Nice work Adobe

Posted By Design Corps / January, 22, 2014 / 0 comments

Shout it from the rooftops, tell your family and friends, corner fillets are finally in Illustrator! Well, perhaps don’t go that far…but it is pretty exciting to have this feature properly implemented at last.

Easily editable corner fillets have been in 3DS Max for years and it always struck me as odd that Max had it and illustrator didn’t. The drawing tools in Max are fine but I would always choose Illustrator for doing anything beyond very basic shapes as it is simply a lot more capable in that department (no big surprise really as that is what it was designed for) but when it came to round corners Max, bizarrely, had the upper hand on Illustrator.

Sure there was a round corners effect, but it was just a visual effect, the underlying path didn’t change which, more often than not, made it useless to me. There was also a script you could get called ‘round any corner’ which was better than nothing but was a bit clunky to use and, as there was no ‘preview’ option, there was a lot of back and forth with guesswork. Then of course there was always the option of just drawing everything, a bit time consuming but definitely a possibility. So, as you probably gathered from the opening line, I was extremely pleased to read at the start of the week that the new CC updates had a feature called ‘live corners’ for Illustrator which seemed to be the answer to my corner rounding prayers.

By sheer coincidence I’ve been working on a series of infographics this week that feature a lot of very precise curving lines that form together and flow around each other. A perfect opportunity to get a lot of live corner use straight away then; so is it any good?

Basically, yes. It is incredibly simple to use, gives you instant feedback (as the ‘live’ title would imply) and, best of all, is non-destructive so you can just keep tweaking the corner values as much as you like and always have the option of going back to the initial point/corner. Using live corners to work on that infographic project has saved me at least half a day of annoying faffery (yeah, it’s a word) trying to get all the curves looking right; I would either have been using the round any corners script (and a lot of guesswork) or plotting loads of guides to help me draw everything by hand…either way would have been a pain and would probably have made me look at other, less curvy, options.

So yeah, nice work Adobe!

The cost of bad design

Posted By Design Corps / July, 24, 2013 / 0 comments

I got this infographic through from Autodesk recently highlighting some good points about the use of 3D Design Software in product development, it is presumably based on US data but I’m sure the same things happen worldwide…and across different industries for that matter.


Just goes to show the value of good design; and the cost of bad design (9 billion dollars…ouch!). Click on the image to view a bigger version, or view the original page over at Autodesk here.


The shape of things to come?

Posted By Design Corps / May, 10, 2013 / 0 comments

I was pleased to read an announcement in the latest newsletter from Realflow that they have not only reduced the cost of the learning edition license but also expanded it to include a node and renderkit. This makes it much easier for freelancers and small studios (like me) to purchase a license and get to grips with software that they may not use very often but would come in handy from time to time.

This seems to be a growing trend alongside the move to subscription models by the likes of Autodesk and Adobe (although AD has been doing this for a while now and the subscription is great value). Houdini also offer an apprentice edition for free (with a non-watermarked version for $99) and I’m sure the standard bundle of Krakatoa has dropped in price recently. Is this a representation of the hard times the VFX industry (and the rest of us) finds itself in? Is it a measure to counteract piracy? Or is it an answer to the way people are finding themselves working (less large studios, more freelancers)?

Whatever the reason, this must be the way forward. As a freelancer the ability to have your main software (Max and Creative Cloud) on subs with all of the benefits it brings is great. Having the other software that you ‘don’t really use but would like to’ available (legitimately!) either for free or for a small fee means that you can easily pick it up and then pay for a full commercial version only when you need it (Realflow has an On Demand license which is charged weekly for example).

I wonder who will be next?



It’s that time of the year again…

Posted By Design Corps / December, 18, 2012 / 5 comments

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

My festive greeting this year is a corner of something I’ve had in my sketchbook for quite a while now but hadn’t actually got around to visualising. Needless to say what started off as a ‘quick’ personal project to be done over an evening or two soon spread into a while longer (much to my wife’s annoyance) as I fiddled about with various finishes as well as adding (and removing) a load of lovely elements like chairs / lights / pictures etc. to get the look I was happy with.

Stuck with some design classics in the end (Eames / Noguchi / Gyrofocus) paired with my 3 favourite festive films. Anyhoo, best wishes to everyone and I hope you all have a fabulous holiday 🙂


Oh yes, and check out the full size image by clicking on the gallery link below!

Open Doors Event

Posted By Design Corps / November, 12, 2012 / 0 comments

Last week I took advantage of one of Autodesk’s ‘Open Doors’ events to visit one of their Authorised Training Centres and take a free accreditation exam in 3DS Max and, despite the fact that I’ve been using Max for about 12 years, I was slightly nervous about it.

Firstly there’s the whole ‘exam’ thing of it; I’ve not been in examination conditions since I was 16 (which was quite a while ago!), but there was also the nagging feeling that the exam would be filled with questions on the stuff I never use in Max, I don’t really do character animation for example so I was dreading a load of complex question on IK solvers or the like.

I needn’t have worried though as the tests were not that fiendish and I got through both the Associate and Professional exams without any problems (what was it Chris Tarrant used to say; “the questions are always easy when you know the answers”) and I’m now the proud owner of a shiny badge from Autodesk that says I know what I’m doing; I pretty much knew that anyway but still, the approbation is nice 🙂

I’d recommend taking advantage of the ‘Open Doors’ events to anyone else considering an accreditation exam in Max (or any of Autodesk’s other software), and would like to say a big thanks to James and the team at Cabs-CAD where I took the test.


Quick Tip: Eye Strain

Posted By Design Corps / October, 25, 2012 / 0 comments

This is something I do to help reduce eye strain in certain situations, the main culprit on this for me is whenever I have to do a lot of clipping paths in Photoshop; the task itself requires a bit of staring and concentration which, combined with a bright screen, can really hurt your eyes after a while.

This is not helped by the UI in Photoshop which, on CS5.5 and below is quite a light grey (Adobe have changed this to dark grey in CS6 which is much easier on the eyes), but even without the UI colour the images you’re working on themselves may be quite high-key; so what can you do to help your eyes out?

Two things basically; eco-mode and adjustment layers, let’s go over them in that order:

Now this one depends on your monitor and what features it has, a lot of new monitors have an ‘eco-mode’ button that you can press to go into a low power consumption mode, for example my main monitor switches between 65%, 35% and 20% reduction. The good thing about this is that the lower the power, the dimmer the screen – an utterly useless feature most of the time as far as a designer is concerned, but in this very particular instance it is a great way of reducing eye strain when necessary.

Adjustment layers:
The adjustment layers in Photoshop are a great way of making non-destructive colour corrections and, well, adjustments to your images; they are also pretty good at helping your eyes out. Ok, so first off there’s the obvious one of filling a layer with black and knocking the opacity down to 50% or something to get a pretty good start at reducing eye strain; but say the image you’re working on isn’t on a high-key background and, instead, the strain on your eyes is from trying to pick out the cleanest line through loads of background clutter? Well in that case using adjustment layers to make the pertinent bits of your image stand out is a quick and easy way to go; black and white, invert and levels are the ones I tend to use. The first two don’t need any explanation but with levels I just crush the colours using the input sliders and it can really help clear up where the edges are in your image; I used this recently when I was doing a load of clipping paths for leaves I’d photographed to use on custom CG trees and it really helped get precise edges.

Obviously this all depends on your image and it might not work out all the time, but for the seconds it takes to try it might be worth it – your eyes will thank you for it in the long run.


In the Cloud: Carbonite

Posted By Design Corps / December, 16, 2010 / 0 comments

Backing up your data regularly is something we all know we need to do – but knowing it and doing it are two very different things. Plus there is the need to have an ‘off-site’ backup as well, after all what’s the point in having everything backed up to an external drive and then leaving it in the office – if a disaster does happen it’ll destroy the backup as well as the originals.

I had read about some of the ‘cloud backup’ services before and, to me, that seemed like a better solution than an external drive, so I did a bit more research and decided on Carbonite. Installation and setup of the client software is very easy and once it’s there you just tell it what you want backing up and what you don’t. It is set to automatically backup files in ‘my documents’ or ‘my pictures’ but you can turn that feature off, as I did, and just select the important stuff. The interface is very simple and gives you a small icon next to the folders it is backing up that lets you know at a glance whether it’s backed up or not. You also get an option in the right-click menu to exclude or include files in the backup.

The actual process of backing up is quite drawn out, in the introduction it says that an initial backup might take as much as a week – but those 3D projects and videos take up a lot of space so try just shy of 2 months for my initial backup! However the upload doesn’t make too noticeable an impression on your web connection, I was doing my backup and uploading video files to clients via FTP simultaneously with very slight slowdown, and since the bulk of my files are now backed up it just idles in the background until I create some new files, then fires up and starts uploading them. The only limitation to mention is that your account is tied to one machine, that works fine for me since I only wanted a backup of my main workstation but obviously if you need a backup for loads of PCs this might not be the right solution for you.

Now we get to the important bit; price. Some of the other services I looked at were charged on a monthly basis plus a charge per GB so, for me, that would have been a bit costly. I was quite happy then to see Carbonite priced at a very reasonable £42 a year with unlimited space and no charge per GB. For the price I think this is a great service; my files are all secure off-site on an encrypted server, anything I do on my workstation is automatically backed up and I have access to my files anywhere I go. There’s an iPhone app for this too which lets me browse my data offsite, I can even use it to zip and email files to clients, Brilliant!


In the Cloud: Freshbooks

Posted By Design Corps / December, 6, 2010 / 0 comments

When I started up Design Corps earlier in the year I was initially concerned about all of the extra software and processes I was going to have to get to grips with to run the business properly. When it comes to stuff like 3DS Max or Photoshop I’m quite happy getting the latest updates and picking up new tricks…but accounts and office management software? Hmm, not so much.

I have worked at design agencies in the past that used systems to handle jobsheets, time tracking and invoicing in a variety of ways – from the pen and paper approach to server based apps with client software on local machines – none of them were particularly straightforward and all had their limitations. Since I was starting from scratch I wanted to use something that would make life easier and not give me constant hassle.

After a bit of searching I came across Freshbooks and, so far, have found it to be exactly what I was looking for. With it I can track jobs, time, expenses, contractors, team members and clients as well as generating estimates (which can then be turned into invoices) and invoices (which are easily generated from the job tracking page). The interface is incredibly easy to use and also offers comprehensive report options as well as the ability to export to excel and, since everything is based online, I have access to this information wherever I go.

Another benefit is that the whole thing can be viewed online by clients as well. When an invoice or estimate is generated I can either use Freshbooks to create a pdf to send over or just hit ‘send by email’ to send out a message with a link to a client section of the site. Clients can view the invoice or estimate they have just been sent and see a detailed account history too. Best of all this interface can be re-branded with your own logo and colour scheme which makes it look fantastic – quite a few of my clients have commented about how cool it all looks, which is good to hear.

This one piece of software has taken the aspect of setting up my own business that I was dreading and made it idiot proof (I am the one using it after all!), it is superior in every way to any of the other solutions I have used before and I have yet to find a situation or variable that it can’t deal with easily.