The Christmas Lawn Display

I was honored to be hired by designer niece Devin to help decorate her front yard this year and bring her holiday vision to life. It made Christmas 2011 a memorable and fun one. I'm already thinking about ideas for her house next year.

Creative Inspiration: Saks 5th Avenue Holiday Windows 2011

I love this video. It goes from the display's being fabricated in the shop to the installer's POV inside the windows to seeing the finished creation as a passerby. I'm not sure what the holiday message is actually. Toucans spinning on an oil well rig this time of year aren't particularly magical or heartwarming, but what do I know? Nevertheless it's creativity inspiring, especially the hand drawn pen and ink design on all the set pieces (and the video creator's choice of montage music).

Sign of Abominable Snowmen: Part Four

The finished sign for the Abominable Snowman footprint. Due to time and budget, it was made really down and dirty, but it's done and fun for this Christmas. I consider it a decent prototype for a improved-on version next year that can then be used annually.

To create it as big as possible from a regular home printer, I made "BEWARE" and "ABOMINABLE SNOWMEN" in Photoshop as two separate legal sized images (8 1/2" x 14"). Once printed out they were spray glued onto a piece of black foamcore. The board was trimmed into a wonky shape and had cartoony notches and grooves cut out with an X-Acto to look like old weathered wood. The black board under the white paper instantly added contrast and shadow.

Next I gave the whole board a wash of watered down, brown craft paint. The grooves and edges had a few more washes added here and there to blend in better. When foamcore is wet on one side it tends to curl as it dries. Easily fixed just wetting the opposite side and it curls back again. The glued on paper naturally wrinkled a bit, but didn't bug me too much. It helped the antiqued look.

The sign post itself is just a 1" wood dowel painted white and mounted on a 12" plywood round base. The candy stripe is red tape. It was topped with a glued on wood finial and round ornament my stash (a change in the design from the original candy cane in the sketch) and painted gold. The base was covered with spray glued on blobs of batting for snow.

Because of recent high winds here, I secured the sign with black zip ties in addition to gluing on the post. Threading the ties through the recessed black grooves helps makes them not too obvious... at first glance at least.

Creative Inspiration: Puppets of the Addams Family

The creature puppets in the Broadway musical of The Addams Family are ingeniously and fantastically low tech.

More about their creator Basil Twist here.

Sign of Abominable Snowmen: Part Three

The making of the giant Abominable Snowman footprint holiday lawn decoration continues.

When we last left off, the foot print was built up with expanding foam. I wanted to keep the blobby disturbed snow look the foam creates but make a bit cleaner without obvious gaps or holes between the blobs. Using what I have at hand, I decided to decoupage it with heavy duty paper towels (Scott brand "Rags in a Box") and a watery thin mix of patching plaster (DAP Presto Patch). Because of the foot's large size I was able to use full sheets of paper towels for most of it, so it went pretty quick.

Once dry I painted it with a thick coat of white latex house paint. Being all white and a shallow depth, the imprint was blown out and hard to see in daylight. It needed a faux shadow line to sell it. I spray painted the recessed areas in a cornflower-ish blue color and then knocked it back with white spray paint softening the blue overall but keeping darker areas along the imprint walls. The contrast let the print stand out and gave it a fun cartoony look.

From here (because I live in Los Angeles and real snow does not seem likely) once on the lawn, I'm going to add tufts of batting and a coat of canned artificial snow along the prop's edges so it looks more like a natural patch of snow on the grass. Next in Part Four... making the "Beware of Abominable Snowmen" sign post.

Creative Inspriration: Ring Out Solstice Bells

I know I posted this great animated Jethro Tull video last December, but consider it a blog equivalent to a favorite ornament you hang on the tree every Christmas.

Little Mermaid Sketches

I'm working on another poster illustration for Singapore's I-theater newest production, Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. The first sketch was just getting an initial idea on paper. The show will have a unique take being re-imagined with an Asian aesthetic. The approved second sketch plays off that idea. The final art will also include the treasure and coral reef from the first.

Sign of Abominable Snowmen: Part Two

The basic construction of the Abominable Snowman footprint for the lawn is really super simple (and as usual cheap). I drew out it's shape on an old scrap piece of foam board which was a decent monster size (about 3 1/2 feet long x 2 feet wide). Hard to see the pencil lines in this picture but they're there.

Then I outlined it with layers of canned spray foam (left over from Halloween projects) to build up what will be snow. And yes, in my world... Abominable Snowmen only have four toes.

Once hardened, I cut away the visible foam board edges and carved some of the overly blobby spray foam in the imprint shaping it better.

From here I'll finish it up with plaster and paint and move on to the "Beware" sign. Details on that in Part Three soon. I've been hit with a cold the past few days, so all my projects right now are slow to finish.

Sign of Abominable Snowmen: Part One

It was bound to happen eventually. Christmas decorating this year is going over the top like Halloween. Here's a sketch of a fun prop I'm working on now that was actually niece Devin's idea!

More on this in Part Two soon.

NOT Creative Inspiration: The 2011 CBS Holiday Promo

The thoughtful and warm CBS holiday message long ago...

The thoughtful and warm CBS holiday message today...

High Concept Set Idea + Small Budget + Limited Time = Lots of Foamcore Board

I've been creating a Dickens' village Christmas themed set for work this week. To save time and money, I made the entire store front facade out of foamcore. I do love that stuff. Finishing the set this weekend. More about it later.

The Best Halloween Night Compliment Ever.

Witnessed by the fiancee. After getting a scare from the Monster and some candy from Dr. Frankenstein a little seven or eight year old Trick 'r Treater walked away, stopped at the driveway's edge, looked back and said...

"That's effed up!"

Necessity is the Mad Scientist of Laboratory Invention

This Halloween, I really wanted to transform the front porch into Frankenstein's laboratory more than any other year. It's always looked fairy empty compared to other parts of the yard. Foolishly I had hopes of making or acquiring more lab equipment, props and dressing for it, but like so many other ideas, just couldn't make it happen due to time and budget. I did what I could though... adding hanging chains, a few extra lanterns, my old caged spider and of course the (still not really finished) rocker switch tower from last year. Although not what I hoped it would be, it looked fuller and more in theme than any other year and that made me happy.

So Halloween day arrives and I forgot we needed something to place the candy bowl on (or in this case cauldron). I first grabbed an old metal stool from the garage and tried to dress it up somehow, but it looked lame. Then it hit me, there were great old wine crates in the stash. I stacked up and taped on fun body part inventory labels (easily made via computer, printed out and aged with coffee). I also happened to have a rubber foot and hand which added some creepy detail.

The crates not only worked great as a candy cauldron stand, but turned out to be a incredibly simple way to fill the empty spaces on the porch and help tell a story. They became a well liked detail too, pointed out with a smile by more than a few visitors that night.

I'm going to use these again next year and improve on with better labels or real stenciling. Be fun to have one labeled Assorted Severed Heads with several pairs of eyes looking at you from inside through a broken off panel.

Numerous Gravestones In Under An Hour

I had mentioned awhile back that this Halloween was full of last minute ideas and projects. Here's one of 'em.

I wanted to hide several lights on the lawn and thought making a few Fed Ex box tombstones posted about in the past would work. I didn't have too much time to spend creating nameplates or adding embellishments on them though. A random trip to Walgreens for the fiancee saved me. While there I found a 4-pack of small tombstones for only $4.99. Each was hot glued to a box and the box was hot glued to a piece of wood. Once painted, they had a pretty decent look and heavy feel. Several were made easily in under an hour.

A few were also used to create a more defined path leading Trick 'r Treaters up to the porch. As an extra detail I placed faux stone busts I had on top of them. They were an extra cheap scare as well being motion sensor triggered talking ones.

1985's Niece of Frankenstein

I'm not ashamed to say I'm a fan of the old 1985 TV series Niece of Frankenstein. Sure it was campy and stupid, but that's what made it great. How could you not enjoy the implausible premise of a trendy, lovable orphan from the big city being raised by her two old world uncles in Transylvania?

I was in a vintage book and poster shop the other day and discovered a bunch of old magazines and publicity stills featuring the show. I just had to buy them. Thought I'd scan and share for those who remember the series or just love 80's nostalgia.

TV Guide from Oct. 1985. The cover features the original cast: Neecy Devdell as Goofy D, Teddy Edwards III as Uncle Frank(enstein) and David Lowenthal as Uncle Monstro. In the final 1989 season Lowenthal was unceremoniously replaced by the network with a puppet to compete with ALF in a failed effort to improve ratings.

Show Star Neecy Devdell became a huge pop culture sensation, especially among kids and tweens. The shows success made Neecy indistinguishable from her character Goofy D. She faded into acting obscurity after Niece of Frankenstein was cancelled. According to a recent People magazine Where Are They Now article, Neecy is in her late thirties working as a bowling shoe cleaner and runs an injured squirrel sanctuary out of her kitchen somewhere in Toronto. 

A bit of trivia. Director Kenneth Branagh was also a huge fan of the show! The left ear of Robert DeNiro's prosthetic monster make up in the 1994 Frankenstein film was sculpted to resemble Goofy D's left ear in homage. 

A classic publicity shot. How many times did we see this shtick from Uncle Monstro exasperated by Goofy D's wacky shenanigans?

Here's a similar publicity photo from the '89 season with the new puppet Uncle Monstro. Lifeless. No wonder the show was cancelled that year.

Episode 407: Rum Tum Raven! Goofy D goes on a trip with Uncle Frank to the Fringe Science Con in New York. While there they see CATS on Broadway. Goofy is inspired to write, produce and direct her own musical... RAVENS, based on the Edgar Allan Poe story.

Show 107: What's Wrong With Cousin Jason? Typical of many sitcoms at the time, the Just Say No campaign was worked into the storyline in a not too subtle, heavy cleaver handed way.

Episode 201: Cross Walk Conundrum. The new overly strict crossing guard at school, Patrick O'Treaty, makes life difficult for Goofy D and her friends.

Episode 410: This Really Sucks! Goofy D befriends a vampire boy named Orlock, who is afraid that his undead-ism will get in the way of making friends. With a little patience and effort, Goofy helps the other kids at school learn to accept Orlock for who he is. 

 Episode 113: Grave Matters. To get out of a test she never studied for, Goofy D fakes an illness but the scheme backfires and escalates. Needing to cover the lie, she's forced to stage her own funeral. Goofy learns her lesson though having to pretend to be a zombie for the rest of the school year.

Episode 111: Auntie Elsa's World.  When Uncle Monstro's glamorous and globetrotting pop star ex-wife comes to visit, Goofy D soon finds her usual haunted castle life boring. Zaniness ensues as the Uncles go overboard trying to make themselves just as hip and cool in Goofy D's eyes.

Episode 109: Arm I want For Christmas. This heart warming holiday themed episode featuring cousin Mikey needing a new arm never aired. It was preempted by the Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton 'Ol Fashioned Country Christmas Live in Las Vegas Spectacular TV special.

Episode 302: Bow Wow What Tha?! Uncle Frank's experiments to create a winning breed at the Transylvania Dog Show are hilariously disastrous!

Here are a few rarely seen backstage pictures...

The original photo of the Uncles later made famous by urban artist Shepard Fairey.

Like the well known Andre the Giant OBEY and Obama HOPE posters, Fairey's stylized image of the Uncles can still be found papered on many city walls.

Rehearsing the RAVENS musical episode.

Legendary stuntman Yacky Kanutmous doubling for Cousin Mikey from the un-aired Holiday episode. The saddest thing about this show being preempted was that the public never saw Kanutmous perform his final gag falling two stories into a moat filled with piranha (Photo by James Goethals).

Teddy Edwards III and Neecy Devdell rehearsing on set. Many credit the shows success to Edwards' improvisation channeling his grandfather, famous vaudeville comedian Teddy "Jim Jam" Edwards Sr.

The rarest of all sights... Uncle Monstro unmasked! David Lowenthal, an actor with no ego, wanted the public to believe the character was real. He waived his own credit letting it read "Uncle Monstro as Himself" to help keep the illusion. Even on set Lowenthal only took the the mask off in extreme circumstances. There where veteran crew members who, for years, never knew what he really looked like.

After being replaced by the puppet Uncle Monstro, a brokenhearted Lowenthal returned to England and his acting roots. He performed in numerous Royal Shakespeare Company productions until his tragic death in 1997. Ironically, he was run over by a speeding delivery truck from a marionette and puppet supply company.

Halloween Display 2011 - Portfolio Two

On Halloween night family friends, Sara Pine and her boyfriend James Goethals, stopped by. Both are photographers. To my happy surprise James brought his camera along. These are not just photos. James took time later manipulating the colors, the light and the shadows on each later creating a distinct mood.

These terrific images are how he saw Halloween at my house. I'm happy he captured a few details and props in the display I didn't in the yard photos from Portfolio One.

What also makes these really special is they were taken when the evening was in full swing. Just beyond the picture's edges, Trick or Treaters were coming and going. The sounds of screams followed by laughter filled the air.

James allowed me to share these with everyone.


He even captured my brother Ted as Dr. Frankenstein in fun moments mugging and playing it up for the kids.

There will be more of James' photos posted here in the future. There were too many from the night to include in one post and too many great images not to share later.