August, 2008

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Every light casts a shadow.  Even though so many people tell me that I have the "greatest job in the world" making monsters (and coincidentally, it SHOULD be), the truth of the matter is that with the rise of CGI work, we've been kicked to the curb and rarely are appreciated or given the chance to showcase what we are capable of doing. 

Frankly, I've grown tired trying to fight for concepts or opportunities so I've decided to make this web site to have fun again.  I LOVE making monsters.  I love Halloween and everything associated with it, but that love is not shared with many Hollywood suits.  Business is business, but if you're not having a good time, why not just shovel shit somewhere?  (Can I say that?)

PHANTOM HARBOR will be an on-going experiment.  At CalArts, my mentor Jules Engel showed an animated version of The Tell-Tale Heart that was produced at UPA and narrated by James Mason.  I loved the loose, almost surreal use of still, manipulated images and rough animation to tell a horror story.  My hope is that PHANTOM HARBOR will be a site that will feature animated short films (2 to 6 minutes) that will deal with Ghosts, Monsters, and the Supernatural.

I decided to host the show myself as the fictional Captain McAllister, the sole survivor of the wreck of the Sofia Maria, doomed to present these macabre tales...Should be fun!

I'm not sure if everyone gets what I was trying to accomplish with the style of the opening, so I'll attempt to explain it like this:  "What would Irwin Allen's title sequence for a horror show look like if he was producing it for The Wonderful World of Disney?"  That's what I was after.

I drew all of the illustrations, scanned them, took them into After Effects and manipulated them.  And then....I did...gulp...some ROUGH sequential drawing animation.  Using a home made light board that fit three hole office paper, I animated the light house beam and the coat of the captain.  To you animators out there, that would be done in an evening, but to someone who hasn't animated since Jules Engel's class in 1980 it was fairly daunting, but rewarding.  I think those flourishes help immensely and I'm looking forward to doing more.

The ironic thing is that now that I'm in my 40's and have spent nearly 25 years in animatronic creature effects, I've begun animating for myself as a hobby! 

I became interested in Stop Motion Animation at a very young age.  My initial hero was Willis O'Brien, the animator and designer of the effects for the original KING KONG. I really LOVED dinosaurs as a kid and that may have been from seeing KING KONG on television.  I told my parents I wanted to be a paleontologist.  I saw ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., VALLEY OF GWANGI, and WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH in theaters when they were initially released and that really fueled the dino-mania.  But it was seeing STAR WARS for the first time tipped the scales and really pushed me into the pursuit of Motion Picture Effects.

Although I enjoy traditional 2-D animation, there was some sort of mysterious excitement that came with three-dimensional animation - the armatures, the models, the miniature sets...it just seemed like the closest thing to seeing my childhood toys come to life.

Using simple wire armature models, I made some rough Super-8 films featuring dinosaurs and spaceships, you know, all of the goofy kind of stuff that Ray Harryhausen had done in his early years but with none of the expertise.  In my youth, we didn't have the plethora of information about how to accomplish this, so I bought every book on special effects I could get my hands on that included just a page of information (or misinformation as I came to learn) about Stop Motion.

Believe it or not, I met Eric Larson in 1979 in New Orleans.  My father was a entertainment columnist in New Orleans and Eric was doing publicity rounds for a re--release of SLEEPING BEAUTY.  Before my father's interview, he called and told me that I should grab a bunch of my drawings and come down to the French Quarter where the interview was to be conducted.  I had no idea who the hell Eric Larson was.  I had no idea who any of the classic Disney animators were at that time.  My knowledge of animation was basically: DISNEY, WARNER BROTHERS, HANNA BARBERA, FILMATION, TERRYTOONS, WALTER LANZ, and RALPH BAKSHI...If it wasn't that, I didn't know what it was.  I was interested in Special Effects.  My animation heroes were Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen who were Stop Motion animators and not cel animators.  But what the hell, my father rarely took an interest in what I was doing creatively and what the hell else was I going to do? 

Since this was nearly 30 years ago, I can't remember where we met.  It may have been in the restaurant of a hotel, or perhaps the Court of Two Sisters restaurant, but I do remember that I was wearing a brown turtle neck shirt and a brown fake leather jacket....yeouch!  After sitting and listening to Eric speak to my father about his participation in SLEEPING BEAUTY and to explain the stylistic choices they made on that film, I began to truly be interested.  I thought he was absolutely fascinating.  And SLEEPING BEAUTY was truly one of my favorite of the "Princess" animated films up to that point - hey, there was that bad ass dragon at the end of it!  At the conclusion of the interview, my father introduced me to Eric who was very kind to me.  He patiently went through my drawings that were NO WHERE NEAR the caliber of the drawings that I came to see from the Disney school students at Cal Arts.  However, Eric turned to me and spoke about what my future interests were and when I told him where I wanted to end up professionally, he still recommended Cal Arts.

He IS the reason I pursued CalArts.  If it weren't for Eric Larson, I wouldn't have met any of you wonderfully talented nut ball animators and my life would have suffered for it.

When I got to CalArts, I thought that I would attempt to make a short film about Beowulf (no joke) and I had done some initial designs.  I had even sculpted and made a mask that I had hoped to use for close-up work of the Grendl character.  Alas, watching Rick Garside SLAVE over his Stop Motion Film (I can't count how many favors he called in from fellow classmates) the dea lost its luster.  At that time (early 80's) Animatronic Creature Fabrication

iwas exploding and it seemed like a faster, more viable alternative.  Alas, hindsight is 20/20.

Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen, George Pal, Art Clokey, Jim Danforth, David Allen and Phil Tippet are giants of Stop Motion and I always draw on things they've accomplished when I'm looking at making monsters or producing a visual sequence for film -   not mimicking them per se, but looking at the way that they approached a visual challenge and what they did to push the envelope a bit more.  I think audiences will see that PHANTOM HARBOR's content will start simply and then get more and more ambitious as I learn along the way.

We won't see boobs and blood.  This isn't a splatter journal and I'm not a fan of tittie-terror.  Though I acknowledge that much of what are considered successful horror projects tend to draw on overt sexuality or graphic carnage, my belief is that it is unnecessary, especially to such a short format.  I don't feel like I have to maintain an audience's interest for an extended time so I can just say what's on my mind quickly.  Now this isn't to say that there WON'T be blood in the stories. How could you tell a vampire story without blood? By graphic carnage I speak of the masked serial killer or gore for gore's sake. 

We will see stories about creatures, ghosts, and weird tales that center around a horror character.  We will learn about Captain McAllister and why he's stuck in this existence, telling these tales, separated from the woman he loves who passed centuries earlier.  It's all a bit gothic, that's what I'm looking for.

I'm currently working on my pilot episode which is NOT an original story but my reading of Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley.  It will be limited animation using key images and some sequential drawings. Like I said, it is an experiment, but one I hope will get folks jazzed.

Horror has such a wide spectrum of appeal, from those who like the old Universal Horror Films like Frankenstein and Dracula to those who love splatter and gore like Hostel and Saw.  Eventually, I'd like to include a blog for Horror fans where they can communicate with me via "The Cap'n" but I'm going to see what my bandwidth issues are first.

Honestly, this site will appeal to those who have read the old Creepy and Eerie Warren Publishing magazines of the '60's and '70's.  I think there is still an audience for this type of horror that, frankly, is scarce these days.

Right now, I'm providing all of the content for PHANTOM HARBOR but I hope to host a contest (if the site is successful) where I'll accept stories from fans and then produce the winning story for the site, but until then, everything rests on my shoulders.

I don't want to be perceived as being on a giant ego trip by constructing this site and making these films, but the truth is that sometimes I believe that one artist's vision is stronger than a committee of people struggling to find a compromise that "we all can live with".  PHANTOM HARBOR will give me a chance to show the nightmares that rattle around in my skull and because I've not enjoyed a career as an animator, I'm not locked into a style.

The intention is to make films that use different styles: live action, stop motion, manipulated photography and illustration as the projects dictate.    I always invite assistance and collaboration but that generally comes in the form of building things that are beyond my talents.  I have a talented pool of friends and colleagues at the studio where I work that look for excuses to do things and, in the past, I've provided them with opportunities to step out of their boxes and do things that they enjoy but don't get to do during their work day.  Like I said before, we're just trying to have a little fun.   

This June saw the death of my friend and mentor Stan Winston with whom I had worked from Aliens to Jurassic Park.  He taught me so much about pushing forward and attempting to accomplish the impossible.  He had such a child-like enthusiasm and a great eye for design and I hope that some of that rubbed off on me while I worked for him.

I'm going to use a portion of the quote from the program of Stan Winston's funeral: "...the guy who pursues his art and finds pure joy in his creativity - that guy wins."  I guess creatively, that is what I'm after.  I'm not looking to market this or sell it (If someone makes an offer, however, I'm not an idiot).  I really want to do this for the fun of it.  I want to feel like I do at Halloween when I decorate my yard, put on a creepy make up and then scare the kids in my neighborhood.  We all have a great time that will live with them as they get older. 

I can't recall all of the houses or the people that dropped candy into my treat bag on Halloween night, however I CAN recall anyone that made an effort to transport we children to another place that evening.  The ones who put together cardboard haunted houses or smeared oatmeal and latex on their faces, those are my real heroes and the ones that fuel me to this day.  If I can get just a fraction of that enthusiasm across on my site than I'll feel like I've done my job.

I'd like to see the return of the monster to the screen.  Now, I'm sure people are going to start rolling their eyes and saying things like: "What about Cloverfield or The Mist?  Those had monsters in them."  Though that is true, those monsters only served as a plot complication for very character driven stories. 

Think about Godzilla for a second and push past the goofy performer in the suit and the confusing story lines and just think about the concept.  The Japanese created a character that has survived five decades with no international stars attached to it or big international directors involved with the franchise.  It is a monster.  Pure and simple.  Like it or not, it has spawned such a huge following of devoted fans who argue about which film is the best, which monster is the greatest, and why they started to suck when they introduced digital technology.  Isn't that fantastic?!  A guy in a lizard suit steps on a model railroad set and it connects with people around the world on a gut level.  True it isn't for everybody, but the same could be said about Wuthering Heights, right?

We're not through with monsters, tiny to monstrous.  Made in labs, or from outer space, I think we will always have room for them in our psyches.  I read some place that good Science Fiction is a twisted reflection of our society.  I think the same thing about monsters and horror films.  And, without getting political or sociological, there are more real monsters roaming our planet now that I feel many of us could use a good SAFE scare to relieve a little nervous tension. 

See you in your nightmares!

Shannon's site should be up August 22!


Part 4: Chickens!

You know what's scary? Its August already. Since the last installment, the garden has exploded with vegetation.

What's Done
Onions, lettuce, broccoli, and peas.

In mid June, I pulled the onions. Donna placed them on a drying rack in the garage and we've been enjoying them ever since.

After I cut the lettuce, some of it grew back- not as heads, but as stalks with lettuce leaves (see picture below. We're still enjoying fresh lettuce.


The broccoli kept producing sprouts until late July, though bugs chewed their leaves to bits.

My peas were a bust - maybe a dozen pods, and that's it. I trace this disaster to the beginning. I had just one packet of seeds, which seemed to be plenty as per the instructions. But Dad said I needed to buy a pound of seeds, dig a long, shallow trench, toss them all in and cover it up. "That's what ol' Normy used to do!" (Ol' Normy is picking peas with Jesus now.)

On in July:
Zucchini, squash, cayenne chilis, bell peppers, and cucumbers. And chickens.

Imagine my surprise to find a garden full of chickens. I don't remember planting any eggs, but sure enough....

These are but two of a dozen little hens belong to Dad's neighbor, Dave. It was cute when I thought they were eating worms, but I caught these little pecker-heads eating my tomats! This never happened to me in Toluca Lake!

Zucchini are like creatures from a sci-fi horror film. One day, they're little cute, flowery pods. The next day, they're mutant green monsters. The trick is to get them before they become billy club. Donna uses the mutants for zucchini bread and zucchini brownies.

Zucchini brownies?!

Oven at 350 degrees F
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup GRATED ZUCCHINI
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar

In a LARGE BOWL stir DRY ingredients.
In a SMALL BOWL mix zucchini, milk, walnuts, vanilla, egg.
In a MIXING BOWL cream butter and sugar. Add wet and dry ingredients.

Bake in 8x8 pan for 35 minutes. OR a bread pan for an hour.

On Deck for August:
Tomatoes, corn, and lima beans.

Tomatoes just don't seem to want to ripen. They spite me, as if they know about the salminella scare.

We just started to pick corn the last week of July. If I could post a taste of this corn on-line, you'd lick a hole in your computer screen. Its truly the sweetest corn you'll ever have. No salt, no butter.

I also picked the first of the lima beans. I was going to leave them until I had more to pick, but Dad said that if the pods go dry, the vines will stop producing. Since he was right about the peas, I figured I'd better listen this time.

What's New:
Okra, Rutger tomatoes, Japanese tomatoes

To make use of the space vacated by the onions and the peas, we bought some new plants at a roadside produce market. Japanese tomatoes were described to us as black when ripe. Why not? Rutger tomatoes are a late season variety, so we can stretch out tomato season as long as possible. Okra, I've never grown. There's Jambalaya in our future!
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