Invasion of the Immense Insects

Over the weekend, we visited the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden. I thought it was just going to be a pleasant (maybe a bit boring) afternoon looking at flowers, but was surprised to discover giant wooden insects had invaded! These wonderful sculptures by artist David Rogers were on display, installed here and there, throughout the acres of trails.

It gave the hike a bit of 50s monster movie suspense never knowing when one would turn up around a corner.

Sunday Sketchbook: Necromancer

I didn't set out to draw this wizard, warlock, cultist or whatever he may be. I just started doodling an evil pair of eyes and it went from there. I really enjoy sketching when that happens.

Rocco DeSocko

In yet another (and probably ill fated) attempt to clean and organize my workroom, I found a puppet prototype I made for a possible SNAP interstitial on the Game Show Network last summer.

The producer's had a loose idea for a game featuring some kind of puppet host (a' la Triumph the insult comic dog). I came up with this guy. He was unnamed at the time, but I've been calling him Rocco DeSocko. In my imagination Rocco was a disgruntled old sock once worn by many famous game show hosts and eventually left behind in a backstage wardrobe bin.

They liked him and I went ahead making the prototype. In the meantime, the producer's reworked the idea. They now wanted three cuter sock puppets as the host and the contestants. I abandoned Rocco and started to make those.

I was a little disappointed. I thought Rocco could of been a fun recurring character. When all was said and done though, the puppet bit was nixed by the network anyway.

I never actually finished Rocco, he was going to be worn and dirty looking with a few holes in his head and thought he should be living in some old sneaker (like Oscar in his garbage can).

He was made with a big blob of Crayola Model Magic clay stuffed into a regular tube sock. I pressed the fabric into the clay, then shaped his mouth and brow ridge. His eyes are two glued on black marbles.

Sunday Sketchbook - Giant Thoughts

Can't recall even picking up a pencil or a pen at all this past week, let alone sketching anything (that has to change). Here are a few that were buried in my sketchbook from earlier in 2011. Not hard to guess what story they were inspired by.

Making a Tree Prop: Part Five

Here it is, the final tree making post. Settle in, it's a long one.

Before I get into it, I wanted to talk a bit about the measurement mix-up from Part Four. A friend (who will remain nameless) asked me

"Why did you share a screw up like that?"

They feared it makes me look unprofessional especially when possible future employers might read this blog.

I saw it as, warts and all, advice for creative people working in tandem with others. My track record in designing and making things for others is pretty good, but mistakes do happen. Although things can go awry creatively for a 1001 reasons, I've found poor communication is often a cause. Regularly updating those you are working with on a project is good communication. The "Spinal Tap Stonehenge incident" between Vickie and I was not a true screw up. Although embarrassing, it was just one step on a path that did eventually lead us to a final successful collaborative creation. And that's what the goal was. A true screw up would of been discovering that the measurements were off when she started to yarn bomb the tree LIVE on camera during the craft show.

Having said that, when we last left off, I needed to remake the branches smaller to fit Vickie's knitting. I went to work right away revising the prop once we were back in sync. Please note, the deadline clock was counting down, so I didn't take time to document the initial late night remaking process with photos. Bear with me as I only describe it in words. I took process pictures the next day though. I hope that makes tolerating my poor writing a bit better.

I had been working on the branches standing on a ladder, but felt it slowed me down. I decided to cut the top portion of the tree off so I could place at a more comfortable table height to work on. Time spent re-attaching later with a few short pieces of furring strip and patching the seam was far less time spent going up and down the ladder moving it every few inches as I went along.

I stripped the old branches back to their PVC pipe bones. Vickie and I had also agreed, while revising, that the first tree top could be less flat looking. So I added elbow joints a couple of feet before the curved ends on the branches, angling them up further creating a rounder top. Next, I replaced the original Styrofoam balls and insulation tube pieces I used as filler, beefing up each branch, with smaller sizes (always budget for extra materials just in case).

At this point, I was at a crossroad. It was late at night and out of the materials needed to move forward. Do I wait until morning and buy what I need setting me back several hours or get creative insuring I'd make my deadline?

I got creative.

Instead of using expanding spray foam to further build up the branch bulk, I used sliced lengths of pipe insulation tube lashed on with layers of good 'ol duct tape. I was also out of Fix-It-All patching plaster to use for paper maching, but I did have dry wall compound and decided to try creating "monster mud" for the first time. Monster mud is a mix of latex paint and dry wall compound made popular by Halloween prop artisans.

I decided the advantage of tinting/coloring the monster mud in a tree bark color, despite it's long drying time was equal to using fast drying plaster, followed by the time spent brushing on paint.

I made the standard 5 gallon bucket full with 4 parts dry wall compound and 1 part latex paint. It was far thicker than I wanted, but portions of were easily watered down in another bucket for dipping shop towels into as my first layer of paper mache.

Once that layer set up a bit, I brushed on the thicker mix of monster mud and ran my fingers through to create bark texture. Yes, it looked a bit grade school play prop-ish, but I knew Vickie's yarn bombing knits were going to cover it all eventually. I wasn't creating scientifically accurate tree bark for a diorama at the Smithsonian Institute.

Cut to the next morning... both the trunk and branch top sections had set up fairly solid overnight. The base color I tinted the monster mud was looking good too.

I stopped monster mud coating at the elbow joints, allowing the last sections of the branches to be removable for ease of transport and be plugged in on sight.

Those end sections still needed smaller branches though. The original tree had a larger fixed trident. Now needing to be thinner I could make the trident out of flexible wire and bend into more natural looking curves. I cut three equal lengths and stuffed into the PVC. I secured them in place and "sculpted" an organic look overall by wrapping with wrinkled layers of duct tape. Once done, they were given a few layers of thinned monster mud.

I then reassembled the tree and started patching the main trunk seam with monster mud.

Once dry I gave the entire tree a wash of thinned dark grey paint. Once that dried, I lightly sanded the higher textured areas creating contrast exposing the original lighter colored base coat.

I took the tridents off and wired on several leafy faux "ficus" branches to each tip. I found them at Michaels, along with the bright green craft fur I used as grass on the base (thought would compliment the surrounding pop colors I knew the knits and display were going to have).

In the end, the tree was made to literally support Vickie's knits, showcasing her yarn line and her talent. I think we knit it out of the park (forgive the pun, I couldn't resist).

Even celebrity knitter and Inside Edition host Deborah Norville who was there liked it. She Tweeted...

"Check out yarn bombed this tree. I think it looks "Suess-Ian!" 

And she linked to a (very blurry) pic she took of it... click here. Vickie has shared a pic of Deborah Norville's visit to her booth and other highlights from the CHA show on her blog.

Giant Deck of Cards

One fun interstitial I art directed for GSN's SNAP had host Sara Tiana and the contestants playing the board game LOGO. But they were actually tiny, as if on the board itself.

My approved concept sketch.

All the games were filmed against a green screen. I made the podium of cards with foam core.

Later, I staged and photographed all the background images.

Here's one of the finished segments that aired via host Sara Tiana's Vimeo page.

Making a Tree Prop: Part Four (or The Spinal Tap Stonehenge Incident)

There were 3 days left until the Craft show. The tree was only a full day's work away from being done. I just had to add bark texture, paint and leaves. If you need to catch up, see Part One, Two and Three.

I sent Vickie a picture of where the tree was at.

She e-mailed back concerned it looked much bigger than she thought it would.

Then we discovered...

I was building using measurements as width, she was knitting pieces using measurements as circumference. A huge difference. I felt awful, it was a few typos in my drawings and e-mails that messed this up (although she was very sweet and shared the blame). We got on the phone and carefully went over all the dimensions again. I thought it quicker and easier for me to make a whole new smaller tree than for her to have spend time knitting more pieces. I sent a picture of a rough mock up showing what the size differences were.

She decided that bigger was better for the show, but some retooling was needed. We met in the middle. She'd knit more to accommodate the larger trunk and I'd re-make the branches thinner to accommodate her knits.

Next in Part Five... new branches, fresh leaves and my first time using MONSTER MUD!

An Art Department I Do

I was feeling grumpy tonight and created this after seeing numerous other job specific "I do" images shared by friends on Facebook.

Making a Tree Prop: Part Three

The tree creation epic continues with branch making.

I wanted the five branches of the tree to be sturdy, but also as light as possible. I used 1" PVC pipes as a "bone" for each branch. They needed to be bent into the right shape.

First, I traced the previously made foam core branch pattern/mock up onto a wood board.

Starting at the thinnest part of the branch outline, I placed one end of PVC pipe between two large nails. I softened the PVC with a heat gun and began to bend it, conforming to the curve. I added nails where needed, cradling the pipe in place as I went along heating and bending. Once done, I had a completed jig to make the other four branch "bones" on.

I trimmed the tip of each pipe to size but left an extra 12" length at the base and bent it at a right angle. That portion was used to attach the branches on the trunk by screwing into the furring strip ribs.

Once all the bone pipes were on, I began to build them up. Since each branch had to match keeping to the measurements Vickie was knitting by, I used five Styrofoam balls per pipe as a "template of circumference" (for lack of better words to describe). Each ball was an increment of width in the design plan (5", 4", etc.). I skewered the largest first, ending with the smallest. Each were glued at the appropriate points. Now I had to fill in the gaps.

As I said, I wanted each branch to be a light as possible, so I bridged the spaces between the balls (and helped build up) with cut pieces of pipe insulating foam tubes.

Then I used expanding foam to fill gaps and rough in a more natural shape to the tree. It also created a light weight, but stronger support were the PVC pipe bones were just screwed in. At the base, the foam instantly hid the shelf brackets used to attach the trunk there. I was not concerned about how it looked right now. Building up the empty spaces and fusing parts together was the most important thing at this point. I let it expand away, drips and all.

Once dry, the foam was easily carved into truer branch shapes.

I left about a 1/2" of exposed PVC on the ends. There I added a 4-way pipe joint and curved pieces of pipe as extending branches. Next I started to base coat the tree in paper mache. I used sheets of heavy duty paper "shop" towels dipped in a thin mix of Fix-It-All.

I stopped at this point before I went any further and e-mailed pictures to Vickie so she could get a sense of what the finished tree will look like. It was a very good thing that I did. We discovered there was some miscommunication.

Next in Part Four... remember that Stonehenge scene from the movie Spinal Tap? Kind of like that in reverse.

Making a Tree Prop: Part Two

The 10 foot tree build began with the trunk. I was able to get most of what I needed from my local OSH Hardware.

I decided it would be 7 feet high, leaving room for another 3 feet or so of branches. I used 12 inch wide concrete form tubes. The ones in stock were only 4 feet high so I needed two (cutting one down to 3 feet high). I glued and screwed four 1x2 furring strips inside the first tube. These act as ribs reinforcing the trunk and also became where I added shelf brackets securing it to a 36 inch plywood round base. Seeing the brackets was okay since they'll eventually be hidden. At this point, I was planning to create bark texture over everything with a few coats of quick drying Fix-It-All compound (that idea changes down the line).

Some advice if you ever buy concrete tubes from the average hardware store... bring a tape measure. The labeled width size is never true. Some are dead on, some a bit larger, some a bit smaller and often impossible to find matching pairs. I wanted smaller widths allowing for the extra thickness the final texture coating would add (making it the true 12" noted on the plan that Vickie was knitting her pieces by). The next available size down was 10 inch wide, a little too small.

Having said that, one tube was the perfect size (111/4 inches), the other too wide (a hair over 12 inches). I split the larger one and cut 3/4 inches off an edge.

I needed to seam it together again along one of the furring strip ribs. Placing on top, I centered the split along one of the ribs and screwed the opposite solid side to a rib there holding it in place. To suture it up, I added thick bead of wood glue along the supporting rib and started staple gunning the seam together from the bottom up.

I discovered that the tube was warping a bit being split and the tension created squeezing the edges together for a tight fit was enough to pull the staples out as I went along. It was like some old slapstick comedy routine. I'd add one staple and two below would pop out. I'd re-staple those and one above would pop out. The glue was drying so I had to work fast before it got worse. I ended up using countless screws and a few washers.

Not my finest example of craftsmanship (the Frankenstein monster had more appealing stitches), but it did the trick and was nice and secure. Besides the scar will never be seen once finished.

Next in Part Three... making branches!

CVS Game Set

I was procrastinating the other night exploring Google Street View maps. Of course I visited my own neighborhood and discovered my old beat up car parked across the street from our house. As usual it was packed full of props and junk.

The fun part is, I know exactly what day this picture was taken recognizing the project it was all for - a CVS Pharmacy sponsored game from GSN's SNAP.

CVS has a few of the interstitials on their YouTube channel. Who knew they even had a YouTube channel?

Making a Tree Prop: Part One

Back in mid January Vickie Howell asked me to create a 10 foot tree prop for her to "yarn bomb" at the CHA trade show in Anaheim at the end of the month. Yarn bombing objects has been a indie knitting scene trend for a number of years and thought a fun way to showcase her Sheep(ish) line of Caron Yarns doing it in real time at the craft show.

At first, I was tempted to create a twisting, old growth tree, full of character right out of Middle Earth. But there was only a couple of weeks until it was needed. I decided the shape and design should be fairly simple avoiding any surprises a more elaborate concept might bring (a good thing too, because in the end, it was never "simple"). My hope was that the leafy thinner branch ends would be random looking enough to add a more natural looking canopy.

Keeping the trunk uniform in shape and all the branches relatively the same size also helped Vickie's short knitting deadline being able to assembly line most of it not having to make each piece with unique measurements different from the other.

The basic concept and size was approved. I then locked in a standard branch design that could be repeated 5 times. I gridded out my sketch to get a rough size (1/2 inch square = 1 foot). From that, a down and dirty, foam core board mock up branch was made to get a sense of real world scale.

I took measurements off the mock up and sent to Vickie so she could start knitting in Austin while I started building the tree here in Los Angeles. By the way, this plan below will cause a very long night down the line needing to redo days of work. More on that later.

Next in Part Two...  the build begins!