Film, TV & Stage Sets
Film, TV & Stage Sets
This year marks the start of something new for Grace. Creative Director Shawn Slater, set builder Cary Lyon and I have gathered a core group of talented and willing volunteers from the high school student ministry to assist in the set construction for our main auditorium stage sets and artwork beyond the walls of the sanctuary. This is an example of one such project for the days leading up to Easter this year.
The cross first appeared in the mini-auditorium for the Maundy Thursday reflective service with a purple cloth draped over it. Then for good Friday it was moved to the more prominent main hub and a 7 foot crown of thorns was added. The crown was constructed using pool noodles, foam insulation and paint. By Easter morning, we dropped the crown and added the fresh green lily vines and white lilies in a symbolic gesture of life from death. Families used it as a back drop for photos and was widely praised.
For the past few years, besides playing percussion on the Worship Team at Grace, I’ve been expanding my creative reach at the church beyond the murals in the classrooms to stage set construction. I love to use the talents God gave me to bless others! Creative Director for the church, Shawn Slater and the Executive Pastors decide on a theme for the set and hand it over to Cary Lyon, Tom Hayden and myself to execute. Cary & Tom are the builders and I am the artist, along with a core group of high school volunteers from the congregation.
Represented here is the Manger set which has been used for every Christmas service since with some added animals and more hay, etc. This year they tried two sheep, two camels, and a donkey.
We attempted some rock formations for service one year using frames and paper mache. My volunteers Jacob Seese, Owen Goffigon and Zoe Kumpf worked hard on this piece in extremely cramped spaces. Next time we do this I want to try EPS foam in a larger shop.
But we had fun regardless!
Instead of painting it browns and tans to resemble real rock, which was the original plan, we kept it white so that the lighting effects and colors would be seen at their fullest measure.
The best thing about this set was the round “Rock” that literally rolled away to reveal the tomb within. At the moment of climax we had light pouring out from the tomb, heavy stone moving sound effects, epic, triumphant music blasting…it was spectacular!
Gave me goosebumps. Wish I had gotten a video.
One year a while back I was asked to create some sort of live painting demonstration. I ended up doing something I’ve never done before! Coating a 12 foot canvas in Glow-In-The-Dark paint and using a high powered flashlight to “draw” on the surface. The light activates the glow for a few minutes and then starts to fade. It was an interesting effect and something I would like to experiment with again.
This was a rare opportunity to spend a week with the crew of Extreme Makeover Home Edition and the hundreds of local volunteers to transform a Baltimore house into the Boys Hope Girls Hope house of their dreams. The show was looking for muralists and faux finishers to help decorate the interior and I signed up! Among the projects I worked on was the pink geometric design motif in the common room, the faux aged plaster wall in the French Café bedroom and the ribbon candy chairs in the candy themed bedroom.
It was a special experience, even got to see Ty do his thing!
I was part of a team of artisans responsible for dressing up the ark and making it look pretty for the camera. That meant hiding all evidence of how this enormous prop was assembled. We spent weeks treating the tiny screw holes first with wood filler, then wire brushing the wet filler to match the wood grain, then finally painting them to look like the cedar ark. It was painstaking, repetitive work, but enjoyable - good company.
Another part of Evan's house worth mentioning is the faux rock chimney that was actually a series of fiberglass cast sheets installed by the plaster team and painted by a handful of artists including myself. Two LA painters led the effort. The LA scenic artists had worked for Universal Studios for decades and told us wonderful tales of painting for old TV shows like Fantasy Island and the Dukes of Hazard as well as more recent films such as Waterworld and Pirates of the Carribean. Its exciting to work with such experienced individuals.
This is Evan's house, the "hero" house. Which means the lead actor will use it and the set will generally get a lot of screen time. It's actually a shell of a house as the interior shots are filmed on a sound stage elsewhere. I personally painted the front porch, doorway and assisted painting the rest of the house. As an artist I have not had much experience house painting. On this movie I was fortunate to be working with some of the best, most seasoned painters around that taught me techniques, tips and tricks for this type of work.
In 2005 I quit teaching, joined the IATSE union and began a two year adventure as a scenic artist/set painter for the film industry in MD, DC & VA, working on every show that came into town for those two years including Invasion which was filming partly in my very own neighborhood of Bolton Hill in Baltimore. In fact, the house that was used for Nicole Kidman’s character was owned by a friend of mine and MICA professor.
Among some of the more interesting jobs on that film was this Helipad we painted on top of a building and some faux concrete bases for fake street lights. I was learning so much so fast..it was exhilarating!
In the Spring of 2005, while teaching art in Baltimore City, I was approached by a friend, Becky Schpak, who was just hired as Set Designer for a low budget horror thriller entitled Crazy Eights. She asked me if I would want to spend the summer as Lead Scenic Artist on the picture. Sensing a needed change from teaching, I jumped at the chance and spent the next three months living the life of my dreams! Painting and sculpting props, sets and make up effects were part of my everyday on set at the abandoned Crownsville State Mental Hospital.
Horror Film Scenic Art & Set Painting
In the story, this was the children's play area where they would learn "socialization" skills. It was filled with creepy stuffed animals turned inside out and stuffed back together and a mural meant to seem like you are actually outside on a baseball diamond. This was accomplished by mostly spray paint. I feel we pulled off the illusion, even installing a chain link fence jutting out of the wall to match the painted one disappearing into the distance and hauling in wheelbarrow loads of dirt for the pitchers mound. This was a crucial room because it showcased Frank Whaley's characters death scene.
Some faux metal on luan board for the cellar door scene. We also added a lock fixture that had to be painted to match the existing doors.
This communal bathing room was creepy enough before we got to it, but the director Jimmy Jones felt it needed an extra layer of filth. My contribution was all the rust stains, moss and mold you see on the walls and the tub.
Tracy Lords can be seen receiving some direction before the next take as I included some behind the scenes shots.
During the summer of 2005 I spent my days as Lead Scenic Artist for the indie horror film Crazy Eights in Crowsville, MD. Most of the shooting was on location at the abandoned Crownsville State Hospital where we had our scenic shop and special effects studio set up.
The special effects guy had an overflow of work and passed this project on to me, which I gladly accepted. He gave me the skeleton and I used latex rubber and paint to achieve the withered decayed flesh you want to see in a 30 year old corpse. If you follow the story, this is the remains of Karen, a former classmate/fellow inmate of the cast who was mysteriously killed and thrown into a wood chest never to be seen again until they stumble upon it revisiting the hospital while attending the funeral of another mutual friend. To be fair, Crazy Eights is your quintessential cheesy B movie with a few name actors, but Becky Schpak the Production Designer, and team, including me, did a fantastic job really putting our hearts and souls into creating the sets and dressing the locations for this piece of horror history.
The mummy sat in my basement only coming out for Halloween to scare the trick or treater's until I sold it at a yard sale
for a chunk of change a few years ago.