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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Photo-Novel Vs. Film

After a few months hiatus from Isness to produce my next short film "Execution", I'm back with Isness and I'm happy to say that it feels like coming home.  But before updating about that, here's a shout out to my dedicated cast. I put these amazing women through three months of prep so I could gradually mold them into an outlandish band of renegades. There are more pics from the production here.

Photo by Matylda Kawka



Volume Two is roughly laid out -as are all the rest - and I'm digging into the body of each spread tossing and turning the images, seeking the best way to tell the each event. Here are some samples of the work in progress:

Two cover options for Volume Two. One is based on Life magazine (as is Volume One) and with the other I'm toying with the idea of using Popular Science Magazine as my inspiration. This would mean that each volume's cover could be based on a different magazine. More fun for me, perhaps a little confusing to the reader.















Below the following spreads I placed an image that shows something of the production process it took to get there:



The darkroom is the most recently added miniature. It's situated in a triangular space under the staircase in the kitchen and serves as Lars' real, functioning darkroom but also as his hideout when things in the family get too intense.








In this scene, Petro (the father figure, played by Tom Regan) negotiates for a back-scratch in return for some of his precious, home made beer. His daughter, Pachouli, played by Stephanie De Latour, agrees reluctantly. In the pic below, it's Lelo Lourenzo behind the 2nd camera and Kimberly Boldrini shot this image.







This home-repair tutorial is supposed to tell the story of how Hunter installed the new, white french doors in the front of the house. I captured stills from various Youtube how-to videos and changed the skin tone of the hands. The house is the miniature with some 1960s house segments collaged from a design magazine.







The mother figure, Nanna, played by Christine Osterman is a riot of female survival instincts mixed with a mid-century housewife ideal. In the spread above she unveils after prolonged onion chopping to answer Petro's love-call.







Making a shopping list for an analphabetic by cutting and pasting product images from magazines. In this scene, Nanna dictates to Lars what to put on the list, which will then be given to Hunter for when he goes to the mainland to "shop". Lars hands are actually Rachel Hahn's, who interned on the project and did some body-double work for Lars' character.







After Petro accidentally broke lars' photo frame, Pachouli finds it and attempts to return it to Lars. One thing I noticed after years of editing the images, is that the eye gets tired of seeing the room background in every single image on a page, particularly if it is in focus. Cutting out the background helps to focus the eye and move the action along.




R.I.P ZOOLA
...And last, I finally have the courage to speak about the loss of Zoola, our beloved super-smart, spicy dog, who died almost 2 years ago in a freak accident. Zoola got herself a part in Isness by crashing one of our early shoots and nailing it with every move. (Our other dog, Ziggy, not so much...) Later during shoots, she would place herself at the epicenter of the action and give us a 100% authentic post-apocalyptic dog behavior. Zoola appears in many scenes and represents the raw survival instincts of an animal in symbiosis with humans.







With Catriona Plesnarski




With Toby Levin


 With Lee Sebastiany




With Stephanie DeLatour and Alexandra Ceribelli



 With James Allerdyce and Catriona Plesranski






And that does it for now. This winter is dedicated to going back and forth between editing Isness Volume Two and editing my short film, Execution. Who would have guessed that a photo novel would take so much longer to make, than a film?



Thursday, October 19, 2017

Where Are They now? / Hiroe Goto

I have this memory of Hiroe during Isness' production: Myself, saying "good night" and leaving her in the studio to work into the wee hours. It wasn't that I asked her to do it. It was her work ethic and drive that kept her in the studio late. I also remember her showing up for the shoots in which we used the animals she created, even though I could not pay her for it, in order to manage their function and and make sure all went well.


Casting the roast pig at about 1am


I found Hiroe through word of mouth during the fervent days before launching Isness' production. Hiroe had already amassed a plethora of skills from her studies in schools in Japan, Canada and the UK. She hadn't been in the United States for very long and was happy to join my low budget production for the sake of practice and to fatten her resume.  I soon realized that I had gotten very lucky and caught this superb, multi- talented individual before she got whisked away to play with the "big boys". Together with Cristina Atkin they set up a little prop workshop in my studio and before I knew it, there were sculptures taking shape, rubber molds being created and fur and feathers flying around. One of the things that struck me during the time Hiroe worked on Isness,was her ability to switch from cute to gory prop making, from glamour makeup to wounded flesh effects, all at the drop of a hat.



During the butchering scene, Hiroe keeping her animals in functioning order during the butchering scene.

Sculpting the body for the gopher which Hunter catches in Volume One. (Cristina Atkin to her right).


Soon after Isness production, Hiroe moved to LA and began to apply her talent in bigger productions. She worked at BIX PIX ENTERTAMENT and ATLANTIC WEST EFFECTS before landing her most recent position as sole puppet and set sculptor on Tumble Leaf, a show for preschool kids, which won many awards, including five Daytime Emmy Awards. 


Fast forward a few years: Hiroe on the set of Tumble Leaf


I asked Hiroe a few questions:

SDid you adopt any new hobbies or activities since you moved to LA? 

H: Well, I don’t have any new hobbies but I’m back to traveling more! 2 years ago, 2016, I traveled to 7 countries, and in 2017, went back to Japan twice and to Switzerland in the summer. Now I'm  planing to go somewhere else the end of the year. I guess that’s I like to do now.

SWhat do you think about working in the LA scene Vs. the New York scene?

H: Living in LA.. I don’t know about that yet, even though I have been living here for almost 5 years. I mean a year after I moved out here, my life just started getting better and better because I got more opportunities and better jobs and money. People started calling me “sculptor” which I didn’t think of myself as. I mean, I knew I like sculpting but I didn’t think that I'd be a sculptor. I thought I have to do everything, whatever is needed to be done but I guess people see me better than I do, which is great! I love being a sculptor and being told I can do a job better than anybody else... It seems that I have a dedication and am detail oriented more than other people. But the other side of my life is kind of boring because the life is just different from living in NY. I have to drive a car to go everywhere, it's harder to make friends, people are different , and they don’t like hipsters! Most of my friends from NY are hipsters, and they think hip hipsters are bad but I don’t think so, I think they are great and are my kind of people. That’s what I miss, and I miss the night life in NY. LA has no night life for me…


KIRIN,  Chinese mythic creature “Qilin Dragon" (known as the label of a Japanese beer), is shaped like a deer with a dragon face, cow tail, horse legs, and scalse on the body. This is about a 1’ size sculpture with oil based clay. This was my first maquette from 2013. I had a bit of a hard time sculpting the horse anatomy but I enjoyed it. I will cast and paint it in the future.


Baby Hippos! 4”x 5”. Sculpted with clay, molded and cast in resin. Painted with acrylics. (And I hear that these two cuties happen to be for sale!).



You can find many more fantastic examples of Hiroe's work on her website! hero-hiro-hero.com





Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Never Not Working

The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity.  I've been deep in the final pages of ISSNES/ Volume One, all the way to the credit spreads and back cover. Excited to be finishing this volume but anxious about the next step. Isness will be a very hard sell for publishers. It falls deep between the genre creases. It misses the mark for the currently held concepts of graphic novel or even independent/alternative graphic novel. The Indie comics community shies away form anything photographed, which is an entire subject unto it's own and well discussed here and in other places. Isness is not a photography book either. Nor is it an an artists book. It's not a real magazine, even though it's designed to have the look and feel of one. It's sort of none-of-the-above... just floating around, in a sphere of its own.



The general layout for the production credits is loosely based on the advertisement layout below (I believe it's from Family Circle Magazine) The grid of squares was very popular in 60's magazines. I've seen it in ads, recipe instructions, makeup demos and handyman tutorials. It's really everywhere... and I love it. The credits are still very incomplete, awaiting bios from the individuals in question.






I'm closing in on a uniform treatment for the speech balloons. Nothing seems to do the job and still look integral to the project. It looks like I will settle on simplicity and conformity. A familiar comics trope in a sea of broken rules. More comfortable with Photoshop, I'm beginning to introduce multiple blurred images as indication of movement. We shot Pachouli-Rose-Blossom (or whatever her name will end up being, because nothing really stick for me) with a lot of in-camera blur for this scene which was a great idea in hindsight and multiplying them adds even more of that dizzying presence I wanted to give her.




Cosmetics are an important part of the story and this very realistic 60's magazine beautifying instructive works well for my character's predicament: Poor nutrition and hygiene have left her skin a minefield of blemishes. Her mother has complete monopoly in the house on any and all cosmetics. This makes them even more coveted and desirable and sets a course for Pachouli's stealing, hiding and lying.






finally finished Lars' darkroom and put him in it. That's where we leave him at the end of Volume One. In the beginning of Volume Two, he will be developing and printing a certain photo which will trigger an extensive flashback.






The activity pages at the end are almost done. The coloring pages were a particularly enjoyably to make. I do miss drawing and painting...




A flip-book is also part of the activity pages and it's more complicated to design than I thought. The bonus however, is that if it works, the stills will suddenly and briefly turn into a real movie!




 The biggest treat, though, has been getting Lars' song off the ground with the help of composer Tamar Muskal and multi-instrumentalist/arranger Rob Schwimmer. Tamar's bold composition establishes that Isness indeed is a musical. Rob is stacking track after track to strengthen the dreamy-optimistic-almost heroic mood of the song. We found an amazing singer to portray Lars' young voice and are very close to recording.





On a separate note, my first foray into film, Cooking with Connie, won Best Experimental Film at the Brooklyn Film Festival  last month. It was an extremely pleasant shock and a real boost. Here's the review it got in  Unseen Films. While Cooking with Connie took less than a year - if I don't count the inactive gaps - ISNESS is already in it's seventh's year of intense work. It's a little confusing to me that film is turning out to be the easier of the two mediums... When I launched the work on Isness I was told by a local figure in the comics world, that I was lazy. That I wanted to just go "click" a camera and have the work be done for me, instead of sitting down and drawing. Seems laughable now, though at the time it stung deeply.





The near future for Isness will include finalizing edits and readying Volume One for submissions to publishers. I may decide to print a few "beta books" for this process, because I believe the project lives best as a tangible object. As soon as I can I will begin to post pages from Volume Two. Many are already laid out.

Meanwhile, a sweet summer to all of you, especially to all those artists slaving over their passion projects in dark and obscure corners of the world.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Body Doubles, New Diorama, and Some Soundtrack News



An aerial view of the defunct tarmac on the island. Before and after Photoshop treatment.

By now I am fully resigned to working on Isness as a lifestyle. 
There are days when I feel cursed and days when I feel blessed to be bogged down in an imaginary world with no end in sight. I was reminded recently by somebody close, that my beloved father practiced a similar kind of meandering, labyrinth-like creative process. He, however, was a scientist. Isness has become, indeed, a laboratory in which no shortcuts are permitted. 
   
Having said that, Isness Volume One is three quarters finished and all the other volumes roughly laid out. My interest and resolve about the project have not faded, even as I work simultaneously on other projects, with a shorter finish trajectory. My first short film Cooking with Connie is at a rough cut stage and will be reviewed and critiqued by my fellows at BFC in December. They are a smart bunch and help each other's projects realize their full potential.

A still from Cooking with Connie


This past summer has been very productive. Rachel Hahn of RISD was my intern and brought with her, besides a keen understanding of the project, genuine talent and diverse skills.



Rachel also happened to have the hands and a general physique reminiscent of Lars', so I recruited her to do some body double work. This is the second time I've used a body double for this project. Although I always knew I would use body doubles for the nude scenes, I found that hand close-ups are essential in my storytelling, particularly since the narrative is very object-heavy. My characters touch and hold a lot of things...We got closer shots of many objects that Toby Levin touched during the production, and some that were not in the original shoot or story at all.


Left: Toby Levin, as Lars, brandishing a fencing sword, during the action shoot. 
Right: Rachel giving me a second chance for close-ups .

Left: Toby Levin figuring out how to rig a car battery to power a lamp.
Right: Rachel providing a close-up on an instruction booklet and wire-stripper that were purchased months later.


A while back I shot a body double for Lil' with Mina Jameson, who has perfect "Lil' hands"


This sequence, from the finished layout, has actor Catriona Rubenis-Stevens as Lil' on the left, while the 2 hand closeups on the right, belong to Mina.



Another goal we conquered this summer was  revamping the small diorama of Hunter's camp. 

On location in Sandy Hook NJ.

To duplicate the terrain where shot the scene, I originally made a small diorama. It was enough for adding the essential tent and some miniature tools.



This time around, we included a replica of a log that was on the location (and pertinent to the story) and turned it into a defunct telephone pole.


 We also replicated the makeshift fire-pit that we threw together during the action shoot. Since at Sandy Hook no fires were allowed, I took the opportunity to burn a few matchsticks in the diorama for the sake of extra realism.



In the works for the past year, has been my growing collaboration with composer Tamar Muskal for the musical aspect of the novel. Tamar is an accomplished composer who has done work in genres ranging from classical composition to film scores. I feel very lucky to have such an accomplished and original composer on board.



We are now in the arrangement phase of the first song and will hopefully be recording soon.
Volume one will contains the first song. Four visual spreads to accompany it and a flexi-disc record that will be inside the hard copy.



Regarding the all-important print and publish aspects of the project, I have no good news yet. Besides printing an occasional digital working-draft for myself at about $50 a pop, the cost of self publishing remains prohibitive and I have reached out to two publishers so far and will reach out to many more once Volume One is done.  



The latest digital draft has just been printed and being mailed to me. Hope to make a little video of it for my next post.