Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Guess what I did on my day off

If you've seen the pictures from the Borderlines shoot, you'll have seen that we created a lot of material to make the saloon, meaning there was a lot of stuff left over. I found myself looking at all this wood and wallpaper (which oddly enough was the most expensive thing on the budget next to the camera and film) and thinking of what a waste it would be to throw it all away!

So I decided to a little cosmetic home improvement. This is what the workshop section of the garage looked like before:

I know, gorgeous right?

The paint splatters are from the Red Hot Chili Peppers "Charlie" music video Quandary made for a contest awhile back. And these are my tools:

lolz, tools

In my garage there is already a spaceship so I figured, why not some saloon aesthetic to balance it out? Enter unnecessary home improvement man.

Thumbs up for my "I'm pretending I'm not posing" expression

With the wallpaper up, it now needs to be aged properly and patched where it was damaged during removal and transportation. I'm actually surprised it's all in as good condition as it is thanks to some very determined friends who helped me take it off the cardboard.

There were also some obnoxious wires connecting the switch to the lights overhead. To cover these, I got some PVC pipe and cut a groove along the back with the dremel in order to slip it over the wires (I'm no electrician) then spray painted it with metallic paint. Viloa`! Brass pipes.

There's still more work to do. Still thinking about what to do with the ceiling, going to find some cheap shiny faceplates for the outlets, and I need to figure out where to put my tools... Didn't think about that one. Oh well.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Playing Cards

I didn't mention these in the last post about the film Borderlines, because I spent so much time making them I thought they deserved a little special attention.

From the second I read the script and saw the story of the film revolved around a game of poker, I knew I finally had an excuse to make an awesome deck of cards. From a little experience of doing block printing in highschool I had an idea of what I was getting into.

There are 52 cards in the standard American deck consisting of four suits, ordered according to power: spade, heart, club, and diamond. This meant I would need to make a stamp for each suit (one large, one small of each), numbers 2-10, and sixteen royalty cards, as well as the ornate ace of spades, and a large stamp for the back of each card. The time period that these cards were supposed to be made was around 1886. In this era cards were actually becoming quite popular due to advances in printing technology. I decided to give my cards an extra, hand crafted feel anyway.

Causes inky fingers!

Starting with a stack of 4"x3" cards cut from bristol board, I clamped them into a stack and rounded the edges using my trusty dremel saving a lot of trouble. Next I let batches of the cards soak for about 2 minutes in a bath of 6 tea bags, aging them a nice golden brown.
With a slab of rubber and a carving tool loaned to me by Spenser left over from our highschool block printing class of 2002. I cut out the stamps I would need keeping in mind that each symbol I carved needed to be done backwards to it would print the right way round.

After a lot of stamping and inky fingers, I had the 36 cards all laid out, as well as the ace of spaced emblazoned with a skull emblem I designed and drew with a dip pen and ink (which was extremely satisfying).

Doom-faced Ace.

Next, I took some time to plot out the face cards. I decided to include one of my page of doodles where I plotted out the symbological significance of the Kings. Without boring you with the details of my over-active imagination, the kings represent a re-imagined version of the Four Apocalyptic Riders (where I've been lead to imagine there would actually be five) and what they represent. Therefore in each card I included subtle symbolic references to their significance.

Mmm, symbolism.

I didn't have the rubber (or the patience) to carve a stamp for each card, and since I would only need one stamp per card it seemed better to hand draw them with my shiny new dip pen.

As you may or may not know, commonly used playing cards are ambigrams, meaning they look them same upside down as they do rightside up. Going farther with my symbology with the cards, I decided to include subtle differences between the two sides, which would give clues about the dual nature of each personage and what they represent.

Going farther with this idea, I made a letter ambigram for the back of the cards as well, which would be a word that would specify which way the view was looking at the card, positive or negative. The words I chose were Alpha, and Omega. Here is the ambigram done with the dip pen:

And here is a photo of the final print done with the carved stamp and an ink pad:

After the designing came the long process of inking the sixteen royalty cards. There are subtle differences in each of the royal families, and clues as to what they represent if you care to drive yourself mad staring at them. I'm especially pleased with the gold ink I found to do the crowns and symbols.

It took awhile but it was a lot of fun, and now I've got a full set of kickass playing cards so call me up if you want to play some texas hold'em. I've got some handmade poker chips to go along.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Borderlines: Production

Just concluded production design on Richard Haredia-Arriaga's film, Borderlines. The short subject film is about a mysterious stranger who encounters some locals over an ill-fated game of cards, and takes place in 1896 at an old west saloon. The chance to do a western was what initially drew me to the project. This is also the first time since Argos that I've gotten to work with the fantastic Bianca Davies.

The direction from Richard for the look of the film was very straightforward, something I always appreciate: "Simple yet authentic."

This is the design I came up with for the set:

Aside from a belt-tightening budget (which I'm used to) there were some interesting restrictions we had to work around. First, we would have access to the sound stage one day before shooting began. This meant that the set had to be created elsewhere, and then be re-constructed quickly, and still look convincing. Second, due to budget and transportation restraints, we could not build our own flats, and would have to figure out how to utilize the ones provided at the space without having access to them until the setup day, also without altering them. Taking all this in stride, Spenser and I set to constructing.

Using a borrowed router (thanks Greg!) we cut grooves in 3.5x4ft panels of salvaged plywood to create wainscoting, and capped the top and bottom with old lengths of redwood fence boards for molding. These were then masterfully painted and aged Bianca and her helper Danielle. The rest of the 10ft flat was covered with wallpaper backed by large pieces of cardboard so they could be transported and quickly stapled up.

The bar was constructed with ply wood and 2x4's, and the foot rail (which became just the bar rail because it looked better higher up) was made for $12 out of PVC pipe and some brass metallic spray paint, and then aged. The booze shelves took some scrounging, but after many trips to the recycling center, I had gathered enough bottles to make a convincing supply of liquor. It's strange how many odd, and even well dressed scavengers you meet when frequenting dumpsters.

Dirt for the floor was a quick and cheap solution, as well as a nicely fraying rug from the props department. But something Spenser and I were most proud of were the olde tyme saloon doors we created out of 1x3 and lathe strips. Due to a shortage of wallpaper I decided to improvise and make it look as though the bar had recently encountered a bar fire. I was going to put a charred looking "no smoking" sign as a joke, but didn't put it up in time. Spenser also painted an awesome backdrop on some sewn-together sheets (thanks mom!) with spray paint:

I was never really that into the western thing, but now I have to admit it's grown on me. Dusty, rusty, ramshackle and unvarnished; rugged charm with a hint of class. Definitely a fun and worthwhile production, great crew, great actors, and I learned one can make moonshine from turpentine, ammonia, and gunpowder. Not that I ever will (muaha).