Rotten Apple

A friend of mine and I often reflect on the days when OS X first came out. No more fiddling with extensions. Everything worked solidly. And the interface and user experience was awesome. We all loved our Apple computers. Well those good ol’ days are gone.

I came across this video last night and I just have to share it because the guy shares all of my frustration about Apple. I can only assume everyone at Apple is using PCs because there’s no way they can actually enjoy using the junk they’re designing these days.

• They no longer support creative professionals which was a large part of their base in the past. It seems like everything they do serves their mobile platforms.

• Their design process appears to be entirely arbitrary, removing features that everyone likes and implementing useless features that only serve to complicate usage.

• They intentionally break older devices in order to force users to upgrade. Does anyone remember the little Airport that allowed you to play music on your stereo from any Apple device? Apple updated iTunes so that the Airport became a useless brick, trying to force users to buy the Apple TV.

• Apple monopolizes app purchasing and I’m convinced their iTunes updates serve only one purpose: to screw up people’s jailbroken devices so that they can’t purchase apps elsewhere.

• They intentionally remove optical drives and certain types of ports to force users to purchase adapters or to force them into the cloud.

Now, imagine you work at Apple and you’ve designed a product that works really well and the user interface experience is great. Now what do you do for the rest of your time? Either you keep improving the product or you lose your job because you’re no longer necessary. Well, if the product is already well-designed, the only changes you can make are likely to make it worse, not better. But not wanting to lose your job, you justify your existence by redesigning things. This of course angers everyone because, unless you’re improving things by making the computer do something entirely new, like shining your shoes or making you breakfast, you’re just complicating the user interface either in terms of usability or aesthetically (I’m so sick of industries telling consumers what is “hip” and what is “outdated”, as if our tastes must be dictated to us and we must fall into line. Mock me if you will, but I liked the Coverflow feature in iTunes and I’d like it back).

Anyway, Apple’s arbitrary design changes have led me to stop updating my Apple devices. I’m now several operating systems behind on both my iMac and my iPad. I definitely NEVER update iTunes for fear they’ll break something or remove a feature that I like. And not being a cell-phone user until recently (out of necessity), I was determined not to get an iPhone. About the only Apple product I’m excited about is the new 12″ iPad, and that’s only because Procreate is a great, affordable program.

But the worst thing of all, if my iMac breaks, it will be difficult to migrate to a PC because I’m so heavily invested in software made for Apple. I just can’t afford to purchase all of my professional software all over again. So I feel like I’m stuck. Thanks, Apple. You got me.

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Cozmo’s Billboards

Cozmo's Day OffOne of the backgrounds I created for the interactive iOS children’s book app, Cozmo’s Day Off, by Ayars Animation contained an alien city scene, with ships and rockets zipping about. As on all of the pages, there were many fun little interactive elements on this page for kids to discover.

One of the interactive elements on page 8 is the ability to rub a couple of billboards which exposes different ads underneath. You can see below where they’re located on the page.

Cozmo's Day Off page 8

Here are some of the silly billboard designs I created for this interactive feature. The really fun thing about producing this book app was the freedom I had to be as creative or goofy as I pleased. In fact, we had far more ideas for this book app than we could feasibly implement.

Cozmo's Billboards

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How I Brainstorm With Doodles

For newer readers who missed this the first time around, I thought I’d repost this…

Few illustrations are done without preliminary brainstorming. Some begin as sloppy little doodles done on anything from napkins, to envelopes, to whatever scrap of paper is handy when an idea comes around.

On top is the thumbnail that served as the basis for the final drawing. below that is the final menu page illustration.

Sometimes I’ll spend time on a rough sketch, and other times I just want to come up with some very rough compositional idea, so I’ll noodle around with sloppy little thumbnails. These aren’t the kinds of things many artists want you to see, because they’re not pretty, and, in fact, are embarrassingly bad from a rendering point of view. But their purpose isn’t to look pretty, so don’t judge them too harshly.

Furthermore, when time is critical, I’m even less inclined to draw anything beyond chicken-scratches. Yes, many have been horrified to find, after selecting me to be on their Pictionary team (in hopes that having an artist on their team would ensure a landslide victory), that I draw sloppy little stick figures just like anyone else.

Around the beginning of May of 2012, because the current project at Ayars Animation was a bit ambitious and was taking far longer to finish than we had hoped, Frank Ayars and I discussed the idea of doing smaller projects. I suggested that I take a week or two off so that I might attempt to complete an entire picture book in that time. If you knew me, you’d know that’s pretty ambitious; not because I illustrate slowly, but because I tend to get bogged down in the minutiae of a picture, and I spend far too much time in details that can hardly be appreciated by anyone.

So I decided to do a book with, what would be for me, a rough illustrated style. Basically, this meant I’d do a fast color over an acceptably clean drawing. It’s actually what a lot of printed children’s books already look like, so we’re not talking about rushed or bad art. I just wouldn’t take the time to make it too polished. The irony is, I often tend to refine all the charm out of my looser drawings, so illustrating a book this way could actually render pretty good results.

Overall, I had to come up with a character, write the text, and illustrate it in a format which I could then hand over to Frank Ayars for implementation. I also put together a small pdf with storyboards and instructions on how the app-user interactions might work, how the articulated characters would move, etc. I also had to design any necessary navigation items and such. I think I spent a couple of days just thinking of what to write, bouncing ideas off my wife, and receiving creative input from my oldest daughter.

After that, I began noodling around with the design of the menu page. The thumbnails you see in this post were made while working out a composition for the menu page of the app. I designed the character of Retro loosely off of the two other characters you see here, which I had created around 2000 A.D. (I added “A.D.” so readers don’t confuse it with some other year 2000).  The one character on the left was a character called The Flooglemop, about which I had actually began writing a story way back, as well. I was writing that story all in verse, and I realized how stupid a decision I had made in attempting to write such a long story that way, so it never saw completion. The other character was just a doodle done for fun.

Though the entire book app is done in a very loose style, it actually turned out quite nice. For the record, from the decision to embark on the project to the time I handed off all the completed assets to Frank Ayars, it was about ten days. It was nonstop work, and I felt like I had given birth, only without the resulting stretch marks.

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Cozmo

Here’s a detail from Ayars Animation’s Cozmo app. Every time I open the app and go to this page, I remember how much work it involved; not just because of the illustrating, but because it had to be done in, like, a bazillion layers in order to facilitate the animating and interactive elements (and if you’ve tinkered with the app, you’d have an idea of what I mean).

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 9.55.52 AM

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Ayars Animation’s 3,2,1 Blast Off! Number Book

Get it HERE!

Another Offering by Ayars Animation

Our latest children’s book has been released (find it HERE). It’s a number book for pre-schoolers, and Trinity, my eleven year old daughter, helped me write it. I illustrated this particular app at breakneck speed. Here’s the flyer for it.

More Character Design, Please

As I already noted in a previous post, I created a lot of characters for the Cozmo’s Day Off iOS app. Whimsical robots are always fun to design, and this was one of my favorites. Like some of the others, this character only makes a brief appearance, this time on page 8.Frank Grau Robot Design for Cozmo's Day Off iOS appWhat you have here is a robot dashing across the screen to get his coffee order. When he crosses back again, he’s relaxed as he carries his java fix in his grip. That’s right – even robots like a cup ‘o’ joe on occasion. Don’t you?

Never Let A Good Design Go To Waste

I originally created Cozmo back in the 90’s as a figurine line while working at Cast Art Industries (figurines made up a large percentage of the giftware industry at the time). Besides illustrating and designing giftware, I had various other art-related chores I would be called on to perform, from helping design sets for our catalog photo shoots, to creating a birthday card for the owner’s best friend (when you own your own company, you can get your employees to do just about anything as long as they’re on the clock).

One of the things I was sometimes asked to design were point-of-purchase (or POP) display headers for our products. A figurine POP was usually plastic or cardboard, with stepped rows, and usually had an illustrated header which served as a backdrop to help stage the figurines. When I designed the Cozmo figurines, I also created some rough POP header concepts. Cozmo point-of-purchase display concepts

Fast-forward to 2010 at Ayars Animation, where Frank Ayars and I are discussing what we might do for a second iOS app. I had plenty of intellectual property ideas, one of which was Cozmo, so I pitched that to him. He gave it the green light, and off we went. So there I was about to design a menu page for the app. I really liked certain elements about the earlier Cozmo POP concepts I did for Cast Art, so I looked to them for inspiration, and they formed the basis of what eventually became the final menu page design of the app. Cozmo's Day Off iOS app menu page

All of that to say, if you have a good idea that you’re not putting to use, don’t let it go to waste. If the need or opportunity presents itself, don’t be afraid to reach back in the past for something that can serve you well in the present.

Spaced Out

I designed an awful lot of characters for the Cozmo’s Day Off iOS app, by Ayars Animation. This particular character is on page four (I think), and it only appears for a brief moment on the dashboard screen of Cozmo’s space ship. Ayars Animation - Cozmo's Day Off

Production Backgrounds

And here are still other production backgrounds I illustrated for the Jack and the Beanstalk iOS interactive children’s book app.