Saturday, April 26, 2014

Some Inspiration from Across the Atlantic

"How's your film going"?

"It's animation, right"?

"How's your video thing going, or is it a slide show"?

I get a lot of genuinely interested question about my project and I'm always surprised how few of my acquaintances have successfully wrapped their minds around what I've been doing for the better part of the last 4 years. It's amusing really, and probably my own fault for not explaining it better.
To be honest, I'm confused myself... at times.

One annoying but oddly helpful thing people tend to do (and I'm as guilty as anyone) is to immediately scrounge through their brains and try to come up with something they're familiar with that resembles what they think I may be doing... I actually take notes and look into the films/books/performances they mention and most of the time find little resemblance and no inspiration, but not so with one project that was mentioned to me several time: Woman's World by Graham Rawle.

This Crazy Brit apparently spent 5 years dissecting popular ladies' magazines of the 50's and 60's to find the words that were just right to tell the poignant and psychologically complex story of a young woman named Norma and her brother, Roy. And when I say just the right words, I mean he actually cut out and pasted them into a book and printed the collage of it all.

The book falls into the category of "graphic novel" as well as literature because of this highly visual approach. The tenderness and nostalgia with which the collage is put together infuses the story with the love and loss which are at the core of the drama. I highly recommend it. Here's more about it.

Anyway, I read the book twice and felt a kinship to it's creator and in fact took great inspiration and encouragement from it in all aspects of incorporating 60's magazine culture in my layouts.
There will be ads, illustrations, advice and game section and even a porn sections, all based on the graphics and artifacts in 60's magazines, but with my own post apocalyptic twist.

Below are a few samples from the work in progress:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Shutting Down The Miniature Shop!

It's been 3 years since I launched the construction of the miniature world of Isness and I am thrilled to announce that it is now DONE DONE DONE!

To stage the finale, I lured talented hands from among my friends to come to my studio. Fueled by the buzz of conversation and excellent coffee, we covered the last few glaring omissions from the miniature rooms, such as toilet paper, clothing, jewelry, boxed supplies and much more. Here are some pics from the 2 day marathon:

Jess Nissen made tincy wincy jewelry for Nanna's extensive collection...

Ni Byrne assembles cereal boxes for the family's food stash...

Alyn Evans assembled Vietnam era military rations...

Christine Murray and Tammy Kim made dresses and aprons...

Tammy Kim made 60's inspired dresses for Nanna's closet...

Mia Bauman made a disco ball...

... and I worked on a personal favorite: the tiny toilet paper rolls.

Another step forward this summer was that I finally hired an intern to help out with the massive load of Photoshop work. 

Tammy Kim is in her final year at RISD and majoring in illustration and animation. She took a summer internship with me and was the perfect person to have as first-intern-ever because she was absolutely focused and proactive in the developing of a proper workflow for an additional person. After working for so long by myself it was somehow unclear to me how to harness the extra hand.

Tammy tackled Nanna's big hair problem. It was supposed to have a life of it's own, constantly billowing around her like "a golden storm"... To achieve this, we planned to keep a blasting hair dryer on her at all times during the shoots... This turned out to be a lost cause and Alex, bless her heart, stalked Christine with the deafening machine trying to make the best of it. It was a huge annoyance to Christine and I'm amazed she was able to keep up her performance. Long story short, most of the images will need some work to build up that fantasy hair that is so important to Nanna's character.

Below are a before/after of a shot from the bizarre sex scene in chapter two. After many experiments Tammy and I chose the best technique for solving the hair problem and she proceeded to correct as many images as her time with me allowed. She also created an easy tutorial for the next intern to follow, in order to ensure a consistent look.

Another job Tammy took on was transposing a pattern onto the previously solid fabric that draped Nanna's head during her onion-chopping scene. This required good life-drawing skills and visual extrapolation. Here's a before/after:

Although the saturation levels in the scene are not yet matched, one can see that this will work well enough.  Many of the corrections of this type, in the novel, are a result of my inexperience and the rather technically impoverished state of the production as a whole. The head cover for this scene was simply not selected in advance and was grabbed out of a pile of fabrics at the spur of the moment.

Below is a test composite in the newly finished master bedroom.

More updates and photos are on my Facebook artist page at

Ahead this winter are extensive miniature photography, Photoshop editing and page layout work but NO MORE BUILDING!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Mocking It Up As I Go Along...

In order to have a more tangible relationship with my material, I've started putting together a mock-up of the graphic novel.
I print pages in their "as-is" imperfect stage of development and assemble them in order.
One can meditate on a spread in In Design forever and learn nothing. A glimpse at the physical object, and there are the answers! 
Other pluses of the mock-up:
Gives me a feeling of accomplishment and a false sense that I'm moving along in leaps and strides...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Sneak Peek 1

From now on, as the layout work builds momentum, I will share my progress with you, periodically, by posting segments from the draft.

Below are 4 layouts in the works from chapter 2 "The Eye of the Beholder":

Midpoint Introspection and More

When I started this project it was going to be a short graphic novel in black and white. 
The idea was to marry my passion for comics with my passion for cinema and see where it took me. Everything about it was designed to give me a lingering experience in the less inhabited medium of sequential stills, to provide a long, meandering bridge towards cinematic storytelling.

I find myself, 3 years after the inception of the idea, mired in an undertaking of epic proportions. A 600 page, full color draft and a miniature building operation that is a black hole for money and time. I have not calculated the dollar figure sunk into the project so far but I suspect it is in the area of $50,000, most of it of my own money.

But alas, I plow on. Too late to turn back and by now I'm too curious as to how it will turn out . I'm already miles away from the original vision and still diverging...

One of the most fascinating aspects of the work, for me, is the incredible malleability of the medium. In basic filmmaking, one must rely on the "take" in which foreground, background and dialog (Not to mention weather, light and background sound), are instantly fused together into one amalgam. Here, in "Isness-world" every aspect is accessible for editing and re-editing. A character shot, say, in a green dress standing in daylight shouting, can be morphed into a sitting character in a pink dress in an indoor night scene... singing. She can be moved from foreground to background. Her expressions, eye color and hair design all can be changed. Just recently I decided to knock a tooth out of Petro's mouth to give him a little more edge. This level of control is extremely gratifying even if the price is painstaking work which is not far from the kind of work sunk into animation.

Below is a sequence of layouts I'm working on for the opening of the story. The Russian soldier that lands on the islands shore is propelled through a psychedelic time warp inspired by Stanley Kubricks Star-Gate sequence from Odyssey 2001.

The next 2 images are a demonstration of a very simple composite in which the only things changed are the background and Nanna's upper torso (holding the phone). Light, color and focus adjustments are added too to help the scene blend with it's new environment.

Below, the 3rd room finished and ready to shoot is that of Natashia/Patchouli/Blossom (Can't seem to settle on her name yet), the eldest daughter. Her room is what I imagine a post/apocalyptic teenage girl's room would look like. Still filled with the artifacts of childhood with the objects she surrounds herself pointing to her dreams and aspirations.

In the next photo, my miniature in-house model is trying on for size a few of the aprons I made. The designs were collected from online images then printed (at some risk to my inkjet printer) on fabric and carefully cut out by my friend Mindy. Later I drenched them in a water/glue solution and hung them on their miniature hooks and hangers.

A fun, side activity for the project is the research of popular products from the 60's in North America. A favorite magazine for this is The Ladies Home Journal. Did you know the first issues appeared in the late 19th century? It's a fantastic insight into an evolving  society as it is mirrored in ideas about women and the home. 
All the images below were cut out of vintage Home Journal advertisements and scanned. My favorite is the "Cope" pills for menstrual cramps with the Venus/female symbol built into the logo and it's stylish off-center opening.
Many of these products will appear in the novel, tucked away on shelves or otherwise placed. The original cutouts are being collaged onto Thank-You cards that are going out to my kickstarter backers.

Once in a while I come across odd selling strategies of the time that seem very revealing in hindsight. Below is an ad for a "feminine hygiene deodorant spray" touted as a friendly accessory for the liberated woman. 
I think it implies something like "Sure you can have free love, Babe. As long as your pussy smells like daisies!" Love it.

Please follow ISNESS on FB where my posts are more frequent and casual!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

In the Trenches With an Insane Project

The strange larva infestation in the diorama has reached an unprecedented degree. There is not one square inch that has not been burrowed through over and over.

I've given up on trying to get rid of the bugs.

However, I went ahead and caught one of these guys and took a picture of him/her under the microscope. This one was about a 1/4" long at most and a very dynamic wiggler. Had no interest in posing for the camera and hated being out of the sand.

My google search revealed only that there were hundreds of species larvae out there. I doubt I will ever know it's position in biological taxonomy.

My characters have started moving around the finished first floor of the barracks they call home. As expected, there are lots of unexpected issues but also some happy surprises. In the unfinished composite below, the background and foreground are miniature, while the middle ground (couch and characters) were life size, of course...

It's still a long way from here to the snug fit I'd like to see between the two scales but it looks promising. 

Below, Petro is using a part of a gas mask to siphon his beer out of the jar. I was just about to cut the tube off and use it alone but then the association with Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet (David Lynch 1986) was right there and irresistible, so we kept the mask part on. It's quite in keeping with Petro's personality, minus the psychopathic aspect... 

Talking about Petro's vices, growing miniature marihuana seedlings has been a bit of a struggle. I realized very soon that I won't find it in any dollhouse store and after a few experiments decided on the tiny leaves of fresh thyme as the little fledgling plants. After they dried I painted them lightly with green oil paint and... 

After a few weeks they grew into these lovely, heavily budded little plants:

Just kidding. Don't even ask how I made these. Not altogether happy with them. Not that I actually know what marijuana plants look like, or ever grew them myself... ever... but these guys suck and will require some Photoshop grafts.

Anyway, to further demonstrate the insanity of this work, if you can make out the two pillows that are on the couch below (the one with hearts and the one squished between Nanna and Petro) and scroll down to the next image...

...You will see their tiny replicas that will be placed in the house to create the continuity between the flashback and the time of the story. The large pillows were taken apart, fabric photographed, digitally manipulated and then printed out on fabric and re-sewn into their new tiny size.

Below is an exploration of Natashia's room which as you can see will be marked by floral patterns and lots of fabrics and knick knacks. Her ceiling is wallpapered too. Thought it would be the kind of thing she would do.

More items for Natashia's room:

...and more....

and there's lots more...

An interesting thing that Photoshop allows me to do is assign patterns or embroidery to plain fabrics. This strikingly out of fashion "black Americana" design gives this cloth a little more specificity and speaks to the racial issues in the story. (It's no secret that the older siblings, Natashia and especially Hunter, look nothing like their parents and their black origins are being spun into the story via a little flashback...

In fitting with the low-tech nature of the rest of the production, it's not surprising that my favorite tripod for the indoor shooting is stacks of adjustable bean bags... They are simply grains shoved into pantyhose. I have several of these in varying sizes and densities and they fit nicely in the small spaces without knocking over the furniture. 

One of the more exciting developments that happened recently is the test prints, courtesy of a generous friend (to remain anonymous) who has access to a printing proofer. This is a large, expensive piece of equipment that I wouldn't otherwise have a chance to use. What it does, is simulate a CMYK printing press such as would eventually be used to print this project and thereby provide excellent feedback on color, texture and saturation levels. I think this has saved me a whole lot of trouble down the road!

So that's the recent news from the arena of the epic, ever expanding, quagmire that I call ISNESS.

More of my recent pics are on Kickstarter, look at "UPDATES"

Also, if you would be kind enough and "Like" my brand new artist page on FB! It goes a long way in building the kind of fan base that publishers want to see before committing to a print project!

Thank You!