Photoshop Mirror Symmetry Action


Unfortunately Photoshop does not have a live symmetry drawing tool, however you can get something almost as good using a simple action. Below are the steps you will need to create it. I’m using Photoshop CS 6 for this but I’m pretty sure this should work in most older versions and I know it works is the new CC version. If you haven’t used Photoshop actions before, take a look at Matt Kohr’s excellent introduction to actions over on Ctrl+Alt+Paint.

This action takes whatever artwork is on the right side of the current layer and copies it to the left side, replacing whatever was there. Symmetry is over the Y axis at the center of the canvas. I’m going right to left here because I’m right handed but you can use this same method to mirror in the other direction or top to bottom. Here is the basic idea of what we’re going to do.

  • Select the left half of the canvas.
  • Delete it.
  • Duplicate the current layer.
  • Mirror the new layer across the symmetry axis.
  • Merge the two layers back into one.

And here are the action steps:

  1. ⌘ + A : Select > All
  2. Select > Transform Selection
    While the transform is active, change the reference point location to the left center point. Then set the width value to 50%. Make sure that the Maintain Aspect Ratio button is NOT checked. You want the height to stay at 100%. Hit Enter
  3. Del : delete the content of the selection
  4. ⌘ + D : Select > Deselect
  5. ⌘ + A : Select > All
  6. ⌘ + J : Layer > New > Layer Via Copy
  7. ⌘ + A : Select > All
  8. Select > Transform Selection
    While the transform is active, this time change the reference point location to the right center point. Then set the width value to 50% as before. Hit Enter
  9. ⌘ + T : Edit > Free Transform
    Now, while the transform is active, this time change the reference point location to the left center point like you did in step 2.
    Then set the width value to –100% (that’s negative 100%). Hit Enter
  10. ⌘ + E : Layer > Merge Layers
  11. ⌘ + D : Select > Deselect

I have this action set to trigger with F6 so that I can make a few strokes with my brush, then hit a key and update the image. It’s not quite a live effect but it’s pretty close.

Author Illustrator Blog Tour

Greetings! If we haven’t met before, my name is Matthew. I make art.

My good friend Lindsey Yankey asked me to be a part of this children’s book author and illustrator blog tour by answering these four questions:

What am I currently working on?

I’ve just begun working on a new skill building project for myself. I’m very interested in the animation industry and in the early visual development part of the process in particular. If you’re not familiar with the term, visual development artists create the look and feel of the characters, environments, and objects that will appear in a cartoon or movie. They work at the very initial stages of a new film, often before the script is even finished. These artists work on a variety of topics but the area that really gets me excited is prop design.

I like this part of the industry in particular because it’s all about creative problem solving. I’ve had the opportunity to do a little of this work in the past and I’d like to do more, so I’ve been researching other artists who work in the field and some of the techniques they use.

I spent last weekend paring down all the material I’m collecting into a few research pages.

MatthewCook_PropDesignThemes_1 MatthewCook_PropDesignThemes_2 MatthewCook_PropDesignThemes_3 MatthewCook_PropDesignThemes_4

I would love to do this kind of skill building all day, but I also have a fantastic day job. I work for a company that makes stickers and paper crafting products called EK. I’ve been working there for about a year and a half now, and I couldn’t ask for a more friendly and creative place to work. It’s also a great feeling to be designing something that other people can use to be creative themselves.

A lot of the stickers I’ve made are still hush hush, but a few things are starting to find their way into stores. Here is an example, one of my favorite projects from last year. These are boxes of goggly eyes I helped to designed. If you’re in the US, you can find them in the craft section at your local Target store.


Once in a while I also get the chance to do freelance work. I recently worked with Beat By Beat Press to design some title graphics for one of their new children’s musicals. Beat by Beat has a library of original musicals that they sell as kits for schools,  church groups, or any sort of youth organization that wants to put on a show. They provide all the scripts and music, but also promotional materials. This is title artwork I made for The Most Epic Birthday Party Ever:

MatthewCook_Epic Birthday_title artwork

Beat by Beat  provides everything you need to put the show on, but they also encourage people to make each performance their own. I love that! As part of that philosophy Beat by Beat asked me to design the graphics so that they can be broken down into pieces. This way the kids can mix and match the elements to make each poster or sign fit the needs of their show.

MatthewCook_Epic Birthday_breakdown artwork

Aside from my artistic pursuits, I’m spend a lot of time thinking about how to make myself a better, more productive, and more creative person. I’ve been reading a lot lately about positive psychology, which studies people who are happy and successful and tries to learn what attitudes and behaviors those people have that make them that way. I’ve found a lot of help in dealing with stress and learning new skills more quickly from what I’ve read about.

If you would like a good introduction to the topic, let me recommend a good video to you. This is a recording of the first lecture of Harvard’s positive psychology class which someone has kindly posted on youtube.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hmmm. That’s quite a question. I’m not sure how to answer it directly, but let me tell you how I think. Maybe that will help.

I’ve talked with a lot of my fellow artists about how they think and I’ve noticed that some artists like to think in lines, lets call them drawers, and some artists like to think in shapes, and I’ll call them painters. Drawers can paint, and painters can draw, the only difference I think is where they feel most comfortable starting from.

I’m a drawer. I think it’s because that’s what I did when I was younger: doodle on my homework, scribble in my sketchbooks, draw in the end papers of my books, etc etc etc. I think drawers have the advantage that they can work almost anywhere with very simple tools, and lines can also be very expressive. However, lines tend to flatten an image, they usually don’t address color, and they tend to look less finished and refined. I feel very comfortable drawing and sketching out my work, but choosing colors and making rendered paintings is much more of a challenge for me.

If you’re an artist, ask yourself which one you think you are.

This is something that I’ve only realized recently and it’s given me impetus to try and approach some of my newer work from the opposite point of view, starting with shapes and colors from the beginning. That approach lends itself to the way I design stickers for work because most of our designs start their life as vector shapes in illustrator. This approach doesn’t feel as comfortable to me at the moment, but I can tell I’m gaining new skills by trying it.

I think in general I like to analyze what I’m doing. It’s a problem solving habit that comes from my background as an engineer, and it’s the way I like to approach almost everything I do.

Why do I illustrate what I illustrate?

I like to feel amazed and surprised, I like to learn something new, I like to find a new way to look at life, and I draw the things that make me think that way. I hope my art does that for other people sometimes too.

How does my individual writing/illustrating process work?

These are the steps I take whenever I’m starting a new project:

Brain Dump:

I’m primarily an artist but I start every project by writing. I write out what I need to make, and then I start making lists of every word or phrase I can think of that has anything to do with my topic. I’ve tried doing mind maps which are helpful sometimes but most of the time just lists will do. I start with whatever I can think of on my own, and then occasionally I’ll use a thesaurus or an internet search. I particularly like the thesaurus at because for whatever reason it’s very loose about what it includes as a synonym so I get things other reference books leave out.

Often just making these lists begins to bring up concepts, but if I still need ideas, I’ll start picking out words in 2’s and 3’s to see if those connection brings up any ideas.


Next I start to do some visual research. Lately I’ve become a Pinterest junky. I keep a bunch of boards on useful topics so that I can save things I happen to come across, and can always have a storehouse of inspiration and reference when I start something new.

When I’m working on a specific project I make a folder on my computer and collect all the useful reference and inspiration pictures in there so they are all in one place. I also take written notes or little doodle sketches as I work, usually in a little notebook or in my sketchbook.


If I’m working realistically I can usually just draw and paint from my reference, but if I’m making something stylized or designing something that doesn’t exist then I need to think about what it should look like. This is one area where thinking like a painter rather than a drawer has been helpful because the shapes that make up an object give the object its personality.

If I just try and draw things out of my head, I notice that after a while I keep coming back to the same shapes over and over again and the designs look boring or ordinary. To get out of that rut, I’ve collected a number of fun little exercises that force you out of your comfort zone and give you more radical shapes to work with. Here are a few of my favorites:

- Silhouette Design
For this exercise, get yourself a few black markers. I like to use one with a calligraphy tip and a very fine point one but whatever you find most comfortable is fine. Think of whatever you are trying to design and begin drawing out thumbnails of what its silhouette looks like. That is: no lines, no internal details, no shading, no nothing. Just make the outside shape, and then fill everything else in with pure black. This forces you to think about the overall shape of the object without getting caught up in all the details. I usually try to fill a sketchbook page with these.

– Page Fill
In this exercise, open to a blank page of your sketchbook and make some random shapes scattered on the page. Then take each of those shapes and turn it into whatever you are trying to design. Then in whatever space is left over, make some new shapes, and again turn them into designs. Continue doing this until you have filled all of the empty areas on the page. The more stretched and twisted and oblong and sheared and distorted the shapes, the better. The idea here is to get you out of using ordinary forms and into using more unusual and extreme shapes.

– Alchemy: Visual Noise
There is a great drawing program called Alchemy which you can download for free on Mac or PC. Unlike a normal paint program, Alchemy takes your drawing input and then passes it through any number of distortion filters which you can choose and adjust. So as you draw, the program makes a sort of visual noise that you can sort of control, but not really. Instead of a clean drawing you end up with a lot of happy accidents. I use the program to make a bunch of semi-random thumbnails and then cut and paste them into Photoshop where I use them as inspiration for more refined drawings.

– Layer Collage
In this exercise I use some traditional medium to make a lot of abstract “stuff” on paper. Then I scan the “stuff” and bring it into photoshop where I layer it, one on top of the other, playing with all the different blending modes and opacity setting as I go until I have one big abstract blob of “stuff”. Then I zoom way in and look for interesting shapes where the layers of stuff have come together. This technique is particularly good for coming up with compositions.

As I do these exercises, I think about what I want the object to “feel” like, and based on that, I think of the sort of abstract shapes and colors that convey those feelings (is it pointy?, slick?, soft?, sticky?, etc.).


By this point I’m starting to get my designs together and begin to put them into a composition. I make lots of compositional thumbnails, again thinking about the shapes and what they convey.

If I’m working with a client this is also where I begin showing them what I’ve come up with, and begin to integrate their feedback into the design.


Once I have a composition I like and all the pieces in place I make the final piece. This is the part that I find most frustrating, and the part that usually takes the longest.

I hope that some of the information about me was helpful and interesting to everyone. I want to thank Lindsey for asking me to participate in the blog tour.

Before I go, I want to hand you off to to a very talented writer and a good friend of mine, Jacqueline Resnick.

Jacqueline is the author of The Daring Escape of the Misfit Menagerie, which I had the pleasure of illustrating. She’s also written a fantastic sequel, and a series of YA novels. Please pay her a visit.

So I got this e-mail from Sweden …

… which is not something that happens to me every day. It was from a very friendly Swedish person named Catrin, who also happens to be a very talented jewelry designer. You can see some of her fine work on online store here web site. (The site is in Swedish, but Google Translate does a pretty passable job with it, enough to have a look around at the pictures.)

One of Catrin’s specialties are small pendants made from two pieces of glass soldered back to back with an image between. She was writing me to ask about an image I had posted here on the blog, and wanted to know of she could use the image for a particular client commission. How cool is that!

She was nice enough to send me a picture of the finished design. Take a look:


My penguins look so sparkly and stylish!

I’m so happy I got to be a part of it, and I hope her client liked the way it turned out. If Catrin’s work looks like something you or someone you know would like, get in touch with her. She is a pleasure to work with.

Guess what! Something I imagined up out of my own little head is showing in a gallery RIGHT NOW! And if you happen to find yourself in the Burbank area in the next week or so, YOU CAN SEE IT IN PERSON!



My Quetzalcoatl painting is part of a show at the Center Stage Gallery in Burbank, along with a collection of other CGMA student work, and concept art from the movie Turbo. The show will be running from July 18th – 31st, with a special signing event on Saturday the 27th with some of the Dreamworks artists.

Here’s the picture that will be hanging.

feathered serpent-revised_web

This was a piece I did for Erik Martin’s Digital Painting class last fall. I can’t speak more highly of the experience, and of Erik. You can read a bit more about this piece in my previous post.

If you get the chance I hope you’ll come see all of the great work. And thanks to CGMA for including me in the show!

Rigby and the MASKC

I got a mention on twitter today from @MASKC_Komondor whom I had never heard of before. I’m always excited to have someone new tweet me. Turns out they are the Middle Atlantic States Komondor Club, and they posted a very nice note about The Misfits on their blog. How cool is that!

Rigby, one of the misfit animals, is a Komondor dog. Here’s a nice action shot of Rigby from the book:

The Komondor breed comes from Hungary where they’ve been used as sheepdogs for centuries. They have thick matted coats that gather into chords. This makes them look a bit like mops. I had a lot of fun designing Rigby for the book. He’s one of my favorite characters because he’s a blast to draw, and because he wants to be an artist. Here are a few sketches of Rigby from early on in the character design process:

More Fun Music Finds – Tell Your Girlfriend

Here’s another fun music find from the Scriptnotes podcast. This time it’s Robyn’s Tell Your Girlfriend covered a-capella and clappy cups style by a trio of Swedish singers called Erato. Here’s their fun blog full of cat pictures. Apparently the original is a very popular Pop hit but I hadn’t heard it before. You can hear it at the link above. It’s also good is a very anti-a-capella way.

북한의 Take On Me

I’ve been listening to this over and over for days. This is a group of North Korean musicians playing Take On Me by A-Ha on accordions.

If you’re wondering, by the way, how a bunch of North Korean teenagers ended up playing this, its part of a project by Norwegian Morten Traavik called THE PROMISED LAND (I think it’s supposed to be capitalized, also not to be confused with the Matt Damon movie), that is connecting with North Korean artists, which I am all for.

I really like strange cover versions of songs. And strange songs. And Strange Bands. This is what I live for, and I have to thank a new podcast I’ve been listening to for this and about a half dozen other great musical finds in the past week or so. The podcast is called Scriptnotes, and is a podcast about screenwriting by John August and Craig Mazin. The podcast has almost nothing to do with music, but every week they choose a different, usually youtube, piece of audio for their into and outro. Love it! The podcast is really good too.

The Misfits are Here!

The big day has finally arrived! The Daring Escape of the Misfit Menagerie is finally out. Visit your local book monger or purveyor of fine volumated manuscripts and procure yourself a genuine specimen.

It’s kitty cat approved!

Misfits is a grade school chapter book about a band of misfit animals who must escape the clutches of an evil circus master. The story was written by my super talented writer friend Jacqueline Resnick. I had the pleasure of making 30 illustrations for the story plus the cover image and titles.

I also can’t forget to thank my art director at Razorbill, Emily Osborne, for all of her hard work.

Super Extra Special Late-Breaking Update:

Amazon has selected Misfits as one of its December Editor’s Picks for Kids and Teens. Huzza!

This Is Why I am Thankful for Walls

OK, I admit it. I was vanity googling the title of my book (which comes out tomorrow, *so excited*). Anyway, when I put “Misfit Menagerie” in the search box, look what popped up:

Isn’t this adorable! Look at the stripes. Are you looking?!? I want it so badly. SOOOO BADLY!

This is a Faux Taxidermy Blue Hare by the obviously super talented Stephanie Gunning. You can see an ark full of her other work on her Etsy store. Go buy things from her so she will keep making objects of awesomeness like this one. Go now. I’ll wait.


Back from CTN

I got back this week from my first ever trip to CTN Expo. Right up until last week I was feeling uneasy about the expense and nervousness of the whole thing. I’m kind of a shy person and the prospect of traveling so far by myself to meet people I didn’t know was unnerving. But guess what! I’m so glad I went. I had a fantastic time.

This picture is a sort of take off of my business card design. I gave away a metric ton of cards while I was in Burbank, and I got a similarly sizable stack to take back with me. I put this image together to send out to the e-mail addresses of all the friendly people I met as a kind of “keep in touch note”.

I thought this would be a good way to help keep me memorable in people’s minds. Which got me thinking of all the other things I did (and wish I had done) for the conference. So I thought I’d put together a brief list of advizos (is that a word?) for anyone planning their first trip to CTN (or any industry conference, really).

Don’t worry about going alone.

If you go with a friend you’ll send the whole time talking to them. Being alone forces you to meet people. And for some of us shy people, sometimes a little force is necessary.

How to meet people.

Like any event with lots of people, you are going to find yourself standing in a lot of lines or squished next to someone in a long row of audience chairs. These are the people to strike up a conversation with. Ask them a polite questions like “what’s this line for?” or “when does this presentation start?” Then introduce yourself and make a new friend.

Bring lots of business cards.

Make sure your name and e-mail are one there in a legible font. Don’t spend a lot on super crisp papers and rounded laser cut corners and embossed letter press printing. You make pictures. Make something pretty, print it cheaply.

Here’s what my cards look like. I’m not fond of the back image so I think it’s going to get a redesign one of these days.



Take notes on the business cards you get.

On every card I got I made a little note to myself to help me remember where I met this person (Glen Keane line), a few of their personal details (works at ad company, storyboards, from Iowa), and maybe what we talked about (portfolio printing).

Update the bios on your social media thingies.

I have a very ordinary name so it’s important that when someone goes looking for Matthew Cook they can pick the kindly artist Matthew out from all the other Matthew.

This might also be a good time to change your avatar picture to an actual photo of yourself, at least for a few weeks. If your own photo frightens you like mine does, maybe have your profile picture match a picture on your business card.

Bring some money for loot.

I stuck to a strict budget at CTN because my travel costs were so expensive, but I wish I had budgeted just a little more to buy some stuff. There was a lot of neat stuff.

Bring some healthy food.

The fast food nearby got old really fast, and I didn’t have a car to go hunting for a grocery store. Next time I’ll try and bring some other options.

Wear comfortable shoes – it does occasionally rain in California.

I wore my worn out old sneakers with a hole in the bottom, so my socks got a little wet.

… and last but not least, follow up with your new friends.

Be brief and polite. Say it was nice to meet them, and comment on something you talked about to refresh their memory of who you are (now is when those notes on the business cards come in handy). Add a list of your web addresses or social network links and invite them to send you the same. Hopefully they will point you back at their web site or facebook page and you can keep up with what they’re doing. That way when you run into them next year its like you’re old friends.

David Rakoff

I was very sad to hear that David Rakoff passed away. He is one of my favorite authors.

Back in my first semester in art school I made this poster based on his monologue Christmas Freud for my typography class. The larger words are from a fortune cookie, the smaller from David’s monologue, and the image is a painting, “American Prayer”, by Gottfried Helnwein.

I entertained ideas of sending him a copy but I could never get up the nerve. I wish I had.

The text reads:

I am the ghost of Christmas subconscious.
I am the anti-santa.
I am Christmas Freud.
People tell me what they wish for.
I tell them the ways their wishes are unhealthy or wished for in error.
— David Rakoff

The Daring Escape of the Misfit Menagerie

I have some exciting news!

I’m sorry I have neglected posting for so long but I’ve been engaged in a big project. I just wrapped things up a few weeks ago and now I get to share. I’ve been illustrating this book:

It’s called The Daring Escape of the Misfit Menagerie, and it follows the story of 4 misfit animals as they escape from a villainous circus master. The story was written by the super talented Jacqueline Resnick, and is aimed at the grade school chapter book market. The book won’t be out until December, but it’s already got a page on amazon with my name and Jacqueline’s and an ISBN number and everything. I feel so official!

This is my first time illustrating a whole book for mass market publication, and it sounds like this is Jacqueline’s first book as well (although a little birdie (@Jacqwrites) told me she has a set of more grownup thrillers coming out next year). If this book is any indication I’m sure she has a big career in front of her. The characters and events were so well written it was a pleasure to  illustrate them. I hope I did them justice.

I did 35 interior illustrations for the book in black and white ink wash, as well as the color cover illustration and titles. Once the book comes out I’ll share some of the pictures with you. I’m very proud of them, and a lot of that credit goes to my great art director and the book’s editor over at Razorbill.

It was a lot of work and a great learning experience. The first of many I hope!

Apple’s iBooks Author for the Illustrator

Last week Apple updated their e-reading software to include a new (well really just extended) format for multimedia e-books aimed at the textbook market. As part of that push, they also introduced a new tool called iBooks Author which lets you . . . you know, author iBooks. Apple is promoting the program chiefly as a tool for making textbook like rich media books, but after watching their presentation I immediately thought that it would be a great way to make all sorts of illustrated book content like comics, story books, illustrated noves, and especially a convenient portfolio tool.

Apparently I’m not the only one. The fabulously talented Dani Jones has a post up about her experiences trying iBooks Author making a comic.

The Best part is that Apple is giving iBooks Author away FOR FREE, which puts a few other $500 products I can think of *cough* InDesign *cough* to shame. After watching the apple speech I was all giddy and excited and whatnot, so I immediately downloaded Author and decided to give it a try. Here’s how things went.

The Project – Flywheel:

A few years ago I made an illustrated short story for a class project called Flywheel. It’s written in the style of a series of journal entries accompanied by simple watercolor illustrations. It’s about 20 or so pages depending on how it’s paginated and since I already had the text and illustrations in my computer for the print I made for class I thought it would make the perfect candidate for my first e-book.

You can download a copy of my finished book here:

Flywheel, Matthew Cook.

Getting Started with iBooks Author:

If you’ve used one of Apple’s iWork programs like Keynote or Pages then I suspect that Author will look pretty familiar to you. It’s been quite a while since I’ve used either, but I found things to be pretty intuitive, and thankfully the help file in the program is well written and handy.

When you start you’re presented with a few templates you can work from. I played around in each of them but I ended up using the “Basic” because it had the least formatting for me to remove.

The first thing that gave me some pause was the structure that Author imposes on your book. At the top of your list of pages are 4 sections that are part of every book. The first is a cover which you can populate with your title and whatever images you’re interested in.

The next is an “Intro Movie” which plays the first time you open the book. For an example of this see the E. O. Wilson Biology textbook that Apple uses in all it’s demos; think “flashy to look at once in a demo, but ultimately really annoying”. You can’t delete this heading in Author, but if you leave it blank then it just doesn’t appear in your export, so no biggie.

Next is a Table of Contents. This is generated for you automatically as you build your book. There are some settings to adjust what appears here but as far as I can tell there is no removing it and at the very least it will contain each of your chapter or section pages (more on that later). The formatting is also a bit fixed. You can add images and text to decorate it but basically you get a static for each chapter or section with a series of thumbnails of that chapter’s internal pages along the bottom, each of which is a link to that page in the book. For a visual book it’s much prettier than a list of chapter titles. I think perhaps very handy for a portfolio book too.

The last fixed item is a glossary that lets you add terms and link them to pages in your text. This is more for the textbook side of things so I didn’t play with it much but now that I think about it I wonder if it could be used for something handy like a keyword index. If you don’t fill it out it’s omitted from the final export just like the intro movie.

Under the fixed items is the list of your pages. So on to the guts!

Making Pages:

There were a few things about this that were very confusing to me at first, so let me explain and maybe save you from the same headache. The problem came down to the way Apple wants you to structure your book so that it works nicely with things like the table of contents and scalable text and all the other e-book features. Once you get the idea it makes sense, but if you’re like me and don’t read the instructions it can be confusing.

An iBook is made up of either a series of “Section” or a series of “Chapters” (or a nested mixture of each) so that each section or chapter’s heading can show up in the table of contents and link you to each part of the book. This means that you can’t just add pages to your book, you have to add a section or a chapter first, and then add pages to that section or chapter. That took me about an hour to figure out.

In turn, each section or chapter has a single block of text that snakes through linked text boxes on however many pages are necessary to show all of it. This is so that when a reader adjusts the font or text size the text of the book can redistribute itself properly. When you add an image or a floating text box Author also makes a little anchor indicator that lets you associate that item with a location in the text so they stay in sync.

When you make a new page you choose one of several templates, basically a blank page or one with 1, 2, or 3 columns of connected text boxes. It took me a while to realize that the connected text boxes and the floating ones were not interchangeable. If you want things to work correctly you have to keep your body text in the big linked boxes.

My story is laid out as journal entries, each about a page long, and each headed by a date (so 25th of January for example), so at first I decided to work with chapters. I think this would be fine if my story were longer, but because each chapter is only about a page long this arrangement turned out to be a problem when I previewed things on my iPad for the first time. Instead, I made a single chapter and designed it’s intro page to look like a title page for my book. The I filled the chapter with all 20 or so pages of my book. This worked really well.

Once you get going things are pretty smooth. I cut my text from the original textfile I had handy and pasted it into text boxes, and then dragged and dropped the illustrations into place. The formatting and styling tools are all very intuitive and adjusting the images and flowing text around them is very easy.

Preview, Where Dreams are Crushed by the Realities of eBooks:

Ok, that’s a little harsh. Things weren’t that bad, but there were a few things I discovered when I made my frist preview that were a bit disappointing.

First, and most upsetting, were the fonts. As I said I had laid out my book previously for a printed assignment, and at the time I spent considerable effort finding nice script fonts for the date headings and a legible but interesting body font. On my computer everything looked fine, but apparently fonts are not exported with your book. The iPad only supports about 2 dozen common fonts so all my stylized text was replaced with a crummy substitute font. Rather than take what the system gave me I went back to my computer and restyled the text with something more appropriate.

Another harsh reality on the iPad is the issue of portrait vs landscape views. When you work on your project in Author the view defaults to a landscape format, which feels about like a 2 page spread on a paperback. You can also click a button and edit the way things will be laid out in portrait orientation, but for some reason Apple decided that in portrait view all images should appear as small thumbnails in the margins. Again, very textbook like.

I played around with the portrait orientation for a while trying to find something I liked, but usually when I made something work in portrait it looked ugly in landscape or vice versa, and there is just enough connection between the two versions that I couldn’t get something that worked well in both. I almost wish you could make two completely different versions of the book and just swap them out when someone rotates their iPad. You do have the option of disabling portrait orientation all together and that’s what I finally ended up doing.

Another annoyance I came across has to do with those linked text boxes. I formatted my book as two facing pages, sometimes with an image on one side or the other, but occasionally with a large picture spanning across both. I used the 2 column page template which gives you two equal text boxes and a grey dividing line down the middle of the page. You can see it poking out on this screenshot at the top and bottom.

Well I can’t for the life of me figure out how to get rid of that blasted grey dividing line. At first I thought maybe it was just for visual reference and it would disappear when I exported the book, but not so. You can select the line but there doesn’t seem to be any way to delete it or even edit it’s appearance. You can also edit the template files directly but the same story there. SO FRUSTRATING! I finally had to make thin white boxes on every page just to cover it up.

After the first preview I had some adjustments to make, but for the most part things went fine.

Export, ISBN’s, and the iBookstore:

Exporting your book is very easy and when you’re done you are left with a .ibooks file that you can then distribute yourself for others to install on their iPads through iTunes.

If, however, you want to sell you books (or give them away for free) in the iBookstore, then you have to go through a process of applying to Apple to become a seller which requires some contract signing, and then submit your book for review and approval. I applied for a seller account on the day iBooks Author was released but I haven’t heard back from them yet. I suspect they are a bit inundated with applications at the moment.

Reading about the process however I discovered that one of the submission requirements for a book, even one you intend to sell for free on the store, is a registered ISBN number. If you are lucky enough to live in a country where the government runs the national ISBN database you can likely get an ISBN for your book for free. I however live in the USA where our government  thought it would be wise to grant a monopoly on ISBN numbers to a private corporation that charges around $125 each. Large companies can buy ISBN’s in blocks at substantial discounts, so there are a number of small self publishing websites that offer numbers for less or even free, but with varying caveats. ISBN numbers not only identify your book but the publishing house to which that number block was assigned, which can mean that if you publish under a free or low cost ISBN associated with a publisher it can present legal hurdles if you ever decide to sell your book under another publisher later. My over all impression at the moment is that getting and ISBN is more trouble than it’s worth.

Anyway, you can always distribute your exported book yourself as a download. Well, sort of, you see . . .

License Controversy:

Since iBook Author was launched there has been some controversy on the internet about some of the provisions in the EULA pertaining to what you can do with the books you make with the software. The offending section is this one:

2. Permitted License Uses and Restrictions.

B. Distribution of your Work. As a condition of this License and provided you are in compliance with its terms, your Work may be distributed as follows:
(i) if your Work is provided for free (at no charge), you may distribute the Work by any available means;
(ii) if your Work is provided for a fee (including as part of any subscription-based product or service), you may only distribute the Work through Apple and such distribution is subject to the following limitations and conditions: (a) you will be required to enter into a separate written agreement with Apple (or an Apple affiliate or subsidiary) before any commercial distribution of your Work may take place; and (b) Apple may determine for any reason and in its sole discretion not to select your Work for distribution

The gist of this is that you are not allowed to sell the books you make with iBooks Author anywhere but in the iBookstore. Some people jumped to the conclusion that this ment that you would not be able to sell your book anywhere but with Apple, but the important distinction is this: You can still sell the content of your book anywhere, you simply can’t make a formatted version of your book with the iBooks Author software and then sell that formatted version anywhere other than the iBookstore.

I think this provision is pretty scummy, both as a potential author and as a consumer, but it doesn’t mean my work is locked up, just that I have to do a lot more to reformat with a different tool it if I want to use it somewhere else. Because of this provision I would think twice before using iBooks Author to make something I intend to sell.


I didn’t get a chance to play with many of the fancy eye-candy type features of Author but for the simple sort of layout I was after I was pretty happy with the experience. I’m also excited to try it at a few other sorts of projects. For a few years now I’ve been compiling my portfolio in InDesign and exporting it as a PDF to be printed (at considerable expense) or sent to clients and and studios as an e-mail attachment along with a resume.

I think this would be a great way to make a portfolio I could take with me to a meeting or a job interview. You can also export your books as static PDF’s so I can imagine filling out the portfolio in Author and then using the same files to send out as I take with me.


Episode 425: In which our hero visits Ringling and is stalked by menacing palm trees …

Over the weekend I took a trip to Sarasota to visit Ringling on their annual Accepted Students Day. This was the first time I’ve been on an airplane in quite a while, and the first time I’d flown anywhere by myself before, so to commemorate the experience I took a lot of blurry cell phone pictures. Hurray!

Air travel has changed quite a bit since I last flew. Most of the changes are a result of all the new security precautions, but not all. On my flight from Atlanta to Sarasota the plane was equipped with these video screens in the backs of all the seats. “Wow, keen gear!” I thought for the first 3 minutes. Then I saw this sprite ad again. Then again. Then Again. THEN AGAIN. I was worried I’d have to stare at it the whole flight, but then the little 4-year-old boy in the seat next to me started playing with the unmarked buttons on the bottom and it turns out you can turn the screen off. Hurray for 4-year-olds!

Here was the most exciting part of the flight. It’s kind of hard to make out, but down there somewhere is the florida coastline. This was my first glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico.

And here’s what parts of Sarasota looked like as the plane came in. The airport is right near the coastline.

I’ve heard that when you get off the plane in Hawaii that grass skirted hula girls come out of the woodwork and put leis of flowers around your neck. In the Sarasota airport you are greeted by this 8-foot tall statue 15th century Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto. He’s very intimidating.

Hey look! My first encounter with a Floridian palm tree in the rental car lot. *sigh* memories.

I was eager to see the ocean so I drove around looking for a beach. Here’s a little park I stopped at. It goes right up to the water, but no beach x_x. I’d have to try again later. I never noticed it before, but palm trees kind of loom over you.

Another palm tree greeted me at my hotel. I have to say, they were starting to get a little menacing.

The sun was going down, so I decided if I was going to see a beach before I left I’d better go find one now.

And look, I found one. This is called Lido beach (or Lido Key, I’m not sure what the difference is).

The sand was nice, but very different than the sand I remember from California.

I sat on the beach for a while and tried to draw the people walking by, but the sun went down pretty quickly. It sure was pretty.

I didn’t have any swimwear, but I did walk through the water a little and pick up some shells. By then it was almost dark so I had to head back. Tomorrow Ringling!

The Ringling campus is very nice. My only basis of comparison is the campus at KU. Ringling is maybe the size of the main part of the KU campus on Jayhawk blvd, but very few buildings are over 4 stories. Most of the buildings are relatively new, built in the last 5 years or so. There are lots of trees and shady spots and nice places to sit and sketch.

When I got to check-in I was assigned to a small group of 5 or 6 other students and their parents and 2 student tour guides who would be showing us around for the morning. Everyone was very friendly.

The first building we toured housed the Film program and also the technology center for campus. Every student at Ringling is given a free laptop complete with all the software you could want, the gift of an “anonymous donor”.

In the tech center we got a little tour of the server room which houses file space for all the students as well as a very impressive render farm used by the Computer Animation (CA) students to render their projects. The servers are in a very nice server room with hot and cold zones for about 5 isles of racks. I was surprised to learn that the render farm runs windows. The technical director told me that they would like to be running linux, but that the rendering software and plugins they use require windows.

Next we toured the CA facilities. Luckily one of our guides was a 3rd year CA student (that’s him in the action pose) so we got a really thorough tour. In the animation dept they’ve lines the walls with these movie posters, and under each one they list the Ringling alumni who worked on the film. They have posters from just about every animated or scifi action film in the last 5 years.

The animation students spend their first few semesters learning 2D pencil animation, one of the things a lot of the other 3D animation schools (to their total discredit) completely skip over. I was really excited to see what sort of equipment they would have for students and I was not disappointed. Here is one of the animation desks. They have a whole lab full of these complete with backlit metal animation disks, adjustable surface, and a luxo lamp.

There’s a reason the desks are so nice. They were all donated to the school by Dinsey when the Orlando animation studio was shut down. These are the same desks that movies like Lilo and Stitch were animated on.

Our guide said that the 2D classes focus on building animation basics, and culminate in a 15 sec pencil test animation that tells a simple story with a character you’ve designed.

After 2D animation students move on to 3D. The department has several labs full of computers, all PC’s, all brand new, all with tablets, and all with 30-inch screens. The students do their animations in Maya and our guide was kind enough to show us some of what he’d been working on.

Everyone learns skills at every stage of the pipeline, so character design and connecting through study development, then modeling and rigging, texturing, animation, compositing and rendering. Your junior year you develop a final story up through the storyboarding stage, and then your senior year is spent completing a short film for your thesis.

Career services is very impressive. They have this display in their lobby with logos of all the companies that do recruiting and nearly every CA student I talked to was involved in an internship at some point.

This is a figure drawing session put on by students. They organize sessions every weeknight and bring in models so you can work on your skills outside of class.

This is one of the Illustration dept computer labs. Illustration has both Mac and PC’s, everything with 30 inch screens.

I’m still not a fan of those creepy palm trees, but there are lots of other trees as well and most of them have big fluffy beards of this spanish moss that sways in the wind.

This is a shot from the second floor of the Graphic Design dept’s building. They have a very nice (I’m guessing) Chihuli glass sculpture. This building also houses the main auditorium. Speakers come through from all over and include people from the major animations studios who show the students preproduction stuff and even some bits of films and shorts before they’re released to the public.

And a little parting shot of the clouds over Sarasota. A big thanks to our guides (names withheld to protect the innocent), I had a great time.



Billions and Billions

Stupendous news everyone, I got a job.

I’ll be working at Bazillion Pictures. Bazillion — or Baz as we like to call it when we’re having our glamorous fast talking hollywood type industry lunch meetings — is a small animation and production studio here in Kansas City. I’ve been interning and freelancing with Bazillion since last summer, so I’ve had a lot of time to get to know everyone. There’s only 8 people on the crew: 2 founders, 5 artists, and 1 project manager. They’re all tremendous characters. I’m starting on along with another intern I’ve been working with since the summer.

Because the studio is so small everyone there is a Jill or Jack of all trades, and that’s a lot of what I’ve been learning as an intern. They do motion graphics, 3D modeling and animation, sound design, print and web graphics, concept art, theater design, and now we’re ramping up a major new push into video games and interactive. How cool is that? I’ve been doing a lot of this as well, and a big part of that has been all the 3D modeling I’m learning.

I’ve already been involved in a host of exciting projects, and I hope to be able to start posting some of the goodies here soon. Needless to say I’m very excited, which ineventbly leads to singing show tunes to myself, which may be driving the cat crazy. I tried to tell her she could be more into it if she would do the choreography with me, but in typical cat style she refuses.

As an artist, I have to say that I feel very lucky to have a real regular job. Doing paperwork feels like a job. Answering phones feels like a job, but being an artist with what I hope will be a steady paycheck—it kind of feels like I tricked some poor businessman into paying me to sit in a room and draw all day. Don’t tell them, but I do it for free already.