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Merry Christmas from the Santa Patrol!

December 11, 2006
The Santa Patrol scans the skies to spot St. Nick and crew!
The Santa Patrol scans the skies to spot St. Nick and crew!

Watching the Skies for the Tell Tale Stars

I get asked a lot about our studio/family christmas cards. Usually, the question is something about how I get my kids to participate and cooperate with the whole process.

I tell them that the real challenge is how do I get them to stop once we get started.

This photoshoot for our card went right off the deep end.

Both boys started ad libing and pointing to an imaginary Santa Sleigh in every corner of the garage we had converted to a studio.

I ended up cracking up so hard that we had to take a hot cocoa break before we could finish the shoot!

How We Make The Studio Holiday Cards

Every picture tells a story. But, that story has to come from somewhere, right?

We usually start brainstorming a scene that we think will be visually interesting. Through that process, the story of the book comes out.

Sometimes, it is really dark, too! The Candi Canes story started with Santa’s illegitimate daughter having an addiction to candy canes.

We, ah, dialed that back a bit.

Then, after spending time editing the picture, I start writing as if I was an author. No, I am not an author.

At least, not yet.

But, I do my best and plunk down an action scene, as if it was a page from the middle of the book.

Oh, and one rule is that one of the characters has to make a bad joke at the bottom of the page.

When Gears, er… Hunter, our oldest, was born, we wanted to create a photo studio holiday card to send to family, friends and clients.

However, I was not a fan, creatively speaking, of the standard generic family portrait. So, my wife and I collaborated to create something a little more interesting. It kind of snowballed into … well… photography, photoshop and general mayhem

And, has continued to snowball for the last 20+ years…

My favorite comment was from my young second cousin. She mentioned how much she loved seeing the cards every year. And, that she really wanted to read the “books”!

 
The Original "Gears" for Rocketboy and Gears. Year 1

Yes. I have heard that before. (Thanks, Aunt Peggy!)

In the beginning, it was just my wife and I spitballing ideas and trying to figure out how to show people how the boys have grown and give me an opportunity to show off my retouching/compositing skills.

Now, however, the planning process for the photo studio holiday card usually starts with pitch meetings in the first quarter, followed by various updates.

Such as: “Wouldn’t it be cool to do it in a library that could be attached to last year’s office? What would that look like?”

Rocketboy and Gears #21 Sketch

When my wife and I were growing up, The Hardy Boys Mysteries and Nancy Drew Mysteries were always on our respective reading lists. And, I was always excited when I saw a collection of those books lined up on a bookshelf. To this day, that still gives me a thrill.

When the Rocketboy and Gears concept really gained steam for us, those book covers, which have shown up as excellent memes now, became a touchstone for our creative process.

The Blender Set for Rocketboy and Gears Adventures 21

When my wife and I were growing up, The Hardy Boys Mysteries and Nancy Drew Mysteries were always on our respective reading lists. And, I was always excited when I saw a collection of those books lined up on a bookshelf. To this day, that still gives me a thrill.

When the Rocketboy and Gears concept really gained steam for us, those book covers, which have shown up as excellent memes now, became a touchstone for our creative process.

The set for Rocketboy and Gears Adventures 21

In the beginning, we were shooting film and scanning the image for some retouching. Nothing too serious.

Then, with digital cameras, we got much heavier into compositing.

The last few years, we brought heavy duty cgi, through the magic of Blender, to the party. That is when the sets got a lot more minimal and the worlds got much bigger.

This year, however, I found myself going back to photoshop to drive the concept.

Rocketboy and Gears: Coal Case File

That is an excellent question! We have out grown the cute little boys battling the giant robot. We are even starting to push past the YA version.

The boys college plans went a little sideways this year, so scheduling the shoot was fairly easy.

But, at some point, I am sure they are going to be out of the house and then it will be much more challenging to organize these.

The short answer, for me, is that I will keep on making these holiday cards as long as my fellow collaborators want to come and play with me!

I can see, someday, in the future a few years, Rocketboy and Gears may pass on their batons to a new generation of crazy McKees…

The Cast for Rocketboy and Gears Adventures 21

Related Holiday Card Stories from the Studio . . .

This historical photo shows the Legend of the Harvesting of Gifts that happened every holiday season, long ago, on the high seas.

Before Rocketboy and Gears was the CSI Team: Christmas Spirit Investigations!

Another Box of Holiday Cheer!

The boys take their love of the workshop out into a Raiders of The Lost Ark warehouse!

The Frost Brothers were the first inklings of what would later become the Adventures of Rocketboy and Gears