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With this site we endeavour to share with you some of the projects were working on, and give you the opportunity to get some in depth knowledge about them.

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Cut and Polish, Making Figures Shine

Weddingfig
Custom Lego Minifigure extra-large groom designer toy paint and stickers

The extra-large Lego wedding minifigures are coming together nicely with all parts glued, prepped, and primed. There is only one more process left to make these models literally shine and reflect their original scale counterparts, and that is to give them and high gloss finish.
In hindsight the process we used was the logical choice, but it took a lot of learning and failing before we arrived at it. Follow along below to help achieve smooth high gloss finish detailing on your future creations.

Like most goals this one started with a simple assumption, to achieve a high gloss surface finish we should use a high gloss paint. The label on the rattle can confirms this and everything looks straight forward and easy. However obtaining a smooth high gloss finish with rattle can spray paint isn’t that simple, the slightest divot can create an air bubble, and the tiniest speck of dust creates a bump. It takes a considerable amount of paint to get a smooth finish, that can also run and drip when over sprayed. A thicker coat also dries from the outside in, leaving a soft skin on top for days/weeks leaving it susceptible to finger prints.

Custom lego minifigure parts primed and painted matt finish designer toys

Issues are further compounded when adding a second coat of paint or spraying in multiple thin layers. Second coats applied without perfect timing react with the first coat creating a ripple or crackle effect, while laying it down too thin won’t make it glossy. Lastly with allot of gloss paint brands light and dark colours are made differently, much like oil and water, they may not mix and react unexpectedly with the undercoat creating further undesired results. This becomes a problem when the same primer is used on the wedding figs, yet their top colours were black and white, each figure part had differing finish problems after spraying due to this.

After about two weeks of trial and error and about ten attempts at laying down a perfect gloss coat. With each attempt trying a selection of rattle can brands, matt air brush paint, and clear coating all the while having to sand back and prep the surface again when it failed, it was not looking good. The deadline for the job was creeping closer and waiting 3 days for another coat of gloss paint to dry was no longer an option.

Custom lego minifigure head and hair designer toy model high gloss paint finishing

At this point we took stock of our failures, and really looked at the issues we were trying to solve. The solution came about when looking at other, non-figure, painting techniques. Things like guitar bodies, and furniture weren’t finished with a high gloss surface paint, they are rather polished to a high gloss. The solution had been so simple, no matter the painted surface finish, it can be buffed and shined into a high gloss using a car polish and wet sanding techniques. With the parts of the wedding figures already at a close enough state from the rattle cans, they were easily wet sanded to a smooth satin finish before given their water slide transfer details. Then covered in a mirror finish car polish and buffed using an electric buffer.

Custom lego minifigure torso paint finish with applied stickers mirror finishing

This made the entire project come together, each additional coat of polish or time spend buffing added to the end result rather that detracting from it. It also meant that the finish of the paint didn’t rely on being glossy, so custom colours were mixed up and applied with an airbrushed that more closely resembled the official Lego colours. The end result was a assortment of very impressive minifigure parts that,  apart from their large scale, looked indistinguishable from the real thing.

#weddingfig

Laying Out The Quest Challenge

Design
Treasure Chest pixel art hidden easter egg in student diary study planner background

How do you layout a series of puzzles into a book that you want the player to solve in sequence when you cannot prevent them from flicking through pages and discovering the final puzzle? Traditionally treasure hunts with multiple puzzles or objectives involve a gate keeper or locked box that prohibits the player from progressing until they have an answer or key. When hiding riddles in a book they may not discover the first puzzle first, and there isn’t anything physically stopping them from trying to solve another clue they may have found.

As previously mentioned there are a number of ways the Study Planner treasure hunt mitigated these issues. What it all came back to was a solid game design and lots of play testing. Even for a hidden Easter egg in a College Study Planner there still needed to be a layout of how the game ran and how the objectives would be met to lead to the final location. The design layout also detailed how players would be prevented from solving puzzles out of sequence.

The Treasure Hunt had three riddles hidden in cryptic puzzles in the Study Planner, and one further puzzle at the treasure’s location. This last one was to prevent a player or passer-by from claiming the cash prize even if they stumbled across the treasure by mistake. All of the puzzles and flow of the hunt was designed in reverse, by this, we started knowing we needed a physical location each player needed to find as a goal. We then created a puzzle based on the requirement of that solution, and so on, and so on working backwards. More or less asking ourselves, what do we want the player to do in order to get to X.

College Diary Study Planner hidden Cypher design on term page layout

Each puzzle in the Study Planner further involved a cryptic phrase that lead to a riddle, that in turn lead to the next cryptic phrase. The cryptic phrases all required deciphering, written as symbols as they were easier to hide amongst the pages of the planner. Intermixed with the actual symbols and clues were false symbols, marks, and messages. Each of these simply translated to nonsense or lead to dead end pages with no further puzzle. The encryptions weren’t overly difficult as it was aimed at 13 to 17 year old’s, however the riddles became the crux as each player’s interpretation of the solution was more often incorrect. This was intentional as the aim of the Treasure hunt was that it should take time to solve, rather than be found within a few days or weeks.

Easter Egg hidden number design College Diary Study Planner game development

While the first puzzle was laid out in the book using a simple cypher and required little effort. The second and third puzzle were related, both used a similar fashion to be discovered and both used the same deciphering method, which was part of the second puzzles solution. If you found and deciphered puzzle two you could instantly decipher puzzle three without any further trouble. This would normally be troublesome as puzzle three is the last puzzle who’s solution determines the physical location. However the trick was that puzzle three required puzzle two’s solution in order to progress. This was done simply by having puzzle two’s solution follow a sequence of numbers (pages) that lead to puzzle three. Puzzle three required this exact sequence of numbers as part of its solution, therefore gate keeping any player who skipped ahead. In practice this worked as puzzle three and two were both discovered by players who hadn’t yet solved the first puzzle. However this left them with dead ends as when discovered out of sequence they each didn’t make sense.

College Diary Study Planner Pixel Art campus Map and Hidden treasure text

The puzzles were play tested to ensure that out or sequence solutions weren’t possible yet they were clear if your followed the correct order. Only three people working at the college knew of the treasure hunt located within the study planner during development making sure it wasn’t leaked out before its time. With all puzzles in place and Study Planner designed the final piece was to distribute the book. But how do people know there is a game afoot?

#design

Adding A Hidden Quest

Design
Pixel Art Design Kardinia International College Reception Morongo Girls College building

The College Study Planner for 2021 contained hidden puzzles and riddles within it that would lead a user to a physical hidden treasure located on the college campus, and a cash prize for first place. But how do you hide something you want students to hunt for without it being  impossible to find? How can you also make it challenging enough that the puzzles aren’t solved too quickly? All of this needed to be solved and tested without spoiling the surprise.

Student diary Study Planner Easter egg Treasure Hunt Winning Prize Key

From all the mock ups of the Study Planner design that were printed for approval nothing seemed amiss, or was picked up by proof reading as being strange. It was important that only minimal people knew of the forthcoming Easter egg before it would be distributed as it would give everyone on staff as well as students the opportunity to take part in the hunt. In late 2020 while the Study Planner was in development another set of plans were carefully laid out on how to secretly overlay a treasure hunt into the book without compromising the design, function, or the calendar layout. Any extra pages would add to the production cost, and any existing pages taken up with a puzzle should not compromise the actual information already on the page. Finally it all needed to be hidden in plain sight, not impossible to find or discover, and importantly, should only require the Study Planner to solve.

With the ground rules set, how do you add a series of puzzles into a 146 page book that leads to a physical location while ensuring that all puzzles need to be solved and the user cannot simply stumble onto the answer. The intension of the treasure hunt was to let it stretch out for the entire year, and not simply be solved over a weekend. This lead to looking at allot of reference from other media that has added Easter eggs like this into it. One thing that stood out from most treasure hunt reference is that there is a lock, gate, box or some other means of preventing the player from jumping to the last step without passing the first one. In a book it is allot harder to do, but not impossible.

Hidden number 66 on student diary study planner background pixel art image

One way to prevent a user from solving a puzzle to early is to use a cypher, another is to create multiple paths that lead to dead ends for which the original puzzle’s solution only gives the correct direction. Both of these methods were used in the treasure hunt. One more issue remained, the physical treasure, it needed to be at a location on campus in an area that both staff and students had access to that wasn’t private, it also needed to be obvious if discovered but due to the cash prize it needed to also be un-claimable unless you followed the clues and solved all the riddles.

It was time to knuckle down and lay out the entire hunt by creating a game design for it to function, and be test-able.

#design

College Study Planner 2021

Design
Kardinia International College Senior Study Planner 2021 Cover Student diary

The College Study Planner for 2021 contained more than meets the eye as far as the graphical design of it was concerned. The theme for the planner centred around 8bit graphics, which fit well with the limited two colour printing process used. It was also a cumulative conclusion to a challenge that has been in the making since the 2020 planner design had been worked on a year prior.

The choice to use video games as a theme for the Study Planner came from two main decisions during pre-production, first was the planned gamification of the book, and second was the style of the College Map. The college map pages contained within the Study Planner have always used pixel art resembling a 1980’s 16bit top down adventure game. With each passing year the map was usually updated with more detailing, like trees and gardens, while also accounting for the changes in the buildings on the college campus. The map drawing updates for the 2021 planner were given some extra time to include the aditional artwork for the outsides of the main buildings on campus, to be used as background images.

Senior Study planner student diary pixel art design college campus

The rest of the Study Planner’s design went smoothly and without delay, various pixel art backgrounds for the ‘calendar week’ pages were created, and the duotone colours used for the book print were settled upon. Minor design changes were made to the layout of the ‘calendar week’ pages and some of the homework planner pages from the previous 2020 edition. For all accounts, the planner content was put together rather quickly, and without any concern from the College about use of a video game themed design.

Senior Study Planner student Diary design two colour printing process mix

However this wasn’t just any ordinary Study Planner. One titbit that is common throughout video games and their development is the inclusion of hidden treasures, more commonly referred to as Easter Eggs. The short development cycle for the Study Planner’s main content intentionally left room to add into it a hidden quest. That would hopefully garner more interest of the Study Planner’s use and give it some extra life, and mystery, outside of classroom homework notations.

Senior Study Planner Student Diary page design weekly calendar layout

With the preparations laid down it was time to add something extra into the College’s Study Planner for 2021.

#design

That Little Bit Extra

Weddingfig
Large Lego Minifigure with transfer and minifig

Detailing with water slide transfers is a great way to get allot of precise detailing on a small figure. However, combined with a little bit of extra time and paint you can make the transfer stand out even more.

Water slide transfers printed with a photocopier don’t have a white backing and are transparent, when stuck onto a dark surface they lose allot of their colour. This is fine when placing dark eyebrows on a yellow head, but doesn’t work when wanting a bright white smile, white pupils in the eyes, or a white and tan vest on a black chest. The way this was solved on the extra large Lego wedding figures was to mask out the areas where a white undercoat was needed and paint it with regular acrylic white before applying the printed water slide transfer over the top.

Large lego minifigure masking with white paint for sticker

Masking the white areas was a task of ‘close enough’ as the water slide transfers had dark outlines that would cover the edges of the white paint, forgiving any bleed. This simple technique adds allot more to the design of the figures and the detailing of the faces, which was well worth the extra effort of masking and painting. This technique was a must for the Grooms chest in order to get the shirt and vest to stand out. A continuous strip of white was painted down the middle of the chest area from top to bottom matching where the shirt, tie, and vest are located, the suit jacket effect would not work at all without it.

Large Lego minifigure parts with water transfer decals applied and undercoat

This techniques of laying down a white masked area over dark surfaces before applying the final colour is used in the production of screen printed fabrics, plastics, and even Lego bricks and Minifigures. The end results are fantastic and help solidify the look, feel, and bright colours of a regular sized Lego Minifigure. The water slide transfers are a really simple way of adding clean crisp detail to a model without spending excessive time manually painting each shape, line, and colour.

#weddingfig

Detailing With Water Transfers

Weddingfig
Lego Minifigure chest with water transfer detailing

How can fine details be added to a model without relying on moulded, cut-in features or precision painting with fine brushes? In the case of the Wedding Minifigures the aim was to keep the cell shaded and clean look of regular sized Lego Minifigures without it adding tremendous amounts of time to the project. The solution was to use custom water slide transfers, a simple and quick method that produces great results. There is however some nuance to the process, read more below on how you can include these into your own creative workflow.

Traditionally water slide transfers are little sheets of paper that are included in Tamiya kits to help add branding or insignia to your 1/35 scale model. They work very effectively, you cut out the decal you want from the sheet, soaking it in warm water to soften the glue. Then using a paint brush and tweezers you slide the loose decal from the paper backing onto your model. The decals are very detailed and usually specific to the model you are building.

Water slide transfer sheets lego minifigure custom decals

What you may not know is that you can purchase blank A4 sheets of water slide transfer paper that can be printed on using a laser photocopier. They work the same way as those included in scale model kits but with the added feature of simply using a photocopier to get your custom artwork from computer to object.

custom lego minifigure face water slide transfer cut out

With this process comes a few tricks, and your mileage may vary depending on the device you use to print. The glue is heat reactive and passing several sheets of transfer paper through a copier in succession, or running a transfer sheet through after a long print run can make it react with the internal rollers and become sticky. The toner may not adhere properly or the paper may jam. Laser copiers will also need time for the toner to set as it passes the sheet through itself, you need to set your copier to a thick paper setting and slow down the speed, this helps prevent the ink on the transfer paper from scraping off before it passes through the copier. Going slow and steady when setting out to print your sheets helps resolve both these issues.

When the transfer paper does come out it is still fragile, and ink can still easily scratch off. Be sure to catch the transfer paper or have it slide onto a sheet of clean regular paper so it does not lose its print while sliding across the plastic output tray. Also, by running a regular sheet of paper through the machine between each transfer page it will help pick up any toner residue and prevent it from ruining the next transfer print. To be safe we had several copies of the same design on each sheet of transfer paper, to not have to repeat the print in case of a small error scratch, but also to have a backup if we broke or folded the decal while trying to apply it.

lego minifigure water slide transfer face loose in water

With all this in hand, and enough successful prints we were able to apply the transfers to the extra-large minifigure models using some tweezers a paint brush and some careful hand-eye coordination. The end results look fantastic and after drying there wasn't any visible seam lines where the water transfer ends on the models parts. Water slide transfers are a very simple and effective way to add a complex amount if detail, even at small scales, to a model without spending excessive time masking, cutting, and painting.

#weddingfig

Arcade Control Panel Layout

Arcade
Arcade Cabinet Control Board Printed Artwork sticker with buttons

Creating a control panel and button layout for the Arcade Cabinet play surface wasn’t as simple as drilling some holes into a sheet of wood. It took some fiddling, research, and testing to get it right. Read on to see what we discovered when designing a control panel for our Arcade Cabinet to help plan yours.

The control panel has a few needs and musts that are restricted by the design of the cabinet, ultimately comfort should be the number 1 priority. This is because out of everything an Arcade Cabinet is, if it isn’t functional or comfortable it won’t be used.

Scaled plans printout for arcade cabinet controller layout

For our cabinet, the width was limited to 600mm which was due to the screen fitting nicely without a massive bevel and the ability to easily move it through household doorways. With such a tight dimension having two people standing next to each other playing and still having enough free movement of their arms and wrists is critical. Initial designs of the control panel had the sticks and buttons angled outward and away from the screen diagonally. The idea was that two players could stand next to each other with a gap and play without touching shoulders.

So the plans were drawn up, printed at 1:1 scale and laid out on a temporary panel for testing. The end result was that rotating the Joystick differently from the line of the cabinet front or screen panel left the player making too many mistakes. Even when standing off centre to the cabinet it was expected that UP is towards the screen and not rotated twenty degrees towards the centre.

Arcade cabinet control panel mock-up plans computer render

This was a quick and simple test to an answer that the online community Arcade Cabinet maker enthusiasts also aligned with. The Joystick UP and DOWN motion should be parallel to the sides of the cabinet irrespective of the position the player is standing in. This was further confirmed when testing with a single player, if you angle the Joystick and a lone player is using the cabinet it further throws off the brains natural instinct to move the Joystick parallel and perpendicular to the cabinets sides and front.

Arcade cabinet control panel printed plans full scale

Next up was positioning the 6 Buttons in relation to the Joystick that allows all of the players fingers to comfortably reach and rest without contorting the wrist and arm, this is for both a single player and a two player position. From the same test we discovered the opposite was true from the expectations of the joystick. That the buttons were better at an angle to match the natural resting position of the wrist, and also that the offset angle or line of the buttons in relation to the Joystick movement was irrelevant.

Control Panel Arcade Cabinet full scale mock-up prototype

However what made a big difference was the line of the buttons itself, having a 3x2 button grid was uncomfortable after a short time and games requiring all 6 made it difficult to hit those buttons quickly. The solution was to shift up the middle column of the 3x2 grid to match the longer middle finger that humans have.

With all this information further 1:1 scale drawings were printed and further refinements were made to the positioning front and back as well as allowing for the wiring that needs to be positioned underneath the panel to ensure it fits into the rest of the cabinet.

Arcade Cabinet Control Board with inserted buttons and decal artwork

Once the player one and player two Joysticks and button layout restrictions were refined the rest of the control panel layout fell into place easily. It is important to; test your layout at full scale and be prepared to make changes, allow for electronic and wiring components underneath, and make sure you have room at the front for the players wrists to rest on the panel. Our cabinet control panel layout went through 4 full scale tests before settling on the final design. The last changes were mostly moving the grouped layout of the Joystick and 6 Buttons for each player up down left and right to maximise spacing between, while allowing for the wrist to also rest on the Control Panel.

#arcade

Sand Paint Repeat

Weddingfig
Custom Lego Minifigure Parts

What to watch out for when giving your model, figure, or 3D print a glossy finish. Knowing the correct procedure can make it easier and save you both time and frustration. Read on to see what to avoid as we prep the Lego Minifigure couple for their big day.

There isn’t any quick way to get a smooth glossy finish on a plastic model, the best results involve time and ‘elbow grease’. However the more effort you put into a base surface and priming coat the easier it is to finish the layers you put over it. For the wedding Minifigures it didn’t go as planned, resulting in days of trial and error. Each mistake blew out the timeline as it required the paint to be dry before any fixes could be addressed. A great first tip is to be patient, let your surface completely dry before attempting to fix it. Anything done to a wet painted surface will create a horrible sticky mess, and cost more time to then further fix.

Undercoat Lego Minifigure 3D printed parts

When wanting a smooth even and glossy surface on your finished model, spray painting is a very cost-effective way to achieve a great result. Applied properly, spray paint can help hide irregularities and give off an even colour finish. With each positive there is however a negative, the nuances of spray paints are not always mentioned with how-to videos or the can’s labeling. Be aware that some colours of paint are oil based and some are water based, this includes ‘undercoat’ sprays too. If they are only touch dry when applying a second coat it can react and ruin your intended finish, or not adhere properly to the model itself. This even applies to different colours of the same brand.

One of the issues we faced was the reaction of the glossy top coat on the undercoat primer. The surface would ripple and look like a dry creek bed. After some follow up testing it was due to the incompatibility of the top coat to adhere to the primer. The result was to sand it down and spray again, and while the initial intention was to use enamels in order to get a high quality finish. With the increased drying time and complications of surface finishes we had with the whites and yellows, we ended up using a citadel paint and air brush, finished with an acrylic clear coat.

Lego Minifigure extra large 3D printed model parts

Traditionally when dealing with glossy surfaces and enamel paints the finished surface is left to dry and becomes a hard high gloss. However when working with so many irregular shapes there would always be a dust speckle or hair, or pool of paint on each part of the model. We even had issues with un-even drying that would result in fingerprints left here and there. The workshop didn’t afford a dust free environment and any fix would require recoating the entire piece. Our result, while more labor intensive, proved to be much quicker and not be so fragile. We sanded and polished each component instead of relying on the paint to cure without flaws. With a glossy paint applied each part would be wet sanded with increasing grit from 400 to 1200 and them polished on a buffing wheel with a mirror coat car polish.

Minifigure Lego custom parts printed model

This process gave a great and consistent result, as the more time spend sanding and polishing, the better the finished surface. This has now been adopted for all future projects as the go to for a high gloss and mirror finishing.

#weddingfig

A Diary Full Of Colour

Design
Diary page college term artwork

The approach taken to design the student study planner for 2020 was allot more elaborate and ambitious than in previous years. With a very elaborate theme, new layouts, and experimenting with some gamification. Overall it was well received, with allot of people having strong opinions about what they did, or did not, like. Let us guide you through the design's successes and the valuable lessons learned along the way.

To colour or not to colour that is the $10,000 question. Adding an unlimited amount of choices and appeal to any student diary book, it also comes at a cost both for the amount of time it takes to prepare the graphics and the extra charge of the ink that is used in print. This year's Study Planner was experimental as much as it was an update to all previous versions, one question the College wanted to know was "what would give the book the best appeal for the students?". Is there anything this book should try that has not been done before in order to see more use of it from the people who use it each day?

Study Planner page layout colour chart

Before any design decisions were made surveys were created, to ask about the features the students want to see the most. One recurring answer was to have more separation, a way to help better navigate the diary, find specific weeks or months, and also to visually define each day. From a graphical user interface point of view, the ability to utilise more colours would help break up the repeating nature of the book into easily identifiable sections and sub sections.

The biggest change to the planner was put into motion, use a full colour print throughout the entire book, and use it to break up the sections visually. Each page template was designed to be able to have a colour palette swap both to the page as a whole and to each of its own sub sections. This was used to give each month a separate colour while also overlaying stripes of colour around the page to tie it back to the term, and interior blocks of designated colour for the days of the week. As the user held up the edge of the pages blocks of colour along the side help define the month, while a blot of colour at the bottom separates the terms. Opening the page shows ribbons of colour to help define the days of the week.

Student planner college diary colour sections

The colour palette was chosen using soft colour tones, this was to ensure that any pen used to make notes would still be easy to read, while also allowing white text to be used over it. Six base colours were chosen Cyan, Pink, Lilac, Peach, Orange, and Green each separated with enough contrast to stand apart when butted up against each other. From this a lighter and darker shade was added to the colours to create the variances. The lighter variance was used as the base colour of the background page art, and the darker used for text displayed over the top of it.

The bulk of the book was sorted, however with full colour to be used on every page, it would be a wasted expense to not take advantage of it. Using medieval heraldry, and the college houses as the influence to include many more colourful pages, the study planner was onto its next challenge of creating the artwork of a theme.

#design

Website Launched

giraffe and elf logo banner

Giraffeandelf.com is live and we'd like to welcome you to our corner of the internet. It has taken some time and behind the scenes development to get the page off the ground and we look forward to showing you more of what Giraffe and Elf Design has to offer.

Let us know your feedback and comments by following our social media channels and sharing our project and development content.

Website Launched

Giraffe and Elf Design Logo

Behind the scenes developments are well and truly underway. With allot of help and support, the cranks and gears are turning, ready to get projects started. First and foremost was this website.

Well and truly into 2018 the site is up and waiting for all the news and content Giraffe and Elf can throw at it.
To start us off on this journey, welcome to our humble corner of the net. We cannot wait to show you what we have in the pipeline. While initially progress may be slow, each project needs to pass a few checks and clearances before we can post about it, a few may only be announced upon completion, however we'd love to share all the hints and tips on the process discovered along the way.

Thank you for taking the time to visit, if you do have an interest in creative design and development, we'd love to more. Please connect with us on facebook.