29 June 2006

Self-indulgent Blog Post Time!

My lovely wife did a new round of headshots yesterday, and it gets me thinking . . . I need new headshots.

I'm coming up on the one year anniversary of my last acting audition. I know, I know, it's not like I've been slacking off or anything. But I feel that surge in my solar plexus whenever I pass copies of Backstage West on the magazine rack that says "get your ass out there."

During the run of the last show I was in (Director's Cut), I was so ashamed of my headshot that I actually removed it from the foyer display when no one was looking. (Yes, Gabrielle, that was me.) I hate the thing. It makes me look about fifteen years older, and the shoot was such a pain in the ass -- you can see it on my face.

I was cast directly off the headshot once. Some indie film was shooting a horror flick in the desert, and their bad guy dropped out at the last minute. The director called me in a fluster and asked me if I was free for a week. He said "We'd like to use you ... I mean, you look just like Willem Dafoe!"

No offence to Mr. Dafoe, I think he's a great actor, but no one wants to be told they look like Willem Dafoe. And it must have had some truth to it, because I hadn't auditioned for these people, I just sent them my headshot and resume.

In person, people typically tell me I look like another celebrity:

I don't know ... he has a much stronger chin. But I hear it all the time. Back when he was dating J-Lo and making such well-received films as Jersey Girl, Daredevil and Surviving Christmas, it was a pain in the ass. Now it's just mildly annoying. I usually retort with "Yeah? And you look like Carol Channing!" but most folks don't remember who she is anymore.

What was my point? I don't know. I need new headshots.

Wow - what a difference a shotgun mic makes!

I did a test run yesterday. The on-camera mic picks up so much camera noise. The shotgun mic on the other heand seems to actually cancel out the poor acoustics of my home office! All you hear is the subject you're pointed at. Stellar!

It's an incredible difference, and one you'll hera once the new DAHT episode is posted (hopefully over the weekend. Don't hold your breath.)

28 June 2006

Punch update -

I found a couple of great online resources:




Punch show puppeteers, or "Professors" as they're called, seem to be very open and giving with helpful tips and info. Everything from free Punch scripts to where to buy a swazzle is covered. Punch is hardcore, open-source folk art. I dig this kind of thing!

I'm thinking of sculpting Punch and Co. out of Sculpey brand polymer clay. I was first exposed to Sculpey as a puppet building tool on a pilot I performed in. The puppet builder used Sculpey to create the eyes and nose for a cat character. Incredible stuff, very versatile.

27 June 2006

I received my shotgun mic today. I'm looking forward to playing with it!

During my recent educational excursion, it was pressed home to me just how important good sound is. I started to panic. If you haven't noticed, my "video sketchbook" DAHT has pretty crappy sound. The on-camera mic just won't do.

Ideally, I'd put my puppeteers in headset mics. That's what the pros use (and by "pros" I mean "Henson"). Well, the rig I'd need for that kind of a set up is a bit out of my budget. On "Uncle Grizly", Adam Brody used an overhead boom. The sound turned out great, even when Russ and I were on our backs and partially obscured by set pieces. We didn't ADR anything. So I started shopping for a mic.

The "cheap-o" solution I found was the Audio-Technica ATR-55, as pictured above from the Audio-Technica website. The retail price is $100 but I found a new one on eBay for about $50. My camera doesn't have a headphone socket (!) so I may need to finagle some kind of pre-amp/splitter deal. I have a great set of Sony Studio Monitor headphones, so at least my ears are covered!

The more pressing issue now is where to shoot! I've looked around, and the cheapest soundstage I can find is about $300 for a full day. Plus insurance! Yikes! I know that somewhere in North Hollywood there's an empty (or semi-empty) warehouse that I could "borrow" for a Saturday. I just need to find it!

24 June 2006

Words of Wisdom from the Creator of Ren & Stimpy

I've been following John Kricfalousi's blog ever since Andrew from Canada pointed to it in his blog. John K said something in the comments section that I feel is equally applicable to puppet shows, web-based or otherwise:

"Cartoons are like music to me. Regardless of whether the story is great or not, the whole experience should be pleasurable to the senses.

"It should earn the right to have you pay enough attention to see if there is a story worth thinking about."

This is what the Muppets got right from the start. It's actually kind of fun to pop in the Ed Sullivan dvd, and reflect on just how crappy some of the "stories" are. Where there is an actual story and not just an abstract idea. But who could argue with how visually arresting those gags are? Even something like "Mahna Mahna" is short on story, but a "pleasure for the senses".

Well, I certainly don't want The Felties to be visually boring or painful to the senses!

23 June 2006

[MSN Spaces logo]


Huh? Can MSN do that? Come on ... it's the same logo!

(MSN Spaces is Microsoft's MySpace rip-off. Ubuntu is a Linux-based free operating system. Ubuntu was unvieled in October 2004, MSN Spaces in December 2004.)

UPDATE: On 11/27/07 I noticed that MSN Spaces has changed their logo:

The idea is basically the same, but at least the rip-off isn't as glaringly obvoius.

21 June 2006

Disembodied Animal Head Lessons

So episode 5 of DAHT has been uploaded to www.daht.blogspot.com. And what did I learn this time?

1. Watch the frame. You can see the top of the backdrop (and the wall behind it) throughout the entire "monologue" section.

2. Have plenty of coverage. Editing can save a performance if you have enough footage to cut away to. Piazza says:

Servile to all the skyey influences,
That dost this habitation, where thou keep'st,
Hourly afflict: merely, thou art death's fool;

... and there is a cut away to Tex, who is raptly watching. The three lines of Shakespeare were patched together from a couple of different takes. I cover my patchwork by cutting to Tex. I really had to dig for that shot of Tex -- I should've had better coverage!

3. Script dialogue shot non-linear. It's tough to improvise two separate characters having a conversation and being shot out of continuity to each other.

4. Lower the volume on off-camera, overlapping dialogue. It heightens the illusion. (It sounds like the microphone on Tex is picking up Piazza "off-camera" when the volume is slightly lower)

5. Block out enough time for post-production. It's so damn key. The writing, puppet building, set building, casting, rehearsing, lighting, and shooting are important. But all that is generated by pre=production and production are the raw materials that become the finished work in post.

6. Keep the edits tight. Loose edits feel unprofessional. I'd really like to post an example of this ... maybe if I can squeeze out the time over the weekend. What a difference half a second makes!

As always, I'm happy to continue this silly little series if only so I can learn how to do it right. DAHT is smaller scale than The Felties, and is really more of a web series "sketch book" I can use to hone my skills. I realize DAHT looks rough, but then sketch books often do!

20 June 2006

Real Men Eat Quiche ... and Do Pilates!
[Don't worry, I tie this into puppetry at the end.]

I never understood why "real men don't eat quiche". Quiche is egg, meat and cheese. It's like a baked omelette, and most guys I know do eat omelettes. I guess since "quiche" is French, it naturally has a patina of girlishness. And "omelette" originated where exactly? The Isle of Man? We'll drop this line of inquiry for now, and move on to the main course:


I was attracted to Pilates, not because Danny Glover said it changed his life, but because I am lazy. Very lazy. My idea of cardio is to sit around naked in a sauna for half an hour (which, by the way, is very effective cardio. No joke.) Joe Pilates developed his workout program for invalids in a military hospital. His first students were bed-ridden. Any workout routine that can be done from bed has my immediate vote of confidence. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say-no-more.

So I tagged along with Pamela to her Pilates class at Soma in West Hollywood. (Yes, I took a Pilates class in West Hollywood. I'm comfortable enough in my own manhood to admit that.) The instructor, Talia, is a dynamite Aussie who really knows her stuff. She's not the namby-pamby, frou-frou type, but neither is she a harsh, militaristic drill-master. She's unrelenting, but absolutely concerned about the well-being of her charge. I appreciate those who can simply give directions and corrections without it becoming an ego-trip or a constant stream of apologies. Talia's great!

Anywho, Pilates kicked my ass. Believe me, this is not merely "stretches for dancers". This is hard core, gut-check stuff! And for us guys, it's good. The drum Joe Pilates banged all his life was the importance of strengthening the "power house", the abdomen and lower back. Think about how many old guys you know who are slightly stooped and constantly complaining about lower back pain. Pilates is supposed to prevent that.

When I first started looking into Pilates, it occurred to me that this was a perfect form of exercise for puppeteers. Puppetry involves body contortions and strain on the "power house". Even if you're so lucky as to have a "built up" set, you still have to stick your arms way up over your head for unbearable lengths of time, bending at the waist just enough to keep your bowed head out of frame. I don't do marionettes (as episode 3 of Disembodied Animal Head Theatre demonstrates) but I imagine leaning over the rail to manipulate the puppet takes quite a toll on the lower back.

Anyway, Pilates is pretty cool and it's worth looking into.

(By the way, so is quiche!)

19 June 2006

From Hugh Macleod:

(I had this conversation with myself in the shower the other day.)

13 June 2006


Here's what I wrote, April 13th, 2006:
"It fills me with shivers of delight to reflect on how marvelous the whole Ren Faire scene is. I would like to be a part of that scene as a performer, but it occurs to me like any other venue, it helps to have at least a toe in the the scene. In other words, I don't know how likely it is a long-established Ren Faire is going to book "Sir Andrew and his Marvelous Punch and Judy Extravaganza!" for its worldwide debut."
Never say never, right?

I've been approached to put together a traditional Punch and Judy show for inclusion in a program that brings culture to school children. The same program has more than a toe-hold in the Ren Faire circuit, so there you go. Right now, I'm learning all I can about Punch and Judy, which is pushing my "info-gorge" on pirates to a back burner. (Remind me sometime to tell you about my Pirate idea.)

Punch and Judy-style puppetry is completely different from the "muppet" style we're all used to. It doesn't even resemble Mr. Rogers-style, although the puppets are similar in construction. For a glimpse at a Punch and Judy Show, take a look at this odd little video: Santa Claus' Punch and Judy, dug up and posted by the AV Geeks. You'll have to sit through some pretty creepy footage of Santa Claus, but trust me, the puppet show is worth it.

After my conversation with the producer yesterday, I took a whack at designing a Punch. Keep in mind, this is without any real research on the matter, aside from what I did in college as part of an info-gorge I did on commedia dell'arte:

I fell in love with commedia in college. We were staging "The Miser" by Molliere, and we dug deep into the commedia tradition for inspiration. (Molliere used the classic commedia "types" in his plays.) The director had this brilliant notion of separating the acts of the play with "intermezzi" -- comedic interludes between the main action. These intermezzi were silent bits of slapstick, sometimes employing traditional "lazzi" (well-rehearsed, stock gags from the commedia tradition).

That summer, Pamela and I went to Italy, and I was in commedia heaven. On our last full day, we tracked down a Punch and Judy show, and laughed our way through it, along with a dozen kids.

(Mr. Punch is the English great-great-grandson of commedia's Pulcinella.)

This is a second attempt at Mr. Punch. He looks like a dog.

Attempt number three. Mr. Burns meets Mr. Punch!

Ahhh ... fourth time's the charm. Combining the successful elements from the first few attempts into a fairly decent interpretation. I love the admiral's hat, but I'm not sure if it's correct.

The challenge for me is to really honor the tradition, and not just bring forth a shallow, Americanized imitation of Punch and Judy.

As for all you die-hard Felties pre-fans out there, don't worry. I'm not going to let this derail my myriad other projects (my play "Sonny" will be staged this year! The Felties will be shot! DAHT will be updated ... eventually!) I need a rather large amount of stuff in the air in order to feel adequately challenged artistically. Besides, one day one of these ideas is gonna catch, and I'll be able to quick my day job!

Imagine all the free time! I may start another couple of blogs!

(BTW - I wish I could take credit for the beautiful Punch at the top of this page. Alas, I cannot. It was drawn by Mr. George Cruikshank in 1881.)

12 June 2006

Tuesday's Artists I Love

Joe Sayers, cartoonist:

Pam and I were sitting around at the Los Feliz 3, waiting for "The Breakup" to start. (Very funny film, BTW.) This couple in front of us erupts in laughter. There's a pause, and then more laughter. Pause, laughter, pause laughter ... you get the idea. Usually it's Pam and me making obnoxious asses of ourselves in public, laughing for seemingly no reason. I was pissed! How dare this other couple be as fun and cool as we! I had to know what gave them the nerve to out-fun us. I peeked over the back of the chairs and saw they were reading "Frat-Bot and Cod"

After the flick, we wandered next door to the cute little book shop, to find a copy of this piece of hilarity. We found it, it cost $2, we bought it.

Sayers is funny in that "Far Side" way - playing around with preconceived notions and absurdity like he's playing with Legos. He does a weekly web comic here called "thingpart" (The strip above is from this series.) Check him out and buy some of his stuff ... he's got t-shirts!

The Felties: Set Design part three

Well, I wish the transformation was more spectacular. I guess this is more of a lesson in the subtleties of scenic design.

I vaguely remember a conversation I had with my set design professor in college. I was preparing a model of a set I designed for the American College Theatre Festival (ACTF) regional design competition. This set was a monolithic puke-pile of raised platforms and ramps that really "owned" the black-box theatre it was designed for. There was not much room for the actors backstage, and the audience was mere inches from the edge of the acting space.

redeeming an otherwise mediocre design were the stained-glass windows I designed and built (with help from Garrick and moral support from Pamela.) They hovered around the set, each one signifying a different locale. The icing on the cake was a very elegant lighting design by Rodney Fadely (where the hell are you, Rodney?) that added mystery and intrigue to an otherwise clumsy design.

Anyway, I tell the Prof. "You know, I think I may win this competition. My model looks great, with all these miniature stained-glass windows and working lights." The Prof. kind of shrugged and said "It's almost better not to win." His point was that a truly well executed design is never noticed. The audience accepts it so completely that they never have any attention on it. No attention = no awards.

This brief moment of college history is my way of saying the set design for The Felties is still pretty bland (or "subtle") at this point, but I consider the evaluation I did last time a success.

Here is the earliest sketch I can find for The Felties set (a.k.a. the "Svelte Felt Bachelor Pad.") Booooring.

So I did my Principles of Design evaluation long hand, in one of my composition notebooks. As I was writing, I had a mild epiphany: One of the consistent things about the Felties, puppet to puppet, is the basic silhouette. The upside-down "U".

So I did a little thumbnail sketch:

Like I said, not a very spectacular breakthrough.

Spanish arches! Of course! It unifies the design of the apartment with the design of the puppets!!! EUREKA!

I shared this breakthrough with Pamela, who promptly reminded me that I did name the apartment building "Casa de Manos", so Spanish-styling would only make sense. I kind of chuckled: I named it "Casa de Manos" because The Felties universe is very Southern California inspired (lots of Spanish names around here -- Los Angeles, San Diego, La Cienega, etc.) and "Casa de Manos" means "House of Hands" (The Felties are hand puppets.)

So next time, to wrap up this little mini-series, the finished design for The Svelte Felt Bachelor Pad. Will I just rip off the Three's Company set and be done with it? Perhaps ...

07 June 2006

The Felties: Set Design part two

(See part one here.)

I left off at "stylistic consistency" and the Principles of Design. Then I turned off my computer and realized that this is turning into a freaking "Intro to Art" lecture. So we'll just skip over the part where I go on and on and on about how artistic design works, and get right down to the meat and potatoes: how all this applies to the set design for The Felties. (If you are interested in the art lecture, I recommend you read this article by John Lovett. The terminology is different from what I use here, but it'll give you the right idea. Googling "Principles of Design" will unearth a plethora of other articles on the subject.)

As I learned them, the Principles of Design are:

- Balance
- Contrast
- Focus
- Rhythm
- Unity

So I'm going to do a real brief evaluation of The Felties, using the Principles of Design as my guide:

- Balance: The Felties are very symmetrical, with occasional touches of asymmetry (Such as Mimey's beret.)
- Contrast: Very basic. Mimey has a very vertical shape, yet wears horizontal stripes. Contrasting colors are sometimes used (Pupsumoto's skin tone is pink and his armor is green). Very simple contrast, when employed.
- Focus: Their faces/heads. Mimey's head is almost as big as the rest of his body! This is the most expressive part of these puppets.
- Rhythm: (also "repetition" or "pattern") Patterns have been kept to a minimum on these puppets. Mimey wears stripes because he is a mime. Clownie wears a very simple star pattern. Pupsumoto's kimono has a very simple floral motif.
- Unity: Skin tones are all basic felt colors - pink, yellow, white, blue, grey, etc. The shape of the puppets is basically the same, with minor variations (the "upside-down 'U'"). Facial features are very simple; suggested rather than realistic.

Okay, so there is the evaluation. Now I'm going to take what I wrote above and design a set that is stylistically consistent with the design of the puppets (thus extending the "unity of design" to the environment The Felties inhabit!) Stay tuned, true-believers, for part three of this series!

01 June 2006

DAHT news:

I'm officially calling this thing a bi-weekly series. One thing I've learned is it's damn hard to do an episode a week. Heck, I've only done four episodes in eleven weeks -- Bi-weekly is going to be a stretch! I think it's safe to say at this juncture that The Felties will not start out as a weekly series.

I have updated my "flagship" CafePress shop, DAL MOTION PICTURES, with official Disembodied Animal Head Merchandise!

In addition to the fine black t-shirt you see to the right, the site features a wealth of items sporting the Dal Motion Pictures Logo, and a couple of other DAHT tees bearing Tex's mug, as drawn by yours truly.

I can't produce DAHT (let alone The Felties) with just my charm and good looks. As much as I wish I could. As soon as I'm up to a decent number of episodes I'll start selling DVDs, but in the meantime, I need to buy some sound equipment and lights, build a set and rent a space in which to shoot The Felties. I'll have original art for sale on eBay soon, and there's also my children's book at Punk Rock Kids. I'm trying to open up my economic flows.

I can be a bit more candid here (this is a "behind the scenes" type blog) so there you go -- open honesty about finances. In the coming days I'll unleash my money-making schemes onto the DAHT site, couched in such a way that ... well, you'll see!