Thursday, 28 April 2016

Never: Playfield Art

In true pinball fashion I'm 'leaking' the playfield artwork. It's been a busy week of finalising the artwork and printing, I'm so excited to share the high res pictures of the printed playfield.

The aims with the artwork was to have references to traditional pinball machines, while retaining links to my own style. I wanted to do something which wasn't 'safe', but also doesn't overpower. I felt it important to leave areas of unprinted wood, to remind of the materials which make the physicality of pinball I've fallen in love with.

Four weeks left! Stay tuned for some serious progress on the final assembly.

Let me know any questions about the art or my ideas for gameplay and I will answer them! Leave a comment or tweet @jonosandilands.
Full Playfield 

Monday, 25 April 2016

Never: Playfield Screen Print

Watch the playfield come alive!
The playfield is printed! It's been such a huge milestone that it feels like a real sense of achievement. I'm delighted with the results, surprised I feel like I achieved what I set out to do with the style. The references to traditional pinball and links to my own style and imagination for how I envisaged the visual style.

Registration is designed to be fairly loose. I'm almost welcoming slightly off register for that true pinball look

It's hard to go back and imagine what I really originally pictured the artwork to look like when conceiving this project a few years ago, but it captures so much little ideas from over my research and most important is fun. Infact it was incredibly fun to produce the artwork and print it, something I had hoped for but just naturally worked out in the end.

Making sure the flood is adequate for printing - Thanks to Arthur Buxton for the assistance!

I've always loved the overlay of colours when screen printing - watching the process is like magic when new colours start to appear. 

Playfield detail unfolding colour by colour
Anyway I'm glad I stuck with the direction and like finishing everything, now it's onto the next stage and the challenges that next phase of assembly throw up.

First I need to decide if I clear coat the surface for protection. I have three options:
  1. No clear coat I think the art will wear away and chip very fast if unprotected. The wear when interesting may look incredibly rubbish! I want the game to have some lifespan, and if it wears away quicker, that is going to seriously shorten.
  2. Complete clear coat - I've almost already thrown out the idea of no clear coat. The fastest and easiest way would be for an all over clear coat.
  3. Sections of clear coat is really interesting - the idea that some areas are protects and some are open to the destruction is a pretty exciting concept. It could be traces of a previous game which are set and recorded into the playfield with the clear coat.
The application is always going to be a problem,- generally the work areas I have access to where this can cure are dusty uncontrolled environments, so I'm not expecting a perfect coating.

As don't have a budget for getting done professionally what are my options; brush or spray can? I think best option would do some test coats on scrap to find a suitable spray can.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Never: Playfield Artwork

I made a break through in the artwork. I've been in a bit of a creative block mode, struggling to get the art to the place I envisaged. 

Yesterday when digitally sketching, everything seemed to click into place. It's a feeling I can't quite describe, but when working there is some sort of rush and excitement to keep chipping away the built up layers of creativity, with the months of testing and research all bursting, ready to flow out when everything comes together again.

Testing different possible layouts. The idea isn't to make final art, but to spark ideas. Quckly
Heading in the right trajectory 
As I left the studio at 6pm, I realised how much fun I had sketching. There has been somewhat amount of pressure I've been putting on myself about getting this right and also telling myself I need to remember to enjoy the process and go with it. When at the time there were some low point in terms of confidence, I think those moments were ultimately important to getting to this stage. Basically the creative process!

Of the ideas, the one that seemed to cause that spark was the trace lines or trajectory lines towards the main targets on the playfield. Originally I drew thin guides to line some other artwork ideas up, then I accidentally selected one and increased the thickness, and had one of those 'oh yeah, lets try that' moments. It's funny how things work out.

I'm really liking the effect around the logo at the bottom, through use of overprinting CMY(-K) colours.
On Process colour (Cyan Magenta Yellow)
I chose to use process colours as this is solely what I have been using to print this year. Not that I'm boxing myself into only ever using process colours, but because I find it pleasing to have some correlation between my pinball machine and my pinball prints in the final show.

CMYK is really a way of saving a bit of time and opening out flexibility in the final. Originally I thought I might have a simple two colour print, when my ideas started flowing, so did the colour count. Printing these colours individually would be a five colour job, if not more. As I don't require the black it's a three colour print using Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and the awesome overprinting effects as a designed outcome.

Revisit old ideas

I started to revisit ideas of visual style I had previously started to move away from, realising they were still relevant in my work. I've learned that this is a better way to approach; start by picking out pieces where I left them instead of leaving them to gather dust. I tend to push past projects away instead of pulling them close again.

When visiting family in Shetland, I revisited old prints and attended a makers market
Revisiting these old prints reminded me one of the reasons I decided upon a printmaking course rather than a design course, its because I always turn to printmaking for 'creative relief' in my personal work, these are the things I do to fulfil my creative urges outside the commercial day job. Also I have lots of prints, please buy some! Email for a price list.

I always wanted the playfield artwork to be a reference to traditional pinball, but also incorporate my style particularly from earlier printmaking work prior to the MA.

Pick up where I left off
Picking up where I naturally left of using handmade methods to create effects and textures, I've found some ways to achieve these techniques digitally.

I really enjoy working out processes of how to do things, taking note of the steps to achieve a particular effect, then applying them multiple times under different circumstances. Although part of me strives to do these handmade, I have more flexibility with the end result working digitally. Also it's a lot faster.

Steps to achieve Noisy Gradients in Adobe Illustrator

One of the techniques I developed with help from the internet is to create what I'm calling Noisy Gradients

A section of the final art using the noisy gradient technique
Partly, the noisy gradients are a reaction to not wanting to use a halftone. There's limitations in control the moire effect on a bigger, lower mesh count screen. And also limited by the space I have to lay the play field wood flat on the print bed, so my plan is to use only solid spot colour style in the final screenprint. The noisy gradients were also inspired to some classic pinball artwork.

Roller Disco Pinball - image source

On a role / never sleep

Upon getting home last night I just kept working, before long it was 4am and I was pretty much done. I've taken the ideas and concepts from the lines of trajectory and the visual style of different techniques and brought them together in something which really is beyond what I really have thought it could have been. Sounds quite emotional and it probably is cause I've not had enough sleep!

Final playfield artwork, ready for print (high res) 
There's a level of simplicity I had hoped to retain in large areas of solid colour, but also as you dive in more there are interesting areas of textures and abstract chaos that my instinct wanted to include.

Method in the madness
After lasercutting I was blown away by some of the interesting grain in the wood, and how almost naturally wraps itself around some of the insert cuts. It was unintentional and totally unique to the bit of wood. It made me realise there were areas of wood I wanted to leave unprinted, the use of white space and less is more, having some breathing areas, and also reminders of what the object is built from.

Speaking in terms of how the artwork applies to the actual pinball game. The basic concept is; where the ball travels towards a main target area, the art is quite linear, direct and flat, but after a target is made there are little pockets of explosions and chaos that will ensue in the artwork and in the game, which I plan will get more intense as you progress and the longer you play.
Mockup how it might look printed, although impossible to fully get a good idea till it's printed!

Would it look different if I did it again? 
Yes of course! And after I print and assemble the parts I will notice mistakes and changes I would to make, but it's at that time in the process where I need to stop - I've invested time and energy into it and believe that will shine through in the final work.

Although I'm a bit behind my ideal schedule, it's full steam ahead printing!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Never: Cabinet Art Direction

From early on I had a pretty set idea for what I thought the cabinet artwork would look like: large Never! logo on the side, a bit of a showcase of the typography, linking back to graphic design. 

Blender Render of the proposed artwork
I made mockups and digitally projected onto the cabinet, to work out ideal sizing and composition.

Projections onto the cabinet to visualise artwork

I didn't make any alternative designs as I was content with how it was looking.

You know when you get an idea in your head and can't see past it? You need someone with fresh eyes to offer an alternative solution.

This is exactly what happened during two tutorials I had.

The first tutorial was with Oli Timmins. This is where I'd say what Oli does, but he doesn't categorise himself under any of the types of work such as a designer, printmaker, photographer, painter, illustrator, but classes himself as a 'creative all-rounder'.

Beetle #1 by Oli-T - from UpFest
I was immediately inspired by Oli's work and relate to this multi-disciplinary approach. Oli speaks about how using digital tools, such as laser cutting and CNC alongside more hands on methods can lead to unpredictable outcomes. Working with digital and virtual tools and files to make physical and handmade objects really interests me.

When I spoke with Oli I had the idea of screenprinting directly to the cabinet. 

I had been putting off screenprinting due to the logistics of actually doing it - getting a screen that big, printing at the studio where there are no facilities. And of course the challenge of getting a decent print on the side of an already constructed object. It had so much stacked against it to go wrong.

Skull by Oli-T - from UpFest
Oli immediately told me I should look into spray painting, which he refers to as 'Vertical Screenprinting'.  He offered some advice about a different ways to make a stencil, and reminded me of all the amazing facilities I have at my fingertips, including the Scrapstore (for off cuts of old vinyl).

I know it seems obvious, as this is traditionally how artwork was applied to pinball cabinets, I've just never considered using street art/graffiti techniques in my work. I've shied away from it as never been confident to actually try it out myself.

Oli inspired me to go right out and buy a few cans of spray paint to test out the different methods of stencils. I'll go through these in a bit.

The second tutorial was with Otto, a graphic artist and also runs a screenprinting workshop near Bath.

Spread from Photoshop for Screenprinting book - Otto
Really want to get my hands on a copy of his new Photoshop for Screenprinting book!

I went into the tutorial with Otto really in desperate need of some guidance and direction with both the cabinet and playfield artwork. 

I had made this big mess of a collage on a big piece of paper trying to quickly sketch some of my initial ideas down. The ideas were handmade styles I thought I wanted to include, handmade techniques as a reaction to always working digitally. Otto was confused! He couldn't work out why I was working handmade and focussing on loose abstract styles.

He said I should see the pinball machine like a book.

This could possibly be one of the most important things I could have been told at this point in the project.

It makes so much sense:

The cabinet is the cover of the book
It grabs attention and pulls you in

The playfield is the contents, the story
It takes people on a journey, there is a start, middle and end

He said The art could relate to this idea of a book in a bold graphical way, you have under utelised the potential of the pinball machine canvas. Play into it.

So although coming out of the tutorial knowing how much more work there was to do, I got exactly what I needed to move it on to another level.

More to come... I'll continue the cabinet art into a different post later.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Never: Laser cutting a pinball playfield

Some of these different sections are excepts edited from my weekly progress posts during my six weeks of holidays in February -> March.

Translate to cutter file I'm retheming a Bally Supersonic, retaining the most part of the layout and making alterations to the inserts for LEDs. The slow careful process of measuring the parts on the Supersonic playfield and mapping them out in Illustrator.

Why lasercut? A pinball playfield is usually CNC routed, with a router you are able to control the depth of a cut, so you can make a small lip at a precise depth into the plywood for plastics to be glued into. I've designed my own plastic inserts, with a more detailed shape than standard pinball plastic parts. So to do this I need the intricacy of lasercutting, and unlike the router, lasercutting cannot cut a certain depth into a material.

The 'sandwich' method After some advice from Justin in woodwork, I decided to make a sandwich of plywood using two outer sheets (top & bottom) of 3mm and an inner core of 6mm ply. Although I could have used only two sheets, I'm told this sandwiching method will give extra strength to the playfield, which is something I was worried about when glueing together plywood sheets face to face.

Test Cuts Tested the sandwich concept of using sheets glued together, while creating a lip for plastic inserts to be glued into place.

Paper plan I made a quick paper plan of the playfield cutter template I've been working on. I laid this over the playfield and made small alterations - since it was all measured by hand there was bound to be a few bits a little off.
Sourcing materials needed 3mm and 6mm laser ply to make the 12mm playfield, luckily they had just the right amount in stock already at uni, so I snapped it up!
Finish file prep booking the larger lasercutter to cut this size and depth of material costs quite a bit more, so I want to make sure there are absolutely no file issues before hand so not to waste time. The staff in lasercutting are very helpful and let me jump on one of the computers a bit earlier to sort out the ordering of cutting - which can only really be done in the software not in Illustrator.
Cut it out Apart from registration of the material on the lasercutter bed, the process is all in the setup on the software side of things. When cutting, it's a case on monitoring the cut is all going to plan. Some bits on knots in the plywood needed to get a second pass, which is done with great care!
Cutting complete that is the laser cutting done and I now how the three different layers ready to glue together.
Plugs or Pegs From past mistakes in lasercutting and glueing together sheets of material, I knew it would be near impossible to line up the sheets precisely without some guides. I used a registration method using plugs and slightly different sized guide holes cut near the edges of the playfield. I originally found this method via Milwaukee Makerspace blog.
Fancy a sandwich? not lunch time it's glueing together the sheets. I used some diluted wood glue and a brush to quickly slap on the glue - using slightly diluted means the glue doesn't dry as quickly during application. Then it's weight and time. Overnight to dry.

We have a playfield! It's slightly unreal having the physical playfield cut, it's obviously such a crucial part of the final piece, so have put a lot of time into it, although it feels like another big milestone completed, I'm still so far off finishing!
Plastics Next is to laser my plastic inserts into 3mm acrylic, first step is to try out different size tolerances to try to achieve a snug fit in the lasercut wood.

Dial in the right size Testing out the different sizes on the cut playfield, I can tell right away 0 is too loose and +0.2 is too tight. +0.1 is just right so can go for it. I prepped different files for each possible size so i just open up the +0.1 and get cutting again, there's a lot less to do so back to using the smaller lasers.
Glue the inserts are easily glued into place. Doing a bit of reading up there were a few options for glue, although nothing perfect, it seems normal wood glue is sufficient!

What I'd do differently
  • I would glue the plastic inserts into the top layer before glueing together the sheets - it could be done when the bottom two layers are drying.
  • Although I engraved guide marks for drilling, I would try to lasercut these, slightly smaller than the screws, this will save time having to drill later on.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Now Play This!

Somerset House
1st – 3rd April

I was lucky to be part of this exhibition, latching onto State of Play games fame with my commissioned digital print as part of their launch.

 Crashing the opening night party, which was also the London Games Festival opening night, I felt very out of place, between business investors and games developers. I'm the guy that made the print.

Canap├ęs and quartet type of night. The Quartet recited classic video game songs.

Real buzz about State of Play's stand. First time the world have played the new game

The print glowing away

 Other works were AWESOME!


Action Painter Pro

Joy Exhibition

Orthogonal Diagonal

What a great exhibition. Very inspiring, and making me realise the amount of artists using games as part of their work.

There was so much more over the weekend but unfortunately my budget didn't allow to stay for the weekend!

State of Play Inks

It's not everyday you open your email and find a message from a BAFTA winning games company telling you how much they like your work.

It's times like this you just have to jump on an opportunity.

State of Play got in touch as they had seen my digital pinball pints online. By coincidence they are currently working on an iOS game based around pinball

The reason they found me is not by chance. The very day before the email, I bought their game Lumino City. Lumnio City is truely wonderful game and I urge you to play it.

When playing I took a screenshot and tweeted just saying how much I liked the game.

To cut a long story short they effectively want to commission me to make a print for their new game in the style of the embedded digital print. We decided to meet, plus a trip to London could be beneficial for dropping by a few exhibitions that are related.

On meeting we speak about how the prints could develop and be playable. This is really exciting! There are a few ideas how this could be done, but we made a bit of a plan before I went away to do some gallery visits.

When I got back to Bristol I got right on with sourcing USB keyboards to hack apart for use as possible game controllers. Instead to buying expensive controllers we can just use the simple switches and the USB keyboard interface.

We're having problems working out how to get the prints to be playable. We're a bit restricted with Apple devices so USB is eventually ruled out, so we are being 'creative' (hacking) including trying out Dan's idea of using a pair of Apple headphones as the controller.

Great idea but there is no hold feature, needed for pinball!

In the end we realise due to time constraints we''ll have to stick with a looping video as the original pinball print.

Information about the game is starting to get released:

Now I get to jump onto making artwork and get supplied the assets to design the cabinet.

As well as ordering the parts, I prepare for screenprinting, once thats done it's a case of putting everything together.

The buttons I made were used in State of Play's final pinball machine. the machine is currently at the Apple office in London as they love it so much! Great news.
Both the print and the pinball machine (with those lovely buttons) were exhibited at Somerset House for Now Play This exhibition.