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Holiday GIFts, Courtesy of Creative Mornings

Posted by Rebecca Blake on December 15, 2015

Creative Mornings, the global network of free breakfast talks on creativity and technology, posted a wonderful freebie for creative professionals during the month of December[L1] . The “GIF Channel” is a wall of GIF animations on themes relevant to freelancers and agency staff: waiting for feedback or payment, finishing a long project, or searching for motivation. The organization curated a collection of GIF animations, and has invited viewers to share a GIFt with their clients.

If you’re unfamiliar with Creative Mornings, their website is worth bookmarking. Their “Talks” page features links to over 2,600 Creative Mornings talks, filterable by city, theme, length, and language, pulled from their YouTube channel. Recently, they’ve published a channel of their most popular podcasts. If you’d care to check out a live Creative Mornings event, their “Cities” page links to local event pages.

Creative Mornings screenshot

Ad Agency Video on Spec Work Belies Reality Facing Creators

Posted by Rebecca Blake on November 18, 2015

A video and blog post on spec work produced by Toronto advertising agency Zulu Alpha Kilo is burning up the Internet. In the video, an actor approaches different businesses unfamiliar with work on spec (for the most part) and asks for free products or services – a cup of coffee, a breakfast, architectural design, picture framing, and personal training. The incredulous reaction from the business owners doesn’t deter the actor, who trots out business jargon to justify his request: “You guys can make me a spec breakfast, right? And if I enjoy it, I’ll make you guys my ROR, my Restaurant of Record…” He even pushes the personal trainer to give him the intellectual property rights to the training techniques. The video concludes with a challenge to ad agencies: “It’s time we all said no to spec.”

As Adweek reported, the video was created by the agency founder Zak Mroueh for presentation at Strategy magazine’s Agency of the Year event.  Mroueh told Adweek that Zulu Alpha Kilo hasn’t done a pitch requiring spec work in five years, freeing up time and resources to work on clients’ brands rather than on generating new business. The strategy seems to have worked for the agency; they reported that they’ve tripled their staff and gained high-profile clients such as Google and Corona.

It’s heartening to witness an ad agency pushing back on spec work. Unfortunately, the equation is quite different for the professionals contracted by ad agencies to create content. As reported in numerous publications, such as Mashable, New Business Intel, and the LA Times, ad agencies are increasingly turning to crowdsourcing to generate content for their clients. The Mashable article’s glib description of, “hordes of talented people” who are “willing to work on the cheap and on the fly,” belies the experiences reported by many professionals. Requests for work on spec or free have skyrocketed (see our articles on “Spec Work Documented on Social Media” and “Artist Dies of Exposure”), undervaluing the illustration, design and animation professions.

“There’s a double standard being applied to the professionals who create the content that drives the advertising industry.”

Crowdsourced content is being leveraged by a new breed of ad agency, such as Victor & Spoils. Victor & Spoils, which launched in 2009, prides itself on being an agency which collaborates with brand fans – or as their website describes them, “lunch ladies” – as well as seasoned advertising pros, pulling in fan feedback on brands at the outset of the creative process. The agency relies heavily on crowdsourcing. A 2009 article on Wired.CO.UK described how the agency used platforms such as crowdSPRING, 99designs, and GeniusRocket for projects ranging from brand strategy work to TV spots. (The agency even used crowdsourcing for its original logo and website design.)

Victor & Spoils also utilizes their network of professional creatives to generate content. In the Wired article, agency founder John Winsor described their process: 50-100 of their “creative department” are invited to contribute to a project, and from the submissions, 6-12 finalists are selected to compete for the final product. Only the finalists and winner are compensated. Of course, the participants give up any pretence of ownership of intellectual property; the agency’s terms stipulate that any contribution is work-for-hire. Winsor complains that only 10% of the creative output is any good, requiring “strong creative direction” from agency staffers.

The crowdsourcing model used by Victor & Spoils isn’t unique. Talenthouse (“the world’s largest creative department”), Tongal (“The World’s First Studio-on-Demand“), and GeniusRocket (“A creative video agency powered by a curated crowd”) all rely on content inexpensively provided via crowdsourced projects. The trend makes the acclaim of Zulu Alpha Kilo’s anti-spec video bittersweet. It’s inspiring to see the video which casts a spotlight on spec work receive so much recognition. However, if the example shown by Victor & Spoils reflects a growing trend, there’s a double standard being applied to the professionals who create the content that drives the advertising industry.

Below: a screenshot from Zulu Alpha Kilo’s video. This guy can’t believe he was asked to work for free.

Zulu Alpha Kilo no-to-spec video

Illustration/Animation Project Yule Log 2014 Donates Licensing Fee to C/I

Posted by Rebecca Blake on December 08, 2014

Dan Savage © Yule Log 2.014The second season of Yule Log (Yule Log 2.014) has been published, featuring the illustration and animation efforts of over 80 artists. The website features 70 short animations of yule logs curated by the animation studio Oddfellows. This year’s selection features the imaginative creations we’ve come to expect, such as the espionage-inspired Silent Knights by Joe Russ, Ben Tillett, and Syd Weiler; Chris Lohouse and Salih Abdul-Karim’s homage to 1920s cartooning, Stay Tooned; and Erin Kilkenny’s lovely retro, Smoke on the Water.

Yule Log creator Dan Savage designed the project to reimagine WPIX-11 (NY) TV’s Yule Log broadcast loop. Last year’s publication was a huge success, with over 1 million viewings and extensive coverage in industry blogs. This year, Viacom/MTV licensed Yule Log 2.014 to play in their lobby. Their licensing fee – all $2,000 – was donated to C/I, an organization which teaches computing, leadership, and professionalism skills to underserved high school students in after-school programs, camps, and paid summer internships.

Top right: Dan Savage's contribution to Yule Log.

Below: (clockwise) Silent Knights by Joe Russ, Ben Tillett, and Syd Weiler; Stay Tooned by Chris Lohouse and Salih Abdul-Karim; So You Say There's a Chance by Ege Soyeur and Nick Petley; Log Ride by Impactist; Smoke on the Water by Erin Kilkenny; and Hello Old Friend by James Wignall.

© Yule Log 2.014

Bonsai Slice: The Twists and Turns in Game Development

Posted by Rebecca Blake on May 27, 2014

Bonsai Slice logo © Playground TheoryIllustrator Joey Ellis has published an eye-opening account of his travails in developing the iOS game, Bonsai Slice (by Playground Theory). The game is fairly simple: players attempt to slice through a variety of objects, assisted by a tree-stump dwelling robot residing in a Japanese garden. Users play the game by making slicing motions with their device, and rack up points, giving them access to a variety of swords. As simple as the game’s premise sounds, the development of the story, characters, and visuals was a labor-intensive, two-year journey. And as Ellis writes, “where you think you'll end up is never ever where you actually end up.”

Initially, the developers explored a number of game ideas. It wasn’t until the mechanics which permitted gamers to “chop wood” by making motions with their iPads were developed that the idea of a chopping game was settled upon. To test the concept, Ellis created crude GIF animations, eventually developing a quick workflow that took ideas from sketch to playable content within a couple days. While Ellis thought Abraham Lincoln might be a suitable character on whom to hang the game’s backstory, the team decided on a quirky robot, Multus, as the main character. The full backstory, game mechanics, rules, and scoring were worked out as Ellis – the art director and sole illustrator – developed the interface graphics. The team soon realized that simplicity was key, rejecting ideas such as a second robot antagonist and streamlining the game’s action.

Ellis’ recounting is a fascinating read that reveals the detail and behind-the-scenes development necessary to game development. His sketches show the thought process that went into minute details, such as the app icon, the weapons, and the library of “fun things to chop.” His development of Multus’ appearance and behavior was meticulous; he even created a “launch screen” – never intended to go into the game – to provide the developers with insight into the robot’s character.

Anyone interested in working in game development, or interested in developing their own app, should read Ellis’ post. It’s a thorough description of an arduous and lengthy, but from all appearances, very fun project. (The project did take a toll; Ellis reports that he’ll “never ever want to do wood texture illustrations ever again.”)

Below: User interface screens from various points in the game, under development. © Playground Theory, used with permission.

Bonsai Slice interface screens, © Playground Theory

The Digital Hearth: Yule Log 2.0

Posted by Rebecca Blake on December 24, 2013

Yule Log 2.0 logoThe Yule Log, that broadcast of an endless loop of a crackling fire that first played on WPIX-TV in New York City in the 1960s, has become a beloved holiday cliché.  After having been cancelled for a number of years, the parent company of WPIX, Tribune Broadcasting brought back  the broadcast, and numerous knock-offs have been spawned. The most creative is Yule Log 2.0, a collection of short films and animations submitted by both up-and-coming and well-known artists. The collection is curated by animator and illustrator Daniel Savage, a 2012 ADC Young Gun, who has created work for Comedy Central and Google. The Yule Log 2.0 website was created by Wondersauce, a New York based web design studio.

Yule Log 2.0 showcases a lovely range of illustration styles. Both Frank Chimero and Leta Sobierajski created whimsical flames from wiggling fingers. Josh Parker’s stick-figure embers are reminiscent of early cartoons, and Michael Fuchs, Daniel Leyva, and Bianca Meier illustrated a hapless marshmallow who sits too close to the fire. Visitors to the website can either view each video in sequence, or, in true Yule Log spirit, set one animation to play over (and over and over and over).

Yule Log 2.0 offerings include submissions by (clockwise from top left) Michael Fuchs, Daniel Leyva and Bianca Meier; Yussef Cole; Greg Gunn; Matthias Hoegg; Josh Parker; and Frank Chimero. Screenshot courtesy of Yule Log 2.0.

Yule Log 2.0 screenshot

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