Download Major Tom Original | Major Tom Remix
Latest versions: 2.6   (March 31, 2001)


Over the summer of '99, I worked in the sound department of a feature film called 'Massholes.' It was a great experience and they even put us all up in a nice hotel for the duration of the shoot. There was a decent drive to the set every day, and I'd only brought a few tapes with me.

One of those tapes was David Bowie - The Singles, a fantastic collection. I'd had ChangesBowie on disc for years, but during Thanksgiving break 1998, someone broke into the house a bunch of classmates and I were renting and that CD (along with a few other discs, my drums, and one of my housemates' computers) were stolen.

Anyway, I had the song 'Space Oddity' in my head (it's always been a favorite of mine), and was thinking that making a NASA Winamp skin might be cool. During a day that was mostly spent shooting a party scene (where the sound cart was permanently parked on the porch, leaving me little to do), I sat and sketched this skin up.

Once the film wrapped in early August, I had some time to begin work on the skin. I used the films Apollo 13 and From the Earth to the Moon, as well as various books and Discovery Channel specials, as visual references... I sketched for hours, jotting down minute details of the real control consoles that NASA used during the Apollo era.

I then spent roughly a week of vacation time creating the main window of the skin in Photoshop. So much of the process was in marathon sessions that I can't really recall many of the techniques I used, but in working on the skin I wanted individual elements within each window to sit on their own panels. That meant that things needed to fit into neat grid-like pieces. Because I wanted to use the progress bar as a tracking indicator, I realized fairly early on that I'd have to cut into part of the area where the volume and balance bars belong. I didn't think this would be a problem until I went to physically create the volume and balance bars.

The skinning architecture for Winamp 2 draws those slider bars with knobs that float over the bars themselves. The thing is, those knobs would only match with what sits beneath them if there's uniform coloring beneath. I wanted these bars to animate in fairly complex ways, with little needles instead of a cumbersome block knob. I didn't know what to do, because that block also limits how small you can realistically make your volume and balance bars. I was stuck and extremely frustrated, but then salvation came...

Right about this time, on Skinz.org, a fellow who goes by the alias of DoorinD uploaded a skin called 'Illusion.' 'Illusion' was remarkable in that it broke a lot of tenets of Winamp skinning, like the grid-like layout of many skins, which basically made 75% of Winamp 2 skins look alike. The skin was an interesting greyish-blue with subtle controls. While examining it, I noticed that his volume bar was tiny...and without those blocky knobs. The balance bar didn't even exist! Upon examining his graphics carefully, I discovered the elements that made up volume graphic was shorter than normal.

Suddenly I understood: If the graphic was sub-sized, Winamp would interpret that missing part as transparent. That meant you could have an animated volume bar without the knob, if you just cut off the part of the graphic where the knob would be!

I went back to work, finishing the main screen in another day or two. After so much effort, I was tired and a little concerned whether or not to keep working on the skin. Figuring I'd get valuable feedback, I posted the incomplete skin to Skinz.org, and discovered 2 things: First, I was on the right track. Secondly, nobody likes an incomplete skin. I worked like mad for the next week, completing the other 3 windows and posting the additions as I went (pissing off a lot of folks in the process). I just wanted people to see that I was working on finishing it.

One of the things I had to do unusually can be found in the EQ window. Because the slider elements for the EQ are in the middle of the graphic, and I wanted animated EQ bars that would be unobstructed by a big-ass slider knob that I couldn't remove, I had to approach the construction of those sliders carefully. I discovered that there are 2 pixels of width in the EQ bars' graphics that are not covered by the width of the slider knob. I decided to offset the apparent EQ bars, making most of the knob actually cover the visual 'gaps' between the sliders. It's counterintuitive when you first use it, but it allowed me to get the look I wanted.

To keep the look of the NASA consoles, where I could, I used a significant amount of transparency around the Main and EQ windows. The control buttons on the titlebar were thus tiny buttons floating above the top edges of the windows. After the skin's initial release, many folks commented that this was not a great decision in regard to useability. They were right - if you missed the buttons (quite easy to do because of their size) when you went to click on them... I didn't have a chance to correct this until my first quarter of classes at RIT ended that fall, but finally, 'Major Tom' was remixed with a new style titlebar for those windows.

Since I liked the look of both, they're both available for download.

A few months ago, I discovered that in the late summer of 2000, ZDNet.com ran a list of their picks for the top ten best Winamp skins. I was the only person to have two skins listed - 'Major Tom,' and 'eIndia.'

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