The Crucible of Transmutationanecdotes about the creative process

Extreme Heroic Poses

Max Steel in flight suit

In 2012, the toy company Mattel embarked on an ambitious reboot of their popular Max Steel franchise. This endeavor included an all-new CGI animated series with a cool graphic look by Canadian company Nerd Corp. Concurrently, promotional still pictures for the web were generated at Brain Zoo studios in Los Angeles where I was tasked with creating and rendering characters in dynamic poses on the computer. Many of the images required exaggerated perspective effects as is typical of comic book art. I had to use some trickery to achieve a superhero comic look with the 3D Max Steel characters!

Young Iguanodon Sculpture

Sculpture of a juvenile Iguanodon dinosaur

During the late 1990s, I worked for Walt Disney Feature Animation on their first computer-generated movie Dinosaur. For that production, I worked as a supervising animator over Neera, the main character's love interest, and all of the juvenile dinosaurs. On Disney movies, supervising animators were made responsible for character acting performances; however, they had limited control over character design decisions which were made by group committee. I was unhappy with the final design of the juvenile iguanodons which, in my opinion, did not look as cute as they might have been. Because of this dissatisfaction, I was inspired to create a personal sculpture - my own interpretation of how the young iguanodons should have looked.

Making Models and Props (part 3)

Model-making was an interesting, challenging, creative, and very cool profession; however, as time went on, I became increasingly concerned about health-related issues associated with that particular line of work. Although I loved making models and props, I decided to move out of that field of the business and focus exclusively on animation. Here are examples of my last model-making projects.

Hellicopter model with special effects crew
The helicopter with filming crew. L-R: unknown, unknown, Niels Nielsen, Mehran Salamati.

In 1988, I assisted Niels Nielsen in building a prototype of a helicopter model created for presentation to the United States military as a possible future design. Not only did we fabricate the helicopter from scratch but we incorporated the motorized rotors and lighting as well. Unfortunately, we worked in a small room with poor ventilation and used many materials such as Bondo, urethanes, and glues that emitted toxic fumes. To make matters worse, I managed to cut my finger in half with an X-acto blade, an accident that required a trip to the emergency room! That particular project illustrated a stark reminder of the occupational hazards involved in professional model-making. Our model was ultimately filmed by cinematographer Mehran Salamati, who used a motion control system against a blue screen to composite in front of a sky background. I never saw the completed film.

Making Models and Props (part 2)

By 1987, I was reaching my goal of becoming a professional stop-motion animator; however, the work was inconsistent due to the typical "per project" hiring practices of the movie industry. To remain employed, I continued to take on sculpting and model-making gigs. Sometimes the two professions were both needed on the same production, a situation which worked out very well.

Scary castle on hilltop

This spooky castle was created for a 1986 Budweiser print advertisement. Anton Tremblay designed and supervised the project, while Christopher Halsted and I were sculptors. The main material we used for the project's fabrication was green foam, aka "green death" in the model-making industry. The process of carving the foam caused the release of gritty, nasty particles which were very hazardous to breathe and tended to cling to our clothing. The only real advantage to using the material was the fact that it was fine-grained and easy to carve. Typically we would don disposable coveralls and use a respirator or a dust mask to protect our health while sculpting the foam. The finished model, which I photographed on stage for my records, stood about four feet high. In the actual final ad, a couple of people were composited in, positioned by the bridge and looking up at the castle (without the benefit of Photoshop, which had not been invented yet).

Making Models and Props (part 1)

During my boyhood years, my favorite hobby was building plastic model kits of monsters, heroes, animals, cars, science replicas, space ships, and occasionally airplanes. Many of my skills came from that disciplined pastime of working patiently with paints and glues, cutting with blades, and filling and sanding seams, to achieve the goal of creating a perfect miniature. My assembling of model kits brought an intimate understanding of how things are constructed and how they function in the real world - everything from human anatomy to automobile engines. I was served well by those skills when I later began to create my hand-made independent stop-motion films and eventually worked professionally as a model maker and prop builder for the motion picture and advertising industries.

Giant robots guarding a gate

My first real model-making gig was a job at Introvision in 1985, where I worked on a pilot project called Danger Quest under the supervision of Gene Rizzardi. In collaboration with model maker Zuzana Swansea, I was given the task of fabricating a mountain wall landscape with a cave-like entrance. Our technique entailed the carving of the basic shapes out of styrofoam, then etching the foam by squirting it with acetone, resulting in a lunar rock appearance. The acetone/foam reaction released some toxic gasses, requiring us to wear protective garments and respirators. From the start, I experienced some of the possible hazards in the world of professional model making! Other model makers built the cool robot guards which were added to the scene after we completed the miniature background set. After the setup had been lit on stage by the camera crew, I was able to photograph the full scene in 3-D for my personal collection.

The Living Body as Sculpture

Frank Zane and Lisa Lyon, examples of classic bodybuilding physiques!

Some may consider bodybuilding a sport but it can also be considered a true art form. Bodybuilders literally sculpt themselves by making conscious decisions about where to add and where to subtract, accomplishing their goal with focused weight training, exercise, and diet. The objective of their efforts is to reach the physical ideal, which is certainly subjective depending on the eye of the beholder.

When I was a very young man, I attended the 1979 Mr. Olympia competition and filmed many of the highlights with my trusty Super 8 camera. In that event, the bodybuilders essentially gave stage performances as living, breathing sculptures. Frank Zane, who is considered by many to be the greatest bodybuilder of all time, won the contest for a third consecutive year. A unique guest poser was also at the event, pioneering female bodybuilder Lisa Lyon. This show represented the end of an era, as within a few short years, the world of professional bodybuilding underwent significant changes. The following is some background information on the featured stars in my movie clip.

Tattoo Parlor Diorama

The Living Art Tattoo Parlor with Harley Davidson motorcycle and inked woman

Leaning against a parked Harley-Davidson chopper is a woman, who is adorned in nothing but inked images. She gestures toward the doorway of the Living Art Tattoo Parlor. This was the concept for a piece I created in 1985 using the unique art form known as Shadowbox Diorama. Projects of this type require extensive planning and a range of skills, including painting, sculpture, model-making, staging, design, craftsmanship, and custom lighting. It was quite a challenge to produce!

Sculpting Cavemen for Animation

A group of cavemen at home in their cave

One of my all-time favorite animation projects was the 1989 production of Stanley and the Dinosaurs, directed by John Clark Matthews. I was responsible for animating half of the show and also sculpting many of the characters, including a tribe of ten cave people and a juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex. The clay sculpture served as the basis for each character, but it was only part of the collaborative process of creating the stop-motion puppets for the movie.

Page 1 / 1
A look behind the scenes of art-making and other musings by .

See More Articles:

Howie and pumpkin from The Nightmare Before Christmas Skellington Incident

Pillsbury doughboy baking a pie Stop-Motion Doughboy

Aliens from Encounter movie Making ENCOUNTER

mouse riding motorcycle Stop-Motion Field Trip

nimslo camera Anaglyph Technique

Frog as a knight St. Frog and the Dragon

Mother and father trolls Meet the Umblebums

Carrot characters Fairy Tale Surrealism

3 cavemen Sculpting Cavemen

A reindog and elf The Red-Nosed Reindog

Disney popsicles Making Mickey's Parade

Freddy nightmare Nightmares Made Real

tattooed lady Tattoo Parlor Diorama

face of Night Scorp Gigantic Scorpions

animator with stop-motion puppet Chroma Key Animation

bodybuilder Frank Zane posing The Living Body as Sculpture

Man runs in a sewer movie set Starting at the Bottom

Animated bottle cap character Zippy the Cap

Stone Giant stop-motion puppet The End of Dynamation

Candy on a boys face Eye Candy

Dancing figures Lucid Dream

Talking deer and moose hunting trophies Wacky Trophy Heads

Handstanding figure over river valley Making THE WANDERER

Portrait of man made of fruit Creating a Fruit Man

Portrait of Jack Skellington Nightmare Still Photos

Spacecraft Wreckage Spaceship Junkyard

Closeup of a robot Models and Props pt. 1

Watch shaped like a mouse Models and Props pt. 2

Train locomotive Models and Props pt. 3

Face of a cute dinosaur Young Iguanodon

ice skating hersheys kisses Lively Kisses

shopping mall Making Mall Mania

powerful super hero Extreme Heroic Poses

The character Kait from Gears of War Motion Mixture

Clay fox sculpture in the snow Pee-Wee Christmas Title

A singing cartoon box character Lounge Singer

An animated sea lion Sea Lion Ballet

Masked monster The Evil Within

flying reptile Learning CGI in the 90s

flying reptile Disney's Dinosaur