Friday, December 25, 2015

Quick Turn on Vector Art Conversion Allows Finished Product Presentation at Tradeshow

Bitmap to vector artwork conversion
H2Optx, Inc. needed some outline art created and prepped for vinyl cutting in short order for presentation of their latest medical industry measurement and testing products at the Annual IFPAC Conference in Arlington, VA.

I was provided the original product logotypes in a PDF file along with logo size and font requirements.

In less than 24 hours, I reproduced the logotypes as vector-based digital artwork and generated the outline-only files required by the vinyl cutter.

The product decals were produced and applied to the company's three products in time for the IFPAC Conference.

H2Optx, Inc. provides multi-spectral on-line measurement products for the Pharmaceutical, Food, and Fine Chemical industries.

Illustration Technique: The 3D Look

Personal Workstation Concept, colored pencil, marker, 1985
The "3D Look" is just about any style that evokes a sense of depth and perspective - a feeling of being next to an object, or being able to reach out and touch it.

The purpose of an illustration is to communicate. Being realistic may often take a back seat to the communication of the idea or concept. I have found that it is frequently possible to create illustrations that have a certain sense of realism but also communicate the desired idea and do not necessarily need to be the most difficult to execute. This usually involves combining a number of techniques and resources to arrive at the desired effect.

It generally takes more time to create a 3D-style illustration using computer software, than traditional tools like pen, ink, marker, and airbrush. With 3D graphics software, the subject is placed on a virtual stage. The lighting, background, environment and other "real-world" issues are accurately simulated.

CGI Rendring, 3D Modeling Software, 1990

Several methods are used to obtain a 3D-look.

The most common, is the use of 3D modeling and rendering software. The big advantage of 3D graphics software is that all you have to do to create a different angle is just move a virtual camera and re-render the scene. Doing that with pen and ink would be extremely time consumptive, and not repeatable. This method produces a specific look. It is more difficult to draw attention to a particular area or object in the scene and it is next to impossible to repeat specific colors from one image to the next.

This method offers the least amount of control over specific elements in the scene, lacks a certain level of detail and it's harder to control consistency between different views, but it is a great method if multiple views or angles of an object are needed.
Carrying Case Line Drawing, Adobe Illustrator
Another method is the use of a photograph or other image of an actual object as a guide and drawing over it, enhancing, coloring, adjusting line widths, etc. according to the requirements. This technique works best for existing objects and products when the specific style is needed. It's fairly quick and produces a very distinctive look.
Telescope Cutaway, Adobe Illustrator
Other 3D-style drawings can be created by just "eyeballing it."  This requires a keen sense of spacial relationships, perspective and proportion.

The vast majority of the illustrations I've created are scalable vector-based graphics. This means that the illustration can be used at any size, reproduced on any printer or screen without losing detail and clarity.

The vector graphics format is the most versatile and generally offers the best clarity for either web or print.

Other methods for creating 3D-style illustrations abound. There are even ways of combining photographs, 3D renderings and line work in the same illustration.

Just about anything created using these methods can be purposed for the web, print or other media. Knowing what the goals and requirements are at the beginning through careful discovery and analysis is essential in determining the best approach in order to achieve the best result.

My Photos Published for Article in Cattery Design Book

In 2005, I was asked to take pictures of a local pet boarding facility that caters only to cat owners. Because of the facility's unique design and dedication by the architect/owner, the facility was to be featured in a new book about Cattery Design to be published in the UK.

Cat lounging in one of the home-like "rooms" of Kitty Hill
In the UK, "Catteries" are dedicated facilities where large numbers of domestic cats are boarded, raised and cared for. The article in Cattery Design (By David Key, Cambridge University Press, May 2006) was entitled: Case Study USA: Condo? No can do! My photographs of the interior of the home-like facility are published in the 8 page article (pp. 150-157).

Cattery Design Book Cover

Instructional videos aid online banking users

Bay Federal Credit Union rolled out a new online banking solution for their entire membership base in the Fall of 2015. Due to the significant differences from their old online banking system, they needed to create a large number of marketing communication projects to prepare and introduce the membership to the new system.

As part of this process, I designed and created two short "how-to" videos showing users how to login to the new system for the first time. In less than a week after the new online banking system was rolled out, these videos had been viewed almost 600 times.

Illustration Restoration and Conversion: Pencils to Pixels

In the old days before sophisticated computer programs were available to graphic artists, we had to use "old school" techniques for illustrations and concept drawings. In the following example, I had created the original drawing using colored pencil, air marker, air brush and frisket. Once a medium was committed to vellum, it was not possible to go back. Undo hadn't been invented yet.

Concept Car Hand Drawing, colored pencil, air pen.
I had created a number of illustrations like this one as design assignments in college. These "traditional media" drawings languished in my portfolio for years fading and gathering dust until I decided to do pens to pixels" conversion, creating a clean, updated digital copy which would be immune to the effects of the physical world.

Hand-drawing restored and converted to a scalable vector graphic
This "concept car" illustration was originally done in the media I mentioned above. For this project, I reproduced the entire illustration in Adobe Illustrator. So now the original drawing, which is fading and bleeding into the paper from age, can live on in digital immorality, existing as a scalable vector-graphics computer file which can be reproduced at any size and resolution, and will never fade.
I'm The illustration is a flat 2D image created using a 2D graphics program. I could have used a 3D graphics program to create a similar image. I would create a virtual "scene", generate a computer rendering, which could be "photo-realistic. That would have been exceedingly time-consumptive, although had I used a 3D graphics program, I could have produced an infinite number of images or animations, from different angles and with a variety of lighting and environmental effects. In this case, all I wanted was a simple reproduction of the original media-on-vellum illustration.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Black and White Conversion: Sandstone Outcrop

Color to black and white conversion
This started out as a color slide. I decided to convert it to black and white to see what it would look like.

Black and white conversion is not as simple as basic removal of color (desaturation). A much more effective conversion can be accomplished when keeping the effects of traditional photographic lens filters in mind - red for a darker sky, etc. 

After some adjustments to color the channels, contrast and grain, I think it looks pretty good, maybe even better than in color.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Model of Klingon "Bird of Prey" Makes Cover of National Magazine and Special DVD Movie Release

Back when I had more time in my life, I dabbled with a bit of miniature scale model scratch-building. I've always loved plastic model kits.

One day, after seeing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, I was talking with a friend and mentioned that I would really love to have a scale model of that Klingon Bird of Prey hanging from the ceiling, but at the time there were no plastic model kits available. I already had an interest in scale models, knew quite a bit about materials, concept modeling, and prototyping from my degree in Industrial Design. I had the time, so my friend said, "Why not just build your own scale model to hang from the ceiling." Well, that was it, I was off and running.

Original Klingon Bird of Prey miniature designed and built by Industrial Light and Magic -
being measured by my friend Jamie.
Original Klingon Bird of Prey miniature designed and built by Industrial Light and Magic - being measured by my friend Jamie.

I took reference photographs of the actual miniature models used in the Paramount movie, since they were on display at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (where part of the movie was filmed), I created my own scale construction drawings, gathered up some tools, in about 6 months I had done it. I had designed and made my own accurately detailed scale model of that cool Klingon Bird of Prey. Of course the original models in the film had a wingspan of about 48". Mine was about half that.

Working drawings of the model's main body
produced from reference photos and other resources.
Working drawings of the model's moveable wings
produced from reference photos and other resources.
A friend suggest I tell the story of the project, submit it to FineScale Modeler magazine. I did, and they were very excited to accept it. I now had to send the model itself to Wisconsin so they could photograph it—How-to article on "scratch-building" a scale model of a space ship from the Star Trek movies.

Rear Section Detail
The finished model - 24" wingspan
Here is link to a PDF of the original article published in FineScale Model Magazine (2.3 MB).
After I originally published information about this project on my website in 2002, I was contacted by a DVD production company contracted by Paramount Studios to produce a Collector's Edition DVD of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. They asked me if they could use the "blueprints" I created for my model for a feature on the DVD bonus disk. Needless to say, I obliged. I was compensated of course, but the thrill of having my own work featured in an original Paramount Studios production was amazing.

Here is a clip from the original video on the Star Trek IV: The Voyage  Home Collector's Edition bonus disk. The sequence isn't very long, but it is still awesome to me!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hand-Made 36" U.S.S. Enterprise Spaceship Comes Together in my Tool Shed

Hand-built 3-foot scale model of the USS Enterprise from the Star Trek TV show
My friend Ron made me an offer I couldn't refuse.

Ron is a woodworker-cabinet maker. His wife is a die-hard Star Trek fan. He wanted to give her something extra special and unique for her birthday. As it happens, I am a Star Trek fan as well. He asked me if I would be interested in a trade of labor - he would build me a custom modular solid wood desk/workbench of my own design, if I would build a coffee-table-size scale model of the U.S.S. Enterprise spaceship from the original Star Trek television series. This custom hand-built scale model was to have electronic effects, illuminated portholes and needed to be free-standing. My desk and computer work area at that time was an old closet door laying down across two book cases. I could use a new custom-designed desk. It was a fair trade.

My workshop consisted of an 8-foot storage shed in my backyard. I had a modest collection of tools and materials from college, so I knew I had the means to pull it off. The finished size of the model was largely determined by the size of the workshop, the capacity of my tools, cost of the materials, and the weight of the various components that were to be assembled into the finished model. We settled on 36" from bow to stern. I drew up full-size plans and went to work on the model itself. Ron would make the solid wood base that would support the model and supply power to the electronics.

The principal material used in the construction of the model was sheet acrylic sourced from local plastics retailers. Other materials used were fiberglass resin, various other plastics, and various bits of structural hardware, and electronic components. Shaping of the saucer and hull components was done by layering and cementing together rough-cut acrylic parts and machining them down with power tools on specially-constructed jigs (we nearly burned out a router while shaping the 18" diameter saucer components). Since the port holes needed to be illuminated, I borrowed a hollywood special effects technique and chose to make the entire model transparent so only a few strategically-placed lights would be needed to illuminate the whole thing from the inside. The final paint job would be applied so that only the portholes would be unpainted and allow the light to show through in those places. As seen in the pictures of the model, this is quite effective.

The model needed to be semi-hollow in places to accommodate the internal lighting and electronic components. These hollow areas also needed to be accessible so maintenance could be performed if a bulb burned out, or if some other component needed service. Access to the inside of the model was designed into it's construction from the beginning. Three specific areas were designated as internal access points where parts of the model could be removed and replaced without affecting the overall appearance of the model, and without needing any tools.

Final touch-ups
Power to the internal components is supplied through the wooden display stand and a special connection plug inside the support tube under the lower hull. When the model is lifted off the base, the power coupling disconnects by itself. The primary on/off switch is on the wooden base The "sensor dish" at the front of the lower hull is connected to a rotary switch inside which allows the selection of the various lighting effect simulation modes of the model. Switch position #1 turns on the porthole lights, position #2 turns on the "running lights", position #3 turns on the lighting effects inside the caps in the front of the engine pods.

The project took about 4 months to complete. The finished model weighed about 20 pounds and was quite a conversation piece.

Below is a slideshow of images showing more views of the model, and various parts of the project.

Oh, and about that custom-built modular solid wood desk of my own design? It continues to serve me well and is more practical than just about any mass-produced piece of furniture could be.

Modular Desk built by Ron Hiatt Construction
The desk shortly after it's completion.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Branding Guidelines with Infographics Make Easy Reference

As part of my responsibility of overseeing brand consistency in marketing materials at Bay Federal Credit Union, I developed a series of visual guides for both internal and external use. These "Quick Reference Guides" or "branding cheat sheets" could be consulted quickly and efficiently by just about anyone involved with projects that required branding consistency. These one-page publications were intended to referred to quickly and easily, be easily understood through the use of infographic-style explanations. They could be printed out and hung on cubicle walls, laminated, or put in binders for easy access.

I developed a flexible corporate color palette with just enough specificity to allow for an increased variety of materials to be produced which would maintain the corporate brand, yet be different enough as to not become stale too quickly. This color palette accommodates both print and web media by providing both CMYK and RGB alternatives in an easy to use visual guide.

Corporate color palette guidelines quick reference sheet
Along with print and web media color usage guidelines reference, we needed a reference guide to ensure proper use of the corporate logo. The visual reference below provides the guidelines for proper usage of the corporate logo in order to prevent inconsistent appearance across multiple marketing channels, media and vendors.

Logo usage visual quick reference sheet
The photographic resources used in marketing materials, ads, brochures and the like also needed some form of guidelines. In the "Photo Selection Guidelines" Quick Reference I developed, examples of typical and/or "acceptable" styles of images are shown. These styles of subject matter, composition and "mood" illustrate maintain the branding look and feel when used along with appropriate color palette and logo styles. This reference also describes the how and why of image composition when choosing images which need to be used in many different formats, sizes and orientations.

Photo selection guidelines sheet

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Good, Free Imaging and Graphics Tools

If you are on a budget and aren't satisfied with the graphics utilities that come with your computer's operating system, these offerings are worth taking a serious look at. I've used many of them myself and have looked at dozens of others. This is a short list of my favorites.

"Free" means you might have to register or sign up and provide an email address. Some applications are open-source. All of the applications listed here are fully functional with no time or usage limitations.

Graphics Utilities (Stand-Alone and Web-Based)

Pixel Color Pickers

Pick up the colors of individual pixels and palettes of up to 16 colors at once and use four advanced color mixers. Copy and paste RGB and HEX values.

Grab the pixel under your mouse and transform it into a number of different color formats. Small and fast. Copy RGB and HEX values.

This is a browser extension that assists with color related tasks - both basic and advanced. It includes a Color Picker, Eye Dropper, Gradient Generator and other advanced tools. Grab a color reading from any point in your browser, change it and paste it into another program. You can analyze the page and inspect its colors. You can also create advanced multi-stop CSS gradients.

Web-Based Color Referencers, Converters and Schemers

Color Schemer
Web-based color conversion/scheming utility. Also offers several downloadable stand-alone applications.

RGB-to-HEX conversion, color harmonies, monitor calibration and other utilities.

Adobe Color CC (formerly Adobe Kuler)

Adobe Color CC lets you try out, create and save various color schemes. It is available in browser-hosted variants, and in desktop versions and as a mobile app.

Screen Capture

FastStone Image Viewer

Screen-capture and much more. Basic image editing, file browsing, slide-shows, email. Free for non-commercial and educational use.


XnView Screen
A great utility I recommend to anyone who works with graphics files. View and convert graphic files, create slide shows, digital contact sheets, and much more. This application does just about everything. It supports more than 500 graphics formats.There are several versions, including one for iOS.

Paint and Photo-Editing (raster-based)

Image and photo manipulation software for Windows. Basic Photoshop-like tools, reasonably sophisticated. Requires Microsoft .NET Framework 4.5.


GIMP Screen
GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It is a freely distributed program for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It runs on many operating systems and in many languages.

Drawing (vector-based)


InkScape Screen
Inkscape is an open-source vector graphics editor similar to Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. Inkscape uses the Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) an open XML-based W3C standard, as the native format.

Serif DrawPlus

This previous version or Serif DrawPlus is available for free (requires a sign-up process for unlocking).

Image Organizing/Viewing

FastStone Image Viewer

FastStone Image Viewer 
Screen-capture and much more. Basic image editing, file browsing, slide-shows, email. Free for non-commercial and educational use.


XnView is also a great photo organization/viewer utility. View and convert graphic files, create slide shows, digital contact sheets, and much more. This application does just about everything. It supports more than 500 graphics formats.There are several versions, including one for iOS.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Birdhouse Camera Captures Nature in Action

Living in the hills means we get a lot of wildlife activity. In 2012, I set up a small bird house (nest box) and installed a miniature IR video camera. Not long afterwards, a family of Oak Titmice (perching birds) moved in, built a nest, and raised family. Together with additional video shots from outside the nest box, I created a short video telling their little story.

 It was so much fun to watch nature in action and create a semi-educational video, I did it again in 2014 when a new Titmouse pair, or some of the same individuals from 2012, moved into my "bird brother" house, and raised another little bird family.

Both videos are posted here for your enjoyment.

I made the video immediately below in May of 2014.

The video below was made in May of 2012.

Visit my YouTube Channel for more videos.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

High School 8mm Animated Film Gets New Life on YouTube

Fun with toy cars! Okay, not since 1978, when a friend and I made the original version of this stop-motion film in High School. We entered the original movie in our high school's film festival. We made a "sound track" on an audio cassette. We started and stopped both the movie projector and cassette player in a futile attempt to keep things in sync. Unfortunately, it was not very effective, but the audience still applauded loudly.

For this digital remake, I replaced our old funky hand-drawn "Emerald Productions" logo and titles with some fancy CGI graphics, added a 3D computer animated title sequence, new music and sound effects. Enjoy!

Weekend Video Project Pokes Fun at "Art Films"

My friend Bill Boes and I shot this in a couple hours one afternoon in San Francisco. This should have been nominated for something!

It just happened to be the same day as the Oakland Hills fire which was raging across the bay in the background. The smoke added mood to our shots although at the time we didn't know the extent of the fire's destruction. I edited this together just recently as my first YouTube upload. Shooting the scenes for this was a spontaneous weekend activity with no real intention or purpose, other than to have fun with a video camera and to perhaps, poke a little fun at inscrutable experimental art films.