Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Layer Tennis - Amazing Designers Butt Heads

Layer Tennis is a fun Friday-afternoon diversion and just may be the most intriguing sport of the computer age (take that competitive video gaming!). This past Friday (Sept. 28) marked the start of the Layer Tennis season, kicking off the first of 12 weekly matches and pitted noted designer Shaun Inman, of Mint fame, against seasoned illustrator, Kevin Cornell.

Originally called "Photoshop Tennis," Layer Tennis is the brainchild of Chicago's Coudal Partners. They changed the name this season because with the arrival of Adobe's Creative Suite 3, it's about a lot more than just Photoshop.

The rules of the game are simple: 2 designers go head-to-head lobbing designs back and forth and modifying each other's work. Each designer has 15 minutes to complete his or her "volley," and a third party provides commentary on the match (for Inman vs. Cornell it was blogger John Gruber). At the end of the match, which lasts 10 rounds, a winner is declared -- though not always instantly.

Designers are free to either play off the concept of the last volley, or the physical elements. Or both. As you can see from the serve and volley that opened last Friday's match, Inman deftly took Cornell's opening serve (top), and came up with a funny web 2.0 play, reusing many of the physical elements from Cornell's original work.

Layer Tennis is a fascinating game, and speaking as someone who often spent hours in college with my mouth open in amazement watching as my roommate turned a blank Photoshop or Illustrator canvas into an amazing work of art, it's a lot of fun to watch. The talent level of the designers who participate is off the charts and the commentary is (so far) crisp and humorous. I'll definitely be checking out this Friday's match between Neil Duerden and Matthew Star Thomas.

If you want to dig further into the world of Layer Tennis, be sure to check out the book "Photoshop Secrets of the Pros: 20 Top Artists and Designers Face Off." It's a few years old, but thoroughly amazing and gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the process that artists use to go from volley to volley.

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