May 31, 2006

friends old and new







While I brushed the surface of my adventures the past few days, there was a lot more to it than fried food and beer and livestock. My friend Myron is far and away my best friend from my days in Dallas. We meet up every year for several rodeos, new years, and the AllStar game. He is the perfect travel buddy. We seem to share a similar level of energy and patience with travel and activities and people, along with a common sensibility of amusement and amazement about the world around us. Our friend Tres often joins us, adding another view on the world that is always refreshing and full of laughs. Though they both still live half the country away from me and we may go weeks without even an email, time with them always feels like it hasn't missed a beat even though it has been eight years since I left Dallas.

This trip also brought a couple unexpected run-ins with old friends like Don who now lives in Denver, and Verdell, a creative genius that I was lucky to work with in Dallas who is always ready with wry wit and stories of the funny thing that happened the other day.

Rodeos are always fun because after going to so many for twelve years now, I never know who I am going to run into. Over time, you make new friends and get to know old ones better, even though many you never have contact with outside of these rodeos. Its comforting to run into old friends and acquaintances with a ready smile, and always fun to make new friends. This year we found ourselves spending a lot of time with my friend Jeff from Austin and his posse, some of whom were joining the gang for their first rodeo, so even then we found ourselves with both old and new friends at once.

I always try to include pictures of the stock and events in my rodeo postings because last January my Dad asked me jokingly "are there any animals at these rodeos you go to?". Of course there are, but the real fun and lasting value comes from what's in the stands, not in the arena.

May 30, 2006

frieddaze







Yesterday and today were great days. Our trip took us back to Dallas, with a requisite stop for a "Steak Finger Basket" at Dairy Queen. In Texas, Dairy Queen's aren't just ice cream places, they are equally popular for their food, and in most small towns, the Dairy Queen is the life center and unofficial town hall. The Steak Finger basket is a few pieces of fried ground beef (essentially, chicken fried steak) served with white gravy. Nothing redeeming about it healthwise, but man is it good. I became addicted to the steak finger basket as a stop in Mexia, Texas (pronounced Muh-hey-ah) on my trips to College Station when I lived in Dallas. Although they don't share it, my friends are always good in indulging my addiction when I come back to visit.

We stopped to see another friend who was visiting and about to fly back to Denver, and later that night we met our friend Tres for tapas at a neighborhood restaurant called cafe Madrid. Tapas is far and away my favorite cuisine (believe it or not, since most of it isn't fried!), but with a sampling of many tastes and unusual dishes and combinations in one sitting, what's not to love? It was a perfect Texas night with that warm wind blowing as we ate at a sidewalk table, comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt - something you rarely get in California that late at night.

Today, we trekked to Allen, a frightening suburb in North Dallas - north of Plano, the third saddest place on earth, (topped only by Vietnam Memorial and the AIDS Quilt.) Despite the surroundings, we knew that Del Rancho, one of our favorite stops in OKC had opened a location here. There was more fried food to be had, and since Tres hadn't been able to join us for the OKC trip this year, we decided to make it an adventure before taking me to the airport. (More on Del Rancho in another post later.) It was a perfect last stop for this years OKC/TX trek.

May 29, 2006

in memoriam

20,649 US Military dead and wounded in Iraq to date; from Marine Major Jay Thomas Aubin, 36, from Waterville, Maine on March 21, 2003 to Marine Lance Corporal Adam Lucas, 20, from Greensboro, NC on May 26, 2006. Of those dead, 681 were men and women less than 22 years old. 1,791 were 30 years old or younger.
faces and details of the fallen, so they are remembered as more than statistics

May 28, 2006

life by the horns







More from Oklahoma City... last night we went to the Big XII Baseball Championship at Bricktown Ballpark in downtown OKC. Its a really great minor league ballpark in a district of brick warehouses that has been restored and has come alive with nightclubs, restaurants, and some canals with boats much like San Antonio's. We caught the Kansas Jayhawks against Mizzou, including a bench-clearing brawl between the two teams in the 3rd inning.

Today was more of the rodeo followed by dinner at our favorite restaurant in the stockyards, Cattlemen's. Normally we have a big group there and often get our favorite waitress, Bertie, a spunky older lady who always "takes care of her boys". We didn't see her tonight, but it was still as good as ever. Soon the hats will be back on as we head back to the country bar. And tomorrow is back to Dallas....though I'm sure we'll take the long way home.

So far, no tornadoes, another OKC rodeo tradition...

May 27, 2006

dispatch from the heartland







A few pictures from the trip so far - I will elaborate on them later.... The drive to OKC (the typical texas overchange)... Fried Pies (including 'comfort food' flavor)... OKC Rodeo... wheee!

night at the ballpark





When I got into Dallas on Thursday evening, Myron and I went straight to the Ballpark in Arlington. You gotta love a friend who'll do that. Oops - I mean Ameriquest Field. Damn these stadiums and their naming rights.

I was surprised to find how dated the signage looked. Very much that 90's vogue of looking traditional baseball era, but actually now just looking very 90's. Still, it is a nice park to see a game in, just one that, as I wrote before, doesn't make much sense except to view it as another theme attraction (It is next to Six Flags). Notice that in center field they built an office building instead of leaving a whole with a view like most ballparks. The architects said that this is because in Arlington Texas, the only view would be of suburban office/industrial park. But - the thing I love most about this park still remains: that warm Texas breeze that is comfortable in shorts and a tshirt even at 9pm at night.

May 26, 2006

roadtrip!






I am in Dallas getting ready to venture on what has become an annual roadtrip every Memorial Day weekend to Oklahoma City with two of my best friends, Myron and Tres (and Myron's dog Earnest), for the OKC Rodeo. Unfortunately, Tres is not feelin well enough to join us this year, and Earnest will be sittin this one out too. (These images are from last years adventure).

Over the years the trip has also become something of a food fest - and true to a lot of indigenous Texas and Oklahoma foods, they aren't too healthy. The highlight of the trip up is always fried pies. These are similar to what I grew up only knowing as Hostess Fruit Pies - so take those and imagine them freshly made with homemade crusts and fillings. Last year, we found a new place (well, new to us) that also featured meat and vegetable fillings. yum.

OKC also is home to our favorite drive-in, Del Rancho, which makes chicken fried steak sandwiches the size of both of your outstretched palms, served complete with tater tots and cherry limeade. Traditional stops also include Cattleman's steakhouse, Bricktown Ballpark (more for the game than the food), and the boys will usually indulge me with a stop at a Texas Dairy Queen for my personal favorite, a Steak Finger Basket. Heaven in a box. Or heart attack in a box. or both.

Fasten your seat belts, and make sure they're adjustable for the ride home.

May 25, 2006

diamond in the ruff







One of my biggest design peeves is graphics for sports. Often good design may be found in marketing for sports teams, but when it comes to stadium on-screen graphics, not to mention sports broadcast graphics on television, they are sometimes the worst. In an application where large amounts of information need to be communicated clearly, its common to see terrible typography and design that goes so overboard on overly complicated elements that it gets in the way of the information.

The Dodgers are somewhat of an example of this phenomenon this year. As a Dodgers fan who goes to a lot of games, the on-screen (jumbotron, videostripe etc) graphics have always been a peeve of mine. Dodger Stadium itself was renovated this year and returned to its original color scheme, which is frankly and odd combination of teal, pale yellow, and pale orange - but hey, those were the colors. The Dodgers have continued this color scheme with a retro design look on their advertising, the tickets, banners and signage all over the stadium, even the dugout. (Most interesting in this is that they have used a different version of the Dodgers logo itself on this year's materials. I don't know if it is an actual old version of the Dodgers script or not, but I do like that they took that risk with the logo. The true logo remains on the stadium, uniforms, etc.) However, the design ends with the signage and banners. The video screens and strips have a look with no connection to the experience that carried you from your ticket to your seat. It is a typical overdone sports look in all ways. Overdone backgrounds with hundreds of meaningless flying elements, clunky spinning words, and truly astoundingly bad typography used for stats on the jumbotron. Could a designer have played a role in this? Its a curious thing, and sadly, a common one. The retro design has its faults, like some curious type combinations, but what a great opportunity to carry that experience through all elements of the game. This is what packaging is. It could have been a home run, but I guess a double is better than a strike out.

Nonetheless, Dodger Dogs still rule.

May 23, 2006

two snaps








My other most used tool is my Canon Powershot SD200 (Elph) digital camera. This little guy has changed the way I do things, and I'm sorry it took me so long to get on the bandwagon.

I used to have a big old Ricoh camera. Downloading pics was a lot of work. The thing was too big to carry easily and it ate batteries. And after I downloaded pics to my computer, which in itself was a hassle, there was nothing I could do with them. We had a great Nikon Coolpix camera at work, but it was so complicated that none of us ever ended up using it. I basically found myself feeling like digital cameras where a big hassle with little return. One of my designers told me to get this one. It was on sale cheap. I used his at a ballgame and found it suprisingly easy. I went for it.

Now, I can't say that I can completely recommend it - because I've had to buy three of them. The other two broke - the second one within the first month of having it. Luckily, all were fixed under warranty, but a google search shows a lot of people having problems with the LED screen breaking soon after getting it. Oddly enough, like me, a lot of the same people love the camera anyway because its so easy to use. At least 4 of my friends have the same camera, and none of them have had any problems with theirs - so make your own call in that regard. And if you use a Mac, like any piece of hardware you attach to it, there's no need to download any software to use it. Plug it in to the Mac, and it automatically works.

This little cam is light. It fits in my pocket. And it takes some pretty good pics. And nowadays, there are tons of easy ways to make online photo albums, print them, or post them to - uh - blogs. About a year ago, I did a presentation for a design seminar - I shot every image for it on this camera, popped em into my computer, and edited and animated them using only AfterEffects. No crew, no transfer, no post production house. Just me. Able to take my vision and bring it to life.

Its liberating. I can, and do, carry it almost everywhere. Anytime I see something that strikes me, I can snap it. And share it.

May 22, 2006

whos yer mac daddy?




I mentioned in yesterday's post about how some of the animation I did for my reel had been done on planes and trains. I throw that out like its no big deal, and in fact, its isn't. But the fact that it is no big deal is truly remarkable.

Ten years ago, nearly all design for television and film was done on dedicated equipment. What that basically means is that the kind of work that I do was always done on machines that were built specifically for that; machines that generally didn't do other things. Hardware. Not software. Today, that has all changed. In fact, everything that I've needed to do for my work for the last five years has been done on Macs. I often now work with kids who know of nothing else.

One of the best purchases I ever made was my Mac Powerbook laptop. While working on my desktop does still have its advantages, I am able to do most anything on my laptop that I can on my desktop. I can animate broadcast quality work while sitting on my couch. Or on a plane. Or a train halfway across the world. That, I find, is truly fascinating. and liberating.

My Powerbook has gone almost everywhere with me. Its filthy. It has an ID sticker on it from the Olympics. But (knock on titanium), it has never failed me. It has become my main source of communication with others. And it is what allows me to write here almost daily. Loading it with memory and software wasn't cheap. But it has been money well spent. It is, by far, my most important daily tool.

May 21, 2006

eureka!




One of my favorite feelings is when, during the creative process, somehow everything completely and unexpectedly fits together and just plain works - completely by surprise.

For months, I have been working on and off on my reel. For a motion designer, a reel is the equivalent to your portfolio. Its a 2-3 minute edited compilation of your work, and since what we as designers do is package things, it is also necessary to package yourself. I don't know if its common for other designers or not, but I find it impossible to be my own client. With an outside client, there are deadlines, approvals, budgets. With yourself, deadlines slide, and work can be put aside and on hold for other things. And worst of all, you always come up with new ideas that you like better than the last.

The opening animation to my reel has haunted me for months. After designing and animating countless versions and designs, I somehow stumbled on the right thing over the past couple days. It turns out it came from pulling different parts of about 5 different versions, and somehow, they fit together like seamless puzzle pieces. It was a lucky break. Don't get me wrong, its not breakthrough work or anything, but after months of versions that I was never happy with, it feels like I've conquered a huge hurdle. Another thing I'm happy about is that in using parts of several versions, it feels less like all those versions were wasted efforts. I also get a kick out of knowing that parts of it were designed and animated in all kinds of places, including on planes and trains during travels here and abroad.

Still a long way to go, but a significant step...finally.