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Posts Tagged ‘Mystic Seer’

What do you to with your staged creations after you’ve shot your photos?

That’s probably the number one question I’m asked when people see my work in galleries. I’m asked if I ever sell the finished construction as a three dimensional sculpture, or if I have boxes of glassed dioramas littering my attic.

No, I take them apart and reuse all the figures and objects in future photos.

However, as many familiar with my work or YouTube channel know, I frequently take apart my constructions in very deliberate fashion, one component at a time, using this opportunity to shoot frames for animation — either stop motion or a “pan’n’zoom” technique I’ve developed that creates the illusion of a camera slowly moving throughout the composition as objects magically materialize into place. Creating animations is a lot of fun and provides insight into the three dimensional nature of my artistic process. And, as you would expect, the animation work has a process of its own, that (very loosely) looks something like this:

  • Develop a storyboard, in reverse, since I always start with the final image and work my way back to the start.
  • Capture all the frames, again, in reverse, as objects are removed from the scene.
  • Take all the captured frames, load them into my computer, and reverse them so that the animation will now run forward, from the beginning to the final image.
  • Add music and synchronize the action to the music I’ve selected. The end.

It’s that last step that is often the most difficult, as I attempt to choose music that fits the spirit of the final photo, has a complimentary tempo, and coincides with the loose running time of the captured animation frames. Even better if the lyrics or musical queues fit key transitions within the animation. It’s really not at all easy, as the animation is not created for the song, and the song is not created for the animation. When things work, it’s really all a matter of coincidence, a little bit of visual manipulation, and a whole bunch of luck.

tumblr_mocks5lODQ1sv2n9bo1_500

You’re going to Hell if you use our music

A not-so-quick note about copyright
It’s about here that I should note that — apart from one instance where permission was secured (thank you, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult) — I don’t have the rights to use any of the music included in my videos. Nope, it is totally illegal, though I shake a fist of Fair Use defiance at those who would suppress my creatively crafted mashup of audio and video. Still, technically, I don’t have the right to use Norman Greenbaum‘s Spirt In The Sky or my own slightly embellished extended remix version of The Globe by Big Audio Dynamite II to accompany my crazy animations. So each time YouTube flags the audio content of a video on behalf of Warner Brothers (bastards!) or Sony (cretins!) or Universal Music (despots!), I file a dispute to the claimed copyright infringement citing “fair use.” In most cases, the legal rights holders meet my dispute with some degree of kindness and allow the song and video to remain, albeit with the addition of a revenue generating ad. No big deal, the ad can be easily clicked away and viewers can still enjoy my creation. Other times, the legal claimants refuse my case for fair use, and the entire YouTube video is “blocked worldwide”, as was recently the case when I used the AC/DC song “It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll).” Thanks for that, Warner Music!

Sybil leaves nothing to Chance, as she prepares for a romantic evening at 21

Sybil leaves nothing to Chance, as she prepares for a romantic evening at 21

As I set about producing the animation for the photo above (and discussed in Part Three of this update), I was able to quickly develop a visual storyboard that would run from an empty stage to the final shot focusing on a plastic heart lying in a pool of water. Part one of the process done, check! Likewise, shooting the necessary frames was a breeze. This was going to be one of my pan’n’zoom animations where objects are removed from the scene one at a time, with a single photo taken at each step. Where a full scale stop motion animation often requires thousands of individual frames, pan’n’zoom is much lighter weight in the frame capture department. For this project I needed around 120 frames, which I shot, loaded into my iMac, processed, reversed, and — voila! — I now had several minutes of silent video animation.

Now, to pick the music…

And there, I hit an audio roadblock. I wanted the theme to be fortune telling, with elements of palmistry, tarot card reading, and predicting the future. I scoured through my music collection in iTunes, where a massive library of 68,000 songs failed to satisfy (and, yes, I tried using Fortune Teller in all its various versions, but it really didn’t fit). I then went to my stacks of vintage vinyl, sampling dozens of LPs in search of something that could help bring some life to my soundless animation. Again, no luck.

Ah! But then, the proverbial clouds parted and I found the perfect piece of music to accompany my video. All I had to do was add it to the animation track, synchronize things here and there, and… Judge for yourself!

And there you go! A finished and complete video with music from… the… Vinyl Nightmare Orchestra? Ummm… yeah, who are they, again?

Actually… me. Just me. Yep, that weirdly hypnotic tune (good or bad) was completely created by me, on my iMac, to specifically accompany the action of the video. After flailing away so badly in search of the perfect prerecorded song, I was struck by a thought…

Really, how tough can it be to write a song?

The musical center of my brain

The musical center of my brain

Probably, pretty hard, as I’d never written a song, and I can’t even recall ever having aimlessly dreamed up a whistling, humming, toe-tapping original melody. Sure, my head is always filled with music, but it’s always music I’ve heard, either on the radio, in my music collection, in commercial jingles, or riding on an elevator. As far as I knew, the Musical Hall in my brain contains a very large and lonely jukebox, but there is no well of original beats, chords and lyrics. Would that stop me? No way!

So I started up GarageBand, an application I remember opening once before and thinking, “This is stupid; I don’t know what to do.” It still looked kind of useless. I guessed it could be used with a keyboard or a guitar (neither of which I own or know how to play) and I’d heard it could be used to record voices for podcasts using a microphone. Big deal, that wouldn’t help me write a song for my video.

My brain... now with Audio Production!

My brain… now with Audio Production!

Then I discovered… loops — and a long dormant second center of my brain suddenly sprang back to life! Back in college I spent unholy hours working in the production room of the campus radio station, KCPR 91.3 FM, cutting up and splicing together pieces of quarter inch reel-to-reel audio tape for special programs, commercials, and general on-the-air mayhem. It was incredibly fun, and to this day it remains the best “job” I ever had.

With GarageBand’s loops I could essentially do the same thing I used to do in the KCPR production room — though, now multiplied by a factor of about a million. I could lay down tracks of audio, string together tempo-independent beats, pan left, pan right, adjust volume, and add effects. Want some drums? There. Drums. Layer a tambourine on top of the bass? Shake, shake, shake; I have a tambourine. Congas? Sure! Guitar? Why not? Oh my… GOD! THIS IS EASY!!! (It is about here that I am tempted to go into a lengthy diatribe about the ease with which much of today’s chart topping music is made… but I won’t)

Yay! Music! But what about words?

Since most songs include lyrics, I figured mine should as well. Hmmm… I didn’t really want to write lyrics. And, besides, who would sing once these mind blowing lyrics were written? Me? No thanks — even with the help of Auto-Tune (which GarageBand can more or less mimic through pitch correction). Instead I thought it would be fun to chop up a bunch of existing audio sources and basically drop those samples into the instrumental track to “lyrically narrate” the animation.

The Strangest Secret — Earl Nightingale, 1956

I spent some time collecting sources and identifying samples that would fit the theme of the original photo, then constructed the song as a sequence of instrumental passages that could be synchronized to the animation — dropping in vocal samples as needed to punctuate visual transitions and drive forth a narrative. Basically, I was “scoring the film” and writing dialog all at the same time. The record you see on the right, The Strangest Secret, was produced by Earl Nightingale in 1956 as a motivational tool for salesmen (yes, men, the record is VERY misogynistic in its gender roles) in the midwest. It is Earl’s booming baritone voice you hear calling out to “Build! Work! Dream! Create!” throughout the track, and it is audio from this record that provides the bulk of the vocal samples used to construct the song.

Complete list of samples

Because I really, really like to put together lists, here is the full chronological list of samples (apart from those plucked from The Strangest Secret) used in Build, Work, Dream, Create — the first ever recording from the Vinyl Nightmare Orchestra (and, no, I don’t have the rights to use any of these clips, but when has that stopped me from making art?):

  • “Read my future” — Orson Welles, Touch Of Evil
  • “13” — Jo Morrow, 13 Ghosts
  • “13 what?” — Martin Milner, 13 Ghosts
  • “Ghosts” — Jo Morrow, 13 Ghosts
  • “21” — Grace Kelly, Rear Window
  • “It doesn’t matter if it can foretell the future” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
  • “You’ve been reading the cards, haven’t you?” — Orson Welles, Touch Of Evil
  • “Captain Howdy, do you think my mom is pretty” — Linda Blair, The Exorcist
  • “Will I ever be married?” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
  • “Captain Howdy, that isn’t very nice!” — Linda Blair, The Exorcist
  • “What it must be like to be able to look into tomorrow” — William Hansen, Night Gallery
  • “Tomorrow” — Clint Howard, Night Gallery
  • “The sun will be different” — Clint Howard, Night Gallery
  • Sequence Dies Irae — The Nuns of Avignon
  • “I don’t want to know what’s going to happen” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
  • “You may never know! Do you risk finding out!” — William Shatner, Twilight Zone
  • “If we all concentrate on it, and the Ouija will answer it!” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
  • “Oh!” — Grace Kelly, Rear Window
  • “It will! It’s magic!” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
  • “Magic!” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
  • “Dinner at 21” — Grace Kelly, Rear Window
  • “The more things I know about, the more things I can predict” — Clint Howard, Night Gallery
  • “Concentrate now; no cheating!” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
  • “This is the same genuine, magic, authentic crystal, used by the priests of Isis and Osiris in the days of the pharaohs of Egypt” — Frank Morgan, The Wizard Of Oz
  • “You really don’t think that that gizmo can foretell the future, do you?” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
  • “Okay, now somebody ask a question” — Donald Woods, 13 Ghosts
  • “What’s going to happen tomorrow?” — Ellen Weston, Night Gallery
  • “Captain Howdy!” — Linda Blair, The Exorcist
  • “It all depends upon your point of view” — William Shatner, Twilight Zone
  • “It’s not possible to foretell the future, is it?” — Patricia Breslin, Twilight Zone
  • “Your future is all used up” — Marlene Dietrich, Touch Of Evil
  • “This machine is predicting out future!” — William Shatner, Twilight Zone
  • “What do you think?” — William Shatner, Twilight Zone

And there you have it! Give the video another listen (and view!) and see how many you can pick out!

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You may recall a post from back in 2012 where I totally lusted over an amazing product I saw displayed behind glass at Comic-Con — a working replica of a Mystic Seer fortune telling machine made famous in a 1960 episode of the Twilight Zone starring William Shatner. The price of the Mystic Seer was exorbitant, so I sadly left the convention center  vowing to someday own a Mystic Seer of my very own.

The memory of the Mystic Seer haunted me with no end. Questions loomed! Thoughts of mysteries revealed swirled in my mind! How could I possibly continue to live KNOWING that a Mystic Seer could be guiding my every decision? Finally, I broke down, scouring the internet for the Mystic Seer I had spotted at the Con. Amazon, of course, had an outrageously priced after-market version, but not actually having a Mystic Seer to which I could pose the question “is this a good deal?” I had no choice but to pass. Then, I spotted the Mystic Seer at Entertainment Earth for the same price that had tempted me at Comic-Con. I placed my order in July and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Each month, it seemed, I would receive an email from Entertainment Earth updating me on the stays of my order: estimated release date is September 2013… estimated release date is October 2013… estimated release date is November 2013…. Without fail, release was always perpetually just one month away, until one day I received an email that said “your item has shipped.”

How exciting! And, yes, the happy day has finally come! I have a Mystic Seer of my very own!

Ask me a YES or NO question

Ask me a YES or NO question

Now that I have a Mystic Seer (which, by the way, only takes pennies, but what a bargain!) I feel as though I have the weight of the entire universe pressing upon my shoulders, as the prophetic powers of the Mystic Seer cannot be taken lightly! Oh, sure, I could be asking the Mystic Seer some of the trite questions posed on the instructions to the right:

  • Does she love me? (doubtful)
  • Will I become rich? (well, I can afford a Mystic Seer)
  • Is my future bright? (of course!)

But I believe it is my sworn duty to be asking the Mystic Seer questions that will reveal futures that will benefit all of humankind. My pledge to you, the regular readers of my blog, is to regularly ask the Mystic Seer important questions to guide our collective pop culture lives and actions. Who knows, the Mystic Seer may eventually have his own prognostication web site!

The first question posed to the Mystic Seer (which actually took place yesterday morning): Who will win the Super Bowl? 

There you have it! The Mystic Seer CORRECTLY picked the winner of the 2014 Super Bowl!! If this is not proof positive to the Mystic Seer’s window into the future of the unknown, I don’t know what is!!

The Mystic Seer!

The Mystic Seer!

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July already? Well boys and girls, you know what that means… Comic-Con! I’ve been attending the annual pop culture fest for more years than I care to remember, and owe a large chunk of my sublime collection of Weird & Unusual Things to exhaustive hours wandering the darkest corners of the cavernous exhibition hall. Without Comic-Con, many of my very best photos would not have been possible, as the exhibition hall has been the source of everything from Frankenstein flashlights and lascivious lobby cards, to plastic body parts and scandalous paperbacks.

How was the shopping at this year’s event?

Hold on tight as we snake our way through the costume-filled aisles and take a look at some of the wonderful things that tempted (and sometimes defeated) my wallet!

Original Beatle Bobbleheads — $950!!

Our first stop is at a vintage booth near the front of the hall where I spotted the above set of original Beatles bobblehead dolls from the early 1960’s. Those of you familiar with my photography have no doubt seen the smaller (and far more sadistic looking) version of these dolls in many of my conceptual art pieces (examples here and here). This figures are much larger, and actually bear a reasonable resemblance to the Fab Four. Best of all, they were RIGHT THERE on the faux velvet tablecloth where anyone could pick them up or tap their bobbling brows to watch them nod along to whatever Beatle classic that might be floating through your head. Under those circumstances, and with the really good stuff saely locked up behind glass… how expensive could these really be, right?

Try $950. There. On the table.

No, I did not buy them. But I did make their heads bobble. Ooooooooooooooooooo!

The Private Life of Helen of Troy — John Erskine, 1947 edition

Having just saved myself almost a thousand dollars, I was now empowered to seek out more reasonably priced collectibles and ventured into one of the dwindling few booths that still sell vintage pulps and paperbacks. There, I was very excited to feast my eyes on the incredible paperback to the right. Oh wow!! Just the kind of thing I would buy! Well, except for one problem, quickly corrected as I fumbled for my reading glasses to better make sense of the price sticker.

$50?!?! Hopes dashed! Magnificence shattered! Desire unsatisfied!

Another cool item that did not pass the wallet test, but I took a photo of the cover all the same for a couple of very good reasons:

  1. It’s just so cool!
  2. To collect as much information on the book as possible, as the search now begins for a more affordably priced copy.
  3. The author… John Erskine! Coincidence of coincidences, John Erskine was the author of another amazing book that just so happens to be a feature player in my most recent photograph!! Is it any wonder that Erskine wrote The Influence of Women… and its cure, after putting Helen of Troy in a Victoria’s Secret catalog?

Quick! Run with me from this booth before reverse buyer’s remorse gets the best of me!

Onward we trudge through the sweaty masses and stumble upon…

Mystic Seer fortune telling machine!

OH MY GOD IT’S A MYSTIC SEER MACHINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Just like that famous Twlight Zone Episode starring William Shatner (Are we going to live in this country?). They actually worked and dispense fortunes on specially printed Mystic Seer cards.

How long have I wanted—no, needed—a Mystic Seer machine of my very own? Wait, that’s not a Yes or No question and the Mystic Seer would be of no use. Let us rephrase: Would a Mystic Seer machine make my life even more wonderful than it already is??? The answer, of course, would not be the usual read-what-you-will mystic ambiguity; it would be a resounding YES!

Oh… but as you can see from the photo, the Mystic Seer was locked up in a glass case, and that spells dollar signs that would require an affirmative response to question number two on the boldly printed examples. Worse, to the left of this traditional red Mystic Seer was a limited edition silver model (signed by William Shatner, by the way!), and while any color but red could not possibly be trusted to lend guidance on one’s mystic journey, the mere presence of a limited edition model had to add up to big bucks.

In this case: Glass Case = $250 for the red model, or $500 for the limited edition.

So, no, I do not have a Mystic Seer sitting here beside me that—for the bargain price of a copper penny—would be able to predict whether or not you, the reader, are enjoying this post. I just have to wing it.

But I will, someday, have a Mystic Seer.

Creature from the Black Lagoon bust

It seemed as though collectibles from my distant youth were popping up to tempt me in every aisle of the exhibit hall. Everywhere I turned enticements plucked at the strings of my memory, calling out, “Hey! Remember me? You like me! You want me! Buy me!” There were DVDs of old TV shows, vintage toys, horror comics I remember buying (without telling my parents) off the rack in Mission Beach, and… our friend to the left: The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Last summer I wrote a collection of posts on “Really Scary Things,” but completely neglected to mention the Creature! When I was a kid, the Creature from the Black Lagoon was the ultimate monster! All it took was one wide-eyed viewing of the original 1954 film on Science Fiction Theater—San Diego TV’s Saturday afternoon horror show—and I was hooked! The Creature was gross and scaly, and breathed through bellowing gills. His webbed hands were HUGE! The size of canoe paddles and tipped by razor sharp claws. He was inhumanely STRONG, and was relentless in pursuit of his startled prey. I thought the Creature was AWESOME! But he was also kind of scary because, you know, monsters could be real, and we happened to live up the hill from a large lake that didn’t look… all… that… different… than… the Creature’s Lagoon! So, yeah, I was fascinated by the Creature—but also scared and a little freaked out by the Creature. And isn’t that what makes all the best horror work?

Note!
Incidentally, just in case you’ve never seen Creature From The Black Lagoon, it may have the most immediately identifiable “monster movie” score of all-time.

Dunt-dunt-DUN! Dunt-dunt-DUN!

Yeah, that’s exactly how it goes. See for yourself.

Back to the scaly fellow above who was trapped in a glass case on the convention center floor.

When I was a kid I had a Creature from the Black Lagoon plastic model kit that I built and painted (badly), to honor my favorite movie monster. Really though? What am I going to do with a giant bust of the Creature? My home decor is adventurous, but tasteful, and I’m afraid a giant green amphibian cast would push me beyond “edgy” into full-on weirdness. Besides, I already have a small Creature on display in a bookcase along with his Universal monster friends.

I have no idea what he cost, but it was an easy decision to pass on my beloved Creature.

Original Major Matt Mason — Not for sale!

Another icon from my past is pictured to the right: Major Matt Mason, on display—and not for sale!—in the toys-of-yesteryear section of the Mattel booth. Matt Mason was an awesome toy figure created during the space race before man had actually landed on the moon. How cool was Matt Mason? He had a jet pack! That’s right—a jet pack! Everyone is always complaining that “we were promised jet packs.” Well, Matt Mason had one! Okay, in reality it was a doo-hickey that attached to his back that zipped along on a string… but if you had any sense of imagination, IT WAS A JET PACK!

Beside the jet pack, Matt Mason was cool because he had posable arms and legs. See the black accordion things in the photos? The accordion joints allowed his rubbery spacesuit to bend and remain in position. In reality, Major Matt Mason was filled head-to-toe with a substructure of stiff wire that sooner or later either broke (resulting in limp limbs) or poked through the rubber turning Matt into a saber wielding space maniac that could scratch and puncture the delicate flesh of his adolescent astronaut cadets.

Mattel had all kinds of Major Matt Mason figures and accessories on display in pristine condition. I rarely see Matt Mason figures anywhere—including Comic-Con—so it was a delightful treat to see him standing inside the glass case with his trusty space helmet at his side! Amidst the menagerie of space stations, moon suits and space sleds were a pair of Major Matt Mason accessories I had as a kid: the much coveted ATV Space Crawler and one of Matt’s space “buddies” (?!?) Doug Davis riding his Space Tractor. Each of Matt’s fellow astronauts wore a different colored suit and Doug Davis wore yellow.

No, Major Matt Mason was not for sale, and that was probably a good thing, locked glass cabinet and all. After the Beatle Bobblers, the jiggling Helen of Troy, the Mystic Seer (whose demonic head bobbles, by the way), and the Creature cast, could I bear yet another incident of exhibition sticker shock? Or would the temptation break me? Would I make a mad dash through the hall, filling my arms with limited edition wonders, as gleeful vendors stripped fat rolls of greenback from my pockets? Surely, Comic-Con 2012 could not pass without me making a single pop culture purchase; could it?

To learn the answer to these and many other crucial, overly dramatic questions… stay tuned for Part 2!

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