The majority of my work is made up of handcrafted objects consciously arranged; this is the ancient practice of set design. Preparation is typically a lot of tiny little pieces adhered together, or at least held up in place with someone's hands, or a stick, or dental floss. Many things are spray-painted inside a box on the sidewalk. Other things are airbrushed by a professional operating an expensive machine in a ventilated area with OSHA regulations.
What I like about making things by hand is that the quality and timing is within your control. If you're smart and care enough, you can create something beautiful, immediately. You can also prove something can be done.
For SJR's Unfiltered Velocity shoot, I was excited about the concept of making a floating maze, but felt like I had signed up to complete a thousand piece puzzle. That might be fun for someone, but the timeline was 2 weeks, and I didn't have all day to sit with a blanket on my lap, rain softly hitting the window, examining each piece with the curiousity and wonder of a jeweler. I had other deadlines.
1. How do all individual pieces connect together so the maze can "float" on set?
2. How do we make those connections as invisible as possible?
3. How do we create a maze composition that looks consistent, balanced and believable?
We ended up solving 1 & 2 by using toothpicks, wood glue, and fishing line. It also helps that our photographer Chris New, is a skilled retoucher. Solving for 3 came down to locking myself in a room with our genius intern Charlotte Suan, and spending time with the material. We worked myopically, creeping through the composition, building bit-by-bit. Making a maze is a lot like solving a maze –– you don't really know where you're going and gotta just feel your way through.
We set out to create a website for Beth Comstock's new book, Imagine It Forward. She was a dream client, and really let us go for it. The site narrative was all about following this silver ball through different landscapes. Like a rube-goldberg wonderland. Texture, movement, and color was my focus for this project.
THINGS ROLLING AROUND IN MY CUBE HEAD
1. With a limited budget, how do we pivot from clean, flat, high-key art direction?
2. What are some unexpected transitions the ball can experience?
3. How do we unite a bunch of weird ideas?
The original plan was for the box-head character to have a real live nose and mouth protruding from the face of the box. We wanted to shoot everything practically, and have our ball drop into the top of the box and spit out of the face's mouth.
We worked with an old-school theater mask artist located in the Lower East Side who was quite an interesting character himself. His workshop had maskes everywhere. Most were hard, wrinkled leather, and the special ones had long horsehair eyebrows. This was not the look we were going for, but he assured us he could transform a cardboard box. He went through an extensive process of covering the box with latex and rubber, leaving a soft flap of fabric around the triangular hole. Eventually, the makeup artist would come in and blend that flap with our model's skin using a 2-part special effects jelly.
We wanted this box-head to have a velvety texture. We found out that the process of acheiving this is called "flocking". Everyone liked saying "flock" a lot. Due to timing with our mask-maker, we couldn't flock the box until the day of the shoot. This ate into shoot time, and everything was coverd in a fine pink dusk, including the inside of our nostrils. The aforementioned 2-part jelly ended up never drying, and we couldn't get that seamless-isolated features-protruding-from-a-flat-surface-look that every woman would kill for to. So we improvised: the box got turned around, and our model got into character: curling her fingers and angling her wrists. Her hands acted as eyes, blinking and winking.
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX MEANT MAKING MORE BOXES.
We landed on taking "the box" and playing with its format as a unifying principle. The box and ball relationship created a consistent visual dynamic: ball drops into frame, cue action.
Getting human beings to sync up an action is HARD. Everybody's body is constantly involuntarily moving. Symmetry was difficult to acheive, so we did many many takes of this 1-2-3-pull.
We started kicking around the idea of using a vending machine as a metaphor for digital content consumption sometime around 2017. But the question was, what story do we tell? How do we move away from this thing being just a vessel for snacks and cash into something that has a lasting impact? Just what *exactly* about the user experience of a vending machine feels so analagous to the internet? The lack of intellectual nourishment? The variety of appealing yet guilt-ridden choices? The immediacy of the transaction? The anonymity of the transaction? The lack of human contact and emotion in the transaction? The answer is all of that.
WHAT WE DID
• Modify a 90’s (semi-analog) vending machine to be mechanically controlled with a microcontroller
• Install an LCD module user interface with user prompts to replace the existing cash-based hardware
• Embed a system that can perform face/eye detection and talk to the vending machine controller
• Customize exterior with acrylic mirror panels; airbrush a linear orange gradient rising from the bottom upSpray black interior of machine metallic silver
• Replace original interior fluorescent lighting with responsive orange LED
• Fill machine with silver mylar snack bags labeled by social media platform
• Engrave text on 4”x4” acrylic mirror pieces