Nov 6 2013

VBS 2013 Development Diary: #14: Digital Content Creation & Management

As I have previously mentioned, the first skits we started doing were entirely written by me an hour before we performed them. There was a single Microsoft Word document with all of that week’s skits–that was it.

As the years have progressed, we have strived to do better, and as a result we have created more content each year. Here are some of the tools and services we use:

Postcards & Signage

We make signage in the form of banners for external display and small signs that we print in-house and laminate for the bathrooms, seating, teams, classrooms, etc. I create most all of these in Adobe Illustrator and then save them to PDF so that Sherry can print them. We print our postcards and banners through, which actually appears to meet the trifecta of fast, good, and cheap.


Allison records drafts for the theme music on her iPhone or cell phone. Right now she doesn’t actually write the music–it just stays in her head and she plays it for our pastor’s daughters, the violinists at church, who then pick it up and play it, then transcribe their own notes.


I write the skits in Microsoft Word for Mac, using a custom screenplay template I found online and utilizing the excellent and free Courier Prime font from In the future I plan to switch to Fountain or something similar so that I can start formatting these properly.

Backup Storage and Collaboration

I use a product that just caught my attention earlier this year and has now become invaluable–Dropbox. It’s one of those products that I can’t see getting very much better–it’s almost perfect already. It’s like a folder out on the internet, accessible from all your devices (Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Blackberry). One of its killer features is that it allows you to share folders and collaborate with specific people, which definitely beats the old method of emailing back and forth. Plus–it’s free for the first 2GB of storage. Download it here to give me some more space, or just download it from The only downside: there are no assignable permissions, so ‘shared’ means ‘everyone sharing the folder has the same permissions as you.’ I did have one of my co-sharers delete two very important folders. Fortunately has an interface to recover deleted items back to a certain point.


We planned a trailer for our VBS, but we ran out of time to execute, and it was one of the darlings that had to be murdered. Allison and I wrote the script for the trailer in Microsoft Word, then printed out storyboard templates we found online. I drew the storyboards, then we scanned them, cleaned them up in Adobe Photoshop, and synced them to the iPhone. Next we pulled them into iMovie for iOS where Allison edited them together. I recorded the voiceover, imported the music and sound effects and edited them in with her images.

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Sep 20 2013

VBS 2013 Development Diary: #13: Experimentation & Doubt

VBS is over now. I hadn’t posted a VBS update in a while simply because we had reached that point in the project where we were in the thick of doing the heavy lifting–building sets, making costumes, creating and acquiring props, and rehearsing. Sometimes that can get kind of hairy, as we don’t often have time to test our concepts before we put them into production. Frequently I am asking people to do a lot of work on what I hope will work, and for some reason they trust me that it will make sense and actually work later. A lot of what I hope will work is based on the countless hours of behind-the-scenes special effects I have watched ever since I was a kid and the formal art training I received.

Every single VBS goes through this phase where it seems like the project is doomed to failure: the special effects aren’t working right, the props can’t be found, the script has a giant flaw, or the rehearsals aren’t going well. Part of the problem is that I write these scripts to be directed by Spielberg with special effects by Industrial Light & Magic, all funded by a James Cameron budget. Then reality sets in and we have to start making do with what we can afford on a small church VBS budget.

Some things didn’t work out as well as I hoped–the bamboo forest, for example, was better than having nothing, but wasn’t this awesome, thick, lush forest of brilliant green; it turns out bamboo begins to brown almost as soon as it is cut, and besides that, it smells like locker room feet as it dries.

But other things worked out brilliantly, like the special effect we built to make it appear that I threw a dagger into a piece of bamboo that held open a deadly trap. Or the breakaway table that shattered when struck by our antagonist’s prop sword. Or the papier-mache rocks that looked like real stone.

The real fact is none of this happens without a lot of work and a lot of manpower (and womanpower), and none of what we accomplish would be possible without the diligent labor of a number of people willing to give this stuff a try. Our volunteers have spent who knows how much time cutting bamboo, drilling 2x4s, painting cups, gluing foam, layering papier-mache, and who knows what else.

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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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