Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Finned Friends launches!

I know, I know, I haven't posted in like a month. Well, I've been busy! Once the Christmas season is over I'll be back posting regularly, I promise.

But for now, I'd like to announce the launching of the site Finned Friends! It is the site of the only fish rescue in Northern Wisconsin, and also the largest Angelfish breeder in Wisconsin. I designed the site (including the nifty little background fishies). Its database driven and fully customizable for the owner, without having to know anything at all about HTML. Hooray!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Retro review: The Wasp Woman

Seeing as it'll shortly be Halloween, I thought I'd post a couple of retro reviews of some offbeat horror films. First up, 1960's "The Wasp Woman." This is a Roger Corman classic. For those who don't know, Roger Corman was responsible for the best b-movies ever to come out on the big screen - especially the big screen you watched from your Toranado (if you know what I mean and I think you do.) He gave many of the biggest names in Hollywood their starts - including Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Nicholson, and Martin Scorsese (another of my Hollywood gods). The man knew talent, he understood making films, and above all, he needed no budget. This devotion to the craft of thrift meant he ended up directing more than 55 films, and producing over 380 (and counting!).

"The Wasp Woman" is one of my favorites. One thing you have to give Corman - despite producing exploitation theater, he did have roles for women that were surprising for the period. The Woman of "The Wasp Woman" is Susan Cabot as Janice Starlin, an over-the-hill head of a cosmetics company. Now, the movie could have left a simple with for a return to youth as the motive for Ms. Starlin to use a dangerous experimental drug made from wasp royal jelly. Instead, we are provided with the explanation that Ms. Starlin is no longer the model for her company, because of her aging, and that the company is suffering financial problems because of it. Nice little tip of the hat to societal pressures for women to stay young here - but we won't get too deep into the plot (and all its underlying references to drugs, standards of masculinity and femininity, etc). You can figure out that stuff for yourselves.

The important thing here is that the drug starts to make the kitties and guinea pigs that have been experimented on into winged, bug-eyed horrors that like to attack anything that moves. And once Ms. Starlin starts sneaking into the lab at night to shoot up "the strong stuff" ... well, you can guess what happens. Death, dismemberment, ugly wasp mask, cat/wasp in an autoclave, road pizza, fall from a 10th story window. So do yourselves a favor and rent "The Wasp Woman" (and if you can, watch it as it was meant to be watched, from the comfort of your very own car.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Holiday Inn revised

Ah, the re-branding never ends. The latest major corporate victim of rebranding: Holiday Inn, the old standby of roadside mo/hotels. Everyone has seen their old logo by side of many exits. The old logo was very fifties - reverse italics, bubbly-script font, and the starburst. Trying to get away from the fifties, and also (I imagine) trying to ditch their lower-middle-class image, Holiday Inn has gone the Hilton/Embassy Suites route of having one big letter (the GIANT H) and then the name smaller under it.

I can't say I really agree with this decision whole-heartedly. Where the new green is nicely cheery, I miss the reverse italics, and frankly, the GIANT H has been done to death (see Hilton, Embassy Suites, etc.) Its nice that they didn't go with a totally boring san-serif, but the font is still pretty meh - they needed an update, but this is more just a change for no reason than an update. I wish they had kept the starburst in some capacity, because it can be such a nice design element. The GIANT H .. well, its a giant H. With a gradient. Um, yeah.

Its not a terrible re-branding, but its far from good. If you're going to re-brand, know exactly what you're doing - and why. And for heaven sake, make it obvious!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Photosynth, amazing

I don't usually do this - by "this" I mean a) tout micro$oft products, and b) link to somebody else's content. But this demo is really spectacular.

After watching it, I think it could be really amazing - my only quandary is, how open source and easy to use will this tech be? Really rich web pages could be spectacular, but this kind of thing should be available to all. Will it be a plugin? Stay tuned.

And as for Photosynth itself ... the content ideas boggle the mind. With Google and Microsoft competing to catalog the entire world, and synthesize things into a true collective memory - well, to say the mind boggles is somewhat of an understatement. (Course, I'm a firm believer that any collective intelligence will be no more intelligent than its least intelligent member - remember, people are smart, mobs are dumb, and the internet is the biggest mob of all.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited, unlimited

Oh how I love Wes Anderson.

As one of my Hollywood gods (others including P.T. Anderson, Ken Adam) the man has never done me wrong. From "Bottle Rocket", through "Rushmore", in the GLORIOUS "Royal Tenenbaums", continuing in "Life Aquatic", the man has shown me he understands movies, movie making, design, character, story, plot, and above all life and growing up in it.

"Darjeeling Limited" continues the Wes Anderson tradition of stories of adults who have never really gotten over their childhood. I'm not going to dwell long on the plot other than to say that there are events that are totally unexpected and tragic, but life affirming at the same time - ie, the movie unfolds much like life. Its a road-movie done Wes Anderson style, just like Life Aquatic was a documentary, and Rushmore a coming-of-age story.

Its worth noting that Anderson continues his virtuoso understanding of design in this movie. There is not a single shot that is not laid out perfectly, and some of the images are so stunning that I almost hyper ventilated (and exaggeration, but you know what I mean). A couple of the shots that stick in my mind. One is where Jason Schwartzman's character Jack leans out the window of the train and sees (the BEAUTIFUL) Amara Kara's Rita. The exteriors were shot at night, with minimal lighting. What you see is a perfectly midnight blue sky, with black silhouettes of trees flying by, and only the looks on Jack and Rita's faces to tell the story. Another is during the funeral - a great slo-mo tracking shot that follows the brothers until they get into a car, where it cuts to a different funeral, at a different time. Gorgeous.

And the love of design doesn't stop with the shot choices - all kudos go to production designer Mark Friedberg; the costumes, while not being as gaudy as Elizabeth's, are made in beautiful colors and shot with all the vibrancy a camera can muster. Of special note is the luggage each of the boys is carrying - I would love to have any of these pieces. They are Mark Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, but more importantly, they have a jungle design by the directors brother Eric Anderson - who, if you know Wes Anderson films, was responsible for the paintings you see in Royal Tenenbaums. The font used on them is the standard Wes Anderson font as well - a great touch.

The last thing I want to comment on is the acting. It is letter perfect - the addition of Adrian Brody to Wes' usual cast added a great element of pathos, Owen Wilson was nicely restrained (and I always like him best in Wes movies), and Jason Schwartzman can do no wrong by me - I've loved him in everything I've ever seen him in (one day I'll do a retro review of Marie Antoinette, one of the most underrated movies in the last 10 years). Irfan Khan is perfect as a distraught father who never gets a single line in English, but who provokes immense sympathy regardless. Waris Ahluwalia, who you might remember from "Life Aquatic", is great as a chief steward that gets fed up with the boys acting like children. Amara Karan, in her first major role, is beautiful, a little naughty, very real, and delivers a wonderful nuanced performance - I hope this film will introduce her to a wider audience, and get her some more work! A special shout out should go to Anjelica Huston and Bill Murrary, who are HUGE actors who play small roles, and in Anjelica's case, very against type.

So enough gushing from me. Go see The Darjeeling Limited already.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The new American Academy of Family Physicians logo

The American Academy of Family Physicians announced a couple of days ago that they were changing their logo from a very antique looking seal to a much more modern mark and font treatment. Sounds like a good idea. The old logo was old fashioned in every sense of the word, from the font to the little fiddly illustration. It looked like something that would be more at home on a dollar bill than a website.

So they spent a significant amount of money and came up with what they thought embodied "honor, valor, and victory... healing and the renewing power of life that go with it." Personally, I'm just sort of scared of it.

To me, it looks like the snake crawled up the torch and lit its head on fire. While I understand that the snake was supposed to represent the Aesculapius staff and the torch strength, they should have thought of a slightly better and less destructive-looking way to represent this. Combined with "Strong Medicine for America" it seems like they're going to raid Dr. Frankenstein's castle. They say on their website they are going to be a champion for family doctors. This logo at least is successful in making me believe they mean business. Even if they have to burn a few buildings down.

Retro gaming: Fantasy Zone

I've recently been playing one of my favorite mid-80's games, Fantasy Zone. I've got the Nintendo "compatible" version, and it had some of the best graphics and design of the time. Originally Fantasy Zone was a arcade game, and the bright, beautifully designed pastel graphics were gorgeous. The backgrounds especially look like they were designed much later than 1986 - many of them would not look out of place on some web pages.

The color palette used is almost exclusively pastel, except for some brighter foreground and far background colors. Its obvious the designers paid attention to the color wheel, and you never end up with some of the more awful color choices that were prevalent in other games of the period (Double Dragon, anyone? Its fun, but MAN is it ugly...) The designers used gradients effectively to delineate where background objects ended - again, this was very different for its time, as in most games background objects were outlined in black. Most of the shapes in the game were nicely curvy and organic as well, and fit well with a game titled "Fantasy Zone."

The enemies in this game are almost as adorable as the main character, the "OpaOpa". With big, bulgy, cuddly design, the only enemies that I can think of that look as good from the period are the ones from MegaMan 2 (3, etc).

The music is another area where this game rocks. The songs are catchy and fun, and really get stuck in your head. Actually, that's one of the serious dangers of playing this game.

The gameplay is pretty much like Defender, and is pretty tough, especially in the later levels. The reason to play this game, however, is because of the beautiful graphics and fun music. Even modern game designers could catch a few pointers here

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Elizabeth, the Golden Age; or, how I learned to stop worrying and love costumes

I saw Elizabeth: the Golden Age last night. Many critics are pretty down on this movie - and I have to say, for good reason. Let's do a good, old fashioned "good, bad, ugly" on this film.

The good - Obviously, the costumes get first mention here. They are beautiful, gorgeous, rich, sumptuous... everything you could possibly ask from a period piece about Elizabethan times. I'd like to give a special shout to the men's costumes, as they aren't as flashy as the women's, but I think show all the more elegance and beauty for it. There is one exception to my comment about costumes, but I'll get to that later.

Of course, much of the acting I have to mention under good as well. Cate Blanchett does an amazing job with a - well, we'll get to the script later. Samantha Morton (whom I seem to love in every movie I see her in) is superb as Mary Queen of Scots. I loved when she looked up and said, with all the dignity of a queen, "I forgive you with all my heart" (the director decides not to let you hear this line - but I know my Mary Stuart). And Geoffrey Rush is, unsurprisingly, a god amongst mortals - he makes his Walsingham by far the coolest character in the movie. I'm hoping for a nom for him, come Oscar time.

The bad - Oh dear. This script came from where? Melodrama and pseudo-vague historical events. Actually, it seems like the writers didn't actually read any of the history of the defeat of the Spanish Armada and what followed after - we get told at the end that everything was rosy and great after that. Elizabeth's famous speech to her troops at Tilbury, where (in the myth) she donned a corselet of armor and wore a white gown, is here represented by Elizabeth in a full suit of armor (and I'm sorry, armor should never, ever be designed by a costume designer!), with leggings and no gown in sight, sitting astride a horse (and not sidesaddle as would have befitted a woman of any position) and galloping up and down in front of her troops, quoting Braveheart.

There are other ways to make rousing speeches. And did I mention her leggings appeared to be made of silver lamé?

The ugly - ok, the fact I had to sit through a part of this movie with my eyes closed because the camera just WOULDN'T STOP SPINNING. It's obvious that either the director or the cinematographer was so very in love with all the gowns that they felt had to show every single one from every single angle. This didn't allow me to appreciate the artistry of the gowns; it did make me decidedly motion sick. Also, remind me to find the person who invented digital grading and kick him really hard. You know, there are many times I miss seeing actual colors in action scenes.

And of course, there was the enthrallment with symbolism. In one scene a horse goes crazy during the attack on the Spanish Armada, and jumps off the ship. We are shown all of this. It takes a couple of minutes. Then we are shown the horse swimming later. Um... ok. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for symbolism in movies, but not when it takes you completly out of any storyline and has no obvious connection to anything that you've been watching. I'm sure there's some historical symbolism of the horse and Spain, and thats fine, but spending several minutes in a climactic battle scene for a reason thats not going to be readily apparent to most of your audience? Ugly.

So turn your brain off, take a dramamine, and go see Elizabeth: the Golden Age, if only for the costumes. And Geoffrey Rush. And so you can tell me what the friggin deal is with that horse.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Another of my favorite logos

This is an ode to a logo that is no longer in use, but should be. Coming from Wisconsin I have to stand up for the old (1977-1993) Milwaukee Brewers logo. There has never been a better logo in pro sports. It works at any size (and any distance). Using the letters of the team M and B, and making it into a ball glove, was so perfect I still can't believe they got rid of it (and I won't speak of any of the logos that have come since. The less said about them the better.) I would suggest that the Brewers bring this logo back - it could easily be updated with a darker blue and more golden yellow, making it fit in with other modern logos. And it wouldn't hurt at all to remind fans of the days of Robin Yount and Paul Molitor.

The good news is, apparently I'm not alone in my feelings about the old logo. There's an online petition to return to it, and the Brewers are regularly having "Retro Fridays" where they wear old-style uniforms, complete with the old logo. So hopefully sometime soon we'll see the back of another one of the 90's re-branding tragedies, and the return of the best logo in sports.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

'08 - a quick look at some of the candidates' logos, pt.5

Back to the Republicans for the last, but certainly not least, logo. Rudolph Giuliani. I love this logo. To start with, it uses a diminuitave for his first name, which brings a nice air of inclusiveness. His name recognition ever since Sept. 11 has been phenomenal, so going with that is a good idea (and if it helps invoke a 80's movie about an underdog who just wouldn't give up... yeah, thats just a fine association too.) The colors are unexciting, but they are used as well as could be. Blue background and white words bounded by a red box - it feels traditional and classy. The font is a conservative serif font, and the logo is set in all caps which gives it a great sense of strength. The kerning is just right to make it a really cohesive logo. The logo says everything a Republican primary campaign should be about, tradition, conservatism, and strength, with just the right touch of "I'm one of you". Great job!

Oh, and none of these reviews implies an endorsement of the candidate or their views. Just wanted to make that clear :)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

'08 - a quick look at some of the candidates' logos, pt.4

Sticking with the Democrats, Hillary Clinton's logo is probably my second favorite of the ones I'm looking at. Hillary doesn't need to use her last name, as everyone knows who she is (benefit of being a former controversial first lady, or a controversial former first lady). The font is nicely strong, but still friendly. The little strip of flag beneath her name serves as an underline (and adds more strength), and is nicely integrated with the "y" joining the two elements together. I have to say tho, the "for President" seems very tacked on, and really knocks this logo down to only being my second favorite. Still, very nice design.

'08 - a quick look at some of the candidates' logos, pt.3

Going across the isle to the Democrats, Barack Obama has the only logo I'll be looking at with a white background. The logo uses the 08 much like Fred Thompson's logo, except it uses an apostrophe to seperate the 08 from Obama as well as a color change. The font, however, is pretty, but weak. The tagline "BarakObama.com" is pretty unnecessary, as this logo it ON the site, so you should probably already realize that its BarackObama.com . I like the idea of the mark on the left, with the "sun" coming up over the red-stripe plain. It infers the whole "its a new day, lets start over again" message, and also makes kind of an "o" Something about the execution is sort of bland, however; to many gradients are making it muddy. I also wish they had integrated it more with the rest - perhaps making the mark fully into the O of Obama. Still, a nice effort.

Monday, October 08, 2007

'08 - a quick look at some of the candidates' logos, pt.2

Fred Thompson, 08's Ronald Regan (or so the Republicans hope.) Fred is the first of three candidates I'll be looking at to use his first name in his logo, using what his team hopes is high name recognition amongst the base. With Fred that's debatable (people are much more likely to remember his face than name - "hey, its the Law & Order guy!" or "Hey, its the guy from Hunt for Red October!") Fred's logo does manage to stand out from the others in that it is the only one NOT to use the ubiquitous red, white, and blue, opting for a more conservative navy and gold color scheme. I love this, as it says everything it should about the candidate even without his tagline - navy is a GREAT color for saying security, and gold says prosperity like nobodys business. So Kudos for that.

But then there's the actual Fred08. Even with the color change halfway through this manages to look like someone's AOL handle. When just typed "Fred08" it becomes even worse, like Michael Corelone's little brother is running. I know they were going for clean and simple, but it really could have used a little more kerning between Fred and 08, or an old fashioned ' . The decision to make "red" lowercase would have worked if Fred was a demo, but lowercase never really denotes Security.

'08 - a quick look at some of the candidates' logos

The presidential campaign is heating up, and so is the competition for a logo that will capture the imagination - and donation dollars - of the public. Now, these are primary logos - both parties are running to their base right now, and I fully expect a run back to the center, complete with new logos, once the candidates are decided. One thing I've noted about all the logos - they're all in serif fonts, which is a 180 from 04's Arial/Helveticathon.

Mitt's logo... leaves something to be desired. The typography is awful (look at the kerning around the ROM portion of his name). There are three sections of this logo - the name, the tagline, and the eagle/flag - and none of them are integrated with the others. The eagle/flag isn't inherently bad, it just seems tacked on in its current position (well, it does look sort of like an NFL logo designed in the early 2000's, but...) There's nothing wrong with Mitt's colors, either, but they aren't exactly original. Just a regular U.S. flag blue and red. The logo says that there's some problems here thinking about details that make things work - not the message that you want people to get when you're running for president.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Playstation 3 menus

So thinking about beautiful design, I have to give props to the Playstation 3. Besides being an amazing game system (and streaming media player, yummy!), it has a really beautiful and intuitive menu system. From what I hear it is nigh identical to the PSP's, but I only have a PS3, so I'm judging by that.

The menu system is a straight line of white icons with text explanations next to it. Navigating them is as simple as hitting right and left on the controller, then up and down to the thing you want. It is simple and beautiful - especially when paired with my favorite part, the background. There's a random wavy thing in the background, but the really neat part is the color changes. During the day the background is a beautiful bright color, which sets with the sun, so the nighttime view is as black as the sky - or blacker, if you live in the Bay Area (where we are always illuminated by 'the glow'). The color of the background is constantly mutating not over seconds or minutes or hours, but over weeks. I've seen it blue, purple, pink, yellow, and it looks like its headed toward orange. This was a totally unnecessary design decision that really adds a bit of delight every time I use the interface. Kudos, Sony!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Typographic Addiction

Who hasn't stopped reading something and wondered what font it was set in? Seriously?

Anyway, this is a great little joke piece on typolholism.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Across the Universe

I saw "Across the Universe" last night - the movie about the Beatles, the sixties, the Vietnam war, the Iraq war, and, well, love. It was wonderfully directed, with many of the songs ending up looking better than 99% of music videos these days. But... somehow... it was only OK. Some of the songs ended up feeling like set pieces, unconnected with any plot that was going on. The plot was much like early Beatles songs, boy meets girl, they fall in love, break apart, come back together. The main problem I had was that the movie was too infected with the ghosts of the 60's (Janis and Jimi were there, along with John, Paul, George and Ringo) to ever really come off as a new piece of work or a new statement about that time. While beautiful (and some of the songs really were covered amazingly - Joe Cocker doing"Come Together" was awesome, and the rendition of "I wanna hold your hand" was great), it was all somewhat of a rehash of everything we've ever seen about the sixties.

But it really was beautiful.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My favorite brands - Burger King

He creeps out my mom, but I love him. Burger King returned to the "Have it your way" slogan, introduced "The King", who is undenibly strange, and started producing some of the most innovative commercials and advertising schemes around. "Subservient Chicken" was a web phenomenon, using flash and some very clever word logic to make users feel in control of a dude in a chicken suit. The character went on to star along with the King and Brooke Burke in the Burger King themed games that came out for the XBox last christmas (and yes, we played them. A lot. And apparently so did lots of others - it drove their profits up 40%!) One of their newest commercials shows a regular chicken practicing kung-fu (with that one old Asian dude who ALWAYS plays the "Old Asian Man") Its totally brilliant. And best of all, the whole new marketing campaign has pulled Burger King back from the edge of disaster Who says marketing doesn't make a difference?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Kentucky Fried Chicken

Its hardly new news, but I wanted to comment of KFC's decision to return to being Kentucky Fried Chicken. This ends two trends I'm more than glad to see the back of: Acronyms for EVERYTHING, and the use of very boring san-serif (and occationaly semi-serif) fonts for EVERYTHING. This returns them to their original font from 1952 ... and a welcome return it is. Now they just have to go back to an original theme song on their commercials, since Sweet Home Alabama is not only over used already, but has nothing to do with Kentucky. Remember "We do chicken right" guys?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Do you know where your makeup comes from?

A tidbit from my pink book: Your makeup is full of dead bug blood (as are your lollipops and your pink beverage). No, seriously. There's a little bug called the Cochineal, which lives as a parasite on cactus. They are raised, killed, ground up, purified, and are one of the most popular food and makeup colorings around. In the US, look for "Natural Coloring" and "Natural Red 4" - in the EU its known as additive "E 120". Mmm, bug juice.... (not that this will stop me from wearing lipstick or eating pink popsicles)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The book

OK, here's what I'm working on now: a book all about the color pink. So if you want to help me out by giving me photos of things that are pink... especially things you don't normally think of or expect to be pink. And if you have any ideas of things I can write about, then awesome! I've got 40 pages of reference material and over 200 photos so far, but I'm really just getting started.

Friday, September 21, 2007

ClinicaHealth becomes Inspire!

One of the companies I'm currently working with, ClinicaHealth, has become Inspire, complete with a shiny new logo courtesy of yours truly. It links in the old ClinicaHealth happy dude with the Inspire name - and gives him a little more pizazz in the process.

Inspire is a place where you can join or create support groups around health issues. There are more changes that'll be rolling out soon, so keep your eyes open!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Eighth Star Game, pt.2

Work continues on the Eighth Star action/RPG. This is going to be a web based old-school psuedo-iscometric perspective game, much like Zelda or Secret of Mana for the Super Nintendo. At this point I only have to finish the item inventory, add some more obstacle logic, finish the menus, and add a save game ability. Two more weeks, perhaps, until I release the first level. In the meantime, check out this screenshot and let me know what you think (just so you know, the first level takes place in Wisconsin. No, the whole game does not take place there.): Screenshot

Updated site

I've just updated my main site to run on PHP & MySQL. It only took a couple of hours, and the site now runs much more smoothly (because it doesn't have a javascript demanding to fully download all the pictures in a particular category every time you want to see one pic!)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Eighth Star Game

On my recent learning kick I decided to learn ActionScripting for Flash and create a game. Its an asteroids clone, with several different weapons and the ability to save high scores. Of course, all the art was done by me. If anyone has any questions about the actionscript, just let me know.

Eighth Star

Well, I've learned PHP & MySQL in record time, and I now present my first full database run site, Eighth Star!