Friday, December 18, 2009

Pinball Expo and Beyond

Dennis was moving quickly to finalize the backbox design of the cabinet for the deadline called Pinball Expo. When I drove out to his studio to apply the new base cabinet decals, I got a preview of the backbox after Dennis had just finished putting the framework together. It was sitting on his work bench with clamps holding some newly glued pieces together when Dennis mentioned something about the box not sitting right. I was excited about the new decals and wanted to get them mounted on the cabinet so I wasn't too concerned about his comment. And even Dennis was easily distracted with the rest of the job I came there to do.

I reworked the initial comp of the title design I had started by adding more crate label influences like extra typography appropriate to our theme. At some point in early October I called Dennis and asked if we could change one word in the title - from "Sweet" to "Big". Done! That was easy.

I also worked up a composite of a group of cantaloupes to create the look of a full crate of melons viewed through the slats. I worked quickly just to get something representative on the cabinet to better "sell" the idea to the first time viewer. Eventually, I will rework the art to create a better and hopefully less repetitive illusion - this version is one "slat opening" of art.

I then repeated the strip several times and got it printed.

After cutting the strips apart I decided to flip each piece to help randomize the look. It was at this point that we noticed some measuring issues when applying the cut labels and decided to paint the wood black around the edges to make up for the slightly short decals.

But once we finished, the newly dressed-up-and-somewhere-to-go base crate gave us a new sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately these measuring issues began to haunt the studio.

The next day I got a call from Dennis. His tone was a bit off. Seems he had some measuring issues with the backbox and there was not enough time to start over and get the piece done for Expo. So we went with the show business adage, "the show must go on", and decided the half-built cabinet was enough to help bolster our Powerpoint presentation and give everyone a glimpse of our overall direction. Plus, no matter how you slice it (or cut the wood in this case), it's all still a work-in-progress.

I finished the powerpoint presentation for both of our Expo "shows" and went back to Dennis' place a couple days before the show to go over the presentation and add any last minute details. Before I left we reveiwed our visual progress out in the shop and decided to put the existing Continental Cafe backbox on top of our recently completed work of art just to help bridge our own vision by a small degree. It worked! It started looking like a pinball machine made from a bunch of crates. But we decided not to confuse the audience with this mix of style - we would only show the bottom two pieces and leave the old backbox at home.

Side note: At this point I wasn't completely sold on the 2x4 providing the angle for the game cabinet. I thought it should have more "character" built into the device. I suggested to Dennis that maybe the "guy" that put this thing together from his old crate collection was looking for the magic device to create the perfect angle - maybe something a bit more 'adjustable'. Like maybe when he finished his can of beer, and after stomping on it, it dawned on him that this was the angle adjustment he was looking for! Dennis grabbed a couple cans from the recycling bin, stomped on them, and the result is evident in the above photo. Is it a keeper idea? Well, the crushed cans didn't make it to the show.

Agreeing to show our project at Pinball Expo 2009 was probably one of the best decisions we've made so far. It gave us a real deadline to shoot for and we couldn't have been more pleased with the overall response we got from the attendees. Of course there were a few "I don't get it" style comments but most everyone seems genuinely interested in Big Juicy Melons.

The Whoa Nellie work-in-progress opened up communication with a lot of folks that we may never have had a chance to meet without the project. Dennis and I had no idea of what type of reaction we'd get from the actual presentation but it turned out well. However, just before we went up to start the presentation, Wayne Neyens, the Gottlieb game designer that actually designed "Continental Cafe" (among countless other great games) walked in and took a seat in the audience. His presence turned up the anxiety dial a few notches not knowing how he'd react to a couple of punks like us "frankensteining" his original work. Fortunately, Mr. Neyens has a great sense of humor and came up after to take a closer look. He smiled and wished us luck! (Someday we'll post a picture of this moment if we ever find the photographer - maybe it will be in the next issue of Pingame Journal??)

We spent the rest of the weekend talking,and talking,and talking - but it was all good and very productive. We went home exhausted but happy knowing that a good number of people were "on board" with this idea. We came away with new ideas, a sense of direction, and plenty of contacts for printing and other related support.

I created a poster exclusive for Expo and sold it for a modest price to help raise some capital for our, so far, out-of-pocket venture. We only printed 100 11x17 posters. We sold about 25 posters so if you already own one it's now even more collectible as we will cut off the "Expo" related portion for future sales of the remaining posters.

The remaining posters will look like this (13 x 10.75"):

If you are interested in owning an early piece of the Big Juicy Melon project with an autographed copy of this limited supply poster please email us at and we'll work out the details for shipping and payment.

Next time we'll continue with the rest of the backbox story and the continued haunting of D's studio that led to the new "notable quotable".

Oh, and one other interesting side note. In July I celebrated yet another birthday with my family at a local Chinese restaurant. When I opened the fortune cookie I read this message:

I went home and taped the fortune to my calendar and counted three months ahead...and I landed on the day we ended up debuting the Whoa Nellie project! It's all good!

We want to thank Rob and Mike again for a great 25th anniversary Pinball Expo and giving us the opportunity to preview "Project X" and leaving it on the show floor for all to see. And thanks to Jerry and Mark for all the help we received getting the project into the building under wraps for the big debut. And thanks to all the folks that chatted with us and provided the needed support to continue with our plans.

Now get back to shopping...and hurry,
G & D

All art, sketches, or photos related directly to "Whizbang Pinball" or "Whoa Nellie (Brand) Big Juicy Melons" or "Whoa Nellie (Brand) Sweet Juicy Melons" are TM and Copyright 2009 WhizBang Pinball, Greg Freres, and Dennis Nordman.

All photos in this post by G. Freres

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