

Search engine homepages are a special category when it comes to the placement of logos

So what’s behind this overwhelming consensus about where to place the logo?

Why are logos usually placed top-left?

Historically, placing the logo on the left was partly a function of how browsers rendered websites on screens. A fixed browser width meant that if your logo was positioned on the right (or even in the centre) it might not have appeared at all, depending on the size of the screen and the shape of the browser window. 

For the client who was already urging you to 'make the logo bigger', that was always going to be a no-no.

The logo’s placement in the top-left has a long history

The shift to the left also relates with how those in the West (as opposed to Asian and Arabic cultures) traditionally read printed content: left to right, and top to bottom. These deep-seated habits have naturally carried over to reading on digital devices, as eye-tracking research from the Nielsen Norman Group has shown.

Why buck the logo placement trend?

Given that the pattern of placing the logo top-left is so established, the only logical reason for placing your logo elsewhere is to deliberately flout this convention, perhaps in an attempt to catch people’s eye and make your site look different and innovative.

And you might think that’s fine. Because although you’d never consider confounding users by moving the search box, menu button or main nav bar from their standard positions, that doesn’t apply to logos because they have no functional purpose, right? Wrong.

Whether you realise it or not, your users do expect that logo to serve a functional purpose. Which is that when they click on it, they’ll be returned to the homepage. And so if it’s not where they expect, it’s going to massively disrupt their normal customer journey.

Research by the Nielsen Norman Group shows how important logo placement is for the usability of a website

In fact, according to research, users find getting back to the homepage about six times harder when the logo is placed in the centre of a page compared to when it’s in the top-left.

Maybe if you have a centred logo but a ‘Home’ button in the top-left corner, as Aberdeen agency JAMstudio does, then users won’t feel quite so disrupted.

But in general, we’d recommend that if you’re trying to make your design eye-catching and innovative, you should probably just find a better way to do it.

Logos in multiple places

Placing your logo in the top-left corner doesn’t mean you can’t also feature your logo elsewhere on the page, of course. Many sites like to give more voice to their branding by also including the logo in the sidebar or footer. 

The Envato Tuts+ network boosts its branding by featuring its logo in the footer as well as the top-left

A good example of this is the Envato Tuts+ network of free tutorial websites. It’s easy to imagine clicking through from Twitter, following an entire tutorial and still not noticing which site you’re visiting, so it makes sense to add a little extra emphasis to its branding in this way.

But while there’s nothing wrong with including multiple instances of your logo on your website, always bear in mind that users will expect each and every one of these to function as a link back to the homepage.

Surprisingly, this is something Google currently fails to do on many of its satellite sites, such as Gmail or Google Drive. Even though the Google logo is widely associated with its search page, clicking on it within these services actually takes you back to the homepage for the sister service, rather than to google.com.

Wherever you are in Apple’s ecosystem, the Apple logo takes you back to apple.com

In contrast, on all web pages in Apple’s network, including iTunes, clicking the Apple logo always takes you back to your local version of apple.com.

Thanks go to Stewart Ainslie, WithPrint, Montgomery Kern‏, Mark B‏ and Alon Koppel‏ for their help in writing this article.

Jun 232017

Every designer deserves access to great tools in order to create. VectorState provides just that. Dip into this huge library of assets any time you want by grabbing a two-year subscription, on sale now for 80% off the retail price.

VectorState understands what creatives need to work. It seeks out quality vectors that could be used in just about any project and makes them available for designers. With VectorState, you get royalty-free access to more than 1.1 million curated vectors. That number is always growing, so you can be sure you'll never run out of inspiration.

You can get two-year access to VectorState on sale for just $31 (approx £24). That's an 80% saving off the retail price for an essential library for designers, so grab this deal today!

Jun 232017

From outsmarting Predator and avoiding aliens to just how the infamous flux capacitor works, these infographics all provide interesting facts on some of the best loved movies of all time. Check out this brilliant collection of movie infographics to inspire you.

Use the icon in the top-right of each image to see it full-size.

01. Interstellar

This infographic makes sense of Interstellar's timeline

The 2014 sci-fi smash-hit Interstellar was visually stunning, but with a plot that hangs off the theories of quantum mechanics, it left more than one viewer scratching their head and reaching for the rewind button. This beautifully rendered movie infographic lays out the timeline for us, complete with character timelines to help make sense of the storyline. 

It’s the work of Frametale, an entertainment marketing agency with offices in Los Angeles and Instanbul, led by creative director Dogan Can Gundogdu. 

02. Star Wars Episode IV

Click the image to explore the full (much more impressive) infographic

Why sit through the whole of Star Wars Episode IV again, when you can instead savour it in infographic form? SWANH.net, created by Swiss illustrator Martin Panchaud, turns the first Star Wars movie into an epic 123m infographic. Created in Illustrator CC, using 157 pictures across 22 separate files, it took him over a year to produce.

03. Die Hard

Brilliant Die Hard infographics break down body counts, explosions and much more

This brilliant Die Hard infographic breaks down body counts, explosions, plot points and much more – and there's one for each of the five films in the franchise. Having a certain way with words, we particularly like the addition of John McClane's more memorable and humorous lines.

04. Pulp Fiction

Click the icon to enlarge the image

Designer, photographer and Tarantino fan Noah Daniel Smith has shuffled cult classic Pulp Fiction back into chronological order in this detail-packed infographic. Back in 2012, Smith sold over 1,000 posters of his design via a Kickstarter campaign, and it’s since soared in popularity. Each character is assigned their own colour, but there’s also different line styles employed depending on whether they’re ‘moving’, ‘not moving’ or ‘dead’. Handy.

There's also a Kill Bill version for fellow Tarantino enthusiasts.

05. Back to the Future

The creative team at Sloshspot break down exactly how the flux capacitor sends Marty and Doc Brown on their many adventures

An '80s classic, Back to the Future is a firm film favourite for many. With such a big following, there are hundreds of pieces of BTTF fan art online, including this brilliant infographic by the team at Sloshspot, which provides great insight on how the legendary flux capacitor makes time travel possible.

06. Inception

A simple but beautiful design for the 2010 brain-scrambling movie Inception by graphic designer Rick Slusher

We love this simple but beautiful infographic for Christopher Nolan's 2010 blockbuster movie Inception. Let's face it, given how complex the film is, a little bit of simplicity to explain it goes a long way. The illustration was created by New York-based graphic designer Rick Slusher. His elegant summary of the film depicts each character as a coloured line, and the layers of dreams as concentric circles.

07. Batman

The comic book style shows how the Batmobile has evolved a lot over time

Batman has many amazing gadgets, but one thing that makes him one of the coolest superheroes is his Batmobile. The vehicle's design has come a long way over the years, being continually updated to look sexier, sleeker and to incorporate the fanciest of tools. This infographic from Car Insurance charts just how much Batman's trusty Batmobile has changed throughout its history.

08. Star Wars

Random facts, strategically placed, create this cool Darth Vader design

Such a popular franchise, Star Wars fans everywhere are constantly creating artwork inspired by George Lucas' story. And this original design, based on Darth Vader's helmet, is another of our favourites. Type detailing random facts about the films have been strategically placed to create the clever design.

09. Alien vs Predator

Useful tips for surviving Predator or aliens

While it's an incredibly small possibility, it's worth taking a look at Steven Taubman's handy infographic about our chances of survival should two of the deadliest extra terrestrial lifeforms take over the world. Basically, humans wouldn't stand a chance. But it does provide some useful tips, should you encounter Predator or a face hugger. Although we're not sure how effective a bag over the head would be!

10. 250 best movies of all time

Is your favourite film in this cool subway-inspired infographic?

This impressive subway-inspired map of movies was created by designer David Honorat. The map shows the 250 best movies, as voted by IMDb.com users in June 2009, with the legend detailing genre of film instead of train lines. Take a look at the cinematographic subway plan and see how many stations you've already visited.

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Jun 232017

While many great website builders and beautiful free themes make building your own portfolio site easier than ever, a little knowledge of HTML is really useful. It enables you to look under your site's bonnet to see how everything fits together, and to fine-tune things when the default settings aren't doing it for you.

But all those tags can be a little daunting – especially since HTML is an ongoing project, with new elements being introduced as the technology evolves. So Digital.com has come up with this useful interactive HTML cheat sheet.

Digital.com's HTML cheat sheet is a web design gold mine

It features a full list of all the HTML elements that you can browse alphabetically – in a very attractive isometric layout – as well as by category. Click on one of the html code tags to read a descriptions of that element, as well as helpful code examples that you can plunder when you try to implement a new feature for yourself.

Code examples make it easy to get the hang of those pesky tags

Plus if you don't want to be eternally switching browser tabs when you can't tell your <article> from your <body>, Digital.com has thoughtfully provided a downloadable PDF version of its cheat sheet that you can save to your computer or print out and keep on your desk.

There's even a PDF version to download and print out

You can find the cheat sheet – made with a little assistance from Mozilla – over at Digital.com.

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Jun 222017

When we reviewed Adobe Illustrator CC 2017 recently, it was obvious that the Creative Cloud 2017 release remains a fantastic tool for all kinds of design work – from crisp vector logos, to app icons, to UI and web prototyping, to illustration to... well, pretty much anything, really. 

But of course, Illustrator isn’t perfect, so we wanted to find out what creative pros really need from the app. Here's what they want Adobe to improve for the next version of Illustrator.

01. Improve Colour Picker options

Photoshop currently offers superior colour picker options

“This has bugged me for years,” says illustrator and design lead at Havas helia, Aaron Miller. “If you have the colour picker window open, you can’t simply select a background colour from anywhere on the screen or apply a swatch like you can in Photoshop. The cursor should change to the Eyedropper tool, so you’re free to select any colour.”

02. Boost bitmap rendering

“Illustrator’s vector capabilities are second to none, but its bitmap rendering for the canvas and exporting are a long way behind,” explains Marc Edwards, founder of Bjango. “In terms of antialiasing steps for shapes, there are only a few possible steps: 0%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% opacity.”

03. Fix the snapping bug

Illustrator Von Glitschka is very vocal about what he wants from the next version of Illustrator. “Fix the damn snapping bug that was introduced through a CC update four-plus years ago,” he says. “Snapping is a fundamental feature of vector building, and to have a so-called pro app fail at that level is absurd.” Not sure what he means by the snapping bug? Watch the video above, which he sent to Adobe’s engineers.

04. Sort out the stability

"Illustrator CC 2017 21.1.0 is the most unstable version of CC yet,” continues Glitschka. He points out that at Adobe MAX in October, Adobe announced it would be focusing on making Illustrator more stable, but he hasn't seen much evidence of this so far.

“I’ve been tracking my crashes since 1 January 2017 and so far I’ve had 41. March alone had 11. At Adobe MAX, Adobe stated that for the first time in 25 years Illustrator has a larger user base than Photoshop. Now, if that is true – and I’ll assume it is – why not make Ai rock-stable?”

05. Add snappy text alignment

Want to align your text centrally within a button? You can't... yet

Illustrator CC 2017 brings a lot of new text enhancements, but Miller wants more. “I know many people use Illustrator for a more design-based approach and work with type,” he explains. “Something that InDesign does really well is to offer the ability to align text vertically within a text box. This combined with central alignment of the paragraph would mean text could sit ‘centrally’ within a button, for example.”

06. Enable better rendering

Edwards also wants better rendering performance. “Enabling Illustrator CC’s GPU rendering option improves performance, but reduces rendering quality even further,” he says. “Illustrator’s pixel preview also has many rendering issues, including stray pixels and other artefacts. Gradient rendering with dithering would improve the quality of canvas rendering, and also bitmap output, too.”

07. Increase artboard limits

At the moment, artboards are capped at 100

Artboards have made it possible to create multi-page documents at different page sizes, but Edwards doesn’t think the functionality is quite good enough. "I’d like the artboard limit increased from 100,” he says. “For larger projects that use artboards for exporting, 100 artboards are often not enough.”

08. Let us copy beloved effects

Miller wants to be able to copy effects

The Appearance panel is great and shows the effects and properties applied to a shape, but Miller wants more. “I do wish you could copy an effect like you can copy layer styles within Photoshop. This would make making working with effects so much easier. There are ways around this – like using graphic styles – but they feel counterproductive.”

09. Bring back default anchor points

“Two releases ago, Adobe decided on the fly to remove anchor points being shown by default on vector shapes. Who asked for that? No-one, it just did it,” muses Von Glitschka. “It got so much blowback it added a preference to return it to normal.”

10. Communicate with designers better

“The Illustrator team gets pushed so hard to develop features that will be used to push CC services,” says Von Glitschka. “They care more about that than stability. They’ll also actively remove features that don’t encourage CC use. For example, on the Adobe Draw app for iPad they removed the feature that gave users the ability to simply email your art to anyone as a PDF. They replaced it with uploading it to CC, so you can’t share it easily. It’s a convoluted hot mess.”

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Jun 222017

This tutorial will take you through how to design and model a new furry 3D creature. To create this strokable creature we will follow my workflow, working on the base character, blocking the hair and fur in, and adjusting the scene. 

In addition, you will see the design process I use to create a new piece, including blending my reference images with renders and how I rework the main subject to step up the overall quality of the design. There's a video of my process below, followed by a step-by-step breakdown of my process.

01. Find a concept

First, find a good reference image to work from

First, I look for a reference image that's natural but strong. I go to unsplash.com, where people put amazing photos up for free commercial use. I want a scene with good lighting that I can use for a backplate. I decide to test a kitchen scene.

02. Set the scene

Work out the shapes of the scene and box model them

Now I have my image, it's time to set the camera and perspective. With Maya it's not that easy to get the angle right – I have to tweak and eyeball a little bit. My workflow here is to get the basic shapes of the scene and box model them.

Once I have the basic shapes, I set the camera and the view angle. It's really important to take your time here and make sure you have the perspective right because this will define the success of the scene.

03. Establish the basic light setup

Use your reference photo as a lighting guide

Now it's time to set up the light. In my reference photo I can see an area of light at the top of my scene, so I put a light there. I add one more physical light behind my camera as a secondary light. For realism and to blend the scene and the backplate, I normally add a dome light with the backplate images, which generates GI and a little ambient light, providing a dim illumination of the scene.

04. Work on character conceptualisation

A basic character gives you lots of potential to play around

I want my character to do something similar to the man in the reference image, and to blend in with the pasta in the photograph. I design a really basic character to play with – just a blob with arms and two eyes. It doesn't even have legs, because this guy will always be behind the counter.

05. Test the scene  

Render a quick test to spot any early issues

With everything blocked in and the main character in position, it's time to test the scene. I put all the models in the scene with no visibility to cast shadows and render the first test. I blend the render and the photograph to test the scale, the model, the light and the angle of the camera. I find my backplate has a green and blue tint over the shadows that I'll have to remove later.

06. Do some basic grooming

Use groomable splines if there's no animation involved

It's time to start grooming. I use Core XGen, though this technique will work with any other hair system. When working with hair, the important thing is to achieve a good flow and an interesting silhouette. 

For this kind of character, with no animation, I like to use groomable splines. I think about how the character moves and behaves, as this will affect his fur. This specific character has to work a lot with his hands and gets covered in steam often, so his hair will look heavy and not that fluffy.

07. Adjust length and silhouette

With the flow sorted, block out the silhouette and length

Once I have the flow of the hair, I start blocking out the silhouette and the length. I give my creature shorter hair on his hands but furrier, pointy ears and longer hair on his armpits. I block out the eyes and the mouth.

08. Set up the hair

Use a random expression to give the hair some variety

Now I generate the hair for the first time to check its fidelity and how it looks. When you first generate the hair it often comes out in chunks or planes. I test first with a really low density hair, and don't overscale the model. 

For the hair, I break the connection on the Width and set up a random expression to define with float rand (float min, float max) to help me control the hair and add some variation to the width, making it look more natural. One the hair is visible, you can adjust the flow and length.

09. Employ the clump modifier

Work out the basic shape of hair clumps

For this groom, I use a short hair with a mid-density on the base clumps and closed tip to enhance the effect of humidity, and a higher density on the second level of clumps with an open tip. I make the clumps thicker than the regular hair, so they appear sticky. I want small groups of hairs with a wavy configuration on the noise, to look thick on the roots and thinner on the tips with a wavy end. 

10. Use the coil and noise modifiers

Use coil and noise modifiers to vary your clumps

Once I have the basic shape of the clumps, I need to add a little bit of randomness, as the clumps start to reveal more detail. To add new variations I use the Noise Modifier, and for this case I also add a Coil Modifier with a low influence to simulate the wetness and oil on the hair. 

For the noise, I use a base modifier to add the first layer of variation, affecting the tips more than the bases, with a frequency of 4 and a magnitude of 1. This means each strand will move four times from base to tip with a max magnitude of 1 over the tips. 

Next page: Give your creature character and add some props

11. Make the hairs more realistic

The cut modifier gives hairs a more realistic look

Now I use the Cut modifier to simulate some hairs to be cut, broken or shortened over a random parameter, giving a better shape at the edges and a more realistic look. I test the amounts depending on the scales of the hair until I'm pleased. I normally reduce 20% of the hair, and the values vary depending on the groom. For this character, I reduce between 0.0 and 0.2 units per hair.

12. Refine the shape

Now it's back to the grooming

With all the basic modifiers in place, it's time to start grooming again. Now I can see how the groom will look in the future, and the shape is clear, I can adjust the basic groom to have more variance, or to be smoother, to have clumps and coils, or to have a different flow, in each part. The groom can change any time but with all the modifiers in place it's better to work out the shape now.

13. Set up the strays

Add a bit of frizz with the noise modifier

Next, I use an expression to define a custom percentage parameter on the Noise Modifier. With this expression on the Magnitude attribute, I can define how many hairs I affect with the noise parameters, giving me a custom stray attribute for a flexible frizz effect. Here I add two new Noise Modifiers on top of the Cut Modifier with different attributes to make the final look.

14. Test assembly 

Do a second test to see how it's all coming together

With all the modifiers in place, I do a second assembly test. This time I add a basic colour to my groom and render with the same set-up, with a colour correction for the backplate. I find some problems with the blending between the render and the actual photograph, but can see that the light is working. 

In Photoshop I add an exposure adjustment with a gradient to add more light into the render to blend it better into the scene. The model isn't quite working, so I decide to start exploring different options.

15. Explore characterisation

Step back from your character to get a fresh perspective

When working on a scene, you need to explore and to correct yourself, feed your brain and sometimes even stay away from your work for a while so that you can see it with fresh eyes. 

For this project, I needed to try out some different methods and add new elements into the scene. Here I try an apron, a chef's hat, different mouths and facial hair and even some weird mouth drawn onto a Post-it note. Finally, I decide to work with the apron and hat.

16. Adjust the pose

A more flexible pose adds life to your character

To make the props work I need to make the pose more flexible. I add movement to the hands and rotate the body, but keep the basic shape from the photograph as I still want to use the pasta from the backplate. I make the ears longer and separate them to give more movement and a better silhouette. 

17. Model the hat

A jaunty angle works wonders for any hat

For the hat, I use a really basic workflow. With some references and taking the early concept into account, I model the base shape in Maya and play around with the model to see where it could work.The hat works in the centre of the head, between the ears, with a little tilt to look more relaxed and cool. 

After that I take the model into ZBrush to work on the final detailing and use some cloth alphas to make the final look. 

18. Model the apron

Realistic aprons are harder to make than you realise

It takes me more time to finish the apron. I work on the base model directly in Maya and test it over the groom itself because it needs to collide with the hairs. I mainly model the basic shape on a really low-poly and set the parts where the stitches should be. 

In ZBrush I decide to add a far higher level of detail and put a lot of work into making the apron look as realistic as possible. With the cloth alphas and also using the Dam_Standard Brush, along with stitches alphas, I manage to make a good-looking model and surface texture for the apron.

19. Test the props

Do a props test to see if it all works together

With all of the models done, it's time to test them in the scene. I import both objects and try them directly with the high-res models. I really like the hat but am not sure about the apron. There is still something missing in the main character, a kind of lack of connectivity. I know the image I have in mind but need to make it real in the scene. 

20. Redesign the character  

Don't be afraid to go back and remodel your character

After some thought and a break from looking at the screen, I decide I need to reshape the main design. I work directly in ZBrush to adjust the eye cavity to make it friendlier. I also decide to add a big mouth with some gigantic teeth, and rework the hands. The main shape is still there but the character has a lot more personality.

Next page: Retopology, final render, and post production

21. Retopology

Rework the topology to ensure the hair still fits

As he now has a mouth and bigger eyes, I'll need to make selections to adjust the shapes of the hair and where it should grow. I work the retopology of the character completely on Maya, as I want total control over the flow of the edges and loops, and the new tools in Maya 2017 make the character animation-ready.

22. Make the UV map

Make a UV map ready for adding textures

I need to paint the textures, and to do so, the UV will be useful – even if XGen uses Ptex it's still necessary to have a good UV map. Once more, I decide to test the new UV tools that come with the Maya 2017 update 3, which are now simpler, amazingly fast and really easy to use. 

23. Re-groom 

It's time to go back and groom again

I re-groom the new character still using the groomable splines. I repeat most of the process from before but this time I spend more time on the basic groom. I select just the faces that I want to grow hair from, leaving the eyes and the mouth out of the selection. I work even more on the flow of the hair, add eyebrows by making the hair longer over the eyes, and add more noise into the actual groom, not just on modifiers. 

For the hair between the character's ears, I make the hair longer and use the Part Brush to give it shape. I also reduce the length of the hair around the eyes and the mouth, giving a gradient effect between the long and short hair.

24. Import the modifiers

Save time by bringing in the old modifiers

I want to use all the old modifiers, so I go to the old XGen scene and right-click on each modifier, hit Save Modifier, and name each one in order as this will affect the result. To re-import them into the new scene, on the Modifiers tab I click on the folder icon and select Load User. 

I import my saved modifiers one by one to build up the same result as before. This time I create masks over the clump modifiers to affect less of the face, producing a smoother result with fewer clumps there.

25. Create the moustache

Use XGen's Guides to make a moustache

I decide to reintroduce the moustache. For this kind of hair, the best way to work is using XGen's Guides as it's faster and the results are great. Working with guides is really easy – I draw just half of the moustache guides, repeating the same process of making the shape and adjusting the size with a rand expression as before. When I find a shape I like I just mirror the guides and the moustache shape is done. 

For the final detail, I use the Move Guide tool to make some irregularities on the groom. I follow the same pattern with two Clump Modifiers, a Noise Modifier and finally a Cut Modifier, with just a few strays.

26. Paint the colour

This will look less horrifying once it's on your model

To add colour to the groom, I need to create a custom attribute for the render system to read the information. To do so, I go to Preview and Output and in Custom Shader Parameters I create a Custom Colour Attribute using the root_color convention. 

Next I click on the option next to the Attribute to create a map. I click the brush icon and with the Maya 3D paint tool options I start painting my textures. I use a fox's colours as a reference for this guy. If you want to create a custom texture you can generate the Ptex map with Mudbox or 3DCoat – just remember to overwrite the map that Maya created for the custom texture.

27. Create material

Use Redshift to create your materials

I use Redshift for this render. The basic material for hair is almost perfect, so I just make the reflection a bit glossier. I create an RS Attribute Lookup to call in the root_color info. I connect this to the internal reflection of the RShair, and with a multiply/divide node connect the Transmission colour and change the value of the multiplier to 1.5. I finally connect the RS Attribute Lookup to the diffuse slot of the RShair and change the weight of the diffuse value until I like the result.

28. Do the final render 

Try to match the original photograph's depth of field

Now I set the render configuration. For smooth results with Redshift, activate Hair min pixel width under the OPT tab on render settings, to solve the transparency of the hair and fix the tessellation, making hair smoother and reducing the render time. 

For the render settings, I use max samples of 512 and change the adaptive error threshold to 0.01 as I want almost no noise on the render. On the camera I set an exposure photographic lens and a bokeh lens to simulate the DOF on the photograph.

29. Blend the render and the backplate

Now you need to put everything together

With the final render in place, it's time to begin the final assembly. First I remove the colour and try to leave the backplate as clean as possible to make the blend with the backplate. I always try to remove any colour information and use the backplate in its pristine state. 

I mix the render and add a mask for the foreground to leave the table and the plates behind the render. Having the render on the scene means I'll need to colour-correct the render so that its colour intensity, saturation and white and black points are close to the backplate's from the image. I put a B&W adjustment on top of everything to help me to fix the values of the render from there.

30. Post-production and effects

The free Nik collection is great for post-processing in Photoshop

With both the render and the backplate under the same lighting conditions, it's now easier to work on the post-production elements. I normally use the Nik collection pack to help me with the process and with blending it better. At this stage, I can also add effects to the scene – I add more steam coming out from the stove behind the character. With a radial blur, I give a motion blur effect just to the arms. 

31. Colour grading and cropping

A few final fixes and you're good to go

Finally at the end of the road, I can finalise the colour grading, fix the contrast and give more balance to the tones, including lightening the colour of his moustache. I am still not too sure about the look of the scene, but I flip it around horizontally and it creates the effect I was hoping for. 

I work a little bit more on the contrast on the wall to make the character's silhouette more visible and striking. I finally do a crop with a little rotation of the composition to fix the tension points and the render is done!

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 223; buy it here!

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Jun 222017

Creating a design targeted towards children can be hard. If you try too hard to be 'down with the kids' you'll just appear foolish. Perhaps the best way to approach designs for kids is to speak to them on their own terms. 

That's the thinking behind these 10 child-friendly fonts, which range from young childlike crayon writing to fun bubble writing to neat cursive handwriting worthy of full marks in any school writing test. Comic Sans, be gone! These kids fonts would look perfect on packaging designs, posters and books.

01. Kids Crayon

A great font with a cheeky message

Format: TT

Getting us started on our list of the best kids fonts is the appropriately named Kids Crayon. Doing just what it says on the tin, this textured font is taken from the crayon handwriting of creator Ian Williams' five-year-old kids. With all the idiosyncrasies that only kids could create, this charming font will only set you back £7.99 (about $10).

02. Kids Script

This font balances calligraphy with children's writing

Format: OTF, TT

Kids' writing isn't necessarily always clumsy and chalky. Take Kids Script, a font that is based on the calligraphic handwriting models used in Spanish schools in the 1940s. It might sound an esoteric starting point, but the result is a fresh font with a unique edge. Download the three-font family for £49.99 (about $63.50).

03. PF Kids Pro

This series came about while designing birthday invitations

Format: OTF

PF Kids Pro is another font that uses real life writing as a starting point. In this case, the daughter of Alexandros Papalexis can find her writing immortalised in font form. Created while designing invitations to her birthday party, this rough around the edges font is available in three weights for £140 (about $177.50).

04. La Mona Kids

This kooky font has lots of attention-grabbing gimmicks

Format: OTF

Time for something completely different. Speaking to kids in their own handwriting is all well and good (and there's more of that to come) but sometimes a font needs to grab their attention. Enter La Mona Kids, a fun bubble writing font loaded with odd details that are impossible to ignore. What's more, you can grab the eight fonts in the family for just £35.99 (about $45.50).

05. Butterfly Kids

We're not sure this is the best tag line for a kids' font

Format: OTF

Head over to the Butterfly Kids download page and you'll see the font describe itself as being all about "spreading cheer! Be fun. Be cute. Be happy!" With its curly letter shapes and OpenType ligatures, we'd be hard pressed to disagree. This single font is yours to download for only £13.99 (about $18).

06. Cool Crayon

The beauty of blackboard chalk without the horrible noise

Format: TTF

Another font from the school-inspired camp, Cool Crayon is a typeface that emulates the gritty texture of blackboard chalk. (Although we can't help but think, do kids these days even know what blackboards are? Answers on a postcard... or maybe a Tweet.) This font is available free for personal use only, but you can licence it from designer David Kerkhoff's site Hanoded Fonts.

07. CookieMonster

We all sat next to someone in class who dotted their i's with hearts

Format: TTF

Maybe it's just us, but this font is a typographic flashback to sitting next to someone in school who dotted their i's with love hearts and more than likely wrote in neon gel pen. Either way, Cookie Monster is a fun kids' handwriting font that you can download for personal use for free (or negotiate a commercial license with the designer, Des, via the contact details in the font description).

08. Crayon En Folie

(It's French for pencil madness)

Format: TT

If none of the other pencil fonts on our list are quite what you're looking for, perhaps Crayon En Folie is what you need. This kids' font takes your standard pencil typeface and gives them a splash of colour. Download it for £10.99 (about $14).

09. JollyGood Sans Condensed

It's not, we repeat not, Comic Sans

Format: OTF

A cute font with Sans in the name? Don't worry, JollyGood Sans doesn't have the nauseating edge of Comic Sans. In fact, this typeface is pleasant on the eye and slimmed down so you can fit more letters on the page. And given that it's made for posters and books, it's a practical design choice, too. Download eight fonts for £70.99 (about $90).

10. Kids

The definitively named kids' font

Format: TTF

When a kids' font is simply named Kids, you know you're on to a winner. Evoking the inky block lettering you'll find in exercise books (again, are they still a thing? Or is it all iPads in classrooms now?), this set comes with uppercase and lowercase letters, plus a whole host of numbers and symbols. Best of all, you can grab it for free.

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Jun 222017

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