Category Archives: Multimedia and Interactive

Designing for live events, stadium entertainment, and other interactive projects.

Wacom Inkling Review

I buckled. I did. I looked at the Wacom Inkling on that Amazon page and thought…it’s available! …….again. I was one of the early crowd that was excited about the invention of this amazing little pen. But the fiasco with its release caused me such annoyance that I cast the idea aside and sent Wacom’s would be product packing. I mean, we’re talking several MONTHS of waiting. Not just “it’s coming out soon” kind of waiting, but the “we’re going to release now…uh…nevermind” kind of waiting. MANY times!

But the stars aligned and I found myself with a small chunk of change and necessity for a tool like the Inkling. And lo and behold, I have my product!

What is an Inkling? It allows you to draw using a pen-like tool (in this case, an actual pen with some digital modifications). The small box sits at the top of your page and captures the information as you draw so that later, through the graphical editing tool of your choice, you can use the image that you created in your digital project.

Why is it necessary? Tablets are not the cheapest thing and not always the most convenient thing to carry around. Let alone some kind of Cintiq unit that is actually a drawable display. And when you’re out and about, you need something that’s compact and easy to use. I always have my notebook with me. And it’s easy enough to attach the digitizer at the top of the page and start drawing. It captures my work, and most importantly to me, allows me to create LAYERS of art so that later, I can separate the elements and make any fine-tuned adjustments that are necessary.

The Pros:

The pen and receiver are very compact. Easy to port. It’s a little bulky for a pen, but the design is nice enough to fit into my style of drawing. Keeping the tip of the pen in the viewing area of the receiver is easy enough. Importing into Photoshop was a breeze and all the layers were definitely captured. LOVE LOVE LOVE that it captures layers. Simple button click starts a new layer. Squeezing the receiver actually starts a new file. The thinking here is that you’re removing the receiver from the paper to start a new drawing. The software is fairly intuitive, though it took a little bit of research into the Help doc to export the right file format. There were a lot of complaints about being able to capture the movie of your art being built. Not a requirement for me. My end result is the file. I was getting used to HOW to draw with the product, so some of my work came out misaligned and rough. I had success with one of my drawings, so I just need to learn how I did that and do it from now on. For me, I think the issue was more user error than software or hardware, so I may have to do a follow up. Another great piece of this hardware is that it’s compatible with REGULAR pen tips! No proprietary equipment there. Nice.

The Cons:

Keep in mind that my experience was specific to a smaller notebook, I was just getting used to the pen and kept moving the receiver (whether with my hand or by moving my notebook), and I was in a rush to use it for the first time on a project I had to get out the door. SO!

First off, squeezing the receiver to start a new file is smart, unless you accidentally push your digitizer off the page and have to re-clip. This is a nuisance when you’ve completed a lot of your drawing because it creates a new file. This is especially annoying if you’re going into a shading mode and just wanted to create a new layer (Note: the workaround for this is to create the new layer/file, do all your shading, and then re-align in Photoshop.) The pen, like most ballpoint pens, has to be rolled a couple times to get the ink flowing. Not a big deal. But when you’re tracing your pencil art, the ball stops rolling a few times. The key here, I think, is to use the pen from start to finish. I’m a pencil guy, and so I did several sketches first, assuming I could just go over it with the pen later. I may see if there’s more of a quill type pen or something that flows easier than the pens they give you. Finally, the price point is nothing to snicker at! $200 for a digital pen, while much cheaper than a tablet, is still about twice as expensive as some of the solutions out there. Does the layer feature make up for it? I’m thinking…yes. 🙂

Overall, this product does exactly what it says. There’s some calibration that needs to happen, but I’m excited to apply it to my other art projects. I give this a B- since the first version of anything out the gate usually has some flaws. I hope this doesn’t go to the wayside. Talkin’ to YOU, Wacom!


Designing for Stadiums

If you were to ask my neighbors who the biggest sports fans are on our block, I wouldn’t even make the list. Now…if you were to ask my neighbors who, on our street, knew football and baseball, America’s favorite past times…yeah, I wouldn’t make the list either. I watch Obscure Sports…on the OCHO! Seriously, I have always been into non-mainstream sports: Martial Arts, Soccer, Diving, Gymnastics, BMX, Rock Climbing, and even Ping Pong. These are types of sports not normally shown at your neighborhood bar & grill. And that’s OK. That’s why I have cable. And so I found it extremely interesting that in the last couple of years, I’ve somehow attached myself to the world of mainstream professional sports with clients like the KC Chiefs, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, KC Royals, Sporting KC and more. And in those connections, I’v’e been tasked with designing interactive games for the big screen or on mobile devices. And I’m talking the BIG screens. I mean, the ones that loom over stadiums and arenas and show scores, replays, and anything that can help get the audience hyped up. These are the fillers between the game or event they came to really see!

If you’re new to designing multimedia for stadiums, and we’re not talking the thin LED screens that surround the arena or stadium with looped messaging and animations, the most important thing to remember is the attention span of the audience. Like with TV, you’re trying to grab them at very short clips. LEDs, the scoreboards and even the great visuals that dangle precariously over indoor courts, are like banner and window ads on a website. They just become the white noise on the page. When focus isn’t directed at the event, it’s to talking, finding your coat, keeping kids in line, and anything other than barrage of sponsor ads that grace anything that emits light. In my experience, designing for these venues boils down to two things:

1) How does the crowd get to interact with what’s on the board and how quickly can they do it?

2) What is the incentive for the crowd?

First, let’s talk about WHY you’re engaging the crowd. Pretty simple. It’s really not to keep them hyped. It’s about getting names. Data is the holy grail. Know who they are so that you can stay in contact with them. Sponsors EAT UP anything that lets them get back in touch with the crowd. Brand awareness is another reason. The guys with the money want you to associate this awesome event with THEIR brand. The more you see it, the more association you have with it. Fond event? Fond memories of the people who paid to put it on.

Second, let’s talk about WHEN you’ll be showing your awesome work.

Text-to-screen campaign

It all begins with the time before a game starts. As would be expected, if there’s no action on the field/court, the attention turns to activities available on the boards or throughout the stands. It’s at this time that you should, with your eye-catching graphics and inventive campaign, get much of your interaction. One campaign I worked on incorporated text messaging to the board where audience members texted their messages to a shortcode and, after admins approved the messages, would appear on the board. The message: Text your message to 80802. Simple request for action. Immediate response. It’s the age old vanity of concept of “HEY! I WROTE THAT!”

Miami Heat at Sprint Center

After the game starts,  you’ll be shooting for those moments during the event or game where the audience is basically waiting for the action to start back up. Time outs, inning changes, blah blah blah. They’re short. In baseball, you’re looking at a max of 45 seconds unless a timeout calls for more time. Yes, it’s longer than some commercials, but you’re talking about games, interactivity, and audience members that take their sweet time just to notice that your amazingly awesome interactive feature is even on the board. Not to fear. Most venues do a great job to prep the audience beforehand. But wants you’ve got their attention, get into it. Get the interaction started.

Scanning on Crown Vision

With another team, we developed the first ever Wii game played on the largest screen in the MLB. It was breakthrough! But it took a lot of prep. Imagine starting the clock on your 45 seconds and you’re trying to get the remote out and explain the game to an audience member who may or may not even know what your “Wii” is. Luckily, the stadium crew does a good job of prepping members BEFORE it’s time to play. Often, they’ll have the camera crew and contestant ready to play at the next timeout or break. With the contestant prepped, they truly have about 30 seconds to interact with your game. 10-15 seconds of explanation for the rest of the stadium and a solid 20-30 seconds of game play. So your multimedia elements, whether a 3-card monte, Family Feud, or any other game that requires audience participation, should be easy to understand, easy to play, and quick to execute.

Sprint Center Jukebox

Finally, let’s talk incentive. Most games that simply fill the void are sold as sponsorships. A company buys a game spot, puts their logo at the start and end of a game, and the audience member goes away with a prize if they win. For the audience member, the prize is the thing. For the sponsor, again, it’s either brand awareness or data gathering. So the more times you can incorporate some kind of information gathering on the attendees, the more mouthwatering your interactive sponsorship will appear!

The Gadget I’ve Been Waiting For

There are a few products out on the market today that capture your drawings, sketches and writings. Some require special paper, others only function as an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) tool. Others simply capture your drawing as a JPG or flattened graphic from which you are bound to a specific size or resolution to work with later. Not anymore…and in that same breath…not yet.

The Wacom Inkling is a new take on some current technology. And a logical next step! It allows you to sketch as you normally would with a ballpoint pen. However, like Wacom’s digital pen technology, captures pressure. It uses a proximity device that requires a clear line of site to the pen. The writable area maxes out at about an 8.5×11 sheet of paper. Perfect for me because I use a much smaller sketch book. The most important features about this new device (at least to me) are:

1. Can import into Photoshop AND create layers on the fly. No more trying to magic wand around your drawing. No more trying to create channel masks to recreate your drawing.

2. Creates vector lines. WHAT?? No more scanning at super high resolutions! No more importing into Illustrator to convert to vector lines. It imports the lines directly into Photoshop for easy editing with the Bezier Pen Tool! Yes, please!

The bad news. It’s not out yet. It’s SUPPOSED to be! Since I found out about this gem in August, I’ve been waiting patiently as Wacom updates its website with delivery dates to come. In October, the site said “Available mid-October.” And so I waited. November 1st rolled around and nothing. Communication with Wacom’s Facebook team rendered me a simple “Sigh.” response. Finally, a new update. “Available mid-November.” Oh, Wacom. You tease of a technology vixen. I will wait for you. Until someone else beats you to the punch. 🙂

The Kims of Comedy

In case you haven’t rented or seen this video, it is the FUNNIEST set of takes on Asian life in America you can ever have the privilege of watching. I did this promo for Steve and the gang a couple weeks before they were going to release it.

It’s funny for me because my name is distinctly German/Irish/European. You could almost say it with a distinct German accent and no one would be blink an eye. And after working with entertainers for years over the phone, I always get the same reaction when I meet them face-to-face for the first time: “Holy sh**! You’re not what I expected.” I’m so well spoken.

FYI. I’m half Asian. And I dig it. And yes…we DO all know Tae Kwon Do. Karate’s for Japanese. Everyone in the Kims of Comedy is Korean. And so am I. 🙂

Want to read up on them? Here’s an older article!

Features comedians: Steve Byrne, Dr. Ken Jeong (The Hangover, Community), Kevin Shea and Bobby Lee (Mad TV)

Bridging Gaps – Part 2

OK. Yay. You got to work in the field you wanted. But how? How did you bridge the gap between corporate communications and entertainment work?

Quick side note. I worked in the music industry for a little bit in L.A. and I would always listen to these stories of how writers, musicians and artists went from being broke to being successful. And 99% of the time, they skipped the part about how. I take that back. They always left out the details. The story always went something like:

I was broke and didn’t have a job. And I figured, no one is going to make my dream happen but me! So I worked hard and 1 year later, I landed my first deal. We went around the country playing small clubs and they got bigger and bigger until bam! Carnegie Hall! A great story. But if I want to follow in your footsteps, I’m going to need a little bit more info.

So here’s some more info. If you recall, I reached out, by accident, to the booking agent of a comedian that I wanted to work with. The world wide web was just emerging as a viable medium and I had just graduated from Future Splash to full-fledged Flash. The internet was finally able to handle some coolness and I was out on the cusp of its development. So I sent an email. The booking agent wrote me back with the simplest of responses: “Call me.”

So I did.

Here’s something you should consider before you run headlong into a working relationship. Know what you can get before you offer. You see, I had never been to a comedy club. I didn’t KNOW that often times the comedians simply hang out to talk. But to me, that was worth the design of a small website. And so I offered to design one with the promise that I could get some free tickets and meet the comedian backstage. Well, for a booking agent, tickets to ANY show of their client is like lint. Always available and they can produce them at any time. Insert Price is Right Fail music. So he hooked me up. And it was my good fortune to have accidentally emailed the BOOKING AGENT because now he had OTHER clients that could use my services.

Second note: When making sales calls, reach out to the people that have more contacts. While it’s great to be speaking directly with the end client, sometimes it’s better to set up a relationship with the guy who knows all the clients you’re trying to reach. For clarity: the booking agent works with a bunch of comedians. I wanted to work with some comedians. Had I reached out to ONE comedian, I would have relied on him to spread the word for me. Working with the booking agent, I could provide added services to his clients. Win-win.

Baptism by fire.

How did I gain these web and multimedia skills? Let’s start with web. I was a graphic designer. Knew Photoshop, Illustrator and Desktop Publishing. There was no web ability in there whatsoever. Not even an understanding. But my company didn’t know that. We were JUST starting to understand the web. So I jumped in with both feet. “I know how to design a website!” The marketing manager looked me for a second, knowing he had no other alternatives or budget to hire an agency. “OK.” So I got the gig. I went straight to the developers and said, “So…I’ve been asked to do this website. Do you have any resources you can recommend?” And they did. A great starter book. And so began my web design career.

I began devouring books. Watching tutorials. Found great CD-ROMs from Lynda! Eventually, I jumped into a couple classes here and there. All to expand the skills I knew would get me the kind of work I wanted to do. And the booking agent did his part. He recommended me to other comedians. They recommended me to each other. THEIR contacts wanted me to do THEIR websites. Eventually, I could barter my skills with favors from these entertainment professionals. What kind of barters? Here’s an example. I bartered a website for a promise that my client would read a new script I was working on. They loved it and passed it onto their son, a film icon back in the 80’s. THAT relationship sparked a writing partnership that would last 3 years. So I went from Corporate Communications to web design to designing for entertainers to becoming a script writer.

It’s how I tell people to use the side door.

Bridging Gaps – Part 1

I used to write a blog about being a writer in the entertainment industry. I have been, in one way or another, attached to the entertainment industry in whatever capacity I could. Whether as a writer, a producer, a designer, a developer, an animator, or whatever was the soup du jour. It was what I was pulled to. I LOVE the entertainment industry. It has neurotics, crazy people, driven people, some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, as well as some of the biggest jack asses. But all those experiences aside, it was a career path I wanted to pursue. But like the connections in your brain, if one way didn’t work, I’d simply find another.

Here’s the point. No matter what your passion, just because you can’t make it your full-time mission in life, doesn’t mean you can’t make it a part of your life. What I’m talking about here is the all or nothing mentality I sometimes come across. The “I worked in the film industry, but couldn’t cut it, so now I’m serving fries.” REALLY? You just gave up?

Now I’m not dumb. There are very real financial risks to pursuing your dreams. There are very heavy burdens that come from trying to pursue your dreams after getting married or having a family. But there are ALWAYS ways. Granted, some ways are not as fulfilling as others. But it depends on what your goals are.

I have set several goals in my lifetime, having reached all but one: getting a certain screenplay of mine turned into a major motion picture. That day is coming. I used the environment around me to kick in the side doors of an industry that may otherwise have been unavailable to me through the traditional paths that thousands take pilgrimages on every day. Be clearer? How exactly? (Yeah, I hate those guys that give you the life story of how they went from rags to riches, conveniently leaving out the details of exactly how they did it. So here’s what I’m talking about…)

My first goals: Work in the motion picture/TV industry. Specifically, I had in my head these three subsets of the goal. 1) Write a screenplay/teleplay and pitch it in L.A. or NYC. 2) Be able to fly to NYC on someone else’s dime because I’m being paid to be there on an entertainment-related gig. 3) Work with celebrities.

Yep. Got all three. And I was working in corporate communications at the time. Telecom even! AND, I live in the middle of the U.S.! So what did I do that was so different? How did I not have to go to L.A. or NYC to make these connections and break down the doors of an industry that usually caters to people who can hop in a cab and be in your office in half an hour or less? It was slow. I’ll admit. But it’s an incestuous industry. They work with people who’ve worked with people they know. And how did I work with the people they know? I sent an email.

Making the first connection

I LOVE the comedy business. Love stand up comedy, love the scene, love the guys behind it. So when one comedian in particular came along that I could relate to and really get behind, I decided to offer some of my design skills for free. That’s right. I said it. FREE. You see, I was willing to show them what I could do at ZERO risk to them in order to break down the door for things I wanted to do later. I didn’t rush into presenting my script ideas or asking for autographs. I simply said I’d do a website for him if you could get me and some friends into a club to watch him perform. It worked. One fortunate accident came out of that email to this comedian. 1) I accidentally emailed his booking agent. If there’s one thing you should learn first, it’s that bathing in a river isn’t nearly as satisfying as swimming in the ocean that it came from. Because you get access to all the other rivers! I have a favorite quote from “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.” “Your odds go up when you fill out an application.”

So I filled out the app. And from that came gigs with other comedians. Like I said. Incestuous. I charged pennies at first. Then, as my reputation gained popularity in the circle, I branched out. Pretty soon, I was doing sites, flying to L.A. and NYC, and eventually parlayed all of that into other projects with the very celebrities I watched and admired on TV. Goals 2 and 3…check.

Check out my next entry when I talk about some of the challenges with bridging the gaps of your current skills sets to achieve some your goals in a different industry altogether.