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Mixing it up – Making music on iPad Garageband

A quickfire tutorial and review

Like most people, I have an semi-conscious list of goals I’d like to say I completed. Climb Kilimanjaro. Fight in the UFC.  Drop off the grid and become anonymous. Write and record a song.

The first three reasonably attainable you would say.  Recording a song, not so much.

So I was keen to see what Garageband on the iPad had to offer in the hopes of reducing my check list by at least one.  And with no experience  in mixing music or playing more than guitar, I dove in. Here’s how I got there.  Briefly.

You’re first presented with a screen displaying your existing songs / supplied demo.  You can play with the demo or create your own new piece.

Once you select your song, you’re presented with the following track timeline , and can easily add new instrument and audio tracks.  The spanner in the toolbar allows you to choose your base options including time signature, key, and tempo.  If you tap the track, it highlights.  Then clicking the instrument icon in the toolbar allows you to ‘play’ the instrument.


I created a drums track and dropped in to lay down my beat first, always a good start.  You can select a ‘smart’ drum beat that provides an automated sequence but I chose to play out my own finger tap for a more natural feel.  Hit the record button, wait for the time in and you’re away.


Now this allows you to record one ‘section’ of your song, or a general beat loop.  You’ll want to add a few more sections.  You do this by clicking the + at the top right of the timeline.  This allows you to add, duplicate, and shuffle sections.


Once I’d worked out the drum sequence for the different sections of my song, I moved on to the Strings instrument.  Having set your key in the ‘spanner’ options, you are presented with a set of chords that play nicely together.  And simply by tapping or stroking the keys you have a beautiful sounding orchestra at your fingertips.


Romantic strings section done, I moved on and fleshed out the song with other tracks – acoustic guitar, electic guitar for solos, a grand piano for punch, a bass guitar.   There are further options within each instrument to give you more freedom or more automation, depending on your preference.  You can choose to play full chords with one tap, or play a complete virtual piano.


Once you have all your tracks laid out you can adjust the general settings for each track under the mixer icon – volume, reverb, balance etc.  I pulled some instruments back, and shifted their balance left or right for a little dimension.


At this stage, the song may have points you just want to tweak.  Bad timing, or notes that don’t fit.  You can really get into the detail now by double tapping a section in the timeline.  This brings up options for that clip, the one that matters – edit.


This gives you a break down of every beat /note played and you can easily move them for timing, alter the notes volume, copy or delete it.  This gives Garageband the versatility I was worried I was going to miss, and being able to tweak a beat or remove a violin string made all the difference.


And from having no experience in creating and mixing music, I was able to pretty easily find my way around the app.  Definitely intuitive and works so well on the iPad.  To be able to lie on the couch and create a fully fleshed out piece was great.

On plugging the iPad into my PC, I was then able to export the piece out as an mp3 to itunes, import it into a sound editing program for a little extra control and add vocals.  You can record vocals directly into the iPad AND plug in real instruments.  There are a number of add on devices that plug in to the iPad for the more serious musician which makes the app a powerful portable creative tool.

But after a little work, I’m impressed with the result Garageband for iPad can produce.  Clearly it’s not the real thing, or a fully ‘pro’ app, but this makes an excellent tool for getting down a tune.  My only dissapointment was the lack of air instruments.  I would have liked to throw in a little sax.  But you get a lot of bang for your buck with this app.  Very nice.

Cross ‘record song’ off my list.  What next.

4 1/2  out of 5 stars

Photoshop Tutorial – Indiana Jones Poster

Well if you’re a movie buff of any bearing you would be aware of the most excellent Indiana Jones flicks and their iconic classic 80’s movie posters. You would also have definitely seen some of legendary poster artist Drew Struzan‘s work (bow). His art for the Indy series is classic Jones, classic action adventure, they’re brilliant. Hell, everyone should have their own Indy Poster. In homage to Struzan, let’s do it.

A quick analysis of a few movie posters – you’ll notice a trend in either warm or cool gradient backgrounds with one highlight.

For this tutorial you’ll need:

  • One skull or suitable spooky image
  • One Aztec/Mayan type carving
  • One hero shot, preferably backlit (of course yourself!)
  • Shots of rocks, walls, trees, steps for a backdrop
  • The SF Fedora Font set (get it here)

A standard movie poster is 27 x 40″ (68.6 x 101.6cm) with about 150ppi (pixels per inch) but that’s a big file so choose a size that suits.

The Background

We’ll start with a gradient of warm color. Bring up the gradient editor and add color points as shown, then apply.

Drop in and clearcut the skull, then use the EDIT>TRANSFORM>WARP tool to distort the image to a suitably scary state. DESATURATE to lose the color. I applied a PLASTIC WRAP filter to give it some sheen.

SKULL COLOUR – We’ll place the skull large at the top, and add a layer style by double clicking the skull layer in the layers tab. We’ll give it a COLOR OVERLAY (we’ll use a lot of these) setting the color to a bright orange and using a vivid light blend mode.

SKULL SHADOW – Duplicate the skull layer and erase all but the areas you want deep shadow. The eye sockets in this case. Then adjust the layer style to a deep brown with a COLOR BURN
blend mode

SKULL HIGHLIGHT – Duplicate the original skull layer again, remove the layer styles and crank the contrast right up to get a few strong whites for highlights. Set the layer blend mode
to SCREEN. This will give the teeth some punch.

Now we’ll flatten the image and apply a little DRY BRUSH filter and some NOISE to give it a painterly gritty effect.

Ok that’s the background. Now a backdrop to frame our ‘hero’. Drop in some background rock or tree life, and DESATURATE. Apply plenty of contrast for deep highlights. Now apply another COLOR OVERLAY layer style using a deep brown color and linear light mode. Set the layer mode to SCREEN.

Now DUPLICATE the layer, remove the styles and set the layer mode to HARD LIGHT. A little DRY BRUSH can’t hurt either. Erase the edges a little to blend with the background.

Now let’s add some steps for our hero to stand on – another greyscale image with a COLOR OVERLAY layer style. This time set to SOFT LIGHT mode and a light brown color. We set the layer mode to LUMINOSITY on this one. As you might be starting to guess, there is experimentation here. Play. Learn. Enjoy.

Now we pick up speed. We take our Aztec carving, color it rich blue using the HUE/SATURATION tool, hollow it out using the eraser tool and place it at the base. Then we create a new layer and paint over it with black (with some opacity) so it’s subtle.

Now we’re ready for our hero. Create a new layer and airbrush in a white glow to sit behind the character. This is our focal point. Now add a layer style to this and use an OUTER GLOW with a yellow color. Glow on glow. Now we’ll paste in our character (handsome fellow…) To give it some inky grunt, I like to apply UNSHARP MASK with a high radius. Adjust LEVELS to a point you’re happy with, where the hero looks a part of the scene.

Now DUPLICATE the hero layer. Set the new layers mode to LUMINOSITY, and then apply a layer effect. In this case we want three effects to “style like Struzan”.

Outer Glow – This will give the character an ink-like outline. Set this to a very dark brown, blend mode to OVERLAY, a little SPREAD and a little NOISE until you get a rough brown outline

Color Overlay – This will give the character the same tone as the rest of the image. Set blend mode to OVERLAY and choose a soft brown to blend the character with the scene.

Stroke – this will mimic the halo outline of a backlight. Set color to white, blend mode to OVERLAY, position to CENTER.

Now to give the character a painterly feel, apply a little DRY BRUSH filter, excluding the face with a feather selection. A little NOISE and UNSHARP MASK perhaps for good measure.

Almost there! Just the text to go. For this you’ll need the Fedora set which you can find here.

Enter name here! To this text we’ll apply another layer style, this time with a heavy black DROP SHADOW, a GRADIENT OVERLAY (as shown) and a black STROKE.

Now we’ll select the text and click the CREATE WARPED TEXT tool in the text tool bar. Here we can use the ARC selection to bend the text slightly. Then rotate a little for lift. Indy would be proud.

Using the FEDORA TITLE font, we can complete the movie title… and our poster! Drew often uses paint spatter to soften his work, you could mimic this for a finishing touch by downloading or creating your own photoshop brush. Might cover that in another tutorial.

All kudos to Drew Struzan for this incredible style, his posters have been an integral part of cinema for as long as I can remember. Hell I grew up on them.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Look forward to more in the future.


Build your own iPod Shuffle

Of course not all of us can afford to indulge in the god given goodness that is the Apple Ipod.  But any one of us can experience the awesome technocoolness that comes with walking down the street and watching as cars collide and hot blondes walk into power poles, seeing the perfect white demigod at your side.

Well now you can come close to the world of the accepted.  Build your own Shuffle!  While it may not have all the same features as an original Ipod, I’m sure you’ll agree it will give you an edge in the society of cool.

Step 1.  Visit Apple website and print a page featuring the awesome Shuffle.


Step 2.  Cut out said image, ensuring it is as close to life size as possible


Step 3.  Source a piece of corrugated cardboard for use as backing and cut around Shuffle shape – MAKE SURE the grooves line up with the Ipods plug hole – IMPORTANT


Step 4.  Glue the Shuffle shape to cardboard.  You may need to sellotape the extension for extra stability..


Step 5.  Find a suitably Ipod like pair of headphones


Step 6.  Plug your headphones in, and viola, in less than 10 minutes and at a far lower cost, you have your own passport to serious coolness.  Congratulations!  Please note, music will not play on this version of the Ipod, nor will you be able to download songs from your computer.

Visual effects in the style of the movie 300

Visual effects in the style of the movie 300


© Warner Bros Pictures

Here is a little Photoshop guide to mimic the 300 style. The effects could also be applied to video in After Effects with a similar setup. The aim here is to build the basic photoshop action with minimal tweaking. I’ve used basic shots but with good imagery you can achieve great results.

The 300 artists aimed to achieve a painterly watercolour effect in combination with photographic elements. They then applied a heavy sepia tone and the ‘crush’ – clipping the levels to pump up the contrast. Nearly all of the shots are heavily sepia. Post production took a year, so obviously there was a lot of work on each scene. No to mention the full CG environments.

In 300 there were a huge amount of ‘sky’ shots. Almost every scene was set against a dramatic sunset with glare. Snyder preferred a polarized look to the backgrounds – contrast at the top, soft and light at the skyline. The photographic cloud shots were mixed with painterly effects – such as coffee stains… really. So to begin: One cumulus cloudscape. One scan of coffee spillage. The cloud backdrop does come down to composition (tweaking).


Background Layer

Base level – Take a shot of cumulus clouds and apply ‘dust and scratches’ to heavily blur the detail to give it an arty feel. Then use color adjustments to give it a strong sepia tone with heavy saturation, then dodge and burn to achieve the polarized look – dark at the top, light at the bottom. The background plates of 300 were very grainy, so a dash of the film grain filter here as well.


Layer 2 – Coffee stains: To add to the overall painterly style, use ‘overlay’ on a scan of coffee stains. Yes you could use ink, but coffee is easy to come by and has that nice sepia tone. Droplets on a sheet of damp watercolour paper for a nice spread. Obviously you’re after a cloudy feel so this is a terrible example – but it’s test stuff.


Layer 3 – Cumulus clouds: A finishing layer of desaturated cumulus clouds with transparency, strong whites are a bonus. As the cloud in 300 was generally soft, this gets a low dose of dust and scratches also to lower the detail. This layer could be set to normal or screen on preference.


Layer 4 – And lastly, a silhouetted black landscape for depth set to multiply. These layers could easily be animated in After Effects.



Now to tweak the action plate. One suitable image… with transparency / blue screen. I used extract on this shot, useful tool. As said, the colours in 300 were mainly desaturated and heavily sepia, apart from deliberate highlights, with the levels tweaked to create high contrast.


1) Starting with levels we’ll mimic the ‘crush’. Pull down the light end to boost up the highlights, then push up the midtones to boost contrast. Then in the black channel only, bring up the low end to punch up the darks.


2) In hue/saturation, pull back the saturation. In 300, red was often left alone or even saturated for impact.


3) Now we duplicate the layer, set to colourise in hue/saturation and adjust it to sepia. We’ll set this to multiply. This gives the image an inky feel with sepia overtones. Adjust the opacity for strength. To this we’ll also add a fine film grain.


4) Now the finishing touches – peesa cake.

Obviously there was a lot more in the compositing of each scene in 300, but I think this presents the basic elements. You can see the layering in an actual 300 shot on this page of the VFX article here.

Related links:
The VFX Article
GC Society Article
How Stuff Works Article
Popular Mechanics Article
Studio Daily Article