Shooting for Aquafina

I heart freelancing. The range of projects that I’ve worked on has been extensive, and it has helped keep me on my toes. One such project came my way a few months back. Aquafina was launching a new line of flavored sparkling water, and I was brought in to help with creating social media content.

Basically, I had to create compositions of hands holding Aquafina cans in front of cool backdrops. The easy thing would be to find these backdrops on the internet, and do the rest of the magic on photoshop. It would have certainly finished the job quickly. But I would not have been satisfied with those photos, which is why I decided to take the longer route for this assignment.

San Francisco is a beautiful city, and each neighbourhood has a distinct personality. My process began with travelling around the city with my DSLR to find inspiration in the patterns and textures of the city. The search was extremely fruitful.


There are neighbourhoods (like the Mission) that have walls covered with graffitti and art created by renowned artists. The shops in the Haight were overflowing with fabrics, glitter and crafts.


In a matter of days, I had over 700 unique photos of patterns, textures and vistas, I think that there are projects where you need to work quick and smart, where you must turn things around quickly. That is a very valuable skillset to have and will help you become very efficient as a creative professional.

However, there will be times where you might get the opportunity to really put in the time and effort to develop something from scratch. The outcome of such passion will be fucking remarkable. You will love it because you know you gave it your best. The clients will drop their jaws, and will love you for it.


The photos went live on Aquafina’s instagram here, here, here and here. Also, a BIG thanks to this city trotter for keeping me company for this project!


Original book > TV adaptation

American Gods is starting from the first of May, and I could not get myself to wait until the show actually aired. The series is about an ex-con Shadow Moon, who gets hired as a bodyguard for a mysterious man named Wednesday. Their journey takes us through a battle between the old mythological gods and the new gods–like credit cards, media and technology. Already, my head is about to explode with excitement.

So I went to IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. I looked up the cast and watched all the previews and trailers. While reading one such review, I found out that the show is based on a series of books written by Neil Gaiman!*


There has always been prejudice from me against TV shows and movies that have been adapted from books. Too many of these end up ‘hollywood scripting’ the story and the characters, omitting the very details and nuances that made the original book cherishable and dear to its readers.

I read through the first act, and the book feels more like a tome. It is voluminous, and it meanders. But not in a boring way; the author really takes his time in painting verbal visuals, and they are beautifully written. The version that I’m reading isn’t the one that bagged awards in multiple genres. It is over twelve thousand words longer, and is the version that the author himself is extremely proud of. Here’s a quick excerpt from the book—

Gods die. And when they truly die they are unmourned
and unremembered. Ideas are more difficult to kill than
people, but they can be killed, in the end.

Needless to say, I’d highly recommend reading the book before starting the episode.

P.S.: I’ll add more to this post once I’m done with the first book.

* (This single exclamation very poorly elucidates my bursting excitement!!!!!!)

Ping Pong Nights


New city, new friends. It’s been quite a ride to pack up and leave our home of seven years and come to the ancient city of London. But we were finally in the land of football. Real football. (I’m looking at you, NFL) We decided to watch Bayern Munich’s game against Arsenal in a Bavarian Beerhouse. Very fitting. Walked into a room semi-packed with Germans. In fifteen minutes, we were sitting at their table, politely chiming in when spoken to in English, and having sweet sweet Weißbier.


After a 5-1 victory, we went to the Bounce Ping Pong bar and discovered that playing table tennis drunk is incredible. I highly recommend that you give it a try. The cherry on top was that I finally figured out a way to beat my wife at ping pong. Every. Single. Time.

The trick is to lob it across with a lot of bounce. The chance is too juicy to resist, and she hits it way too hard every single time. She is laughing her head off, and I’m getting all the points. Everybody wins!

Here are the deets for Bounce in case you decide to give it a spin.





A democracy without empathy is tasteless


What do you do when you are the biggest kid in the class? You could be the benevolent giant, the guy who helps people carry heavy stuff and breaks fights between the smaller kids. But when the giant decides to push the smaller kids around for their lunch money or just for ‘shits & giggles’, he becomes a bully.

Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments and environmental disaster; characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society. As I sat in silence after seeing the result of the 2016 US presidential election, I felt that I witnessed a pivotal moment that threatens to regress humanity into an era of darkness.

Yet, I feel that I understand why it happened.

It reminds me to the first season of Indian Idol show we watched when growing up in Mumbai. A kid from a middle-class Marathi family ended up making it to the final round. Every single working household in Mumbai decided that he was them and they were him. They decided that no matter what, he’s going to be the winner. They bought prepaid cards, burner numbers and whipped everyone into a texting frenzy. Even my own father, who barely knew how to text back then, sent over a dozen votes his way. And of course, the dude won by a landslide. He did not win because he was the best singer in the competition. He won exactly because the masses decided it was time to say “fuck you” to all the game shows with their rigged winners.

And this is exactly what has happened in the United States of America. Hillary Clinton cast the Republican voters aside and called them ‘deplorables’. How can one hope to persuade people through insult? Empathy glues society together; it is the key ingredient without which a democracy is simply tasteless.

This is not a game show. This is not a motherfucking game show. This is a country that has spent over 600 billion in the last year over its military. And you cannot have a guy with paper-thin skin to be in charge of those nuclear launch codes.

With that, I fervently wish that logic, compassion and wisdom bless America.

The Furious Scribbles of Brand New Conference 2016

I love and hate Dribbble. I see the kind of work people are creating on a daily basis, and my jaw drops aptly. At the same time, it lights the embers of competition within. Going to Nashville for the Brand New Conference (BNCONF) felt something like that. There was so much talent at the event, both on and off the stage.

It does feel good to be inspired again. Designing stuff for the same kind of clients/industry can get monotonous. Be the industry tech, sports, tourism or even video games. But seeing all the stellar work and words showcased at BNCONF was refreshing. It was like splashing your face with aftershave. And it got me scribbling rapidly in the semi-darkness of the auditorium. Here are some of the doodles–



There were punny anecdotes and rib-ticklers followed by beautifully crafted identities and sound design strategies. In other words, lots of fuel to keep me doodling throughout the conference.




Moby Books made me the bookworm I am today.

Just got through reading The Gunslinger by Stephen King. And with that I’m done with 16 books of my 2016 list. I have accepted that I am the quintessential bookworm. Curling in my bed with a good read and a good drink, trumps getting smashed in bars with friends any day. I think enduring habits like these come from special places in our childhood. These moments are sacred. Treasured.

My pivotal period was from when I was 8. It was at the home of my oldest pal. They had over a hundred books housed within many, many bookshelves. I think his mom was trying hard to get them to start reading. Instead, she had me over every single evening. I would religiously spend hours in their room conquering the ‘book vault’, one tome at a time. In these books were miniature novels called Moby Books.



These books were a thing of beauty. The language was easy,  and each page came with a detailed illustration. My first introduction to these novels was Moby Dick. Within a span of a few chapters, I fell in love with characters like Queequeg, Starbucks and Stubb and imagined myself a daring voyager ready to set sail and conquer the seven seas. There came a time when I’d barely pause when one book ended and another began. Within the span of a few months, I had gone through forty eight of these classic novels.




I’ve grown older, but the nostalgia persists. Now I find myself slowly but surely building up the library that nurtured my fantasy as a child. It also helps to have a wife who grew up without reading any of the children classics. This is my way of introducing her to my childhood.

List of Titles:
Catalog No./Title/Author/Publishing Date

4501 Wizard of Oz, The Baum, L. Frank 1977
4502 Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles Doyle, A. Conan 1977
4503 Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, The Defoe, Daniel 1977
4504 Black Beauty Sewell, Anna 1977
4505 Kidnapped Stevenson, Robert Louis 1977
4506 Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, A Twain, Mark 1977
4507 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Verne, Jules 1977
4508 Heidi Spyri, Johanna 1977
4509 Three Musketeers, The Dumas, Alexandre 1977
4510 Treasure Island Stevenson, Robert Louis 1977
4511 Little Women Alcott, Louisa May 1977
4512 Around the World in 80 Days Verne, Jules 1977
4513 Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, The Pyle, Howard 1979
4514 Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Twain, Mark 1979
4515 Call of the Wild, The London, Jack 1979
4516 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Twain, Mark 1979
4517 Oliver Twist Dickens, Charles 1979
4518 David Copperfield Dickens, Charles 1979
4519 Count of Monte Cristo, The Dumas, Alexandre 1979
4520 Moby Dick Melville, Herman 1979
4521 Last of the Mohicans, The Cooper, James Fenimore 1979
4522 Mutiny on Board H.M.S. Bounty Bligh, William 1979
4523 Oregon Trail, The Parkman, Francis 1979
4524 Tales of Mystery and Terror Poe, Edgar Allan 1979
4525 Ben-Hur Wallace, Lew 1983
4526 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Doyle, A. Conan 1983
4527 Swiss Family Robinson, The Wyss, Johann 1983
4528 Journey to the Center of the Earth, A Verne, Jules 1983
4529 War of the Worlds Wells, H.G. 1983
4530 Time Machine, The Wells, H.G. 1983
4531 Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Stevenson, Robert Louis 1983
4532 Tale of Two Cities, A Dickens, Charles 1983
4533 Man in the Iron Mask, The Dumas, Alexandre 1983
4534 Great Expectations Dickens, Charles 1983
4535 Prince and the Pauper, The Twain, Mark 1983
4536 Captain Courageous Kipling, Rudyard 1983
4537 Red Badge of Courage Crane, Stephen 2002
4538 Frankenstein Shelley, Mary 2002
4539 King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table Pyle, Howard 2002
4540 Jungle Book, The Kipling, Rudyard 2002
4541 Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Hugo, Victor 2002
4542 Wind in the Willows, The Grahame, Kenneth 2002
4543 Gulliver’s Travels Swift, Jonathan 2002
4544 Invisible Man, The Wells, H.G. 2002
4545 Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Irving, Washington 2002
4546 Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm Wiggin, Kate Douglas 2002
4547 Alice in Wonderland Carroll, Lewis 2002
4548 Pride and Prejudice Austen, Jane 2002



My take on Metal Gear Solid: Survive

I didn’t have my own computer until I turned 18. But that did very little to curb my enthusiasm for video games. I’d camp out at my friends’ places, taking turns to play and watch video games for hours. And watching my friends play wouldn’t bore me. I would sit there analyzing and sketching the characters, environments and graphic effects. Years have passed and video games have changed, but I still find myself pulling apart game videos. It is entertaining to see how the creators came up with the visuals and concepts. To figure out what makes some games stick where others fall off the radar.

Last weekend, Konami released gameplay footage from their new release Metal Gear Solid: Survive. I am not a fan of how the company is treating its employees and co-creators. But I liked what I saw in this video, and am reviewing it from a design/art direction POV.


Metal Gear Solid: Survive is co-op survival action game where soldiers are trying to survive after being transported to an alternate reality, to find a world full of hostile creatures. The gameplay starts with the four characters teleporting into the spawn point. The primary character that we focus on, is a black guy in desert fatigues.


This is downright revolutionary. It immediately sets the game apart from ones that show these perfect-sculpted white protagonists. I can relate to this dude, and can see him as a hapless soldier stranded on this alternate reality. It also shows that the game caters to a wide audience, and there is a lot of scope for character customization.

The character strides feel human. They feel like Spec Ops. These people are trying to survive, so it would make sense for them to avoid unnecessary movements and conserve their energy. It would be silly if they keep breaking into gymnastic pole-vaults for every tiny fence.


There is a neat circle hovering around you that acts as a compass. Though a bit distracting at first, I found it helpful as the mission progresses.


The in-game menu follows a clean layout. The design components are set on a subtle grid, and have a sophisticated feel. Instead of having realistic illustrations of your character, they have used pictograms. Sections light up within the pictogram to show damage and the subsequent health recovery.


The icons for Inventory, Status and Database aren’t too literal. A lot of times, games try to one-up each other by adding more 3D effects, gradients, glows, etc. These effects make the game files heavy, increasing the load time for the frames. This can cause lag and screw with the users’ experience. The visual language used here is elegant and has the potential to elevate the way experience design is used in video games.

I love how the thumb moves in the blurry background while we move around the menu. Definitely makes me feel like I am the character.

Ballistics and the area of effect for molotov cocktails is shown through a dot-matrix overlay.  This is an elegant use of subtle graphics that inform without cluttering your HUD.


The environment looks dystopian but familiar. This is because a lot of assets from the MGS 5 Afghanistan map have been copy-pasted onto this terrain.

The alien beings that look like Headcrab Zombies from Half Life are referred to simply as ‘creatures’ (くりーちゃー or Kuriichaa). This seems a too literal, and kinda silly. Naming these monsters thus would make more sense if we look at this from a Japanese point of view. The Japanese prefer transliterating English words into the Katakana script over finding native alternates. So, saying Kuriichaa (creature) would be easier. Over something like Supaiku Heddo (spike head) or Heddorasu Eiriian (headless alien).


You can install fences to barricade your path, which bend under the attack of the creatures. This was a great way to show the loss of durability, instead of using health bars.

Also, I kinda feel bad for this sheep. It looks like it’s getting sucked into a hellish incinerator. :’(


Also, bows.


They haven’t shown a perfect execution of the mission. The team actually ends up losing and retreating. Watching this video sparked a “I can totally kick ass and play this game better than these guys” feeling in me. This is a nice subconscious ‘hook’ that the marketing team could have planted in there.

All in all, very Solid.

First year, first post.

Wow. Our marriage just turned one. And I couldn’t find better time to pop this blog’s first post. For our anniversary, I wanted to present my old woman with something special. Something that would be akin to a cassette featuring the greatest hits the past year.

And thus was born this One.


For the curious-minded, the illustration contains our desktop owl. Fireworks. Twelve of our favorite books. A potted ceropegia woodii variegata creeper. Mustaches everywhere. Archery at the Golden Gate Park. Christmas in Tahoe. Disc-golfing. Crooked glasses. Ceasers Palace. Ice crystals. Yogi Ginger Tea. Lamp-posts. Our bikes. Diablo 3. Lombard St. Starbucks coffee cards. Goa. And snow-shoeing.

Rahul Sawant_first post_final

Rahul Sawant_first post_tools

Rahul Sawant_first post_stippling.