A completed job that we're still proud of
Aliens on Screen
  The essence of an alien is its strangeness – or, at least, that’s how it should be. Scientists and science fiction authors alike strain their human brains to imagine how life forms might evolve on planets different from our Mother Earth, and they’ve come up with some doozies. This imaginary menagerie has included such wonders as intelligent plants, intelligent crystals, intelligent rocks, intelligent fish, birds, octopi and slugs, and even (gasp!) intelligent machines. The most plausible of these – as far as actually representing something that was not born here goes – are the ones that are not bipedal humanoids. 

     Unfortunately, it has been a challenge to feature aliens in film and on television without resorting to human actors wearing masks or prosthetics, so the vast majority of aliens bear a distinct resemblance to good ol’ homo sapiens. On the other hand, this makes the characters more relatable to a human audience, which is good because we are not trying to entertain the people of Zeta Reticuli right now, and the sponsors would prefer we stick to our target demographic. It is especially helpful when we want to present the alien as a sympathetic – or even romantic – character, no matter that the prospect of successful interspecies mating is at best farfetched.
Unless otherwise indicated, all content © Mike Conrad or Radical Concepts, Inc.
Vol. 7  No. 1    January 2020

Vol. 1  No. 1  (no longer available)

Vol. 1  No. 2  November 2013:  
Temple of Fire in Western Java (Mirage Entertainment)
Cinderella's Castle Cake (Walt Disney World)
Desert Tank II and Commandos (Lockheed- Martin for SEGA)

Vol. 1  No. 3  December 2013: 
Godzilla Gifting (A Holiday Tradition)
Roadies and Malibu Beach Party (Hard Rock Park)
Thrill Island Adventure Park in China (Integrity Attractions)

Vol. 2  No. 1  April 2014: 
Frames of Reference (Animatics & Storyboards)
Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade (Disney's Animal Kingdom)
Castle of Fear (Cutting Edge Haunt Design Firm)
Military Caricatures (Humorous Posters)

Vol. 2  No. 2  July 2014: 
Winning the Game Show (Bethesda Software's E3 Show Booth)
Party Animals (Disney's Animal Kingdom Opening Press Event)
Bible Alive! (Theme Park Concept for Animatics & Storyboards)
Peter Parsec, Space Cadet (Satirical Comic Book)

Vol. 3  No. 1  March 2015: 
Wild Wheels (Mirage Entertainment's Car Stunt Show in China)
UFO Encounter (Renaissance Entertainment's Walk-thru  Attraction)
Metropolis (Theming for Premier Properties' Mall in Indianapolis)
More Bang for your Buck Rogers (Sci-fi Kluges Made from Trash)

Vol. 3  No. 2  October 2015: Halloween Edition
Killing Trees (Book Design for Roots of Evil and Other Stories)
Bloody Good Show (Art Directing Busch Gardens Tampa Bay's Howl-O-Scream)
Mistressed Property For Sale (Concept Design for Elvira's Nightmare Haunt Franchise)
Postal Apocalypse (Humorous Halloween Cards for Grown-ups)

Vol. 4  No. 1  March 2016: Super-Hero Edition
Geek Gods (Creating the Modern Heroic Mythology)
Army of Super-Heroes (Posters Show the Alter Egos of Today's Soldiers)
Changing the Future (Space Cadet Franchise Gets a Reboot)
Batman Forever (The Dark Knight Sees the Light in a Single Day)
Plant Man (A Company Leader Empowers His Team)
Secret Identities (Who Needs a Mask When You Can Change Your Face?)
MarvelMania (Outlandish Menu Designs for Extraordinary Venues)
Women of Power (The War Between the Sexes Is Fought Among the Exes)

Vol. 5 No. 1 August 2017: ​
Water You Lookin' At? (Mermaid Stunt Show Set in a Mystical Lagoon)
Fiberglass Menagerie (Creating Colorful Critters for Community Causes)
Tour the World (A Dark Ride that's on the Lighter Side)
Dinosaurs Make their Mark on the World (Cartoon)

Vol 6 No. 1 April 2019: Aerospace Edition
Battlefield Promotion (A Naval Air Museum Throttles Up its PR Effort)
Second Stage Ignition (Kennedy Space Center Leaps into the New Millennium)
Flights of Fantasy (A Gallery of Fantasy/Sci Fi Illustration with a Flying Theme)
Reach for the Sky (Model Rockets Are Built to Fly)

To view previous issues of The RadCon Rapport, click on the links below:

IMickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is widely regarded as one of the most successful procession ever mounted at Walt Disney World. Indeed, this moving feast for the eyes and ears remained in operation for a full 15 years, far longer than any of the other three launched in the same year. Its unique mixture of oversized puppets, stylish vehicles and colorful characters, galavanting along the streets of the park to the soundtrack of lively world music, made it a highlight of many a guest’s experience.

  Little wonder, then, that the park’s managers decided to double down on this special show and create an even more special version for the holiday season. Obviously, the cost to build a whole new set of components would have been more than even Disney’s deep pockets could justify, so the idea was born to develop a decorative overlay for all the existing pieces that would simply dress them up in true holiday fashion.

  Having already had the honor of designing and art directing all the wheeled vehicles in the daily parade, I was called upon to do the same for this seasonal transformation. Some ideas were simple and obvious, like giving the Kangaroo drum unit a brass trumpet with a banner that read, “Hoppy Holidays.” 

   Others presented a more significant challenge. The Camel, for instance, had an obvious connection with Christmas through the three wise men, but we did not want this decidedly non-denominational presentation to take on too much of a biblical slant. So I thought a bit, and finally realized that, with the right combination of appliances, the camel could be turned into a giant rocking horse – albeit a rather odd-looking one. But then again, it has been said that a camel looks like a horse that was designed by a committee – an apt analogy if there ever was one.

  The rickshaws were already so full of simulated tropical foliage that all we had to do was hang snowflakes or ornament from their overhead branches, and put mittens on the tiger kitten or a red nose and antlers on the gator. The drivers, naturally, were dressed for the season, too.
Short and Sweet: Three storyboards is usually all it takes to highlight the main points in a pitch for a 15-second commercial. To see the finished commercial, click here.
                                                                                                       © PPK Advertising/Florida Lottery
"Answering Machine"
Whole Lotto Quick Pics for the Holidays
Ad Agency Storyboards 
Visualize a Host of 
Christmas Presentations
An example of what we've been working on lately
I’ve made thousands of dollars off of the Florida Lottery.

   Before you hit me up for a loan, though, please allow me to explain. The money I have received from cashing in winning tickets totals somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 bucks. I won't tell you how much I have spent buying tickets.

   A more lucrative scheme came to me by way of my friend and colleague Mark Simon, who occasionally refers his storyboard and illustration clients to me when he’s either too swamped doing boards for The Walking Dead or it’s just a project for which I may be a better – or more convenient – fit. 

   Mark’s company is Storyboards & Animatics, which he moved from Orlando to Atlanta a few years ago, in search of a more active production industry. He’s found plenty of success in Georgia, but from time to time, he passes a job along to me. One of his clients is PPK Advertising in Tampa, and over the years I have done many jobs for them, storyboarding their proposed commercial spots to help them pitch ideas to their clients, one of whom is the aforementioned Lottery.

   The process is pretty straightforward. Once I have accepted the gig, PPK’s creative team sends me a set of scripts for their proposed spots, and we get together over the phone to make sure I understand it. We talk about details, such as camera angles, ethnicity, age and gender of the actors, the look of the set, and so on. 

   I usually have suggestions on ways to stage the action or simplify the presentation, and my ideas are often adopted. Sometimes they trigger a round of brainstorming to make the spot better or funnier, and the script is changed accordingly. 

   Then I sit down and draft a set of rough drawings that I think show what we talked about. I email these to the ad guys, and they give me changes or direct me to “go to tone,” which means finalizing the line art and adding some simple gray scale shading to make the pictures pop. 

One of my favorites involved a woman coming home from shopping and setting down her tickets beside a gingerbread house, only to turn back around and see the gingerbread family trying to make off with them. (To see the finished commercial, click here.)
​Jungle Bells
A Holiday Makeover for Disney's Animal Kingdom Parade

Red-nosed Rein-gator: Animal characters got a whimsical makeover to get into the holiday spirit.
Rocking 'Round the Christmas Trees: The Camel drum unit was magically transformed into a giant rocking horse.
Above: One of the Bicycle Rickshaws becomes a tropical version of Santa's sleigh, with tinsel dangling from the stylized branches. 
Right: Minnie's over-packed safari jeep overflows with candy sweetness, including peppermint dots, a gingerbread dresser sporting animal crackers, and a bathtub full of hot cocoa. 
Something for Everyone: Goofy's tent was remodeled to include a chimney, and he decided to play Santa, fitting his truck out with a list of characters who were naughty and nice.  Themed stockings are full of appropriate gifts for those who reside somewhere in the Animal Kingdom.
© 1981 Estes Industries LLC
Happy New Year!  Well, the flurry of activity that is the Holiday season got the better of us. We had planned to publish this special edition in December, but just got too busy walking in winter wonderlands and throwing up sashes. However, in the spirit of "better late than never," here is our Post-Holiday Edition. Enjoy!
© PPK Advertising/Florida Lottery
   The most fun for me is getting to do some whimsical design, as in the case of some recent commercials for the holidays. One set included depicting three kinds of holiday parties – a poolside yuletide, and an ice-breaker in which guests were dressed up in various kinds of snowman costumes, and a formal snow ball. Later, the elegant evening was replaced with an ugly sweater get-together. Sad to say, I didn't get to design any of those hideous garments, but I enjoyed designing some of the snowman costumes, especially the hard-shell one where the guy was trying to drink his eggnog with only sticks for hands. (To see the finished commercial, click here.) 

   Then there’s the one where a couple is heading out to a party with scratch-offs as their gifts, only to find a trio of inflatable decorations (Santa, a penguin and a snowman) at their door, obviously wanting their own. (To see the finished commercial, click here.) 

   These are pretty easy gigs, usually only a few frames per commercial, and the folks at PPK are fun to work with. So, yes, you can say the Lottery has been a big win for me.

© PPK Advertising/Florida Lottery
  Some of the most fun alterations were on the character vehicles. Minnie’s jeep and trailer were especially festive, with each white polka-dot turned into a peppermint and lots of ribbons and bows on the steamer trunks and furniture she insisted on carrying while on safari. The topper was the bathtub. Instead of bubbly water, it was now filled with hot chocolate and enormous, half-melted marshmallows. A scent machine was built into the piece, exuding the smell of cocoa as the trailer passed by.

  The logos on the vehicle doors did not escape the magic of the season. Since they were already dimensional, the letters having been carved out of plastic, a similar piece was designed to be slid into place over the original ones, renaming this Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade.

Letters from Santa: The logo for safari company took on a new look with a bell and bow insert that covered up the word "Jammin'" with "Jingle."
Above: Donald's snow-encrusted dinghy has exchanged its sail for a festive tree adorned with colorful fish and bubble ornaments. The stockings of his nephews are hung on the gunwale with care.  Right: The Parrot drum unit's alter ego has been revealed to be a partridge in a pear tree.  

  Naturally, since this was the Happiest Place on Earth, we were supposed to keep the message positive: no zombie apocalypse or alien invasion stuff (rats!) or giant rats (darn!). World peace and mankind in harmony with the universe, stuff like that was more in line with the park’s objectives.

  One other caution was to avoid cartoony stuff. I know! We were all thinking of giant Mickey gloves dribbling the sphere like a basketball, or making the thing into a big Mickey Mouse watch. But that, we were told, was a motif more appropriate for the Magic Kingdom. Epcot was supposed to be more firmly rooted in reality, even if that reality had yet to be, well, realized. With the World Showcase at hand, themes of international accord were encouraged, as were abstract visions of a potentially wonderful future.

  So we tossed around some ideas among ourselves, then we all went back to our respective garrets and hobbit-holes to begin our mad flurry of creative effort. I knocked out about a dozen quick concepts, giving them all cutesy names, more to tell them apart than to actually suggest any serious titles. Each had a short paragraph to explain what was not obvious from the drawing.

   One of the things I had been wanting to do was to play around with the Roman numeral for 2000, which was simply "MM." To this day, I am at a loss for why the M&M Mars company never did anything with this, but I did take a stab at suggesting some kind of corporate sponsorship. Guess it just wasn't a sweet enough deal.
Above: Mickey's articulated land train jeep has a chimney on its front canopy, among other holiday touches.  Right: The finale of the parade is the last segment of Mickey's three-part vehicle, welcoming in the New Year with a salute to fireworks and noisemakers, as well as the traditional message spelled out on calendar pages.  
Our part was finished, then -- what?
In the game of Godzilla Gifting, the rule is "Go Big and 
Go Home"
Remember partying like it was 1999? Remember worrying about Y2K and how it was going to screw up all computers and drop airplanes out of the sky? How about all those conspiracy scenarios about the end of the world, or the impending Rapture, or Ragnarok, or the sudden expiration of all those food products in your fridge? Didn’t happen!
. The idea didn’t seem to get much traction, but months later, when Disney started promoting the upcoming event, this formed the basis for the logo (although it was drawn by another artist).

 When I turned in my set of concepts, Guy mentioned that one of the designers, the fabulously talented (and all-round wonderful person) Cindy White was too swamped to meet her quota in time, and asked if I could pick up the slack. I was honored to do so (and happy for the additional money, too, but mostly honored). So I went home and over the next couple of days, cranked out an additional dozen ideas, some of which were even better than those in my original submission.

  I wish I could have seen what the other artists came up with, because I knew them all and I am sure they had come up with some amazing stuff. But there was no call to come together, as the brainstorming was over, and we all had other priorities.

  Eventually, the decision-makers rendered their final verdict, and a color rendering was revealed. The winning design featured an arc of the number 2000 over a top quadrant of the sphere, with bright lights throughout, and repeated behind it for viewing from the opposite side. Rising up beside it was a gigantic flat cutout of Sorceror Mickey’s gloved hand wielding a star-tipped magic wand. 

  This particular element perplexed all the other designers, as we had been told specifically not to incorporate any cartoon imagery in our designs! But maybe the executives felt it fit the overall theme of the event, which was “Celebrate the Future Hand in Hand.”

on the 

  But what did happen, is that Walt Disney World got ready to celebrate the world-wide odometer ticking over with a big splash at Epcot. Which was fitting, considering that the name of the attraction is an acronym for Experimental Prototype City Of Tomorrow. 

Remember flying cars? Jet packs? The two-hour workweek? Yeah, those didn’t happen either. But that big metal golf ball looks pretty futuristic, doesn’t it? So this was the right place for the right things to happen at the right time.

  Back in 1998, with the turn of the millennium looming, Guy Petty, Senior Art Director for Disney Creative Entertainment, called in several of us freelance designers to work up some rough concepts that the Powers That Be could mull over and, it was hoped, choose from.

As soon as I took my seat, I whipped out a little graphic element and said, “Well, the first thing you have to do is write it like this.” And I showed everyone a way of presenting the number 2000 with the first and last zeroes were attached at the top of a larger, central zero, to form a hidden Mickey.

Other Ideas: Some of the alternative concepts I had roughed out
You can shoot him with torpedoes,
blast him with a nuke, send him off to 
your sister’s, but the King of Monsters will always come back. Not just in the movie theaters, where countless sequels and spin-offs have kept everyone’s favorite radioactive reptile alive and ticking (on the Geiger counters, at least), but also in our living rooms. That’s where the real battleground has been for the past twelve years, since I first rebooted the hot-potato competition that my sister Susan had started back when we were kids. 

But She Started It!

   Previously, on Godzilla Gifting: Back in the days of the dinosaurs, my sister bought a 5-minute black-and-white 8mm movie at a garage sale and gave it to me as a gag gift for Christmas. The next year, I gave it back to her, but wrapped in such a way that she would not know what it was. She replied in kind, and we kept this up until I graduated from high school. 

   Fast forward to 2007, and I found the little box of classic Japanese cinema when I was packing up to move, and proposed a revival of our good-natured competition. The idea was to take turns trying to be more creative, or more entertaining with the packaging, without spending too much money or trying to make them impossible to open. The only rule was that the film and its box had to be in there somewhere, intact. 
Click on image to see a larger version.
Cookie Monster

  2013. One of the more normal family traditions around Christmas time is baking and decorating cookies. We have our own favorite recipes, of course, but this time I thought I’d make something extra special: Zilla Wafers. This came down to making a cookie-cutter out of a tin can that carved little three-towed Godzilla footprints out of the rolled sugar-cookie dough, and adding some chocolate bits. Nothing fancy there, but I did make a box.

  Well, it started out as a Triscuits box, but covered on all sides with custom graphics and about a ton and a half of puns and jokes that I slapped together on my computer. The back side includes logos for other cookies that Nabiskyo was allegedly offering, such as Monstaroons and Tokyoreos. 

  But wait, there’s more! What kind of twinkie hostess would serve her guests cookies straight from the box? Recognizing the need for a special serving dish, I decided to sculpt a nice one out of Aves Apoxie-sculpt (which, ironically, needs no baking!) and painting it. The result was a circular bit of street pavement with an enormous reptilian footprint pressed into it. I guess it was a toe-away zone.
  In 2013, I wrote about our little tradition in this newsletter (To read the article, click here ). By then, Ol’ Atomic Breath had been packed up in a paperback book, an extremely messy multi-layered box of chocolate treats, a Chia Pet, a movie night (complete with popcorn and an old 8mm projector), an oversized carton of monster eggs and another massively messy one: a chained-up global egg containing a Barney plush toy and filled with brown house paint (which was still liquid!). 

   On off years, we sometimes send each other smaller Godzilla-related gifts (like the joke book I threw together, entitled A Giant Lizard Walks into a Bar . . .) or just pictures and gags we’ve run across on the Internet. Other family members have chimed in, too, making this even more of a family tradition.

   For those who have not been slavishly following out Facebook posts, here is how the game has played out since that first newsletter article.
Crank Up the Volume!

   2015. Su’s last gift inspired me to put together a Godzilla Box Set, but it’s not what you might think.

   Oh, sure, I packaged all those VHS tapes together (even making a cover for one that lacked its own) and shrink-wrapped it as a special commemorative 60th Anniversary Collector’s Edition. But that was just a side show. 

   If you’re puzzled, you're close to the answer, because my sister loves puzzles. And that’s what I sent her. Not your everyday, run-of-the-mill run-from-the-monster jigsaw puzzle, mind you. In the tradition of 50s horror films, this one was in 3-D. 

   I started by drawing a profile sketch of the Big Guy, and carving it up into rectangular blocks, the dimensions of which were determined by the sizes of the cardboard boxes I had around the house. It was a bit tricky, because I also had to do the same for the front, back and top, taking pains to ensure that the outline of each side would coincide with those on the other sides. 

   Then I threw in some instructions and printed it all up on my computer, spray-glued the pieces onto the boxes themselves, stuck on some Velcro strips, and voila! Instant cubism. 

   To make shipping manageable, I nested as many of the boxes inside each other as I could, along with the VHS tapes and the mandatory 8mm film, and sent it off. From the photos I got back, it looked like at least two of my nephews (Matt and Richard) and both of my sisters (Susan and Mary) got into the construction project.

   I don’t think they were content to wait until Boxing Day. 

Radio Activity

   2017. Before the movie of the same name was ever announced, I had decided my next present would be a monster truck. Realizing that the world was in dire need of an alternative to the likes of Bigfoot and Gravedigger, I bought a nice, plain radio-controlled toy pickup truck and set out to monsterize it in the finest Godzillian tradition.

   I molded a reptilian body directly onto the plastic truck, trying hard to make it look like the doors, windows and mirrors would – in a real truck – still work properly. Then I took it off and made a few molds for my first attempt at casting (which is how I justified all the time I was spending on this project – if I could sculpt some knickknacks and cast a bunch of duplicates, perhaps I could make some money one of these days). 

   I wanted the back plates to glow like Godzilla’s do just before he lets loose with his devastating nuclear exhalations, so I cast them separately out of clear resin, and installed a string of cheap battery-powered Christmas LEDs inside the body with a reflecting strip to help direct the light out through the slightly tinted plates. This presented one of the trickiest parts of the project: making a new drawer for the two batteries so that it could be slid in and out for replacements. 

   Then it was just a matter of a proper paint job, some assembly, and of course the box. I did my computer-generated graphics thing again, but also used a piece of clear acetate for the wraparound window in the box, and secured the truck and controller with twist-ties that would be as annoying to remove as those found in any commercially available toy. 

   On the back I included “previews” of upcoming additions to the Monster Truck line, including Kraken Skulls and Bad Mothra. Fortunately, the RC truck still worked, although the new lights were not quite as bright as I would have preferred. But my unbelievably cute grand-niece Ivory, who is also extremely bright, got a kick out of playing with it.
​Evergreen but the Kitchen Sink

   2014. Susan and her husband Paul were in the middle of moving, so they decided to kill two lizards with one stone: divesting themselves of clutter they didn’t need, and making a Godzilla gift without detracting too much from their main focus. Using the aforementioned cookie tray as a base (it was kinda heavy, after all) for a miniature artificial tree, they hot-glued some of the monster eggs (from my previous gift) and Matchbox cars to it as ornaments, with the Chia Pet (another of my presents from Christmas past) merrily terrorizing toy cars at its roots. The tree was topped off with a plastic King Kong angel with a death grip on Santa, as if he’d had a bit too much Kong-nog and mistook this for the Empire State Tree. 

  They sweetened the deal with a bunch of VHS movies that Su had picked up at garage sales and in thrift shops over the past year -- a nice call-back to the incident that started this whole do-si-do.  Even more so when they showed up again, still shrink-wrapped, as a gag gift at my mother's birthday party in 2019! 

​Too Big for Bigfoot

   2016. Su decided to really sock it to me this time. Applying her phenomenal sewing skills, she crafted a Godzilla-sized stocking! The big sock was cut from two Christmas tree skirts, and included an elaborate applique scene of a rather large reptile setting the town on fire with his atomic breath. Ironically, the local fire department couldn’t find any hose big enough to put it out!

   The stocking in turn was stocked with ginormous toys and goodies, including a big Styrofoam airplane, some candy canes made out of pool noodles, and oversized candy wrappers containing other treats and treasures, including one too-much-fun-size chocolate bar (that, to my disappointment, was just a block of unsweetened baker’s chocolate). Another such bar held the required movie, of course. I hung the stocking on our mantle, where it totally dominated the scene, reaching all the way to the floor. 

Fair Game

   2019. But I had already been thinking about my next time at bat, and soon after I returned home, I started to outline the project. It was going to take some research and a ton of graphic design – as usual – so I decided to start early and take it a little bit at a time. So whenever I had a spare half hour or so, I did a little bit more, until by the end of the year, I wouldn’t have to rush the job. 

   The idea was to create a playable trivia game called Who Wants to Be a Godzillionaire? I went to the local Goodwill store and purchased a used Trivia Pursuit game that was in almost-new condition for two dollars, then set about Godzillifying it.

   The six-spoked circular path on the game board was a good fit for the nuclear energy symbol, an appropriate motif, since Godzilla was supposed to have been created (or awakened, at least) by an atomic blast. Each of the little plastic “pies” that players move around the board is separated into six sections, so it was a fairly simple matter to make every other section black to emulate the nuclear symbol yet again. 

   The way I chose to do this was to buy some of those felt discs that use to protect your floor from sliding furniture; I simply cut up a couple of these into 6 sections and used the adhesive side to attach them in place. The thickness of the felt pad is enough to make each inserted pie slice stand up about an eighth of an inch, so that the alternating pattern is maintained even when the pie is full. 

   The bulk of the work, of course, involved the question and answer cards. Recognizing that I would be hard pressed to come up with hundreds of questions about Godzilla and his films, and that it would be even harder for someone to play such a game without having been steeped in Godzilla lore all his life, I took a cue from
Trivial Pursuit and split the questions into six separate categories, each of which had a tangential relationship to the Big Guy. The categories were: Godzilla World
Reptiles in Fact and Fiction, Giants at LargeNukes and RadiationScary Monsters and The Far East

   Most of the questions came from my own general  knowledge, but I still had to do a lot of online research to check my answers and to generate enough esoteric knowledge to fill out that first category. I made an effort to vary the level of difficulty, tossing in some easy lobs among the harder questions, and including sly hints in the wording of some to help guide a player in the right direction.

Take a Chilla Pilla! 

   2018. My lovely wife and teenage son travelled with me to Joplin for my mom’s birthday party during the holiday season, and Susan was gracious enough to put us up for a few days. 

   She was out of town when we arrived, but had arranged for access to her house. On the bed in the guest room was a small plastic Godzilla action figure with a note card that read: “I am Godzilla, here on a pilla. The adventure will come when Susan gets home.”

   I thought it was a cute tease, but at the time I had no idea what she was doing. Throughout our stay, though, the little guy kept showing up in different tableaux, every time on a cushion, with a cryptic note. My favorite was the one where a King Kong figure and a bottle of vanilla extract shared the pillow: “Godzilla ‘n gorilla with vanilla . . . on a pilla!!!”

   I was still clueless about the pilla thing, though. So I asked Su, and she told me it was her version of Elf on the Shelf, which rang only the tiniest of bells in my mind. I had run across the reference before, but had never bothered to look into it. Add to this the fact that I was preoccupied with a storyboarding job I had to do while on this trip – pulling an all-nighter and missing a day of fun activities with my family – and it’s no wonder I was befuddled! 

   For those who don’t know, the Elf on a Shelf thing is from a children’s book about elves being dispatched by Santa to spy on kids to see who’s naughty and who’s nice. Parents set a toy elf out somewhere in the home, warning their children not to touch it and explaining that, like Woody and Buzz Lightyear, it only moves when nobody is looking. It shows up in various locations, taking in all manner of good and bad behavior, and reporting back to the North Pole every night.

   So this was Godzilla, keeping his reptilian eye on me and reporting back to – I don’t know who, but probably someone really horrendous. 

   Finally, the Godzilla figure showed up with a pair of wings strapped to his back and a note saying, “Godzilla’s on a pilla, not atop a tree, but look in the forest for your next gift from me.” 

   Now, I had lived in that part of town for four years, and I did not recall any forest anywhere nearby. But I started roaming the house in search of whatever my sister might call a forest. Everywhere I looked, there was another ceramic Christmas figurine or decorative whatchamacallit – she has quite an extensive collection. And there, on a shelf in the living room, was a lineup of ceramic Christmas trees with little light-up ornaments. Tucked in behind them I found a package. 

   Within the wrapping paper was a small, square throw pillow constructed from a needlepoint scene of an idyllic mountain village framed by pine branches and the silhouette of a huge, rampaging reptile. Godzilla was indeed on a pilla! Now, I knew my sister liked handicrafts, but I wondered at the patience it must have taken to do this whole scene in needlepoint. Then I took a closer look, and saw that Godzilla’s shadow was just drawn on the yarn with a Sharpie marker.  Hard to tell the difference, though.

   The day I flew back home to Florida, the little monster bid me a fond farewell on the dining room table, accompanied by the fuselage of an unfinished model rocket I had built when I was a kid (for more on that particular hobby, scroll to the bottom and check out the previous issue of this newsletter in the Archive section). “Zoom zoom, bye bye,” read the note. “It’s been fun.” And indeed it had!

   For each category, I created a stylized iconic image that was placed on each  color-coded card and made to match the spaces on the game board. To make the cards uniform, I simply composed them in a page in Adobe InDesign so that ten of them could be printed out on standard Avery glossy inkjet business cards. The answers were printed on the back of the same sheet on my regular laser jet, with care taken to ensure each answer matched up with the right question.  

   Naturally, these were not exactly the same    dimensions as Trivial Pursuit cards, so I cut out some pieces of foam core and glued them into the box as spacers. Each category of cards was in its own section of the box for easy access. There were 60 questions for each category, for a total of 360 questions. Whew! 

   I printed out the game board and box graphics in pieces on my Epson color inkjet printer and spray-glued them onto the original Trivial Pursuit packaging. The 8mm film was tucked neatly under a cardboard tray with all the plastic pieces – including the die – which I had constructed out of mat board, along with the rest of the interior construction. 

   The bottom of the Trivial Pursuit box had a lot of graphics that explained what was in the box, including a perspective photo in black and white of the whole set. I decided to emulate this, taking a photo of my set from a similar perspective, and throwing in a whole lot of jokes among the words of explanation. The only thing left to do was pack it up and ship it. 

   Or so I thought. At the last minute, I took a look at the photo and realized that some of the icons were missing from the game board! Checking my original Photoshop file, I saw that one of the layers – the Reptiles in Fact and Fiction icons – had been turned off before I printed the board. So I had to turn it back on, double check that I hadn’t done anything else wrong, and printed it out all over again. I just glued the new graphics over the older ones and called it a day.

   Susan has made the unveiling of the Godzilla Gift a bit of a family tradition in itself, sharing the event with whichever relatives are in town. So, even though she got the package in time for Christmas, it was not until Sunday, the 29th of December, that she opened the box. In addition to Su and her husband Paul, the party included my mother, my sister Mary, my nephew Richard, my niece Rebecca, her husband Jason and their daughter Ivory. 

   Su reported that the game was the hit of the party, and everyone enjoyed playing – even Mom! 

   Now, once again, the ball is in my sister’s court. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with – but rest assured, I’m already thinking about what I’m going to send her in two years. 

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All images © Disney
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The final design -- not one of mine.                                                      © Disney