Thursday, January 28, 2010

Back to Backglass

Welcome back to the Whizbang design studio, or as Dennis calls it..."my shop." After spending more time in the "studio" (since I'll be talking more about art on this post than woodworking), I started to notice some interesting decor items just hangin'. Like this thing above the entry door...

I think it will be interesting to elicit some comments on this one, eh? So what is it? Go ahead...take a guess...and leave it in the comment section below. And be creative. There are several people that know exactly what it is, so please don't give it up. We'll reveal the answer in the next post.

We also thought it would be fun to put one of the latest acquisitions next to the semi-finished Whoa Nellie cabinet just to get a preview of the major before and after customizing. Dennis chose "Pinky Continental" to further illustrate the difference.

Progress! Every few weeks we get another jolt of it and it definitely motivates us to keep pushing on.

After reviewing some playfield layout revisions with Ken Walker and Steve Charland from Team EM, Dennis had some strong possibilities for what he wanted to try and decided that eliminating one "player" from the two-player configuration of Continental Cafe might allow for more potential tweaks in the scoring department. And since the Whoa Nellie version of the game would never be on location again as a coin-operated device, we felt that a change to a one-player game wouldn't be a bad thing, in fact, it would be great for the art on the backglass.

Here's a view of the original "insert panel" that I mentioned on the last post. Two sets of scoring reels for the two-player set up.

We were amazed at the lack of what's called "general illumination" on this backglass. Only several lights were dedicated to lighting the main portion of the art, and, only a small portion of the art was "open" on the opaque screen layer. Years later, at least twenty to thirty lights were allowed in the matrix to light the backglass.

For the "newbies to pinball" reading this blog, the lights surrounded by small wood frames, or what we called "egg crates", illuminate what's called "hidden copy" or words or numbers that light up only at certain times in the game. For an example, words like "Tilt" or "Game Over" only get lit up at certain points in the game. The "egg crate" allowed for the light to focus only on what the artist allowed for by use of an "opaque" layer printed on the back surface of the backglass.

So looking at the back of the CC backglass above, the numbers across the top on the upper left were printed only on the opaque screen, or should I say left open on the opaque screen, allowing the light to pass through the art layers only when it was lit up, otherwise it was hidden from view. The egg crates also prevented ambient light from lighting any of the hidden copy until it's specific light was lit. Apologies if my explanation is as clear as mud.

Also note that there is absolutely nothing printed (clear glass) where the numbers on the score reels will show through. As opposed to our vintage glass below that lost most of it's art throughout the years but may just come in handy now to help illustrate my seminar on Backglass Art 101.

Before getting to this stage, I had started the backglass layout as a two-player layout, just like the original CC. My first rough sketch from a few months ago allowed two roughed-in areas for the score reels.

I included areas for the "hidden copy" as well and worked to a drawing that Dennis made from copying the dimensions from the original layout. Dennis asked if I wanted to move things around a bit for better composition, I could give him a copy of my next iteration and see how much he could move items, like the scoring reels, the credit window, or perhaps some of the hidden copy.

So while I started to add ideas and elements to my design, I kept these kind of changes in mind and worked closely with Dennis over the phone to make sure I wasn't designing something that couldn't be supported by the new insert panel.

After thinking about what kind of Roy Parker-esque people I wanted to add as background elements, I also made the decision to turn our hero around,(who I'll now refer to as Melanie, or Melony, due to results from an ongoing straw poll that started at Pinball Expo), so that the guy in the truck would now be reacting to her melons rather than her backside (not that there's anything wrong with her me...I'm an artist.) Once I roughed-in the other farm hands gawking at cantaloupes, I felt good about the decision to "turn her all about."

Which reminds me of a sign I saw last summer that I really need to get for my studio just to remind myself of the important things in life...the sign read...

"What if the Hokey Pokey IS what it's all about?"

Something to think about. I think about it often.

So on my next pass, Melony did an about-face,I added the farm hands, and got the all important horse and rider into the background, and appropriately, just below the title.

I worked with Dennis to move the scoring reels to the left to accomodate the layout and I started feeling pretty good about the general composition. This sketch was still before we made the switch from Sweet to Big.

A few weeks later Dennis suggested that we bring this layout to Pinball Expo to help support the direction of our project but I was reluctant to show such a preliminary sketch. There was a lack of detail and Melony's face was not anywhere near the quality that I wanted it to be. I was afraid people wouldn't see it as a sketch, that it didn't represent all that I could do as an artist. But, after talking me down off the roof, Dennis finally convinced me that having this sketch as part of our initial presentation was important in the big picture. I conditionally agreed. First, the sketch would be clearly marked as a "Work In Progress", and second, I would take some time and revise Melony's face just slightly to get her closer to how she could end up looking. Deal! And Dennis was right, the combination of the partially finished cabinet along with the rough sketch for the backglass seemed to help get our idea across to most of the audience. You can also see this in the latest Pingame Journal.

Jumping ahead a couple months, we made the decision to change the final game to a one-player game and I eventually returned to the backglass for more revisions. Dennis made some final adjustments to the insert panel drawing and built it to get it into the game. After getting this pass of the layout to best match his drawing it was time to get it printed at full size to see how well it matched the real insert layout.


Happy Artiste!

Progress! It's what we eat for dinner!

One more time leap, if you can handle it, and now I updated the sketch one more time this month, yes, January 2010, and triple-checked the insert layout from Dennis with my full-size sketch and overlayed the two files together for one final check before lift-off.

I wanted to make sure we were good to go since my next step would be to start designing a color sketch. Our goal is to get backglasses printed first and offer them for sale as soon as we can. But we have plenty of business to get situated before that happens, so stay tuned for more details!

Next time we'll start digging into the nuts and bolts, switches and relays, and bring in our friendly experts to do it right. And a paint job for the ages.

Until then, don't forget to comment on..."What is it?" and try not to get hung-up on that Hokey Pokey's just a humorous sign...or is it?


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 on this post by G.Freres and D. Nordman


  1. Not to raise bad karma from the school of Zen Hokey Pokeyism, but I always thought big juicy melons was what it was all about ...

    BG Art is looking good - when do we get color? Pinball people are attracted to color likes flies to ... honey.


  2. Thing above the door - a chewed up bagger from a lawn mower (Lawn Mowers Gone Wild)?

  3. First Anon,
    I never took a philosophy class so you may be right about BJM - at least it's what this blog is all about. And my first attempt at color did attract flies but not because it was as sweet as honey. Once I sweeten it I'll post it.

    Segundo Anon,
    Wow! How did you know the theme of our next custom game? We haven't shared that with anyone! I can't wait for the late night commercial!

    Hint - the hanging object d'art is metal and misshapen (compared to it's original shape.)

  4. Ok, is it the front cowling off of a 1930s coupe? Mangled heat shield from an unreleased Steve Ritchie flame-throwing-themed pin?

  5. Steve? Is that you?
    You're definitely getting warmer...not as warm as flame-throwing and not as hot as SR but we're liking the combo of words like cowling and mangled. The piece was found in the warm state of Florida, not that it helps to know that, just sayin'...

  6. Great Scott, are we talking about NASA tidbits from the sky, "shuttled" from an experiment gone awry?

  7. Steve...that is you...isn't it?
    Not quite as lofty as NASA, and definitely not experimental, but something from the sky has gone awry from a real fly guy. You are zeroing in on an answer. Make it so.

    Hey, it's Friday, let's get outta here and go to that dive for a Jaeger Bomb. Just one.