Sep 11 2016

The Worm from Labyrinth: Step by Step

In April I made a cake topper for my brother-in-law’s birthday party while my wife made the cake. Here is the step by step on how I did it:


It starts with making a wire armature; I made this one out of a clothes hanger. Luckily this is all the armature that the worm required; making armatures for human figures is much more complex.


Then you cover it with aluminum foil until it is about 80% of the bulk you need it to be.


I’m sculpting the worm with a polymer clay called Sculpey, which runs about $10/lb. You layer it over your wire and foil armature no thicker than 1/4 inch and then bake it in the oven at something like 275 degrees for 20 minutes. I learned about this from my friend Dave 20 years ago. After you bake it, then you can cut, grind, sand,  score, and even layer on more Sculpey and bake it again.


Here is a closeup of the freshly sculpted and unbaked Sculpey.


Here I have globbed on the initial blobs that will make up the worm’s face.


And here are all of the blobs smooshed into a rough face. Note the score marks on the eyes so that I can smooth on more Sculpey for the eyes once it has been baked the first time.


The worm was baked, then eyes and eyelids sculpted on.


img_5667Here I have smoothed down the rough edges of the grooves in the worm’s body with a tiny file, and cut in more smaller grooves with a dental tool.


Now I have added all of the fat rolls on the worm’s neck. This was a little difficult, making layer after layer one at a time and not smooshing the underlying layers.


After the last bake it was time to paint. I thinned down some gray acrylic and brushed/dribbled it into all of the little nooks and crannies to make them stand out more.

img_5673 img_5674

I painted the rest of the worm with acrylic, then superglued some snips of fancy yarn on for his hair.


Finally I finished the pupils with a Sharpie marker, then sprayed the entire thing with clear acrylic sealer, and cut a strip of felt off for the scarf.


Here is the final on top of the awesome cake that Heather made. In total it took me probably about 8-12 hours.

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May 17 2014

Ace Days: Jerry’s big ad campaign

Years ago I when I was at my first full time graphic design I was at a company called Ace that made and sold radio control cars, boats, planes, and other accessories.

Our meager design and marketing team of four was swamped making catalogs, logos, stickers, ads, and packaging, so we hired a new marketing / graphic design guy that was going to to help. Let’s call him Jerry. Jerry’s first assignment was to create our new big ad campaign.

We didn’t have enough computers so Jerry brought his own in and got to work. Jerry worked furiously over the next month on The New Big Ad Campaign. I never saw what he was doing over that month, I just saw the finished product.

Jerry pitched his campaign. It was so simple, so obvious, how had we missed this?

Here was the pitch:

Plain background.


Wearing bikinis.


Holding our products.

I tell you what, that guy was a marketing genius.

Anyway, for some unknown reason Jerry didn’t stay with us long.

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Jul 26 2013

Fake Jade

“Fake jade artifacts can be divided into 4 catagories:-

Grade A, intends to fool experts.
Grade B, intends to fool unaware collectors.
Grade C, intends to fool new collectors.
Grade D, intends to fool tourists.”

–found online when I was searching for info about jade.

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Jun 1 2013

VBS Development Diary #12: Costumes

I spent 2 hours in a fabric store yesterday and it was awesome.

Lemme ‘splain!

We were shopping for fabric for costumes. I don’t know fabric–I have always avoided any kind of textile work because it seems tedious to me–except for that one time I made a Nightcrawler plushie.

So we’re trying to find fabric for six costumes that won’t look cheezy, will be just the right pattern and shade, won’t be too hot for the actor, and won’t be too expensive. I had the opportunity to be that annoying director who doesn’t know what he wants, but will know it when he sees it.

After a few years of running VBS skits I found what every other performer probably already knows, which is that stage/film performance is a collaborative effort. This is the first year that we haven’t just pieced costumes together from what we can find at second hand stores. Mrs. Pastor made the first two costumes–the ones for the heroine and villainess. In my specifications for the villainess’s outfit I specified that I wanted it to be black silk/satin with black embroidered patterns. That fabric wasn’t available, and she tried to send me pictures of what was available, but I couldn’t see them. She just went with her gut and picked a fabric that was black satin with wide-spaced gold patterns.

When I first saw the costume, I thought, “I was expecting black on black.” But I quickly realized that what she had made was actually better than I requested, and did more to convey what I really wanted from the character–that she was a woman who was rather vain and who liked to spend money on nice clothes because she deserved them.

Anyway, we found all of the fabrics that we want to use, and all the fabrics we won’t use because they are crazy expensive ($18/yard). Now we just have to find some more patterns for our male costumes. Apparently there are only three Asian/Oriental costume patters produced in the last 40 years and we already located and purchased two of them (thanks to several hours of googling by Allison).

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Feb 1 2013


n., “According to ILM founding member Lorne Peterson’s book on the Star Wars model shop, Sculpting a Galaxy, a greeblie is defined as ‘Miscellaneous mechanical details that add realism to a prop, model, or set.'”

from Norman Chan’s article at

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Jan 27 2013

VBS 2013 Development Diary: #8: Logo

This is a pretty graphic-heavy post.

When I first start working on a logo, I trial several fonts in Linotype FontExplorer, then I try them out  in Illustrator to see which ones I like best, looking for things like readability, tone, and flavor. This lets me see which fonts I might want:









—as well as ones I absolutely don’t want—specifically fonts that have that cheezy, clichéd ‘rikki tikki’ Chinese feel to them:









Once I have selected a few possibilities, I make a text box with the title in Adobe Illustrator and then copy it about a dozen times, then apply the different fonts to the text.











My first logo concept, like almost all first logo concepts, stunk. It looked like a very boring book:

Black Mantis1














Going back to the desk I decided on my favorite font: KingThings Conundrum. It looks amazing, just like it was drawn with a Chinese calligraphy brush.






However, it has a major problem: it’s not very readable. First I converted the font to outlines so that Illustrator sees it as a series of objects instead of type. My next step was to clean it up, getting rid of most of the ornaments:
















And here is the font all cleaned up. Notice something, however: the kerning. My friend Brenton taught me to use Illustrator. Back when I was first learning to use it, one of the first things he taught me was one of those tricks that separates the noobs from the pros–-kerning.

Kerning is the horizontal space between the letters. Notice how the spacing between the letters is uneven and crummy looking. The vertical space between the lines of letters called leading (pronounced LED-ing), is pretty bad too.








Now you can see the comparison between the cleaned up version and the original unkerned, unleaded, unreadable font.












I have applied a stroke effect to the letters to look for any problems. Notice on the crook of the L part of the stroke has not applied, meaning I have a break in the shape of the letter.









When I apply the stroke, I actually group the entire logo, copy it, and then past it behind, then apply the stroke to the behind-most copy. Below you can see how it looks when composited, next you can see the unstroked copy, and then the copy with the stroke applied.


There are still some tweaks to do. As you can see below, the default corner type looks kind of lame on certain points. You can adjust them to be sharper or more blunt, but in the end I just went with a rounded corner.










I wanted to go with a gradient for this logo (I usually don’t) to give it more of an action/adventure feel. However, it still looks kind of flat, so I applied a thin, bright stroke to the front-most objects, which really made it pop out more:













Next I made a  drop shadow behind the logo by making a copy, pasting it behind the original, filling it with black, and shrinking it by ~2%.








I decided to bring back my kind of Chinese brushstroke mantis from my early design, to give kind kind of an ominous shadow to our heroic logo.














I also wanted to incorporate some sword iconography, since it’s the story’s MacGuffin.

The mantis and the sword are just lines with a brush effect applied. You can see them below, as well as a box with a few more brush-effect lines added.













And here is the completed logo with bonus background (OK, so it’s not totally complete–the Chinese inside the green ribbons is just placeholder text):


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Jul 10 2012

Review: Brave

We saw Pixar’s Brave last weekend. It was OK.

I didn’t love or hate the movie; it was just fine. Really, it just seemed like pretty much every other Disney princess movie: I’m a young princess, I don’t want to do any thing I don’t feel like doing, I am willing to do bad things to keep from doing it, I don’t care about the consequences, etc. Our princess does learn a lesson, but it doesn’t really change much of the course of the movie–only a small consequence at the very end; in every other way, she gets what she wanted. By comparison, look at Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark in Iron Man, who learns the most significant lesson early in the movie, changing the course of his entire life as you had seen it to that point.

I really wanted to like our heroine, but if she was my daughter I wouldn’t like her very much (but then, I didn’t really like her parents in the film either).

The film is visually gorgeous, and it is humorous at times. The rest of the characters are fine, but I didn’t find myself caring about them a great deal.  I liked much of the music, but didn’t love it. Overall, I would say you could wait until it hits DVD.

Best part? The short film La Luna that precedes the movie, which was beautiful and imaginative.

I hate saying it, but Brave replaces A Bug’s Life as my least favorite Pixar film. Favorites? Up, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Toy Story 1 & 2.


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Feb 11 2012

Quotable: Brad Bird

In the February 2007 Spline Cast, Spline Doctors Andrew Gordon and Adam Bergen interviewed Brad Bird, where they posed this question:

SD: On that kind of same path, what is it that separates good CG animation from absolutely amazing CG animation, in your opinion?

BB: Well, you know, are we staying purely on the topic of animation, or are we talkin’ about films?

SD: Um, you know, like, where mostly I think animation students are going to listening to this.

BB: Okay, so I won’t say the top five things, which is story, story, story, story, and storytelling. There’s also storytelling. And story. And storytelling. And story. And telling the story well. And story.


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Jan 10 2012

Cover the earth

Heather and I both agree that Sherwin Williams Paint has probably one of the creepiest professional logos:

It totally looks like they want to dump blood all over the earth. I don’t think Sissy Spacek would approve.


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Nov 22 2011

Superheroes in brown

Superheroes and superheroines can wear a lot of colors: red, blue, yellow, and to a lesser extent, green. Sometimes black* or white or silver or gold.

Villains corner the market on most of the black, as well as green, orange, and purple. Funny that heroes use largely primary colors, while villains largely use secondary. But there are some colors you never see superheroes in: gray, pink, brown, tan, aqua. And if they do have these second-rate colors, they probably have second-rate powers and no-one’s ever heard of them.

There are exceptions, of course; Green Lantern is certainly a second-rater (or a mid-carder, for you wrasslin’ fans), and he’s got all kinds of green, and thanks to the movie this year, non-nerds have now heard of him.

But back to the issue: superheroes, as a rule, don’t wear gray or brown or aqua. But there is one notable exception. Not only does he wear brown, he actually does it well. And he’s huge.

True, he’s largely depicted now in black, yellow, and sometimes blue. But for a large part of his existence, this was Wolverine’s normal outfit. How does he get away with it? I guess by simply being such an awesome character. Pretty much all of Marvel’s heroes have flaws, but Logan really has problems–yet he is so real and so likable.

And when you’re the best you are at what you do, you can wear brown as a superhero.


*No, I’m not going to dignify any of those idiotic ‘black’s not a color’ arguments you might have.

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