Thursday, June 23, 2011

Relaunching Lahiri Studios

The new (and improved) Lahiri Studios portfolio is live as of June 23rd, although we had a soft launch earlier in the week sans a few analytics features that had to be implemented.

The goal this time around was to develop a portfolio site that was less of a trash heap for everything I've ever done and instead showcase a few choice pieces in categories that I thought were relevant to potential clients. Some endearing example work from my early career days had to get axed, but may return at a future time. The positive side is that I can lay claim to a lot of fresh work that is just as compelling if not more.

I've had a blast messing with the Open Graph protocol that Facebook recently implemented. It essentially allows a site administrator with a Facebook account to treat any page just like a Facebook page, complete with it's own wall, photo section, metrics etc.  That leaves me possibly taking down the old Lahiri Studios Facebook page given the redundancy. What to do?

Another major goal with this relaunch was to incorporate more social media avenues than the current site could squeeze in. I've found linkedIn to be a huge tool in my professional life so I had to add that as well as a feed from this new blog which is turning out to be a lot of fun. Overall I'm hoping clients will get a well rounded picture of who I am as a professional and have everything they need to know at their fingertips with this revamp. Killing the popups and having a more search-indexable site was crucial this time around as well. The lightbox feature is SEO friendly thanks to the fantastic work of my developer Brendan LaMarsche.

Despite this being a portfolio site, I put the branded identity concept on the back burner for a more neutral appearance. This is not a Cargo Collective or Behance-style designer's portfolio. It's not an agency website. It's super diverse and touches on elements of UI/UX, multimedia, art and design, and even some programming. And if someone came along and gave me the opportunity to jump into video games, or mobile apps, or some experimental new technology you've never heard of, I'd hop right on it. I like to have fun, and that's what being in the digital space has afforded for me. I'm proud to have touched a lot of exciting mediums of communication over the years. Some of it is highly entertaining, multimedia ear and eye-candy, while some of it is cut and dry, usability-minded work that is challenging and engaging in it's own right. I feel like the site had to remain neutral in tone for this reason.

I continue to adhere to the belief that minimalism is the key to good information design. Years of rock star projects where I'd work with teams seeking to push the multimedia envelope has rekindled a love for simple and responsive UI design. UI/UX projects are one of my favorite lines of work, and are often just as engaging and challenging as the crazy compositing and vector illustration stuff I've been known for. I've got a few projects in this category under my belt and I've done my best to showcase them in hopes that I'll get more such opportunities. Granted, I love it all. I eat, breath and sleep the arts, and the opportunity to use my Wacom tablet to composite some crazy fantasy world together is always welcome. The Wacom stuff is a meditation that takes me back to my pencil and paper days, where realism was my ultimate goal as an artist.

I do have some thoughts on a fully branded identity using the same portfolio items but that's in the instance that I start my own agency, which I don't have any plans for at the moment. Who knows, maybe someday. It all depends on what destiny has in store for me.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Absolute Rubbish, Laddie

No I haven't reverted to adolescence, but those who know me personally have seen my profile picture on Facebook change to the image of "Big Mother's All-Seeing Eye" for the time being. Just a quick vector design in Illustrator taken from images projected on the 36-foot high wall of the 2010-2011 Roger Water the Wall Live tour.

The Wall's lowest common denominator appeal is an anthem of adolescent rebellion, and in its timelessness will continue to be so for generations to come. Having seen The Wall in my teenage years and with very little understanding of the deeper underlying themes, the film spoke more to the subconscious intellect and emotional brain first. In so doing it creates an impression that refuses to be shaken from the viewer's memory for just about anyone who sees and hears it, of any race, creed or culture.

The film is anti-fascist in every vein but it's depiction of Nazi-style imagery have left more superficial critics accusing it of the opposite. I won't go into that here, as there is plenty of literature on the matter due to a recent ADL jab taken at the tour's depiction of the Star of David in the Goodbye Blue Sky backdrop. Like all esoteric masterpieces that reach beyond the intellect to impart its message, it remains out of the grasp of face-value judgment. The Wall simply is not what it seems at first glance. Other aspects of the film grow only more apparent with time and age in the life of an individual. What touches me today is the themes of alienation, the relationship between the sexes, the crime of showing feelings as put on trial by the literal "asshole" judge near the end of the film, and the horrific mask of conformity that exists to hide those feelings from the authoritarian figures in our life; those who prey on our humanity, despite the fact that they share that humanity with us.

Photo Credit: Pink Floyd's The Wall Motion Picture
The Wall is a timeless masterpiece written when Waters was 36 years old. I couldn't have been more than five years of age myself when I had first heard the Pink Floyd sound. It happened to be over the radio with Another Brick in the Wall Part II. But it wasn't until I was in my teenage years that I saw the film. Utilizing elements of horror to drive home it's myriad of complex insights, the film was an assault on the subconscious. Who can forget the endearing remarks of the saturnine teacher exclaiming "If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding! How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?!" And of course, the marching hammers, the illustration of feminine domination in the Empty Spaces cutscene, and the rise of civilization and its enforcers engendered of this phenomenon. Since then, the legendary Roger Waters has influenced my musical and philosophical palate more so than any artist I've encountered. His work is painstaking musical craft of a profound depth; increasingly rare in the age of manufactured artists and templated, formulaic compositions bought and sold with a clear expiration date. The Wall, as time has proven, has no expiration date. It is immortal both musically and to the extent of it's deep thematic exploration into the psychology of fascism.

Recently Bob Wilson, one of our resident rock and rollers at BFG, described The Wall to me as "art rock" and it seems an appropriate enough categorization. The Wall, however, set a standard that has never been met, nor even remotely followed in music to this day in the category of art rock or otherwise. And why should it be followed? The format of The Wall is appropriate for what it is and what it has to say. Though it tackles many a common theme in rock music past and present, those themes have never been explored as uniquely, nor with the depth to which Waters has gone with his 1979 masterpiece. With many of the walls having come down in the Western world already (sadly to be replaced with less apparent ones raised by our own complacency and slothfulness), the catalyst for such anti-authoritarian passion is non-existent today. Perhaps that will change as conditions in the Western world sour. But anyone who has observed Roger Waters knows that his passion is far from reactionary; it is his cynical nature, and what he creates is from his own essence. It is why The Wall belongs to Mr. Waters, why this performance has been so remarkably genuine, and why it's been a time capsule full of the vigor of a generation of activism long put to bed. Each note in the live performance is more accurate to the film than any live rendition of The Wall in the past, due largely in part to the reverence of Water's extremely talented support band.

A shot of the 36-Foot wall as taken from my iPhone.
Despite the decline of music as a craft, the field of motion graphic design has made huge advances. In that context, technology has only enhanced the presentation of a show and an album that are over 30 years old, to truly bring out the inspirational power of The Wall for those who have the sensitivity to appreciate it. If you're an artist of any sort, you'd have to see this show merely for it's technical excellence. But it rings true in a different way for those of us born and brought up amongst the middle-class, Protestant expectation of an old regime, as it explores the crime of uninhibited self-expression. The regime was as much a part of the creative explosion of British rock and roll as was the music itself, indeed the two coexisted for a time like night and day but the balance is quite upset, in my opinion, and what we have today is mediocrity in the arts due to a lack of structure. The story of the wall today in the Western world is closer to the story of the Pixar film Wall-E.

Regardless, there are several microcosms in my own daily life in which the sentiments of The Wall find their home, as there are for so many others in the world living in conditions where their feelings cannot be expressed, where "she won't let you fly, but she might let you sing." The tour comes at a time where a return to a father/mother figure is sought by many of us in a time of war and economic uncertainty; where control and freedom from control become central topics as a declining superpower takes stock in its military might, where traditional authoritarian conflicts remain in the Mid-East. More of Roger Water's reasons for touring now can be found on the official site here.

"Money get back / I'm all right, Jack / Keep your hands off my stack / New car / Caviar / Four star daydream / Think I'll buy me a football team." Absolute rubbish, laddie.

Get on with yer work.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Birth of a Self-Promotional Campaign

BFG wanted to let potential new hires, clients and potential clients know just how much WE ROCK! so the natural thing to do was reference some classic Spinal Tap and make a simple promotional piece that people could forward on to their friends. It was a two-week creative process and an absolute blast to work on. Here's the play-by-play that led up to the final piece:

Our artist's rendition of the concept
The Mockup
 After some initial brainstorming with writers, art directors, creative directors, programmers and designers, we came up with this crazy idea of a speaker that exploded with all sorts of quirky stuff after hitting 11. The subject matter would be fun, weird little iconic pieces that represented BFG's personality and character, as well as some Internet trends. Art Director Adam Sidwell, our resident sketch artist, came up with this visual.

Designing for Interactive
After receiving this artwork, it fell on myself and a writer to make it come alive on the web and to make it practical for an interactive deliverable set to go out in a matter of only two weeks. We considered things like viewable area, file size, preloading and the realities of pursuing our level of quality with the time challenges we were up against. There was also an email to go out that promoted this piece.
Photoshop and Illustrator work together
in furnishing a "3D rendered" look

We quickly took up the artists concept and started an initial design of it in Photoshop. There was no 3D rendering involved here, just a guy with a Wacom tablet, namely, me. The BFG "look" employs a lot of grunge but Sr. Interactive Art Director Cyril Guichard's strategy was to start clean and apply that later. To the right was the first comp. My directions were to create something as close to a 3D rendered look as possible, and my tools of choice were Photoshop and Illustrator. Notice the two batteries as our power source. Later on that came to change.

The Writing
Behind the scenes Associate Creative Director Alan Whitley was hacking away at the verbiage that would accompany this piece. This was as much his brain child as it was Cyril's, and it had to work. It had to express who we were succinctly. It also had to be done before any design was undertaken, as the copy was to be hand-drawn and scanned in. It's all part of Josh Weston's very organic style which he will go to great lengths to pursue, and for which I've developed a new appreciation. Josh, BTW, is our newly hired Interactive Art Director.

Experimentation and Revisions
As we moved forward with the design, several good ideas came up. We played with the lighting, and ultimately came to a conclusion that we'd go with a lighter background. We also felt like that the original batteries just didn't have the juice we needed to power our fictional contraption, so we bulked it up a little. I then airbrushed in some electricity and added the copy.

Cyril liked where things were going but felt things weren't enough in the BFG "World" which is very stylized, so we flattened the foreground elements, revisited the background and added further filters to really kick it up a notch.We then added the sound waves and CTA. The rainbow and cutout elements were our first take on this idea. But the rainbow came across as too colorful for the tone we were trying to set.We went for something more thematically consistent. Oh, and Beshlevin had to go.

Coding, Animation and Sound Design
This is where I took everything from Photoshop, exported the elements, and made them come to life in Flash with a little bit of code, some timeline animation and a heck of a lot of planning. The preloader also had to be designed and created within Flash. Sound design was also a key component and Hue Hughes, our video and sound engineer, came through like a champ with the appropriate sounds to make the speaker system rumble and finally explode at the end.

Final Approval and Email Push
The entire site implementation and email push couldn't have been done without Brendan Lamarche, our lead Software Development Manager. Brendan works behind the scenes to make sure we are tracking hits to the site, managing the traffic, and pushing our email campaigns out smoothly. Email and word of mouth is really our sole means of driving traffic to this piece, so Cyril designed an email to go out with a little copy "This is the year to really crank it up" and this simple image.Go ahead, click it!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

New Book: Pious

I have the pleasure of now knowing the answer to that burning question on everyone's mind: "What happens when an interactive designer take a shot at writing a book?" Well, it's a question that I at least had, given the fact that I'm one such designer and have toyed with the idea of writing a novel also. Well here's a guy who did, who actually did, and he's my friend and former co-worker Kenn Bivins.

Several years ago while working at Moxie Interactive of Atlanta, I met Kenn and Shawn Jones, designers like myself, who shared several common bonds. The three of us would go to lunch about every day, more often than not to Atlantic Station, a sprawling retail courtyard always abuzz with activity. Kenn had a penchant for Moe's Southwest Grill. Shawn and I, on the other hand, would do our best to sway him away from the contrived "Welcome to Moe's!" greeting that the servers would mechanically repeat with forced enthusiasm every time we walked in, or were dragged in by the likes of Bivins.

Over the course of nearly three years, Kenn became lovingly nicknamed "Dark Cloud" Kenn, possessed of a justified cynicism that I had only begun to understand as my own life transformed violently with the death of my father and a crushing divorce all within the same year. Our lunch breaks became more of a meeting of 2 1/2 than three, as I reflected into the distance about a life that had gone off the rails of tradition and into the unknown with the separation of myself and my ex-wife. Kenn and Shawn had been through this all before, but at the time there was no light at the end of the tunnel as they had seen, and slowly but surely I grew reclusive and took a new job opportunity elsewhere, trying to physically escape the memories that Atlanta had accumulated. Since then Kenn also moved on, taking up an Art Director position at JWT.

I left Moxie to find a respite for myself, reconnect with family, and pursue my passion for design and technology with Lahiri Studios, and as of late, writing, with this blog. And during that respite I also took up some new reading, particularly, Pious. I always admired Kenn's active life outside of work; where the rest of us were so tied down with our full-time responsibilities and simply making ends meet, Kenn made it a point to have a life outside of work. Beyond the father, the designer and friend, in Pious I had the opportunity to witness Kenn, the writer. And with Pious I learned a little bit more about a person from whom I sought advice and wisdom through some very difficult years.

Kenn has expressed that Pious is a book about forgiveness and redemption, and I would add to this that it is also a book about misunderstandings that can escalate into life-changing events. Something that I am all too familiar with at this point. Looking at the main character's mistakes makes it painfully obvious that our lives are far from within our own grasp, and this can either be celebrated with spontaneity and a sense of adventure, or perpetually lamented for those of us with a fixation on illusory appearances and control. It's a highly recommended read, and that much more enthralling given the fact that it was written by my close friend and a fellow designer.

To learn more about Pious, click here, and check out the Amazon link above.

Well It's About Time

I figured I'd start a blog for Lahiri Studios; perhaps a little late given I'm so active on Facebook and Twitter, which have just about become my blogs, but there's no way to monetize those, so I figure why not try to do just that and get some spare change on the side for my deep, brooding thoughts. :-)