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Blog

How switching from paper to Kindle changed my perspective on reading.

Erik Ravaglia

Over the years I’ve been a terrible reader; somehow it’s easier to focus on anything else but a book. It’s curious given the amount of time I spend reading barely useful material on the internet; you know the kind of articles you might find on tech, videogames and creative blogs. Don’t get me wrong, I do like a good review on the latest gadget or a great article on the next design exploit, but it also feels like my knowledge is filled with tons of information I could realistically do without.

Recently I had a holiday or as I like to call it ‘I had 2 weeks in which I didn’t work’. I used to be a big fan of adventure holidays but lately I’ve started to regard a holiday as something which I can switch my brain off and relax with the people I care about. It must be the age. 
The reason for this, I figured, it’s that I tend to get carried away with work a little too much most of the time (but I’m trying to fix that). 

But I digress.

During my 2-week relaxing holiday all I did was...well, reading, and the best part was that I really enjoyed it. This might sound incredibly boring and obvious to the clever ones out there that are on it, but it was more of a revelation for me. In my youth ignorance, once or twice, I’ve even bragged about not being a reader. So, yes, I’m that bad.

I read two books, Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Crichton’s ‘Timeline’ and a few chapters of Claire North (AKA Catherine Webb) ‘The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August’ which I’ve just finished this morning. I’ve also read an amazing manga called Berserk, which I had in my hands for the first time about 15 years ago (Ah! I’m old) and I had a chance to re-read from page one. Incredible read (37 issues in total, so far, for the ones who care). I re-discovered the pleasure of reading, the pleasure to appoint my brain to one task and one only: imagining things based on words. Magic. 

Why this matter, you might ask? 

Well, for years I had this voice at the back of my head remarking that I should be reading more and for the last few years I haven’t been a native speaker (I’m Italian), hence I knew how reading would help me take the language even further. Long story short, I wanted to read and I never really did it. 

Why? 

...and we are back to square one, because I’m crap at it. I can’t focus for more than 5 minutes and I get sleepy in no time in front of a good book. There is definitely a special feeling about physically holding a book but somehow I get easily distracted while doing it. The problem is definitely me, I needed a different approach to it.

I purchased the Kindle thinking I would give it a shot. I am all for gadgets, even the useless but pretty ones, in fact I own a number of them. After reading about it on various blogs-clearly not the kind of reading I should’ve done instead-I purchased one. Friends feedback was important as well as the thing they said that attracted me was the lack of distractions given the one and only one function the Kindle offers: reading a book.

There is one thing that got me straight away and it is a certain gamification aspect on reading a book on the Kindle. Knowing exactly the amount of time left on a chapter without me having to check physically (albeit get distracted) would push me on finishing that chapter. Being able to establish (not perfectly in any way) how much time is left on a book is somehow reassuring. Knowing that is not going to take weeks but hours to finish it makes the book more accessible to me. Ultimately the tools the Kindle offers to track how much of a book is left to read give me that little push I need to read more. Maybe it’s me being weird, but the Kindle made reading that bit more enjoyable. In fact I’m already 3 books down in one month, and that is way above my (pitiful) average.

Do I miss a paperback or hell even a hard cover? I do and I don’t; I gave up the pleasure of holding a book for the pleasure of ultimately reading it.


How to make your own cartoon Series - Part 2 - The animation process

Erik Ravaglia

Hello and welcome back! After we had a look at how Wellpark came to be in this article and we had a more in depth look at the beginning of the production process, it’s time to move forward with production. Shall we?! (if you feel lost, go have a read of the older articles mentioned above).

Final Artwork

Finally after the sketches were approved Pablo would plough through the final artwork. 
To keep up with the pace, the artwork had to follow these simple rules:
- A limited number of details on the characters.
- The characters must be drawn in a basic, frontal position, whenever possible.
- Everything must be drawn in Illustrator to allow infinite scalability.

Pablo would draw in this order: Character -> Mouth positions -> Backgrounds..and repeat.

If you are starting a similar project of your own, I’d recommend that you set up simple rules like the ones above, which would make your life a lot easier in After Effects. At this stage, after that the idea, script and sketches were approved, there was no need to get the final artwork OKed, therefore once the artwork was finished it would be sent to Skelfie to break it down directly.


Breaking down the assets and all that

This was probably the most tedious of the processes (sorry Skelf). It’s a stinky one but someone had to do it. With the way our system worked, the character’s limbs had to be broken down into 3 pieces AND if finger movements were necessary then the fingers had to be broken down into 3 pieces as well. Same treatment for the face where every single element needed to be in it’s own individual layer. AH! The fun and games…

 

After the character was broken down, hence ready to be rigged, then Skelf would move into the lip syncing process using a custom rig we built, similar to this: https://vimeo.com/70295483 (may the animation Gods bless CreativeCow BTW).

Before settling on this we tried a bunch of other more automated solutions, which didn’t really work with the scottish accent AND ended up requiring more tidying up afterwards than anything else. 

A few episodes in and he was the king of lip MOFO syncing. 

Right after the lip syncing process was over, Skelf would start breaking down the background as we wanted to go for that sweet sweet parallax effect. To achieve it, we needed the artwork to be divided in 4 to 5 parts depending on the drawings; I.E. one layer usually being the sky, a few separate ones for the clouds, a few for the buildings and then the individual details on the floor being on their separate layers.

Doing the whole process by yourself would require a bit more patience and I’m aware that it sounds like it could take you forever. Breaking down the assets takes at least a couple of hours, same for lip syncing. If you are by yourself just think small. Settle on a simpler design; a good look doesn’t necessarily require loads of details.


Rigging away

After catching up on everything else it was finally my time to give it laldy

Step one for me (or Andrew once he got on board) was rigging, God bless DuDuf for making the best plugin ever conceived in the history of After Effects (regarding character animation). This tool allows you to rig a 2D character very effectively and in a fraction of the time. Here is a wee video to give you an idea of how good it is: https://vimeo.com/92546892
Rigging was all about making sure that the limbs could move without bits sticking out hence it required a bit of artwork alteration, small details mostly, just to make sure that the movement and the artwork would work seamlessly together without having to play with Rot Morph.

There are 2 ways of rigging your character, and we used both based on different circumstances:

- Split the limbs into different parts (see Paul's harm above).
- Have one long limb, use the puppet tool and parent the points to null objects (check the Fly below).

The first solution made an awful lot of sense given that our characters were pretty much all of human appearances BUT for details like the beard, a wire, cloths and so on we used the second solution.

To have a better understanding on how 2D rigging works have a look at DuDuf tutorials on Duik. It requires a bit of time to catch up with it, but understanding the basics before jumping in head first will save you heaps of time. Like everything else in After Effects, it is 60% preparation and 40% animation, if you have a solid set up you are way ahead of the curve, IMHO.

Let’s get it on..

After having the rig ready to go it was time for us to get animating. We adopted a very simple style, which the client liked from day one. We looked at instances like South Park and Archer where movement is minimal but effective. We had to stick to our guns and make sure that the style would fit with our schedule hence South Park is a great example given that they make an episode every 6 days (great documentary BTW). After a few tests we figured out our sweet spot and we stuck with it till the end. 

The animation part is pretty straightforward: use keyframes like there is no tomorrow. Play with the easing and avoid straight movements as much as possible. Invest time on getting a few things right and the rest will follow. Granted you could spend DAYS getting a rig to work perfectly, crafting a lovely animation but when you have merely hours you have to cut corners. I understand this kills that romantic idea about how animation works. I’m sorry guys, but this was our reality with this project AND it was effective.

After the character was done, it was time to build the backgrounds. Usually they would be built into a series of layers positioned in 3D space so to obtain that parallax effect I discussed above.

One thing I realised later on during the process was that having the cuts ready in advance would save us a bit more time. No need to animate the whole body if we had a close up or only a detail shot. I used to decide these only at the end of the process as we would normally try a few things out, but actually having a clear idea from the start made the process more effective.


Almost done.

To help give all the episodes an overall look, we decided to use a set of 3 additional adjustment layers and a couple of paper textures to ease that sharp look typical of vector illustrations. We had an orange solid on 5% transparency, a black vignette at about 25% transparency and an adjustment layer with a 10 points increased saturation to bring back the colours. The paper textures were used on individual elements to avoid that dirty lens effect typical of when you slap a texture right on top of everything. These little details usually helps to improve the general look of the animation.


Delivery

After the 2.5 day process we would have one episode ready to be sent to the client. Usually feedback would hit us pretty swiftly and given that the client was on board with us since the episode was conceived, chances were, they would approve the episode without any amends. We had a couple of instances where we had to add or remove things and that’s when the time slipped away a bit, but it was never too bad. 


The End

The most impressive thing about the project was the scope of it and we made it with just 6-7 people in the timeframe we had. Looking back, we produced tons of content, squeezing every minute out of any given day. We didn’t go through any big dramas and, more importantly, we got along just fine feeling like brothers in arms during the process.

Many lessons were learned and one of the biggest ones was underestimating the number of assets. I spent days, D-A-Y-S rendering and re-rendering all the different bits needed for both our AND the client’s amends or simply for delivery. Every episode had an intro and an outro, which needed to be created and rendered every single time. Having to do the animation and keep track of all these aspects revealed to be a challenge and it was an oversight on my part. 

In the end, if you are embarking on this adventure by yourself, allow some extra time to adapt and improve your process as you go. Decide how you want your cartoon to look and scale production time up or down based on the quality you need and want to achieve. 

That’s it, this was our experience, thanks for reading this super long article. I hope you enjoyed and learned something in the process. Just remember, ultimately, If you want to make your own cartoon series, just do it. It’s worth it.

How to make your own cartoon series - Part 1 - The Creative Process

Erik Ravaglia

Following the article on how a bunch of friends made Wellpark for Tennent’s Lager, I thought a more in depth look into the process could help anyone who might fancy embarking on such adventure have an easier sail. Part 1 is all about the creative process.

ILLUSTRATIONS EVERYWHERE!!

ILLUSTRATIONS EVERYWHERE!!

Ready..steady..GO!
Step one was to get ahead on the creative process. Most of the work was to figure out the characters look and decide on backgrounds, colours and line style, taking into account the type of software we were going to use to produce the assets and animate. We knew that After Effects* was the way to go in terms of animation and we needed vector artwork to go with it to allow scalability without losing quality. It took a couple of episodes to settle in with the tools, but after these important calls were made and we had a few simple rules to follow, we could move on pretty swiftly.

*It might seem strange to few but AE is improved during the years on character animation but you need a plug-in like DUIK for this kind of work. If you don’t know how to use it, take a week off before the project and start experimenting with it. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. Flash is your next best thing, BUT if you don’t have time to go frame by frame, forget it. There are other alternatives to experiment with, however AE is my to go software. The way you decide to use DUIK would also dictate the type of artwork you need; more on this in part 2.

Client where art thou?
If you are thinking on making a project like this for yourself you are fine to go, although it’s important to note that for us having the client on board with most of the decisions was key. We pretty much worked together as a team and invested some time at the beginning to make sure we were all on the same page to avoid any time wasted on multiple amends. Once we nailed these details everybody’s life got a hell of a lot easier.

MOAR IDEAS!
As many as possible, jot them down, write a small synopsis, move on. Only after collecting a bunch of them could we sniff out the best ones. Having external feedback helped us realise what sucked and what didn’t. I’m the first one to say that if you have an idea you believe in, you should just go for it and learn as you go, however external perspective can save you more than an headache. As a group we talked about the ideas a lot, if it made us laugh, good, otherwise, onto the next one. But seriously, put down a huge bunch before you start writing any script. This was our first dumping ground, if the client didn’t like the idea we would pitch the next one and so on. Many didn’t make it past this stage, I mean MANY.
 
Write’em up!
As soon as we had a bunch of good ideas approved it was time to start scriptwriting. Jo and Ian are pure golddust. They can write a script out of everything AND make it funny. Not all of it came out great but an incredible number just worked. This stage was challenging as more time was needed to refine and write scripts, some of which, turned out to be worse than originally envisioned. Needless to say, to move forward we needed a bit of restlessness and if something didn’t sound right we needed to put it to rest. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes polishing ideas can unlock a whole new level of funny and there are instances in which a good script can rescue a less funny idea but there is no need to fall in love with a concept, a better one will usually come.

After having the script ready, one of the best ways to get it approved was a good voice over, which meant that having a sound guy always available made our life A LOT better and we could figure out how good a sketch was by the recording; it just helps. If you’re embarking on this thing I’d suggest you buy a decent microphone, it’ll help to write the script and act it out, and your recordings will sound much better. 

Bobby and Paul, now and then.

Bobby and Paul, now and then.

Make it pretty.
After the script was approved Pablo would get into gear. The overall look of the cartoon was already decided at pitch week, hence at this stage we had time to refine it. The look was as important as the feasibility of the artwork for the animation given the time constraints. First of all we needed to be able to break up the artwork pretty easily into different pieces that could then be rigged in After Effects. We needed the artwork to be clear and relatively detailed. Once we became more confident with it we spot a progression. In fact from Bobby and Paul to The Try Hards or The Good Count, for instance, you can see an augmented number of details on the characters and more elements being animated.

Pablo would pick up the idea and start working on the chara design as soon as the script was approved. He only had a little bit of time to come up with a design, and seeing it happen was a delight, he is one talented fella. After sketching up a few alternatives he would then send it for approval, which would generally come in a really short time. Again, if you are working on this by yourself you need none of that, BUT sketching helps you weed out the bad ideas and improve your final artwork dramatically. After one of the sketches was approved by the client we could finally move forward with the final artwork…

The preliminary sketches for Bobby and Paul

The preliminary sketches for Bobby and Paul

Lesson learned
After a couple of episodes we realised that producing a bunch of ideas altogether instead of scattering the process throughout the weeks would improve our workflow dramatically, allowing us to try new things and polish the animation. We originally wanted to be more reactive and fluid BUT we realised that the jokes tailored to one big event don’t make much sense long term and these videos would have to sit on Facebook and YouTube for a while.  We had to learn that on the job.


Righty-oh! We are done with Part 1, and like every good cliffhanger PART 2 will be coming soon.

Welcome to Wellpark

Erik Ravaglia

Wellpark team (minus pablo)

Wellpark team (minus pablo)

Recently I worked on one of the longest projects I've ever been involved with. 4 solid months of long days and I had a BLAST!

Grab a cup of tea/coffee and prepare for the incoming wall of text.

Once upon a time

Jo, Ian and I worked together at the Leith Agency, here in Edinburgh, from 2012. in 2014 we all left pretty much at the same time. While Jo and Ian started that bundle of awesome that is Something Something I went off doing my thing. At the agency we worked on a bunch of projects together and we always knew that one day we were going to do something bigger together. We had no idea what, but we meant it.

Something Something HQ

Something Something HQ

Wellwhat?!

One of the things I love the most about us working together is the feeling that we can do anything we fancy, and if we don’t know how to do it we’ll figure it out. If you can think it, you can do it, or whatever that famous quote reads.

At the very beginning the chat went more or less like this: “can we make an animation, like a bunch of episodes in a couple of months?” they asked. “Sure, what do you have in mind?” I said. About a month later, there we were, preparing the pitch.

The idea behind Wellpark was to produce a ton of entertaining content, instead of making just one big and expensive ad. The fundamental difference these days is that one ad is simply not enough. The amount of content flowing in and out the internet is so overwhelming that one big shot just doesn’t cut it anymore, IMHO. It works the same as a creative; you need to keep making, you need to be present, no matter what you do.. The same applies to brands. Saying one thing very loudly  won’t capture people’s attention for longer than the second you are saying it. We wanted to start a conversation and keep it going for as long as possible.

Stairway to Wellpark

Once Ian/Jordan knew they had a shot at pitching the animation to Tennent’s together with the help of Bright Signals (a digital agency in Glasgow) we got our heads down. Pablo Clark, one of the best Scottish illustrators; living in Spain at that time, joined us. We were on fire by day one. All 4 of us clicked, it was great to see it happening; we are all weird in the best possible ways which meant that we just got each other straight away. We were IN. After a week of hustle, with the continuous feedback of both Tennent’s and Bright Signals we had 3 episodes plus the original Guide Dogs video Ian and Jordan made prior to start the project.

Here is a rarity, the video we used for the pitch. Note how similar Bobby and Paul are to the final artwork we eventually used.

Pitch week was a great way to make mistakes and figure out best practices, we learned LOADS about the project we envisioned and we were a lot more aware of it. We thought we could pull it off, now we knew it.

Us, broken, at the end of pitch week.

Us, broken, at the end of pitch week.

Welcome to Wellpark   

After a long wait, the kind of wait which leads you through a whole set of emotions, we finally heard the news. WE GOT IT. After a couple of months of thinking about Wellpark, and what it could become, shit was now real. 35 to 40 episodes to make (then settled for 35) in 4 months.

WTF?!

Besides the initial disbelief and excitement, we got ready for mayhem: Pablo moved back to Scotland for good, the Something Something offices got a revamp and I bought a Nintendo 3DS to challenge Pablo at Super Smash Brothers. We were now ready.

The moment the 3DS arrived, happy times!

The moment the 3DS arrived, happy times!

 

Making Wellpark

One thing was sure since the beginning, making 35 episodes in 4 months was a challenge. 35 episodes divided by 16 weeks is 2.2 episodes a week, as simple as that. Each episode length had to be between 30 and 60 seconds long and they were targeted for digital, TV and for cinema. We had a few cardinal points, the client had to be on board with the style and the approval process had to be as fast as possible; one simply can’t make 2+ episodes a week while waiting around for feedback. The process HAD to be simple and understood by everyone. Jo and Ian had to run the thing while constantly delivering new ideas, script after script (we could make at least another 50 episodes with all the ideas that never made it, - remember the Lobsters, guys?!) and record the V/O once the script was approved, while everyone else had to keep on top of their own shit. Pablo had to design a character, sketch it and send it for approval in pretty much a morning, once approved he then had to work on the final artwork which would be then broken apart by Skelfie and ultimately passed onto me. At that point I had to rig it up and animate it while Skelfie worked  on the lip syncing. From that moment onward I had about 1½ days to deliver the final render. After the final render was done Callum would deal with the audio which will take us to the final stage. NEEEEEEEXT.

About 1½ months into the project  we decided to expand. Things got a touch tricky when I found myself juggling 10 episodes through amends, intros, outros and final renders; ASSETS, ASSETS EVERYWHERE. Every episode needed a bespoke intro/outro and we were still tweaking bits and pieces here and there. Andrew got on board and life got a lot easier. 2 animators made it a lot more manageable to keep the pace while tweaking and amending.

Wellpark and surrounding

Wellpark would have never happened without the agencies that helped us with delivery, PR and the other million things needed. Bright Signals was involved since pitch week, and collaborated with us to make sure that everything ran smoothly from presenting the creative ideas to delivering the files (- Oh, Hi Emma, which render do we need next?). Wire Media were masterfully on top of PR and Republic of Media made sure that the ads would be present in as many platforms as possible. We all worked around the clock especially when delivering responsive content. Sometimes we would get started early in the morning and finish early in the afternoon. Our record is with the Fly on the wall, from writing to PR launch in 5.5 hours.

Out of our control

The first 2 months saw us fighting our way through, episode after episode, to hit all our deadlines. It’s so easy to lose perspective after you spend day after day head down working as much as you can. The day the campaign launched we all felt physically sick and I think it was due to the amount of love and effort we all put in. It was going out of our control, it was now out there, it hurt. We saw the views, likes, shares and comments rolling in and we read every single one of them.

Bobby and Paul art in Edinburgh

Bobby and Paul art in Edinburgh

The response was super positive; we felt great. About 5 episodes in, people were loving it and Bobby and Paul got a great response with Girlfriend Voice becoming an instant hit. We all secretly (and less secretly) hoped for one of the episodes to go viral (boy I hate this word), and we got the pleasure with the Binder app, which hit the media jackpot. Peach is a fictional tech company based in Wellpark and after making the most scottish of smartwatches, the Aye Watch, created an app to dump your boyfriend/girlfriend, Binder. The app got HUGE national and international coverage, some people got the joke, other hated it with a passion BUT that allowed us to start a big online discussion on digital and human relationships.

We hit the emotional jackpot ourselves with two crazy days culminating with Jordan and Ian getting interviewed by the New Yorker. Fuck me, seriously.

What now, yo?

We’ve just delivered our last episode and I’d like to say I’m outside writing this in the sun, but this is Scotland after all; sun is no more. There is A LOT more to say about Wellpark. I’ll probably write a more in depth article, or a series of, about the tech behind it and a step by step guide on how to make your own cartoon series. For the moment I’m getting ready for my next (smaller) project and I’m looking for something else. If you need some motion graphic work, drop me an email.


Mac Pro or iMac?

Erik Ravaglia

Damn, this question has been buzzing in my head for ages. Both machines are excellent, but with the introduction of the 5k Retina display, things swayed towards the new iMac pretty swiftly.

The iMac base configuration starts with an i5 CPU + AMD Radeon 2GB R9 M290X + 8GB of RAM. That configuration appears to be perfect for a less intensive use, and it feels it has been geared towards consumers rather than professionals. To that extent though this thing is expensive. Yeah, it looks awesome, and if you have that amount of cash (£2k), go for it, but it won’t offer you much more than a normal iMac apart from that gorgeous screen. ALSO, it sounds like as soon as you hit more power intensive tasks, the thing might struggle a bit to catch up.

 

What should I get?  

If like me, video and motion graphics are what floats your boat, I’d go straight for the more expensive i7, which supports Hyper-Threading and I’d update to the more powerful graphic card, taking you to the grand total of £2.4k. £250 for 32gb of RAM are also a must, but I wouldn’t pay the Apple tax on it. It ain’t cheap, that’s for sure. If you intend to use it as a professional machine though, it's worth it.

The 5k display is a game changer and surely the best selling point of the iMac Retina. Early benchmarks and reviews shows how the combination 4.0ghz i7 + 4GB Radeon M295X is more than enough to pull off intensive tasks while moving all these pixels on screen. With this configuration even more serious gaming becomes a possibility. I only wish it would support 64gb of RAM as After Effects really needs as much as you can throw at it; that’s one for next year...

 

Therefore..

All considered, this machine is actually decent value for the money, especially against the quad-core Mac Pro. A 5k monitor will cost you around £1.5k if not more; add the cost of the computer on top of that and you get the picture.

I can’t help but thinking that the specced up version of this iMac Retina is geared towards professionals rather than consumers. I can’t see someone buying this machine for the sake of normal usage, but I can totally see this for designers, photographers, videographers and anyone else that needs monitor estate for work and a huge amount of pixels to get by. That said though, 3D artists and motion graphics designers would do with this machine, but as far as Hyper-Threading goes there are not enough cores to significantly cut render times. So, if for 2D work you are great to go, for more intensive 3D tasks I’d probably tend to suggest buying a 6 or 8 cores Mac Pro if you’ve got the cash. If not, I’d give up the Pro appellative and buy an iMac Retina, as the value of the quad-core Mac Pro is simply not good enough compared to the refreshed Apple all-in-one.

 

 

 

 

Time to talk shop

Erik Ravaglia

Oh dear oh dear, as one of the many inspirational people I've met in my (short) career always says: "I love my job, I love my joooooooob". That must become the mantra of the week.

The excitement of getting everything going..ish, is still there but is slightly overshadowed by the amount of work necessary to make sure everything is running smoothly. In the video I address a little how overwhelming it feels, at least for me, to make sure that everything is good enough once the pre-orders are ready to ship.  

 

Details matter!

Yes sir! I want you guys to be excited about your parcel, and I know how much of a difference little details make, hence I'm really looking into every single one of them. Having a little budget doesn't mean I can't create something unique, and the idea of you receiving that lovely parcel excites me. SO, "to the infinity and beyond" then!

 

 

Holy Potatoes!!

Erik Ravaglia

Holy Potatoes.jpg

....and the time has finally come. New website, new blog, new logo, new everything!! I've been working on and off on it for a while, and it's finally ready (ish) to be out there.

ALSO My first set of products, 2 T-shirts, are finally up for pre-order.

After so long thinking about it, I feel it's time I get these shirts out. The designs are straight from my collection of Stickyheadz, the daily project I started over a year ago, and I'm eager to make the final parcel look as cool as I possibly can adding nice and unique extras.

Using pre-orders instead of stocking the products from the start is the only way I could get this out there. The initial cost of getting even only 50 tees printed at a high standard is interesting. If the shop will survive it would be thanks to you beautiful people, who made an effort supporting an independent artist.

So, why not head to the shop and pre-order your favourite T-shirt? or both of them? All the pre-orders will get a limited edition set of Stickyheadz postcards, stickers and lots of love.