Behind The Spoons Part 1 | Origin Story

Clarence and The Spoon was born midway through my college experience. It came from, of all things, having to write an Artist Statement. Artist Statements are like mission statements for artists and they are used for galleries, shows, portfolios, or just to help you make sense of what you're doing.

Self portrait. A painting from college.

Self portrait. A painting from college.

Most artists dread writing Artist Statements. At best they help you to express yourself, and at worst, they are frantic condensations of everything you know about your art-brain into a dozen strange run-on sentences. In reality, working a Statement is a stacked deck scenario whereby you try to find original ways to get around using words like render, capture, express, allude, experience, duality, light, etc.

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So there I was in college, sitting and waiting for my Native American History Class to begin, wracking my brain, trying to condense a Statement, and after about ten minutes of freedom scribbling (and my handwriting is unreadable), I had written:

"Pick up that spoon!" shrieked Clarence's mother for the fourteenth time..."

...followed by the first three pages of Clarence and The Spoon verbatim. I didn't know what to make of it at first. "Can I really get away with this as a Statement? Am I Clarence or is this me saying I am more about storytelling than anything else?" In hindsight it was probably a combination of both, but I really wanted to write Clarence out as a bonafide story. I decided I would put it aside and come back to it later, see where it went.

I eventually came up with an Artist Statement that I'm sure was terrible and I've long since forgotten, but when I went back to working on Clarence I almost immediately realized it had to be a kid's book. And not just any kid's book... I wanted it to be an insanely illustrated, exciting, never before seen weird humor explosion, the kind of thing I loved as a kid and still love today. I figured at best, it would be my first "professional" piece of "storytelling," something that I could maybe even one day publish. At worst, it was something that I could use in my post-college portfolio. Besides, how long could it possibly take?

A movie poster illustrating the man hours required to complete Clarence and The Spoon.

A movie poster illustrating the man hours required to complete Clarence and The Spoon.

Behind The Spoons Part 2 | Storytelling & The Process

Self portrait painting from high school.

Self portrait painting from high school.

Growing up I was constantly writing stories, or movies, creating narratives, more than I drew. I was probably in high school when I narrowed down my ultimate passion to "storytelling." Movies were my favorite form of storytelling, but like Kurt Vonnegut says, they are the most expensive way to tell a story.

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Even though Clarence was a kid's book, I still wanted it to have a cinematic sensibility. I wanted the illustrations to fill the entire page and the text to really integrate with the images. This was heavily inspired by Maira Kalman, an artist whose picture books feature text that seems to dance across the page.

ABOVE: Spread from Maira Kalman's book "Max Makes a Million" (C) 1990, Viking Penguin. BELOW: Spread from Clarence and The Spoon.

ABOVE: Spread from Maira Kalman's book "Max Makes a Million" (C) 1990, Viking Penguin. BELOW: Spread from Clarence and The Spoon.

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I worked on the story of Clarence in between classes in 2004, and in the summer of '05 I began sketching layouts in the warehouse made available to art students in the BFA program.

Me in my studio at the BFA Warehouse, FSU, Tallahassee, FL. (Pictured above during winter. Abandoned by most students in the summer).

Me in my studio at the BFA Warehouse, FSU, Tallahassee, FL. (Pictured above during winter. Abandoned by most students in the summer).

The warehouse was literally a giant no-frills sheet metal warehouse. It didn't have air conditioning. It didn't have great security. Following suit it didn't have many students making art there in the summer. For most students, summer means getting out and doing fun things like swimming, traveling, or working. As a crazy person, I chose to sweat it out in a metal oven, making art, which only furthered my brain damage and hence my art.

Page of sketches where I locked on the look of Clarence, circled above. 

Page of sketches where I locked on the look of Clarence, circled above. 

The art making process for Clarence was relatively straightforward. I started with sloppy sketches, working on characters and design elements.

Sloppy sketches.

Sloppy sketches.

Next I sketched pencil layouts for each page, figuring out where the text would fit. These sketches were also mostly indecipherable, and had I died right then and there no one would have ever figured out what I was doing.

LEFT: Rough, mostly indecipherable layout. RIGHT: Finished page.

LEFT: Rough, mostly indecipherable layout. RIGHT: Finished page.

Once I had locked my rough layouts, I would make a final layout drawing. These final drawings were then scanned into the computer where the final text positioning was overlaid in Photoshop.

Final sketch with text overlay.

Final sketch with text overlay.

This process took the entire summer and well into the next semester. At this point Clarence was a thirty six page picture book, and I had been working on it in between classes for over a year. It was a huge investment and something I was determined to finish no matter what. I thought if I could keep up the steady pace I would have the whole thing neatly wrapped up before graduating.

A video response to Jeff thinking the book will be done before he graduates.

Behind The Spoons Part 3 | Digital Revolution

In imagining a finished book, I knew I wanted each page of Clarence to have the detail and consideration of a full-on painting. Growing up I was captivated by certain book covers and I wished every page inside was as detailed as the cover painting. In hindsight there is a good reason this rarely happens: the creation of such detail takes approximately forever.

Captivating book cover illustration of yore.

Captivating book cover illustration of yore.

In early 2004 I dipped a very curious toe into the pool of digital painting. I was using the program Corel Painter which had the amazing ability to imitate the look of traditional paint and media while speeding up parts of the process.

An early doodle test in Corel Painter.

An early doodle test in Corel Painter.

By the time I was ready to color Clarence, I had been digitally painting outside of class as much as I had been using real paint in class. I also spent as much time fighting against the technology, tweaking settings and scouring the pre-YouTube internet for tutorials. Techno-challenges aside, I decided to enter the brave new world and paint Clarence digitally.

Visiting my parents with my Wacom Tablet, and (SURPRISE) working on Clarence.

Visiting my parents with my Wacom Tablet, and (SURPRISE) working on Clarence.

Digital painting wasn't in the curriculum at FSU, and my professors mostly shrugged it off as a novelty. One of my teachers said outright, "always keep making art you can make when the lights go off." I agreed with this sentiment but still plowed forward with the lights on.

The great Jim Roche during one of his lessons on life and art.

The great Jim Roche during one of his lessons on life and art.

I steadily managed to work on Clarence outside of class, and at this point the book had gained notoriety for taking up all my time. I was working as fast as I could, but I kept learning every time I sat down at the computer. For every digital roadblock I passed, two more waited ahead. There was a whole lot of experimentation and digital painting that did NOT end up in the finished images, and for that alone I probably saved a small fortune forgoing the use of real paint.

In the end, the whole refined process for a completed image looked something like this: 

Super sloppy sketch in pencil.

Super sloppy sketch in pencil.

Finished drawing in pencil scanned into computer.

Finished drawing in pencil scanned into computer.

Rough digital painting and color blocking. Painted over pencil drawing. 

Rough digital painting and color blocking. Painted over pencil drawing. 

Slowly building up detail and key elements. 

Slowly building up detail and key elements. 

Further refining detail areas. 

Further refining detail areas. 

Finishing touches and final details, table lines, cup, spoon, clouds, etc.

Finishing touches and final details, table lines, cup, spoon, clouds, etc.

Later in 2005, I sold my computer monitor and my current tablet and refused to buy other art supplies and clothes and deodorant, and used my Hanukkah savings to buy a Wacom Cintiq 21UX. This was the gadget from the future, the computer screen you can draw directly onto. Though I was sweating bullets about it at the time, like I had bought some kind of gold-plated hat, it quickly proved an essential investment in my artistic future, well worth its weight in computer chips (yes, it is heavy). The monitor pictured below is still the same monitor I am using seven years later for my professional illustration work.

Me circa late 2005 in the closet/office of my dorm.

Me circa late 2005 in the closet/office of my dorm.

With the new super-tablet I worked faster and harder on Clarence than ever before... until early 2006 when I came down with an intensely bad illness and was bedridden for over a month with fever.

By the time I was ready to graduate from FSU that summer, even though I had worked on the rough color for most of the pages, I had five finished pages to show for it. For my senior art show, I hung prints of the first colored spreads along with all the finished black and white sketches in sequential order.

From the senior show: photos of the entire book in finished drawing form.

From the senior show: photos of the entire book in finished drawing form.

After graduating I moved up to Providence, RI where some of my friends were still attending undergrad at RISD for art and filmmaking. My plan was loose and open, but one thing was certain: while there, I would finish Clarence.

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Behind The Spoons Part 4 | The Long Haul

One day in Providence I was working on Clarence, finishing up a colored page and in the middle of a save, Corel Painter crashed. The file I was working on was corrupted; it would not open. The page had taken roughly three weeks to complete and I had lost all the work.

In hindsight I'm lucky it was just one page, but at the time, starting over, I was freshly crazed, saving constantly and looking over my shoulder, sniveling like some paranoid deviant. It wasn't the first time Painter had crashed nor would it be the last, but it was the only time I ever lost an entire page of work. I will never forget the lesson. Always make a backup.

Jim Roche's life lessons haunting my brain.

Jim Roche's life lessons haunting my brain.

I also started working on multiple color pages at once instead of going through one image at a time. The advantage of this is it creates a consistency across pages, and you don't get sidetracked refining little details too early on. On the down side, this method creates the illusion that you aren't making tangible progress. I would work days, weeks, even months, and not have any new pages done, just all the pages slightly more finished.

Me in my freakish art-cave working myself to death on Clarence.

Me in my freakish art-cave working myself to death on Clarence.

Also while living in Providence, I was not (as the picture above might suggest) living alone in some kind of freakish art-cave. Many of my friends were RISD students and eventually, I somehow became adopted as one too. I drifted into the Film department to sit in on a few classes and suddenly I was completing homework assignments and going on field trips, and winding up in the department's graduation photo.

RISD 2008 FAV senior class photo. I'm still not enrolled, just sitting in.

RISD 2008 FAV senior class photo. I'm still not enrolled, just sitting in.

Clarence, sadly, started to collect dust while I got back to my movie-making roots. Eventually I had to make a big decision: either collaborate with one of my best friends shooting an ambitious, special effects heavy sci-fi comedy feature film, or keep slogging it out and finish Clarence. I decided to make the movie. Clarence went on hold.

Poster Illustration from "SLIMED" co-written and directed with Eric Manche.

Poster Illustration from "SLIMED" co-written and directed with Eric Manche.

Behind The Spoons Part 5 | Beyond Thunderdome

After graduating, a group of my RISD friends and I decided to take our crazy ambitions to Austin, TX. We arrived in Austin in the summer of 2008 and continued to work on Slimed (the movie), which took a little longer than planned for (two years). As we sent out our festival submissions, I realized that I was finally ready to finish Clarence. This time I would not stop until it was done. I put my nose to the grindstone for the last time.

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All my friends were sick to death of Clarence. I missed out on many a social opportunity, strapped to my chair, in my work cave of death, cranking out illustrations and rubbing my eyes furiously. People kept asking me why it was taking so long, and in response I would usually begin to cry because how do you explain seven years of your life.

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While in Austin I had switched to Photoshop and dropped Corel Painter completely. Photoshop's brushes had made advances, but more importantly the program didn't crash constantly. By the time the final images were completed I was broken, bloodied, beaten down but alive, barely.

South Park episode illustrating my emotional state.

South Park episode illustrating my emotional state.

Unfortunately, there is slightly more to Clarence than the images, and I started on the long, arduous journey towards a finished text layout. I talked endlessly about the "readability" of various fonts, my conversations with my parents and friends verging into a territory of strange.

Fonts were too big, too small, too close together, too expensive. I took a trip to the bookstore to explore what other kids' books were looking like these days, since I had barely come out of my room to emerge into the light of day, or to pick up a piece of art or media that I had not created.

My girlfriend Nola, whom I dragged to the kids' section of the bookstore. She listens to me babble about fonts.My girlfriend Nola, whom I dragged to the kids' section of the bookstore. She listens to me babble about fonts.

My girlfriend Nola, whom I dragged to the kids' section of the bookstore. She listens to me babble about fonts.My girlfriend Nola, whom I dragged to the kids' section of the bookstore. She listens to me babble about fonts.

I took my girlfriend, a lovely girl who stuck with me while I was really putrid and disgusting, sitting in my chair, rotting like a piece of leftover meat, the stench strong and fetid. We opened and read classics, never-to-be-classics, and oddities of rhyme, design, and varying taste levels. 

 

After playing with creating my own font, I realized I should just take a page from the masters and mirrored my text design after the great Lane Smith's use of Franklin Gothic. I added some character and personality to the layout and the text was done. The book was done. I had finished it. Almost.

almost

Behind The Spoons Part 6 | Finished!

The ultimate behind the scenes photo comparison. LEFT: Me one year into making Clarence. RIGHT: Me the day I finished Clarence, six years later.

The ultimate behind the scenes photo comparison. LEFT: Me one year into making Clarence. RIGHT: Me the day I finished Clarence, six years later.

So there I was, with this finished piece of work I had spent most of my adult life creating. I was fat, pale, and alone, but I was finished (and my girlfriend was still there).

Now that it was done I realized I was facing the really hard part, getting it out there... although making the book was pretty hard and long, and a lot had changed since I first started. Here is a list of things that happened while I was making Clarence:

1. Facebook is launched, YouTube is launched, Twitter is launched

2. U.S. War in Iraq goes from "Mission Accomplished" to "Mission Get-Out-ASAP-What-Were-We-Thinking"

3. USB flash drives replace floppy disks

4. VHS is replaced by DVD. DVD starts to be phased out by Blu-ray. CDs are mostly replaced by MP3s.

5. Two Presidential elections (three if you count this one coming in November)

6. BP oil catastrophe leaked and "plugged"

7. My sister births two babies

8. Pluto is no longer a planet

9. Apple debuts its newfangled "iPhone" and then debuts five more versions of it

Another thing that happened was the invention of Kickstarter, a site that I was drawn to from the get go and slowly realized would be a perfect outlet to spread Clarence and The Spoon to the masses. So finally, here it is! Spread the word, tweet it, blog it, post it on Facebook, or pre-order your copy today! Read it to your chill'ens.

Thanks again to everyone over the years who has given me feedback and support. We'll see where the story goes from here!

Making a Crazy Kickstarter Video Part I: Inception, Animatics, Budgeting

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When Kickstarter gives you guidelines for making a video, they tell you over and over again to "tell a story." I knew I wanted to make a very polished, entertaining, and humorous video, but it still took awhile for the all important "story" to gel together.

I completely owe it to my girlfriend, Nola, who came up with the idea that the video should just be me, sitting in my chair, disheveled from working on Clarence, talking to the camera, only to be reborn in an athletic montage whereby I yell about how excited I am to share the book with everyone. It was obvious and pretty much what was happening in my life at the time, so I kicked myself for not thinking of it sooner.

I immediately created an animatic:

Animatic for my Kickstarter video

he idea behind an animatic is to create something you know will work even before you shoot it. Drawing sloppy doodles costs virtually nothing and editing them together beforehand allows you to work things out like pacing, blocking and how few shots you actually need.

Plus, you can show an animatic to whomever is helping you shoot the video so they can understand your otherwise crazy abstract ideas:

At this point you might think, wait a minute: green screen, dummies? This video must have cost a ton of money to make, right?

Jeff running nowhere in front of a green screen. Eric on camera. Blake on sound.

Jeff running nowhere in front of a green screen. Eric on camera. Blake on sound.

Well the answer is that it did, and didn't.

Here were my out of pocket expenses:

-Green screen rental $35.00

-Pizza $20.00

-Fat man pajamas and shirts $25.00

-Head band $2.00

-Pillow (fat suit) $0.00

-Jogging outfit (already had one) $0.00

-Dummy (cardboard, duct tape, paint) $6.00

Jeff and his cheap dummy made out of garbage, duct tape and paint. Can you tell which one is the dummy!?

Jeff and his cheap dummy made out of garbage, duct tape and paint. Can you tell which one is the dummy!?

Total Video Cost: $88.00

To be completely up front though, being a filmmaker, I already owned a decent iMac with editing software (FCP 7), and had access to camera, and sound equipment through friends: 

-Sound equipment (thank you Blake)

-Camera (thank you Ben and Eric and Blake)

-Peoples' time (thank you Nola, Jake, Ben, Eric, Blake)

Total Additional Cost: $0.00

Total Additional Value of Your Friends' help: Priceless.

Blake really getting into the sound.

Blake really getting into the sound.

All the fancy gear and filmmaking friends in the world do not necessarily make a filmable video though. It was important that all the locations were close and easy to access, that everything was broken into quick easy-to-shoot chunks. As I was at the mercy of everyone's free time, I had to beg them here and there, and tons of time and planning were essential to making sure things came together at all.

I can't overstate the importance of planning, and that's why, when you look at the animatic and the final video side by side, you'll see they are very similar:

Final Video vs. Animatic

Final Video vs. Animatic

HIGH BUDGET VS. LOW BUDGET

Technology keeps making crazy leaps and bounds in affordability. Some current cellphones shoot the same resolution HD video as the nicer cameras I used to shoot my video with. I also used a fancy shotgun microphone AND a crappy $20.00 Radio Shack mic. I used a standard DSLR (Canon 7d) as well as a very fancy video camera, (Canon c300). Can you spot the difference throughout the video?

At the end of the day, it's definitely how you use the equipment, light for video, and record the sound that makes all the difference.

Making a Crazy Kickstarter Video Part II: Lighting, Sound, Special Effects

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I am a movie nerd. I love watching movies, making movies, and all the technical aspects that go into creating movies. Here are some tips and tricks I've learned over the years that I used to make my low-budget Kickstarter video.

Warning, the following contains tech-talk:

LIGHTING

Throughout the video, I used a pretty tried and true technique called "three point lighting." These handy numbered photos below illustrate what a three point setup for my video looked like:

Three point lighting setup for opening shot. Numbers below correspond to numbers in this photo.

Three point lighting setup for opening shot. Numbers below correspond to numbers in this photo.

1. This is a simple, dimmable, LED light. This is the "key" or main light that illuminates the subject.

2. This is a dirt cheap clamp lamp and fill light. It mainly adds a little bit of extra light to fill in shadowy bits that the key light doesn't hit.

3. This is a very small camera-mountable LED light. It's functioning here as a kicker (rim light, back light, etc) and it adds extra highlights to the subject.

4. This big black thing is a "flag." It's just a big piece of foam core that cuts/blocks part of the light out, which creates shadows and gives a more cinematic feel.

5. This is real pizza I put on my keyboard. Do not try this at home.

The shot as lit by the lighting setup previously shown.

The shot as lit by the lighting setup previously shown.

Again, the numbers below correspond to the photo above:

1. The key light has been dimmed to create a soft fill, illuminating the whole frame but mainly hitting my face from camera right. The light level has been matched to the monitor's light level so that the computer screens are not blown out. The strong top light also creates shadows under the desk, blocking out unnecessary visual clutter.

2. The fill light adds extra light to fill in some of the junk food on my desk and evens out some areas that would otherwise be cast in shadow.

3. The kicker light adds a nice semi-hot (or overexposed) highlight to my shoulder, arm, and left side of my face (camera left). This creates a little more drama and separation from subject and background.

4. The flag blocks light on a diagonal axis, creating a dramatic shadow that also directs the viewer's eye from the monitor to my face.

5. Again, this is real pizza. Do not try this at home.

And finally here is a comparison between what my room looked like before and after the lighting:

LEFT: No fancy lighting. RIGHT: Three point lighting. (click to enlarge)

LEFT: No fancy lighting. RIGHT: Three point lighting. (click to enlarge)

SOUND

In making a low budget video, or any video for that matter, sound is crucial, if not more crucial than a good looking image. Nice mics don't cost that much to rent, and the production quality they add to your video is night and day. That said, nice mic or not, there is only one basic rule you need to follow to get good sound:

Get that mic as close to the person speaking as possible.

That's pretty much it. That's how they do it in Hollywood... of course in Hollywood they do use very, very nice mics, and they go to great lengths to keep those mics invisible. Whether it's hiding them in the set decoration or in the talent's wardrobe, or holding boom poles just off frame for hours, that's how it's done.

You don't have to be a Hollywood pro to get that mic close. Get creative: hide the mic in a plant or behind a goofy box. You can shoot a close-up of your subject so the mic is just out of frame. Or, create a video you narrate rather than speak in live. It's easy to record narration after the fact with a nice close mic.

SPECIAL EFFECTS

Jeff flies into space thanks to his Kickstarter backers.

Jeff flies into space thanks to his Kickstarter backers.

When Clarence and The Spoon passed its funding goal on the 1st of November, I had to make another video out of sheer excitement and gratitude.

I wasn't planning on doing this, but my friend Blake suggested a funny idea whereby I fly into space with the aid of a ridiculous computer watch.

Mr. Computer Watch 2000: a state-of-the-art super computer jammed into a slim and sexy wrist watch.

Mr. Computer Watch 2000: a state-of-the-art super computer jammed into a slim and sexy wrist watch.

I whipped up another animatic, twice as sloppy as the previous one: 

Animatic for stretch goal video.

Editing the stretch goal video and compositing took a lot longer than the first video because my iMac is pretty slow when it comes to rendering effects, and every shot in this video was an effects shot. Outside of building simple props out of cardboard (computer watch, rocket boosters), the main effect I dealt with was green screen compositing.

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Here are four basic tips to help you shoot successful green screen footage:

1) Have your subject fill as much of the frame as possible.If your shot is a close-up, shoot a close-up. Don't shoot wide and zoom in later in post. This is because you want to utilize the maximum resolution of the camera. Generally, the more resolution you have to work with, the better the key (AKA the ability to remove the green screen later).

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2) Light the green screen as evenly as possible. Avoid shadows and lighting hotspots on the screen. You'll see in these photos that sometimes the green screen isn't perfectly lit. You can get away with this if the direct screen area around the subject is as evenly lit as possible. Don't have lights? Shooting outside works great, preferably on a cloudy day. I moved between inside and outside lighting depending on the time of day.

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3) Avoid green "spill." Spill, in this case, refers to the color of the light from the green screen reflecting onto your subject. Remember, anything that's green will "disappear" when you do the final key. If you're wearing a green shirt, or have a green subject, or have green spill light hitting your subject, you're in trouble. Spill is the most nightmarish thing to fix in post, so avoid it like the plague. How do you avoid spill? Back-lighting your subject is a great technique, but the easiest low-cost way is to simply move your subject further away from the green screen. This will minimize shadows cast onto the screen as well as spill.

4) A green screen doesn't have to be green. It can be blue, pink, banana or ham colored. The reason it's usually green is because green is barely found in human skin tone as well as in tungsten and daylight bulbs. The goal is to create maximum contrast between subject and screen, without any spill. So if you're shooting a lime eating green eggs and ham, shoot it against a pink screen!

A lime, eating green eggs and ham.

A lime, eating green eggs and ham.

That's it for the Kickstarter video behind-the-scenes, tips and tricks. Hope it was helpful and entertaining.

Happy shooting and flying!

Do not attempt flight into space without special effects or space programs like NASA

Do not attempt flight into space without special effects or space programs like NASA

Do not attempt flight into space without special effects or space programs like NASA.

ORIGINAL KICKSTARTER VIDEO

STRETCH GOAL FOLLOW-UP VIDEO