A few months ago we were approached by our good friends, and amazing talents, Josh Ruben and Vincent Peone. They had a project coming up and were requiring small sets for use in a series of web videos. The client was Greenpeace and they were going to combine our sets and an actor via green screen, Mr. Reggie Watts, improvising the words/message. Of course we said YES!

The sets they wanted were to illustrate some very different environments –an alpine mountaintop, a jungle, a desert, and kind of a swampy bayou. It was great. All super different with vastly different styles of plants and terrain. They needed certain elements for each scene to fit their overall approach: stream for the jungle, floating lilypads for bayou, open meadow with windmill for alpine setting, and big open area with prairie dog holes for desert. Apart from those, and a few other must-haves, we were able to design the sets as we saw fit. (That is the beauty of a long-term work relationship. They trust us to be creative and we make sure they have plenty of options for creative flexibility with the sets.) We had about a month to complete the models. We made them so they could be disassembled and transported to the shooting studio.

Shooting days are always really long and tiring for us. I’m sure for those that do it all the time they become accustomed to the schedule and the pace, but for Lori and me it is exhausting. The plan was to shoot the sets in the morning and in the afternoon they would do the green screen work with Reggie. They had numerous tech guys on set working their magic so the video footage would be ready for the afternoon. It was intense! A huge production crew, plus people from the advertising company, plus a small delegation from Greenpeace, made for a full house. Here is the breakdown of how it went shooting each set.

Alpine Mountain-Three main elements consisting of background mountains, a long line of rolling hills, a grassy plain for everything to sit on. Round hay bales of varying size (to force the perspective) dotted the landscape. Had to flatten one so a small gramophone could fit on top and without thinking I took off a big slice – I had no hay colored paint to touch up. Oops! Flipped it over and had to make due with the unfinished (but painted) underside. The windmill, special ordered from Germany, did not turn as needed. Not realizing it was wired differently, we blew the motor even before we started. Luckily, resourceful guys from their art department came up with a solution and saved the day.

Kathleen adjusts the gramophone on the bale of hay.

Kathleen adjusts the gramophone on the bale of hay.

Alpine mountains and windmill in progress in studio.

Alpine mountains and windmill in progress in studio.

Going old school with a gramophone (it's actually a pencil sharpener!)

Going old school with a gramophone (it’s actually a pencil sharpener!)

Hay there!

Hay there!

Desert- Two main elements – “expansive” open desert with flats of mountains in the distance and a smaller section of desert, elevated and close to the camera, where they could have Reggie do his thing. The spotlight they were using to simulate the sun peeking over the mountains started melting the set. Tried to block out the melted areas with gaffer’s tape and Cinefoil. We also couldn’t get our tumbleweed to adequately tumble across the set. It kept getting caught in trees and things. I think they fixed it digitally.

The full desert landscape. (The tiny people and dog are not in the video)

The full desert landscape. (The tiny people and dog are not in the video. We’re just playin’)

The tiny stage is set for Reggie. They added green screen animals too!

The tiny stage is set for Reggie. They added green screen animals too!

Jungle-  This had one main element with removeable trees for easier transport. Pretty smooth shoot on this one. Got to use the fog machine too!

On set. Almost ready to shoot the scene.

On set. Almost ready to shoot the scene.

Interloper!

Interloper!

Bayou- One big dog pan of water, a box of individual trees, and a handful of paper lilypads. The lilypads proved to be the tricky part here. Lori and I had to pull one across the width of the pan at an even pace. Our fishing line proved to be too wimpy and we had to redo it on set with line from the art department. Also, we lightly stirred the water to make it look more real, causing all our of smaller lilypads to consistently flow to the front of the pan. I got to/had to stand right by the fog machine. It was not vanilla scented like our machine at home.

We only needed the bottom half of the trees, so why make extra?

We only needed the bottom half of the trees, so why make extra?

All in all, another great experience in our little world of set building. It is something we enjoy and hope to continue to explore. Check out the completed videos at Greenpeace Videos

Here are our collection of rulers. This isn't all of them, just the ones we grab the most often.

Here are our collection of rulers. This isn’t all of them, just the ones we grab the most often.

It’s fair to say that Lori and I have different attitudes when it comes to outfitting the studio with the necessary supplies or equipment. I forever have my father’s voice in my head asking whether the item(s) in question are a “need or a want”. It is burned into my brain and I can’t escape it no matter how I try. This internal debate takes up a good deal of my time as I have sometimes agonized over a $2 pack of clay. Pick it up, walk away, second guess myself and put it back. Repeat. It’s just sad. Lori, on the other hand, had no such training as a child. She is from the land of “if one if good, five is better.” There may be some other philosophy mixed in of “life is short, why waste it looking for that one thing. Just get more of them, because hey, you never know when might need a whole dozen of them, and boy won’t you be happy when that day comes and you will have more of that thing than you will ever need”. Or something like that. Over the years I have learned to pick my battles, and that is one I usually give up on pretty quick because my reasoning is often irrational. “I don’t know, because…” never won me many debates.

 

So, it is with great pain that after fifteen years I have admitted out loud, more than once, that boy, I sure do appreciate having a great supply of ______________ (fill in the blank). And then Lori usually acts hard of hearing and she makes me repeat it. But it is true. Couple that with the frequent need for oddly shaped objects – “How will we make those miniature pendant lamps? Good thing we bought the 50 pack of tiny funnels when we were on vacation last year” – and our shopping cart overflow-ith.

 

These days, I tend to view this stockpiling as a necessary evil. Much of our working life now takes place when the stores are closed. Late nights, early mornings, holidays… you get the picture. And as we have taken on more commercial work, their deadlines are often quite tight and there isn’t extra time to run to the hardware store or order materials on line. Thank goodness we have the well stocked “art pantry”. Whether it is a wide selection of plastic tubing, balsa wood, HO scale figures, or fake fur, I have found it our studio when I needed it most.

We are very excited to share that two of Lori’s photographs are in an exhibition at Flowers Gallery in New York through August 30th! The photos on display are Anatomy Classroom and Laundromat. It is a really beautiful show with a wide range of images all spun around the theme of the Interior. At the moment I’m mesmerized by one of Jason Larkin’s pieces, which features small scale, table top sized breeds of cattle. His photo is beautiful, but the cattle models themselves really knock me out!

Find out more about the show at http://www.flowersgallery.com/media/226318/press_release_-_interiors_new_york.pdf. It’s well worth the trip to Chelsea!

Anatomy-Classroom (1)

Smart Home issue 2014

Smart Home issue 2014

Life is pretty crazy right now. Part of what makes it so crazy is that we just made an image for the cover of Time magazine!!  The fact that it is an iconic reference that most people understand is beyond belief. A niche trade publication with low readership is much more our speed — “Post Modern Saw Blades” or something like that (if that is a real magazine,  you have my apologies!) The fact that my mom can get it at her grocery store blows my mind.

So anyway, it’s “The Smarter Home” issue – July 7 / July 14 . Here’s a video that the people of Time made to coincide with the release of the magazine. Hope you like it!

http://lightbox.time.com/2014/06/26/smart-home-time-lori-nix

T-Rex from "Unnatural History"

T-Rex from “Unnatural History”

Photos from Lori’s series “Unnatural History” will open at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia April 19. If you are in the area please check it out. The show will have two new pieces and there will be one of the dioramas on view as well.

“Hi. You don’t know me at all but my partner and I would like to come into your studio/home for an undisclosed amount of time and document you and your process of making a diorama and subsequent photograph for use in a film we are hoping to make sometime in the future. We’re not quite sure about all of the details of the theme, but we’ll figure it out. What do you say?” 

That is not the exact email that Lori received last spring, but it is the basic premise. And that is how we came to meet Nol and Rob, the film duo known as The Drawing Room, www.drawingroomnyc.com. We did some research on them, and eventually said ‘yes’ to their proposal of filming us at work. It began with a basic meeting in our apartment. It just so happened that Lori and I were getting ready to start creating a diorama of our studio, which you may or may not know, doubles as our living room. They loved the idea of recording us building this tiny set inside of the actual place. It’s like the tv on the tv on the tv! What is real?

To fabricate the Living Room scene, we started with the bigger elements. The scale of the scene was determined by a chair that we had already made for an earlier construction. The walls and floor were begun, then we moved onto larger pieces of furniture-the work table, crates, flat files etc…  Most of that falls on Lori’s shoulders. She is much better at building and constructing props like this. Measuring and cutting and careful gluing end up making me batty because I inevitably read the ruler incorrectly, slice the wrong bit off, or spill the glue. Carving, sculpting and spackling all come more naturally to me.

As you can imagine, constructing the scene was a long process. Fitting in studio hours around our day jobs adds a lot of time. But, Nol and Rob were very patient and would come out to the studio every two weeks or so and document whatever was going on. Even our failed experiments. A whole afternoon was wasted as we attempted to vacuum form miniature plastic storage bins. Live and learn (and bitch and moan). They were also quite genial with the fluctuations in temperature throughout the summer. At one point it reached a mere 99 degrees inside the apartment. We were all quite stinky after this particular session. Lori and I generally dress (or don’t dress) for the heat, but we all thought it best if we made ourselves more presentable for the camera.

Merman in the living room.

Merman in the living room.

While they filmed, they asked us various questions about materials, process, our backgrounds, etc… We’d try to give them enough information that they could edit it down to what they needed to fit the eventual theme of the movie. And we’d get off topic quite a bit because we all got along so well. I think one of the most entertaining conversations involved the inevitable (?) zombie apocalypse. Get prepared people!

When we were about half way through construction of the scene Lori got another surprise email. A small museum in the region was putting together a show about artist’s studios called “Inside the Artists’ Studios”. The Bruce Museum is truly worth seeking out. Based in Greenwich, Connecticut, it gives equal prominence to art, science and natural history through its wide range of exhibits. A group of folks from the museum came down to Brooklyn to see what we had going on and were pleased that Living Room would fit their plan for the exhibit. They were interested in showing the diorama as well as the finished photograph too.

Normally, showing the diorama is not even a consideration. The scenes are built for one viewing point. In fact, many of the objects inside the dioramas are only finished on one side to look good for the camera. In the past Lori has made an exception regarding showing the models when it is for educational purposes. (She was part of the “Otherworldly” show at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York in 2011 that featured artists who use models/dioramas for their work) This show would also fit that criteria, so she accepted the invitation to participate in the show.

Knowing that we would show the model, and it was early in the process of building it, we finished the pieces a bit more that we normally might when building it strictly for a photograph. What that means in practical terms is objects were finished in the full round and Lori actually scanned all of the books and cd’s in the living room so that the text and/or artwork was legible. She literally spent days scanning and printing these things. She’s nuts! But, it all looks really good, so I can’t really complain about the time spent.

The one really great thing about re-making the living room in miniature was that if we had a question about the size, scale, or color of anything, we could just go look at the original. One of the questions that the guys asked while filming is did we take reference photos of the living room before  beginning to work.? We did not. The model is not what the studio/living room looked like on one very specific day. It is more of the overall look of the space showing the items that tend to not change over time – the work tables, chairs, shelves. When asked how we would recreate a very complicated object, I told him the truth—I’d leave it out of the scene! Why make myself crazy and take up a ton of time on a non-essential thing.

The Living Room diorama is packed and ready to hit the road.

The Living Room diorama is packed and ready to hit the road.

To prepare the diorama for transportation to the museum was another matter. We constructed it in such a way that the walls could be taken apart and packed into the car flat. Everything that could be glued down to a surface was secured (i.e., all of the items on the tabletops were glued down). Items on shelves were held in place by cardboard taped across the opening (I really did not want to re-shelve all the books and cd’s). Items that needed to remain loose (like chairs and light stands) were packed into small boxes and labeled for easy unpacking on site. We caravanned with the guys to the Bruce Museum. They also filmed us installing the diorama. It was a very long day! A large framed Living Room was hung next to the diorama. A large Subway flanked it on the other side which balanced the whole area quite nicely.

It took some time to get everything into place.

It took some time to get everything into place.

Almost done installing!

Almost done installing!

Rob gets up close and personal with the model.

Rob gets up close and personal with the model.

Filming the filming.

Filming the filming.

Finally opening night for the show rolled around. Rob came up to film the opening too. The show featured two other artists who have worked with artist’s studios as subject matter- Joe Fig and Richard Haas. Their work was incredible and very different from Lori’s . It was a great crowd, very well attended! One guy we met had been an actor back in the day and had done some acting on “Peewee’s Playhouse”. Wow!

As for Rob and Nol’s film project, who knows. We’ll do some more formal interviews and leave it in their very capable hands to bring it to fruition. On the face of it, just saying “yes” to some random guys might seem a little crazy, but that is how we have met some amazing people and become part of some great projects. Can’t wait to see how they pull it all together!

 

The show at the Bruce Museum runs through March 9, 2014. The museum will have a panel discussion with the artists on February 19.

 

Two of the 33 images. Check out the website for the full selection.

Two of the 33 images. Check out the website for the full selection.

Before we get too far into 2014 I want to give a shout out to Lori  for having two of her images included in American Photo’s “33 Best Images of the Year” for 2013. Lori’s Subway and Living Room made the cut along with images by Edward Burtynsky, Bryan Schutmaat, Jen Davis and others in this year’s selection.

The full selection can be seen in the January/February 2014 issue as well as online at http://www.americanphotomag.com/photo-gallery/2013/12/images-year-2013-1

For two days last week we had a French (Canadian) occupation of the studio. A film production crew came down from Montreal to film us building the diorama for Chinese Take Out for the series, “How It’s Made” on the Discovery Channel. They filmed us in the various stages of construction, from basic cutting of foam to taking the photograph with Lori’s 8×10 camera. Lots of repetition of tasks from different angles and close-ups. Four gentlemen made up the crew -Pierre, Luc, Pierre-Luc, and Pascale- and they were great! Very funny and highly skilled, I think they really enjoyed filming the models. A welcome break from large warehouses and big machines perhaps.

We filmed in the studio most of the time, but also on the sidewalk in our Brooklyn neighborhood, near the local Chinese restaurant that inspired the scene. For two people who don’t really enjoy being photographed, filming out in the ‘hood was not much fun. Lots of lookie-loo’s! They finished up the filming by shooting the finished photograph on exhibit in the gallery.

Lori in deep discussion with film crew.

Lori in deep discussion with film crew.

 

Action!

Action!

 

Kathleen shows them how it's done.

Kathleen shows them how it’s done.

 

Pierre, Pierre-Luc and Luc on the mean streets of Brooklyn.

Pierre, Pierre-Luc and Luc on the mean streets of Brooklyn.

 

Luc films the photographs in Lori's show at ClampArt.

Luc films the photographs in Lori’s show at ClampArt.

 

 

A rose between two thorns- Kathleen, Pierre, Lori.

A rose between two thorns- Kathleen, Pierre, Lori.

 

Just because we can... took some footage of the still assembled Living Room diorama.

Just because we can… took some footage of the still assembled Living Room diorama.

Big thanks to our new friends for all their hard work. We’ll post when the episode is ready to air next spring.

Lori discusses the foner points of Living Room

Lori discusses the finer points of Living Room

More people..

Nice crowd…

Nice crowd...

More people….

Lori and friends at the opening

Lori and friends at the opening

 

Thank you to everyone who came out to support Lori’s show at ClampArt on Thursday night! The photographs looked fantastic -big thanks also to Erizan and City Frame for their fine work. The evening was a real success and great fun was had by all. The show is up through November 16, check it out if you get the chance!

ClampArt is located at 521-531 West 25th Street, ground floor, New York City.   www.clampart.com

 

It’s been a long summer, and now that we are easing into fall, and things are almost slowing down, I can share what’s been going on in the studio. Summer is always a very busy time for us, something to do with the extra hours of sunlight help to make it very productive for us. It is so much easier to stay up late working in July than in the dead of winter when it gets dark so early in the day.

We knew Lori was having a show this fall with her New York gallery, ClampArt. The last show there was in November and we were expecting a similar timeline for this one. Big surprise, it was bumped up a month! While that doesn’t seem like much, in terms of building time in the studio it is huge. Seemingly simple things take days to make, so losing a month made us very nervous. But, we are happy to report that we will make the deadline, with hours, if not days to spare. And we just found out that her gallery took out an ad for the show in ArtForum – very exciting! Check it out for yourself.

We’ll post an official announcement for the show once we get it from the gallery. Mark your calendars – October 17, ClampArt, Chelsea – New York, 6-8pm, be there!!

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