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March 27, 2019

Weezine Omnibus

As I thoroughly documented in my book Weezer Fan: Phase 7 #017-#019, I have been a superfan of the band Weezer since their early days, and have even been lucky enough to create some official merch for them, including tour posters and T-shirt designs.

I joined the weezer fan club in 1996, which was originally run by sisters Mykel and Carli Allan. One of the coolest things about the fan club was that a couple of times a year Mykel and Carli would mail out issues of the weezer fan club zine, weezine. Not only were these packed with tons of fun information about the band, upcoming releases, dispatches from the tour (the original Karl's Corner!), and drawings/photos from various fan club members, it was also my first exposure to self-published zine culture!

Over the years, I managed to assemble a complete run of the zines by taking advantage of occasional offers to sell off remaining copies of back issues, offered by Karl Koch when he took over fan club operations after Mykel and Carli tragically died in a car crash while on tour with the band in the summer of 1997.

In 2014, the weezer fan club was relaunched, just before the release of the band's ninth studio album Everything Will Be Alright In The End. I (of course) joined the current iteration of the fan club, which mostly takes place in a private Facebook group. It was really fun to reconnect with the fan community of this band that I love! One day however, a strange thing happened... 

Someone had the idea to start a document trying to list all of our fan club numbers. "Old" members like myself got to keep our original numbers, with new 2014 members picking up with new numbers where the old numbers left off, somewhere in the 4000s.  I jumped into the document and filled in "0001 - Mykel Allan" and "0002 - Carli Allan" because, as all old fan club members know, Mykel and Carli were the very first weezer fans, and had these most-holy of numbers on their cards.  A new member made a comment to the effect of "Whoa, whoa! Who filled in #1 and #2? Is that a joke? Who are these people?" and it hit me that a lot of the new people had no idea about the history of the fan club that they were now a part of.

I pitched the idea of creating a print-on-demand, perfect bound book that would collect all of the original weezines to Karl, and he immediately okayed the project, and offered to help out anywhere he could. In the end, the book was over 300 pages, and it not only reprinted all of the zines, but also included scans of the original fan club application form, press packets, signed 8" x 10" photos of the band, lyric sheets, stickers, and photos of the various "secret surprises" sent out over the years.

Above you can see the cover design, which utilizes classic "Weezer Blue" along with all of the cover images. Karl gave me the official weezer font, which I used throughout the design of the book. I had to reformat a few spreads from the zines to fit the 5.5" x 8.5" format (some of the later issues were printed on 11" x 17" paper that folded down to standard half-letter zine size) and I meticulously went through and tried to present the best possible image quality, where my copies of the zines had either not great printing, or had been damaged in the mail.

Below you can see a preview video that I created to give fan club members an idea of what the Weezine Omnibus looks/feels like. This book is only available to current members of the Weezer Fan Club! You can currently sign up to join the fan club, which just launched a cool new app with lots of neat features. The omnibus can be found in the fan club members-only shop in the app, and it costs $15.

If you can believe it, this is only the beginning of this rad project! In part two I'll give you a look at the Weezine Omnibus: Deluxe Edition!

March 20, 2019

SFTBW Alumni Album Covers

Back in 2014 I produced a rock opera reinterpretation of my graphic novel Basewood, called Songs From the Basewood.  My amazingly talented friend Andy Hentz did 99% of the work, including singing the part of the main character, Ben. I co-wrote some of the songs and got to sing the part of the wolf-dragon, which was a ton of fun. For the other three parts, we contacted some of our very talented musician friends who we met in college. My friend Lindsay Sharp sang the parts of Violet and Caren, Ben Montgomery sang the part of Argus and played all of the trumpet parts, and Sudara Williams sang the part of the dog, contributed some beautiful guitar parts and also mixed and mastered the entire album.

Making Songs From the Basewood was one of the most incredible creative experiences of my life, and I'm so proud of what our team created.  Sometimes I feel like I actually like the album more than the book! Anyways, this is all to say that I've stayed in touch with all these incredibly talented musicians and have recently had the opportunity to create some cover art for their recent albums!

Wurlibird Special by Sudara Williams

Sudara performed this entire instrumental album on a Wurlitzer organ and he had a really clear vision of what he wanted for this cover image.  It was just a matter of trying to deliver what he was envisioning in his mind.  A couple of sketches, a few value tweaks and we let this cover take flight!

Free As a Hotel by Ben Montgomery

The story of this album is a long one, so without going into its whole history, I'll just say that I got very slightly involved with it in a motivational capacity in the 11th hour.  I think because of my minuscule role in bringing about its completion, Ben and Sudara (who mixed and mastered the album) asked me to make the cover art. All of the songs were written in Ben's apartment, at his piano, and luckily for me, he lives just down the road here in Santa Fe. I swung by and took some photos and then worked up some sketches to send to Sudara who art directed this piece.

Originally he asked for a "messy" treatment (maybe with charcoal?) and even as the idea developed further, that sort of got stuck it my head.  I took a first crack at the approved sketch using cold press watercolor paper, ink wash and a soft blackwing pencil. 

This image felt too dark for these tunes, so before abandoning it completely, I messed around with the grayscale image in Photoshop, using the "duotone" process, which essentially replaces the white and black ends of a grayscale spectrum with two other colors. It was really fun to experiment with different color combinations. This lightened up the image, but it still didn't feel quite right.  I may come back to this technique again for some future project!

In the end, Sudara asked for a more "Alec" style of rendering, in full color, for the finished piece :)

As you can see, I implemented some of the textured photoshop brushes that I learned how to use on Be Prepared.

Both of these albums are really great, so I hope you'll follow the links above to stream them for free, or consider buying them on the platform of your choice!

March 4, 2019

Introduction to Hand-Drawn Animation Logo

This summer I will be teaching the Introduction to Hand-Drawn Animation workshop at The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont.  The class runs July 8-12 and is open to students 16 years and older.

I recently animated a new logo for the class, which seemed like a simple way to showcase some of the techniques and principles covered in the curriculum.  My hope is that potential students will watch this animated logo and go "That's what I want to be able to do!" and then come study with me in Vermont!  :)

Here is the finished logo, which loops every 24 seconds, and below you can see some steps of my process for putting this together:

The very first step was hand lettering all of the typography:

I then cleaned these up in the computer, and combined them with the CCS logo and the bouncing ball path, which I had on hand from a previous logo design.  I printed this out and then three-hole punched it on the top and bottom edges, to keep all of my animations registered to this design.

I decided to animate each section as its own "scene," starting with the little CCS person walking in and getting bonked on the head by the ball, which turns into the iconic speech balloon shape and makes them spill some ink.  I set up a 16-frame walk cycle that would loop three times to get the character across the screen.  Here's my thumbnail document to figure all of that out:

I animated this all on paper. Last year my old pal Nate Beaty gave me the idea of using stop motion animation software to create quick and easy pencil tests.  I downloaded Stop Motion Studio on my iPad and set it up on a tripod over a pegbar, like this:

I shot a couple of tests, made some corrections and then scanned in all my pencils for the little CCS person.  I then "inked" it in Photoshop, drawing on a wacom tablet, on a new layer directly over the pencils.  This worked well, because it allowed me to easily tweak small things, like the swaying brush end.  Here is an early pass (I later thickened up the ball path outlines):

Next up I did the "Animation" lettering, following the same process.  Here is a pencil test, before I inked it in Photoshop:
The last three "scenes" were all animated directly in the computer.  For the cursive "Introduction to" I simply saved a selection of the text and then filled in a bit more of the selection for each frame.  I decided to animate this on 1s (24 drawings per second) so that it would be really slow and smooth - it's how I write cursive, which takes a lot of concentration for me, and also kind of reflects the idea of an "introduction" to something - slow and steady.  It ended up being 287 frames, or a little under 12 seconds:

For "HAND-DRAWN" I wanted something really messy and organic to help emphasize that it was done by hand.  I followed a similar process of selecting the finished letterforms, and then I just did a series of straight ahead passes, improvising each frame with a series of squiggly lines that build and overlap and eventually fill in.  I wasn't 100% happy with how it turned out -- it would have been fun to also do this on 1s, where each squiggle actually moved along perfectly -- but by the end of 57 frames of this, I didn't have the energy left to take another crack at it!

I went through a lot of different ideas about how to loop the animation back to the beginning, but finally decided on a "circle wipe" using the center dividing line.  I did this all in Photoshop, just using Edit > Free Transform and then putting in a series of degree measurements that added up to 360 (making sure to ease in and out) for rotation.  I then painted white pixels very carefully into the scene while preserving transparency, to reveal or cover up parts of the scene as needed.  If you understand transparency in Photoshop, this will give you an idea of how that worked:

Once I had all these elements prepared as Photoshop documents with one frame on each layer, I brought them into Moho Pro and set everything up as its own individual switch layer. This allowed me to toggle on one layer at a time, which was essential because I was mixing animations that were both on 1s and 2s.  It also made it easy to position everything on the screen and on the timeline, to make sure things began and ended when I wanted them to.  Also with one click I could easily export .mov and .gif files. Here's what that looked like:

Anyway, I was pleased with the end result.  It didn't end up perfect (of course), but it was a lot of fun to put together, and I learned a couple of things along the way.  If this process looks fun to you, consider signing up for my Introduction to Hand-Drawn Animation class at CCS this summer!  It is going to be a ton of fun, and you can see some past student work on the workshop page.