Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rabu rabu!

If I ever get a chance to visit Japan again I want to do two things - visit the small rural town of Sakaiminato in Tottori-ken and spend a night in every Love Hotel Japan has to offer.

Luckily, most of the Love Hotels in Japan are located in Osaka and Tokyo, with the former playing host to the REALLY creative ones. Before I left Japan (in fact, the night before I left Japan) I spent a night in one of the most exotic sounding rooms Tokyo had to offer: The Aqua Room, now known as the Pool Room. Why? Because it has a pool. In the room.

Complete with viewing area.

Which is kinda creepy when you think of all the business men who throw parties in this room, sitting back, watching the girls they've hired for the evening swim by, stopping brief to light their cigarettes or pour their beers. Thankfully the water was very chlorinated.

The whole experience of staying in a Love Hotel is fascinating. First of all, there are two different types of 'stays' - a 'Short' and a 'Long'. 'Short' means you just check in for a few hours in the afternoon, presumably to do your business and get out fast. 'Long' is overnight.

I booked my room ahead of time to make sure that specific one was available. But for most people, this is a spur-of-the-moment kinda thing so to be certain your stay is as private as possible, you chose your room from an electronic board behind a partition. You pay then and there without ever consulting with another human being. You can then head straight up to your room (unless you want to stop off in the shop and pick up any extra items).

Although there is a vending machine in the room in case you forgot. There's even a chute that you can use to send tickets (for the shop's items) and money down to the desk.

Not all the rooms are as exotic as the Aqua Room and with good reason (it was the most expensive room in the joint). In fact, the only other room that looked as good was the 'Play Boy Mansion'-themed one.

Some of the less exotic ones offered exercise machines (huh?), sumptuous beds, huge flat screen TVs and lots of lounge areas for those larger office parties (I'm not joking here... they really happen).

Then there are the cheapest rooms. Here, your money is simply buying the privacy these establishments pride themselves on.

Here's a room any Aardman-enthusiast will love. Found this here, with loads of other great photos of some of the crazy rooms (the subway room is one of my favorites) you could encounter, although the rooftop car-bed with motion-sensitive headlights is unfortunately absent.

Friday, June 26, 2009

44.3602943 milliliters

My first year abroad, the ALTs of Miyagi-ken organized a collaborative photographic project to go with the annual JET Art Show in Sendai. A single camera was past off from ALT to ALT either by hand or through the mail over the course of the year. You had about a week to capture what 'living in Japan' meant to you in one shot.

In fact, that's what the whole project was called - One Shot. It should also be noted that this was a disposable camera so you didn't actually get to see your picture till the show. After the show, someone was nice enough to scan them all in to the computer and hand off CDs to everyone involved.

Looking back at them now it's interesting to note certain themes.

photo by Amanda Wraight

photo by Chris Heyd

photo by Dave Freeborough

We were up north so I guess snow was on everyone's mind.

photo by Hannah Deacon

photo by Justin Day

We were also out in the inaka, so endless fields are an obvious choice.

photo by Phillip Wood

photo by Jae Acuncius

photo by Monique Moloney

It's strange how many people seemed to be obsessed with transportation.

photo by Mark Barr

Only a few pictures of students. I figured there'd be a lot more considering we spent more than half of our day with them but I guess we were pretty sick of 'em by that point.

photo by Selina Humphrey

Of course, technology and poor lighting conspired to produce a few images like this. Sorry, Selina... But then there were the surprising ones.

photo by Micheal Woodard

photo by Mark Cheverton

Some fun.

photo by Jackie Pang

photo by Sarah Tamoseti

photo by Maria Torres

Some well thought-out and composed.

photo by Kennard Herfel
Even stirring.

photo by William McDuff

This one may appear to be nothing more than scenery, but the poignant part of this image has to do with the fact that Will lived so close to Iwate-ken (the neighboring prefecture) he could walk down the road and turn around to see the coastline of Miyagi-ken unfolding in the distance.

And my contribution. I call it 'Year of the Dog' (it was). This guy worked at the gas station in my town. He took his job quite seriously.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


The Handsome Family video has been progressing, or, if you prefer Darwin to Baron d'Holbach, evolving nicely.

Thanks to Asterisk, I got to scan and color in the final group of character designs last night (I've been without a scanner since almost February now).

With that out of the way, it's time to move onto the fun part (at least for me). While Chris starts sketching out boards, I'll be launching into the actual puppet construction. So, as I use to say to my Elementary School students, ikimashou!

I begin by making the armature. It seems like a no-brainer, really but I figured it was a good thing to mention. If you don't start with the armature as a base, you're going to have a hard time fitting it to your mold later.

Usually, I would draw the character with the armature's outline to scale on a sheet of paper. In this case, I'm going with a realistic size and shape so a simple Google search will do for the image, with on outline sketched over top.

Then I bend the wire to match the lines.

Because lots of things can conspire to go wrong during a shoot, I always make multiple casts of the same puppets (especially when they're the main character). So, it's a good idea to make all the duplicate armatures now to ensure they'll all match. Usually I do this by taping a new piece of unshaped wire to the shaped one and then bending it to match the other's curves exactly.

Next, tie-downs! Groups of matching screws, nuts and wing nuts are great for these.

Our main character, the mackerel, doesn't have to move (in fact, he can't) so the tie-downs are simply to secure him to the set while we shoot. I've decided to use two tie-downs: one near the gills and one at the tail.

And for anyone who's wondering, that gray stuff is plumbers epoxy. Apparently, few people have ever heard of the stuff (at least that's what I can gather from the number of times I've mentioned it and gotten blank stares). It's toxic, smells and is disgusting to work with but it's an armature necessity.

That's it for now. Next time? Clay and tin foil!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Money makes the world go around...

About a month ago now, I started working at a company out in DUMBO called Special Ops Media. I haven't mentioned it till now for many reasons, none of which are interesting enough to bother mentioning here.

It's a nice job, mostly Flash which can get pretty tedious, but it pays great and the people I work with are surprisingly interesting and fun to work with. One of the best parts, though is the locale.

The building is right on the waterfront, sandwiched in between the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges with a great little park perfect for lunch breaks (and weddings, apparently) barely a block away.

As I said, the pay is good, but like any (somewhat) intelligent freelancer, I know I need to work as many jobs as my body can handle. So, last week I 'burned the midnight oil' and cranked out yet another parshat for Nick Fox-Gieg.

While I'm no Botticelli, I was informed that this parshat may well be a first: the first time the rather self-important Korach's story has been animated. Be a part of history and check it out here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

In a Wonderland they lie...

Got lost in Central Park this past weekend.

Well, only slightly lost. Problem is, my knowledge of the park is limited to the few years of my childhood I spent touring the museums almost every other weekend. I'm familiar with Strawberry Fields, the pond and, of course Alice.

When we stumbled across this last Saturday, it was the first time I'd seen it in almost ten years (maybe more).

It's funny how nostalgia works. Ever since being back State-side, I've thought many times about stopping by to see if it was still here (although, really, I knew it was; more like if the magic it held for me as a kid was still here).

And while seeing it again was nice, I guess the combination of rain, age and the fact that I was wearing a dress changes a lot. I remember climbing all over it when I was younger, the triumphant moment when I finally was able to pull myself on top of her head.

Best I can do now is enjoy it for what it is: a public sculpture. Fortunately, I've always loved bronze statues of this sort. And again, the funny thing about nostalgia is how it can bring along new with the old.

Not far from Creeft's Alice, we came across another fixture inspired by Carroll's story which I had never seen before. In fact, I may have walked right by it if I hadn't recognized the image of Alice's unusual croquet mallet.

Several of the characters are recognizable - the Hatter, of course, with Alice to the left.

But most of the characters Roth chose to depict are more obscure. Sure, everyone knows the Cheshire Cat, but not everyone is familiar with characters like his human, the Duchess or Old Father William.

Anyone remember the Gryphon? His counterpart, the Mock Turtle is, unfortunately, absent.

I'm pretty sure this is a parrot from the Queen's court. And you can just barely make out the nose of the little dog Alice met shortly after a bite from the mushroom.

In a way, I actually like this piece more. It's probably age and the years of art history and appreciation. I like the stylized designs; it seems to do Carroll's characters more justice. But who knows how I'll feel ten years from now? Ever drifting down the stream...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


So tired...

I have a bunch of ideas for fun blogs but just about all my brain can handle right now is a random picture from the Japan Files. And in keeping with the apparent theme this week...

(I, sadly, did not take this photo)

This is a sunfish. According to 'teh interwebs' a sunfish has an average length of 5.9 ft and an average weight of 2,200 lb, 'although individuals up to 10.8 ft in length 14 ft across the fin and weighing up to 5,100 lb have been observed.' Basically, it's huge. The heaviest bony fish in the world.

(this, one, I did... sadly)

And here, it's shoved into a 10 ft wide by 8 ft deep tank at the Matsushima Bay Aquarium (click on this; it takes you to a website where you can watch live video of some of the exhibits). The tank was so small the walls had to be covered by a dark tarp and the glass by clear plastic so that the sunfish wouldn't hurt itself by running in to the concrete walls. See, sunfish are found primarily out in the open ocean. Because of this, sunfish aren't really built for slowing down, stopping and turning in a speedy manner.

(sadly, this is not that sunfish)

Apparently this poor fellow had been running into the walls so much, they had to put up the tarps to prevent him from smashing his already mutilated face into sides of the tank. Sadly, this story doesn't end well. The last time I visited the, he was gone, replaced by a new, smaller sunfish.

Now I'm tired and sad.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Red fish, blue fish...

As promised, here's the most recent update in my 'How to Make a Music Video (for the Handsome Family)' Series. This past weekend, I accomplished two things.

One - ran around Manhattan scouting fish markets and taking reference shots. I popped into the Essex Street Market but mostly wondered about Chinatown.

The Essex Street Market is nice and suitable for our needs, but I can't help but feel there's a better, more perfect location out there somewhere.

Chinatown is just scary. Amazing fish, but still scary.

Trust me, I've had some fun times out in Chinatown, poking around shops, getting ice cream and hearing horror stories involving chickens and electronic tic-tac-toe games. The environment, while being really wonderful for a documentary style shoot, would probably just end up as a headache-inducing nightmare for anyone trying to actually set up staged shots. Plus, 3 out of the 4 markets were mean to me.

These guys weren't though!

He let me take all the pictures I wanted and even posed for me! Not really useful, but fun none-the-less.

They even had mackerel, the star of our show. Which brings me to Two - character and some rough armature sketches.

Drew these up Friday, scanned and colored them in Saturday. We're trying to keep the fish semi-realistic without it actually being mistakable for a real fish. The heads will most likely be replacement, with the gills hiding the 'match-line'.

Vegetables with obvious Muppet influences. No eyes, though. Once again, as close to realistic as possible.