Sunday, October 30, 2011

How to Carve a Starcraft Pumpkin

With our ever-growing line of Starcraft shirts, I thought it'd be appropriate to try my hand at carving a Starcraft-themed pumpkin for Halloween to enter in the Blizzard Pumpkin Carving Contest.  In the past, I've always carved pumpkins that have been the more "traditional" style (in other words, two triangular holes for the eyes, a hole for the nose, and a crescent moon for the mouth).  But I've always seen these pumpkins that have all kinds of shading done by carving away different depths of the pumpkin skin and flesh to get amazing lighting effects.  I thought I'd try that for my pumpkin this year (update: this pumpkin ended up winning the contest!).

The first step in this whole process was to find a pumpkin.  I headed to my local pumpkin patch/apple orchard, and after enjoying a cup of hot cider and fresh apple cider donuts, I went to go find my pumpkin.  I knew I wanted to carve a fairly large scene, so I needed a big pumpkin with a clean and relatively flat surface.  I also tried to find one where the grooves on the sides of the pumpkin were as shallow and non-visible as possible.  I settled on this bad boy:

After getting home, the first thing to do was to cut off the top and clean out the guts.  One thing to make sure you do when cutting off the top is to angle the knife towards the center so that the little cap you make won't just fall into the pumpkin when you cover up the hole again.

Once I scooped out all the insides, I had a nice hollow template to get started on.

Now, one can't carve a pumpkin on an empty stomach, right?  The next step is to take all those pumpkin seeds, wash them off, boil them for a few minutes, coat them in a couple tablespoons of sugar and a half teaspoon of cinnamon, and bake on a cookie sheet.  Then eat.  This step is essential in the pumpkin carving process.  If you don't do it, your pumpkin will look terrible.

Alright, now that our pumpkin is hollow and our stomachs are full, we get to the initial design step.  I knew I wanted to carve this amazing drawing of Sarah Kerrigan and a Hydralisk from Starcraft.

The first step is to get the design on the pumpkin.  The most important thing is to get the major parts you're going to carve on there.  So, to do this I printed out the design, taped it to the pumpkin, and used an exacto knife to puncture the paper and pumpkin along the major lines of the drawing.

Now, I can discard the paper and the design is transferred to the pumpkin!  Print out another copy of the design just for reference when freehanding the rest of the pumpkin.  Now, to make the scored design more visible, one thing I did was to take a marker and draw over the score-marks.  I used a non-permanent marker so that ink wasn't on there permanently.

Here's where it gets more involved.  The only real tool I had was an exacto knife.  So I did the whole pumpkin with the exacto knife.  I think more experienced pumpkin carvers have more advanced/powered tools to help with pumpkin carving, but I didn't have that.  So, what I did was first use my knife to shallowly cut along the lines I drew.  Then I shaved off bits of skin in the areas of the pumpkin that were supposed to be light.  To make it easier, I shaved off the skin near these cut borders first, making it easier to do the rougher cutting in the centers of these shapes.  This was a fairly complex design, so this step actually took the most work (probably around 5-6 hours).

Next was to add some detail.  To do this, I used a flathead screwdriver to make shallow scores in the skin where I wanted some detail.  I was fairly conservative with this technique at first, but in the end, you actually need to be more liberal with your scoring to get the effect you want with light showing through.  The scoring was done on the hydralisk's head to give it some "shape" as well as along the hydra's body to show some spiny detail.  Kerrigan also got a little bit of detail put in for her "hair" (if you can call it that) and the wing-like appendages that had a web-like appearance.

The last thing to do for this pumpkin was to get that center area surrounding Kerrigan and the hydralisk to really glow.  To do this, I wanted to completely remove the flesh from this area.  To do that, I used my trusty exacto knife again to cut along the same outlines as before, but this time, I went all the way through the flesh into the hollow bit of the pumpkin.  Then I shaved off bigger and bigger pieces of the flesh until I made it all the way through the pumpkin.  I also ended up taking away more flesh in particular areas I wanted to be brighter (e.g. near the hydra's claws and mouth) but didn't go all the way through the pumpkin.  The skin is by far the best blocker of light, so any skin remaining on the pumpkin is very dark.  Once you remove the skin, you need to carve a lot of flesh before you see more changes in how much light gets through.  So, with the hole carved where I wanted it, and the flesh thinned in the places I wanted, I basically had my finished pumpkin.

The Queen of Blades and Her Loyal Subject

And before you go, make sure you check out our ever-expanding line of sweet Starcraft shirts.

Update: I was just informed that this pumpkin was one of the winners of the 2011 Blizzard Pumpkin Carving Contest!  Check it out here!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Estimating our target market

So now I've got a small t-shirt shop running with 25+ designs on a nice (and quaint) little website.  The thing is, we appeal to such a niche market that it's unlikely we'll ever get to be a major t-shirt design company.  We appeal to people who like brains, people who like cells and cell membranes, people who like math and corny math jokes, people who like zombies, people who program computers, and people who play games like Starcraft.  But let's see, how niche is the market actually?  Let's try to estimate how many people these shirts might appeal to.  We'll keep it "simple" and stick to the science-y crowd to begin with.

Let's assume that the people who will most likely buy geeky t-shirts range from approximately 18 to 35 years old.  Let's also assume the people who will buy the t-shirts on this site are interested in biological sciences, medical sciences, engineering, computer science, and mathematics and are probably pursuing a degree (at least bachelors) in one of these fields.  We can now break down the population (from 18-35 years old) into their respective educational attainment and look at the percentages of the subpopulations in these fields.  So we get something like:

#People in related fields = (#PhDs * (%PhDs in related fields)) + (#Masters * (%Masters in related fields)) + (#Bachelors * (%Bachelors in related fields)) + (#College and HS students interested in related fields)

By looking at the 2010 Census data for educational attainment in >18yo people, we see the breakdown looks as follows:

in thousands Some College Bachelor's Master's Doctoral
18 to 24 years 10693 2505 155 14
25 to 29 years 4310 5338 1182 96
30 to 34 years 3442 4502 1592 277
Total 18445 12345 2929 387

Now, to determine what percentage of these degrees were involved in what field of study, let's look at some other data.

The black bars are for bachelors degrees from 2008-09.  If we take the percentage of the fields of interest from this, we get 28.48% of all bachelor's degrees.  We can do the same for the other degrees by looking at the appropriate data.  For master's degrees we get 49.27% and for PhDs we get 60.10%.  Let's assume that the distribution for people pursuing a bachelors degree is the same as for those with a bachelors degree.

If we now plug this all into our equation, we get that the # of people 18 to 35 who are in the fields of interest is 10,445,308.  Or 10.4 million people.  Now this is only people who are in the related field, but not those who buy geeky t-shirts.  That's an even smaller percentage of this whole thing, and a number that's very hard to estimate.  Let's just say 2% of the people in this population would wear a geeky t-shirt.  So, our total market is approximated at around 208,906 people.  Keep in mind, we made a lot of assumptions here, many of which are probably off if not completely wrong, and we've ignored many different age groups including those people less than 18.

But to put this 200K number in perspective, there are over 100 million dog/cat owners and about the same number of people who have strong enough political opinions so that they vote.  My measly 0.2 million is small fry compared to the pet owner/politically passionate market.  The trick is go get every one of those geeky, sciency, techy people to buy a shirt or five.  Piece of cake.

It's either that, or I'll start making "Kitties for Romney" and "Doggies for Obama" shirts.