Reviews

Cassadaga

Author: Niz Proskocil
04/09/2007 | Omaha World Herald | www.omaha.com | Album Review
"And the Grammy Award for best recording package goes to . . ."

Zack Nipper.

It could happen, considering the sweet job he did on the new Bright Eyes album, "Cassadaga," which arrives in stores today.

Nipper, a graphic designer at Omaha's Saddle Creek Records, spent about four months coming up with a concept and hand-creating the dozens of intricate illustrations and text depicted in the "Cassadaga" cover art.

The wow factor isn't immediate. At first glance, the design looks downright drab. Big deal. It's gray.

A closer look unveils a series of tiny, squiggly black-and-white lines. Is that supposed to be impressive?

It's not until you open the cardboard CD cover and use a "spectral decoder" tucked inside that you're able to see the big picture.

When you move the ridged plastic device across five panels of the CD cover, an array of hidden images and messages show up.

It's hard not to be wowed. It's just as hard not to spend hours poring over every detail of Nipper's handiwork.

The 33-year-old Omaha artist, who has designed the bulk of the Bright Eyes album covers, met with Conor Oberst late last year to discuss the musician's vision for "Cassadaga."

Oberst wanted hidden images that involved 3-D technology. The original concept was to feature a stereogram optical illusion. Stare at a hidden image long enough - and in just the right way - and, voilą, a myriad of mystery images appear.

That idea, though, presented challenges.

With CD packaging, the stereogram would have to be fairly small.

And that wasn't the only problem. Like the fictional Mr. Pitt - who, in a classic "Seinfeld" episode, struggles to make out a hidden 3-D image in a Magic Eye poster - Nipper has trouble deciphering stereograms.

He figured there were other stereogram-challenged people out there, too, so why make it hard for them?

After searching the Web for alternative methods, including holograms, to execute Oberst's idea, Nipper came across 3D Images Ltd., a company in London that offers a patented process called Focal Decoder.

He sent the "Cassadaga" artwork to the London firm, which used a computer program to encode his illustrations, making them undetectable to the naked eye.

Nipper said it was the first time the firm had used the technology for an album cover. The firm's clients include Pepsi and other companies.

Of all the record covers Nipper has designed, "Cassadaga" was the most challenging because it was time-consuming and was his first experience with encoded images. He worried about how the finished product would look when it returned from the printers.

He's pleased with the results and so is Oberst.

"I really feel good that there's something additional to it (other) than looking at pictures," Nipper said. "The good thing about designing for Conor is that his music is so rich and multi-layered. There's so much to draw on."

To ensure that the illustrations reflected Oberst's music, Nipper listened to early versions of "Cassadaga" songs while he drew. The artwork includes pyramids, palm trees, stars, a flying coffin and a metronome, among other images.

The text includes a variety of real and made-up messages by Oberst that convey a sense of magic, science and religion in English and other languages, such as Portuguese, Nipper said.

Nipper, who took his last art class in eighth grade and has a degree in political science, was able to give up a "crummy job" as a phone technician after Saddle Creek hired him full-time in 2005.

"I just feel really lucky to work for the label," he said.
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