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Experimenting with Space

Animation, Design

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Downtime at the agency is pretty rare, but when it happens I like to explore and tinker with new things in After Effects. My most recent experimentation was with particle fields and star fields.

This was the result of creating different sized spheres enclosed within each other. When flying through it the perception of space is pretty trippy, and my goal was to make the feeling of physical size as realistic as possible. The stars in the background move very slowly relative to the inner spheres. And the last bit of fun was with sound design, and finding atmospheric sound effects that enhanced the experience.

“Hello Dave” is a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey, of course.

Watch in full screen, if you dare.

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Tycho in Colorado

Live, Music

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This last weekend Tycho (aka Scott Hansen/ISO50) came to Colorado for three consecutive shows in Ft. Collins, Denver, and Colorado Springs. I was fortunate enough to catch the first two, which were both unique and complimented each other in a great way. The Ft. Collins gig was at the Aggie, of course, a grungy little venue with an incredibly intimate atmosphere. My good friend and fellow Tycho enthusiast, Leo, and I were front and center. We had prepared the night before by listening to Tycho’s “Dive” on vinyl, which is a visceral experience I recommend to anyone.

The Denver show was particularly special for me because I had 12 of my closest friends there seeing Tycho for the first time. It was at the Summit Music Hall, which is a new venue with huge sound a great vibe to it. I also got special access to take some photos in the balcony that was blocked off, but the lighting and motion was tough to capture at times with my entry-level SLR. It felt plain wrong to shoot ISO50 at ISO800, but it was a necessary adjustment.

Tycho in Denver
Tycho in Denver

Scott has recently been working with cinematographer Charles Bergquist to create new visuals for the Tycho summer tour, and they were absolutely gorgeous. Most of them incorporated super-slow-motion shots of surfing, waves crashing, or beautiful women walking on the beach. The images are filtered and matched with the tempo, with some ISO50 graphics superimposed. It was such a cool experience, I wish I could capture the whole effect for you but these videos will give you some idea.

Here’s a reel of high-speed footage from Charles Bergquist, some of which is used in the Tycho visuals:

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Weapons of Mass Creation Fest – Cleveland, Ohio

Design, Travel

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This past weekend I attended the third annual Weapons of Mass Creation Fest in Cleveland, Ohio. The event is organized by Jeff Finley and all the folks over at the Go Media studio, which has been one of my favorite resources for inspiration, design assets and career know-how for years. Jeff Finley wrote an awesome book on the t-shirt industry, which has gotten me excited about resurrecting my apparel company someday…

After the invaluable lessons and connections I made at Montreal Meets in April, I was thrilled to jump in on another conference here in the States, and it didn’t disappoint. The cool thing about WMC Fest is that it’s not just a bunch of Photoshop nerds talking about light effects and typefaces. The event is more like an art festival, with designers, illustrators, writers, musicians, and lots of creatives from many industries, which made it an amazing melting pot of fun and talented people. I was completely overwhelmed by the breadth of knowledge and experience among the attendees and speakers, very inspiring to say the least.

While the Cleveland area overall can be a bit bland at times, you can find little gems all of the place if you know where to look. When I first arrived and saw my shitty little hotel room I immediately took to the streets in search of a good IPA. My google maps showed a place called “Now That’s Class!” and it ended up being this sweet junky dive bar with a half-pipe and stage inside. No one was there at 4pm, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised at the stellar beer selection, including some Colorado brews.

The best food I had all weekend was definitely at the Happy Dog, which was dangerously close to the festival. They have $5 hot dogs, fries and tater tots, but best of all they have a selection of over 50 toppings to choose from. You can get really crazy with a fried egg, wasabi, fried onions, or baked beans, and it’s all magically delicious.

Other highlights were the iLTHY shop, where the WMC art gallery was held during the day (including the comic book bathroom above). I was blown away by the quality and variety of art in that space, and it was so cool to mingle and chat with the artists and designers who had tables set up. I really dug the work of Oliver Barrett, who does incredible movie posters, including these awesome Lebowski prints below.

Also, how freakin awesome is that skate deck with all the TMNT villains?

Beyond the art itself, it was the speakers who really shined. I was most excited to see the legendary James White/Signalnoise, who I met in Montreal, and Chuck Anderson/NOPATTERN, whose portfolio is astonishing. But each speaker had their own depth of expertise, and their own presentation style, which kept everything really fun and relevant. It was truly enlightening to learn from professionals I didn’t know much about previously, such as Nate UteschMatt Stevens, Friends of Type, and Johnny Cupcakes. In the end though, I have to say my favorite presentation was from Tad Carpenter, an illustrator and professor at KU who does gig posters for the biggest bands in the world. You could tell he speaks in front of people a lot, with an awesome slideshow that was well-paced, engaging, and personally motivating to me in a big way.

The Signalnoise presentation would normally be my favorite, but I already saw the extended version of “Design Renegade” in Montreal earlier this year. James kills it every time, and always chokes me up with his “Sad Mac” story about Steve Jobs’ death.

Here’s me, James White, and Paul Pants being complete goofballs. Going from riding a roller coaster to hardcore rocking somehow made sense in the moment…  Paul is a correspondent to the Signalnoise blog, and also runs his own studio called Swivel Arms. These guys are so much fun to hang out with, and I always appreciate how down-to-earth and inviting they are to the young bucks like me.

On our last day we got to cruise around Cleveland, search endlessly for a good breakfast joint, and then visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The city is full of old architecture and history, but the office buildings have no markings on them and are all weirdly ambiguous. The nooks and crannys were my favorite by far, with hidden pieces of vintage design and artistic style. Various painted guitars are sprinkled around the city leading up to the Rock Hall, so cool.

I got to see Pete Townsend’s original Les Paul from The Who’s early days, the first copy of Rolling Stone Magazine, Chuck Berry’s original recording contract (getting 3 cents per album), hand-written lyrics by John Frusciante, and crazy outfits worn by Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, and Michael Jackson.

Above: Me and Chuck Anderson, James and Paul, and then Me, Paul, and Taller Nick (To The Moon Studios) messing around in the WMC photo shoot booth.

The whole weekend was an absolute blast, and I think I’ve become an addict to the design/art conference scene. So many new friends and colleagues met, and an amazing wealth of knowledge and inspiration to keep working and keep improving. When you hear about these amazing success stories, or meet some of your heroes in the design business, you find out that many of them were just like you starting out, trying to make a living doing what we love to do.

The last night of the conference a small group of guys went to this great brewery, and I felt so lucky and privileged to be at the same table with them, especially Chuck, James, and Paul. Plus they had Boulder Beer on tap. Win-fucking-win. Thanks, Cleveland.

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M83 Live in Denver 4/30/12

Live, Music

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After being obsessed with last year’s “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” (#1 on my 2011 albums), I put M83 at the top of my list of bands to see live. Not knowing too much about the band besides frontman Anthony Gonzalez, I was really intrigued to check out their stage setup and instrumentation. Getting a preview of the concert from the Coachella Live Stream really fueled my anticipation. The show ended up being amazing, but my only gripe was that it was a really short set… only 75 minutes! The house lights came on at 10:45. Huh? This was very surprising to me that a big-name band with 4 albums of music (and long songs) would give Denver fans a tease like that. I guess I shouldn’t complain. If their strategy was to make me count the minutes until next time, they succeeded. My brother Towner and I had a killer time, and you can experience it with us (drunk commentary included) in the YouTube below.

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My Top Ten Albums of 2011

Best List, Music

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While comparing these records is somewhat arbitrary given the wide variety in genres, I’ve decided to rank them anyways, based mostly on their personal significance to me and my life in 2011.

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10) Coldplay – “Mylo Xyloto”

I love classic Coldplay just like anybody, but I think their albums are getting better and better. Beginning with “Viva La Vida”, they’ve been mixing up their production techniques, sometimes recording completely on the road in multiple different spaces. They’ve been using lots of unique instruments on their records as well, my favorite of which being the hammer dulcimer (for some local dulcimation, check out my friend Allison on soundclound and bandcamp). I also love how Coldplay has been embracing electronic trends that are at the forefront of our culture right now, incorporating huge bass synths, break beats and digitized arpeggios, while still blending them perfectly with their style. I was blown away when I heard the first two tracks of “Viva La Vida”, and the same applies here. The title track “Mylo Xyloto” leads into “Hurts Like Heaven”, which is a masterpiece. The bouncy synths, reverb heavy vocals, and distorted guitar licks merge together so well. Chris Martin can write a freakin ballad too, man. Last album it was “Lost” and on this one it’s “Up In Flames”. The guitar-heavy “Major Minus” is my other favorite:

 

9) My Morning Jacket – “Circuital”

“Circuital” completed my journey towards truly discovering this band, accompanied with their performance at Red Rocks last August. Seeing them in person is particularly essential to see the caliber of musicians Jim James and crew are. The album’s opening track, “Victory Dance,” is cinematic and brooding with unique percussion and killer guitar work. Listen to that in headphones and there’s no way you won’t be like, “Uh, holy shit.” Among their usual repertoire of acoustic-driven singalong tracks, the real treat for me is “The Day is Coming”. That tune is so catchy it hurts, and really shows off James’ writing prowess. With an array of organs, screeching guitars, strings, and a drum kit that are all produced immaculately, the song surrenders itself to the repeat button.

 

8) Red Hot Chili Peppers – “I’m With You”

This is a tough one for me to admit, because John Frusciante has been my spiritual guide through the art of electric guitar since I was 13. I think “Stadium Arcadium” is one of greatest rock albums ever made, and Frusciante’s guitar work on it is absolutely masterful. When I heard he decided to fade out of RHCP to do other things, I thought the band was done for a while. Enter Mr. Josh Klinghoffer, who has not only played with Frusciante a ton, but also backed up the band on their Stadium Arcadium tour. I guess if anyone were to fill the shoes, it would be him. And although “I’m With You” is far from comparison with the Chili Peppers of the last decade, it has grown on me a lot. Flea/Kiedis/Smith still hold everything down so well and mix in Josh’s more reserved style perfectly. Fruciante may have moved on, but I can comfortably say that this new album is still very much RHCP at heart, and the band will live on. We still miss you, John.

 

 

7) The Black Keys – “El Camino”

Dan and Patrick are pumping out new tunes like nobody’s business, and there’s no sign of deterioration. 18 months after “Brothers” they give us another dose of electric honey straight from the hive that is Blues. When Shepard Fairy starts doing your posters, you know you’re doing something right. The Black Keys are evolving gracefully too, being able to mix more musicians and more instruments onto their albums without you hardly noticing. Especially in “El Camino”, they’re starting to include organ, bass, backup singers, and layered guitar parts. I certainly don’t mind, especially when the soul is still there. These guys are keeping blues and rock n roll alive for the masses, and that earns my endorsement any day.

 

6) Little Dragon – “Ritual Union”

I found out about Yukimi Nagano last year through my love for the newest Gorillaz album “Plastic Beach”, which featured her vocals on multiple songs. When “Plastic Beach Live” was compiled by fans (free download), and I subsequently saw the live DVD of Gorillaz in Paris, she stole the show with her amazing voice and unique performance style. When a friend gave me the CD of her new side project, Little Dragon, I was hooked on it for weeks. Later I found out that Tycho was going on tour with them, and got super excited that they might both come to Denver for his date last November. Unfortunately the tour with Little Dragon ended before Tycho came to CO, but Emancipator wasn’t bad either.

 

5) Radiohead – “The King of Limbs”

Even after a dozen listens all the way through, I had yet to fully digest this album. It’s an ongoing and organic process with musicians of this stature. I think every music lover goes through a Radiohead phase once in their life, and has a spiritual breakthrough once they can understand the message and feeling behind the music. Their last album, “In Rainbows”, completely fucked me up. Rocked by world. And although I’d been a fan and avid listener before, my obsessive Radiohead phase was initiated by that record. 2008 was my Radiohead year. I watched the basement sessions. After finding out the hidden relationship between Ok Computer/In Rainbows, I alternated the songs to create the “01 and 10” playlist. With “The King of Limbs”, I’m astonished again by the band’s versatility and willingness to experiment. While it won’t go down as Radiohead’s most iconic album, it adds so much beautiful complexity to their catalog. Their layering of echoes and reverbs is overwhelming at times, but the instrumentation is so deep and the mix is so good that you can concentrate on one element at a time and never get bored.

My favorites are “Little by Little”, “Morning Mr. Magpie”, and of course, “Lotus Flower” (which should have won the Grammy for best rock song). The slower acoustic tunes are beautiful as well. Some guy on YouTube got permission to put the entirety of “From The Basement” up, so let’s all reap the benefits. It’s SO worth an hour of your time.

 

4) Rose Hill Drive – “Americana”

You know you’re from Boulder when: you put Rose Hill Drive above Radiohead. The anticipated comeback of Boulder’s favorite rock band had been rumored after the group took a solid 18 months off, and they returned with a vengeance. And a new member. Bassist Jimmy Stofer had been jamming with them for years, mostly filling in for their annual NYE shows (where RHD would cover iconic albums by Led Zeppelin, The Who, Aerosmith, The White Stripes). Singer Jacob Sproul moved from bass to rhythm guitar, and plays organ/keyboards on certain tunes as well. The new line-up is killer, and allows the Sproul brothers to really shine at what they do best with Jimmy backing up the low end.

My first taste of the new record came when Rose Hill Drive performed on CU campus in March 2011, and I had the great honor of designing the poster for the event. I was blown away by the new sound, and had to wait patiently until the album release party later that summer. The record has been on repeat since, and I just can’t say enough about the raw talent and furious effort behind it. Every song on the album is brilliant, from the grungy handbanger “Telepathic”, the industrial waltz-beat of “Speed Dial”, to the acoustic dissonance of “Birds Against the Glass”. Speaking of Radiohead, the bridge in the middle of the last song “Birthdays & Break-ups” definitely sounds Thom Yorkish. I leave you with the best live rock performance I’ve seen since Jack White & The Raconteurs:

 

3) Tycho – “Dive”

I can’t say enough about Tycho. No, literally. I’m sure my friends are getting tired of it. This piece of music is so transcendental, so unique, and so calculated that I have a hard time describing it to people… which is probably why I spend so much time trying. Tycho is the auditory alter ego of Scott Hansen, the man behind the popular design blog ISO50. He started as a graphic designer who dabbled in music, and now it’s the other way around. Scott still creates amazing visual art, but does so mostly to compliment the singular vision that is Tycho. He produces the music and visuals for live performances himself, and they’re astoundingly beautiful in unison. I first found out about Tycho around 2006 when a friend showed me his MySpace page, and the ethereal reverb-heavy beats were perfect for studying, writing, or snowboarding. Since then the sound has evolved to be more present, engaging and dynamic.

“Dive” is the result of more than 5 years of work towards perfecting a style that is tuned and textured like a vintage photograph. The idealistic quality to Tycho’s art produces a feeling of optimism and energy, and convinces me of a bright future… a future drenched in a blissful glow of sunbeams and lens flares. He’s coming to Colorado again in late June, I highly recommend seeing his live set (another cool interview).

 

2) TV On The Radio – “Nine Types of Light”

“Nine Types of Light” is an instant classic. Pure brilliance. A perfect blend of dance, rock and electronic instrumentation. It was the most listenable album of the year, because every song begs you to sing along, dance, rock out, or play air drums. And yet it’s ubiquitous enough to have on in the background at a party or while driving. They also made a music video for every song, each made by a different filmmaker. These guys are just too talented for words, and I can’t even try to describe the amazing taste and subtlety they bring to the table. Buy this record and pass it along to your kids and grandkids.

 

1) M83 – “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”

“Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” is the soundtrack to your life. It’s a storybook fairytale of epic proportions. It’s grandiose and exaggerated in the best possible way, stirring thoughts of love and wonder. This album is a complete journey from start to finish, with no part of it out of place or without purpose. And speaking of soundtracks, the songs are being used all over the place in film and television. This can be a bad thing if it becomes too commercialized, but the uses I’ve seen have been well suited to the music. The best application I’ve experienced so far has been the ski/snowboard film “The Art of Flight” from Travis Rice & RedBull, which is quite possibly the best ski documentary ever made. They use M83 for the key sections of the film, and the songs are perfect for the intense nature imagery and extreme stunts. Snowboarding with the album myself was a spiritual experience, and I suggest you pair the music with anything you love doing, especially outdoors. The neon pop synths, 80s drum kits, layered power guitars, and harmonized vocals all compliment each other like a dream, and the production quality is cranked to 11.

“Midnight City” is the song of 2011, in my opinion.The other clear winners (besides the Intro/Outro) are the slap-bass dance party “Claudia Lewis”, the hair metal pop ballad “Steve McQueen”, and I’ve grown especially fond of “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire”, the musical fantasy narrated by a 5-year-old. That song just makes me so damn happy. You can listen to the entire album on their MySpace page, plus a ton of their older stuff, which is pretty rad. If you haven’t heard this album, you owe it to yourself to add it to your own life soundtrack.


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HONORABLE MENTIONS

1) Bonobo – “Black Sands”

Um, for some reason I thought “Black Sands” came out in 2011, but it was 2010… I had it on this list until correcting myself, so you should check it out regardless. Bonobo is amazing (good for Pandora too).

2) Big Gigantic – “Nocturnal”

The electronic duo from Boulder/Denver are blowing up, and their new record is an electronic powerhouse. The live experience is composed of Jeremy Salkin on drums and the amazing saxophone work of Dominic Lalli. They both produce the albums and add true musical talent and experience to every beat, which puts them above so many other electronic acts these days who merely sit behind a laptop and turn knobs.

3) Adele – “21”

It was hard to ignore Adele’s Grammy-winning album last year. Her voice is extraordinary and the songwriting is top notch, making it a universal piece of music everyone can enjoy. Her live DVD at Royal ALbert Hall is on YouTube now if you get the chance to watch it.

– (blatantly unnecessary embed of “Rolling in the Deep”) –

4) Com Truise – “Galactic Melt”

I haven’t had a chance to truly explore this release by the multi-talented Seth Hardie, but it is a gorgeous compilation of digitized 80s pop beats. He absolutely nails the style, transporting you straight into a scene from Miami Vice or Beverly Hills Cop, but the more futuristic version. It’s like if the Tron remake wasn’t taken over by Disney as a mass-market money machine, and retained the feeling of the original with updated dance tunes (even though Daft Punk made a great soundtrack). Next time you put on your high tops and ride your hoverboard to the strip mall, put this on your Walkman.

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NickHess.com now live

Site Updates

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It’s been over 3 years in the making (mostly because of perfectionism and indecisiveness), but my new site finally went live. Web designers have a running joke that the site you never get to work on is your own. And it’s the one that you always want to get right and have everything perfect, which is not a good way to get something up.

I finally decided that this wordpress back-end was sufficient for my tastes, because it was really minimal, customizable, and had a great portfolio structure. Since I’ve been accumulating work over the past 2-3 years that hasn’t really been showcased consistently, I needed a really great setup for my art to be displayed. And it had to accommodate a lot of different kinds of media as well, since I dip my toes in posters, music, motion graphics and sometimes photos/video. Really liking it so far though, and the social integration is always nice.

I’m in the process of adding a bunch of old posts that are either half-written or were posted somewhere else, so those will be filling in pretty soon.

As always please let me know what you think and if there’s any portion of the site I could improve on. Feedback is always appreciated!

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