Tons of people use Slacker.com to play music, now (including me, every day), either right from their browser or as an app for their smartphone, but when Slacker was first starting up, they hired me to do renderings of their first standalone flash player.

Once again I did the modeling in Rhino and the rendering in Maxwell Render.  The beauty of Maxwell is that the renderings were so realistic, it actually helped reveal some design flaws, like edge chamfering, which were able to be corrected before manufacturing.

As usual, a ton of material tests and renders ensued before the final…

Slacker’s done well for itself, and I’m proud to have played any small part in its earliest days!

Slacker Radio Player

Every once in awhile, you work your ass off on a project that ultimately never sees the light of day.  This was one of them, and it still bothers me a little bit.

My friend Don Bies from White Room Artifacts – and former Senior Archivist of the Lucasfilm Archives – called me about doing a museum proposal for a new touring Star Wars exhibit.  If you’ve seen his site, and the amazing work he and his team have been doing for NASA, and you consider that many of the original crew who actually worked on the models for Star Wars would’ve been a part of it, you start to get a sense for how amazing it might’ve been, had it been.  The exhibit never happened, though.  Nonetheless, we had fun working on the proposal.

The exhibit was to be called Creating Star Wars: A Cinematic Revolution.  Our idea was to illustrate the entire process of film production – from concept to marketing, realized in separate “chapters”; one chapter per gallery of the exhibit. Don had come up with a cool modular layout which could be reconfigured to fit in virtually any exhibit space.

And while he was working on the practical side of things like integration, I went to work trying to come with a logo for the space, which would ultimately define the signage and color/material palette for what we wanted to do.  I went through several iterations…

Of course, anytime I’m working on an official Star-Wars-related thing, I tend to have a lot of angst about really doing it justice, which actually works against creativity.  It makes it hard to trust those first, often best, instincts.

Eventually I settled on a design which had a lot of flexibility to it, and most importantly, which everyone liked.

In our presentation of the separate Chapters/Galleries, I did a different title page for each section, mirroring the feel of each stage of production.

We did renderings of each of the galleries, and even had a cool idea for the look of the Visitor’s Map Stand which guided people through the exhibit (and which true fans will recognize!):

Ultimately, we printed up beautiful bound books, and presented them in these cool aluminum-hinged cases with the logo etched onto the front:

Ah, well.  The Force was not with us, this time.  But it was a great reminder that weeks or months of your life may be spent on a project which will not culminate in a World Premiere, so you’d better enjoy the time you spend on it, and make sure you’re proud of what you did!

We did, and we are.  We’ll get ’em next time.

Creating Star Wars: A Cinematic Revolution

I loved the first Iron Man movie.  I saw it in the theaters 5 times (I don’t think I’ve done that since Raiders), and it was just sort of on my mind a lot.  So it wasn’t particularly surprising that one Saturday afternoon I felt like doing a mash-up between Iron Man and R2-D2 – which I’d already done in CG, of course.  What was surprising was that Gizmodo and Reddit posted it and the damn thing went viral – in geek circles, anyway.

 

I’m still getting Google Alerts about it.  What was especially cool was that Iron Man‘s director, Jon Favreau liked it so much it’s been his Twitter avatar ever since.

Anyway, it gets better.  Eventually, one of the members of the R2-D2 Builders’ Club, Kevin Pommenville, decided to take my rendering, and actually build it for real.

Do you know how hard these things are to build?  And this guy tosses off a build of an Iron Man mash-up version I did in an afternoon, and it’s even cooler than what I came up with.  That’s badass.  Surreal, and badass.

 

Anyway, I had done a few other Iron-Man-related things as well.  I wanted to make my desktop look like Tony Stark’s, so I decided to recreate the Stark Industries logo myself.  As usual, weeks of obsessive analysis ensued.

Along the way, since I was analyzing every reference frame I could so intently, I spotted a couple 1/24th of a second inside jokes about Iron Man‘s Jeff Bridges, who’d famously played the title character in The Big Lebowski. These images flashed by on his character’s computer screen during one sequence:

Ultimately, I did many revisions to ensure the letterforms were just right.

And finally, my desktop wallpaper was done.  Looks just like Obadiah Stane’s from the film.  Both Danica and I had this as our wallpaper for months.

Eventually, someone asked to use my logo to make Stark Industries T-shirts. Of course, I agreed.

Still wear it.

Iron Man-ia

The first entirely-CG visual effects job I ever got was modeling and rendering the iconic Capitol Records building for an animation which would go at the top of all Capitol DVD releases.  It was the job that ultimately led to my relationship with Warner Bros. Pictures, which led to me opening my own post-production company, which would comprise the majority of my creative life for the next 8 years.  I didn’t know all that would come of it at the time, but I knew it was a big job; an important job.  I knew I really had to do it justice.  So to start, I asked for copies of the original 1954 blueprints, so I could assure the digital model was as accurate as could possibly be. I remember vividly the building engineer taking them out of their storage drawers and bundling them up for me; they were just dripping with history, yellowed and wonderful.

I spent hours just looking at them, absorbing every detail, before realizing I didn’t understand most of what I was looking at.  Some measurements are pretty straightforward on blueprints – others, not so much; and they reference all sorts of other prints with cross-sections, and details, and histories of changes.  I had a crash course in vintage blueprint analysis, but I was so amped up for the gig I didn’t mind.

Before the modeling actually began, I climbed all over the building double-checking measurements, taking reference photos, and capturing textures.  On the roof, with an amazing view of Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, I counted the holes on the tall spire; I noted the spacing between the giant letters, and wondered about the font.  Ultimately, it would take weeks of painstaking work and many trips back to the building before I had my digital model complete, which I built in my software of choice at the time, Form-Z.

I did the texturing, animation, and rendering in ElectricImage, and then did sound design, wrote some music, and mixed the piece in Pro Tools.

Back then, making photoreal CG – or anything approaching it – was 1000x more difficult than it is today, but maybe more rewarding for the effort.  I can’t imagine how much more realistic this image would look today.  Maybe it’s time to dig out the model…

 

The Capitol Records Building

Love is the altar upon which you sacrifice the idea that you're a rational person.

On Love

I was proud to be asked to do some renderings and an instructional piece for the U.S. Military, training soldiers how to use a new combat eyewear system designed especially for harsh conditions.  From the product’s information page:

NIGHTHAWK Combat Eyewear System

The most advanced combat eyewear system ever created. Nighthawk provides superior design, clarity, adaptability, comfort and ease of use while providing a full 180° view for better peripheral vision and protection. Interchangeable goggles and spectacles with clear and gray anti-fog lenses and advanced optics are built specifically to provide protection from sand, dirt, and debris.

I was only given clearance to display the one image, above (though I think the product is public, now). Once again, these computer-generated goggles were rendered in the fantastic Maxwell Render engine.

NIGHTHAWK™ Combat Eyewear System

Hot off the bench: My design for a limited-edition Star Wars iPhone case featuring R2-D2 (my CG R2-D2, in fact!).  This is one of a series which will be offered at Disney Theme Parks as part of their Star Wars Weekends.  It’s not that big a deal; these little start-up companies are super easy to please.

Star Wars iPhone Case Design

Batman – The Simulator Ride

This score was written to accompany the motion simulator ride currently running at Six Flags’ MovieWorld Theme Parks in Madrid and Australia.  The score needed to seamlessly integrate the theme from the 1989 film with new themes which I wrote for Joker, Catwoman and Mr. Freeze. Recorded at Todd-AO and engineered by Shawn[…]

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

I was excited to compose the score for Forbidden Warrior – the film embraced a very grandiose and mythical style, visually, so a lush, heavily-thematic score was fitting; and that’s just indulgent fun for any composer.  We utilized a large orchestra and recorded on the legendary Todd-AO scoring stage with Academy-Award-Winning engineer Shawn Murphy at the console.

The two tracks featured here give a sense of the score in essence.  More previews, and the album itself, are now available on iTunes!

Forbidden Warrior

If you haven’t heard by now, former television child-star Danica McKellar (The Wonder Years, The West Wing) grew up, graduated summa-cum-laude from UCLA as a certified math genius and co-authored a physics theorem on two-dimensional magnetism that now bears her name. Click on that link, I dare you.  But even more impressive is that she followed up these achievements with a series of New York Times Bestselling math books for middle-school girls, teaching them not just how to do math, but empowering them with the courage, confidence, and self-respect that brings true happiness and success in life.

I have been privileged to be a small part of her amazing contribution: I came up with the titles for her books, and did the jacket artwork for both hardcover and paperback versions.  It wasn’t that hard a job to get – I was married to the author.  Still in all, I’m proud of what we’ve done, and can’t encourage you strongly enough if you’re the parent of a middle-school girl, know of one, or have ever heard of one, to purchase these life-changing texts soon enough.  They don’t just teach math skills; they teach life skills, and they’re changing the ways girls think about themselves – and math – the world over!

Cover Designs – Danica McKellar’s “Math Doesn’t Suck” Series

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Last year I was asked to compose the score for a beautiful and touching short documentary entitled, “A Journey with Purpose” which told the tale of a Holocaust survivor who returns to Auschwitz with his grandson to confront his demons, make peace with his memories, and, at long last, say Kaddish – the prayer for the dead – for family and friends long gone.

Here are a few excerpts from the score.

A Journey with Purpose

Back in 2005, I was honored to realize and render the iconic Superman Shield featured in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns from Warner Bros. Pictures.

I did several variations on the look and materials which were seen on posters, banners, consumer products, and a host of other projects related to the film.  Shortly after completing the project, I was interviewed by SuperHeroHype.com about the process…

Superman Returns – The Shield

Having been a life-long Star Wars fan, I was honored to become part of the official Star Wars universe when asked to create a new CG R2-D2 for Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary. I had previously done one on my own, as a personal project, which I found later was the reason I was considered for the job, initially:

 

I’d even done a couple of renders of him for the Fourth of July and Halloween.

Now, in truth, Lucasfilm was happy to just use the one I’d already done, but being a card-carrying member of Perfectionists Anonymous, I insisted on re-doing it.  I wanted it to be as accurate as possible; after all, this was for Star Wars! – a chance to give back to the universe which had inspired me creatively, so often.  Plus, I figured I could swing a trip to Skywalker Ranch out of it, and get a chance to measure and photograph the real R2’s.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Former ILM model maker, and Lucasfilm Archivist Don Bies arranged for me to come up there and spend a few days detailing every square inch of three of the original R2’s.

I took gigabytes’ worth of reference photos, capturing every detail and nuance, which I would use later to build texture maps for my CG version.

After weeks of work, I had finally modeled an entirely new CG R2, and was ready to texture it.

The materials, lighting and scene setup happened in Autodesk’s Maya, and the final renders were done by NextLimit’s Maxwell Render, which I have been proud to be on the testing team for since its earliest days.  My first render was a side-by-side comparison with one of the original R2’s I’d photographed.

Next was to compare it to a well-known studio photo from “back in the day.”

When I was finally satisfied, it was time to render final images for the book, and other projects.  Here’s a single shot of the final:


For more shots of the final, check out this post.  And then check out the story of how, armed with all the secret knowledge of the original R2, I decided to build my own real one!

 

CG R2-D2: Behind-the-Scenes

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

I was recently commissioned to score a new museum exhibit featuring the amazing accomplishments of NASA during the 20th century called NASA – A Human Adventure.  The music would underscore the exhibit narration, as visitors move from gallery to gallery.  While it was important for each gallery to have its own style and flavor, I chose to unite all the pieces under a very “Americana” sounding banner, with nods to works of American composers like Aaron Copland, who helped define that sound for all of us.  The exhibit features stunning and wonderfully-crafted models built by White Room Artifacts – an elite model shop founded by former ILM model maker Don Bies, who frequently collaborates with the most famous and well-respected model makers in film history – many of the original crew for such pioneering films as Star Wars. Check them out.

NASA – A Human Adventure