The Mac Lab

Archive for June, 2009

Specialists vs Generalists

by on Jun.28, 2009, under Blog

veggies_progression_smI’ve poured hours into the quest for inspiration every day this summer and every day I’ve thought: Enough! Get on with the creation of the new tutorial and policy videos. But every day I’ve had a feeling, a feeling I’ve learned to trust. And every day it’s been right. The last two pieces just fell into place and the recording sessions will begin tomorrow.

I should mention that what you see here is only the tip of the iceberg. We passed 500 inspirational images yesterday. How many have you seen? How many links have you clicked? (Every image is a link.) Been to our third party Vimeo Channels lately? Over 100 great videos there. This is all foreshadowing where we’re headed next year. Expectations are rising but so is the focus of our curriculum. And it’s all due to a sudden moment of inspiration. (Read the second paragraph.)

There’s a movie that’s built around a sudden moment of inspiration. Well, there’s a lot of movies that fit that bill but I’m thinking of this one (got a copy for Father’s Day). In the Mac Lab, this was our change of tempo. But unlike the movie, we’re no one-hit wonders. We’ll be cranking out hit after hit next year so long as I do my job. My job? Well the part I’ve been concerned with —  the 90% unseen part — is coming together nicely. The last two pieces I spoke of are the absolute certainty that typography will play a much stronger starring role in every class, as will many layers of collaborative interaction (ignore the subject matter and the title and focus on process).

0629: That movie I mentioned is set in 1964, the start of the British Invasion and the year music became a force in my own life (I turned 9 in May of that year and spent hours glued to the radio, much to my parents’ chagrin). Mac Lab veterans can attest to the fact that music is almost always playing in class (and a surprising number actually like what I play). Music is my first love. From my POV, it represents humanity’s ultimate collaborative accomplishment. (Yes, I know we landed on the moon and mapped the human genome. There’s just something transcendent about music.) That I never learned to play along is one of my great regrets. (I do juggle to music, though. Something I started in 1979 after this night.) I’ve got a grainy tape of this episode of TNG and it touches me on several levels (especially the flute and what it represents), always ending in tears for the beauty of the story. But back to collaboration, music, and the Mac Lab. In 1981, MTV happened (scathing and interesting info) and the visual/music mix rocked my world. Most younger readers can’t imagine how MTV changed our visual world. Directors made 3 to 4 minute mini-movies, packing information into ever more creative cinematography with ever more rapid camera cuts. If you weren’t there, you might not be able to imagine how profound these changes were. Since we’re going to be Rotoscoping, a-ha seems a natural example. This tragic talent really pushed the envelope too. That I find myself in a position to help kids realize multimedia visions of their own is a dream come true.

0630: Whoa! That was scattered. Continuing that theme… Tunisia brings us to 105 (10 in Africa). So, back to the story. What’s music, typography, icebergs, TNG, collaboration, and a-ha (among other things) got to do with vegetables? (Andrea C) Well, we’re all good at something (or can learn to be). Andrea’s veggies tell a story. She likes photography. The top third of the image is her original photograph. She learned to wield the pen tool masterfully. The middle third attests to that. And finally, the bottom third demonstrates that she learned to hand-color the pen-tooled portion. She turned her photograph into an illustration using skills she’d acquired. Wonderful! But as anyone in the Mac Lab knows, not everyone learns to put the pieces together. What to do with the flatliners? And believe it or not, this and this led directly to this — the a-ha moment of clarity. (Don’t worry. I’m not going to follow Archimedes’ celebratory lead.) There’s too many details to lay down in this post but if you can get past the peeing of pants in the Artist’s Comments and read the “art by” credits, maybe you’ll see what I have in mind. The same may be applied to this oh-so-cool typographic animation. Only a very talented artist might create that alone. However…

Visitor Update: Someone from Windhoek, Namibia spent 50 minutes on the site. Kind visitor, if you come back, share your story. Are you a student? Teacher? Artist? It would be fun to know how you found the place and why you chose to stick around and explore. You’re our first visitor from Namibia, the 106th country to grace our little site. Please drop us an email or leave a comment.

P.S. It’s not Big Brother watching, it’s Curious George. 😉

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Fishing for Photo-Graphics

by on Jun.24, 2009, under Blog

kevin_escher_smRecent posts have encouraged you to try something new (Kevin L) — to do something (like that’s something new). In the practice what you preach category, I’m going to embrace FM’s 365 challenge in the photographic sense. There’s 160 days left in 2009. I have 14 pics here. So, by the end of the year, I’ll need 175 photos uploaded to my Inspiration slot to exceed my goal.

I promised to upload a new photo yesterday. A comment by hayes made me look in my archives rather than taking a new picture because I wanted to feed two birds with one seed. This picture was taken in 2005 with a Canon PowerShot. Here’s the five minutes later enhanced version. You don’t need the latest, greatest camera to take great pictures. Also, even though I’ll be uploading shots from places like Yosemite or Crater Lake, this shot was taken inside a Home Depot (with the PowerShot). Great photos are also waiting right outside your door. This was taken in our front yard. A craft project my daughter made when she was five years old sits in our back yard.

Do you remember this? Almost all of you have access to a camera. Becoming a good photographer will help you become a better artist. Good photographers see the world differently. Don’t’cha think the same is true of artists? I could write pages more, but instead I’m going outside to snap a few shots in the back yard. You teach best what you most need to learn. So true, Richard.

Update: Just finished today’s honey-do projects and got a chance to look through the raw photos I took this morning. I’ll be posting info about each keeper as I “finish” the preliminary enhancements. I decided to shoot macro (close-ups) since I hadn’t done that in a while (on point and shoot cameras, it’s the setting with the flower). And since I said I was going to shoot in the back yard, that’s where these were shot. I wanted to head out front and wander over to the park but I stayed right here to prove a point. Note: All of these need noise reduction. That can wait. I just want to get you guys inspired to get out and shoot! Hint: Dawn and dusk is the best time. When the sky turns pinkish, watch how the colors pop!

Spiders: These critters are all over the place early in the morning. Problem is, to shoot them — to shoot any macro subject matter — you really need a tripod and I forgot to bring one home from school. Oh well. Took around 10 shots of different spiders and this is the only one that was remotely in focus (there was a breeze and the spiderwebs wouldn’t hold still).

Plants: There’ll be a few of these. First up are some small, grassy reeds growing in the pond. I tried to focus on a single reed and let the rest fall out of focus gracefully. I love how the image is almost cut in half by a different reed. I have no idea how the background changed colors on either side of that secondary reed. Sometimes you just get lucky. Next: Whoa! I may print this one. One thing about shooting flowers, you have to get down to the flower’s level if you want shots like this. I don’t really like the next image but it serves as a record of an odd technique that might work in the future on a different image. But this! I’d never noticed what was growing on our wall. Well, no, that’s not true. I’d seen the brownish fuzz (moss?) growing on the bricks but I’d sure never looked closely. There’s a tiny forest growing there. I’m heading out tomorrow morning to get more shots of this magical place! Dead leaf. Turn around. Look at leaf. Click. Move on. Ready for a peek between the petals of a rose? I’d sure never seen this before. Simply beautiful. Next: When the flower won’t stay still in the breeze, don’t try for a sharply focused result! This is about as soft as I could make it. How did geometric shapes emerge from this shot of the reeds in the pond? If you crop a macro of a tiny, fuzzy cactus, you get electricity! I never really liked this bush before. But then again, I didn’t know it was full of these little green piggies (or whatever they are). In another couple of weeks we’ll have been here 10 years. Considering all I’ve seen this morning, I’m wondering what else I’ve been missing. Look: A flower in a flower.

Man-Made: I’ve got to run to pick up my daughter but I wanted to get this one up. Don’t forget that little things can make beautiful big pictures. Here’s a bolt on Noël’s swing set. Spiderwebs and all. Too cool! Next: My wife had the sponge mop drying against the fence. I looked at it and thought, I wonder… Took two shots and moved on. Oh my! There’s a universe of detail in both shots. I may buy a sponge or two and really explore this strange landscape. Who’d’a thunk it? Speaking of the last thing I’d ever photograph, Noël has an old, worn-out, kid-sized push-broom she used to sweep with. It’s been outside for years and is in pitiful shape. I took one shot on a whim. I think I’ll be taking a few more. The wire scraper for the BBQ had too much noise so I made it into a funky background.

Outcome: I’m not sure how to score this as anything other than a complete success. Sure, the pics have noise and there’s plenty of room for improvement, but dang, all that in the back yard?! When I was out back playing basketball with Noël, I couldn’t help but notice dozens more things waiting to be immortalized. Stuck at home? Bored? Grab a camera. Don’t have Photoshop? Grab Gimp. Now, to figure which pics are worth re-editing and adding to my pitiful excuse for a gallery.

Credit where credit is due: If I hadn’t read Scott Kelby’s account of his trip to Tuscany yesterday, this post doesn’t happen (look through his photos). Though you’ll never see it, thanks, Scott! He goes around the world. I wander around my back yard. We both make wondrous discoveries. I couldn’t be happier if I’d just returned from Italy. But, to be honest, Italy’s still on my bucket list! As is my wish to be as good as Scott with a camera.

0625: Don’t want to make this an epic post, but it deserves to sit atop the blog for a few days. It’s a lesson I won’t soon forget and I’d like you to discover the magic too. I’ve reached at least one other person so it’s doubly worthwhile. Once upon a time, Chris took this shot. Beauty! What’s next? I know few of you want to hear this, but once, just once this summer, try getting up before the sun rises. I know, I know. Too early. But if you don’t try it, you’ll never discover the light and color that only appear at dawn. Dusk isn’t the same. That’s when light recedes. Dawn is when light emerges. A world of perceptual difference.

Speaking of the world (Bahamas, 104 countries) and perceptual differences, near the end of the school year, the camera was a heavy thing I’d carry when we went on family excursions around San Diego. Not sure why I took it because I sure wasn’t taking many pictures. (And none of the ones I took were any good.) Even left the camera at home a couple of times and told my wife it felt good to just walk and talk. It actually did, but photography has become my creative outlet. You guys know how many hours the Mac Lab eats every day. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I love it, but I also need to do something creative. I can analyze it all day long but my lack of photographic excellence (or even adequacy) boiled down to one thing: I wasn’t seeing what was right in front of my eyes. So, what was the cure? It was simple. I started studying other photographers. I added more bookmarks to my morning tabs (42 sites and counting). Kelby has great stuff and he links to other great stuff. Every Wednesday there’s a guest blogger/photographer. Then the “D’oh!” moment when I began a third-party photography section in Inspiration. Adding my own section isn’t vanity, it’s a cattle prod for my creative self. I make my students upload work to the Web in hopes that they’ll feel the same: Oh no. Everyone can see this now. I have to do better work than this!

I’m not a great photographer but I am improving. It’s kinda like my writing. That’s my dream, you know. Well, one of ’em. Says so right here. Do you have dreams? Life is empty with out them. I want to be an artist. I want to be a writer. I also want to be a great teacher, husband, father, and human being. Lofty goals. But to paraphrase Robert Browning in the spirit of our post’s imagery, Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what the fish is heaven for?

The light’s coming up on a new day. I think I’ll head outside to meet it.

Later: Been digging through old digital pics. Here’s one from my first year in the Mac Lab taken with a 3MP camera. I added Eddie Tapp’s Dream Glow and Cookie Lighting (I’ll show you in class) then invented what may be an original vignette combination. (Probably not, but I’m going to work on this one as it shows real promise for certain photos. Tut coming soon.) Read Eddie’s Guest Blog Post and check out this technique his new blog. Just thought about teaching what I most need to learn and practicing what I preach. I took that old “finished” pic on a trip through Camera Raw for some subtle enhancements. Took less than a minute. Better? Here’s the third picture I ever took with the Rebel. I trashed the first two way back when so I have no idea what they were about, but this one, check out how I’m focused on the pillow rather than my daughter. Oops! Wonder if it might be worth working on? Thanks, Eddie!

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Look Yourself in the Eye

by on Jun.19, 2009, under Blog

obama_dots_smSummer is a great time to unwind. But it’s also a perfect opportunity for introspection. What is it you want to achieve? (Luke W) Do you even know what you want to do? And what about your contributions to the greater good? Have you even clicked a worthwhile button recently? Scroll down this page and look at the right sidebar. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Now Click the HELP NOW button on the Invisible Children ad under our Tags, watch the Sprint commercial, and rate it (the current commercials actually employ some pretty good graphics). Congratulations. You’ve just helped someone.

One of the reasons I added this feature is that my wife and I went to the zoo last week and several people commented on the t-shirt I was wearing. From their comments, it was clear they didn’t know that Invisible Children isn’t a joke. Hey, we can’t be aware of every tragedy but we can try to do something once we are. Even if it’s just something small like adding a widget to a blog or clicking the button that’s sitting right there waiting for you to do your own little part. Thanks to Justin at Cartoon Smart for bringing this to my attention. As Mother Teresa says: We can do no great things — only small things with great love.

On another note, Mac Lab Saturday School™ dates for the 0910 school year have been tentatively set. Those 18 dates are the equivalent of one entire semester of class meetings. Think about it.

0621: See this section of the forum for a few opportunities Mac Lab students might want to take advantage of.

0622: I’m in shock. A week ago, I read this. I went here. Several times. Pondering the horror. I weighed the consequences. Made a choice. Now I have this. And my life is a shambles. I even… chatted. My virtue is lost. Next I’ll be watching reality TV. The worst part? The Adobe Facebook is a ghost town. Oh well, I can have private conversations with the Adobe Ed folks there. Hey… wait a minute. That’s a good thing. I’m alive again!

0623: Since most of us will be going somewhere over the summer, and since most of us pack a camera to capture those memories, why not take the Mac Lab mind-set along with you and try to get the best shots you can? Take a look at Scott Kelby’s vacation photos. Don’t think for an instant you have to go to Europe to get shots that amaze. We live in San Diego. Photographers fly here to take pictures as well. There’s a world out there waiting for you to tell its story. Grab a camera and head outside today. And just to stay true to my You teach best what you most need to learn (Richard Bach) mantra, I promise to upload something new to my pitiful photo page before the day’s over.

We’ll be using displacement maps for a number of projects in the fall. Anyone wanting to get a jump on this should check this out (via John Nack who also point to a few other links the Illustrator crowd might enjoy).

YES! Adobe Ed answered and a dialogue has been opened. (See the 0622 entry for context.) This is one more piece of good news for us. The more interconnected we are, the better for everyone involved. Mac Lab students do amazing work, but so do other kids were completely unaware of. The goal here is to open as many doors as possible so you and I can collaborate with students and teachers around the world, pushing the creative envelope even further. Now I just have to spread the word to other educators so the discussion opens wider. The days of the static classroom are over. Most people just don’t realize it yet. We’re heading to uncharted territory in education and that’s the coolest thing about all this. Like it says in DYC:

Many meanings have few words, and some are even true
Sometimes three roads lead one to, a fourth that no one knew
Footsteps blaze the trail taken, a path that we’ll create
Just because you’re following, don’t mean I can’t relate

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Please Read this First

by on Jun.18, 2009, under Blog

see_no_evil_sm I misunderstood how categories worked and muddled up the organization of the site [sigh] so I just axed all the old categories. [Yikes!] Oh well, too late to change my mind now.

If you’d you’d rather skip directly to one of these pages:

Students | Parents | Educators | Visitors | About | Tutorials

If you want to try it, the search function works fairly well. On a long page you might consider Cmd/Ctrl F and typing in a key word or phrase to find it.

Here’s hoping you find what you’re looking for. (But the best discoveries are probably made through random exploration.)

A Little More Information: Here’s a secondary page I threw up to help lost souls.

Kudos: See, Hear, and Speak No Evil by Kyle R.

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Week Two of Thirteen

by on Jun.15, 2009, under Blog

close_to_my_heart_smIn the spirit of yesterday’s addition to the first longish post of summer, here’s something new by Isaac Molina. Well, it’s new in the sense that I wrestled it like an anaconda for the past two hours in order to generate a Vimeo-friendly version, matching the score to the length of the animation. (Isaac, either extend the music or put up with the slower version of your soundtrack.) It’s a sweet story animated with clever cinematic touches. Another senior comes through right at the end. Here’s the FLA if you’re interested in how it was created.

Yesterday, I’d already planned on featuring Isaac and an animation theme in today’s post but woke to these two comments. In response I’ll say that the new-post-every-week-or-so-with-hopefully-daily-updates format will continue for two reasons: I want to spend most of my time building up the rest of the site and there’s just not enough student art on hand to support daily posts. Remember, I’m locked out of the lab as construction continues for the next two months and my focus, as it should be, is on the incoming students. I love that you’re clamoring for more but the stats don’t lie. Some of you aren’t taking advantage of what I’ve been posting about. And that’s okay! You’re certainly not obligated to follow all the links. I’ll try to keep posting a variety of short, hopefully interesting info each day. I enjoy reading your comments and suggestions but please understand that the bulk of the daily additions are taking place deeper into the blog (especially here and soon here in a big way) and on our secondary sites like Vimeo, Behance, etc.

0616: Trinidad and Tobago & Sudan make 103. We passed 75,000 page views on Saturday (just noticed). I’ve been adding to Inspiration, Vimeo, and Behance. Tons left to add. You might want to check out the new Photography page (speaking of tons left to add). Look and learn to see the world differently when holding a camera. Also, here’s a video for our cat lovers out there (myself included). I’m heading out with my camera now. What (creatively speaking) are you doing today?

Corey et al., here’s some cool Photoshop brushes from Abduzeedo. More here and here (see Downloads Photoshop).

0617: Have been working on project ideas for the fall and am jazzed at the prospect of learning from the countless mistakes of last year and getting off to a much stronger start. Oh, it’s going to be a great year! The daily expansion of our online morgue file also continues. Amongst the cool stuff I’ve been adding to Inspiration, you might want to check out the latest Typo-Graphics.

Crazy Great Personal Challenge: Flying Mouse has challenged himself to create 365 designs in one year. Have you set any goals lately?

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