A Smashing Success

September 9, 2010 

Working on the Herald's football preview section in the past had usually been frustrating for me. Photo requests for featured players would come pouring in the week before publication with shoots scheduled during practice times. Sometimes you could swing by before or at least get them to have some game jerseys ready, but for some athletes, all you'd get is a few minutes with a sweaty kid in practice scrubs. If you're lucky, you can get them away from their teammates, who would make things tougher by taunting the featured players, but your time is also constrained by the coach, who is often more interested in his star player getting more snaps from behind his center than in front of my camera.

This year, Kevin Anthony led the charge, and while a decimated staff meant everything came together in classically last-minute fashion, the big difference was the freedom in producing the cover. After chatting with designer Jeremy Dutton, we settled on the theme of "Summer’s Over." The three featured athletes — Kamiakin receiver Tim White, Chiawana linebacker Nick Vincent and Richland High center Joey White — would each be destroying a summer symbol in their full game pads.

My original idea for Tim was to have him crumpling a frisbee in one hand while spinning a football in the other. After seeing some beach balls on sale, however, I reconsidered, figuring that they would be a quicker read than a smashed piece of plastic. After a quick lesson in the strength of vinyl and how hard it actually is to spin a football, we simplified the idea into just tearing the ball apart. Thanks to sports editor Jeff Morrow for grabbing a few more on his way into the office so we could get in a few more takes, including the winner:

For center Joey White, I wanted him Hulk™-flexing out of an inner tube, preferably a comically undersized child's pool toy. After desperate calls to just about everybody I know in town didn't turn up any hidden treasures, I went shopping, settling on a sea turtle. I figured I could just cut a hole for him to bust out of and the green helped make up for the fact that Joey wouldn't be able to get his green Richland uniform for the shoot.

It didn't work out quite as planned, however, as the vinyl for the float toy was a lot thicker and stronger than I had hoped. I told him just to tear it apart, but the forceful pop after stretching meant his arms went out of frame, so we tried reenacting it:

I like his slightly maniacal expression, but it's falling down and a tough read. This variation fits the mood, but it's similarly tough to tell what he's holding:

Tim suggested we put the turtle's head on a stick, which made for a pretty funny outtake:

And Jeremy laughed as we went through the take, saying that this made it look like he was wearing a cape:

It came down to a one where it looks like he’s actively stretching away one of the last bits holding the turtle together:

He has better expressions in other shots and I'm sure he could feel my frustration with how the shoot was panning out logistically. The most expensive of the cover shots was shaping up to be the worst of the bunch. With more time and money, I would have done some test shoots beforehand, but I still should have come up with a simple backup plan. Unfortunately, that downfall ripples throughout the shoot and I think the discomfort is apparent on Joey's face. I just hope he didn't get too much guff from his teammates and friends.

As we started on the finale with Nick Vincent, it looked to be shaping up in the same way. My original idea was to cut holes in a watermelon, a whopping 30-pound behemoth provided by sports writer Annie Fowler. This would theoretically weaken it enough so that Nick could simply compress it from end to end, smushing it between his hands. After repeated attempts and further cuts to the melon, it was clear I had underestimated the strength of the fruit and overestimated the strength of a high school linebacker. We tried a version with Nick "punching" his way through the big hole I cut in the middle as Joey and sports writer Jack Millikin assisted in tossing some random chunks in front:

The effect is OK, despite the unrealistic posture of Nick, who I should have asked to do a more punch-like motion. The various cuts from the first idea also are distracting, but some quick cloning and healing in Photoshop would have fixed that up just fine:

Then Jack suggested we cut the melon in half so that Nick could just smash them together:

It took a few takes, but instead of me prattling on and spending time thinking up obscure pop culture references, I spent it cutting together this behind-the-scenes peek:

Then I made a composite of the three images together and evened out the black background,

before handing it off to Jeremy to complete the cover design:

Despite the unforeseen hurdles and frustrations, including all the cleanup involved, it was a blast working on this year's cover. Sure, I could have used more time and a bigger budget, but when isn't that true? It would have been fun to carry the theme throughout the issue, however, and my hope is that this year's change in production was as positive for everybody else involved and that we can build upon it next year.


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