Archive for September, 2005

Webzine 2005

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

I enjoyed talking at Webzine this year. I was expecting more a technical talk, which is my expertise but instead is was more of an academic discussion of culture jamming which Jack Napier is better at, I could care less about. We are not the spokescriminals for the culture of culture jamming or concepts of ‘taking back public space‘. The less ads, the less target; the fewer targets, the fewer opportunities to sneak around like a ninja and improve boards.

q: So where is the pleasure in that?
a: There isn’t any.

If you did attend, I hope you got something out of it. If there was a question you wanted to ask but didn’t have the time or because you completely missed the panel you can always contact us, but if you want to learn how to do improvements there is always our Manual {which I desperately need to update} or if you a media grad student with questions it’s best to consult our Manifesto and read our previous interviews.

Covertly Yours,
Milton Rand Kalman
BLF Chief Scientist

Information Architecture Part 2: Measuring Friendship

Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

Last time I discussed how to make accurate measurements using dimensions already posted on the board. You won’t always have that luxury so slighty different technique is used. Now you could climb up to the board and whip out a measure tape to get scale but that isn’t always feasible, though it is a good way to get a feel for the billboard before going up. I however like to get the Before shot and the size shot done at once. So much like the last HOWTO get a conspirator to take a snapshot with you and the board. Ideally you are directly beneath it or next to it on the same vertical plane for the most accurate measurement possible. Again highest resolution your camera can do, as every pixel counts.

Measuring your friendship

Now best to pull some ruler guides in Photoshop from head to toe, then use the Ruler tool to measure the distance in pixels.

I look freaky

Hopefully you know how tall you are, I happen to be 5′ 10″ or 70″, in this shot I come in at 274px. So same as last time, whip out a calculator and figure out the ratio of pixels to inches, which in this example is 3.91px/in. Now follow the rest of the step from the first HOWTO, pulling the Ruler Tool across the width of the board and the art you want to improve using the ratio to figure out how large the improvement art must be.

Now some of you might notice that this board hasn’t been improved by us. Yet. Bet you’re wondering what we’re going to do, dunno, why don’t you just fill in the blank {cough}. Suggest you get on our RSS feed to see the posting the moment it happens

Ronald McEnglish & the BLF

Thursday, September 22nd, 2005

There were about seven ops on the ground:Milton & C.J. briefing them, radio checks, walk thrus of the subject location a block away, etc. Perhaps 20 clowns showed up, most were Ronalds though there were two or three Hamburglars; five or six folks with cameras or note pads were hanging out as well, notably the retired BLF web-master, Conrad Hoc, Phoenix & Jonny A up from LA. The lovely miss Katy B, clown/perv extraordinaire was the clown wrangler. We massed along the shaded edge of the field just to the left after passing through the stalactite tunnel (oldest concrete bridge in America, by the way) just beyond the end of Haight St. at Stanyan. The van was parked two blocks up on Frederick St. On top, under canvases were two bigger than life-sized metal frame & plaster figures. One was a sinister six-five Ronald McDonald holding a plump hamburger in his left hand. The other was a kneeling, freckle-faced corpulent child. The figures were made by three fabulous local artists in a singular collaboration with BLF and NY artist Ron English. Violet Crumble (costumer for The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence) designed and stitched the beautiful costumes, mad impresario DPX (with a little help from me) made the skeletal metal frames for both figures & he perfected the animatronic motion of Ronalds arm & last but not least the lovely, talented Mizz Emma Bonny Peel fabricated the figures & their faces & hands, did the finish work and fitted Violets costumes. The singular genius of Mr. English provided us with a remarkable 24 x 10 foot paper image for the back board.

When I’m planning a major advertising campaign, one fraught with peril, the chance of apprehension & possible injury, I become obsessive about absorbing the sense of space surrounding the target location. I am compelled to commune with the genius loci of the billboard. I’m naturally paranoid & more than a bit neurotic about such things. I visited the location dozens of times, day & night in the fortnight prior to the scheduled Memorial Day hit. I developed a feel for foot & motor traffic patterns, shopping schedules – peak hours & slack times (the hit was to be on a board in the Cala-Foods parking lot.) I observed the activities and patterns of the local constabulary (Park Police Station is 1-1/2 block away!) and kept an eye out for any passing Viacom trucks (they “own” the board we had chosen.) Everything was cool. I thought that with the freaky Haight St. crowd of rockers/bums/hippies/shoppers/tourists, no one would notice our work of papering over the old ad until the final seconds when we lifted the 3D figures up and clamped them onto the board. Even so, I gave us a 40-60 chance of pulling the hit off in broad daylight without being popped. Caution? Paranoia? Reason? three things to brush aside if you are stupid enough to try & do what were planning.

So, everything was great. The hit was on for Monday the 30th, Memorial Day at 1PM. The Thursday before around 8AM, I strolled up Haight from a swell breakfast at The Pork Store and had just lit a Swisher Sweet cigar (notice the product & vendor placement?) when I came in view of our intended target. There were two Viacom cranes and a pickup truck at the site. The top board was swinging from the end of one of the cranes & the bottom board (the one WE had chosen!) had a pick on it from the second crane & a signman was oxy-acetyline torching through its I-beam supports!!!! I choked on my cigar – they were removing the board we had planned for months to improve with our own ad celebrating McDonalds 50th. Ron English was in from NYC. Clowns & spy guys were in training. We had made these damn beautiful, expensive figures. We had associates from out of town to film. We were completely geared up for the most ambitious hit since our neon Joe Camel board in 1996! And Viacom was de-installing our billboard! I had an alternate board in mind on Upper Market in the Castro. It wasn’t nearly as good and there wasn’t a high volume McDonalds store directly across the street like there was at the Cala-Haight location. I really wanted the Haight St. board. Really. We were doomed. I wondered: were they permanently removing the board(s)? They were, after all literally removing the entire structure, not merely the plywood backboards. No, no they couldn’t be. It was so, so difficult for a company, even one as omnipotent as Viacom to get a new permit for outdoor ads in the commie anti-commerce bureaucracy of the SF Planning Dept. that they would NEVER voluntarily abandon a high profile neighborhood board like this one. I guessed – I hoped they were merely replacing the old rusted, funky super-structure with a new one. If that were the case, could they finish in 3-4 days prior to Memorial Day? I kept my fears to myself, my fingers crossed & came back several times over the next few days observing the progress of their work. As it turns out they finished the job by Saturday. Two days to spare. A brand spanking new, shiny, clean, sharp VIRGIN billboard was now in place. Our ad would be the first. There would be no others before us. Oh frabjous Day! Calous, Calais! No lost revenue for our corporate sponsors. No crappy dirty substrate to apply to. No future argument that we were somehow impeding commerce by “borrowing” the board! Bwahahahahaha!!!!

Even so, I figured our chances of pulling it off in broad daylight with a crew of dozens, a block from the cop shop & across the street from the highest volume Mc-E-dees in Frisco were less than 50/50.

Walking from the Park to the van was one of THOSE moments. My life has always been informed and inspired by adventure film, pulp and weird fiction and B-horror movies. There were four of us. Ron English. One of my heroes. He & Mark Pauline (on the ground crew) of SRL fame (an early billboard improver) are the two hardest working, most talented, obsessive, brilliant and child-like artists I have ever had the great good fortune to know and work with. Ron is, among many other art talents a ONE MAN BILLBOARD CYCLONE. His work has NO parallels. These guys are the real deal. Real art heroes in a world of mewling. puking, sucking, boot-licking gallery commerce. They take serious chances and (have) paid the consequences for real. Jail time, injury, censure. THATS what art should be about. Beauty, fear, all that – forged in the crucible of TRUE RISK

Also on board was old friend Louis Cyphier. A man to be trusted in all circumstances. One hell of a co-conspiritor. Always has your back. Good high man. The ladies love him too.

Rounding off our install team was Freeman T. – Rock solid tradesman. Unparalleled Art installer. Calm, capable, a true white gloves tradesman of the highest order.
What a team.

Walking to the van on our way to the hit I had a moment of genuine cinematic synesthesia. We smelled of the sweat of fear. Our resolve in the face of near certain detection, defeat, capture and imprisonment was total. Like Pike Bishop, Lyle & Tector Gorch & Dutch Engstrom, we strode steadily to a near certain fate…more later.

And don’t forget to come see Popaganda, the Life & Crimes of Ron English at the Red Vic Movie House this Friday or Saturday night. The finale of this hilarious, thought provoking film biography of Ron Englisht is the 50th McDonalds billboard described in this post. It is a must see.

Information Architecture

Wednesday, September 21st, 2005

So you might be wondering, how does the BLF make improvement look so good? Well matching the existing artwork seamlessly helps the ‘wow’ factor immensely. Today I’m going to show you how we created the Johnny Walker art.

First, we need blank shot of the board for measurements, a good way to shoot a board without looking like you’re shooting a board is to have a subject in front and aim over the shoulder. Preferably the shot is straight on and not closely cropped to the billboard frame, it reduces the chance of a miscalculation due to lens distortion. Just take lots of shots, and do several exposures so you get one shot that accurately represents the real color of the board.

Under that Gaussian blur is a handsome operative

Well lookie, lookie here. Measurements already on the board. A lot of billboards are adding this to the catwalks as it makes it easier for salesfolk to point out the sizes to clients. This is not always the case, next BLF technique I will discuss how to get measurements when you don’t have the luxury of Clear Channel spelling it out for you.

So 12′ x 25′ is the size, lets figure the ratio of photo inches (works for pixels too) to actual inches using the Ruler Tool (I) of Photoshop.

A kind and fair ruler

We get a measurement of 2.815 in.. Know your algebra and don’t forget to cancel out units, (25 ft x12 in/ft)/2.815 in is ~106.57, and this is the ratio we’re going to use to finish the art. Next we build a mockup using the same photograph, measure that, just don’t scale the images afterwards or it will change the ratio. But first, let’s get some other important info from this photo, namely the typeface and color. How do we match the typeface, that’s not always easy. 9 times out of 10 the font is Helvetica or Garamond because there are a lot of lazy designers out there. This was not the case with Johnny, it was an non mainstream font I had to spec and my favorite method is using WhatTheFont at Submit as snippet of the file to the site and it will analyze the letter shapes to guess the typeface. WhatTheFont accurately named a typeface I didn’t have, so I went with it’s second guess, TradeGothic LH (extended)

Using the eyedropper tool I get an approximate CMYK value of C5 M15 Y100 K0. Now I create a mockup to match the letter size. First type the existing phrase “Responsibly” in the correct font and color, and then scale up till it matches the original size, you might want to reduce the transparency of the new text so you can see them ‘sync’ up. Once the two version match up, select your text and retype it using the ‘improvement’ phrase and measure the result with the ruler tool again not forgetting to measure enough to cover the original text!

Drink Up, Shriner!

According to my calculations and the boys down at the lab, I need a 60″ wide piece of art with the type at 391pt. I create this art in Illustrator, as vector artwork scales without distortion or file size change. Now just appropriate your employer’s Xerox 5252 after everyone has gone home or make friends with the night manager at Kinkos. Load up some 12 x 18 card stock and start printing, if you don’t have card stock just print to regular weight and spray mount to a heavy weight cardboard sheet.

Tada! Your next improvement will fit like a glove.

Next lesson: Measuring boards using Agents and Operative as meter sticks

The Lord of War

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

Click for a larger copy
We didn’t do this, but we salute Citizens for the Betterment of Billboards’ Bored of War project who did and will always post any submissions to our site. The CBB criminals artists have bettered a billboard early this morning right above my favorite bar, Zeitgeist at Duboce and Valencia. Sign of the times indeed.

Click for a larger copy
Note the pointillism picture of Dear Leader is made of bunch of a-holes photos, I do hope there is a couple goatse shots in there. I wonder if someone should contact Chuck Close‘s lawyer? Tipping the black hat to Carrie Fuener for snapping shots of this magnificant piece of work. click on photos for larger versions.

Welcome Boing Boing Users

Monday, September 19th, 2005

We have just added WordPress to our site and haven’t quite geared up writing much yet, but get on our RSS feed to keep up-to-date on our activities. If you would like us to discuss something on the site us our contact page and suggest a topic for us to discuss.

And don’t forget if you’re in the SF Bay Area stop by the Red Vic this Friday or Webzine and say hello and learn our secret handshake.

covertly yours,
Milton Rand Kalman

ps. we don’t really have a secret handshake.

Jack Speaks

Friday, September 16th, 2005

Well, the damn blog is up now (thanks Milton!) and so there is no excuse for not writing some drivel or other – got bully pulpit, should use. I painfully drag my aging ego up the tech stairway one step at a time; up, forcing myself to at least try and stay current with last years (or the years before) new communication tools. Typing was a tough one. I avoided it for years. Didn’t take it in high school; avoided needing it much for work.. back in the day a sign man didn’t need to type in order to communicate. Then there was the personal computer. I rationalized why I would never need one. I thought I had a pretty good argument. It crumbled (my luddite stance) slowly over time. First there were ever expanding email requirements for certain work related situations. Then I discovered that inbetween the 95% useless stuff on the internet you could actually use it as a research tool. Then I discovered you could look at naked women for free. Shit. Cell phones came along – no brainer- I got one pretty early, not much after getting the first computer. Communication became more unavoidable over time: tribe, friendster, fiendster… these non-essential communication avenues I’ve avoided. I can only communicate so much. This blog thing, I’ll give it a try, I suppose. I’ve been told that I can tell a story. I have a few. Billboard work has it’s moments of entertaining absurdities as well as the odd moment of terror or catharsis. More later. -Jack

Welcome to the Billboard

Wednesday, September 14th, 2005

Sorry had to reinstall WordPress, a couple more installs and I should have the hang of this.

So I’ve converted the BLF site to a WordPress blog, this way our minions and followers don’t have to keep rechecking to see if we’ve done something new, improvements will appear here and in the RSS feed. Jack Napier and I are looking forward to writing regularly about culture jamming, ‘improvements’ and featuring art that has been submitted to us.

Also I want to mention our upcoming apperance at the Red Vic Movie House on September 23rd and 24th. Jack Napier and I will host a Q&A on Friday and Jack alone on Saturday, after the showing of our co-conspirator Ron English‘s documentary Popaganda.

I will also be making an apperance at Webzine2005, sitting in on the “Culture Jamming in the Post-9/11 Mindset” panel. Hope to see you there.