Earthquake Family Fun in '94

We had a brief 5.4 quake yesterday. Sort of a medium sized one based on my time in Los Angeles. The first thought in every one's head..."Is this the BIG ONE?!"

Thankfully, no serious injuries or damage happened anywhere in LA. There was a close call for some of our home decor. I discovered this precarious vignette on a bookcase in the living room...

Because of the '94 Northridge quake, I've sort of become a cynical hardened vet. Not unconcerned, just less prone to panic. Back then, I was living in a old apt. building in Hollywood. When it hit at 4:30 am, I was awake putting my shoes on about to head off to work (very early call time). When it started, I expected it to ease up fairly quickly. It didn't, it kept going and got stronger. Bits of plaster started to fall from the ceiling. I literally saw a crack appear and move across the wall like some cartoon. The power went out and I heard everyone in the building yelling and running through halls in hysterics. My roommate and I, grabbed the dog and ran out. I and others tripped over a large pile of dry wall board in the hall that had fallen over, which had been standing up out of the way the day before by workers doing repairs on one of the apts. Once outside there was panic and confusion. It was pitch black except for flashlight beams in the morning fog. It looked like some Spielberg movie or X-Files episode.

Then came the sound of breaking glass and alarm bells ( yea, I know I said the power was out, I don't get it either... battery?). We lived near Sunset Blvd. and many of the local low life's were looting the corner liquor store. I was overcome with a feeling of dread that thing's might escalate even worse. I ran upstairs, locked the apt. door and we jumped in the car headed for my Parent's house in Burbank. This all happened in the first 5 minutes, time really seemed to slow down. The streets and sidewalks of Hollywood were somewhat empty except for occasional groups of people in some state of chaos. Police and Fire engine sirens echoed everywhere. For that brief 10 -15 minutes making our way to Highland ave. and into the valley, it was very surreal, creepy and dramatic feeling. Once at my parents, I called work to say I was going to be late and found out filming was canceled for the day. That's when I learned our experience was not an isolated incident and serious damage was city wide.

Going back to the apt. by the light of day, we were shocked to see the second story we lived on was visibly askew. The landlord, a known bull****er, told everyone that he had his own inspector check it and tried to convince us it was safe just requiring cosmetic repairs. joke, the building looked like this...

Very few trusted him and calls were made to the City and FEMA for assurance. We cautiously and quickly went upstairs, packed a few things and settled into my parent's house for what we hoped was just a little while. Sure enough, a few days later... a big, bright, official label was stuck to the building front door notifying all it was unsafe to live in. It was deemed safe enough to move our things out although a "enter at own risk" warning was made clear. I never moved faster in my life. There was a lot of stuff we just left behind including the couch as I remember.

So, Mom and Dad got unexpected tenants, along with my Sister and her boyfriend. Their home was also damaged and unlivable. Between all 6 of us in the small house, it also included 5 dogs and 4 cats. It was a crazy, crowded and sort of fun few weeks until we found new places to live.

2008 Halloween Countdown #5

Giant Monster Theme ( now, aka the Kong yard )

Ok, maybe sketching my possible theme ideas was a bad idea. Now this one has become a real favorite. What scares me the most? I could actually pull this off. With all the crazy things I've made in my career, this gives me no trepidation at all. I know exactly how to make this. In many ways it's easier than putting IKEA furniture together. My perspective and anatomy is a little off here but you get the idea...

Click image to enlarge.

I love the thought of kids getting candy from Kong's hand. Maybe with some simple engineering I could get the fingers to open and close as they do. I hope the Fiancee doesn't read the blog this week. She'll shut the crazy Halloween idea machine down before I get to countdown #6.

This is going to be tough to settle on a plan, we'll see where sketching other themes takes me.

2008 Halloween Countdown #4

1950's Alien Invasion Theme.

I did some quick sketching of the possible alien invasion theme. As you can see, I'd like it to be kid friendly with a lot of humor. It should be cool for older kids as well if I go all out on the crashed UFO and War of the Worlds like machine.

Click on image to enlarge.

Here's a sketch of what the aliens could look like. Drawn with "found object" or inexpensive materials in mind such as small plastic trash cans, bowls and foam pipe insulation.

I'm still going to pursue my other themes (the Frankenstein is a favorite as well, and seems to be for others). It's good to get ideas doodled, even loosely. It helps the practical side think things out.

2008 Halloween Countdown #3

Clean Slate.

I want a clean layout drawing of the house and yard to sketch my ideas over without having to spend hours drafting it. Here's a process I used on Outer Spaces and other projects when decorating or adding elements to an existing space. It's "down and dirty" but good for getting quick ideas on paper without needing light tables or art/drafting computer programs. I used Photoshop here but this can be done with an ordinary office copy machine.

I start with a photo of our house.

I make it grayscale, then increase the brightness and decrease the contrast so it's more transparent and washed out.

I print the image and outline the important elements.

I then scan it (or copy) and increase the contrast till it becomes black line art. Now I can throw this under some trace paper and sketch away (or make several copies drawing right on top)

The art above is rough but as it's just for me, it'll work. Time to get doodling ideas.

2008 Halloween Countdown #2

I need your help...

A quick back story first. I know it might seem nuts to be so into Halloween decorating but it's just too much fun. It's also hard not to go bigger (and I hope better) every year when I know I've created some good memories for kid's in the neighborhood. A parent told the Fiancee last Halloween, his kids make our house the first stop of the night and the last stop after making the rounds trick or treating. To me that's a huge compliment.

So far the yard has been traditional...gravestones, zombies, pumpkins and the usual. That's not a bad thing. It just always feels a bit eclectic and thrown together no matter how good an individual prop looks. I always intended to design the haunt as I would a set for work, creating a theme, tying it all together. I talked about wanting to do this last year, but I fell into my usual pitfall. I jump right into making prop after prop having fun without giving much thought to how they all relate. So, before I pick up my hot glue gun and a skeleton bone, I'm going to sit down at my drawing board and design the space.

The finished yard last year. Click on to enlarge

Here's where I need your help for the fun of it. I have many possible themes in mind that I'd love to do but need to narrow the list. I'm curious which ones you like best...I don't expect a ton of responses but if by some miracle a ton do come in, who knows, maybe I might actually take this a step further and have a "Halloween Idol" and all can vote for the yard theme I will do.

Here are my ideas so far...

Traditional Haunted House
Our house itself really becomes the focus dressed up with all the details. Boarded up windows, ghosts in windows, etc.

Indiana Jones

The yard is done up to look like the opening of Raiders leading kids to the idol (and candy) on the front porch. They walk past Mummy skeletons, spikes, traps and maybe a giant rolling boulder. The house would be given a jungle temple like facade.

'50's Alien Invasion.

The house gets a simple 1950's Halloween decor (pumpkins, classic cardboard bats and ghosts in the windows) but the Martians have landed. Crashed UFO on the roof, Martian war machine on the lawn, aliens climbing everywhere with ray guns, giant robots.

Giant Monster party

This would take all the time spent on little details and focus on a few huge elements to blow the kids away. A life size King Kong arm holding the candy coming out of the front window. Maybe seeing the top of Godzilla's head peering over the roof. Giant squid tentacles reaching out from the bedroom windows. Giant bugs. Massive foot prints in the lawn.

Pure Frankenstein

The front porch becomes the laboratory with all the equipment and the monster. The front lawn has Igor searching for body parts in a graveyard. The house gets a dark Gothic facade, torches, gargoyles, etc.


A popular theme by many in past years but I'd love to give it a shot.


This would be all ghosts with personality, similar to Disney's Haunted Mansion graveyard.

Subtle but Spooky

This is an idea I've had for awhile. At first glance it doesn't look like any decorating at all. Everything just has a added creepy twist. The trees have faces. The flowers in the garden bed all have teeth. The chair on the porch is constantly rocking with no one in it, etc.

Any of the above themes are a challenge but I think possible. I'm going to post sketches of the ideas as I draw them, but welcome any thoughts now.

2008 Halloween Countdown #1

So it begins...

I know what your's not even August yet. For me though, I've set a start date to begin creating Halloween props and decor for my yard haunt on August 1st. It gives me 2 months to make new stuff and improve old things for when I dress the yard in October.

Truth is, it's 2 months of selfish, creative bliss I'm looking forward to, spending a couple of hours in the workshop every evening (more time on weekends). Sure, I could make stuff (and do) any time of the year, but focusing the Halloween work into a certain time frame makes it special.

I'm going to try and make the countdown posts this year a real journal of the process. From concepts to the kid's trick or treating on the big night. I hope this to be interesting, interactive and plain fun to read for any of you who follow along. They'll be "how to's", tips, tricks, ideas and links to other great stuff on the web. Best of all, I guarantee sordid tales of expected creative trial and error so you can laugh at my pain.

My usual random posting will continue. I'll be adding a special sidebar to the blog linking to all the Halloween posts in case some get buried in between non holiday stuff.

NEXT: I need your help!

Masters of Fantasy set: The X-FILES

With the new X Files movie opening this weekend, I thought it a good time to invite you back to 1995 with me. X files was at the peek of it's success. The producers of Sci Fi Buzz asked me to design a set for the "wrap around" segments on a episode of Masters of Fantasy about the X File creators. It was hosted by actor Mitch Pileggi.

Once again this was a project I forgot to take pictures of until it was torn down and packed up. All the images are pictures I took of the TV playing a VHS copy. I've done my best to make them presentable.

Like much of my work from those days, I cringe looking at the set now wishing It could be re done. I give myself some slack on this one because it was probably the lowest budgeted set I ever created for the Sci Fi Channel. With the exception of 2 cheap metal shelf units, a hallow core door and a couple of model kits... everything was recycled, borrowed or brought from home (even the paint). I recall this having to come together really fast in only a couple of days. I also believe we put the whole set up, painted, dressed and lit it in a afternoon and taped the segments that evening.

I attempted a moody X files like FBI office. One side Mulder themed and the other Scully themed. In the center was the office door with the phrase "the truth is out there" stenciled on it, but backwards because you're in the office (I thought that was so clever then).

The walls were a combination of a few repainted ones from the Sci Fi Buzz set and re purposing ones from a recently canceled show called Hollywood Insider which the production company had produced. I raided the studio's offices for stuff... desks, chairs, file cabinets...and a coffee maker.

I was desperate for wall space filler in Mulder's area, I really wanted a copy of the now classic "I Believe" poster but there was little time to gather stuff. Oh, where was photoshop and a personal color printer in those dark ages? Along with clippings and copies from a UFO book, I used every inch of the box and instructions to a UFO model kit. I also included a framed picture I snapped in 1986 while on the Universal Studios tour of an old airplane just sitting in some wooded area. It still decorates my home studio today. Useless personal fact: it's been part of 3 creative chapters in my life. I took the picture while a student at RISD for a photography class. I framed it while working as a framer at Aaron Brothers Art Mart and it then became set dressing when I grew into a set designer.

Along with all the books and papers in Mulder's cubicle, much of the stuff in Scully's area I took from home, including a Mac Classic (not pictured) and my drawing table light. Things from my own Halloween stash and Sci Fi Buzz props were creepy relics on the shelves. My carpenter Greg Holliman wanted to kill me when I asked him to make the rotted, boarded up, window wall from the horror area of the Sci Fi set look new (as seen here). He did it and it looked great but I stayed clear of him as he cursed me out having to re do it when the next Sci Fi Buzz show taped.

Mitch Pileggi was professional, easy going and just plain cool. One of the highlights for me was going outside for a cigarette during a break in filming. He came outside as well to cool off, the studio was very small and got hot very fast under the lights. I asked him...

"This has to be the cheapest, low budget set you've ever been on?"

He smiled and said

"This is a billion dollar set compared to some of the stuff I've worked on when I started out."

I became a little star struck being a big fan of the X Files when it sunk in I was making small talk with FBI Director Skinner. There was some awkward silence especially when I remembered I was also talking to serial killer Horace Pinker from the Wes Craven movie Shocker and standing in a dark parking lot.

The skull he holds at one point was the other model kit put together for the show and aged up. He signed it for me after we wrapped, even adding the name Skinner in quotations. I kept it for years but it was glued together in haste as a quick prop, not posterity. It's long gone having been beat up and broken often during the many moves in my life.

The best memory though was working with my brother Ted who helped set dress. It's nice to see our names scroll up the screen back to back in the credits. Mine came first of course, I'm the older brother.

The Power Jedi Rangers.

Many people don't know this but George Lucas originally envisioned Leia, Luke, Han and Chewie as a team of space rangers who protected Alderaan from the vile Darth Goldar's galactic monster minions. The force was actually a morphing power.

OK, maybe not, but it's the only idea I have to explain what was going through my head when I found this in one of my old sketchbooks today...

Sketching in my Bat Cave.

The Dark Knight has arrived and I had the urge to sketch Batman and the Joker. I've always thought late actor, Peter Cushing, would've made a great Joker.

Duck Season

Daffy Ducks's need for the spotlight over Bugs was infamous. While flipping through some old comics I found these 2 ads for Saturday morning shows in 1981. Daffy had his own show on NBC and was featured in the classic Bugs Bunny/ Road Runner show on CBS. Could it be that Daffy actually did win the spotlight from Bugs that year?

Click on images to enlarge.

Fanboy Tales of Old - Comic Shop of Prophecy

Once upon a time in 1980 something, a place called HEROES WORLD advertised in the comics I read.I would fixate on the retail store noted at the bottom of their ads. Was this place real? Was there a store just for all things comics? Over time, their retail store list expanded. Yet, they were places very far away.

I started to hear rumors of other comic book shops that existed. I discovered one in the yellow pages that was distant but close enough. It was in the sketchy parts of Yonkers, NY.

I knew my folks would never drive me there just for comic books. So I planned a secret journey on my bicycle. I rode 3 hours one rainy summer morning to get there. It was tucked within a depressed looking strip mall. There was a hand painted poster board sign in the window reading "Old Books and Comics"

Even though It looked low rent, I grabbed the door handle and opened it expecting a secret Willy Wonka room of wonder. It was a nightmare. A dark creepy space with mountains of old magazines that was a paranoid, compulsive hoarder's basement. The door stopped moving halfway blocked by a pile of junk. I stepped inside and saw a shadowed figure emerge from a corner. I got freaked, spun on my heels and left.

I rode home and stopped by the local news stand, buying the few lame comics I normally didn't just so the day was not a total loss. I went to bed dreaming of a HEROES WORLD near me and the special place it might be. Was it a fanboy land of OZ I imagined?

Weeks later, a local newspaper story noted the new stores coming soon to the White Plains Galleria. My brain almost popped out of my skull! One was HEROES WORLD! The galleria was a regular family shopping trip every so often. The dream became real.

To be continued soon.

History Channel Illustration

Thanks to the internet, I can sometimes find lost work I never made copies of for one reason or another. This is an illustration done in 2002 for the History Channel series MAIL CALL.

It's a screen grab from the trebuchet episode found on the channel's website, This depicts the 3 types of items often launched in battle: rocks, diseased animal corpses and pots of flaming oil.

It was never to be the final illustration. This was just a sketch I gave to the producer for approval. They liked it as it was. I never got a chance to make a nice copy. Life got busy and I forgot about it. It's now lost, I don't remember if I got the original back and can't find or the production company still has it.

Sunday Sketchbook

Just a reminder. Make your robot overthrow of the humans emergency kit now. Don't be caught unprepared.

From the dusty old portfolio....

I found this from circa 1988 - 90.

Rotring art pen & watercolor on bainbridge board.

It was spec art to illustrate a series of "tween" books about a group of girls who were tired of being nerds in their school's social scene. They decided to create their own exclusive club.

There's nothing special about the art itself but it's a fond memory. It was requested from the Editor I had been working with while illustrating educational activity books. She liked my work and wanted to give me opportunities for different projects the publishing company had in the pipeline.

Although I didn't get the job. It was nice to be considered for. I took it as a "pat on the back" for the work I had been doing.

SCI FI BUZZ - the second set

This is part 2 about my 3 set designs for the Sci Fi Channel series: SCI FI BUZZ. I wrote about the first version here.

After one season, Sci Fi Buzz had gained an audience and was renewed for 1993. Having been filmed in the production company's office, it was often hoped to move to a real studio space one day. Piers Bath, the show's cameraman and lighting designer pitched the idea to the "powers that be" that it could be filmed in a often unused space at the "camera for hire" company he worked for. Things fell into place and a new set was born.

The new space was small, but not hard to work in being equal in size to the original office space (if not a little bigger). The best part was designing from scratch and not having to reassemble a working office after filming.

I loosely came up with an idea that would use the cubicle layout already established but upgraded to look like an orbiting Sci Fi news space station. As slick and impressive as anything Kirk or Picard ever commanded.

Click on sketches to enlarge.

I threw that idea out the window. Who was I kidding? I was still a set design rookie. I knew so little then although I had past TV experience and just started working on ABC's Home Show in the art department. Having designed the first Sci Fi Buzz set gave me confidence but I knew my limitations in those days. I wasn't afraid to challenge myself but I revised the concept to be a homage of 1950's b-movies with cheap sets and props. I hoped the Ed Wood feel would maximize the budget and reinforce the fun of the show. The irony is... It took all the money, sweat and time just to make it look as it did, far less by intentional design.

Counter clockwise: host Mike Jerrick's desk/space wall transitioned into sci fi, comic book, fantasy and horror themed areas...
Horror area as seen sitting in the comic book area.

As silly and cheesy as the set was, it's one of my favorites with great memories. We just dove in creating stuff. The "powers that be" were happy to have a new set and never micro managed, trusting us. Of course, I can look back now and know how I could of done this or that better. There was great discovery making this set. One of the few projects I've done were I could just play with ideas. It also showed me the joy of transforming found objects into stuff. Which is still a creative passion for me. I could use most of this blog's memory writing about all the small decor details. Each has a story behind it. I can't say that about many of the sets I've designed since. Carpenter Greg Holliman built the walls and columns by himself in his garage. As they were finished, he delivered to my backyard for painting so he had room to make more. Thankfully we lived close to each other and this process seemed normal to us then.

My sister Megan needed extra work in those days so I hired her to help paint while I shopped for set dressing and custom made stuff. Now she's a big success with her own company.

This photo documents the last time I was able to order her around...

A small epilogue: The new place we taped the show at was once known as BPS: Broadcast Production Services. Years since, they expanded into the building next door with 2 sound stages for rent. They are now known as BPS: Burbank Production Studios. Carpenter Greg was hired to help design and build the first sound stage when they expanded. I'd like to think Sci FI Buzz helped in BPS's evolution.

Fanboy Tales of Old - Quick, to the E.T. Mobile!

Our family car in the summer of 1982.

My brother, Ted and I saw E.T. for the first time at Movieland in Yonkers. After, we casually hung around the lobby playing video games and snuck in to watch the next screening.

Here ya go, a little something for the effort.

After my niece Devin and her dad Paul went to Target one afternoon, I got an e-mail with a picture. Knowing I was a fan, she wanted to show off the Indiana Jones Lego toys she got...

"I control the universe" or "HAH HAH look what I have, you don't."

A day or so later, I went over to babysit for an evening. This is always a free family service with the job perk of pizza for dinner. We were playing with the new Legos when Devin tossed me a Indy figure saying...

"I'm having fun. You can have this...I have two. I know you like him."

A six year old tipped me.

picture from