Author Archives: Heather Craik

About Heather Craik

Quick, while I have your attention - if you want even more great advice, fantastic tutorials, and assistance on your quest for utter domination in 3D art then you really need to jump into our insider circle now.

Alpha Map Shadows; Problem?

Link back to old alpha tutorial.

Talk about the option within the render settings to show the correct shadows – three steps, quick tutorial.

Mention compositing for the reflections afterwards.

Show the difference it makes and conclude post.

Reference while writing post:

http://www.gamedev.net/topic/362393-shadow-map-alpha-testing-question-solved/

http://3dsmaxrendering.blogspot.com/2010/01/transparent-alpha-channel.html

http://students.autodesk.com/ama/orig/Curriculum/ADA2011/2010/HTML/AA_Level_1/PDF_Tutorials/Texture_Basics/AA_L1_Texture_Maps.pdf

Why Should I Bother With Website Maintenance?

webmaintenance

It’s become a trend.

No longer content to bill you for the design of your website, web designers are now offering you ‘maintenance packages‘. This can seem strange and unnecessary when you’ve never had to maintain a site before, especially for the non tech savvy. Surely this is just another way to part you from your hard-earned cash! And besides, how intensive can it be? Surely you could handle your own without any difficulties.

With this email we’re going to take a quick look at what maintaining a website entails and who the best people to do so are.

Security Threats and Potential Hacking

Probably the most critical reason for keeping your website up to date is to prevent security issues like hacking. No matter what type of website you’re running chances are it has a few parts that need ‘updates’ each month or so. For WordPress (one of the largest website and content management systems around today) these components come in the form of themes (for your website’s appearance) and plugins (extra functionality for your website). Developers update these to stay in line with current security protocols and fix any loopholes they discover in the previous month.

Leaving this undone means that any exploits in the code can potentially be found by the less savory people on the internet and used to gain access to your site. From there they can lock you out (!), alter your content, or steal customer data.

The process of staying up to date is simple but cannot be ignored.

Performance Managing

Increasingly, the speed of your site will determine how many people stay on it once they visit. Each website now requires regular maintenance to keep the content running as smoothly and quickly as possible. Normally this entails clearing out the cache, removing any superfluous data, and repairing any site databases. Websites can also be monitored for any ‘performance’ bottlenecks such as an image file being too large, which can then be corrected by the designer.

Content Updates

These can include updating your About page to make more sense for potential customers or to bring it in line with where your business is currently. It can also mean making sure contact details are accurate, as are service details, FAQ pages, Footer Text, Logos- Basically any part of your website that has content can be updated. The reason this is important is clear; you don’t want to serve your clients out of date information.

Updating this usually involves changing the wording and images on each page, though it can also mean adding new pages as requested. This is also simple to do depending on the framework used for your website, though it can help to be shown the step by step process if you’re uncertain.

Adding New Articles / Products

If your website has either articles (also known as blog posts) or product lines then it can be helpful to have someone update these on a regular schedule. Often people will write the articles themselves though it can be requested that the web designer do it dependent on their skills, and then the web designer will format it for the site and post it to an agreed schedule. Products can be added, removed, stock managed, and edited if there are any changes.

Preventing Spam Comments

Can your customers comment on your website or articles? If so, you’re going to want to go through these comments every couple of weeks to weed out any spam that managed to get through and clear your comment cache. It’s also a good idea to respond to these comments as some customers and clients will use such forms to ask for assistance. A web designer can address simple technical problems if desired and forward any messages that require your attention.

Keep Design Current

Even if you keep your content up to date and your website running at peak efficiency, sometimes you just want a design change. Maybe your company’s branding has changed slightly; not enough to warrant a full site redesign but enough that you need some colors re-aligned to match the new style. Maybe your logo has been updated and you need your website to reflect that. Perhaps it’s fashionable in your industry to have a certain color combination and this changes each season. These are all things your web designer can help you with, usually for less than hiring them for that specific job would entail.

Who Should Handle the Work?

That depends on your level of comfort.

If you are tech-savvy yourself and have a good idea of what needs done, then there’s nothing stopping you handling these routine tasks yourself if your time and budget require it! However, if you don’t have the time to undertake these tasks frequently, or feel like you don’t want to get too bogged down in making your site ‘work’, it might be time to call in a specialist.

There are benefits to having the person that created your website handle these details; They already know the site inside out and have spent time getting to know you and your business. Further, by purchasing an inexpensive monthly maintenance package you can often get basic design tasks done as part of your agreement.

An alternative is to look into hiring a virtual assistant to handle the day to day details. After the initial time getting to know each other and managing expectations this can be one of the best solutions, especially if you don’t mind being charged per hour. Some even offer basic design services, though as with any hire you’re going to want to check out their portfolio first.

Want Help Right Now?

As a web designer and in addition to my normal services I also offer maintenance packages. Normally I’ll discuss these after working on a website for a client, but if you already have a website and just want the day to day details handled I’m more than happy to help out. Check out my services and rates.

This post was originally sent to my subscriber list (where they get more regular updates full of fantastic information like this) – Subscribe now for the most current updates!

February Fun Roundup Post

January was an odd month in terms of our brand spanking new blog schedule (which you’ll notice, has already morphed into Saturdays instead of Fridays). On the other side of the words, I’ve been working on a project I’m really excited about and I’ve started work full time. Those two things haven’t quite figured out how to play nice yet but the hour long lunches are helping.

There’s a hint about my project a little further down the post, but if you’re interested in helping me out I’m looking for some testers. Anyway, much more on that later – lets get on with the tasty goodness for this month.

SIGGRAPH is Returning to Vancouver!

In a couple of years. Before I start gushing about just how happy this makes me and why, here’s a quick summary of what Siggraph is about for the uninitiated:

SIGGRAPH (short for Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques) is the name of the annual conference on computer graphics (CG) convened by the ACM SIGGRAPH organization. The first SIGGRAPH conference was in 1974. The conference is attended by tens of thousands of computer professionals. Past SIGGRAPH conferences have been held in Los Angeles, Dallas, New Orleans, Boston and elsewhere across the United States.

It’s basically one of the biggest graphics conferences in the world. Last time it was held in Vancouver and broke its prior conference attendance records. I love Vancouver and its close to a lot of my friends; if I’d known about it a little earlier last time I’d have saved and gone.

I couldn’t be happier that they’re returning in 2013 – saving as we speak. Is anyone else planning to attend?

Get a head start with this month’s Online Event

Escape Studios are holding a webinar on the 15th February called ‘The Industry’s Best Kept Secret: Houdini‘. If you were around for my take on skills needed by a VFX Artist then little bells should be ringing all around your brain right now.

Here’s what they have to say about it:

Houdini has been on VFX the scene for quite some time, but over the last few years it has benefitted from somewhat of a revival. The product is renowned for combining superior performance and ease-of-use to deliver a powerful and accessible 3D animation experience for CG professionals around the world. In this webinar, Mark Spevick, our VFX tutor, will explain why it’s become a piece of software which is near impossible to live without and will dispel some myths about it being difficult to use. Mark will walk you through some definitive steps to help you get to grips with the software so you can start integrating it successfully into your workflow. As an integral piece of industry standard software, which all artists need to be in the know about, this is a webinar you don’t want to miss.

I think that pretty much speaks for itself!  The webinar is free, if you have the time I’d recommend signing up and attending.

Best 3D Student Tweets of the month

Project: Creative Author Team’s Writing Club (Meow) | RocketHub http://www.rockethub.com/projects/5243-creative-author-team-s-writing-club-meow Finally updated the image! Have a look at our new logo

This may or may not be the project I referred to briefly in the introduction.

The results of yesterday’s animated GIF about SOPA – The Oatmeal http://j.mp/yY47wz And this is exactly what we love about the news. =)

Unless you’ve been happily living under a rock, you’ll have heard of SOPA over the last few months. This tweet is referring to The Oatmeal’s recent news coverage thanks to his efforts campaigning against it.

Are You Afraid to Pitch Editors? This Is the Reason You Shouldn’t Be | The Renegade Writer http://t.co/EvmfU6R0

Quick look at letters of intent from the editors point of view – useful and insightful.

How to Photograph Your Own Textures | Vandelay Design Blog http://t.co/nEk8R4Ix

A skill we should probably all have as graphics professionals, especially important for texture artists.

I Am Not a Web Designer http://j.mp/wRnQHw

Deceptively simple as far as tweets go. FreelanceSwitch talks about how we’re not really our job titles in the eyes of our customers and how we can take advantage of this.

Posts of last month

The Future of 3D; Mixing CGI with Auditory Illusions

Guest post granting insight into the use of auditory illusions and computer graphics with some speculation on how those techniques could be used in the future.

Alpha Mapping to Create Realistic Leaves

Mehdi Shay shows us how to use alpha maps to create realistic foliage without spending hours modelling.

Continuous Learning and Deliberate Practice for VFX Artists  and Recommended Deliberate Practice for VFX Artists

Theory posts on (you guessed it) Deliberate Practice for VFX artists written by yours truly. They show off a bunch of research I did on job postings interpreted into something we can work with.

So You Want to Become a 3D Animator? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Guest post overview of what it takes to become a 3D animator. Not sure I’d call it exhaustive but its a good starting point.

Happy New Year; World Domination Just Round the Corner…

Plans, purpose, and all that fun stuff for the blog in 2012. Worth a read if for no other reason than to see the good intentions before they get altered. 😉

What to expect this month

Not quite so many posts planned for this month (though no promises on that count). Here are my plans such as they are:

Theory: Building Change into Your Workflow.

What do you do when you’re almost finished a scene, and suddenly you need to change something? Does it throw off your entire workflow or have you prepared for such eventualities?

Tutorial: Modelling or Unwrapping Small Accessories.

I haven’t decided which yet, if you’ve a preference let me know (and I’m happy to do both).

Review: Android 3.0 Animations.

I received a copy not long ago in a Giveaway and since mobile seems to be increasingly relevant for everybody – Why not?

Next Steps

Leave a comment to let me know what you thought of this style of post, and which ONE part you found most interesting.

Recommended Deliberate Practice for VFX Artists

If you haven’t already, go and read the first part of this mini-series on Deliberate Practice and Continuous Learning.

Deliberate Practice for VFX Artists

Over the past week I’ve been looking at job openings for VFX artists, mainly in America, Canada, and the UK but I wasn’t very location picky. Here are the assumptions I’ve made based on the criteria they claim to desire.

They tend to split into two broad categories; Software and Techniques, and Personal traits. Because both categories seem to be integral I’m going to cover each in turn.

Software and Techniques Wish List

For any of these subjects deliberate practice is easy to define (relatively). You can start out on each topic by picking up a good textbook or course and once you know enough of the basics you can set up a plan to practice those daily while you experiment with new things on the other side. There are hundreds of tutorials for each (or at least a few) and plenty of resources available.

Because its less of a challenge to figure out how to get started I’m going to keep this part fairly simple. Here’s a list of techniques and pieces of software that came up during my research.

Software:

  • Maya
  • 3D Studio Max
  • After Effects
  • Nuke
  • Photoshop
  • Python (scripting)
  • Unreal Engine (mostly with games)
  • Shake
  • Cascade
  • Mental Ray
  • Houdini
  • Mel (more scripting)

Techniques:

  • Particle Effects
  • Composite Layers
  • Rendering Optimisation
  • Light Rigs
  • Roto Mattes
  • Blue/Green Screening
  • 2D Painting Skills for Mark-ups
  • Compositing
  • Integrating live action with miniatures or CGI
  • Use textures and 3D meshes in effects
  • Performance and Resource Management (games again)
  • Fluid Dynamic Particle Effects
  • Graphic Shaders
  • Procedural Modelling
  • Real Time Particle Systems
  • Scripting
  • Stylized lighting and Mood Lighting
  • Traditional Art Skills
  • Photography
  • Digital Image Manipulation
  • Stereoscopic 3D

Quite a list! I’m going to go through most of the techniques on this blog in the next few years, and probably some of the different pieces of software.

Traits of a Perfect Employee

These are, in general, much harder to practice and develop. Personally, I think this is because defining them is tricky; how do you cultivate being proactive, for example?

Hand on heart, I don’t know if any of this will actually work. Yet. I’ve only tried out deliberate practice on a couple of them and even on those I’ve tried the progress is slow (though noticeable). I’ll list my translation of the traits I found (you’re welcome!) and then I’ll go into depth on one for an example. If you’ve been practicing already, or you’re really good at some of these, drop me a comment and let me know how it went for you.

  • Understanding of Light, Colour and Composition
  • Demonstrate you’re a team player and can get along with multiple disciplines and backgrounds (I’d recommend building connections for this part)
  • Be able to talk about different types of art, your preferences, and why you like one style vs. another
  • Build change into your workflow and try not to flip out when things change last minute
  • Show you’ve improved your skills over time (*cough*Continuous Learning*cough*)
  • Be proactive and take initiative
  • Take direction from peers and supervisors with grace
  • Keep to schedule and deadlines
  • Create quality work
  • Perform well under high stress (or, presumably, manage the stress so that it never reaches ‘high’)
  • Communicate well within the team
  • Problem Solving
  • Spend time consuming projects from your industry (Different types of games for games, TV programs for television, etc)

Keep to Schedule and Deadlines (my example)

Anyone that knows me, knows I struggle with this one. Not because of bad time-keeping but because I have this habit of taking on far more than I can achieve within a specified time frame.

In fact, and I’m not proud of this, I don’t think I finished a single practical project in my degree year. Fortunately my ideas and paperwork were good enough that I passed anyway – that didn’t make it feel much better to me. After a month or so of not doing anything at all (ok, maybe two months) when the course finished I finally dusted myself off and decided to do something about that.

I found a project management solution that allowed me to time myself doing tasks, create milestones, multiple projects, and anything else I needed. I also went through the Personal Effectiveness Program book; some chapters were more helpful than others but I’d recommend giving it a read and following through as much as possible.

Armed with those tools I set up projects, learned quickly that everything creative was taking longer than I’d estimated and a lot of the other tasks were taking far less time to complete. The next time I scheduled a task similar to one I’d completed, I looked at the difference between estimated time and actual time and adjusted it accordingly.

I learned that I wasn’t nearly as productive as I’d thought initially and scaled back on the work I scheduled for each day, prioritising the tasks as I went.

This was my form of continuous improvement; I’m still not very good at it but I’m more accurate than I was and I’ve gone from 1-2 hours of solid ‘real’ work a day to 2-3 (sometimes more) on average. Since I can see just how ambitious every idea I come up with is now I can allocate enough time to work on them (one of the benefits of setting your own deadlines for your own ideas) and the failing to learn process is much simpler.

To summarize the steps in a general way, here’s what I did:

  • Identified a problem in my skill set
  • Set up a method to track why there was a problem
  • Using the information gathered from tracking, determine what my ‘basics’ were (For this example those were estimating accurately, allocating work coherently, and paring back non-essential tasks)
  • Practice those basics every day and track improvements

Once I reach a point where I can successfully take a project from start to finish without extending the deadline then I can start to be more adventurous in how I practice. Yes I’m aware that sounds terrible (this would be a good time to point out that I can work on other people’s projects to schedule easily enough).

Your Next Steps

Have a look at that huge list and decide which part is most relevant to you. Then comment below saying which one it is, and I’ll respond with how I would start to work on it were I in your shoes.

That way, we can start together. Get the ball rolling with your comment just now (I dare you).

Continuous Learning and Deliberate Practice for VFX Artists

Why should I care about Continuous Learning?

Continuous learning is one of those things we hear a lot while we’re in school or college, usually within the first week of the year and as some magical thing that will help us throughout our lives.

Unfortunately, that’s usually all that’s said on the subject. If you’re lucky you get a bit more about why you should be doing it, or even a couple of pointers for things to practice that will be ‘useful in the industry’.

Continuous learning or Deliberate Practice, however, is one of the most important skills you can cultivate. Not just in this industry (though my research over the past week suggests that its a desirable trait), but in life in general.

It allows you to take skills you’ve learned, multiply them (over time) and if followed through it can make you a true expert in your areas of interest. I could go on, but I learned most of what I know from these folks;

 Let’s Define Deliberate Practice

For the purposes of this post I’m going to define deliberate practice as follows;

“The continual act of regularly taking a skill you have and practicing both the basics and pushing your understanding.”

  • Continual = you don’t stop.
  • Regular = Daily, Weekly, Fortnightly (I wouldn’t recommend monthly, but it could happen).
  • Skill = Measurable activity or set of actions. Think modelling with low polys, texturing to a certain resolution, and so on.
  • The basics = The very foundation of your skill. What you’re taught first when approaching the topic – the basic tenants of your craft.
  • Pushing your understanding = Going further than you ever have before. Possibly even than anyone has gone (I’m resisting a star trek quote here, but you get the idea).

It’s hard work, on a regular basis, over a long period of time. This isn’t a magical bullet solution (and because of that I fully expect most of you to ignore this!), you won’t become amazing over night and it’ll be more boring than anyone really wants to think too closely about.

Your friends, family and significant other won’t get it. Guaranteed.

It will give you both increased skill in your ‘area of expertise’ (for want of a better phrase) and a framework which you can use to learn just about anything with a little creativity.

In the visual effects industry in particular it’s vital; technology and techniques move far too quickly to approach learning them with anything less than a creatively made, flexible, framework. Our bread and butter as 3D artists changes every year or so (looking at Autodesk here) and we have to get used to software features appearing and disappearing all the time. Going beyond that, technological advances mean new techniques, new pieces of hardware, new software, and new requirements at our heart.

Assuming 2012 doesn’t herald the end of all we know, here’s how I’d recommend approaching these challenges for a visual effects artist. At least to begin with – you’ll come up with your own ideas and tailor it to your own plans eventually.

First, Make Time For It

Finding time is the first major hurdle when you approach anything outside of your normal routine. It’s not like we have time where we’re doing literally nothing – every single one of us can effectively fill our 24 hours a day.

Working on the assumption that no one can alter time or be in more than one place at once, we’re going to have to make sacrifices to fit all this in. I’d recommend an hour a day as being fairly manageable though you’ll know how much time you can spare. I’m not about to guilt you or point fingers at some of the things we fill our time with, but here are some points to keep in mind:

  1. It’s been mentioned multiple times that it takes 10,000 hours of continuous practice to become an expert.
  2. Focusing is not easy. After a bunch of practice and really watching where my time goes I’ve discovered that I can pay attention and work hard for approximately 2-3 hours a day. (Note: I work longer than that, but never very effectively)
  3. Exercise can usually roust you from sleepy inactivity, especially after work. I recommend dancing.

Next Time on ‘Deliberate Practice for VFX Artists’

Yes, it’s a bit of a tease but my ultra long post just wasn’t focused enough to cut the mustard (though why anyone would want to, I’ve no idea).

This will continue tomorrow with specific techniques and traits that my research into job postings has uncovered and how to use Deliberate Practice to improve your own skills. As well as a fascinating example from yours truly. Well, ‘somethin-ating’ anyway.

In the mean time, your next step is to make some room. You know where. Commit to some deliberate practice, mark out a time on your calendar daily (I like google calendar for this), and prepare yourself.

Also, comment and let me know what you’re taking time from to do this instead.

 

Happy New Year – World Domination Just Round The Corner…

Happy New Year!

Glad 2011 is over? There’s something magical about a clean slate that, while it can inspire gut-clenching dread, is so pretty and inspirational.

For the last few months I’ve been running around like a headless chicken trying to complete a Showreel (not done yet, but I’ll keep you posted), buy presents (all on time and accounted for!), set up a business or two and work at my day job. Am I likely to be any less busy this year? Doubt it. However I’ll be hanging out regularly on my own blog; I get points for that, right?

What this blog is and the point of it all

This blog will be about making believable effects and 3D. What this means is they can be as outlandish or ‘realistic’ as wanted but they have to be believable.

Tutorials will show how to make specific effects and how to give effects you have more gravity.  Longer topics could be about adding believability to your scripts and scenes – what elements should be there and what shouldn’t.

The point is to enable everyone (me included) to create better effects; ones that add gravity and an extra something to the scenes they’re a part of.

Who is this really for?

I’m really trying to appeal to two different and distinct audiences with this site now. This is for you if;

1. You’re a student, recent graduate or trying to break into the film, TV or games industries.  You’ll probably want to know how to improve your skills, get hired, and make cooler stuff than you currently are. Not quite beginner level, but just creeping into intermediate and feeling your way.

2. You’re already out there creating movies and/or games.  Maybe you’re trying to make a particular scene look more real but there’s something not quite right with your current effects, or maybe the effect just doesn’t seem to fit with the story and you want to find some other way of accomplishing the same result – but better. You’ve been around the block a bit and are just looking for solutions, or a way to improve your workflow in the future.

Why am I bothering?

I’m writing so that I can learn and improve both my writing and 3D effects skills.

That’s all. No money to be made from this yet, learning and building relationships are the main points of this current site from now on. That way if I decide to offer affiliates or advertising later to cover costs I can (and probably will) but its not the main issue.

Why should you read?

Quality content on a real issue that people across the board have; how to make effects more believable within our scenes, shorts and movies. From the writing to completion I’ll be looking at exactly how to do this and anyone reading can use and apply that knowledge to become better and make more awesome things.

Also, it’ll save you time figuring out what the problem is after a while using my methodologies, reduce stress associated, and bring re-known to projects where you’ve added a bit of pizzaz.

When

After the initial ‘January Scramble’ time frame quiets down you can expect one post a week (on Friday, about 4.30pm GMT) falling loosely into these for topics.

  • In depth theoretical post
  • Review of something useful, fun or interesting
  • Video tutorial on a practical tip, trick, or effect made by yours truly
  • The fun post.

Before the eye rolling (or possibly after) – the fun post will have giveaways, reader competitions, answer readers questions, or even just have an interview with someone awesome.

Open to suggestion there – if there’s someone you’d like me to get in touch with, or some training tool that you’re drooling over give me a shout and I’ll do my utmost.

In addition to all that, the newsletter is going to have its own set of updates and some unique content so if you’re not already subscribed I’d mosey on over before you miss out!

Where can you find me in 2012?

Here for a start! I’m going to be around on my blog and through my regular contacts page whenever for obvious reasons. But in addition to all that I’ll be focusing on these social networks:

I’m likely to completely ignore:

  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • Other 3D Forums (I may change my mind on this later)

They’re all linked to my profile on each active account for your convenience, feel free to add me to any (or all) of them and say hi if you do!

Two Types of Purpose

In the first post we talked about why having a purpose behind your work is important.  I also mentioned briefly that there are two types of purpose we can use in creative projects, this post shows how to create both of them.

In order to succeed, wildly, you’ll need:

In order for your project to ‘work’ to the best of its ability you need two different types of purpose.  Rather than belabouring the point at this stage, lets dive in and take a look at how to make them.

Creative Type Definition

Creative purpose gives life and soul to your projects; it deals with the higher meaning, why you want to do it, and what change you’re trying to make in the world (or whatever social group you’re comfortable with).  Without this, even if you have an amazing business purpose the idea itself will be a shell, possibly uninspired and definitely lack spark.

Creating the Creative Purpose

Look at your life and what matters to you.  Think about what you believe, feel the things that tug on your heart, and start from there.  The creative purpose is the most personal part of any project; I couldn’t and probably wouldn’t tell you how to find it.

There aren’t any road maps to defining what’s right or what you want to say and it’s different for every person.  In my opinion this is why we’re able to have so many different art forms and artists; not one of us thinks in exactly the same way as another, and we all have different messages and things we want to talk about.  This part can take a long time to find, and to get ‘right’.  You’ll know it when you have, sometimes you have to start work before it’s fully formed (that’s another issue entirely) however I’d urge you to wait until you have at least a rough idea before beginning.

Creative Purpose is your cornerstone after all, it’s worth taking the time to do this part properly.

Structuring your Creative Purpose

The beauty of the creative purpose is that there’s no iron-clad structure.  Often a simple statement is enough.

That is, as long as the statement conveys the following points to you (and those you work with!) whenever you read it:

  • The change you want to make
  • The circumstance you want to improve
  • The emotion you want others to feel
  • The message you want to send
  • It has an emotional connection with you; you should feel it in your gut

Example: Creative Purpose for July’s Themed Posts

My creative purpose for this month’s feature series reads something like this:

Provide clarity to creators so we can see more awesomely cool stuff.

Ulterior motives aside, that works for me.  My logic follows that we can’t make our absolute best projects without having a reason for doing so, and sometimes we can start with one and lose it along the way (or without one, which is scary but we’ve all done it).  By defining both types of purpose there’s a clear direction for us to travel in, since I believe this is really important and I want to be around to see some really well written games, animations, scenes, stories, etc… This theme was born.

Business Type Definition

On the other hand the business purpose gives structure to the idea.  What you’re making, what targets you’re trying to reach, who will use the finished product, and so on through all the more practical concerns.  This determines how successful your project will be at getting the message out and/or making money.

Building your Business Purpose

Before you can write your business purpose you’ll need to make three main choices.  First you’ll have to decide what you’re making; can’t go far wrong here and your creative purpose might point you in the right direction.

Second, what you’re trying to achieve.  This is a little trickier and speaks to your motives more than anything else.  Maybe you have a product and you’re trying to generate more sales.  Or you have a website / blog and you’d like more visits and views.  Possibly you want to win a competition, or get your message out to the greatest amount of people possible.  Aim high, but not cripplingly so here, and be specific.  Instead of saying something like ‘I want more people to visit my site’, go for something like ‘I want 50 people to visit my site per day by 1st January 2011’.  Constrain your goal.  Make it achievable, but not too easy.  Really go for it!

The third and potentially most important decision is about who you’re trying to reach.  Do you have a specific target audience (if not, why not?)?  Who would you most like to connect with?  How do they spend their time?  Are they students, working, not working, within your industry, in a specific age range, location, gender… There are a lot of questions you could be asking here.  As with your ‘goal’, your target audience has to be specific.

Structuring your Business Purpose

Unlike the creative purpose your business purpose has a generally accepted format.  It takes the form of a short sentence covering each of the three areas we just discussed.  You can almost copy/paste each section into the structure below:

A [what you’re making] for [target audience] in order to [business target/goal].

Example: Business Purpose for July’s Themed Posts

Continuing our example from before, the business purpose for this month’s themed features looks a bit like this:

Create a series of blog posts for creative professionals looking to make their own, successful, projects in order to revive my blog and bring visitors per day up to 45 by August 15th 2011.

Since it’s a blog project I’m running my first section was a given (I actually cheated and had the form before my creative purpose because I had a specific slot to fill per week).  My target audience was defined in a fairly broad sense because this particular set of blog posts can be applied by multiple disciplines, since I have a few creative avenues myself it makes no sense to over specify at this stage.

However, I did pin-point it to creative professionals (people working within creative industries, or wish to, with the skills required) and a mindset (looking to make their own, successful, projects).  The mindset it key at this point because it focuses the direction of each post back to an ultimate goal – partially defined in my creative purpose.

As for my target – I’m a blog owner that’s had a semi-dead blog for the last year due to time constraints.  I needed to come back out with a bang though traffic doesn’t grow overnight.  45 people seemed a fair goal, and by placing the deadline half way through next month each post should have time to gather a little momentum.

Next Time

This week we’ve gone through the process of creating our own creative and business purposes in order to define our projects and give ourselves definite goals.  In the next post we’ll be taking a closer look at finding these purposes in existing projects; both client defined and personal.

Right now though I’d like you to choose one of your projects (or things you do) and come up with both a creative purpose and a business one.  Comment below and let me know how you got on.

Weekend Wanderings Diablo and some Typography

This week’s been a little weird on the blogging front.  On Friday I accepted a full time position with a local fundraising company (excited!) – I start on Tuesday.  Therefore I’m back to juggling time a little more with writing and so on, definitely not complaining but you’ve all been warned.

I also discovered some really interesting industry news (Twitter followers will be nodding along at this point, I’ve actually been using my account this week), I’ll be talking about two of the best pieces today.

Weekly Recap

Keen eyed observers may have noticed that there wasn’t a feature post this week.  Rather than making things awkward between us and mumbling for a few minutes with some excuses (which are good) and an apology (implied, sorry folks) let’s just skip to what I’m going to do to get things back on track.  Tomorrow (the next Monday) I’ll be posting last Monday’s feature post on the Two Types of Purpose.  Then on Friday I’ll be posting the one that should have been posted tomorrow; you’re getting two this week to compensate.  My bad.

On Wednesday we also had our first video tutorial (How to Animate a Dodgeball Throw) by Prantic, and the continuation of Jonathan’s 3D 101 series (3D 101 Rendering Fundamentals).

Typography

Skyrill, a creative company run by the Almossawi brothers (Ali and Hussain), recently released a font set.

This particular font set was created by modelling basic 3D letters in 3D studio Max, then using Realflow to give each the consistency of paint.  They were then released from their shape constraints and left to explode; each frame was rendered and the most distressed, best looking, and easily recognisable images were chosen to represent the letter.

When I first saw how the letters were constructed and destroyed I was split neatly in two with both halves suitably impressed.  The first half was quietly in awe (that happens to be the same half that gets distracted by shiny, pretty things.  Also destruction and explosions) while the second simply wished I’d thought of it first.

Either way I’ll probably spend the next year looking for an excuse to do something similar.

Diablo III

If you’re a gamer you’ve heard, if you’re a fan you’re drooling, and if neither you should go and watch the cinematic trailer for Diablo 3 right now.  I’ll wait.

Back?  Excited?  Excellent, I’m there with you.

No concrete release date as yet but I did find something on Blizzard’s site that made it incredibly hard to sit still.  As you might know there are 5 character classes in this installment; barbarian, witch doctor, wizard, monk, and demon hunter.  Perhaps predictably I was drawn to the hunter.

Click on that beautiful image below and watch the class trailer to see why.

Wrapping up for the week

Next week you’ll be treated to two heavy-duty concept posts as well as the Clipping Frames in Photoshop tutorial with James and the next installment of Jonathan’s 3D 101 series.

As always I can’t vouch for next weekend’s post; after my first week at a new day job I may be a little loopy (as if I’m not already) so there’s no telling what I’ll come up with.  We’ll have to see.

In the meantime though comment and let me know what you think of this week’s highlights!

Weekend Wanderings; 2 Short Animations you Must see

This is the part of the week where I take a look at the things I saw that connected with me, made me laugh, or were just interesting in general and report back. This particular week that means I’m talking about two animations; lets get to it.

Alight

Alight is a short animation less than three minutes long about a fire boy (Sparker) and a water girl (Aquanna). It was made by over 20 people; Jason Keyser was the one that posted it online. Before I get into any more detail, watch the animation.

Alight from Jason Keyser on Vimeo.

When I watched Alight there was an instant connection with the two main characters; you understood who they were and what they were about straight away and even though the animation was short you really felt sad when things didn’t quite work out for them.

The style was beautiful, the animation well executed and seemed to breathe, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Dream Maker

Dream Maker took four years to complete, and once featured in Siggraph (among other film festivals) winning the jury honours award. The creator, Leszek Plichta, is a short film director and CG Artist to this day and you should definitely follow him on LinkedIn after you’ve checked out this short.

DREAMMAKER from Leszek on Vimeo.

Dream Maker’s story is touching. There’s no other way to describe it really; you really want things to turn out well with the characters, the plot makes sense (both marks of good writing), and it has a happy ending. The visuals are gorgeous and you can see a lot of work and thought has gone into the whole thing.

Very well done Leszek!

If you haven’t already seen them, remember to take a quick look at this weeks posts. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

Purpose Introduction

Why do we create what we create?  What is our purpose?

July Monthly Feature: Purpose

No one likes to stumble around, not quite realising what it is they really want to do with what they’re creating, or how a client really wants to see a brief fulfilled.  By being able to create, identify, and use purposes we can eliminate some of that confusion and make every project from here on out much simpler to understand and more effective in execution.

Because it’s such an important concept we’re going to be exploring it as our feature throughout July.  This post kicks it all off by talking about purpose, what it is, and why we should bother and then over the next couple of weeks we look at creating purposes, identifying them in existing projects, the two main types of purpose, and how to use them.

What is Purpose?

According to Uncle Google, a purpose is:

The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

As a broad definition that’s perfect, and exactly what we’re looking for.  The reason behind what you do, and create, or why something exists.  We can take this definition and apply it to just about everything, from a kid building a sandcastle to one company buying another.

Taking it into our industry though there are two levels of purpose that I want to explore within this series.  The first is business purpose.  Examples of that include making business cards to generate more leads, designing an e-commerce site to increase sales, starting a t-shirt line to increase brand awareness.  Anything that relates in some way to money, visitors, and power can come under the ‘business’ purpose.

The second purpose, and probably the more fun one, is the ‘creative’ purpose.  This deals with the less tangible meanings, like educating someone, causing a tear with your story, encouraging laughter, changing a behaviour, awareness of an issue.

I propose that in everything we do as creative professionals, we should be defining both of those purposes.

Why bother with Purpose?

    1.  Stay on message

If you know exactly what you’re trying to say and why it’s much easier to build that into whatever you’re doing.  Design and functionality choices become more focused because they’re there to enhance rather than define.

2.  Measurable results

When there’s an end goal, you can test and track your product/project to see how well it’s progressing towards that goal.  And make tweaks where you need them.

3.  Clarity in Execution.

Ever reached the point in a project where you’re not absolutely certain what you need to do next to improve it, take it to the next level, or complete it?  By knowing what you’re trying to do you’re in a better position for planning, and deciding when it’s done.

What happens without one?

We do our best.  And guess.  Some of us are exceptional guessers and can get work done for clients and themselves really quickly and effectively (personally I think these people are subconsciously determining the reason first), others not so much.

Can’t answer for anyone else, but I’d much rather work on something while knowing exactly why I’m doing it and what the outcome is.  Wouldn’t you?

Next week we’ll be looking at how to create both types of purpose statements.  But before you go; what is the most poorly defined project you’ve taken part in?