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Good news in the Land of Wind-up Dreams! Over the past couple of weeks my studio has been undergoing some renovations in an effort to add a little extra space and added efficiency to my workspace. Wallpaper has been stripped, carpeting has been pulled up, and hardwood floors have been refinished and repaired.

The original 85 year old floor beneath the dingy, water stained carpet was in especially dire need of care. Gouges, discoloration and damage galore! In places, the wood had rotted clear through, and several floorboards needed to be pried up and replaced with fresh strips of oak. Nowhere was this more true than at the far wall where the floor butts up to a cold stucco wall that doubles as a retaining wall for the small orchard at the southernmost tip of my property. There, right beneath the cabinet that holds all my most cherished figures and characters, the condition of the floor was at its worst, and it’s really a surprise that the floor hadn’t buckled under the weight of of the heavy shelves. Termites had long feasted on this wood, rendering the once majestic hardwood to resemble stale biscotti.

No sooner had the cabinet been moved, two boards suddenly crumbled to dust, leaving a frightening hole as the base of the wall.

And there, I made a thrilling discovery!

Hidden in the dark and shrouded by a grey veil of webs was a small cardboard box. I snatched the box from its tomb and swiped away eight decades of dust and grime. Peeking back from the cardboard lid was the impish smile of a kewpie doll beneath a logo identifying the box as the “Property of DREAMSCOPE FILMS.” Inside was the unexpected: a round metal canister, containing a single reel of 16mm film.

Whoa! Weird!!! How long had it been there?!?!

The reel of film discovered beneath my studio

Mystifying though the “why’s” may have been, I was far more interested to see what was on the film than to unravel the circumstances of it being misered away beneath the floorboards of the guest house.

The film had unfortunately not fared well in the decades it had been locked away in its hidey-hole. It had deteriorated badly with most of the tightly wound reel stuck together from one layer of film to the next beneath a bubbling brown ooze. The cells were almost impossibly fragile: cracked, warped, and cloaked by a hazy curtain of faded time. Still, with a pair of white gloves and the patient coaxing of a pair of medical grade tweezers, I was able to free the first few precious frames and spy ghostly images through the light passing through these prehistoric frames of celluloid.

There was definitely something there!

The canister was immediately sealed tight and placed in a climate controlled locking metal briefcase we keep on hand for these very situations. From there, the briefcase was whisked away to the Wind-up Dreams labs (didn’t know we had labs, did you? We do! We do!) where a team of preservationists—led by yours truly—were put to work restoring this precious reel of film to its original state. The effort was eye straining and shoulder burning, as the film was carefully unwound inch by inch, and snipped into individual frames which were placed one after the other in a sequence of labeled acid free envelopes. Some frames were entirely beyond repair, and the best offered no more than a hint about the image contained within. A sample of one of the better frames appears below. Note the deterioration at the edges, spots of decay, and the complete loss of color and detail.

A single frame of film after it had been removed from the decomposing reel

I really didn’t have much hope that we’d be able to repair damage of this extent. Remember… this is one of the good frames! Still, the team persevered, as each frame was washed in preservatives, dried, then—under view of a microscope—lovingly restored. Missing frames were reconstructed from their nearest neighbors. Rips and tears were sealed and blended, and colors—yes, colors!—were brought back to life by delicately hand tinting each and every frame. The results were absolutely astounding! Take a look at the above frame after the team at Wind-up Dreams Labs had completed the restoration:

The prior frame following restoration

The final step was to scan and digitize each frame so that the entire 4 minute film could be resequenced on a computer and set to an appropriate score. Oh! And did I mention that the cardboard box had contained detailed notes from the original filmmaker? It did! The notes were penned longhand on stationary bearing the same DREAMSCOPE FILM logo that had been found on the box. While not at all helpful in identifying who had made the film or how it had come to be, the notes were explicit in laying out how the film was to be scored for viewing in a live setting, with a full orchestra and vocal accompaniment. These notes were absolutely crucial in providing audio accompaniment to the restoration!

And now, without further adieu and for the first time in 85 years… Wind-up Dreams & Vinyl Nightmares is proud to bring you this lost footage!! Enjoy, and feel free to share with your friends!

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After two months of pretty much solid work, my new stop motion animation is finally complete! As I detailed in my long ago prior post, this particular project was fraught with damning sabotage from Forces of the Universe that apparently are not fond of my work. Bad, evil, unsophisticated Forces!

At some point I’m hoping to blog a “how I did it” post to pass along some tips to aspiring stop motion animators, but for now I just want to share the video, as well as the final version of the photo that provided the basis for the piece.

First, the photo:

Lola and Lexi ditch Biology, and never return to the Eleanor Roosevelt School for Wayward Girls

Yep, there it is, featuring at its center The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Sex, published in 1950 and obtained on loan from my good friend, artist Nicole Waszak. In the background are a pair of vintage record covers: Perry Como Sings Hits From Broadway Shows on the left, and Hymns by the Hour of Charm All Girl Orchestra on the right. The Hour of Charm cover was pretty rough, requiring hours of retouching to eliminate dozens of unsightly brown blotches marring the matronly complexions of all those “charming” girls. The photo is divided into two halves, vices and virtues, with three bathing beauties emerging from a pool in the center to worship at the base of the imposing tome.

Lots of other things going on in the photo, of course, and I’m sure you can imagine what might happen next in this visual tale of warring morals, but wouldn’t you rather see (yes, actually see!) what happened to all the characters before I snapped this photo? Where did they all come from, and how did they arrive at the places where you see them in the photo? Who wouldn’t want to see that?!?

Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret… I didn’t actually create this photo. True! Back in the early days of October I was suffering through a frustrating bout of Photographer’s Block. Every morning I’d walk into my studio and stare into an empty light tent. I’d flip through my albums, and glance furtively at my bookcase full of toys.

Nothing.

I was totally blocked and had no idea what I wanted to create. I pleaded with my delegation of plastic presidents. They stared back, blank and unwavering, as if I were a long ago cast ballot. I was disregarded by my zoo of miniature wildlife, mocked by a denizen of devils, and completely ignored by my family of usually dependable kewpies.

Oh, I was all ready to take a photo, that’s for damn sure! My camera stood firm atop a sturdy tripod, trained on the inside of the frustratingly empty light tent where I usually assemble my three dimensional creations. All around were floodlights waiting to illuminate whatever wondrous scene that might spill from the deep, confusing puzzle of my imagination.

Again, nothing.

Well, as luck would have it, one night…

I suppose I left the camera switched ON in misguided anticipation that I might come up with a good idea and didn’t want my creative flow to be interrupted by the inconvenience of flicking the switch from OFF to ON. Or maybe I didn’t turn the camera on at all. Given what was to come, how could such a small detail raise any surprise at all? In any case, the next morning I opened the door to my studio carrying a hot cup of coffee—caffeine to prime the pump and whip those lazy synapses into shape!

There, inside the light tent, was the completed scene you see above. It was like the cobbler and his ever helpful elves! I didn’t question this miracle at all. How could I?!?! My work was done! It was THERE! And I liked it. All I had to do was snap the shutter as if I were taking a picture of a boring sunset falling into a hungry black sea.

Of course, before I could take a picture of what I had found filling the tent, I first had to replace the camera battery. It was dead. And I had to replace the SD card. It was full. And did I mention that of my three floodlights, two were burned out and one had shattered in a frightening scatter of jagged glass?

I turned to my shelf of toys, but not a one offered an explanation, and those positioned inside the light tent played their roles in conspiratorial silence. Quite baffling!

Ah, but I did have a full SD card!

I tucked the card in a pocket and bolted from the studio, crossing the patio to my house in three bounding leaps. I flew up the stairs to my office and jammed the SD card into the reader connected to my iMac.

There were 4,588 photos impossibly stored on this single card. I loaded them into the computer, and this is what I found…

Sometimes, you just get lucky.

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I’ve always been fascinated with videos that capture an artist’s process, whether Hans Namuth’s great footage of Jackson Pollock slopping paint outside his country farmhouse, or Todd Schorr meticulously applying oil to canvas in The Treasures Of Long Gone John. Over the past couple of years I’ve created several stop motion or time lapse videos based on my photos, but I’ve always started with the finished image, working my way backwards, then reversing all the frames to create the illusion of a piece of art being created. For this brand new effort I attempted to capture the process I use in shooting my photos. When working on a new piece I go through a lot of trial and error as I build the stage and compose a narrative story. Figures move around, ideas come and go, I build the basic stage and then make very small adjustments to make sure every object is exactly where it needs to be. The subject for this experiment was a new photo, Hope, Charity and Jade summon forth a capricious blue world, which I began in late November and completed during the second week in December. I placed my trusty Canon SD1000 in the corner of my studio with the lens trained on the inside of the light tent where I build my constructions. Each time I entered the studio to continue work on the photo I’d flip on the camera and capture one frame every 2 seconds. The result of my little experiment was 7 or 8 days of actual work squeezed down into 6 or 7 minutes of fast pasted video footage. And, an over-the-shoulder view into my creative process, from an initially messy “palette” of characters, to a finished construction that became the source subject for Hope, Charity and Jade summon forth a capricious blue world. Check out the full video above, or venture over to YouTube for higher resolution.

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