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This past week I had the great pleasure of seeing Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots — a musical version of the concept album from The Flaming Lips — now playing at the La Jolla Playhouse. Rumors of a musical had circulated for years, so I was pretty excited when the announcement for the show came sometime last year; more so when I discovered it would be playing in my own backyard, and would be directed by Des McAnuff who has put on an impressive list of on-to-Broadway shows that originated at the Playhouse (where there’s not a bad seat in the building).

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Being a fan of the Flaming Lips and the original 2002 album I was expecting an audio and visual treat, and I was definitely not disappointed! Even before the show began, as the near capacity crowd began filling the seats, you sensed that this performances was going to be a bit different than most. Maybe not dancing-animals and Wayne-in-a-space-bubble different, but surely a step up from a straightforward telling of, say, West Side Story. For starters, the entire stage was bordered by a wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling “portal”, as if the audience was inside a spaceship watching the story unfold somewhere out in the cosmos. As the audience slowly made their way to their seats the portal was black, dotted by twinkling stars, and a three dimensional globe of the Earth slowly spinning in space — part of the well-synchronized visual effects that drive much of the performance.

Once the globe floated away and the performance began… yes! It was the music of the Flaming Lips in all its weird, spellbinding grandeur, mixing songs from Yoshimi as well as tracks from 2006’s At War With The Mystics. The arrangements stayed very true to the originals, and I thought the cast did a great job taking on the lyrics of Lips vocalist of Wayne Coyne. Though, during the intermission I overheard one patron sharing her confused concerns with another person, “Is it me, or is the male lead really messing up his vocals?” She was referring to Paul Nolan, who was intentionally adapting his vocal delivery to better match the way Wayne sings. And Wayne, for all the character and depth he brings to the Flaming Lips songs, is not your typical pitch-perfect, belt-it-out-like-you’re-Liza vocalist. I thought this choice worked very well for the music and story.

And what of that story? Okay, so Yoshimi is caught in a biotech battle of antibodies and lymphoma, with the pink robots being metaphor for her battle with “bad cells.” In parallel there is a bit of a love triangle that too easily resolves itself, and some humor involving Yoshimi’s family. But the story is really tertiary to the music and visuals — which are amazing!!

Pink robots zoom around the stage, Yoshimi (spunkily played by Kimiko Glenn) flips and flies, video flashes, planets float, and music thunderously crashes down upon every scene. So cool! My favorite character was the giant illuminated robot you see to the left, whose movements are precisely animated by several unseen puppeteers wearing black. Considering that the robot doesn’t speak and really doesn’t have a face, the work of the puppeteers and lighting crew to give this behemoth emotional gravitas was truly astonishing.

While I loved the play, so much so that I’d really like to see it again, I have to be honest. If you are looking for the perfect gift to get your grandparents for Christmas (after all, aren’t tickets to a musical usually a pretty safe bet for grannie and gramps?), Yoshimi might just confuse them a little.

Huh? What are all those pink things? Why are words appearing up in the sky when that guy punched his finger into his palm? I don’t get it. Why don’t they play any nice songs like Oklahoma?

However, if your grandparents (or anyone you know) like to be challenged by imaginative music and fantastic visuals… Yoshimi is just the thing!

Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots plays through December 16th at the La Jolla Playhouse and is well worth seeing! Catch it now, or wait for it to (hopefully) make its way to Broadway.

Yoshimi — she’s a black belt in karate!

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People, have been after me for ages to post a few photos of my studio, and it seems as though it’s always that “next thing” on my long list of tasks. Well, guess what? Today, finally, is “next thing” day!

Behold! We step behind the Lego gates that border the grounds at Wind-up Dreams Studios!

Okay, so I don’t really have a gate made of multicolored Lego bricks, but the studio is tucked away behind a stucco and red-roofed wall in the converted guest house in my back yard. Here’s a nice view from the back courtyard.

Wind-up Dreams Studio — exterior view

The studio holds all my vintage vinyl LPs, along with a stockpile of essential equipment for creating my art: toy figures, alphabet blocks, old books, and kewpie dolls. Oh yeah, I also have a bunch of photography equipment such as tripods, flood lights, and a light tent where all of my creations are constructed, staged, and shot. The studio is the place for shooting my photos, with all post production work taking place on an iMac inside my office in the main house.

Entrance to the studio. No, really, I’m quite friendly.

Let’s go inside!

View from just inside the door. Messy!

And there you go. Nothing too fancy. Just a single small desk, a chair, and a whole lotta “stuff.” My main work area is inside the light tent you see on the right. That’s where I build the three dimensional scenes that are the basis for my photographs and videos. Beyond the light tent is “toy land” where my crazy array of toys and trinkets are stored. Actually, that’s not completely true… Many of my extra special figures are on permanent display inside the main house, with small collections of interesting figures occupying almost ever room. When called upon, those figures magically come to life and wander out to the studio while I am a sleep. One day, I’ll be stuck on a particular composition, and the next morning I’ll awake to find that a clay devil pounding on a drum has somehow made his way from the main house out to the studio to stand in exactly the perfect place to complete the photo. Amazing!!

Note!
Please shield your vision away from the lacy white curtains and the horrid floral print on the window valances. Those are left over from the previous owners who had papered the entire room in a similar pattern. And covered the bed with the same floral print. And shaded the lamp with, yes, flowers. And upholstered the white wicker furniture in the same wicked print. And laid white carpet. It was a 1970’s Holly Hobbie nightmare. I’ll change out the window treatments, I swear.

The back corner of the room is for lighting and tripods, records are on the left, and alphabet blocks are just inside the door and out of sight.

A, B, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K…

The storage for my alphabet blocks doubles as a TV stand, which actually doesn’t do me a whole lot of good since cable doesn’t run out to the studio, and I’m only able to pickup a handful of digital broadcasts using rabbit ears—which is just as well, as I’d MUCH rather listen to music as I work. The little bookshelf speakers on top of the cabinet are hooked up to a wireless receiver so I can stream music from iTunes inside the main house out to the studio. Random shuffle is my best friend!

Interesting coincidence
The purple cabinet was originally brown, and it was a fixture behind the counter at my parents’ drug store. There, the cabinet was used to display rolls of 35mm film.

Here’s a better look at the vinyl records I frequently use as background source material for my photos.

Stacks of vintage vinyl. Probably 500 LPs to choose from.

Record storage was becoming a huge problem in the main house until I discovered these LP-size milk crates at The Container Store. Each crate holds 50 or 60 record albums. They’re easy to move and flipping through the crates is a breeze while looking for a background to catch my eye. To the right are stacks of 45 RPM singles. Being an engineering bordering on OCD, I recently organized all of my 45’s by label color so I don’t have to go searching for a particular color to top a stack of records in a given composition. I’d formerly find myself taking apart whole constructions looking for a 45 of a particular color because I’d buried my one 7″ single on Sun Records somewhere deep within an elaborate stage set.

45 RMP singles. Yes, organized by label color.

The box beneath the 45’s contains a veritable army of kewpie dolls, all acquired for the installation I had on display during my Seven Signs of the Kewpie Apocalypse show in 2010. I don’t let them out much. I’m afraid of what they may do.

View from the toy cabinet looking back towards the entrance

Super cool art hanging in the studio!

You won’t find a lot of art on the walls of my studio. Not because I don’t want art on the walls; I do. Unfortunately, the walls are not particularly conducive to driving nails. While the main house is generous in its use of the finest construction methods of the day (remember, this is 1927), the studio—nay, guest house—nay, “servants quarters” (which was, in fact, the original function of the room)—the walls of the studio seem to be constructed of concrete blocks covered with plaster, which makes hanging art an exercise in frustration. To the right is one of my favorite pieces—an enlarged page from the Space Happy coloring book that’s been decoupaged on the surface of a kitchen cabinet and embellished with glitter.

Dinos! Cowboys! Battleships!

Hanging opposite Space Happy is the awesome mixed media piece you see to the left. It’s a mosaic on a big ceramic tile created by one of the developmentally disabled adults at St. Madeleine Sophie’s Center in El Cajon, California. St. Madeleine’s is a wonderful organization that has done immeasurable good tapping into the creative talents of students throughout San Diego County. My sister gave me this piece for Christmas several years ago and thought it was a perfect addition to my fun filled studio!

Elsewhere in the studio I have posters of work by Keith Haring and Jackson Pollock, as well as an instructional cool poster outlining bad behavior in India. In a couple of the photos above you’ve probably noticed a large lobby poster from Forbidden Planet that had been on the wall in the big empty space above the record crates. Curse you, concrete walls, curse you!

Way over on the other side of the studio is where you’ll find most of the objects I cram into my photos. At the center is the Cabinet of Pop Culture Curiosities, which we’ll explore in all its candy-colored glory in a few moments. Above the cabinet is an assembly of shells, stones, and other interesting things first created by my artist friend, Anthia Linou. Over time the installation has changed a little, with new pieces added and older pieces moved or removed as occasions have arisen to use elements of the installation in my photos.

Far wall. Toys! Books! Stuff in boxes!

To the left and in front you see a jigsaw of boxes and containers, each containing a wide array of recently acquired figures or toys that overflow beyond the red wooden walls of the cabinet. I have a general idea of what is hidden where, but I’m frequently surprised by what I find as I open boxes and hunt through bags searching for a specific object to to be positioned within my latest three dimensional diorama.

Vintage books used to construct my scenes

Right of the cabinet is a bookshelf of oddly collected books, many of which have made appearances in past work, and almost all of which at one time or another has been used out of sight as supporting structure for my gravity defying stage constructions. Beyond what you see in my finished photos is a calamitous construction of records, blocks, Legos, and books, as I often need to build platforms and scaffolds as a base for objects and figures to be “level” with my chosen background imagery.

As we teased earlier, the real stars of my photos are the vintage toys and figures that perform as “actors” in the scenes I create. I’ve been collecting toy figures for years and years, and before committing my work to a studio these figures once-upon-a-time occupied playful space in my office from my days as a software engineer. There, they were scattered all across my desk, danced precariously atop my computer monitor, and mingled with manuals on the bookshelves. It was a fast paced, high tech life to be sure, but my toys are much happier living life together in my studio!

The Cabinet of Pop Culture Curiosities

With a little close inspection you’ll notice that the shelves are more or less organized into zones of common purpose—sort of like the sections in an encyclopedia. There’s the presidential section, the cowboys & Indians section. The kewpies all stand together, rubbing their cute little pink, green and yellow shoulders with Buddahs and nuns. There’s a musician section. An animal section. An army section and a skeleton section. Then, we have the geography section, the bumper car section, the rubber food section and the Egyptian section. Outer space is on the top shelf, and the realm of Monster Women is down below. It all sort of makes sense and provides me with the palette from which I add character to my images.

Want a closer look? Let’s go!! (Click on any image to get a nice close-up view!)

Doesn’t that make you want to run off to a toy store and buy a bunch of toys? I do feel bad, though, that accommodations are so crowded, and—worse!—so many great figures and toys are still locked away in the darkness of their shipping containers. One day I hope to devise a better way to store and display my cast of willing characters so all will have equal chance to catch my eye and find a spot in upcoming photographs.

We’ll wrap up this studio tour with a quick look at some of the equipment I use when capturing my photos.

The light tent where I construct all my photos

Above you see the setup for a typical photo session, with a 30″ EZCube light tent sitting on a table top, and floodlights surrounding the cube. The gauzy fabric allows light to bounce throughout the inside of the tent which cuts down on harsh shadows and other lighting troubles. The lights in the back are simple low wattage desktop lamps that are used to illuminate the inside of the tent while I’m working without sucking up huge amounts of electricity and otherwise acting like a personal tanning salon. The floodlights in the front are each 500 watts, which blaze with heat and illumination to pretty much simulate the sun inside the tent. In front of the tent and hidden just inside the fabric flap is my camera—a Canon XTi with a really nice L-series lens that allows me choose from a variety of apertures and zoom as necessary for a given stage construction.

The light tent with three floods. Get ready to sweat!

About a year ago I decided that simulating the light of the sun was not good enough—I wanted to simulate the light of many suns! So a third floodlight was added that could be positioned above the tent for even more control over light sources. The current setup is shown at the right with the staging for Despite her parents’ righteous determination, Baby Haley dreamed to follow her own path contained within.

And there you have it!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this short trip into Wind-up Dreams Studios, and if you come across any interesting and unusual figures that would like a home amongst the devils, nuns, kewpies, and presidents… Please! By all means send your recommendations my way!

Thanks for visiting!

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Freeloader that I am, over the weekend I got a brief admission-free peek at the La Jolla Classic Car Show, which takes place every spring at La Jolla Cove.  Tickets for this event usually cost $40 or so, which seems kind of silly considering that the show is setup in the center of a small park, surrounded by a public walkway that loops around the exhibition area “protected” by a low white picket fence.  This means that anyone can stroll by and gaze across the grass at all the vehicles on display, completely free of charge.  Of course, you can’t sit in the luxurious interiors or inspect the meticulously spotless engines, but to that I say… feh!

I strategically timed a walk to the beach to coincide with closing time, at which point I, and all the other not-so-classic-car riffraff, was able to cruise through the main entrance without a ticket and enjoy what was left of the show as the tents were coming down cars were carefully wheeled away.

So what did I see?

An honest-to-god blue metallic and chrome Tucker!  You remember the 1988 film starring Jeff Bridges, yes?  With a production run of only 51 cars, the innovative Tucker was way ahead of its time, but doomed to fail in the face of strong opposition from the rest of the automotive industry.  It was pretty cool to see one in person!  And here it is!

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Pretty cool, yes?

Also on display during my free time in the exhibition was a Delage, which is kind of a French Rolls Royce, though I’m sure by simply typing that I have offended both Brits and French alike.  To my eyes, it looked like the kind of car the villain in a James Bond movie would drive.

How about those fancy pipes coming out of the engine canopy?

One thing is for sure about these classic cars… they are monsters!  Sure, it would be fun to own something like this for slow cruises up and down the block, but good luck squeezing all that metal into your garage!

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Humankind survived!

Yes, it’s true.  Despite an army of untold numbers of kewpie dolls, robots, monsters and animals descending on La Jolla this past July, the exhibit has ended.  The kewpies were relentless and put up a good fight, but in the end they were simply no match for my superior height and my ability to grab their little plastic heads and drop them into a big cardboard box.  Everything is now safely tucked away in my studio — kewpies, monks, record albums — where no doubt the kewpies are already plotting and planning their next attempt for world domination (I hear those whispers coming from the stacks of boxes in the corner… don’t think I don’t!).

Before packing everything up I managed to capture the kewpies in their native habitat, roaming the ledges of the Pannikin and standing proud atop each of the framed photos in the exhibit.  The footage is rough, but I was being pursued by a posse of the small plastic imps while I was filming, so I had to complete the video in one long tracking shot before escaping into the daylight to tell me tale of kewpie mayhem.

Either click the video above, jump directly to YouTube, or visit the new and improved video page of my site.

Have fun!

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Unbeknownst to her Creator, Eve longed to become a cheerleader

Exciting news in Wind-up Dreams land–we are now offering Unbeknownst to her Creator, Eve longed to become a cheerleader (shown above) as a limited edition print! Unlike our other limited editions, Eve is printed on beautiful Fuji Pearl paper to give the image a brilliant, metallic-like finish (all the better to enhance Satan’s fiery gaze).  And priced at just $125, it is now our lowest-priced limited edition.  While it’s currently listed in the etsy shop, it won’t be available for shipment until Monday, July 26th because we’ll be attending Comic-Con this week. (!!!)  Reserve yours today and add some devilish fun to your world for a decidedly un-devilish price.

If you’re going to be in San Diego attending the Comic-Con convention as well, please swing by Pannikin Coffee & Tea in La Jolla and see the latest photo and slide show extravaganza, Seven Signs of the Kewpie Apocalypse.  It’s running through July 30, so you still have time to check it out.  Speaking of slide shows, have you seen the incredibly fun stop-motion animation video for the making of Eve?  Well what are you waiting for?!?!  Check it out here on our newly re-designed Videos page.  And if you can’t make it to Comic-Con, don’t feel left out!  We’ll be tweeting live, so follow @johnpurlia and/or @windupdreams on Twitter to see pics of the kookiest costumes and undoubtedly hilarious overheard conversations about Star Wars, Futurama, and loads of other geeky fun.

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Last week at the Opening Reception for the “Seven Signs of the Kewpie Apocalypse” exhibit, people really enjoyed the stop-motion animation and time-lapse videos that were created for Unbeknownst to her Creator, Eve longed to become a cheerleader and Financial Freewheeling and the futile pursuit of the American DreamWe didn’t want to leave anyone out, so we’ve posted them on YouTube!  In the videos, you can see how the still life dioramas that eventually become the photos are created. The Eve video was created from 2,100 separately shot and edited photographs after the actual gallery photo was shot. The action was then storyboarded and the animation was shot in reverse. The entire production required about 8 weeks of work.

The Financial Freewheeling video was created from time lapse footage showing the construction of the photo.  The video was actually created during the deconstruction of the diorama, one shot every two seconds, then played back in reverse to create the effect of “building” the final scene. You can also watch the video, “The Fantastic Plastic World,” which shows the installations that were on display as part of the exhibit “And The Beat Goes On” at the New Puppy Gallery in Los Angeles last year. The four videos also feature super fun music by Fantastic Plastic Machine, Moby, and James Brown, and Nina Simone. The last new video that’s been posted is a retrospective of select works from 2004-2010. AND, we’re also excited to announce that these videos can be found on a newly re-designed Videos page on the Wind-up Dreams site. Feel free to leave comments and let us know what you think.

Of course, you can still see the videos and photos live! in person! at Pannikin Coffee & Tea, La Jolla, CA through July 30.

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Big news in the land of Wind-up Dreams…

My next solo exhibit, Seven Signs of the Kewpie Apocalypse, will be running from July 3rd through the 30th at the Pannikin Coffee & Tea, La Jolla, CA. Lots of fun surprises are planned including the latest batch of new photos, a separate room filled with custom framed Album Editions, and… my first video installation! Wind-up Dreams & Vinyl Nightmares goes live on the big screen (well, actually, a smallish 22” TV with a built-in DVD player) with stop motion animations, slide shows, and other visual stimulations to frighten and delight. The gallery will also be jammed packed with cute kewpies, killer robots, cheesy record albums, and alphabet blocks.

Fun for all!!

An opening reception is planned for Saturday evening, July 3rd, from 5 to 7PM (or maybe later if we can get a big crowd). Come on by and cower in cuteness as the Pannikin falls under the transformative spell of the…

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