Monday, March 10, 2014

The Secret Dragonfly

Disneyland’s Soundsational Parade has some hidden surprises for those who look carefully. One of our favorites is Evinrude, the dragonfly who buzzes around in circles behind Tiana’s row boat on the Princess and the Frog unit.

Our idea to include Evinrude began as a last-minute joke between me and Jody during the parade’s dress rehearsals. Watching the big riverboat come down Main Street reminded us of a favorite Disney movie from childhood—The Rescuers—and we thought it could be fun to insert a subtle tribute to the 1977 film somewhere in Tiana’s bayou.

I constructed Evinrude in our studio practically overnight, from simple wooden shapes to match the float’s playful style. Wings were hand-cut from sheets of tinted polypropylene plastic, and the insect’s body was attached to a motorized support inside a giant waterlily.

As it turns out, the character fits perfectly with the parade’s theme as a tribute to legendary Disney sound effects artist Jimmy MacDonald. Jimmy provided sounds for hundreds of Disney films, including Evinrude’s distinctive buzz.

Sound effects genius, Jimmy MacDonald 
Related story:  Rescue Me!

Monday, February 03, 2014

This Is Henry

Henry in 1958

Just a stone's throw from Hollywood is Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. Final resting place for hundreds of celebrities from Walt Disney to Sammy Davis Jr., the sprawling cemetery is also home to "Henry", a thirty-one inch Moai head from Easter Island. Although the figure hasn't been authenticated, it was obtained in 1954 by park founder Dr. Hubert Eaton who affectionately named it after his friend Henry Wendt. On a trip to Easter Island, so the story goes, Wendt and Eaton received the head in a legal transaction between Rapanui fishermen who were using it as ballast for a boat.

See Henry for yourself at the Forest Lawn Museum.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Plastic Paradise

The wait is finally over. Awhile back I was Art Director on Plastic Paradise: A Swingin’ Trip Through America’s Polynesian Obsession, a new documentary by Common Machine Productions. It will air on select PBS stations starting in Philadelphia TONIGHT Jan. 23 at 9PM on WYBE. For the LA crowd , KCET has pushed its airing to March 4 so they have more time to promote. Make yourself a Miehana cocktail while you wait...

Plastic Paradise Trailer from Common Machine 


In the 1940s and 1950s, the return of American GIs from the Pacific helped launch a postwar Polynesian craze that lasted more than three decades. Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki expedition, James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific, and Hawaiian statehood all fueled the phenomenon. This “tiki” culture — so named after the large, wooden sculptures found throughout Polynesia — included candy-colored, rum-infused cocktails with names like the Zombie and the Missionary’s Downfall, crazy Hawaiian shirts, exotic instrumental music fused with space-age pop, and a nonstop party scene inhabited by self-styled nonconformists and swingers.

Today, the spirit of tiki endures among a new generation of Polynesian popsters, including musician Denny “King Kukulele” Moynahan, cocktail anthropologist Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, artist Kevin Kidney, and tiki historian Sven Kirsten.

Plastic Paradise explores this fascinating, little known, and surprisingly enduring subculture. Making stops in Los Angeles, New York City, and South Florida, the film culminates with a visit to Hukilau, the largest gathering of tikiphiles on the East Coast, held every year at Fort Lauderdale’s famed Mai-Kai Restaurant.

"Ink & Bean" Coffee Maker for a Day

And now for something completely different.  

"Careful, it's hot."

I made a resolution this year to break away from my desk, now and then, and do something totally new to me—and then write about the experience.  Things I've always dreamed of doing, such as playing guitar in a Mariachi band, or traveling to the Antarctic on a submarine.  Or maybe working as a barista for a day.

Recently the least-complicated of my pie-in-the-sky wishes was granted.  I took a non-paid, one-day-only job at the beautiful new "Ink & Bean Coffee Saloon and Wordshop" in downtown Anaheim. 

Ink & Bean is highly photogenic!

Ink & Bean is our brand new local hangout that feels like it's been around for about eighty years.  It's the kind of place I absolutely love, with a creative vibe that makes me want to just sit and read or draw for a whole afternoon.  The "Ink" in Ink & Bean refers to writing, and the theme is carried out in every detail.  Antique typewriters decorate one wall—black Underwoods, Royals and Smith-Coronas—with room for more.  The central table is illuminated by a 1950s 8mm film projector re-born as a table lamp, and they have a working rotary dial telephone.  

Among the well-stocked merchandise shelves are some vintage books for sale (cheap!) and parked outside is a little silver Airstream trailer with books for exchange (free!)  There are plans for writer workshops, author readings, and poetry contests.  I hear they're going to play old radio shows here!   Even the baristas, dressed in thick grey-green aprons and caps, resemble a team of old-timey typesetters in a print shop.

Me trying to blend in with the pros: Pam Hamidi, Amy Wilcox, and CodyBarczak 

Ink & Bean proudly serves Stumptown coffee roasted in Portland and brewed hot and fresh throughout the day.  There are chilled dark bottles of "Cold Brew" in the fridge, as well as toasty bags of whole Stumptown beans to take home (my favorite is the Rwanda Muyongwe, with hints of vanilla, plum, port wine and maple—it's mighty good!) 

 When I arrived at the shop on a Tuesday morning, a Stumptown trainer was intently walking the crew through the fine art of brewing perfect espresso shots and "polishing" steamed milk to a beautiful white gloss.  I was issued a hat and apron and put to work carefully measuring and grinding beans for espressos, lattes and cappuccinos. I felt like a scientist.  The aromas, including those of the fresh-baked scones and brioches (and a gift from the gods called a "black widow tart") from Blackmarket Bakery, inspired me to pack a sack of goodies to take home at the end of the day. 

I enjoyed being a barista for a day, and if I do it again sometime (before I forget everything I learned), I'll let you know.  And when I play guitar in a Mariachi band, I'll let you know about that, too.

In the meantime, if you're in the Disneyland area and simply craving a hot cup of exceptional coffee on a real hometown "Main Street", this is the place.  Ink & Bean is tucked between THE GOOD Californian Haberdashery and Center Street Cheese Shop on the newly refurbished Center Street Promenade.  Take my word for it and GO!

Ink & Bean Coffee Saloon and Wordshop 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Handmade Pizza Commercial

One of my favorite mediums to work in is stop-motion animation. I was Art Director for another TV commercial this year—this one produced at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios in Burbank. The thirty-second spot for Domino's Pizza required elements handmade entirely of paper: trees, houses, cars, clouds, birds—even the setting sun in the final shot is cut out of colored paper. The work was fast-paced but the commercial turned out great.

Click here to see the finished commercial.

 (Extra big thanks to Ethan Marak and the talented league of Stoopid Buddies for asking me to be a part of this.)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Return to Oz: Tik Tok

Spit and polished: the Royal Army of Oz.
In L. Frank Baum's 1907 book Ozma of Oz, Dorothy discovers a clockwork man in a chamber cut in rock in Wheeler Country.  "He was only about as tall as Dorothy herself, and his body was round as a ball and made out of burnished copper."  Illustrator John Neill's accompanying pen and ink drawings provided the key to re-creating Tik Tok for the 1985 movie, Return to Oz.  Three variations were built for the film—two "dirties" in various states of disrepair (today one resides at Skywalker Ranch), and one "bright 'n shiny" used only in the coronation scene at the end of the film.  The shiny model, pictured here at Disneyland's offsite Entertainment Development in 1985, is now in the Disney archives.  

So utterly likable, Tik Tok is my favorite character in the film for his design.  He's a wind-up, walking-talking marvel of steampunk wonderfulness. Where do I begin to explain what I love about this guy? Let's start at the top:

The concentric rings of Tik Tok's construction can't be fully appreciated in the film, so I'm grateful to the mystery photographer (reflected in Tik Tok's shiny pate) who appears to be bridging the prongs of a forklift with his own two legs.  That's dedication!

As with the Tin Man, Tik Tok's body design implies clothing—or in this case, a turn-of-the century military dress uniform, complete with fancy "oz" buttons.

Fortunately for Dorothy, the Patented Clockwork Mechanical Man comes with instructions, cast in metal and screwed to his back.

His "action" key is located smack in the middle of his back.

The key for "thinking" can be found behind his left shoulder. 
Do you wonder what he's thinking about?  Let's wind up his speech and maybe he can tell us.

The keys that supposedly power Tik Tok to do "everything but live" were actually battery-powered so they could run down on cue. The "speaking" key is located behind his right shoulder.  And speaking of shoulders,  Tik Tok's are beautiful:

The small chains that drape from shoulder to elbow to wrist were purely cosmetic. They didn't actually do anything at all, except look terrific.

Tik Tok is made of lightweight Kevlar, a super strong polymer, cut into sheets and pieced together. Though a difficult material to work with, its sturdiness reportedly held up to Tik Tok's many face-forward dives during filming.

It's great fun watching Tik Tok come to life in the movie, especially in scenes that show him walking. Tik Tok's peculiar stomp was acted out by a live performer crammed inside his spherical torso—a 23 year old gymnast named Michael Sundin.

Creature creator Lyle Conway described the grueling process in Cinefex Magazine: "Michael was about five five and Tik Tok's about four foot.  So Michael had to bend with his head between his legs, bolted in, and he did the actual walking around in the thing—backwards.  Sometimes, in the morning, he wouldn't be able to fit; so it was just a matter of forcing him in.  Then everything loosened up, and his body settled into it.  When you took the suit off of him, this rush of hot air hit you and there were pools of sweat at the bottom of the thing." At first Sundin was imprisoned within the mechanical man for no more than fifteen minutes, though by the end of shooting, he could endure almost an hour.

 Watch this amazing—and baffling—rare footage of Michael Sundin performing as Tik Tok. This is 100% pure "people generated" movie magic.

Michael Sundin, himself, has a fascinating story, and in his short lifetime —he passed away tragically of AIDS at the age of 28—his career took some interesting turns. He was a dancer in the original London stage production of Cats when he was discovered by Disney and cast as Tik Tok.   Following Oz, Sundin performed as the creepy March Hare in Jim Henson's film Dreamchild (1985) and went on to become a television host of the long-running British kids' show Blue Peter.   In doing my research for this article on Tik Tok, I was struck by Sundin's unique life and saddened by the loss of this talented young person who seemed well on his way to a bright future.

One of Tik Tok's memorable lines in the film is "I am not alive and never will be, thank goodness."  But inside, he had a human soul.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Return to Oz: The Gump

"I should've quit when I was just a head."
Loosing one's head was a concern for pretty much everybody in the 1985 film Return to Oz.  The Gump, however, had to get by with only a head. Nevertheless, the stuffed hunting trophy, brought to life by a sprinkling of magic powder, was one of the most charming and delightful characters in the movie. 

Click on all of the pictures to make them huge!
Magic powders can only accomplish so much, of course.  In actuality a team of puppeteers were required to coordinate the Gump's moves through a system of long cables.  I believe the Gump in these photos to be a second version which was radio controlled for shots where the cables needed to be out of sight.  Packaged in the crate alongside the Gump was a Futaba (model airplane) radio transmitter  with toggle switches for controlling his movements.  Rechargeable batteries went into both the transmitter and inside the Gump's head.

The Gump's horns were hollow cast resin and beautifully detailed, just like everything else about him. 

Those big baby blues give him a sweet, soft look.  I like how the Gump has a slightly worn, musty appearance just like an old taxidermied animal.

Open up and say "AAHHZZ."
A pliable foam rubber skin was fitted over the Gump's mechanized fiberglass underskull. His mouth and lips were very expressive when speaking. Incidentally, the Gump's deep voice was provided by Lyle Conway who was in charge of the animatronic design for the film.

Some of these photos are a little intense!  Beautiful work, though.

All this leaves one to ponder what a whole living Gump might look like.  It's easy to imagine a four-legged beast, but no one can say. Would he have toes like a camel?  Hooves like an elk?  Even Baum in his original stories (and John Neil's illustrations) offer no answer.

Only one rare example of Oz merchandise—a hand puppet— has ever been produced that attempted to solve the age-old mystery of the Gump's body:

Yeah, I'm not convinced either.

Coming Soon-- Part Four:  Tik Tok!

Part One: Jack Pumpkinhead
Part Two: Tin Woodman

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Return to Oz: The Tin Woodman

There was once a simple woodcutter in Oz named Nick Chopper who fell in love with a Munchkin girl. Out of spite, the Wicked Witch enchanted his ax so that he gradually began chopping himself to pieces. A tinsmith made replacements for each body part until, bit by bit, the Woodman was completely tin. Even his head.

Don't forget, click on all of the pictures to make them huge!

As with many of Baum's most endearing creatures, the Tin Man comes with a harrowing backstory which makes this tall, clanking, silvery fellow with the happy smile so easy to love.  Although he has a comparatively minor role in the 1985 film  Return to Oz, the Tin Man is exquisitely designed, and a fitting tribute to Oz illustrator John Neill's original drawings.  Many of the nicest details are easy to miss in the fleeting moments he appears on the screen.

Minimal facial features were handled by radio-controlled servos that operated his mouth, eyes, and the old-fashioned square nails that are his eyebrows.  One of my favorite details is the single copper rivet "freckle" under his right eye.  It's apparent that great care was taken to avoid symmetry in his construction.

Totally un-readable in the film is the advertising plate on his hat for "Baum Hardware Co—Fine Funnels for Kerosene, Gasoline & Coal Oil"

A spiral bail handle hangs from the back of his head—a clever touch that emphasizes the fact that his head is just a re-purposed tin pail. That tinsmith of Oz was certainly resourceful!

These photographs were taken in the spring of 1985 in the parking lot behind Disneyland's Entertainment Development facility, south of Los Angeles.  Fresh out of his crate from Elstree Studios near London, the Tin Man reflects the warm Southern California sun. 

Something I particularly like is the slight suggestion of clothing in his design, such as the brass rectangle approximating a breast pocket and the row of rivets down his front like buttons.  A second metal patch on his chest is a subtle reminder of the heart given to him by the Wizard, making the Tin Man the kindliest person in all of Oz.

Even his hands and feet possess so much character and charm.  Notice how the thumbs of the left and right hands are attached and move in completely different ways, as if the hands were crafted at different times.

Mis-matched pant legs and silver shoes covered in brass spats finish the look. It appears the Tin Man wears a size ten and a half shoe.  Same as me!

Isn't it delightful to appreciate these characters from a different perspective!