The winners of the U.S. events, in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, have already been chosen, and they'll meet the overseas winners in Manhattan in February for the global championship.
In this slide show, we'll take a look at the three US champs in the 2D category: their design approaches, the methods they used to prepare for the under-the-gun madness of Cut&Paste and their feelings about the tournament.
Weinberg got her BFA in illustration from Washington University in St. Louis six years ago and now pilots her own design business in New York. Among other things, she's done a healthy amount of animation and motion graphics work, experience, she says, that served her well in the competition.
Weinberg says that while working in the motion graphics department at design firm Optimus in Chicago, she often had to crank out work for clients who were on site waiting for results.
"It was one of the best jobs I ever had ... It taught me to think quickly ... execute in the smartest, quickest way, especially for animation, the stuff I was doing at Optimus. You have to build your project in a particular way so if the client wants to make one tiny change, it's very simple to do, so you have to think through your whole project before you build anything."
And that's exactly what she did while preparing for Cut&Paste. About a week in advance, the participants are given their briefs, or the themes they'll have to communicate visually at the event. They're allowed to spend that week developing concepts and designs they'll execute during the competition, though they can't actually bring premade elements to the event; they have to reconstruct their work. Weinberg spent that week figuring out what concepts and visuals she could best produce in 15 minutes, the time limit imposed by the competition. When she decided on a design, she "practiced it many times ... I was surprised that a lot of people didn't. They sort of wanted it to be more 'on the spot.'"
Here we see one of Weinberg's practice runs for a brief that called on the designers to create a dessert menu with a theme of "dreamy." We'll see later how closely she matched this on stage. For now, we can simply appreciate the humor, cleverness and originality of her concept.
There's Weinberg in the back, reconstructing her design onstage in New York (the ice cream cones are just visible on her monitor).
In addition to teaching her how to carefully structure a project before launching into its execution, Weinberg's animation and storyboarding experience has given her a solid grasp of narrative and pacing, which she used to hold the crowd's gaze.
"I was just thinking performance-wise about the order of events in which I would build my piece," she says, "specifically the ice cream cone one. I just wanted to build it in the kind of way where I wouldn't give away what the final thing would look like too early. So I just tried to do it from the bottom up, where I did the three cones, and then ... I did the entire globe, and then I went to the right, I did the entire chocolate one. So it wasn't like they saw what they were going to get until the very end. And I put all the little finishing touches on each scoop before moving on to the next one. And then after all that, I put the type on, and the background ... just thinking about that so I wouldn't get up there and sketch it all out and they'd be like, 'OK, she's doing a three-tiered ice cream cone that looks like a menu,' and then their eyes would go to the other person's screen."
With four minutes left, Weinberg has begun hand-lettering her text. You can see the videographer filming her, and you can also see that another designer was working with ice cream (we all know, however, that six scoops of ice cream beats three anytime).
Can you spot the differences between this rendering and the practice run shown in slide two? They're pretty minor.
Of her style, Weinberg says she likes to "make work that either I'm using traditional material or it looks like I am."
"I'd say the biggest con with the software is that you have to sit at a computer and stare at a monitor all day to do it," she says. "But besides that, it's amazing. I love Photoshop and Illustrator and AfterEffects. They're superpowerful tools, and they're becoming very integrated with one another, so you can really seamlessly move around the three of them. And then a lot of the things you can get done look as if you had done them by hand. I mean, I'm still better at using a pen if I need to draw something detailed, but I'm trying to use special brushes in Photoshop and the Wacom tablet to not have to use a pen anymore when I want to do digital things."
Here's Weinberg's practice run for the second-round brief: create a trading card with the theme of "best friend," using a photo shot on-site. You can see she's again worked it all out, taking a photo with her model at home, to get the pose and facial expression down. Her original and quirky take on things is in evidence again as well.
The "tree hugger" design begins taking shape onstage, as Weinberg re-creates the image using the new photo she's taken on-site with a digicam and dropped into Photoshop.
There's Weinberg working intently in the background. The tree has appeared, but tree-huggin' Josh still doesn't have his cap. In the foreground, designer Ana Benaroya focuses on her own answer to the brief.
Bingo! The design is finished and--surprise!--Weinberg is the winner!
"That was the moment when I realized there was a whole crowd of people staring at me," she says. "You walk onstage, and they announce your name before the round starts, and you see the crowd--you have a moment where you recognize them. Then you sit down and you're in your world of your design. Then they call your name or say stop: You see the audience again. Yeah, I guess when they said I was [the winner], that was a rock star moment. Everyone was cheering for me. It was awesome."
Awww. Isn't that sweet? Not bad for 15 minutes (including taking the photo). She gets eco-points too. Again, compare this to the test image, slide 7.
The newly minted rock star gets interviewed. Despite the spotlight, though, Weinberg remains humble. She says there really wasn't a competitive vibe, at least not on a personal level.
"There wasn't," she says. "It was kind of like, you know, 'We're the finalists, we're already winners, this is our night to show off. No matter who wins, we all get to be onstage.'"
But there's definitely intensity when it comes to the designers wanting to produce solid work, and Weinberg is pumped at the prospect of facing off against the global winners at the international finals in New York this coming February.
"I'm excited," she says. "I hope the competition is fierce. I hope everyone is ready to win, everyone makes good art. I want the audience to be impressed."
Here's the 2D winner at the LA event, Dave Stolte. A 30-year veteran of the design world, Stolte has worked in all areas, and he's now determined to make a name for himself as an illustrator. He's also been around long enough to have witnessed firsthand design's shift into the digital realm, a development he says has its downside.
"I think some unfortunate things have happened where people think that if they can teach themselves the tools, then that makes them a designer," Stolte says. "I don't think you could hand someone a hammer and have them call themselves a carpenter, or a scalpel and have them call themselves a surgeon ... I do think design has become devalued with technology and outsourcing and crowd-sourcing and all of these things, so one of the nice things Cut&Paste does is it lets the ideas shine through the technology."
Still, Stolte's no Luddite. "I live and breathe Photoshop, and I'm like the Mac geek for family and friends, and I'm taking tech-support calls from people. But as far as design goes, you have to have a good idea, a simple idea that communicates well--and technology can get in the way of that sometimes."
Stolte, in fact, begins his designs with a drawing, as we see here; then he shifts them into Photoshop to add the secret sauce, as we'll see in the next few slides.
His drawing finished, Stolte moves it to Photoshop with the help of his iPhone and a desk lamp he brought along for the purpose. If his body language speaks of precision, that's because he carefully practiced his moves.
In preparing for the event, Stolte "tried to re-create the environment as much as I could. Obviously, I couldn't bring an audience into my home, but I set a 15-minute timer ... I went through that whole process of taking pictures of things and experimenting with lighting. And part of my process is to sketch first and then bring it into the computer, so I had to get that whole process down, with all sorts of distractions--with loud music playing, all these external things going on, and just focus on the process and kind of nail down the steps I was gonna take and make sure I didn't leave anything out."
The successfully photographed drawings have made it to Photoshop, and even in this unfinished state, the charming progression of a cocktail glass going from warmly buzzed to totally blotto reveals a designer who does what good designers do: They consider their users, in this case the crowd. Stolte:
"Part of this is putting on a show and playing to the audience, and it's right on to think of it as a narrative and telling a story and having a punch line. Particularly with the second one I did, the theme was how-to instructions--it could be a process or how to build something, or whatever--it was just kind of a wide open theme of doing a how-to instruction sheet. And I knew that [Cut&Paste] was going to be a party--there was a DJ there, there's an open bar--so I did 'how to drink too much.'"
Note the lime slice on the piece of paper near Stolte's right hand. It makes a wonderful cameo appearance later, as we'll see.
Stolte's "draw first" approach also contributed to effective audience relations, though accidentally.
"Something the judges told me," he says, "was that I maybe got the audience a little worked up because the first five minutes I'm doing my pencil sketch, there's nothing going on on the computer screen, so it's just sitting there blank. They don't know what's going on; they don't know if I'm choking. And then all of a sudden this thing starts to happen, and it comes together in 10 minutes. And they said that was kind of a neat trick. I didn't intend that to be a trick, but that's just the way it worked out."
Here we see Stolte in a zombielike creative trance, eerie glow and all. As New York winner Eve Weinberg says, once the starting gun sounds, all nervousness vanishes and the designers are in their own little worlds of design. Stolte was no exception.
"Afterward," he says, "some of my friends that I had brought with me said that at one point I had two cameras pointed at me and all four judges literally breathing over my shoulder and looking at this sketch that I was drawing, before I brought it into the computer, and I had no idea. I couldn't see them; I couldn't hear them. I was just in the zone."
In the background we see judges Eric Nakamura, noted talent-spotter and editor of Giant Robot magazine (he's in the yellow hat), and Bobby Hundreds, of The Hundreds, an online magazine and clothing line devoted to street culture.
And here it is. "The thing I try to do in my work," Stolte says, "is I really like to get it to look as hands-on as possible. But if you look at it carefully, you realize there's no way that it could actually be done by hand--just in the way, say, the pencil work is sitting on top of other elements...As far as my process goes, I start with a pencil sketch and from there I bring it into the computer and I work with a graphics tablet to paint and color in Photoshop. And I have a big library of found photography and paper textures and fabric textures and things like that, that I use to sort of create the feel of a physical collage on a sheet lying underneath these pencil marks."
In this case, we can see that--behold!--our famous lime slice, from slide 15, sits beneath the pencil marks in exactly the way Stolte has described. There's a great anecdote about this lime--about this little detail that lends the work a uniquely personal touch, an up-to-the-minute connection with the audience, and that shows the resourcefulness of a designer who's thinking on his feet.
"I had planned on doing this illustration," Stolte says, "and I worked it out beforehand. And as I was getting ready to be called up onstage--they had already called up the first three people, and I was the fourth one to come up and take my seat. And I look over to my left, and somebody had left a drink there with a lime sitting in it, and I grabbed it. I said, you know, 'I could use this' [laughs] and I brought it up on stage with me and shot it as part of my illustration, on the fly."
A job well done. The pressure off now, a noticeably relaxed Stolte smiles at his admirers. It's a novel position for a normally solitary illustrator to find himself in.
"When you get that acknowledgement or that validation," he says, "it's an amazing buzz, and to hear people in the audience cheering for you. And afterward, I'm down walking through the audience to go meet my friends, and students are coming up to me and saying, 'Hey, I follow you on Twitter.' It's kinda weird." Stolte laughs: "I could get used to it, I guess."
The story of San Francisco's 2D winner, Devin Croda, is a bit different from Weinberg's and Stolte's. First of all, he's younger, with less real-world experience, having graduated from the visual communications program at UC Davis just last year. Also, he pulled a rabbit out of his hat.
That's him in the foreground in the T-shirt, beer (?) in hand. He's listening as Cut&Paste founder John Fiorelli briefs the participants backstage.
And here's Croda after the starting bell. Like most of the other contestants, he's dropped into the Design Zone, becoming oblivious to his surroundings. But, he says, being onstage wouldn't have been a problem for him anyway.
"I played in a lot of local bands and stuff like that growing up," he says, "so I'm kind of used to being in front of audiences and being in that kind of situation. But honestly, once you start working, you're so focused on what you're doing that I don't think it's really too much of an issue being on a stage in front of people. The computer screen takes up most of your view anyway."
And here's where the rabbit comes in. Lest you think the Cut&Paste process--time pressure or no--is simply mechanical, with participants re-creating designs they've carefully worked out over the preceding week, Croda provides an example of a more daring approach.
"I had come up with two ideas for both of the themes earlier in the week, and I wasn't really happy with them. I didn't think the concepts were very strong or my executions of them were very good, so I changed everything the night before," he says, laughing. "I just, like, in some stroke of luck came up with two other ideas to do, and I liked those a lot better, and those were the ones that I actually ended up doing in the show. So I practiced in small 15-minute time segments during work on the day of the show. I'd finish a project, or, like, between coming back from lunch or something, I'd do another quick 15-minute round."
Apparently he hasn't yet gotten over the buzz of the design-school all-nighter. But then, the creative process is a mysterious one. Croda says other participants hadn't even done as much preparation as he had for the second-round brief, assuming they wouldn't make it that far.
In this shot, Croda is visible on the big screen, and we can see his first round design taking shape on the lower right screen. The brief asked the designers to create a postcard on the theme of "vacation."
What did Croda's design have to do with vacation? Initially, the crowd may have wondered too--part of Croda's instinct as a performer. He kept the audience engaged by "leaving off explanation titles till the very end ... and staying really zoomed in until the very end, and then zooming out so that everyone sees the full picture."
And here's that full picture, with explanatory text. It may not resemble a postcard all that much, but it does manage to conjure the dreary sameness of a car's interior during a long journey, and the characteristic backseat view children have. And of course it's perfectly appropriate that we can't see the view over which the shotgun-riding passenger is wide-eyed. The fact that the drivers' grumpiness echoes that of the frustrated child is a nice touch as well. Duplicating the face saved time, of course, but white line fever can spoil the view in much the same way being short can.
With its geometric shapes and vectored characters, the piece also says something about the 23-year-old's comfort zone. He's grown up digital, and though he likes to bring traditional media into his work when he can, "normally I'm pretty much always working in the digital world--like, I'm always on the computer, and that's actually when I feel most comfortable, I feel like I have the most control over my medium when I'm doing that."
The judges obviously liked Croda's novel take on "vacation." Devin advanced to the second round and was victorious there too. Here he celebrates that victory, with the aplomb of a former band member. He clearly seems to have the potential to be one of the tournament's showier contestants, and, without revealing too much, he said he's developing a scheme along those lines--with accomplices--for the global finals in New York in February.
"I think I might be planning a few things that don't have anything to do with design but should be fun for the show," he says. "I don't really want to say what they are, but ... I might have a couple friends with me to bring some stuff to life. I don't know what the themes are yet, but I'm gonna try and work whatever I come up with to fit whatever theme they give us at the last minute."
And his verdict on Cut&Paste so far? "Everyone was great to hang out with," he says. "Everyone was just, like, a really cool person, so I mean for the most part it's like a big nerd party. Yeah."