Layer 6 from the Chimero/Hubacek Match.

Layer Tennis How It All Went Down

Backstage With Frank Chimero
& Greg Hubacek

by Steve Delahoyde

The post-Thanksgiving, second week of playoffs kicked off with both a bang and more than a few warm, fuzzy feelings, as Frank Chimero and Greg Hubacek were pitted against each other, both playing for a Kickstarter project of their choosing ("Linotype: The Film" and the "Braddock Carnegie Library Youth Publications Project", respectively). Pushing the match to follow the themes of their charities, Hubacek and Chimero took the audience on a sepia-toned journey through the late-1800s, bustling factory floors, and, briefly, even into the far reaches of space. After everything wrapped up, we sat down with the two players to hear their thoughts on what had just transpired.

Now that the match is over and two charitable projects are all the better for it, how do you think everything went?

FC: Overall, pretty well, I'd say. I'm glad we were able to spin Layer Tennis into something that can help out a couple of worthy projects on Kickstarter. And, as always, it's a total pleasure to jump into the arena with a skilled craftsman like Greg.

GH: I think the match went great, I'm super excited about raising some cash for some worthy projects. Layer Tennis is always a lot of fun and I've been a big fan of Frank's work and writing for a long time. It's always an honor to blow off a Friday and roll up your sleeves with someone that good.

Earlier this season we had our first charity-focued match, with Jennifer Daniel and Mike Monteiro battling it out for the good of the American Cancer Society. What made you guys decide to follow suit and add that giving angle to the match?

GH: In general Frank and I tossed around the idea of doing a charity match shortly after Thanksgiving. Maybe it was the tryptophan or something, but we figured why not embrace the spirit of the season and do something more with Layer Tennis? It's obviously a competition at some point, but to do something more with the time and spotlight seemed like the right thing to do.

FC: I figure any time you get a bunch of people together, it's a chance to do something cool. Greg pitched the idea of doing something for charity, and a few weeks ago I was thinking about how cool it would be if Kickstarter had gift cards that I could give out as presents this year. They're working on it for next year, but I thought maybe we could stir up some support through Layer Tennis.

Did either of you hear any word from your respective groups about what you were doing?

FC: Doug Wilson, the director of the Linotype film, is an old friend of mine from college. I gave him a phone call before the match to get his good graces for the idea and he was really supportive. Top notch guy, that one.

GH: I actually haven't had any contact with the organization, though I obviously support them. I hope they continue to get closer to their goal.

Your match's commentator, the venerable Rosecrans Baldwin, spent much of the first half saying he was waiting for you two to up the ante and make him sweat. Then, come right at the middle, you both seemed to take off, or better put in Baldwin's words, the "match just hit the caffeine pedal." Was that something of a calculated move, pacing yourselves or feeling each other out and waiting for the right moment to strike?

FC: I know at the beginning I didn't have any idea of how we would represent our causes. Would they "battle"? Honestly, Greg kind of threw me for a loop with his 2nd volley, because I was expecting him to directly reference the Braddock project. When he didn't, I was a bit off balance. I'd say it took a bit to come to a point in figuring out what worked and what the common themes were for the two projects. I think we found something meaningful there, though.

GH: I would probably say that tends to be the rhythm of the early matches. It takes a while (and a few cups of coffee) to get something going. In the early rounds, we were trying to establish a bit of a dialogue and the visual boo-yah needed some time to develop. I noticed having what seemed like more time in the later rounds to polish things up a bit.

Were you surprised that the whole match kept a vintage feel throughout, or given the backgrounds of the charitable causes involved, something that seemed inevitable? Any desire at any point to go crazy modern, just to shake the other guy?

GH: The progression can be interesting in Layer Tennis, there's a balance of continuity that has to occur from round to round. For instance, a concept could be carried from round to round while drastically altering the aesthetic, or one could carry across the aesthetic while conceptually redirecting the match. If you change too much from round to round, you're not necessarily honoring your partner's contributions from the previous rounds. I think the match started off in a vintage aesthetic and stayed there as we found our footing. It's obviously something that Frank and I are both comfortable working in.

FC: I think the vintage aesthetic was a bit of a necessity to be honorable to our content. I was talking about an industrial machine of the 19th century, antiquated printing technology, and Greg was talking about an industrial town that's fallen on unfortunate times. There's the root there of industry, and that has a certain look, I feel.

Frank, in your match earlier this season against Kate Bingaman-Burt, you included a healthy dose of animated gifs. In this match, you were back at it, though for only half your volleys. Any thoughts on how/when you'd decide to go static and when you'd go with an animated "reveal"?

FC: I nixed the motion stuff because of the server issues last time. I just wanted to make it a good visual experience for everyone. But the primary consideration with the gifs is: does this benefit from a sequence? Ultimately Greg and I are out there telling a collaborative story. It's improv, it's storytelling with images. With the volleys, once I came up with the idea, I just sort of thought: "Would this benefit if I added time?" The instances it did, I did the gifs. The times it didn't, I left out the animation.

Greg, you didn't play Layer Tennis during the regular season, instead vaulted right into the playoffs thanks to your killer performance and finalist ranking in Season Two. Since it'd been more than a year for you between matches, were you at all apprehensive? Do any intense, Rocky vs. Ivan Drago-like training to get yourself back into fighting shape?

GH: It's actually been quite a busy week for me leading up to Layer Tennis, so I couldn't run through the Italian Market or climb the stairs over at the Art Musem (did you work that Rocky reference in just because I live in Philly)? I must say though, the first couple rounds I was extremely nervous having to jump into the playoffs a bit rusty. Once the rhythm got going and the caffeine kicked in, things were good. Those 15 minutes are as short as ever though.

FC: Amen to that.

Some of the handwritten pieces of text actually looked handwritten (see: Greg's Layers 4 and 6 and Frank's #9), but it's hard to tell anymore, what with all these computers and gadgets you designers have. Did you write those out by hand? If so and were able to carefully recreate them in Illustrator as a new font, what would you call it/them?

FC: We brought a pencil to a Photoshop fight, huh? It's all real handwriting. Don't fake it. Never fake it. I suppose if it were a typeface it'd just be Scrawl.

GH: I just scribbled these down on some paper with a sharpie and scanned them. Sometimes it's almost quicker for me to do that. I must say though, I butchered the word "Heart" pretty bad in round six. There are all types of wonky spaces in there. Another pass or two would have helped a lot, but that's kind of the fun of it.

So we can get a look at how you work, can you walk us through the technical and idea-developing process you went through in making Layer 9, Frank? And is your endless stretch of road there a nod to "Desert Bus" in the legendary and unreleased Penn & Teller video game?

FC: Greg volleyed up a killer Layer 8. Just, total killer. Throughout the match, I kind of figured out the core theme was that both projects were about learning from history, but never looking back. It's about learning some lessons, but moving forward. I really liked the sentiment. So, I figured the rear view was the best visual for that.

I've never played "Desert Bus," but I'm a big Penn & Teller fan.

Same process question, but for Greg. Can you walk us through your Layer 10?

GH: I'm not sure if Frank mentioned it or not, but he was a little under the weather on Friday (kudos for soldiering on, Frank). After he finished Layer 9, Frank said some kind words, and excused himself to go lay down for the rest of the match. It's was kind of nice knowing that Frank wasn't going to be waiting to see the layer, not to mention the Draplin and Noper match was in full swing. It kind of took a lot of the pressure off. Frank had left me with an image of a roadway with a rear view mirror and the phrase "Never Look Back". I wanted to continue the narrative and wrap up the match on a good note. The idea of us packing up, having a brief dramatic cop show moment and riding off into the sunset was too awesome to ignore. I broke out some old scanned images and wrote out some type. One of the commenters mentioned they were getting sick of my nice-guy final rounds. Maybe I'll have to switch it up in the future.

FC: I think you should keep the nice guy final rounds. Trash talk ruins most games.

Any favorite volley by your opponent?

FC: I think Layer 8 from Greg. It's just water-tight, sealed up. Solid.

GH: Layer 7 for sure. I was actually pretty shook after that. I had to take a second, make some coffee and think through it. It's one of those rounds where you just need to burn the first 5 of the 15 figuring out what the hell just happened.

Thanks for playing, guys, and for getting a couple of great causes involved along the way.

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