Scarlett and the Do-Good Dragons

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Scarlett and the Do-Good Dragons

For my first publishing project, I designed vector illustrations with simple shapes in Adobe Illustrator, then added paint textures in Photoshop. 

I'm not an illustrator, but I believe art can change lives, and sometimes it's the only way to help. When someone I know is suffering, I feel so helpless. Trapped on the sidelines with no meaningful way to aid their relief. I've spent enough time in hospitals to know that even recovery can be brutally hard. Genuine support is a precious gift.

My son's friend Scarlett was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor at only 4 years-old... an angel from a whole family of angels. I wanted so badly to contribute, but I suddenly moved to another city and the distance only made my helplessness worse.  

Scarlett dancing right before receiving her diagnosis

Scarlett dancing right before receiving her diagnosis

Brad Marianno found a way. He wrote a short story for Scarlett and asked me to create the illustrations. It revolves around Scarlett herself, in a charming fairy tale world. Brad built a clever narrative all about helping people big and small, with her favorite creatures, as "Do-Good Dragons".  

It was surprisingly easy. You don't need anyone's permission to publish a book! We polished the story and sketched out the illustrations for each page. But, I'm ashamed to say, it took me nearly six months to finish. Delay after delay, while I animated a whole season of a TV show. But when I was finally able to focus, it only took me a week to finish Scarlett's illustration. I've never published a book but I've wanted to since fourth grade. Now with on-demand publishing from Blurb.com, our project can be a real bedtime story in Scarlett's hands. As a bonus, Brad and Holly made a real-life phone for Scarlett just like the one in the story.

It's only a picture book. But during long days of illustrating and painting (with wonderful tips from artist Ryan Goldsberry), I felt helpful. I hoped Scarlett would read her book and feel that precious gift of genuine support. 

Fortunately Scarlett's tumor has nearly vanished with treatment and a few miracles. So we're selling the book to raise funds for her family and other children fighting cancer. Every cent goes straight to the cause, and we hope your family enjoys reading along and joining the "Do-Good Dragons". Blurb.com makes it easy to sell via their store, Amazon, and other retailers.

Please order your copy (or two!) and be a part of Scarlett's story. 

 

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How to Build a Home Theater on a Budget

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How to Build a Home Theater on a Budget

Everyone wants that big screen theater experience at home, no matter how small the apartment. The bragging rights alone are worth it. Enjoying movies as they were meant to be shown, big picture, big sound, is worth every penny. I’ve never owned a TV – and after owning a projector for the last 5 years, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a flatscreen. 

It was easy to get started – at the time, flatscreen TVs were very expensive. But it wasn’t easy to seal the deal because of the infamous wife factor. In every web forum and electronics store, men wrestle with the fact that their wives don’t want unsightly speakers, wires, complicated remotes, or an expensive eyesore screen on the wall. And she's probably right. With some smart tips and cost-cutting ideas, she’ll come to love the wow factor of a 120″ Blu-ray experience and sit beside you.

Here’s my recommendation for a willing beginner: the $1,000 setup. I'm not interested in a 'cheap' home theater, with weak off-brand products that I'll be itching to replace in a year. Instead, buying the proper entry-level electronics will give you an excellent experience as well as peace of mind. 

Home Theater Pros
+ HUGE movies and TV. Never gets old, especially with friends over
+ Great sound quality 24/7
+ No ugly TV dominating your room

Cons
– Requires creative furniture placement (more on this later)
– Slightly more complicated than a basic TV setup – more parts
– Brightest daylight can wash out the picture (but we can avoid it)

Keep in mind
• Plan around your room. It's not a TV that sits in the corner, it's a system on every wall.
• Start small: you can always upgrade later. Just remember, you get what you pay for.
• Don’t be a chump: hide those cords, make it tidy, keep wife happy.


So here’s your shopping list, with my recommendations from the top-rated entry-level gear:

Projector
$500
This is the king of the room – the main machine. These days, $500 can get you plenty of 720p projector. Black Friday deals can dip below $400, and some models might go above $600. But you'll spend less than a 1080p model, which will run you $700 and up. I’ve been perfectly pleased with 720p, and I highly recommend this projector for starters: 
Epson Projector on Amazon.com

It's easy to get overwhelmed with projector jargon, since there's lots of tech specs that aren't clearly explained. Here's the basics:

  • Resolution: The detail-level of the projected image, measured in numbers of pixels. I suggest 1280x720, as opposed to the more expensive 1920x1080 (which has twice the pixels). Avoid WGA, WXGA and other such formats.
  • Lumens: The brightness of the light bulb. Go for an LED light, which lasts thousands of hours longer than standard bulb. 3000 Lumens is your minimum. Any less and you'll struggle with visibility when sunlight or lamps are nearby. 
  • Cinema: Look for a model that's categorized as 'Cinema', 'Home Theater', 'Entertainment' or similar; as opposed to an office or computer-based projector. These cinema models have the right frame rate, color reproduction, keystoning, mounting and settings for a movie-like experience. And please avoid any 'pocket/mini/pico/Groupon/portable!/toy' projectors, which will never compare with a name brand version like mine. 


Projector Mount
$25
Any model will do. Don’t overthink this one. If you don't have a spot to mount from the ceiling, try a simple Ikea shelf, or the top of a tall bookcase.
VideoSecu Ceiling Mount Bracket


Projection Screen
$130
Some people just use a wall – others get creative with paint or fabric. Since screens are cheap, I say get a proper one – your wife will love that it scrolls up and out of sight, and the picture is much more vivid than your bumpy cheap paint. This is my ten-foot screen. It’s worked in 4 different apartments, and always looks great.
Elite Screens M120UWH2  120″ Diagonal. 16:9


Blu-Ray Player/ 5.1 Surround Sound System
$200
Don't skimp on sound. Your TV has built-in speakers, or a separate soundbar, but your projector is visuals-only (some have a tiny speaker, just ignore that). It’s so cheap and easy to get a home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) sound system, you’ll punch yourself for living without it all these years. Some would say sound is more important than picture, so spend as much as you can. Mine was $300. Aim for 750-1000 Watts, so it's strong enough to fill the room. These systems tend to include a Blu-ray player that acts as the central tuner/receiver for your other components (like Apple TV, Roku, video games, laptop, etc).
Panasonic SC-BTT190  5.1 1000-Watt Blu-Ray System


Wireless HD Kit (optional)
$180
The trickiest part of the whole process is connecting your source (Blu-ray player, or tuner) to your projector, which may be across the room or mounted to the ceiling. HDMI cables are super cheap, and in some apartments I've simply used a 25-foot HDMI cable to connect the two, hiding it along the baseboards. But you may decide to splurge and go wireless instead. It eliminates the messy logistics and cable clutter of running cables up the wall, and finishes the setup on a classy note. It’s magic.
IOGEAR GW3DHDKIT Wireless HD Kit


Don’t stop now:

  • A simple media console for your Blu-ray player – we use this $20 IKEA model – and a comfy couch. You’re at the movies now!
  • Apple TV is a great way to add Netflix and other apps – as well as streaming from your iPhone or Mac to your big screen. $100. If you're in the Apple Ecosystem like me, don't settle for Roku, Fire TV or other cheaper models. 
  • All these new devices need an awesome new remote. Get a Logitech Harmony to start – it controls everything.

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12 Bits of Wisdom from Steve Jobs

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12 Bits of Wisdom from Steve Jobs

The man behind Apple Computers is a polarizing figure – he’s either your hero or your villain. After reading his best-selling biography, I put him on the hero list and keep finding more reasons to admire him. There’s plenty of bad things about his reputation and history; so I don’t aspire to be just like him. But I’m a sucker for the visionary-young-man-changes-world-from-garage American Dream, and Jobs is the paragon entrepreneur. After revolutionizing personal computers, mobile phones, tablets, and the music, publishing and movie industries, he left us too soon and some say a golden age of innovation has ended. We're still looking for the next Steve Jobs. 

So in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh computer, here’s twelve of my favorite bits of Jobs wisdom. Many are from his lovely Stanford commencement speech. Because he knew his days on earth were numbered, his words have a boost of conviction and boldness that most motivational quotes are lacking.

  1. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
  2. Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.
  3. If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away.
  4. People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things. (Apple Worldwide Developers’ Conference, 1997)
  5. Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful — that’s what matters to me. (CNNMoney/Fortune, 1993)
  6. You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
  7. Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
  8. My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.
  9. Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.
  10. Things don’t have to change the world to be important.
  11. When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again. (Private TV Interview. Watch here.)
  12. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Cheers, Steve. So, did I miss any of your favorite quotes? 

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Current Obsession: Seanwes Podcast

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Current Obsession: Seanwes Podcast

Sometimes you just want good advice from a trusted friend. Sean is that firend, especially if you're at all creative or self-employed. His now hugely popular podcast and video series (I prefer the podcast) are curriculum vitae for anyone hoping to improve their talents and profit from them. 

This month I’m obsessed with a podcast for creatives, by creatives – Sean McCabe’s "Seanwes" podcast came with perfect timing (thanks for sharing Adam!). I’ve been commuting on the train, my mind racing with questions about freelancing, collaborating, setting goals, and overall being a professional who does things right. That’s exactly the buffet of wisdom Sean offers bi-weekly, in a laid-back conversational two-man format that skips the gimmicks of noisier podcasts in favor of a more honest approach. It’s easy listening that makes you think, and I’ve been doing back-to-back episodes at my desk for the last few days because there’s so much goodness inside. Plus, he’s already been friendly and open with on Twitter – the world needs more Sean McCabes.

I really identify with Sean as a creative with a strong left brain too – and as someone with a variety of interests and talents who hopes to find a rich and healthy balance of fulfilling spinning plates. His main gig is hand lettering (and he’s stunning), but the knowledge he shares applies to any discipline from music to writing. The sound-bites keep coming, but more patient listeners are rewarded with the overall effects of stimulating business philosophy and conversation. The co-host Aaron is a nice foil to Sean’s serious, articulate tone and their mostly buttoned-up banter consistently addresses my current questions about building a rewarding creative career, so I can’t recommend it enough to creatives of any age. And you gotta respect the natural leadership that results from his craftsmanship – he’s even a few years younger than me.

At the core of the show’s intent is to generously give high-quality knowledge, to share in a spirit of learning and transparency. I can only return the favor by spreading the word.

Subscribe via iTunes

Follow @seanwes

Visit Sean’s site and store: http://seanwes.com

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Decode your love or hate for any movie with these four clever points

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Decode your love or hate for any movie with these four clever points

Everyone’s a critic at the movies, America’s favorite pastime and favorite way to show off intellectually. A good movie leaves you thinking after the credits roll, and sparks discussion with your friends – for better or worse. While it seems everyone can have (abnormally strong) opinions about movies, very few people know how to intelligently analyze them. And sometimes even the brightest of us can be very sure we felt something in the theater – but can’t seem to put it to words, or breakdown what it all means. Fortunately, I know 4 time-tested ways to break apart any movie and examine it’s inner workings.

You’ve faced this situation many times. You’re sitting in the theater – the movie just ended. Your friend/date/in-laws turn to you and exclaim, “THAT WAS AWESOME!” Your heart rate increases as you scramble to find a diplomatic way to share your disappointment with the movie – or, they hated it…and you had a life-changing movie experience. It can happen anywhere – someone shares their undying passion (or deep disdain) for a movie, and you have to enter the ring. It’s hard to rate a movie by numbers and percentages, and I believe there’s far more to a movie than thumbs-up-or-down. Well, thanks to my favorite film school professor Dean Duncan, these 4 concepts encompass the breadth and depth of any movie, leveling the playing field regardless of budget, genre or age. It makes it easy to peek under the hood and articulate exactly why you loved it, or were left wanting more.


Consider these 4 aspects of a film:

CRAFTSMANSHIP – How was the quality and design of the overall production?

A Hollywood movie involves the talents of hundreds of artists in every discipline. From cinematography and music to writing and visual effects – consider the effect the movie had on your senses and the sweat that went into it. Weak acting in PACIFIC RIM disappointed me, while the visual effects were the best I’ve ever seen.

IMAGINATION – What did the filmmakers bring to this story world, and where did they take you?

Some movies seem predictable and derivative, while others spark exciting ideas and first-time wonder. The key to art is a sense of surprise – we expect a fresh feeling of adventure at the movies. While drawing on a large pool of sci-fi nostalgia, SUPER 8 and AVATAR didn’t have as much new material to offer as I hoped.

CONVICTION – How much did the filmmakers believe in their story and the importance of sharing it?

The best movies are created by passionate storytellers who really want to share a journey with you. Evaluate your sense of the movie’s heart. I was stirred by TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM and DEAD POETS SOCIETY, which proudly upheld their core virtues.

AFFECTION – Did the filmmakers fill the movie and your viewing experience with love and generosity?

When filmmakers truly love their characters, story and audience, it’s simply more fun to watch. This affection is usually manifest in small ways – emotional beats, comic relief, gags and references – that emotionally connect you to the movie. It’s rewarding to rewatch DAN IN REAL LIFE and A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN because they offer so much love to the viewer.


It’s a simple approach, but in the past 5 years I’ve used this method to discuss hundreds of movies and TV shows, and I always have something mildly intelligent to say. Instead of feeling stuck at “I liked it” or “It wasn’t my thing”, there’s plenty of good discussion to follow any movie when you have some useful starting points.

Share some examples in the comments below.

Bonus tips:

  • There’s a difference between being a critic and an audience member – and most movies are made for the latter. Unless you’re a full-time journalist, sit back and enjoy the movie!
  • Don’t judge. Our friend Roger Ebert said, “We must see a movie for what it is, not for what we think another film might have been.” So be fair to a movie’s intent.
  • Everyone connects emotionally in their own way. We don’t have to like the same stuff.

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Have Camera Will Travel

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Have Camera Will Travel

Getting paid to travel the world. I love exploring new cities and cultures, and I’ve been fortunate to visit countries around the globe as a cinematographer. It’s so fun to combine work with pleasure to create travel videos, since my camera is usually running anyway. My travel portfolio has grown in recent years since I became the official photographer/videographer for Precoa, an insurance company who loves to travel as much as I do. Each trip is bigger than the last (our cruise group had over 300 guests), so I try to capture as much fun as possible. Then I create a custom souvenir DVD and distribute it to all the guests shortly after the trip. That way everyone can focus more on enjoying the trip, while I get all the right shots to help them remember it best.

It’s a fantastic way to work and a creative challenge too. There are so many subtle skills required – interacting with the travel companies; making the guests feel comfortable on camera; staying out of the way while getting the perfect shot; and shaping all the raw footage into a watchable story. In a way, travel videos are the most rewarding type of freelance project.

Here’s ten of my recent travel videos – I’ve made over fifty total. Don’t worry, I skipped the 2-hour dinner event videos. Keep in mind, these are not like my other work, which focuses on craftsmanship and imagination – these videos are all about the people and places we discovered, and telling those stories in a fun way to preserve our travel memories. We use DSLRs, a Glidecam, GoPros and simple stock music that fits the trip.  I can’t wait to see where my work takes me next.

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Which camera should I buy?

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Which camera should I buy?

 

It happens every week: "Phil, which camera should I buy? My lifestyle is X, my budget is Y, and my photography skills are Z. Help!" I really should figure out a way to get commission checks for all these referrals.

Like most electronics shopping, the consumer camera landscape is overwhelming and confusing. You have to know exactly what you're looking for, because there's so many models and tech specs that it's difficult to compare all the options – and easy to buy the wrong thing.

Here's a good starting point. For bigger questions like "what's a cropped sensor?" and "which model of GoPro is perfect for kids?", that's a future post. Follow this flowchart to start your shopping in the right direction.




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Happy New Gear 2014

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Happy New Gear 2014

“Tools do not a craftsman make.”
– Sean Wes

People always wonder what’s in my camera bag, whether it’s fellow filmmakers or new buyers with a tight budget. I have a modest collection, which fits in a smallish backpack and my smallish budget. Because my kit is well-rounded and efficient, I’ve taken it all over the world – to the Virgin Islands, Mexico, NYC, Hawaii, Israel, Florida, and all over California. It’s easy to hop on my scooter with such a small kit. With the right gear, my run-and-gun-all-day-pit-stains filming is more doable and more fun.

Some guys think buying top-notch gear and shiny gadgets will make them a better filmmaker. As we know, it’s simply not true. Instead, aim to buy smart, quality, basic gear and take good care of it, while honing your skills and constantly make-ing. The gear will quickly pay for itself.

When I moved to LA, I made a budget plan with my wife to avoid overspending. Then I did all my research/shopping , and when black Friday came around I cashed in. Here’s a list of links, perfect for a well-rounded, no-fluff starter kit that gets great results:


(See the whole Amazon Wish List here.)

  1. Canon 70-200mm L (telephoto lens). Heavy but glorious – Amazon
  2. Canon 24-105mm L (zoom lens). All-around awesome – Amazon
  3. Canon 50mm f/1.4 (fast portrait lens). #1 for portraits and people – Amazon
  4. Canon 40mm (tiny “pancake” lens). Perfect for everyday life/travel – Amazon
  5. Mounted mic: Rode. Must-have for field audio – Amazon
  6. LensPen (for cleaning). The best tool for fingerprints – Amazon
  7. Manfrotto QuickRelease mounting plate (for tripod/glidecam) – Amazon
  8. Circular Polarizer (for daylight). Higher-end for stunning colors – Amazon
  9. Giotto’s Air Rocket (lens cleaning)  – Amazon
  10. GorillaPod SLR/Zoom. Our family photographer – Amazon
  11. Canon 6D camera body. Lighter, cheaper, and on par with the 5D MkIII – Amazon
  12. Adapt-Its loops (for the camera strap) – Amazon
  13. Camera neck strap with aluminum carabiners – Dollar store!
  14. Extra Canon Battery – Amazon
  15. Fancy and Generic SDHC memory cards – Amazon
  16. Canon IR remote – Amazon
  17. Microfiber lens cloth – Amazon
  18. Hotel shower cap (for rain protection) – Hotel
  19. Timex Weekender watch  – Amazon
  20. Fat Gecko suction mount – Amazon
  21. Glidecam HD-2000 stabilizer – Amazon
  22. Gold Fold document wallet – Goldfold.com
  23. Zoom H4N audio recorder – Amazon
  24. Zagg Sparq backup battery (for gadgets) – Amazon
  25. GoPro waterproof camera – Amazon
  26. Manfrotto monopod – Amazon
  27. LowePro camera backpack – Amazon

Of course there’s other gear that doesn’t fit in the bag, like this large pop-up bounce, Sennheiser wireless lav mics, and a decent Manfrotto tripod. And I have a lovely insurance package (including drops!) from NSSI, which isn’t just for students anymore.

Leave your tips and questions in the comments. Happy shopping!

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