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  • ledbetter-2015


This year, as we were brainstorming what to do for our holiday card, we came to a painful realization: we were in a rut. In each previous card, we had done the same old thing: a fancy photo composite with all of us Hall & Co. employees on a Christmas tree, in a plywood box, making giant cookies, riding on a toy train, walking around in cocoa powder, etc. All the usual boring stuff.

So it was time to make a clean break. We swallowed hard and made a difficult yet necessary decision. This year, instead of a fancy photo composite, we would make a fancy photo and illustration composite! Yes, we’re taking a walk on the wild side! Nobody will ever accuse us of playing it safe, by golly!


With a total of 36 employees to include, we used the front and inside of the card as one large canvas.

This is the front:
(Move your mouse over the picture to magnify.)


The daydreams continue on the inside:
(Move your mouse over the picture to magnify.)



And on the back of the card, we all get together for a group photo:
(Move your mouse over the picture to magnify.)


How we made it

The idea for this year’s card began with a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon.

2011bts01Our card designer, John Redhed, had been wondering how to do something a bit different than previous years, while still including photos of each Hall & Co. employee. This cartoon sparked the solution: a combination of hand-drawn illustrations and photos and speech bubbles.

Illustrations would introduce new possibilities for visual creativity, and the speech bubbles would give the card more verbal humor than usual.


Of course, since Calvin’s little militaristic fantasy wasn’t very Christmasy, we had to come up with our own theme. Eventually we decided the illustrations would represent our daydreams of holiday activities.

And of course, that required coming up with 36 holiday activities — no easy task. John tried to convince Mike Hall to help, by firing ten or twelve employees. Mike refused for some reason, so we kept at it and finally succeeded. It was close, though; if we’d needed 40 instead of 36, we would have had to include activities more appropriate for our “Naughty Elves” card, such as, say, belching The Twelve Days of Christmas.

2011bts02With the completed list, the next step was a series of sketches we could use to work on the layout. That was a task for Johns wife, Willma.

The colored figures represented the employee photos that would be taken much later.


2011bts03aJohn scanned the sketches into his computer, and started shuffling them around until some sort of order emerged. He wrote the verbiage as he went, trying for some fun interaction between the employees, and interaction with the drawings as well.



2011bts04Once the layout was complete, it was time to take another pass at the illustrations. It would have been too inefficient to continue to use physical media, given the back-and-forth nature of compositing, so John used a Wacom tablet to draw directly into Photoshop, with Willma’s sketches as reference.

These drawings didn’t include much detail, since they would likely have to be modified later while integrating the photos. But they helped to further refine the layout.


2011bts05Employee photography took place at Hall & Co. HQ in October. Photographer Brad Camp utilized a green-screen backdrop, which would ease John’s later task of removing the background from each photo.

We’re pretty much used to this process by now: John makes us do weird things, while Brad attempts to snap photos before we crack up.

Note for prospective employees: All applicants are required to submit an acting demo reel and 8×10 glossies.

Oh, and also a resumé.


2011bts06For the first time since 2004, our card would include a group photo, so we all trooped out to the parking lot on this rare dry day in October. Amazingly, Brad got everyone to smile at the same time. Not everyone kept their eyes open, but even Brad can’t perform miracles. (That’s what Photoshop is for.)

Becky and Laura weren’t available at the time, so they were photographed separately and John added them in later.


Then it was back to the coal mine computer for John. After removing the background from each of the photos, he began the process of matching them up to the illustrations. Unsurprisingly, it was necessary to modify a few of the photos and most of the drawings. But compared to all-photo arrangements (as in previous years), the changes were relatively straightforward. John reported pulling out much less of his hair this year.

2011bts08Finally, it was time to add detail to the illustrations.








John keeps trying to convince us to send out a bigger card, so everyone can see all that detail. He says anything in the neighborhood of 20″ x 30″ would be fine.

(We referred him to a qualified therapist.)