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So you want to work for Pixar?

“Pixar” seems to have become synonymous with animation.  But the underlying pieces of 3D design, illustration, and animation that make their work so impressive has permeated so much more than just Monsters Inc and Toy Story.  3D modelling and animation has changed the way we view the world and what we see in it.  It’s now used for everything from movie effects and production to book covers and comic creation.  As 3D printing continues to gain momentum, you’ll see these skills doing so much more than just making entertainment, but truly shaping the way we prototype, produce, and buy product.

So, how do you get your piece of this grand new world?  Let’s take a look.

Learn the Basics

In order to be any good at 3D animation, you have to start with the same fundamental basics that you would learn in a photography class.  3D is not just about cool explosions and terrifying dragons.  You also have to understand the building blocks of:

Essentially, you need to think of building a 3D scene pretty much like directing a movie or photo shoot.  You’ll have to understand these key elements to make your scenes POP, or you’ll find them flat and unimpressive no matter how cool your modeling and story telling skills might be.

Produce Great Art (on a Budget)

Put simply: Produce Great Art.

Go ahead and get an education.  But don’t use that as an excuse to keep you from learning and producing now.  As Andrew Gordon, directing animator for Pixar states, “I think any art-based job is more about your portfolio and less about credentials.”

So stop thinking about it. Start making it.

But not just any art will do.  A boat load of crappy is is still… well… crappy.  You need to take the opportunity to shine.  Spyre Studios offers some great advice on this is front, starting with their first of 5 points: Don’t be that designer. Be like Pixar. Focus in quality over quantity.

In this same vein, story board artist Emma Coats from Pixar has a great list of how to do story telling the Pixar way in an article by io9.  In this article she gives 22 key points to telling a good story.  Just like understanding the basics of photography to make your work look good, you can’t discount the story telling side or you just end up with a beautiful product that no one can bring themselves to care about.

The right tools for the job:

There are a lot of ways to get started in 3D without breaking the bank.  Some tools to get you going now for free check out:

DAZ Studio – Free software for creating 3D images and videos

Autodesk 123D Apps – Several free applications for creating and capturing 3D models

Have a Solid Presence

Talking a good game, or having a nice school name behind you isn’t enough.  When it comes to art: YOU ARE YOUR PORTFOLIO.  Get out there.  Showcase your work, and make sure it’s your very best.  If you find yourself having to say, “Oh, I haven’t had a chance to update that in a while”, or “Oh my, is that still up there”, it shows that you just don’t care that much, and that you’re just not that good.  Want to prove that you should make the cut?  Make their jaws drop before then.

There are a lot of great places on the web to place your art as well, and have it showcased.  Such sites as iStockphoto.com, DeviantArt.com, and DAZ3D.com are good places to start.

Build a following.  Build a reputation.  Build a stunning portfolio.

Connect

The greatest idea in the world benefits no one if it’s never heard.  The same is true of your art, as well as your energy and passion.  Don’t expect to sit back and be “discovered”.  But likewise, don’t expect to stand out in a mountain of eager resumes.

Connect to people in the industry through your gallery.  Connect through their galleries as well.  Connect through their blogs.  Connect with them by interacting in person on panels they may be speaking on in your area.

Engage with them.  Ask them insightful questions.  Ask their opinions.  Essentially, make friends.

Pandora’s Hope blocking iPhone weather app (and filter review)

Just a quick tech tip for you out there.

I, like many of you out there, have kids that practically live on the internet.  But I new I needed to take steps to protect them from pornography.

For several years I had been running a free solution called Untangle.  Although I was relatively happy with Untangle, I did not like the fact that I needed to dedicate a computer to it.  So, recently, when my filter box died, I went looking for another solution.

I ordered (and in just couple of days received) the Pandora’s Hope filter.  It’s a very small, quiet box that is super easy to setup, and really inexpensive.  I only ran into two problems that you may want to be aware of, as they’re super easy to resolve once you know about them:

– Pandora’s hope does not seem to work if I connect it through another wifi / DHCF router.  It appears to want to connect directly to the cable modem to work.  I assume there are some packet types that most routers don’t enable by default or something.  Minor issue, but took me a while to figure out.

– Pandora’s hope seems to block the iPhone weather app.  This is also easy to resolve: Simply add “apple-mobile.query.yahooapis.com” to you whitelisted sites on the Pandor’s Hope device.

Other than these two items I have been amazed at the performance, value, and ease of setup of this device.

If I have run into one area that I hope that they do further development, it would be in the area of more granular protection on pages sucks as google images.  By default the box blocks all Google Image searches.  This is too strong for me.  But if I open up google images, it makes it so that any images will show up.  I would like to see a solution that allowed image searches, but blocked the bad ones (Untangle did not handle this very well either.)

Customer service is a lot more than just a smile

When I think of good customer service, I think of companies like In n Out Burger. They’re always so helpful, and happy.  They just make me feel good.  But I had an experience recently that literally makes my eyes tear up when I think about it.  Real customer service is a lot more, and the loyalty and ties are  a lot deeper.

So, here’s my story:

A couple of weeks ago the company I was working for took a nose-dive.  We were all out on the street with no notice.  Things have ended up very good for me, but for a week or so it was a scary time.

During that time my son got a flat tire.  Worse, his spare was split and flat as well.  Neither of the tires was salvageable.

I tried a few tire shops, and found that Discount Tire could give me a much better price than anyone else.  So I headed over.

I was working with Gary, in the Riverton Utah store.

Gary told me on the phone he could go as low as $62 for the tire.

Once I go there however, Gary noticed that the tire was a snow tire.  He told me that using a non-snow with the other tires would really impact the handling of the vehicle.  Candidly, I didn’t believe him.  I figured it’s a rear tire on a front wheel drive vehicle, and winter is pretty much over.  I asked him how much such a tire would be.  Gary answered that the cheapest he had was about $90.

Now I was sure.  He was just trying to get another $30 out of me.

I told Gary I had just lost my job, and simply couldn’t do it.  I appreciated his opinion, but would need to go with the $62 tire.

Gary charged me the $62 and got to work.

When Gary rolled out my tire, and I was that it was the more expensive winter tire that he had recommended I was shocked.  I informed him of his mistake.

Gary responded simply, “I know, but I just didn’t feel good about you driving on that other tire.”

I was so choked up I could speak.  I am still welling up as I write this.  How amazing.  Gary, and Discount Tire was willing to take a loss, even in the face of my own bull-headedness and stupidity.  they cared more for me than I did myself.

I cannot tell you how touched I am.  I am a customer for life.

Gary, thank you so much for who you are.  I hope that more of us can be like you as well.

Be a Pleasure or get Kicked to the Curb!

Let’s take a look at your relationship with your customers.  Bottom line, you are either: A pleasure to deal with, something they tolerate, or well on your way to getting kicked to the curb.

My favorite example of business is a very simple (but elegant) product called: Skitch.

Why?  It is one of the few applications, products, or processes that I deal with that is an absolute pleasure to deal with.  I love it.

As I came to realize this, it hit me:  This is what business should be.  Not just your UI.  not just your products.  In should include your Sales process, your contracts, renewals, your services, billing, human resources for new and current staff.

It encompasses EVERYTHING!

Whatever it is you do, stop looking at a spreadsheet of features and benefits.  Skitch could NEVER hold it’s own against Adobe’s Creative Suite, or even free tools like Gimp or Inkscape.  But SO WHAT?!?!  It does what it does well, and I LOVE DOING IT!

Look at your financials, look at your roadmaps, and your service comparisons.  But don’t lose these questions as you do:

– Who are our audiences? (All of them!  Staff, customers, Investors)

– What are our touch points (All of them!  billing, sales, support, product, etc.)

– IS IT A PLEASURE for our audiences to interact with us?

If not, it’s just a matter of time until someone sexier comes in the door, or some issue becomes bad enough… Then off to the curb you go.

Wanna actually leverage Facebook for sales, but not sure where to start? 4 easy steps to get there.

Most people who are in a sales capacity of any kind are salivating at the potential of Facebook.  The concept of an “audience of audiences”, where people share your message to their friends is tremendous.  But too much of the press out there about the power of Facebook doesn’t really help those sales people know what to do to get there.

The industry has gotten sales people excited about visiting the “Great and Powerful Oz”, but no one has bothered to point out the yellow brick road.

Wondering what to do?  Confused?  Well, I can’t promise that we’ll run across the Lollipop Guild on our way, but I’m happy to help you start down the path.

Step 1: Set Up a Page

You probably already know what a Facebook Page is, but just in case you don’t:

Think of it almost like a little “blog” inside Facebook.  You can have your normal Facebook account where you do your personal updates, but you can also have a Page for “Investment opportunities”, “The latest info on fitness products”, or “Electronic camera gadgets you gotta hear about”.  These are a lot like your normal Facebook usage: they show things you post there, and allow for comments from others.  But they can be more focused to a specific topic that your typical “all about me” Facebook updates.

How do you start a Page?

Log in to Facebook.  On the left Nav you’ll see “Pages” and select.  Top middle you’ll see a button to “Create a Page”.  Now just follow the steps and answer the questions.  Shazam!!  You now have a Facebook Page.  Pretty easy, right?

Step 2: Do something with it!

Okay, so you have a Page now.  But why??

Well, it’s more than just so you can hang out with the cool kids, and it’s also not so you can have your own personal little web site.  The real power of your Facebook Page is Followers.  In short: If you can get people to “like” your Page they have basically opted in to get your future messages.  What you post on your Page will be pushed out to the new streams of your followers and subscribers.

One of the easiest ways to convert people who visit your page into Followers is by having a “welcome” tab on your Page for new visitors that asks them to “like” you in order to automatically get more information in the future.  The Facebook-lingo for this is a “Default landing tab with fan-gating”.  Fan-gating basically means those people who haven’t liked you page yet see it, and other folks see something else.

An easy way to put this in place for your new Page is by installing an app on your Page called “Woobox static Iframe tab”.

When you go to install the Woobox App it was ask you to choose which page you want it on.  Just choose the Page you just created.  There ya go… it’s installed.

Now let’s make it look cool.

What you’ll need is a picture, with the text “Like this Page to be kept up to date on the latest Mortgage news” or something equally compelling, along with an arrow pointing up.  If you need help on how to do this, check out the free online tool Picnic.  A great tutorial on doing this type of thing with Picnic can be found at: http://www.sitefundamentals.com/add-text-to-picture/.

Okay, so now back over to Woobox.  In the Woobox app for you page, you will want to use this new image as your “Page Source” as well as your “Non-fan Page source.”  Now anyone who looks at your welcome tab will be prompted to Like your page, and become your long-term subscriber, bestest buddy, and (hopefully) customer.

But we have one more step, just to make sure they get to see our lovely new tab.  Go to your newly created Facebook Page.  Click “Edit Page” (up in the top right corner).  Along the left side of your screen you’ll click on “Manage permissions”.  On this screen you’ll see a drop down for “Default landing tab”.  Just select your new “welcome” tab, and save your changes.

There you go.  now anyone who goes to your Page will see the Welcome screen by default.  Once they like your Page they won’t be pushed to that tab in the future, they will just go to your wall updates.

Give yourself a pat on the back.  Well done.

Step 3: Get People to visit your Page

It doesn’t really matter if you have a Page on Facebook if no one knows you do.  So, let people know it’s there.  A few of the easiest and best ways to do this are:

  • Add it to you email signature
  • Add it to your business cards
  • Add it to your LinkedIn profile

Spread the word.  Anywhere you have your contact info should also contain your Facebook Page info.  On your web site.  On printed materials your distributed.  Commercials, ads, tattooed on your kids.  Be creative.

4- Figure out what to say

Okay, so now you have a Page, people know about it, and hopefully some of them are interested in what you have to say.  So, what to say?

The first step to answering this question is to understand and interesting dichotomy of Social messaging in general:  On the one hand, everyone strives for that coveted effect of going “viral”; to be the message that everyone wants to share with everyone.  On the other hand, efforts need to drive results.  Simply getting your content in front of the whole world doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make any sales.  Having a million people learn that your cat is cute as the dickens and dances when you turn on music is not going to make it any easier to meet your quota.

But here’s a truth: Actionable content drives results.  But coupons, offers, and the like are not shared nearly as much as “cool” little tidbits.  A mix of these two elements however, can provide a powerful content stream.  If you can provide messaging that will make your audience say, “Wow.  I didn’t realize that.  That’s pretty interesting,” you will find them likely to share it, and you will see your audience grow.  But this has got to be more than just dancing babies.  You content needs to be consistent with the topics that your audience is expecting.  If you are selling for a health-food chain, then “wow” facts that people don’t tend to realize about food is a great idea.  If your pushing your Thai Food restaurant, then amazing factoids about Thailand may well resonate with your target audience.  If you provide marketing or communications services or tools you may want to send out a link to… well heck… this article!

Now you have your audience growing.  They are interested.  They are learning, and sharing.  Now is the time to start putting in some of that actionable, sales-driving content that you really were hoping to get in front of them all along.  This will drive your sales.  This is your pay-off.

4 Things to get right so you don’t screw up your startup

Okay, so you think you want to start a company.  You have an idea, and you were able to get a couple fo other folks excited as hell about it to.  I’ve watched a lot fo startups fumble, and fail.  As I have thought through i recently, I feel that many of them could have made it if they had just kept mindful of these four points:

1- Actually know what the hell your idea is

Guess what… if you haven’t gotten any customers yet, and you have drastically “pivoted” you company half a dozen times already, then you are fooling yourself.  You are not a company.  You are not even an idea yet.  you are a group of people who are dying to do “something”, but can’t quite figure out what.  Stop playing house.  Sit down and nail your idea.  Having a technology or solution that could do X Y, or Z, and could br priced and sold in model A, B, or C doesn’t cut it.  If you can’t explain it simply and mean it you’re not a company yet.  Stop pretending.

2- Make it pleasant to use

I don’t care if you sell a product or a service.  If it can “theoretically” accomplish the task, then that sucks.  Once of my favorite products is a simple one called Skitch.  Every time I use it I say to myself “Wow.  that was easy.”  Then I smile a little.  If you are hard to work with then people won’t.  To hell wit you menu systems, your processes, etc.  Make it beyond easy… make it PLEASANT to use.

If you can’t explain how it work to your mother in law, go back to the drawing board and fix it.

3- Test your theory

Got a cool idea that no one wants to invest in?  Probably because you have no customers.  I know…. cart before the horse… You need money to build stuff first.  Well, get commitments.  Take your vision to some customers and get them to sign stating that they will buy it if you build is as outlined.  Show that you have a pipeline for your product.  If you can’t get anyone to sign, then it might be a good thing you didn’t go to all of the effort to build it.

4- Be prepared to scale

I know what you’re thinking… You’re thinking “We talked to our developer, and he assures us that this thing will scale because it’s built in the cloud and  <yadda yadda yadda>.”  Guess what… If this is your first startup, then you don’t know this yet, but I can almost assure you that even though you tink you’re building an industrial strength product or service, that you’re not.  What you haven’t learned yet is that this is really a proof of concept and will almost surely begin to crumble under your success if it start selling like you hope.

But believe it or not, that’s okay.  there is no reason to build it to scale until you prove it.  Proof on concept has a place in business.  But you need to be aware that you will need outside guidance in where your processes and products are going to fall apart.  Have these people start to advise you early on.  Don’t get disheartened when they point out your many scalability failures.  Expect it, and determine when you need to be at that scale, and work on plans to achieve it… once you have some real customers and revenue.

Finally…

I know, I said there would only be four things.  But one last concept to be mindful of: if your team is nothing other than a group of people that sit around and refine the idea, then you are in trouble.  I would point you at one of my earlier posts: Get shit done.  Just because the programmer, or account rep, or person with whatever skill set you need to actually have something to sell isn’t in your coolio business folks club doesn’t mean that he or she is not critical to your business.  You better have people who can actually do things sitting at the big-kids table and not just a bunch of folks your love to nod their heads and agree with how cool your concepts are.  Make it happen.  If you literally cannot do anything to forward your business before you have investment, then you have the wrong team for your startup.  Fix it.

Top 2 Reasons that People like Top X Lists

I have been doing a lot of investigation on some subjects recently.  One of the ways that I do that is to follow a lot of Bloggers who tend to write on the topic.  As I have done this, I find that my favorite blogs are also the ones that write in the form of the “Top X Items”.  (I tend to like 5 or less.  10 gets to long)  Why?

1- People like to skim when they read

Bottom line, I’m busy, and I don’t trust you.  I haven’t the time to read all of your drivel.  I skim emails, I let social media streams flow by, almost casually consuming bits and pieces of it.  Skimming is the new reading.  It’s why Facebook posts get read when blogs often don’t.  Get used to it.

2- Epiphanies don’t fall like rain

I hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings, but you don’t have earth-shattering insights all that often.  Odds are, you are trying to produce content, and doing so in a way that tries to convince me that you have some new insight on it.  You probably don’t.  I probably know 90% of what you’re about to tell me (just like you already knew all of the stuff you’re reading here.)  I don’t know you, I don’t trust you, and I haven’t the time to invest in watching you congratulate yourself on how smart you are.

How to do it so it works:

1- Key Points in Big Fonts – To separate it from the informational drivel.

2- Skimmable in 15 seconds – Make it so I can quickly scroll through and know what point you are hoping to make.

3- That’s all I need – If I like what I skimmed, I am going to read about 50% of the other text.  I should be able to get enough form a skim or a light read to get real value from your article.  If I have to read every little word, to actually get anything out of it, then you have failed.

Snacking is the new eating.  Micro blogging is the new blogging, which was the replacement for print.  Get used to it.  Get over it.  Move on.