Saturday, February 25, 2012

Task Force ODIN (306th MI Bn): Challenge Coin

In early February of 2012, I was contacted by Maj. Brian “Blue” Simms, member of Task Force ODIN (name is an acronym for Observe, Detect, Identify, and Neutralize). It is a United States Army aviation battalion created in August 2006 to conduct reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) operations to combat insurgent operators of improvised explosive devices in Iraq.

The unit was formed at Fort Hood, Texas, and first deployed in October 2006. An Army article says the unit is meant to meet "the critical requirement to 'win back the roads' using Army Aviation assets to maintain a persistent stare over demonstrated at-risk areas for IEDs." Army leaders said they created the unit because the United States Air Force provided inadequate or inaccurate close air support. ODIN is the Army's only unit that flies the MQ-1C Warrior unmanned aerial vehicle. Built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the extended-range multi-purpose hybrid UAV has an advanced sensor package incorporating electro-optical sensors, including FLIR, and synthetic aperture radar together with a laser rangefinder and a laser designator, the latter for "painting" targets for strikes with Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs.  By September 2007, the Warrior-Alpha had flown more than 6,000 hours and had contributed to the killing of 3,000 insurgents in Iraq. The Task Force trains operators for active, reserve, and Army National Guard. These analysts work with every type of unit including the military's top secret units. Task Force ODIN received a Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army) for their work with the 25th Infantry Division. The Army formed a similar unit in Afghanistan, where information provided by ODIN had resulted in the killing or capture of 365 militant leaders, detained 1,335 insurgent foot soldiers, and killed another 1,031 Taliban.

The TF Odin was about to become 306th Military Intelligence Battalion, and the battalion command decided to create two challenge coins for the unit. A challenge coin is a small coin or medallion (usually military), bearing an organization’s insignia or emblem and carried by the organization’s members. They are given to prove membership when challenged and to enhance morale. Such coins can also be awarded for excellence. In addition, they are also collected by service members. Being a big fan of my work, Brian wanted to see if I could help with the design. As I mentioned, the initial plan was to create two coins: one regular and another one specifically for the upcoming Afghanistan rotation. The idea of the unit coin was in the works for quite some time, and Brian supplied multiple ideas and drafts in form of several PowerPoint presentations. The timeframe for the coin was very tight – I would have only two weeks to come up with final draft for the first coin. I also happened to be extremely busy at the time, with few projects on the go. Nevertheless, I decided to accept the challenge, especially considering the fact that this would be my first challenge coin project. As I already mentioned, there was extensive amount of materials provided, however they already had their own version if the final draft, which they were about to present to several manufacturers for quotes. In fact, their final draft wasn’t bad at all (see below); I liked the overall idea. However, I was not blown away by implementation – it needed some serious professional touch. And so I got to work.
First off,   the central image of the coin – the Viking’s face had to be re-designed from scratch, since they were using a copyrighted image found on DeviantArt, and were yet to hear back from the designer… Also, the coin could greatly benefit from my 3D technique when it came to the insignia elements of the design. I also decided to revamp all the fonts and overall composition. They also opted for black metal look with raised silver and gold elements, so the right textures were paramount.  I had less than a week to come up with my version of the final draft, and there it was… They immediately liked it although a few minor changes were suggested. The changes were made, and version 2.1, which you can find below, was born.
At this point, they liked my design to such extent that the battalion's CO made a radical decision: to combine a unit coin with an Afghan rotation coin into just one. However, this would mean a serious re-design of the back. They suggested that 3D map of Afghanistan should be added to the mix (see below).
I instantly disliked the idea of 3D map… First off, it had a serious potential of resembling a giant cow pie in the middle of the design. Secondly, it wouldn’t be obvious enough to convey the Afghan connection, since not everyone is intimately familiar with geography Afghanistan. And so I came up with my own idea for the back of the coin.  It also helped that I already developed this idea earlier for my World Heraldry project. The premise was to combine Afghanistan’s flag, map and coat of arms into one full-color 3D-looking design. This time unit command was sold, and the final version 3.2 was approved for production. My first challenge coin was about to manifest in black metal silver and gold. Can’t wait to have one of these babies in my hand…

Sunday, February 19, 2012

USMC Advisory Team, AAT-11, 1st Tanks (Afghanistan): Unit Emblem

In late December of 2011, I was contacted by Maj. Robert Burton, CO of the USMC Advisory Team, AAT-11, 1st Tanks in Afghanistan.  He was asking whether I could help turning a sketch made by one of his Marines into a professional looking logo for his advisory team here in Afghanistan. I liked the sketch, and I instantly liked the challenge. It was a hand-drawn B&W pencil sketch, which actually wasn’t bad at all. That Marine sure could draw. However, once again, this would mean that I had to start from scratch, re-creating multiple complex elements, such as a skull, revolvers, a hat and a ribbon. I also had to come up with my own color scheme and textures for the entire design. Robert also requested that I change the “Wild rebel” text to "Simple Man", and incorporate a scroll with "AAT-11, 1st Tanks". As to the colors scheme, Robert’s only suggestion was to somehow incorporate the colors of the Afghan flag – black, red and green into the design… 
The challenge was pretty obvious. But at least in this case I had a workable concept. I accepted the challenge. My first step was to create base vector images for all the separate elements of the design. After vectors of the skull, hat, revolver and scroll were ready, I have decided to recycle one of my Eagle, Globe and Anchor USMC emblems created earlier, and add it to the hat. I also added a bandana, which I planned to texturize into USMC digital desert camo. The next step was to bring it all to life, utilizing my M-LETT 3D technique. Since we were dealing with an armor unit, I decided to give the skull that unbreakable stainless steel look and feel. I also decided to replace somewhat antiquated revolvers from the original sketch with the two modern-day 44. Magnum Colt Anacondas.  On a side note, I have to admit, I have a lot of fun creating my weapons, even though it is an extremely time-consuming and mind-numbing task. A small collection of my side arms designs can be found here. I pay attention to every small detail of the actual weapon, and each design usually involves enormous number of layers and delicate texturing. For my dual-weapon designs, I would usually create just one side view, and then flip the duplicate copy of it. Even though the second gun will not be entirely accurate, since the other-side view should not be a mirror image, I usually let it go… And so I did in this case. 
And last, but not least, I incorporated the Afghan flag colors into the scroll, adding the required text. This one was an enormous fun to work on. What made it even better, apparently Marines were very happy when they received their brand new unit emblem on the Day 1 of the New Year 2012. Stay frosty, Marines, and come home without a scratch! Hopefully this emblem will scare shit out of every bad guy you manage to come across… 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Canadian Veteran Freedom Riders Motorcycle Riding Club: “Thunder in your Shorts!”

In early December 2011, I was contacted by Col. James Gludo (Canadian Armed Forces, Ret.). James Gludo in civilian life is a technology strategist with IBM’s global business services in Calgary. Col. Gludo finished his military career spending over a year in Kabul, working as a senior mentor to the Afghan National Army, as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom. In his civilian capacity, James also is the President of the Canadian Veteran FreedomRiders Motorcycle Riding Club. It is a great organization that brings veterans and supporters together to ride motorcycles and work towards helping veterans and serving members. CVFR is becoming national and Calgary is the first unit out West. One of the endeavors the club is about to undertake is to create a ride in 2013. They are calling it "Thunder in your Shorts!" The premise is based upon helping Veterans.  It is known that clothing assistance is provided by many organizations, which supply gently used clothes and jackets. Food is also being addressed through food banks and such. James then started thinking about undergarments. The problem was that nobody donates “gently used” underwear.  To address that concern, James’s thought was to organize a motorcycle run to collect donations in a form of new unused underwear or cash donations, which would be used to purchase such underwear items, thus the name – “Thunder in your Shorts!” James continued that one of the features of these types of rallies or rides is pins and patches that motorcyclists attach to their leather vest to commemorate their participation. There is also a demand for t-shirts, hoodies and the like. James’s request was for me to design a logo that would demonstrate the name "Thunder in your Shorts!" and could be used for posters, advertising, pins, patches, hats, hoodies, t-shirts, etc. He would also like to see the logo having a spot where the year could be added as well. That way the logo remains consistent but the patches/pins become collectable based on the year. There was also the following image attached, which illustrated a general idea for the logo design.  

As soon as I saw the aforementioned image, I instantly came to realization that these great guys definitely need all the artistic help they could possibly get. This was the type of project that I value the most, the type of work that has a deep personal meaning for me, the type of a cause that I am always happy to support. I gladly agreed to help. From the very start, the project presented multiple challenges. First and foremost - there was no concept. Another major challenge on hand was that at some point I had to incorporate a piece of underwear into my design – something I never had a chance to do up until this moment…  Furthermore, the design had to somehow be linked to Canadian veterans as well as to a motorcycle club culture. Quite a task, I have to admit… After brainstorming the concept and going through multiple “trial and error sketches, I came to several conclusions: a) the job was way more difficult than I anticipated and a) the only type of underwear that would look good on a biker jacket should be one made of shiny steel… Then it was thunder… Bike wheel… Maple leaf… Shield… The concept was born.  The rest was history. By January 1st, 2012 the final draft was ready. You be the judge…

1SG Wray Gabelmann: Coat of Arms

Sometime ago, I was contacted by US Army Sergeant Wray Gabelmann. This was right before his deployment to Afghanistan with the 5th Infantry. The nature of his request was similar to many other requests I would usually get: he was asking if I could enhance an image of his family coat of arms, and turn it into one of my 3D-images, and create a necklace’s for him and the kids. What made this particular request to stand out was the fact that only available image Wray had in his possession was a black-and-white copy of document given to his father in 1974. The document contained a very schematic black-and-white image of the coat of arms, which you can see below, accompanied by a brief description of the coat-or-arms given in classic heraldic terms. All the colors were indicated by dotted and striped patterns, which were used in heraldry for B&W images. Below you will find copy of the document.  You can see the obvious challenge here. First off, I had to extract the image, to be able to create a base image for the design. Secondly, I had to decipher the color scheme, based on the cryptic and somewhat vague description. And last but not least – I had to turn all of this mess into a beautiful 3-dimensional work of art, full of color and texture. As always, the challenging nature of this project made it more interesting. Also, my motivation was to finish the project on time before Wray’s  deployment. And so I got to work.

First step was to extract the image out of the PDF, which wasn’t all that hard. After that, I have created my base vector image, changing a few elements of the original, which in my opinion, looked dull or out of place. As soon as the base vector was ready, it was brought into Photoshop where main work has begun.  As with most of my creations, I was utilizing my very own unique method, which I dubbed “Multi-Layer Enhancement & Texturizing Technique 3D” (or “M-LETT 3D” for short). Mind you these are not true 3D images in its classic sense.  They rather are 2-dimensional images, made look like 3D objects, made of various materials, such as metals, enamels, precious stones, woods and ivory, to name just a few. The result of this effort can be found below.

Rev B Anthony Hathaway-Taylor: Coat of Arms and Flag

One of my earlier out-of-scope projects came to life in response to request from my dear friend, Rev B Anthony Hathaway-Taylor. He is a truly remarkable human being. Everyone who has a privilege to know him, knows exactly what I am talking about. He also happens to be a driving force behind a huge scale project called “Empire to Commonwealth”. This Project is a collection of over 31,000  researched heraldry images of British Commonwealth that were donated by Defence Forces, Internet Authors, Experts in their particular fields and Collecting Enthusiasts. 

He asked me if I could bring to life an image of his coat of arms, and also try and create a full-size flag based on the image. The only images I had to work with were the two images of his father’s and his own coats of arms hand drawn by Anthony himself, which you can see below at their actual size. From the very start, it promised to be an interesting and quite challenging process... 

I instantly realized that I had quite a chunk of work cut out for me. Having images of such quality and resolution to work with could only mean one thing – starting entirely from scratch. Also, the timeline was not in my favor, because ideally, everything had to ready just in time for Anthony’s 50th birthday, which was less than a month away. This is exactly what made this project to become one of the more challenging ones, and also one of my favorite.  Below you can see the metallic version and the final white enamel version of the coat of arms.

Also, Anthony was wondering if it would be possible to create a flag, based on the coat of arms’ theme, which was quite a challenge of its own. The result of this exercise can be found below. Due to the size requirements for the final output file, which was expected to be no less than 60”x36”, I had to use a reverse process, compared to what I would normally do. This image was originally created in Photoshop, and later vectoriezed, so that it could be blown up to any size to be printed on fabric.  I also created a huge full-size 60”x36” PNG, which eventually they ended up using  to print the fill-size flag… Just on time for Anthony’s birthday…


By now many of you are somewhat familiar with a handful of my major projects, such as “Military Insignia 3D”, on Zazzle and "Military Insignia 3D" blog “USMC Insignia 3D” on CafePress, “Sacred Symbols 3D” on Zazzle and “Sacred Symbols 3D” blog, “World Heraldry 3D”  and “C.7 Gift Ideas 3D” on Zazzle, as well as the "3D Insignia" on SpreadShirt… All of the above projects are well represented in my galleries and covered in detail on several of my blogs. However, there is another never before seen side to my work… These are so-called out-of-scope projects or custom jobs I come across from time to time.  Example of such works would be family coats of arms, custom-ordered unit insignia and emblems, emblems for military-oriented charity events and causes or military challenge coins, to name just a few.  So it happens, that such projects almost always carry a deeper meaning and turn out to be of higher importance on my priority list. Those also happen to be the more technically-challenging and dearest to my heart… The emphasis of this blog will be placed on such projects.  I will try my best to showcase “before” and “after” for each design, give a brief background on the topic, as well demonstrate my progress and touch upon challenges, techniques and highlights of each and every creation. Stay tuned…