Saturday, April 9, 2011

Playfield Sketch Phase

It all worked out...Dennis did clarify later that my email had so much content about the direction of the playfield art he just needed some time to absorb the ideas, and start kicking in some ideas of his own.

Both Dennis and Mark were as excited about the direction as I was and I think the selling point was possibly this initial direction I started with:

"Ok, so Melony isn't alone in this story...Melony comes from a family of melon growers...generations with the innate ability to grow the biggest juiciest melons...and she lives on a large farm...and her family's last name is (coincidentally/appropriately/conveniently)...Mellon! But wait, it gets better. Melony has twin sisters."

The last four words sold the pitch - we bantered these ideas around (and expanded them) via email whilst I started getting the back of my hand dirty with graphite. Once I tore myself away from the initial idea of keeping the playfield simple, geometric, and less illustrative (in keeping with vintage playfields from the 30's through the 60's) I was able to open up the design direction to more possibilities. And since the playfield isn't loaded with a rule-set like the games I was used to working on once the Solid State era kicked-in, I knew I could still meet the less-is-more approach but still be able to engage the viewer/player with interesting details and characters.

So just like the usual steps in the art process it all starts with an aggressive list of crazy ideas, pencil roughs to see what might work best, and then a constant editing and tweaking process while filling in the appropraite spaces with appropriate (or inappropriate) art.

Since this direction was now about creating a scene (so to speak) I was able to look at the empty engineering drawing in terms of a foreground, middle-ground and background.

The top of the playfield where the ball enters the lanes became the sky and the bottom of the playfield became the ground level.

And by keeping the simple scoring features "emblematic" in nature, I was able to focus on the 3 sisters as the anchor point in the wide-open center of the playfield.

So welcome to the Mellon Family Melon Farm (color sketch), growers of "Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons", a farmstand with an abundancy of fresh produce and strange characters. Most of the crazy road-side "signs" from the previous (Dream Sequence) blog posts relate in some way to elements of the playfield art.

Please note: The story and characters depicted on this game are fictional. Any similarity to actual people, fruit, animals or plants may or may not be intentional. No animals were harmed in the creation of this art. There was a snowblower incident but that was way before we started on this project.

This is just the starting point. In the weeks ahead I will create the finished version of the art for the printer. Currently we are planning on 11 spot color silk-screen printing. More about that later. Our goal as pinball industry guys is to create the best looking art and design package we can with authentic silk-screened parts.

Still havin' fun! We'll fill in more blanks next time.
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 LLC, Greg Freres, and Dennis Nordman.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Wake Up Call - The Playfield Begins

Sometime after Pinball Expo last October it was time to get real about designing the playfield art for "Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons" - the design department was finished with their part and it was all in my lap - nothing stood between us and a finished playfield except time and some good ideas. Thankfully the Dream Sequins paid off and I was able to get things started on paper. Literally.

My computer crashed hard sometime before Thanksgiving and I was dead in the water for about a two week period while the hard drive was getting repaired, replaced, reconfigured and rebooted. Without a back-up computer I had to put some jobs aside for a few days which afforded me time to reconnect with my pencil (I'm not speaking in code here, I really did get the pencils out, and the electric sharpener, and the paper. In fact, my #2 pencils were so old, the erasers were all dried up...and I'm still not speaking in code.)

Dennis and I had talked a few times leading up to this point about playfield art. He basically drove it through my thick skull by reiterating over and over that he wanted to make sure the playfield art was clean and clearly showed off the shots to the player, including the score features, in a clear and concise way. With the retro theme and the retro feel of the geometry and simplistic rule set that we inherited but tweaked from the original 1957 game underneath, Dennis made it more than clear on several occasions (ad nauseum) that the best playfield art consisted of a series of "emblems" that showed off the game play and rule set with bold lettering and beautiful geometry to enhance the layout. He may have even spoke words to this effect..."You have a whole backglass to tell the story, so just make the playfield pretty to look at and very easy to see the important shots." And I think my answer may have been (paraphrasing)..."You do know I've done some playfields before this project, right?"

This was an interesting juncture in the design process because I was certain that my direction would be a much simpler approach than some of the games I've done in the past. Dennis is taller than me so I do listen to him now and again. I studied (crammed - I'm an artist not a historian) a lot of the playfield art from the 30's through the '60's (thanks to Shaloub's "Pinball Compendium" books)and made up my own mind that a "less is more" approach would be the best solution for our game.

But when I woke up that morning, turned the shower on, and started thinking about the playfield, the ideas started to flow faster than the water from the shower head.

I'm never sure how this happens, why it happens, never sure when it will happen, or worse, if it ever will happen, but when it does, it's an amazing experience. The real "AHA!" moment was when I realized there was more story to tell...the backglass art was only part of a larger story.

I couldn't get down to my studio fast enough to start writing some ideas down on a sheet of fact, I found something to write on even before leaving the bedroom. (I wonder if that's why Visa never got that payment?)

As I wrote, I fought against the original "plan" that was in my head from the beginning...and I began to realize...this is not less, this is more than less, this might even be more than more. But I kept writing. I could always edit later.

Once I had the basic ideas down on paper I started to transfer them to an email to Dennis. As I typed I kept adding ideas and visual gags to the story. I finally got the basic direction of my playfield "storyline" to a point where it was ready to share.

I included both Dennis and Mark on the email - after all, as I learned from my days in music, a trio can provide richer harmonies than a duo. I was looking for more input and honest opinions to validate the direction and make sure that it was a good approach for the game and the project. I checked email a little while later and got one sentence from Dennis (which is normal but this time the lack of capital letters and exclamation points made me nervous)..."I'll have to think about this."

What!? What does this mean? What's there to think about? My high-flying idea machine suddenly crashed...just like my hard drive.

Next time...
See the results of the list of ideas for the playfield art and how they relate to the (Dream Sequence) 3-part series.

G & D

(No photos or art were used in this post to save time.)