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Monthly Archives: October 2007
Zazzle Remakes Itself and Invents Competition in Print on Demand

Filed under Print On Demand

zazzle remakes itselfZazzle is certainly not a newcomer to the print-on-demand universe; they’ve been around for several years, and they have an attractive selection of products for designers to customize. But it’s always been hard to take them seriously as a profitable partner, and that was for two reasons.

1. Their terms of service (whether through design or error) seemed to state that once you’d uploaded an image to their servers for use on products, that design would remain available there (non-exclusively) forever, even if you deleted both the products and the image. It was possible to contact them directly to have the design removed – eventually – but this was a ridiculous necessity.

2. They didn’t allow you to set the markup on items you sold through their site. If you wanted to sell there, you were limited to whatever profit Zazzle had decided you should make on the products.

These two points have always left Zazzle as a non-starter. Even if they were simply bumbling their way through the first point, the second one was a tremendous barrier to anyone who wanted to actually earn a living through the sale of their work. Zazzle’s markups were not attractive, and you were stuck with them.

But as of this week, these two issues have gone away. (In fact the “we’ll keep your images forever” problem seemed to have been cleared up earlier this year, though their web site had conflicting information about the change.) As of this week designers who sell at Zazzle are able to set their own markups on their merchandise. This is a very interesting development and it comes late in a year when their largest competitor (CafePress) has seemed to do everything in its power to alienate and infuriate the shopkeepers who design the products whose sales line CafePress’ cubicles with gold.

The Zazzle site is in the middle of a revision and it’s a bit wonky at the moment – for example, a lot of important content is popping up in small, non-scrolling windows – but it’s well worth checking out.

While the roost is still ruled by Cafepress, print-on-demand designers have lately benefited from quality-oriented competition at Printfection, a much smaller (apparel only) rival*. These changes at Zazzle mean that CafePress is about to have a big competitor that has almost everything CP offers – with a slightly smaller and different selection of products, but essentially the same.

The last big feature that CafePress has exclusively is their volume bonus, with which designers get an additional tiered bonus based on their amount of sales. The volume bonus is so important to some successful CP shopkeepers that it’s the only real thing holding them there, lately. If Zazzle were to adopt a similar volume bonus, we would see a completely level playing field between them. And that would be a very good thing.

Like any monopoly or near-monopoly CafePress treats its designer/shopkeepers as though they have nowhere else to go. That hasn’t been completely true for some time now, but at this point even they must see it. This can only be a good thing for those who use these services. It’s called competition, and it means that you have to do a good job and offer good service.

Or not, of course. But as of this week, “Or Not” has really big teeth.

*Printfection rocks, actually. But in this context, they’re a smaller player whose products are limited to shirts, coasters, and cutting boards.

“Video 3000” animation from Stuttgart

Filed under Computer Graphics, Found on the Web

Video 300 short film

Video 3000 is a short animated film by a group of five students from the Hochschule der Medien in Stuttgart. It was shown at Cannes earlier this year.

I’d really like for you to go watch it, but it would be better if I didn’t say much about why – you’ll have a better time, believe me.

What I can say is that the character animation is terrific. You’ll immediately relate to how Our Hero responds to the situation he finds himself in, and the various things he does are wonderfully well observed and animated.

Apache Legend Animated in French Student Film

Filed under Computer Graphics, Found on the Web

French animation of an Apache legend

HUGH is a fantastic short film by a group of four students from France’s École Supérieure des Métiers Artistiques. We see an Apache shaman telling some children a story about the days when the sky was so low that birds couldn’t fly, trees couldn’t grow, and adults had to walk with their backs bent and their eyes glued to the ground.

The “present day” scene of the storyteller is rendered in a wonderfully realistic but stylized manner – the characters remind me of the successful treatment of human characters in Ice Age – while the story itself appears in a completely different style that’s echoed n the decoration we see on the storyteller’s tent. From those creative decisions, through its execution, and including the animation and the voice and audio work, this is a first rate effort that’s head and shoulders above what you expect to see in a student film.

Here it is, in DIVX format, with English subtitles. Go look!

Ars Technica’s History of the Amiga, Part 4

Filed under Computer Graphics, Found on the Web

Amiga Computer HistoryAfter a hiatus – which followed a bit of a letdown in Part 3 – Ars Technica’s History of the Amiga continues in Part 4 – once more in fine form. We get the background on both Jack Tramiel and Irving Gould and follow Amiga Inc. through near-disaster to its apparent salvation at the hands of Commodore.

Some props are given to Carl Sassenrath for the Amiga kernel and his plans for the OS; we see some pushing and shoving in the decision on how much RAM to include in the machine; and we get a vivid description of the Amiga’s launch event, complete with Debby Harry and Andy Warhol.

And perhaps most importantly we see how the world at large received the news. There’s a pointed contrast with the other machines then available and a bit of prescience about how these outlandish features would one day become commonplace. Good reading.

Retropolis Transit hits the back pages of Sci-Fi Magazine

Filed under Works in Progress

sci fi magazine promoHey! It’s not often that the outside world takes notice of what I’m up to in the Secret Laboratory – and honestly, that may be a good thing, given that whole Death Ray ironing board thing I was working on last week – but I’m cheered to see that the Sci Fi Channel’s magazine has a little promo for my Retropolis Transit Authority site’s retro-futuristic t-shirts. It’s in the December issue – I just got my comp copy today.

Alas for me, this section of the magazine doesn’t get reproduced on their web site. But what the heck – I’ll take it!

Celtic Knotwork Peace Sign – where the 1960’s meet the 960’s

Filed under Works in Progress

Celtic Peace SymbolHere’s a symbol I’ve wanted to remake with Celtic knotwork for, well, a long time – a Peace sign.

And having made it, I’ve produced it for T-shirts (in both silver and gold versions), posters, cards, mugs, boxes, framed tiles, and coasters. I get that way.

Give Peace a chance, okay?

Retro futuristic dames continue their conquest of the secret laboratory

Filed under Computer Graphics, Works in Progress

RosieIt’s still all about the girls here in the Secret Laboratory. Though not the way you think, which I guess is sort of unfortunate.

Nope, I’m continuing my work on a set of characters who are all retro-futuristic and are all, not to put too fine a point on it, Babes. Dames. Skirts. Frails.

I’ve done a bit more work with Crazy Bump, the normal map maker I mentioned earlier, and I’m liking it more than ever.

Ladies World Domination Society Tees Death Ray Tees
“Shake Ya Boogie” animates Mocean Worker

Filed under Computer Graphics, Found on the Web

This thing just makes me happy. “Shake ya Boogie” is an animation by Czarek Kwaśny set to the song by Mocean Worker, AKA Adam Dorn. It’s got a terrific mix of thirties-style animation, dancing wrenches, and retro industrial madness – all with a good old scratchy film chaser.

The music (from the “Cinco de Mowo” CD) likewise morphs from the present day to the raw, uncontainable jazz of the 20s and 30s. I was glad to discover the CD, which features a guest turn by Herb Alpert.

See the animation here, or go for broke and get the “Cinco de Mowo” CD. Or, you know, do both. You’re unstoppable.

Deathly silence, a space pirate, and normal maps

Filed under Computer Graphics, Works in Progress

Space Pirate & Normal MapIt’s been quiet in here lately, but for good reason; I’m working on a set of characters for a project, and character work always takes a lot out of me – although this part’s fun. Just don’t ask me about rigging and skinning them. I get nightmares.

This is a space pirate and I have indeed been having a great time working on her. She just needs hair and that rigging-and-skinning process that I mentioned I have issues with.

While I was working on her ray gun I experimented with the beta version of Crazy Bump, an excellent normal map generator. Back in my game days we always used the Nvidia normal map plugin for Photoshop (there wasn’t much else to use) and I wasn’t ever exactly thrilled with what we were able to get out of it.

Crazy Bump, on the other hand, has several tools for analzying your texture maps. It can look for large 3D shapes in the image, and it can find large, medium, or fine levels of detail in it. Once it’s discovered all of those things you’re able to mix their levels together, as well as the overall strength of the normal map, to get just the shapes you’re after. You can blend images together, and you can edit existing normal maps, too. Very nice!

It’s free standing (so it works for any 3D app) and during the beta, it’s free.

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