Feb 222018

As a Disney interpretive artist, I wouldn’t be doing Walt justice if I wasn’t pushing the boundaries of art.

Walt Disney himself introduced us to the multiplane technique and countless other painting techniques and innovations that offered an artistic excellence, giving audiences a more realistic perception of animation. My new Believable Fantasy technique came from the desire to get 3D and digital artists a little more recognition when competing with tradition oil and acrylic painters, who can offer up their original works for thousands of dollars.

Digital artists, on the other hand, don’t have originals. We have Giclée prints of our work, while the originals remain in the digital realm. So I had to come up with a hybrid mixed-media solution. The results afford me the opportunity to have more originals than the traditional artists and more value than artists that are 100 per cent digital. Join me and I’ll take you through my process.

01. Painting on canvas

Cinderella curtseying

The first stage is to paint the character and textures in the scene on real-world mini canvas

At the first stage, I paint the character and textures in the scene on real-world mini canvas using either traditional oil or acrylic paint. This takes a lot of forethought, so I tend to sketch out the scene and do research before I begin the paint process. All of my Disney pieces are approved by Disney for ACME China and are featured in the new Shanghai Park, so both Disney and ACME are a part of the process at every stage. The integrity of the Disney Characters is paramount moving forward.

I begin painting the characters and various surfaces that I know I’ll need in the scene. For this particular scene I only painted the characters because the scene I wanted to interpret had solid colours on all of the surfaces. If it had say, a cobble stone street, or a fantastic sky, those elements would be hand painted with real paint on 8x10 canvases.

02. Moving into 3D

3D model of Cinderella's carriage

Payne uses Autodesk Maya to bring his masterpieces to life

Once the paintings are scanned into the computer, I move on to the second stage where Autodesk’s Maya is my weapon of choice. There really isn’t a more powerful tool out there and I’ve used it as a video game artist for the last 15 years. I’ll spend several days modelling out the scene in great detail, sometimes going so far as to model the keyholes in the doors.

While I paint mostly Classic Disney movies, my contribution and purpose for the technique is that I wanted to believe these places are real locations. So imagine traveling to the Dwarves cottage with an HD camera. I want to give these classic scenes a level of realism as if Walt had been alive today with today’s advancements in technology, without compromising the integrity of the original style of the picture.

03. Up next: Corel Painter

Screen showing the rendering of the carriage

The 3D result is rendered out and brought into Corel Painter

After extensive modelling, lighting and texturing using my real world paintings, the result is rendered out and brought into Corel Painter. At this stage, the geometry has a very hard edge look to it and is devoid of the painterly look that you see on the acrylic painted characters.

04. Digitally repainting the image

Corel Painter brush selection screen

Payne uses a number of different brushes in order to achieve a look that is consistent with his real world paintings

In Corel Painter, I use a number of different brushes in order to achieve a look that is consistent with my real world paintings. I use the “Oil blender” brushes to rough up the edges and then I use digital Oil brushes, “real oil short” for example to add more hand painted details. I hit everything with blenders and digital oil brushes literally repainting the entire image. This can take anywhere from two days to a week.

In some cases, if the background has a sky that I’ve hand painted in acrylics and scanned in, I’ll use this for reflections in the scene. The goal is to keep the integrity of the traditionally painted textures while matching the other surfaces to them so that they have a consistent painterly look.

05. Fine detail

Painting of Princess Elsa

Payne does at least 50% coverage of real acrylic paint on the final master

Once I’ve added the character to the scene and blended the edges, made final adjustments, I send the digital file to ACME where it is handled by their Print Masters for final proofing. At this stage, we check colour values and contrast to make sure that the archival ink print is at the highest standards of quality and excellence.

This Giclée print isn’t quite ready for primetime yet though, there is one more important stage. In order for the painting to qualify as a mix-media original, I do a minimum of at least 50% coverage of real acrylic paint on the final master, adding even more hand painted details to the final painting. The benefit of this technique achieves a level of colour, contrast and detail never before seen in the galleries. It also allows me to offer collectors a mixed-media original that can come with the making of process, the sketches, and the mini canvases.

06. Nearly there...

Finished image of Cinderella in her castle by her carriage

The final stages involve hand embellishment

Above, you’ll see the final result. But – believe it or not – we’re still not done! I do something special on my artist proofs. I hand embellish the work and paint many of them with a luminescent paint that can be seen in the dark revealing hidden secrets within the art, while adding gold or platinum dust for subtle sparkle. In this particular piece, I hand-laid tiny Swarovski crystal on the shoe and dress. Each painting can take anywhere from three weeks to five months to complete. 

For more examples of my Believable Fantasy medium visit Wish Pictures.

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Feb 222018

Serif has announced an exciting update to Affinity Photo for iPad, and is marking the occasion by offering new users three bonus content packs when they purchase the app (US$19.99/£19.99). Apple's current App of the Year, Affinity Photo for iPad was designed as the first complete, professional-level photo editing app for iPad, and this revision promises even more powerful features for professional artists and designers.

Version 1.6.7 features a new ‘Solo Layer View’ mode, that enables designers to isolate individual layers instantly, as well as enhancements to the Drag & Drop functions, and a ‘Show Touches’ option that lets you create more detailed screen captures (ideal for tutorials). Designers will also now be able to add their own fonts.

There are exciting changes for photographers too. Users will now be able to shoot direct in RAW or HDR directly from within the app, and enjoy greater control over RAW processing. Finally, there are tweaks that promise to streamline your workflow – for example, users will be able to open and edit files in place directly from the iOS Files app, and save overwrites back to the same location (without needing to create a copy). 

This is Affinity Photo for iPad's third major update since it launched in June 2017. “Affinity Photo was created to take full advantage of the amazing technology the latest iPads offer, and our developers continue to work tirelessly to cement its reputation as the benchmark for creative apps on iOS,” comments Serif's MD Ashley Hewson.

Free brush packs

To celebrate the update, Serif is offering free goodies when users purchase Affinity Photo for iPad (offer ends 8 March). Along with the app, customers will get a Luminance brush pack (13 light effect brushes), a Retouch brush pack (20 retouching brushes) and a Live Filters macro pack (28 non-destructive live filter layers). Together, these packs are worth almost as much as the app itself. 

Existing users can claim the free update by following the prompts in the app. To find out more, see this blog post.

Read more: 

Feb 222018

"The future, always so clear to me, had become like a black highway at night. We were in uncharted territory now, making up history as we went along."

Thus spoke Sarah Connor at the end of Terminator 2. But these prophetic words could just as easily apply to the state of the web industry today.

With new techniques, technologies and movements constantly arriving on the scene, our sense of where things are going is more uncertain than ever. And so we wanted to investigate what the landscape of web design might look like in another 20 years or so.

But don't expect to hear from self-styled 'futurists' and 'thought-leaders' who spend more of their working days giving TED talks and writing Medium posts than actually sitting down and designing.

Instead, we've reached out to some professionals who are doing real-world work, to get a more grounded view of how they think things might progress. Here's what they had to say…

Developer tools will change the game

Pusher homepage

Pusher's developer tools make it easy to build realtime features into your applications

As we move towards the mid-21st century, it's indisputable that web design is going to become increasingly important. As people live more and more of their lives online, digital user experiences will be the rock on which almost every big organisation is built. But there's one slight problem.

"There's a demand for good software but broadly speaking, there aren't enough good developers to build those things," says Craig Frost, designer at Pusher. "And even if there were, infrastructure is something that takes lots and lots of time and attention – time that could be better spent on building features for customers."

But here's the good news: to plug that gap, we're currently seeing an explosion in developer tools.

Pusher's tools, for example, make it easy to build real-time features into applications, so they update automatically without users having to refresh the browser.

"We want to act as a force multiplier, to help end the reinventing of the wheel across the industry," explains Frost. "There's lots of infrastructure and all those types of things that goes into building software, and we want to take that burden away from the product building teams."

Sebastian Witalec, developer advocate for mobility developer relations at Progress, tells a similar story. Its open source framework, NativeScript, enables you to build both desktop and mobile applications on a single codebase. "Once you would have needed five different teams to do that, each with skills that are totally untransferable," he points out. "Now you can leverage the web skills you already have to do it all."

Progress homepage

Progress' open source framework, NativeScript, enables you to build desktop and mobile apps on a single codebase

And the trend for redefining how web systems are created is most obviously (and somewhat) controversially seen in the rise of React and CSS in JavaScript.

"CSS in JavaScript is a big shift in how we design apps," says Haukur Páll Hallvarðsson, an engineer from Pusher. "It's stepping away from the idea that HTML is content, CSS is how it looks and JavaScript is what it does." But he's still fully in favour of it. "Focusing on building reusable components solves a lot of problems," he argues. "I think it's good to change how we do things every now and then, to see if we can improve them."

And the pay-off to all this is that web experiences will become quicker and cheaper to create, adds Frost.

"Building websites used to be slow, expensive, and hard to maintain. And it also meant you had to have a lot of skills, a lot of people. Now we're putting the power back into the product builders' hands. Which means you can spend less time maintaining these applications, more on customer needs. Having conversations with them, building things they need." And how should we discover what users need? Funnily enough, that's something that's changing too…

Data meets design

Fjord homepage

Fjord believes the future of web design lies at the intersection between data and design

The future is going to be all about bringing design and data together, believes Nathan Shetterley from global design and innovation company, Fjord. "I think this will be the underpinning of not just all web design, but all business," he says.

So what exactly does he mean by that? "I'm talking about designing an experience that's helpful to the user and leverages data and analytics to make that personalised and contextualised," he says. "So don't give me an experience that's meant for someone else; don't treat me like a 'between 25 and 40-year-old white male'. Treat me like Nathan Shetterley."

This already happens with ads, he points out. "Google is crawling my Gmail to understand what I'm interested in and providing me with an ad specific to something that I probably have some interest in. But we don't do it very well outside of ads." Yet the technology infrastructure is there, so in his view, it's just a matter of time. And this shift isn't just going to apply to consumer experiences, but employee ones, too.

"How frustrated are you, say, with your internal tools for putting in expenses?" he asks. "Why doesn't the system automatically say: 'Look, I think these are all your expenses, is that true?' And why is that not making your life as an employee that much better? I think that's going to become very pervasive over the next 10 years."

There's a simple way to get on board with this shift in approach, he adds. "Right now, when people start a project they say: 'Okay: design lead, you go over there and do your service design thing. Data lead, you go over there and look at these numbers. And we'll meet back in a couple of weeks and talk. But I think that's a big mistake." Instead, designers and data scientists should be peers in the same team, bashing ideas out together.

"At Fjord, we've found some of the most valuable opportunities for design come when our designers interview a bunch of people and they have these really interesting insights into how they think and feel," he explains. "And then we compare that to a data set."

For instance, they once researched shoppers in a grocery store. "They all said: 'The line is terrible, I can't believe we're waiting so long in line.'" When Fjord analysed the security videos, though, it realised the queuing time was quite short: around 45 seconds. "Yet shoppers were spending an hour and a half in the store, trying to find whatever they were looking for. So we realised it was actually more of a wayfinding issue than a line issue."

In other words, while the human thinks one thing, the data often says something different. "The truth may lie somewhere in the middle and that's where you get some interesting design features," explains Shetterley.

"Apply that to the web, and you find that people tend to remember the last worst experience, yet don't necessarily bring up the small annoyances that go on forever. But you can track those using data, so mixing those two together becomes really valuable."

Conversational interfaces

Sigma homepage

Sigma has been investigating the possibilities of conversational interfaces, and it has some reservations over the practicalities

Understanding how your users think and what they need is going to be key to knowing how to implement new technologies. And that certainly applies to another major cultural shift on the web; towards conversational interfaces. Because the biggest problems here won't be technical ones, they'll be human ones.

UX and design agency Sigma has been investigating the possibilities for some of its larger clients. "And a lot of the challenges we've seen around conversational interfaces align very closely with the challenges around inclusive design: mental models, language, confidence trust, and so on," reveals head of experience, Chris Bush.

His MD, Hilary Stephenson, points out that conversation interfaces fundamentally change the game in a way we haven't really seen before in web design. "It's a big step moving away from a traditional screen-based interface, where people can take their time to navigate around and look at supporting information, policies, terms and conditions," she explains.

"When you've got a screen, you've got something that's giving you cues constantly and keeping you on track, but for conversational interfaces, it's all in your head. That makes exploratory investigation much more difficult for people," she concludes.

That's not to say there isn't a genuine place in the market for them. "For example, consider places where people are using their hands a lot, such as production lines, manufacturing and laboratories," says Bush. "Interfaces that allow people to keep their hands occupied when they're interacting with systems offer clear advantages."

But many dangers are lurking, too: "AI and machine learning have more ground to cover in ethics, privacy and transparency than they have in implementation," comments Stephenson. "The onset of the General Data Protection Regulation (an EU directive that becomes enforceable in May 2018) will encourage privacy for design in the digital community, where we really start to think about what we're asking people.

"And where we do ask people to give data, there should be a very clear policy of usage, on retention, on people's right to withdraw that data. It's quite hard to do that in a conversational interface."

Web animation

CAB Studios homepage

Creative marketing agency, CAB Studios, is fully on board with the new trend for bringing in UI animations

If chatbots take off, copywriting skills may become as important to the industry as visual design skills are right now. And here's another creative skill that's going to be increasingly in demand: animation.

Yes, we once dismissed UI animations as tacky, annoying and obtrusive. But recently they've made a comeback, as a useful way to provide instant feedback when a user takes an action and to guide them through a process.

Why the turnaround? Tommy Mason, web designer at creative marketing agency CAB Studios, credits Google's Material Design and other animation frameworks for raising standards. "Without that, people weren't looking at the small intricacies like the timing, how fast it was coming in, going out, so all these movements that were happening on the screen looked very unnatural," he says.

His colleague, senior developer Mike Burgess, agrees. "UI animation has always been there," he says. "But it's been about finding the balance between making it look sophisticated and making the user know their input has been registered, that they're progressing throughout the site."

Because of the new popularity of UI animation, it is creating a new demand for skilled practitioners, he adds. "You can now specialise in animation on the web, and it's becoming more recognised as an art in itself. We live in a digital world where people scroll through 300ft of content a day, so the more and more we progress in technology, the more this is going to keep escalating."

VR and AR

A-Frame homepage

A-Frame is an open source framework from Mozilla that makes it easy to create web VR experiences

Another skillset that's increasingly in demand by web design studios is 3D. That's most obviously the case when it comes to virtual reality - something Matthew Claypotch, developer advocate at Mozilla, believes is going to be a very big deal. 

"Some developers view VR as a niche or a fad," he says. "But I've given virtual reality demos to children, and they take to it like water. All these kids are going to be brought up in a world where this stuff exists, and we'd be fooling ourselves to think that they won't expect that going forward."

And don't discount augmented reality (AR) either. It may have taken a while, but with the arrival of Apple's ARKit and Google's ARCore, things are progressing fast. Sebastian Witalec of Progress envisages a world in which the web will become part of our day-to-day vision.

"You won't have a screen any more, the web will just be part of what you see through your smart glasses or smart contact lenses," he explains. "So for example, you go to Waterloo train station and, rather than look at all the different screens to find your train, your device already knows where you are going and shows just the relevant times to you."

Jim Bowes, CEO and founder of digital agency Manifesto, wasn't convinced by the possibilities of AR until recently, when he saw a concept for Airbnb homes suggested by interface designer, Isil Uzum. "If you need to explain, for example, how your thermostat works, your renter can pass their phone in front of it and see the relevant information overlaid on the screen. That to me sounds like a genuinely useful application of AR," explains Bowes.

Open or proprietary?

Google Home homepage

Will Google Home beat Amazon Echo in the battle for voice assistants?

All these new technologies hold heaps of promise. But it's important, too, to take a step back and look at the broader picture. Will the open web actually survive over the coming decades?

"We're currently seeing the emergence of a walled garden movement from some of the main players, like Facebook and Google," points out Bowes. And this is proving somewhat of a dilemma for clients. "On the one hand, most of their customer journeys still happen on their own websites. But they want to integrate with things like accelerated mobile pages (AMP), which gives Google the ability to cache everybody's content on their own systems.

"Plus clients are asking: what does it mean if we create a bot entirely in Facebook Messenger? What if we want to break someone out of that environment and make them download this thing, or donate to us, or buy from our shop? These are real big issues we have to face."

But Bowes is among the optimists when it comes to the survival of the open web. "What I love about the internet is that whenever someone makes a move towards a walled garden approach, there's always a bit of an uprising, a punk backlash against it," he believes.

"That's when we'll create the cool new things we don't know about yet." As one of the key players leading that charge, Mozilla has, for example, developed A-Frame, an easy way to create virtual experiences on the web, and right now, it's taking on Amazon Echo and Google Home in the voice assistance space.

Mozilla Common Voice homepage

Mozilla's Common Voice project aims to provide an open source alternative to proprietary voice interfaces

"We want to allow for an open web-based system whereby you can build voice assistants," explains Matthew Claypotch. "So we're building an open commons of voice data called the Common Voice Project, which we're using to train an open and publicly available speech recognition model."

It's this kind of community-led enthusiasm for new, open source developer tools that gives us hope for the future of web design. So count us among the optimists; roll on 2040! 

This article was originally published in issue 300 of net, the magazine for professional web designers and developers – offering the latest new web trends, technologies and techniques. Buy issue 300 here or subscribe to net here.

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Feb 222018

Your clothes and shoes could soon be made from seaweed. That’s if AlgiKnit, a biomaterials research group based in New York, has anything to do with it.

AlgiKnit is devoted to developing wearable textiles from readily abundant biopolymers. Fashion is the world’s second most polluting industry, says fashion design graduate Aleksandra Gosiewski, who’s a co-founder of AlgiKnit and speaker at Design Indaba 2018

AlgiKnit’s goal is to keep fashion products out of landfill and reduce microplastic pollution by creating a sustainable alternative to manmade textiles like polyester. The team has produced a rapidly renewing biodegradable yarn that might just do the job... and it's made from kelp.

The AlgiKnit bioyarn is different to synthetic material, and has a lot of natural stretch

In fact, they’ve done more than make a bioyarn: they’ve also made a shoe. Introducing AlgiKicks – a revolutionary sustainable sneaker that rapidly degrades after the product has finished its useful lifetime. 

When you no longer want the shoe, it can effectively be composted and fed back into the earth

“When it’s worn out, or you don’t want it, it can be broken down by microorganism and the nutrients reclaimed to feed the next generation of product,” says Gosiewski. “I envision a future where the materials we use can be transformed to feed the next generation of products."

Knitting a new future

So why kelp? “Kelp is one of the fastest growing organisms on earth,” she explains.  It’s available globally and sourced sustainably and there’s a lot around.” 

AlgiKnit’s bioyarn project was initially part of an entry for the Biodesign Challenge, a competition that invites art and design students to envision future applications of biotechnology. Gosiewski’s team won the competition, and the group decided to continue their research under the name AlgiKnit. 

“If clothing is going to continue to be disposable, why not make it disposable in a way that makes sense – that actually benefits the earth? In way that has a positive impact instead of a negative impact? It takes longer to create a mind shift, so why not first create an alternative that already fits into the same mindset?” she says. “This is a first step to something else.”

The main problem, says Gosiewski, is that people try to compare the product to synthetic materials. “Really it’s its own category: it’s something different. It has natural stretch and flexibility, and when you’re knitting you can really control the amount of material you use.”

“We see our material beyond just fashion,” she adds. “There are more possibilities. We developed the yarn – we’re excited to see what people make with it.”

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Feb 222018

Rebranding a global giant like Fanta, across all languages and territories, would be a major task for most large agencies. For Koto, it was one of the first jobs on the slate – and the studio rose to the challenge, putting it firmly on the radar of its peers. 

Koto was founded in 2015 by James Greenfield, Jowey Roden (both formerly at DesignStudio) and Caroline Matthews (former MD at Rupert Ray and Airside, where she worked with Greenfield). "We realised there weren't many people working at the intersection of brand and product," explains Greenfield, who headed up the major Airbnb rebrand while at DesignStudio.

"We particularly serve the start-up scene, Silicon Valley, places where a lot of interesting things are happening from a business point of view. That's been the basis of our growth."

Beside this practical reason for founding Koto, the trio also had an emotional one: "We wanted to create a family environment where people feel comfortable," adds Greenfield. "Branding can have an aggressive, male tendency at times. We wanted to create a buzz around ourselves, but in a way that everyone had a good time doing it."

Here, Greenfield and recently hired creative director Tim Williams – another DesignStudio alumnus – discuss the studio's rise to fame...

You burst onto the scene and built a reputation quite quickly. What's the secret?

Tim Williams: There's a real sense of energy, reflected in who we work with: young businesses with a lot of energy too. The effort everyone puts in is enormous, and we reflect that in our culture.

Our success has happened quite organically; I don't think there's any particular secret. We do the best work possible, and work really closely with our clients to make sure everything is delivered to the highest possible standard. 

James Greenfield: Anthony Burrill said it better than I could: 'Work Hard and Be Nice to People'. But we also manage our social reputation, using Instagram to give people a sense of what it's like to work here. When I've gone for jobs at other agencies, there's been no sense of that. I saw the work, their About page, that was it. You had no sense of the cast of characters, or what it feels like. We wanted to be more open.

Tumbling cans of Fanta

Koto's breakthrough project, the global Fanta rebrand, was based on a series of overlaid paper-cut shapes

How do you handle Koto's social media?

JG: We don't like marketing meetings. Some agencies are guilty of 'over meeting', if that's a word. If something feels like it might be good to share with the outside world at that moment in time, one of us gets our phones out. We don't do a glut of content, or try to be overly strategic. The best social media people get engagement because they are showing something of their authentic selves. 

We don't have new business teams, or social media marketing managers. You just don't need them. If we can't explain who we are as individuals on social media and as a team, then we're probably not doing a very good job.

Airbnb Open LA logo

James Greenfield worked on the major rebrand of Airbnb while executive creative director at DesignStudio, and continues to work with the brand on a variety of projects at Koto.

You say Koto's values drive your daily behaviours, what do you mean by that?

JG: We came up with our values on the roof of the Tate Modern, when Koto was five or six people. We said: 'What do you want to be?' and 45 minutes later ended up with three composite values [presented online as: 'Uncompromising Positivity'; 'Just Cadence', or the need for rhythm in the creative process; and 'Relentless Hustle'].

If we have that moment where the chips are down, or we're up against it and someone's come back with some really negative feedback, our values help us get us back up. Whether that's about being optimistic, or realising that relentless hussle is required to get through it. 

With the old model of design, you got the brief and all the content, and then you were a conduit to communicate that to the world. Those days are gone. We rarely get a brief. We rarely have all the information at the beginning. Those values have to help us get younger staff, or those who are stuck on something, to refind their love for what they're doing, or get a breakthrough.

TW: It's not something you need to explain to everyone. They're implicit. You don't need to keep repeating them; they're a reflection of who we are.

JG: Yeah, they're not written on the walls. But we're an optimistic brand, and we think it's better to map those on our website than have a long, dry bit of text giving a potted history of the founders. 

Agency websites are like Tinder. Clients are short of time, and want to work with someone. No one comes with unlimited time and money: the website should get them excited about working with us, but is never a replacement for meeting face-to-face. Let's have a coffee, talk about what you're facing, and how we can help.

Promotional poster for Bridge Theatre's Julius Caesar

Koto's rebrand of Bridge Theatre, London's first new commercial theatre for 50 years

You talk about the 'beginner's mind' as an important starting point – what is this?

JG: It's about being open to stuff. As you go further through your career, you create  more elastic responses to stuff. We're used to that in our everyday lives: 'I've seen this situation before, I've had this experience...' and you shortcut to the answer. If we did that, we'd end up in a situation where a finance client always gets blue, and a corporate typeface, and a vision that's about trust or safety. But if you use the beginner's mind, it's an open book.

TW: It's about not jumping to conclusions.

JG: Cynicism and scepticism are two traits that a lot of creatives hold. We hold our heroes and our tenets in creativity really high, and if people don't understand those, they're not in the club. They don't 'get' it. For us, it's about getting on the same level. Everything we know about creating, the reference points we've pulled together throughout our life, don't set us apart. Our job is to get them excited in the power of design, to make a change in their business.

TW: Also, a lot of the businesses we work with are quite complex. We are beginners, and our clients are the experts – we need to learn from them; immerse ourselves in their culture.

Fruit icons

The Fanta logo was translated into multiple languages, and the studio also created a diverse range of fruit illustrations to represent Fanta's many flavours

What advice would you give to fellow studios starting up to make a name for themselves?

JG: Hire people better than you. Creatives often struggle with that, because they don't want to be outshone. They've got their own vulnerabilities. Half the people at Koto, maybe more, are way better at design than I am – and that's good.

Also, when starting a studio, know when to let go. Creatives are really bad for that: making sure the kitchen's right, or the stationery is as you want it. You end up with creative inertia. If you want to get out of the blocks, you have to let go of some of it – otherwise you'll end up in a bottleneck, where you're the stopper.

This article was originally published in issue 274 of Computer Arts, the global design magazine – helping you solve daily design challenges with insights, advice and inspiration. Buy issue 274 here or subscribe to Computer Arts here.

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Feb 222018

Video editing is a great skill to have, especially in this new media environment where visuals are needed to catch people's attention. Adobe Premiere Pro CC is the tool trusted by professionals, and you can become one with the Adobe Premiere Pro CC Masterclass, on sale right now for just $21 (approx. £15)!

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The Adobe Premier Pro CC Masterclass usually retails for $200. You can get it on sale right now for just $21 (approx. £15). That's a savings of 89% off the retail price for a course that will have you editing video like an expert!

About Creative Bloq deals

This great deal comes courtesy of the Creative Bloq Deals store – a creative marketplace that's dedicated to ensuring you save money on the items that improve your design life.

We all like a special offer or two, particularly with creative tools and design assets often being eye-wateringly expensive. That's why the Creative Bloq Deals store is committed to bringing you useful deals, freebies and giveaways on design assets (logos, templates, icons, fonts, vectors and more), tutorials, e-learning, inspirational items, hardware and more.

Every day of the working week we feature a new offer, freebie or contest – if you miss one, you can easily find past deals posts on the Deals Staff author page or Offer tag page. Plus, you can get in touch with any feedback at:deals@creativebloq.com.

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Feb 222018

Using Dome lights has been one of the greatest advancements in CGI creation over the past few decades. Bathing a scene from every direction used to be computationally intensive, but with advances in both hardware and software, the Dome light has emerged as an efficient way to start lighting a scene.  

This is because a Dome light can embed an Image-Based Light Image (IBL, also known as HDRIs) which are a single image of a real environment or one created by an artist, which when mapped into a dome light instantly re-creates the lighting environment.  

These images are usually saved in a 32-bit format, which captures nearly the full range of available light and allows lighting to be created with a rolling falloff and no ugly clipping or banding.  

While there are applications that can create IBLs, there are countless images available which re-create everything from a rocky vista to a photography studio.

Dome lights are highly computationally efficient, which means it can be a good idea to use a spherical camera in an existing scene to create an HDRI map of the background. You can place that in a version scene which creates no loss of light fidelity, but allows the artist to concentrate on the primary geometry with little or no slowdown.  

The biggest caveat with using Dome lights is that they solve so many problems that it can be easy to neglect other light types. This can be a mistake, as adding extra light to highlight key objects will always make a scene feel more alive than just using a Dome light.

01. What is a Dome light?

A Dome light in its simplest form is a light object that surrounds the scene in a constant white light from all directions. As soon as a Dome light (Skydome or Environment are other commonly used terms) is placed it creates an instantly pleasing soft ‘studio’ look, which would be hard to re-create with any other type of single light object. Be warned that not all applications show the Dome light as a visible object, especially when it is for a third-party render solution.

02. Colour a dome light

While Dome lights are most commonly associated as a base for image-based light sources, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t other ways to light a scene with them. One of the easiest and most powerful ways for a creative effect is to use a ramp or gradient texture to feed in a range of colours into the Dome light to produce a more interesting look. As the Dome light is a physical object in the scene it can be rotated to easily adjust the look you are after.

03. Use image-based lighting

Using an image with a Dome light is a really effective way to add a much more realistic look to a scene. High Dynamic Range images which contain a full 32 bits of colour data are the best format to use with a Dome light, as they allow exposure to be adjusted without any clipping. Otherwise, the coloured areas in an image can either go to white or black as there is not enough colour data, which can in turn create some ugly, unwanted image artefacts.

04. Eliminate the background

While many HDR images come with additional background images, it is still a good idea to ensure that the HDR is invisible to the alpha channel and potentially to the camera itself. This means that the Dome light is only lighting the geometry and creating interesting reflections rather than getting in the way where it is not needed, such as skies. Also, not having the background enabled can save on render speed, as the computer only needs to render the areas that are visible.

More from Mike Griggs at Vertex

Vertex is the event connecting all areas of the UK visual effects community, for a day of presentations, workshops, recruitment and discussion.

Not only will Mike be there, guiding you through the fundamentals of 3D, but there will be a large group of speakers discussing all manner of topics related to VFX and CG.

Come to watch talks by some of the world's biggest names in VFX, including Scott Ross, Chris Nichols, Sébastien Deguy and more.

Book tickets for workshops run by top artists, from Mike Griggs to Glen Southern, among others.

If you want to get your hands on the very latest tech, then the expo access tickets are for you and are even free, but you do need to register, so book now over at the Vertex site.

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Feb 212018

Typesetting – the business of putting text on a page – is one of those design disciplines that might look straightforward enough to the casual observer, but which is actually full of potential pitfalls. There's more to it than choosing a decent font pairing and hoping for the best.

Bad typesetting can be just as hard on the eye as an ill-considered palette or a poorly-executed logo design, and there's no way around it: you have to take your time learning the basics. If you follow these expert tips, though, you should find that the path to typesetting expertise becomes much easier to follow.

01. Take your time

"Getting typesetting right is something that will largely come with time," says Michelle Stocks of Nelson Bostock Unlimited. "So just keep practising, and don't get put off when it doesn't look good immediately. I recommend looking at a lot of inspiration too, because it helps you get an idea of what works well together."

02. Keep studying 

"First you need to learn the tools: font size, leading, tracking, horizontal and vertical scaling, paragraph styling, language settings and grid systems," says Maya Walters of Hogarth Worldwide. "Then you need to extend your knowledge: there's always something new to learn. Read a book on typography and set challenges for yourself to put your new skills into practice, such as working on a personal project."

03. Read books

For reading matter, Luke Tonge of LIFE suggests Type Matters! by Jim Williams and Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton. And if you really want to treat yourself, he adds, The Visual History of Type by Paul McNeil is "the best book on type this year". 

04. Use online resources 

"There are countless online resources to help you improve your skills too," says Tonge. "They include ilovetypography.com, typographher.com, letterformarchive.org, typewolf.com and fontsinuse.com. Plus, on Twitter there are heaps of amazing foundries, magazines, designers, publications and organisations to follow, to further immerse yourself in the world of type." 

05. Clients come first

"Above all, find out about the client's needs when it comes to typesetting," says Walters. "Do they have guidelines and styles? If so, they should be made a prime consideration for the typography you create."

This article was originally published in issue 274 of Computer Arts, the global design magazine. Buy issue 274 here or subscribe to Computer Arts here.

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Feb 212018

This is the second generation of Microsoft’s Surface Book family, which slots in above the 2-in-1 Surface Pro and ultraportable Surface Laptop in Microsoft’s Surface line-up. The first-generation Surface Book was well received as a genuinely powerful alternative to the MacBook Pro.

For creatives it brings a party trick; the entire screen is detachable, so it can be used with the Surface Pen for artwork, note-taking, annotating and much more. In a sense, it takes the concept of a convertible laptop as far as it can go.

Naturally, as it’s from Microsoft, everything about Surface Book 2 has been designed to showcase the very best of Windows. If you don’t think you will have a use for the tablet portion of Surface Book 2, then take a look at Surface Laptop (or, indeed, the equivalent 13 or 15-inch MacBook Pro). If you’re not going to use it, you’ll be paying dear for something you simply won’t need.

In a sense, the cheaper Surface Laptop has freed Surface Book 2 from having to be Microsoft’s premium laptop offering. Because Surface Book 2 is so much more than a mere laptop; it is designed as a do-anything machine with both ultimate versatility and swashbuckling power.

We’ll discuss price in more detail shortly, but one thing the Surface Book 2 isn’t is cheap. It has premium pricing to reflect its high-end specs. That aforementioned tablet runs on Intel graphics, but when you dock it back into the keyboard slice things get a power up with extra battery life and immense dedicated Nvidia graphics power (depending on which model you buy).

The 13-inch version of the Surface Book 2 has been out for a few months now, but it has recently been joined by a 15-inch version. Yes, it really does give you a detachable 15-inch tablet. If you’re thinking of getting that version, we’d recommend checking it out in a store first as the tablet seems huge in the hand and you ought to make sure it’s really what you want. It is, however, simply fantastic sketching on it with the Surface Pen.

Now, neither of these laptops are super thin or light (the 13.5-inch version starts at around 1.5kg, for example), so if supreme portability is your thing then look elsewhere. The weight has decreased since the original Surface Book – which weighed in at around 2kg - one of the key differences between the old and new models.

The 13.5-inch version measures 312mm x 232mm x 13mm (at its thinnest part) and is slightly thinner than its predecessor. But it still feels bulky compared to many thin and light laptops and the super-thin MacBook Pro.

At 15mm it may be slightly thicker than the Surface Book 2 is at its thinnest point, but while the MacBook Pro is uniform throughout, the Surface Book 2’s whopping 'fulcrum hinge' means it's much thicker at that point. This unusual thickness does mean it can be a pain to fit it into some laptop bags, even if the bag is designed to take laptops with that particular screen size. 

The fulcrum hinge gives great flexibility, but does add bulk

However, the hinge does enable tremendous flexibility since you can poise the display at any angle. You can even attach the screen backwards using the keyboard part as a stand, for example for a presentation or to watch video content. 

Microsoft says it has made some improvements to the ‘muscle wire’ mechanism this time around. The screen detaches with a satisfying click and is activated via a key on the keyboard or taskbar button.

It is possible to attach the screen backwards for presentations

 Another major difference is that the basic version of the laptop – the Core i5 version - now features fanless cooling for quiet operation. However, the lack of dedicated graphics means this isn't perhaps the best version for designers. The Core i7 versions, including each of the 15-inch variants, still need fans due to the greater power consumption. 

Creative at its heart

Microsoft has made no secret of the fact it is targeting creatives who have been traditional Apple customers. There’s no doubt that as far as touchscreens and styluses go, Apple has put all its eggs in the iPad Pro basket - and a mighty fine job it’s doing there, too. As you’ll know, they’re hands down our favourite tablets.

But the fact remains that however much Apple pitches the iPad Pro as a computer, it just isn’t a Mac running full-fat desktop apps. And, of course, full-fat desktop apps also happens to be what Windows 10 does rather well. 

Windows 10 is a very good operating system. 'The best Windows yet' is a cliché, but it also happens to be true - it’s robust and flexible. The Microsoft Store remains a problem, however. There still aren’t enough decent native apps and everything feels half a decade out of date. It’s just as well that Windows is so well supported by traditional desktop apps.

Tablet Mode offers a simpler interface designed for touch and pen

The Surface Book 2 also happens to be the best Windows 10 tablet around. Because it is the screen part of the laptop, Microsoft has had to make it extremely thin and light.

Windows 10 in Tablet Mode isn’t as intuitive as iOS, but it is a great compromise between a traditional desktop experience and using a tablet and pen. You can choose whether Windows 10’s Tablet Mode invokes automatically when you detach the tablet; it’s a simpler interface designed for touch and pen.

Surface Book 2 pricing

As we mentioned, Surface Book 2 is a high-end offering and has a price tag to match. The base-level Surface Book 2 13.5-inch model gives you a 7th Generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB and integrated GPU for £1,499 (or $1,499 USD, around AU$2,600). 

If you’re thinking that price point isn’t so bad, you’d be right. Unfortunately that version doesn’t include the dedicated Nvidia graphics that we’d bet you’ll need. For the next level up you’ll need to hand over a not-inconsiderable $500 more. You’ll get an Nvidia GTX 1050 GPU with 2GB GDDR5 memory for $1,999 or £1,999 (around AU$3,400).

 Surface Book 2 is a high-end offering, so you'll need to shell out a fair about for one

Further up, the Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD and Nvidia GTX 1050 GPU configuration costs £2,499 or $2,499 (around AU$4,300). Finally, the top specification features Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD and GTX 1050 for £2,999 or $2,999 (around AU$5,200).

The available Surface Book 2 15-inch models are: Intel Core i7, 16GB memory, 512GB storage, dedicated Nvidia graphics for £2,749 or $2,899, or with 1TB of storage for £3,149 or $3,299. Wowee. Coincidentally, there’s also a 256GB version of the 15-inch for $2,499 in the US.

If you’re considering the Surface Precision Mouse, it’s a great option but it is expensive at £99/$99 and other mice – like Logitech’s Master 2S – are similarly priced and offer just as much (see our guide to the best mouse of 2018 for more information). Microsoft’s mouse does offer Bluetooth and wired connections for ultimate flexibility. 

Surface Book 2 display and Surface Pen

The 3,000 x 2,000 267ppi screen looks super thanks to a 1600:1 contrast ratio that makes colours really pop. The 3:2 aspect ratio won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it does mean you can comfortably work on side-by-side documents, which you don’t get with the 16:9 screens on many ultraportables.

As with the Google Pixelbook and Pixelbook Pen, Microsoft also charges an extra £99/$99 for the Surface Pen stylus. That’s right, it isn’t included! As it’s a core part of the appeal of Surface Book for designers, it feels like a sting in the tail and it should really be thrown in for that price. 

Thankfully, using Surface Pen is a joy (it’s great using the features of Windows Ink to mark up documents) and we prefer the design of it to the Apple Pencil, which is too glossy and slippy for our liking. Those used to drawing with a Wacom tablet will find no issue in adapting.

We’ve used the Surface Dial accessory a few times and, while it’s certainly more suited to Surface Studio, it can be useful on Surface Book 2, of course. We do feel it’s more geared to those using a computer for long periods at a desk; if you do that using a Surface Book 2, we reckon you’d probably plug it into an eternal display.

Surface Book 2 performance and power

As we mentioned, the keyboard base gives the device a significant power-up when the tablet is docked; the Nvidia dedicated graphics are in the base while you get Intel integrated graphics inside the tablet part for when it is undocked. If you detach while using a graphics-intensive app, you will be warned that performance could be affected. 

Talking of performance, it isn’t an issue for any model of the Surface Book 2 with the dedicated Nvidia graphics; they simply have too much on offer in terms of processor power and graphical prowess.

You’ll get several hours of standard use out of the tablet part of the Surface Book 2 (so, maybe enough for a morning). You're also able to charge it separately to the main keyboard dock, and there's an extra battery housed in the keyboard base. 

In terms of overall battery life, Microsoft cites 17 hours. That’s a bit too high in our experience, but we’ve certainly achieved 12-hour intensive days. If you’re only using documents, for example, you’ll be looking at more than that.

 Microsoft has given us USB-C on the side of the laptop, plus two older ports

Microsoft’s Surface keyboards have always been some of the best around and that’s reflected here. It’s certainly a lot less clicky than the latest generation of MacBook Pro keyboards, and there’s plenty of key travel. The trackpad is also smooth and responsive.

Unlike the original Surface Book, Microsoft has finally given us USB-C on the side of the laptop, even if it hasn’t gone cold turkey on USB-A like Apple; there are still two older ports as well. There’s also an increasingly-rare full-size SD card reader, which is great for photographers.

If you want a productivity powerhouse AND an excellent tablet/pen experience then you can do no better than Surface Book 2 in a single device. It’s a fantastically well-designed, premium notebook that’s great for creatives, especially considering the new features of the Fall Creators Update, such as Windows Mixed Reality. But it’s not the right option if you want just a traditional clamshell laptop.

Feb 212018

Yesterday saw the launch of a new logo for the long-running science fiction series, Doctor Who. Replacing a chunky metallic logo which was unveiled in 2009, the new logo design was announced in a tantalising teaser video (below) which hinted at other changes on the way for the show.

The new Doctor Who logo is the latest radical change for the series. Last year it was announced that Jodie Whittaker would become the first female actor to play the lead role, and behind the scenes there has been an overhaul, too. And while fans have to wait until October until Doctor Who returns to our screens, the new logo has whetted our appetites in the meantime.

Returning to a glowing orange colour scheme that was last seen in the show's 2005 logo, the new design has a line motif running through the lettering. In the promotional clip, we see that this line is a trail left by the Doctor's time machine. It's a clever way of suggesting how the character can pop up and disappear wherever she wants, plus it's a unique stylistic twist that helps the branding to stand out from other sci-fi and fantasy titles.

This isn't the first Doctor Who logo in 2018 to grab the imagination of fans. Back in January graphic designer Jake Johnstone fooled Twitter with a fake Doctor Who logo, before coming clean and admitting that it was just a piece of concept work that he had made.

Johnstone's design featured a pairing of the Gotham font with a slightly modified Josefin Sans. Meanwhile the official BBC logo features what looks like a tweaked version of Futura Light, according to the research of dedicated fans.

As well as revealing the new logo, the short promotional clip also includes a glimpse at the new visual effects we can expect from the upcoming series. These VFX are being handled by Double Negative, whose previous credits include Interstellar, Blade Runner 2049 and Ex Machina.

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