Job Talk Archives

Keep it ‘K’ute…

Or why COOL and KID-FRIENDLY aren’t always easy to bring together…

I want to look at something that plagues me every day at my job.  Its the crux of every design problem we tackle and is almost always the difference between what we produce being lame or fun.  The question is;  How do we make cute kid-friendly stuff without sacrificing on radical zazz?!

Background (read this to the party before the adventure begins):  I work at a video games company, Kiz Studios.  We make games for kids roughly ages 8-14.  That’s a WIDE demographic when you start thinking about what kids are into at either end of that spectrum.  Considering a game like SMASHMUCK CHAMPIONS you can see how that’s especially challenging.  There has to be at least one champ to appeal to every potential user within that spread.  As fast as kids are growing and their interests are changing that’s a lot of ground to cover.


About Smashmuck:

I know I’ve been posting snippets from time to time about this thing.  We’ve been cranking stuff out at ludicrious speed for not quite 6 months and there is already plenty to show off.  And I’m responsible for posting most of the other sneak peeks on the Facebook page that you all need to go like if you want in on the Beta news that is rapidly approaching!

Here’s the totally-officious description:

SmashMuck Champions is a free-to-play arena combat game that combines intense action, player skill and strategy. Players build their own SmashMuck teams, training and customizing some of the toughest muck monsters, robots and creatures on Planet Muck. Then they send their Champions into battle, joining up to ten players in one of four action-packed game types. Combat is fast-paced and easy to learn, with tons of unique skills, weapons and attacks that you can master on your way to becoming the next SmashMuck Champion.

If you want to comment on the video or subscribe to the Smashmuck Champions channel I encourage you to jump over to YouTube and do so!


Back on topic!

There are a few basic Kid-friendly tenants we have to abide by when makin’ the arts:

  • No Guts, No Gore: Pretty straight forward. 
  • No Blood:  E for Everyone actually permits animated blood, but we didn’t want to go this far down the violence rabbit hole.
  • No Scary:  This one gets tricky, but there is a line; lookin’ at you fleshy-robot-doom monster.
  • No Adults: Its a world of only kids and monsters and fun stuff.
  • Cartoon Violence Only:  You clobber somebody with a mallet stars WILL swirl around their head. 

When I got really involved and stopped pushing the envelope and tryed to just unwrap it and build a paper airplane to fly away on (I was trying to put a pipe-smoking monkey that talked like Harvey Firestein in the world out of boredom) we settled on a few more guidelines:

  • MORE ZAZZ:  My basic rule for art, period.  (apparently comma, then period.)  No kids in blue jeans please, give her a jetpack, etc.
  • No Guns:  I broke this rule eventually (but only because another rule let me), but all of my original weapons designs were hodge-podged appliances and goofy stuff.  Fun, cool, deadly enough to take down the monster and robots you’d encounter; which brings us to
  • No Kid v Kid Violence:  Obviously something to avoid.
  • Monster and Robots have no Souls:  Even the ones with personalities; so take out that aggression kid.  Here’s a baseball bat.  This is when I gave Blitz a gun, because he could shoot monsters and robots with it.

The bullet points make sense, and most every wrinkle can be ironed out if you extrapolate them.  But what does it mean for Smashmuck?  These won’t outright solve the problem.  There is a difference between cute pokemon that nobody likes and AWESOME pokemon that still manage to be cute, amiright?

Well if you’re familiar with the Muck Critters from Planet Muck previously they’d only been seen as mischief makers and the lowliest footsoldiers of our sinister villain.  They’re certainly cute and have all the cartoon ‘gumby’ properties (being made of sticky mud) you want to let them do just about anything; but, they’re completely devoid of individuality.  That’s just not interesting enough in a MOBA setting like Smashmuck.  There is also the ESSENTIAL need to make every Champ cool enough a user will want to play with them, their unique skills, powers and playstyle.  A good self check is, “Would this make a sweet action figure?”

So put one on top of a slobbering death-muck-chicken and give him a minigun.  Solved?

 Smashmuck Champions Promo Art - Blitz





















Off the top of my head Blitz has the only traditional gun in the universe.  I really wanted to avoid pointing something and pulling a trigger; so everything prior has been a crank or a switch or a toaster…  You get the idea.  Its just a horribly violent connotation.  But, the perspective of the Smashmuck camera (yes, the position of the camera makes a huge difference… think about it, you aren’t really aiming anymore when you’re looking down from above) and the fact he is a monster battling other monsters and robots in a crazy American Gladiators sport makes this ok.

There are some pretty intimidating Champs lurking in the background in this one.  And I find that is really the sweet spot for “scary” stuff.  If the lights were all on, we’d laugh at these guys.  But under or backlight them, let them loom up out of the shadows and they should be rather intimidating.   Scuttlemuck is a pretty good example of this.  Up close his snarling shark face could be pretty spooky but from a distance the pear-shaped body reads as pretty nonthreatening.  The most monstrous champs tend to get the least threatening body shapes.  Here’s another example:

Smashmuck Champions Promo Art - Brutus and Scathe 










Scathe, the Muck Dragon, sticks to the script.  I also went without arms, it gives him a sort of helplessness that he can’t pick stuff up easily.  Keeping him looking a bit like an old man is also sort of disarming (puns?!) or extra creepy depending on how you feel about old people.  Use your ‘magination and picture a Skyrim dragon (timely!)  and then Pete’s Dragon (disney!).  Scathe is definitely in between the two on the Rock N’ Roll <-> Dangerously Tame scale.  I think that’s essential for the longevity of the character’s appeal as a player moves through the agerange of the demo.

Brutus, the gladiator, is the most classic looking warrior character.  V-shaped torso, helmet that mostly covers his face for that edgy cool, tall boots…  But the sword isn’t sharp.  Its just a square stick of metal.  I figure nobody has the balls to tell him he’s doing it wrong (pre-pubesence jokes?), and he really makes up for it with enthusiasum regardless. Brutus also just skirts the bottom line of having enough “stuff” to be interesting. To keep that cartoony vibe you have to exercise a lot of restraint and not overwhelm a character. Gears of War armor would not fly, it wouldn’t matter if Micky Mouse was underneath all that.  The Rumblebots we see getting served here focus on the sporty undercurrent of the carnage.

I don’t know a better way to discuss this than with some light analysis/commentary on a couple of these illustrations and concepts but its one of the trickiest design issues I’ve run into.  Its a fine line with lots of pitfalls, but where exactly that line is really boils down to the world/universe you’re working in and what rules apply there, the same as with ANY concept you may be tackling.  There are days I absolutely miss drawings guns, dinosaurs, cowboys, sorcereress chicks, etc. and balancing a successful and zazzed up concept with kid-friendly boundaries takes some getting used to.  A point for point or step by step guide would be a small tome of information.  I do get asked for that sort of thing, along with “how can I learn how to draw good” a lot.  A LOT. 

I hope you all enjoyed a little peek behind the Smashmuck curtain. Stay tuned for more insights and cool stuff. Keep Smashing!



Books but no coffee table…

I bought this RADICAL book! 

Edward S. Curtis; Visions of the First Americans 


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I highly recommend it if you’re one of those people who buys sweet picture books… which if you’re serious about this stuff you should be.  The internet is not a substitute for lots of books.  Even in design pow-wows passing a book around increases the probability of “happy accidents” tremendously compared to emailing a pic.

I love Native American imagery, they lay the culture on so thick you almost can’t stand it at times.  It goes too far and I like that.

I saw a really sweet looking book about the development of the P-51 Mustang.  I might have to pick that up.


Selling tiny stuff…

allen white raccoon racoon wizard

Most of the trick with this here Mouse Game stuff is selling the scale.  Everything is tiny, but we’re looking at it through equally tiny eyes.  When we started all this I did some… math… and decided 2m in game space was equivalent to 4″ in good ol’ RL.

I even got so carried away I made a little cardboard Mouse and took photos of him around my apartment, approximating the game camera position.  It’s important to get your head wrapped around what reads as tiny and what is not gigantic.  The Coon Wizard here is very large for our game, but even the threads on the various bits of his head-wear have to seem appropriately large in order to sell the scale. 

This whole issue will be a gigantic texturing headache at some point.  Gogogadget decal maps!

I am not a rigger.

allen white rat guard rigging

But rig I must.

Seriously, if you want to get a job as an animator learn to rig.  It seems to be an under-appreciated skill, which is odd as its totally essential to the process.  I can’t really wrap my brain around animators primarily working with the animation dummy models that are pretty much just skeletons.  It seems like such a cop out, artistically.

I couldn’t get behind such a narrow education.  Art and design are about solving problems, if you only have one approach you’ll be a poor problem solver.  Color me skeptical.

I’ve said this to a lot of applicants but I’ll repeat it…  If you want a job the more skills you are good at in addition to the job you’re applying to the easier you are to hire.  This should be agiven for Concept Artists because people that can “draw” are a dime a dozen, and competing for one of the sexiest jobs there is.  You really have to earn this kind of gig and the more bang you give me for my buck the easier the sell. 

As always it boils down to overwhelming your customer with your value.

I picked up the new D&D Essentials Dungeon Master Kit.

I’m sort of underwhelmed.  It feels like 85% fluff and 15% charts and tables.  You can’t just go buy the old 4th ed. DMG and expect to get any mileage.  Despite Wizards stance this is not a new edition, almost all of the rules have been errata’d.  The races changed, the classes changed.  If that isn’t a new edition I don’t know what is.

Truly I’m in the “I don’t care if its a new edition” crowd.  I was terrified by the AD&D to 3rd jump, but 4th was fantastic and although I feel like its darn near perfect I trust the D&D crew to keep turning out solid products.  I’m sure its a marketing/PR decision in the end and the design team is just playing the cards they’re dealt.

Let’s get off that tangent.

The book is great if you’ve NEVER DM’d.  But for me its a drag.  You really only need the encounter balance charts and the treasure calculation chart.  The selection of magic items is VERY short (15 pages).  The Rules Compendium is a better buy.  You get no monsters except what comes packed in the 2 short adventures.  With the Monster Vault not coming out for another month this is a bummer.  You can find a million unboxing videos on the interwebs if you’re super curious and want the whole run-down.


Breaking the new tablet in…

Sat down for the maiden voyage and realized none of the hotkeys were set the way I wanted them.

Then found I actually didn’t know what my tablet was setup like at the office so I had to try and paint, ignoring the fact they were wrong so I could figure out what was what.  Creatures of habit.

Slammed this down real fast.  Been thinking about re-reading Tarantula if I can find my copy…

Bob Dylan ; allen white

It’s randomly cross-hatchy, go figure.

Super-Secret-News: Drawing sweet robots at work.

More as it develops!


Check Boxes, always up to something…

The blog now boasts shiny new Categories which should help people look for specific info down the road.  You won’t have to sort through all the miasma, but the posts will all still read like I’m a raving lunatic so good luck.

A brand new Intuos 4 XL should be arriving today.  I suspect it will make at least most of my dreams come true.

I always get a lot of questions from would-be tablet owners about what’s the right tablet to buy.  Oddly enough Wacom doesn’t have a total corner on the market and since they’ve added the Bamboo line everything is fuzzy about what you need.  The Cintiq invariably comes up as well.

Here are my shopping criteria:

1) It has to be gigantic

Why?!  Well, I draw ALL day.  When I leave the office I come home and draw.  I’ve been doing this since highschool and its just about destroyed my arm with repetitive stress.  The bigger your drawing surface the more you draw with your arm and not your wrist and fingers which allows you to really marathon on your tablet comfortably.  A bigger tablet makes it much easier to letter (write) on your artwork as well.  Concepts require a lot of labels so this is important for me.  Scale alone really narrows the field for me in a hurry.

2) The Cintiq is so pretty!

I know, and they’re wonderful, but there are a couple things I don’t like.  First is the price.  They’re wicked expensive, like almost a new computer expensive. 

Second, and this is probably the biggest for me, is your hand is on the screen.  I’ve been using a tablet forever so the hand-eye coordination thing isn’t a thought for me at all.  But I’m sure for people just getting into the game drawing in a more traditional manner is a godsend.  I prefer to have my hand comfortably out of my field of view.  There are a couple guys at the office that swear by them, so I can’t say the Cintiq is a bad choice- It’s just not my choice.

3) Wacom or no?

Wacom is the industry standard.  The Intuos and Cintiq lines are made for artists.  I’ve never used another tablet brand and I never plan on it because the Wacom’s have always delivered (even back on the models that connected via serial).  When it comes to art supplies you get what you pay for, and when something works I never have any desire to shop around.

4) How does the 4 compare to older Intuos models?

Night and day, the 4 is light-years better.  The new Touch Ring allows for some very intuitive on the fly nib adjustments (I wish photoshop would add rotation already) as well as zoom and layer cycling.  Along with the hotkeys all the features are customizable and the LED displays let you know what each button does and can be calibrated application to application so what you need is always handy.  This is a big deal for me going back and forth between Bodypaint (where I want some 3d navigation controls) and Photoshop (where I need more tool options).  If that doesn’t sell you, the sensitivity and pen weight (SO light) alone were enough to make the upgrade worth it for me.

5) Conclusion

The Intuos 4 XL is the stealth bomber of tablets.  That is to say it is the pinnacle of science and sorcery.  I’m pretty sure every single one contains the soul of a dark god.  How else do you explain the fact the pen doesn’t need batteries?!

Bonus Thoughts for folks starting out with a tablet!

1)  Switch your pen nib out for a felt tip (they’re in the pen holder, twist it open!).  This will give you a little more resistance and be closer to drawing with a pencil on paper.

2) Get or make some good painterly brushes to improve the quality of your work.  I should be uploading a few I’ve made over the years soon.

3) Always revise your hotkeys on the tablet to find exactly what you need.  The less time you spend reaching for the keyboard the faster you will paint.  Every little bit helps.

4) The higher the opacity you can paint with the better.  Let the pen do the work for you and adjust the sliders less.  Again this is about speed, but it also has a look I prefer, so your mileage may vary.  I like the spring loaded nib to help give you a little more pressure range.


I try to be helpful…

Occasionally (always) I get asked what I’m looking for in a portfolio. 

Usually (always) I say, “It depends on the position.”

Generally (again, always) its about a Concept Artist position.  Because its more or less the Holy Grail of art jobs.

Every Concept Artist job post read more or less between the lines something like:

Responsibilities:  Make crap up.  Get paid. 

Rock and roll.

Aside: I know I said I’d talk about game design stuff but this came up again for the second day straight and its on my brain.  The design stuff is a big tangled web of stuff I’ve written down in a lot of different places I need to coalate and it won’t make any sense if I just brain barf it at you.  It’s not a complicated issue but I’ve never “taught” it so its not in any order out of context…


I’ve reviewed almost every artist portfolio that has come in the door at Kiz since I started,  as such I’ve seen a LOT of Concept Artist apps.  There are a few things I look for specifically in a Concept Artist, and while they may seem simple they are key.

1. Variety of style and genre:  While I like to see at least one group or series of elements from the same story make sure you include at least a few different looks.  If the studio you’re applying to does a lot of varied titles (assuming video games here) show breadth, if they focus on one style give them that style.  Personally I want to see breadth regardless, especially if its all really good, because I want capable artists.

2. Solid anatomy:  Characters are the least important part of your portfolio anyway if you’re starting out.  The senior artists will be handling almost, if not all, of the character work as characters tend to be fewer and further between than environments and props.  As such, nothing irritates me more than weak or derivative anatomy (looking at you anime).  Do all your characters look the same?  Work on it.

3.  Good hand:  By hand I mean the way an artist draws/paints/makes marks.  This is different from style, and while the two do mutate each other from piece to piece an artist with a strong hand is more confident in the basic creation process so less energy is invested in the execution.  This isn’t really a right/wrong issue but it certainly factors into how I judge a portfolio. 

Ok, those are pretty straight forward and honestly you’d expect them in any portfolio along with the usual, keep it simple, only your best work, etc guidelines.  And I expect everyone to have a handle on those, because your classrooms and the entire internet are full of suggestions on these things.  So here’s the nitty-gritty…

The key to being a good concept artist, and what you have to get across in your portfolio is good ideas.

It just isn’t good enough to be able to draw.  Everyone can draw, the industry is full of artists that can draw.

My mentor, Tyler Tunney, used the word ‘solutions’ for this same issue.  He wanted to see how you’d resolved the problems in a given task and turned them into strengths.  This sort of thing is particularly an issue in theatre design where you have so many physical limitations, but they certainly come into play in game design as well.

Richard Tyler Tunney

As a concept artist, more than in any other position in the art pipeline, you are the first line of problem solving.  A critical thinking brain is essential and any way you can communicate how smart you are helps your case.

Perhaps the most important mantra Tyler drilled into my head… one I’ve more or less hijacked and recycled daily during my time at Kiz… is “Go too far.”

I’ve retranslated that into, “Give it more zazz.” 

If the script/design-doc/story/whatever calls for a large robot; the correct answer is not a robot one head higher than a man.  That robot should be three-four stories tall, with extra arms, shooting fire, in space, at a mutant octopus.  You see where I’m going.  (I smell a really sweet remake of the Odyssey!)

Darth Vader is not just a guy in a black hat twirling his mustache.  He’s a cyborg-samurai of death and evil.  He has zazz.

It’s not uncommon for me, when working with less experienced artists or artists I haven’t work with much, to say something to the effect of, “Make this so crazy it looks wrong.  And then make it crazier.  That’ll be just good enough for me.” 

Does that sound insane?  Yes.  Does it work?  Every time.

I have been working on some sketches for additional characters for the Mouse Game.  I’m still weak on what the story is going to look like but this is giving me some chess pieces to start swinging around cosmogonic space and its starting to take more shape. 

The Hero definitley needs a second costume for after his rebirth.  I’m actually a little surprised about how “feely” this project has turned out as I generally have everything in my head very quickly.  I’ll post sketches soon.

Venture Bros. 4.2-4 airs tonight.  I’m stoked. 

I have coffee to keep me up because I’d much rather sleep off my sorrow about the Colts. 



It’s getting around to graduation time for you college kids so all this portfolio advice stuff rattling around in my head seems timely. 

No news or show and tell today.  Believe me, I’m disappointed too.  I am scrounging together research for some environments to go with the mouse warrior I posted earlier so keep a lookout for some really rough doodles and lighting studies in the near future.

The Job Fair

Since these applications are the bulk of the materials I go through and I have had experience standing in lines at these things too I think it makes sense to just follow the entire process through from start to finish.

We’ve already talked about Passion.  So you’ve looked yourself in the mirror, had epiphanies, gotten it together and you’ve worked your butt off for a few years.  Congrats now you get to look for a job so you can work your butt off forever.  Fortunately for you art is a pretty sexy career path (No, you don’t get to play WoW all day, all you posers can settle back down).

Job Fairs are like Speed Dating.  Ideally the school’s given you a list of the companies that will be present that’s at least half accurate and you have a couple in mind you HAVE to wait in line for and otherwise you’ll see who shows up.  Generally you have no idea who you’ll be talking to (Art Director, Hiring Manager, HR Grunt, etc.) or exactly what the company is looking for or if they’re just present to keep their rapport with the school for when they are genuinely hiring.

Most students approach the Job Fair with the intent of getting a job.  You’re doomed to disappointment if this is your goal.  Odds are the person who will hire you isn’t in the building at all. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, Job Fairs are also a good place to get some legit portfolio review if you do manage to get to talk to Artists or Hiring Managers.  If you’re talking to and HR person just be excited.  Excitement is important, more on this later.  If you’re goal is just to get the emails of the Art Directors so you can follow up, that is a

I advise you to set a reasonable goal for yourself that isn’t “get a job.”  A good goal is to make sure you’re leave behind makes it into the box labeled; GOOD. And not the trash.  A lot of stuff doesn’t make it out of the building.  Or your goal could be just to get the emails of the Art Directors you talk to so you can follow up.  If you’re an underclassmen go to the Job Fair for practice at failure.  Seriously, accept that you’re too young and underskilled and everyone is going to shoot you down.  You’ll still get good feedback and you’ll remember what not to do. 

The first Job Fair I went to I dropped something as soon as I started my pitch to EVERYONE I talked to.  Ravensoft, Lucas, Pixar, you name it I was bending over or stooping down to retrieve something.  I am not a clumsy person either.  It was an absolute train wreck, it was rad.  Walking back to my car afterwards the only thing I could think was, “Could be worse, I could have been ‘qualified but retarded’ instead of just retarded.”

To be perfectly honest with you I am not good at Job Fairs.  I do not elevator pitch well.  My background is in Theatre Design, which being the grand-daddy of storytelling, has a very unique way of approaching design.  I’ve always said Video Games blend a very powerful level of audience interraction and cinematic potential that surpasses Film and Theatre.  Combined with- 

I’ve melted the mind of some poor HR person and I’m not even into the meat of it yet.  All she wanted to hear was “Well, gee, I’ve always loved art and playing computer games and it just seems like it’d be the best of both worlds, which would be swell.”  Or something.  The first thing an HR person will ask you is “What Games do you play?” or “What’s your favorite (insert our company here) game?”  My response was always something along the lines of, “I don’t play many games anymore, I’m too busy working.”  Which is genuine but doesn’t match their script of correct answers.  Also, don’t dwell on the portfolio feedback of these folks too much.  Art is subjective, and they are not artists.

Most importantly be excited.  If you’re not into it, believe me I was not into after applicant #5, and you’re number #1262 and we can just skip it.  If you get jittery, yawn, it’s psychosomatic and will calm you down by fooling your body into thinking its tired.  I like to pop altoids nonstop in addition to this.  But when you step up to the plate be excited about accomplishing your goal.  Be honest about what you want.  The Job Fair is youre first chance to start overwhelming potential employers with your value.  You only have a few minutes, nowhere near enough time to get a job but enough time to lay the foundations for solid follow ups.

Go for feedback.  Go for contacts.  Do not go for a job.  Don’t try to sell yourself to what you think the employer is looking for.  Jobs are a lot like dating.  It is a relationship, and both parties need to be satisfied for things to work out.  You can interview them as much as they interview you.  Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions up front, it will make you memorable.  The Job Fair is your first chance to start overwhelming potential employers with your value. You only have a few minutes, nowhere near enough time to get a job but enough time to lay the foundations for solid follow ups.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about Leave Behinds!  Oft overlooked and undervalued but worth so much more than a crummy DVD case.

Almost Respectable…

A post a month is hardly going to fill this blog.  But I suppose its better than nothing. 

It’s only a matter of time before all you nutty art students desperate for jobs find me here so I will start talking to you now beause you will appear and ask me what it takes to get a job. 

I know you will. 

It happened today. 

Made me feel old, but also full of terrible dark mysteries, as if I could see beyond.  Which is fun, so thanks. 

I’m assuming if you’re reading this you have a jist of my role at KizToys.  Not that I’m a big deal, but let’s be frank this isn’t exactly ArtOrder.  You surely sought this thing out or click EVERYTHING that your “friends” like on Facebook.  But just in case I am the Lead Concept Artist.  And lately have the wonderful responsibility of responding to the Concept Artist Applicants most of which are from the recent SCAD Job Fair.

I’ve been asked for feedback and advice a couple times now, so over the next couple days I’ll be posting some suggestions, tips, guidelines, ramblings, etc. about getting an art job.

Step 1: Passion

I don’t want you to run away from the cliche, it’s important.  This starts way before interview time.  If you’re serious, deadly serious, this had better start before Art College too or you are screwed.

I don’t mean screwed.  But you’ve really gotta bust it at that point if you want to catch up.  I easily see well over several hundred artist portfolios for art jobs all over the studio every time we go to just SCAD’s job fair.  That’s several hundred from just one school for maybe 3-6 positions. 

You have to really want it.  You have to want that job more than those other several hundred people, several thousand, the universe, you get the point.  Concept Artist in particular is the holy grail of art jobs, so stay after it.  Figure out whatever gets you pumped because you have to be able to come to work every day and churn out sketch after sketch after painting and the sooner you figure out how to shake off a slump the better off you’ll be.

In my experience the world is full of people who like the idea of things.  For example; a lot of game design students “want” to work as 3d artists, but really they just like the idea of being a 3d artist and truely want to play World of Warcraft. 

What do you want?

Don’t try to fool employers either, believe me, your portfolio says everything.

More tomorrow!

I’m not sure how I manage to talk myself into coming home and working more, when I know my arm can’t hold up for the whole week doing that.  But I still do it.

Knocked this out over the weekend.  The Lead Designer and I are huge Team Fortress 2 buffs and we were talking about putting this thing in for the community content contest.  Unfortunately I think we’re distracted by other projects already so this probably won’t make it off the page.
Second, I finally put an arm on this rotation so its hot to trot as they say.
Finally, I started this for a contest over on another blog, but I can never get things like this done in time so I’m chipping away at it along with my current freelance gig.

More as it develops!