Meet Felix

Doing a photo shoot can be tricky. Setting up the location, finding the props, getting the lighting right, etc, can be time consuming and sometimes expensive. If you want a specific picture of an object in a particular setting, you usually need to get that object, set it up, light it, and photograph it.

So I’m finding a new beta from Adobe quite interesting. Called Project Felix, it lets you assemble 3D objects and render them into a Photoshop file. I’ve been having a play with it and it’s pretty simple to use, and has lots of potential.  Just drag objects from the library into the canvas, use the move, zoom and rotate tools to assemble the scene just the way you like it, then render as a finished image. Export that image into Photoshop as a PSD file and keep working on it.  Lots of possibilities.

Check the minimum system requirements though… the rendering process can be pretty computationally intensive. Rendering even a relatively simple image on my MacBook Air with an i7 processor took quite a l-o-n-g time. Still, it got there in the end.

Check it out at

The more I know, the more I realise I don't know

Crossposted on the Adobe Education Leaders blog (

I remember the first time I saw Photoshop.

I think it must have been about 1993 or so, when I got a free copy that came with a scanner purchased by my school. It must have been a “lite” version of Photoshop because I seem to recall that it didn’t support layers. Even so, I really enjoyed playing with it, and I ended up installing it on all the computers in the school computer lab (license? what license?) and I started teaching the kids how to create stuff with it. They just blew me away with what they could do with it, even without layers!

It was around the same time that I stumbled across an unused copy of Aldus Pagemaker in an out-of-the-way cupboard, and I convinced the school principal that we should use it to do the school yearbook; his agreement to my suggestion saw me suddenly escalated to head of the yearbook committee, a job that rolled on for many years and many issues beyond that. Of course, once you start working in Pagemaker (and now InDesign) there is a fairly fundamental expectation that Photoshop is a key part of that workflow.

From these accidental beginnings, I developed a long standing relationship with Photoshop. In the late 90s I was working with students to build collaborative websites, and of course all the graphics were done with Photoshop. We discovered all sorts of interesting features like batch processing, we learned to do decent colour corrections, to crop and manipulate images so that they fitted our needs. We discovered, often the hard way, about important concepts like pixel depth, image resolution, colour gamut, and of course the one that catches every self-taught Photoshop user out at some stage, RGB vs CMYK. We made images for the web and for print, we built graphics from scratch and we did weird things to existing photos. I’m just a teacher, not a graphic designer, but I’ve lost track of the hours and hours and hours I’ve spent inside Photoshop over the last 15+ years.

And here’s the thing about Photoshop. Heck, here’s the thing about pretty much all of Adobe’s products… the more I know, the more I realise I don’t know. Every time I learn some new technique or skill, the self-satisfied smug feeling of cleverness lasts about five seconds before I realise that there is just so much more I could know about it, that I could do with it. Whenever I taught kids a unit of work on Photoshop I used to conclude it with an in-class practical test, where I’d give them some images and a problem to solve – it might be to produce some CD cover artwork or a magazine cover, usually with a few constraints or requirements to make them have to think about it a little – and they’d just astound me at what they’d come up with. “Creative Suite” is a good name for these products, because they really do force you into creativity mode. Most of the time after one of these class tests, I’d spend the next few lessons getting the kids to deconstruct what they’d done, to teach me how they got certain effects. In my Photoshop classes I may have been the teacher, but we were all learners.

When I was offered a place in the Adobe Education Leaders program, I was thrilled to be part of it, and felt relatively well qualified to be part of it given that I’d spent over 15 years teaching Photoshop, Indesign, Dreamweaver and Flash to students. Of course, mixing with other AELs and seeing the fantastic things they do is a great way to reinforce just how little I do actually know, but it’s still been an incredibly valuable association for me.

I got thinking about this lately because I’ve been checking out the tutorials on the newly redesigned Adobe TV. It’s an awesome resource, with every application now having a Learn series, a set of basic tutorials that teach the essential skills required to get up to speed quickly… I wish this had been around when i started playing with Photoshop! As well as the Learn tutorials, there are a bunch of more advanced tutorials that delve into some of the trickier and more esoteric concepts.

And Adobe TV is not the only resource I turn to when I want to know more. There seems to be plenty of other places to learn the how-to stuff for Adobe’s products. Some of my favourites are the Layers TV podcast with Corey Barker and RC, the Creative Suite Podcast with Terry White, Creative Sweet TV with Mike McHugh, Instant Indesign with Gabriel Powell, The Russell Brown Show… the list goes on. I subscribe to all of these through iTunes and they just drop onto my iPhone for later watching. It’s a great way to learn. I’m sure there are many other fantastic resources for learning this stuff… perhaps you could leave a note in the comments about some of the resources you have found useful for learning.

Finally, I just wanted to mention a book I bought recently about Photoshop that is quite simply one of the most amazing Photoshop guides I’ve ever seen. It’s simply called Creative Photoshop CS4 by Derek Lea, and I’m just stunned at how incredible this guy is when it comes to Photoshop. I’ve been working my way through some of his exercises and have been discovering something new on almost every page. When you can use a product for over 15 years, and still constantly discover new things, it says a lot about the depth of the product and the open-ended nature of what it lets you do with it.

I realise more than ever that there is so much I don’t know about Photoshop (and most of the other Adobe products!) But I love that feeling of learning, of discovering, of digging deeper and just discovering that there really is no “bottom” to hit.

Good Learning for a Good Cause

Adobe Master Class

If you live in Sydney, want to know more about the cool things you can do with Adobe’s CS4 Creative Suite products, and would like to support a really worthwhile cause at the same time, you might like to check out this Adobe Creative Suite Master Class.

The event is running on September 30 from 9:00am to 4:00pm at the Zenith Theatre in Chatswood. It’s being run by the folk at Adobe’s Sydney offices, and all the time, energy, marketing and facilities to run this event have been donated, so quite literally ALL the proceeds will go to the Cancer Council Australia.  Cancer is a terrible disease, and you don’t have to look very far to find someone you know – maybe even yourself – whose lives have been touched by it.

If you’d like to attend, you can book using this form.  If you want a copy of the invitation as a PDF (so you can help spread the word) let me know and I’ll email you one.

Hope some of you are able to attend. Take a look at the list of topics covered during the day and you’ll have to agree that it will be a pretty awesome day of learning and creating. For $100 you get some excellent software training, while supporting a very worthwhile cause.

The Adobe Summer Institute Wrapup

I’m finally back home from a fantastic week in San Jose at the Adobe Summer Institute.  The Summer Institute is a 5 day conference/workshop event run by Adobe’s Education division for members of their global Adobe Education Leaders program.  I was inducted into the AEL program last year but was unable to attend the 2008 event in San Francisco. This year I was determined to attend the San Jose event and I’m really glad I went.

When you do in fact know a fair bit about technology and how to use it, it becomes harder to find professional development experiences that challenge and extend you. One of the reasons I was so keen to attend the Summer Institute was that I felt it would push me to learn more and build on some of the knowledge I already have.  Having been a Photoshop user for many years, and spending many hours inside programs like InDesign (and PageMaker before that) and having taught Flash and Dreamweaver to students, I’ve always been quite immersed in Adobe’s Creative Suite, but the nature of these tools always seems to be such that the more you know about them, the more you realise you don’t know.

The other AELs came mainly from all over the US, with quite a few from the UK and a handful from other places like New Zealand, Hong Kong and Belgium.  I was the only Aussie. We started the week on Monday evening with a Welcome Party at our hotel where we got to meet the other AELS and some of the folk from Adobe. It was good to meet new people and make new connections.

Tuesday started early for me with a Photoshop exam.  This was taken as part of the Adobe Certified Associate, a recognised certification for Photoshop users.  Happily, I passed the exam without too much trouble.  The rest of Tuesday was filled with meeting with the Adobe product teams, where we got to hear about future product roadmaps, learn about upcoming features and directions for the Creative Suite, and to offer suggestions for how we thought the products could be improved.  Parts of the day were done under NDA so I can’t really go into details, but suffice to say there will be plenty of exciting new stuff coming from Adobe in the next year or two.  Dinner that night was held at Saratoga Springs, a lovely camping ground in the hills surrounding Silicon Valley, and we had fun and games with some hilarious variations on team volleyball played with water-filled balloons.

Wednesday was filled with AEL to AEL sessions – workshops where we presented to each other many of the things we were doing in our own schools and districts.  Watching these sessions, it really struck me what an intensely creative and passionate group of educators this was. Although not everything was directly relevant to my own teaching situation, I still got tons of great ideas from the sharing that took place.  Collaborative projects, experimental ideas based on art, design and creativity, ideas for streamlining school administration, examples of how teachers do things in other parts of the world… we got all sorts of cool ideas from these AEL sessions.  After a full day of learning from each other, we regrouped in the Adobe Cafeteria for a delicious dinner and drinks, where more sharing and conversation took place in a relaxed casual atmosphere.  I was quite amazed as we watched the planes fly over the Adobe building, which was directly in the landing path of San Jose airport, seeming to clear the top of the building with only a few hundred feet to spare.  A few of us kicked on to a bar in downtown San Jose where the conversations continued into the night, only louder.

Thursday was another full day of learning, with a intense session run by Adobe’s John Schuman.  We learned many of the very cool features in the software tools, and in particular how to make them work together smoothly.  Our project required us to integrate our work across Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, InDesign and Bridge as we roundtripped files between the various tools.  In each of the applications we discovered lots of useful workflows and there were quite a few new concepts that I hadn’t come across before. The last part of the day took us into a project using Flash Catalyst, a relatively new product still in beta, that makes it much easier for designers to create interactive content.  I’m still getting my head around Catalyst, but it looks like a great tool for rapidly designing interactive media without the need to know heavy-duty coding stuff.

Thursday night was good fun, with a night out to a local San Jose pool hall.  By this stage we had gotten to know each other a little better, so it was cool to hang out, shoot some pool and have still more conversations about learning and life. The night finished while it was still young, as the pool tables were reclaimed at the stroke of 9:00pm.  A few of us wandered across the road to another party that looked like it would be fun.  I turned out to be an Open Source party, sponsored by Source Forge.  With free drinks (free as in “beer” – I thought that was hilarious at an Open Source event), tatoos getting done in the basement (no, I didn’t get one), as well as Twitter stations, free T-shirt giveaways from the good folk at ThinkGeek, guys playing with Star Wars light sabres, people wearing infra-red night vision goggles, etc, it was a truly geeky event…  I loved it!

Friday morning was the last day of the conference and I’d arranged to do another certification exam, this time in Dreamweaver.  Although I’ve used Dreamweaver a lot in the past, I hadn’t used it much lately so wasn’t feeling too confident in my ability to pass this exam.  However, I did pass, and since I had a bit of time to spare at the end I decided to have a crack at the remaining exam for Flash.  This one I really wasn’t too confident about, since I haven’t used Flash much in the last 12 months and there are some big changes to the CS4 version.  Even so, I surprised myself by passing the Flash exam too, so I was feeling pretty pleased that I managed to get my certification in Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Flash all in the same week.

The rest of Friday morning was a general wrap up of the event, with feedback and a debriefing session between the AELs and the Adobe folk.  It was kind of sad to have it all come to an end, but we eventually said our goodbyes and all went our separate ways.  The sessions were all recorded with Adobe Connect, as well as a ton of Twitter, Flickr and Delicious resources all tagged with ael09, so at least there is a decent electronic record of the sessions.

I didn’t have to be at the airport until quite late so myself and Saiqa, another AEL from London, decided to rent a car and do some Silicon Valley sightseeing.  We dropped in on the headquarters of Apple and Google, then headed in to San Francisco for some last minute sightseeing around Fisherman’s Wharf before getting back to SFO airport for our late flights.

Overall, a great week and one I’d be keen to do again. Thanks Adobe for running and hosting the event, especially to Megan Stewart and her team who did a great job of making sure the program went off perfectly.  Great conference, can’t wait to get back next year!

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The Buzz on Buzzword

Every so often I stumble across a new piece of software that just does its thing exceptionally well. In a world too full of very ordinary software products, its nice to find one occasionally that just does its job very well, with a feature set that has all the stuff you want and is not cluttered up with stuff you don’t, and perhaps most importantly, an interface that is intuitive and clean so that it can be used without any real learning curve. Voicethread is a great example of such an interface.

It’s really exciting to see so many of these well crafted apps starting to appear on the Internet as web apps, sometimes called Rich Internet Applications or RIAs. RIAs, when done well, can give the impression of behaving like a desktop app but with all the added advantages of being in the cloud… advantages such as ubiquitous access, remote storage of data and the ability to collaborate across time and place. Google Docs uses this model and is a fine way to create online documents that can be shared for collaborative purposes.

The problem with Google Docs (at least as far as word processing is concerned) is that from an interface point of view, it’s not the prettiest way to interact with your words. It’s certainly not a true WYSIWYG interface, so that when you add tables and graphics to the document you really have no idea what it will look like when printed. I find Google Docs a hugely convenient way to work with documents that need to be accessed from anywhere or need to be shared with others, but because it is essentially a HTML based writing space, I do sometimes lament the way it handles the niceties of layout and page design.

So I was super excited do discover Adobe’s Buzzword this week. Buzzword is an online word processor written in Flash that does nearly everything Google Docs’ word processor does but has a much nicer, much prettier and much more intuitive interface. You can sign up for a free account and try it out at no cost.

Buzzword comes from Adobe and really starts to show the enormous power of Flash as a development platform for the web. Obviously the combined brainpower and engineering that came about thanks to the merger between Adobe and Macromedia is starting to really show some results of how powerful their combined thinking can be. (You can see evidence of that in the latest Adobe CS3 Suite – some awesome new features in Photoshop for example)

Opening Buzzword gives you a regular pageview layout, with familiar dropdown menus and tools. Using it is a familiar experience if you know anything at all about Word. You get less of course, and you can’t make tables of contents, do mail merges, use document maps or change case options. There are many things that Buzzword won’t do. But most of those features are not used by the vast majority of word processor users, who are happy to be able to set font styles and typefaces, add tables and images, change font colours and make bullet lists. Buzzword has all of these common features (with some nice usability tweaks, making some features, such as bulleting and numbered lists, even easier to manage than in Microsoft Word). Buzzword is nice to use, with funky animations as documents open and close, document listings that get rearranged automatically, and so on. It just feels good to interact with.

Where it really comes into its own is in the way it enables shared collaboration. Just like Google Docs, Buzzword allows you to invite people to either view, review or co-author a document, Viewers can just read them, reviewers can leave comments on them, and co-authors can make changes. Google Docs can be quite laggy however, and there can be delays between when a user makes a change and when the other collaborators see that change… this makes it hard to use in real time. What I really like about the collaborative nature of Buzzword is that it clearly shows who are the collaborators, shows when they are online, when they are editing and it has a clever lockout system that makes it impossible for two co-authors to edit a document at the same exact instant. As soon as a change is saved however, it is instantly reflected on the other users screens. This works amazingly well for multiple people working on the same document at the same time, and ensures that people don’t inadvertently write over the top of other people’s changes, something that is easy to do in, say, a wiki. Buzzword makes you wait your turn until the previous user finishes with their changes.

Buzzwords can import and export text documents from .txt, .rtf, .doc, .docx and .xml. It has no spreadsheet or presentation tools, but as a word processor it’s very nice. It’s not a Word killer but nor is it designed to be.  For someone with basic word processing needs who wants the benefits an in-the-cloud service like this can offer, Buzzwords is worth a serious look.

In summary, I’m really impressed with the WYSIWYG look and feel of Buzzword. Although I have a lot of documents stored on Google Docs I can see myself migrating most of them over to Buzzword, not only for the improved collaborative environment but just because it’s so much darn nicer to use!