Graphic Thoughts: A Design for a Hero
Posted Oct 1, 2008

If I had to guess, I’d wager that you’ve either been asked this question or asked it of others yourself: "How did you end up in the video business?" For me, the answer is a two-parter and one that catches many people by surprise. But hey, you asked, right? (And trust me, we’ll still get to the graphics part of this column.)

Back in 1991, my baby sister (18 months younger than I am) got married. For whatever reason, my mom hired a "professional" videographer (a fixture nowhere near as common back then as they are today). I was in college, mainly deejaying in techno clubs, and I had a mild interest in video since many of the night clubs were into psychedelic clips such as The Mind’s Eye. I always loved graphics, and the mixture of graphics and video intrigued me.

Anyway, the "pro" at my sister’s wedding (whom I never encountered again) did the shoot, but when we got the edited footage, we saw that he hadn’t included any of the main parts of the reception (such as their first dance, etc.) … he literally left his camera by the food table and that was about it. I remember seeing this video and thinking, "I could blow this away, and I don’t know a thing about video."

From that day forward my journey started to move toward video. And it wasn’t just the sense that I could do it better. That video, deficient as it was, made me realize that even bad video provided a way to look into the past by seeing smiling faces and hearing the voices of times long gone. Sometime around then I was introduced to my very first Video Toaster editing system from NewTek. I fell in love the second I realized that you didn’t need a Cray computer the size of a house to create really cool stuff. Over the years I’ve become great friends with many of the NewTek players. And while my NewTek system moved from an Amiga to a PC, the concept remains still the same.

Fast-forward to the morning of Oct. 4, 1993. At exactly 5:45 a.m. that Monday morning, I received a call that would forever change the course of my life. That morning my mother called to tell me that my brother-in-law, Casey Joyce, had been killed in Mogadishu, Somalia. Immediately after their wedding in Dallas, my sister and her husband had headed to Ft. Benning, Ga., so Casey could become an elite Army Ranger. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because in 2001, Ridley Scott and Jerry Bruckheimer made a movie about the Battle of the Black Sea called Black Hawk Down. Casey was one of the 18 American soldiers killed that day. When his death left my sister a 22-year-old widow, it radically changed my perspective on pretty much everything I thought I knew about life. That was 15 years ago this month, and I can still feel the effects to this very day.

So as a tribute to Casey, I thought I’d show you how to create a memorial type of graphic using a slick Photoshop Frame Border Action from the good folks at called ActionFx_Framing-SamplePack-001 (found in the "free stuff" area of their website). This action, with just one click, will create a very nice frame around a photo.

Step 1: Select a Photo and Load the Action
First, go ahead and download the Zip file of the Action and put it in a place you can find on your computer. Within Photoshop, navigate to the top File menu and choose Open, then select your photograph. I’ve picked an image with Casey (Figure 1, left) and Matt Eversmann (Figure 1, right). Matt Eversmann is actually the tall guy whom Josh Hartnett portrayed in Black Hawk Down.

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With the image open you’ll want to load the Photoshop Action "into" Photoshop. To do this, simply open your Actions Palette open (Window > Actions) and click in the upper right corner to reveal the drop-down list. Choose Load Actions, then select the file you downloaded from Once loaded, you’ll have your choice of five different framed borders. Try them all and see what you think. (Note: If you are a paid subscriber to ActionFX, it has lots more to choose from—definitely one of the best deals around for awesome Photoshop material!)

Step 2: Select a Frameborder Action
To use the ActionsFX frame border selections, just make sure your photo is open, then select the frame border action you like and click the Play arrow button at the bottom of the Actions Palette to let it work its magic. I opted for the first choice, which creates a nice wooden frame with a bit of a glossy sheen to it (Figure 2).

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Some of the other free options create some very realistic metal textures as well. The best part is that the Action creates many different layers so you can make adjustments or changes as needed.

Step 3: Expand the Canvas and Complete the Look
So there you have it: a very slick border that you can use with any photograph, and it’s all created right before your eyes. To finish out the design, I’ve gone ahead and dropped the frame into a larger canvas and added text and photos to complete the look with very minimal effort (Figure 3).

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Fifteen years later, both graphics and video have become a way of life for me, and I’m grateful for Casey’s and the other soldiers’ sacrifices they made for our country. I’ve learned a lot about many things, but there is no doubt that without video, I’d never quite be able to remember the sound of his voice or clearly see his mannerisms. So with that bittersweet memory that I still carry with me, I have to give a shout-out to Casey and the boys: Rangers Lead the Way!

Lance Gray (lance at is the chief creative pixelmonkey at PixelPops Design, LLC. For questions, thoughts, or ideas simply email him.