To kick off our recently revived "Featured Skinner" series, we've sat down with well-known member of the skinning community, vStyler, to ask him a few quick questions about his thoughts on skinning, how he got started, and a little bit about his skinning studio, MaxStyles, which has recruited community members such as I.R. Brainiac, messiah1, J. Aroche and others.
I'd like to thank vStyler for taking the time to answer these questions in such depth and for providing a great preview shot of his next skin, Sexy WB, for us to use in this article.
If you have a skinner you'd like to see featured in this, now quarterly, series drop me a line at mikec [AT] stardock [DOT] com with the subject "Featured Skinner Suggestion"
Without any further adieu, on to the interview!
How did you get your start in Windows UI customization?
A long time ago, in an operating system far far away, a (noticeably younger) young man decided to click the Classic Color Schemes dropdown button... this thrust him into a parallel universe… that he has yet to return from. Yes, I, like so many other artists had my first ‘skinning" experience back in about 95 \ 98 when I discovered I could actually change the basic colors of my OS. For the next few days (while I was supposed to be making sales calls) I perfected the perfect classic color scheme... for my own use of course. This led to downloading "themes"… A wallpaper, some desktop icons, color scheme, cursors and sounds... I was in customizing heaven… or so I thought. While searching for themes I stumbled across a nifty program called NextStart, and although I never actually skinned it, I had lots of fun customizing with it. I then went onto the very early versions of Windowblinds and Style XP and started uploading screenshots to DeviantArt. I first tried my hand at "real" skinning after installing Style XP and thinking "this doesn’t look so hard". My first official theme (I’ll admit) was an unauthorized modded version of one of Kol’s earlier visual styles (Lumineux VS). Looking back at it now I realize what a terrible job I did of making it look like 100% original work. I have since admitted my horrible crime to Kol and have received forgiveness. Of course, eventually as most of you know I now skin Windowblinds exclusively, why I switched to WB is revealed later on.
Is skinning a professional endeavor or more of a hobby?
This one is easy, once I decided that skinning windows was something I could be good at, I firmly put into place a plan to be as good as I could possibly be in the hopes that one day I could actually make a living doing it. I would have to say this last 6 years or was more like a self-taught home based college course than a hobby in the hopes that someday it would pay off. That’s not saying I don’t enjoy it, it has also been a hobby of mine, when a nice skin is finally completed I do enjoy the feedback from users and I have always been comforted and motivated knowing that my work is being used and appreciated by fellow customizers.
A preview of vStyler's upcoming skin, "Sexy"
Explain how MaxStyles came about?
I think right around 2001 I had gotten the idea, (after making a Jacksonville Jaguars NFL theme for my neighbors PC), to try and make NFL themes and sell them to the NFL. I made a Denver Bronco’s theme as an example and then decided I was going to need a website. It was at this time I approached Tom Reichert (LightStar) of LightStar1.com with my idea. Well, needless to say, not having the 3 million dollar licensing fee required by the NFL my little plan sort of fell through. However, not long after meeting Tom we both started selling Premium Visual Style’s on his site. A short time after he suggested my opening my own site that he would help me setup and maintain... and Maxstyles.com was born.
What is your goal with MaxStyles?
For about three years I released visual styles, both free and premium on MaxStyles. At the end of last summer I decided to participate in the GUI Championships on Wincustomize.com. My Visual Style ports aside, this was my first real in depth foray into SkinStudio. I was fortunate enough to place 3rd overall with my first full WB skin "Vectra". That was enough to motivate me not only to convert full time to Windowblinds, but also to switch my site over completely to Windowblinds based themes and say goodbye to visual styles forever. A few months back I approached what I thought were some of the most talented skinners on the Windowblinds side of things and asked them if they wanted to join me on Maxstyles and be part of a team. The idea was to produce free and premium skins of unsurpassed quality by maximizing each team member’s potential and expertise in a team atmosphere. The "new" Maxstyles.com is now in place. We intend to continue producing high quality themes for the general public as long as possible. It is my intention at a future date to also involve Maxstyles in the arena of branded skins for corporate clients. The MaxStyles team currently consists of me, I.R Brainiac, Aroche, Messiah1, Basj and Gef.
Do you think Windows Vista will help or hurt skinning?
Well...that’s a tough one. I must say that after my initial investigation of the OS and early attempts at skinning it I am thoroughly un-impressed with Vista from a skinning standpoint. I am frustrated with it as I see many areas where (1) skinning options have been taken away and (2) Some areas of Vista now add even more areas that inherit the properties and attributes of other areas of the OS leading to even more "damned if you do , damned if you don’t" scenarios. On the flip side… because there is technically less to skin and because of some of its limitations it’s actually easier to skin. Bottom line, Vista is probably easier but perhaps not better… in my opinion.
What’s your favorite skin ever made?
Wow... that’s tough! If I absolutely have to choose… my favorite all time Windowblind is Sektor by danilloOc. I would have to say that its overall look, its animations and flawless execution were some of the reasons that attracted me to finally start doing WB skins and how I personally go about designing and implementing my skins. If you’re going to do something... then do it right. In a shameless plug I will give a close second to my good friend I.R Brainiac’s Knot Vista skin. ?
Lastly, I am currently working on a new Master Skin, after several people using the same word to describe the screenshots I was sending them... I decided to call it Sexy WB . Here’s the latest preview of it, should be completed sometime in the near future.
In closing I would like to say I am eternally thankful to those who have supported and helped me along the way and that I hope the adventure is just beginning. I hope to be around for a long time.
Thanks, and keep on skinning!!