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Surprise! It’s Valentine’s Day, the stealthiest of all the holidays. Sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?

If you’re trying to get a gift today, you… might be a bit short on options. Will you go with the gas station teddy bear? The twice-crushed box of chocolates? A bouquet of acceptable-looking roses for $ 200?

If your nearly-forgotten flame would be content with the promise of a pretty cool gift in a few weeks, though, you might be set. Instapainting, a YC-backed company launching this morning, turns any photo into a hand-painted piece on canvas for under $ 100 bucks.

If you’ve ever tried to have something like this done before, you probably know: this exists. A few companies have been doing the whole photo-into-art thing for years. Where Instapainting thinks they have them beat, however, is in pricing and speed.

Instapainting’s smallest option (a 12″x12″ canvas) starts the pricing at $ 53 (including shipping), with the largest option (29.33″x22″) going for $ 130 . A quick search turns up a number of others in this space — OilPaintingExpress, OilPaintings.com, and myDavinci to name a few. The next wallet-friendliest option I could find was OilPaintingExpress, where a 12″x12″ work starts at $ 119. Most of them start the pricing at $ 200-$ 300 dollars.

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Instapainting’s website is also a bit more… modern, for lack of a better word. Setting up your order takes all of a few seconds; upload your photo, crop it to the region you like, pick a canvas size, and you’re set. Built on top of tools like FilePicker and Stripe, the whole ordering flow is slick and simple.

So how do they keep the prices down? A few ways:

  • Your original photo is printed onto canvas first, and this printed piece is used as the base/foundation of the hand painted piece. In other words: they’re painting on top of the photo. The artist still has to know how to properly mix colors and how to recreate lights/shadows/etc. in oil, but it’s a whole lot quicker than starting on blank canvas. Many a professional artist might balk at the idea — but unless your friends start scratching at the paint to see what’s underneath, they probably won’t be able to tell.
  • As you might’ve guessed, much of the work is done overseas. Instapainting’s founders source their painters (primarily in China) one-by-one, mostly through their myriad online profiles. After quietly starting to roll the service out around a month ago, Instapainting says they have just shy of 100 painters producing pieces.
  • They ship your art rolled in a tube, leaving it to the customer to frame it or stretch it onto canvas. The company tells me they’re working on a quick-assembling canvas frame that they can pack into the shipping tubes, but that’s still a few months out.

But what about shoddy work? Cheaper rarely means better, after all. To keep quality up, Instapainting puts two layers of protection into the mix: first, each painting is checked by a second set of eyes before it heads out to the customer. Second, they guarantee their work; if you don’t dig the oil-painted version they send you, they’ll remake it or give you a full refund.

Meanwhile, the company is also dabbling with the idea of being a marketplace for artists looking to have their work recreated by hand. Artists upload the digital version of their painting or photograph, and Instapainting recreates their work and shares the revenue. It’s not quite the same as buying an original piece by the original artist, of course — but when your main concern is how it looks hanging above your couch, it’s a nice alternative to buying a standard print.

We’re planning on putting the just-launched service through the proper paces, so be on the lookout for a full review in the coming weeks.

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TechCrunch

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    When discussing social media and how he uses it for his political work as Mayor of Newark, Cory Booker called out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckberg as an “American Hero” for his work on connecting the world.

    As you might know, Booker worked with Zuckerberg to bring $ 100M in funds to schools that needed it in Newark, New Jersey. It was a pretty huge deal, and a step in the right direction for Zuckberberg in the public eye, as this came on the tail of the release of “The Social Network.”

    The pair even went on Oprah to discuss the donation.

    Zuckerberg follows a long line of tech CEOs that have started charitable campaigns, namely Bill Gates, who founded Microsoft.




    TechCrunch

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    Cory Barlog, who served as writer and director for God of War 2, as well as “story creator” for Ghost of Sparta and creative director for Chains of Olympus, has joined Crystal Dynamics to work on its forthcoming Tomb Raider reboot and “a yet to be announced new title.

    Its unclear what this transition may mean for Barlog’s Mad Max project, which was reportedly in production at Avalanche Studios. “I can’t comment on our project, but all I can say is that the projects we’ve been working on for the last two years and the one we recently started up in NY are sailing along like never before,” said Avalanche Studios founder Christofer Sundberg in a statement to Eurogamer.

    This either means that Mad Max is continuing without Barlog at Avalanche Studios, or that it was never there to begin with. Either way, we’re looking forward to seeing what kind of vengeful, face-painting influence Barlog has on Lara Croft’s future, and whether his presence at Crystal Dynamics could finally lead to Gex of War.

    Continue reading God of War 2 director Cory Barlog joins Crystal Dynamics

    JoystiqGod of War 2 director Cory Barlog joins Crystal Dynamics originally appeared on Joystiq on Fri, 02 Mar 2012 14:30:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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