Saturday, February 20, 2010

"Turn the bats handle as a watches needle . . ."

When I first made the decision to go BIG with Big3D, I needed to find some equipment that might be helpful. I had worked in 3D on a much smaller scale with paper sculpture and was used to hand tools like rifflers, files, sanding discs, exactos, etc., To do the work I had in mind now would require some mechanical help. So I spent many hours searching the web and trade publications for any and all machines that could help me in my quest. This was back in 1995 - so I use the term "the web" loosely here. Certainly primitive by today's standards - but I persevered. I had just about given up when by accident I came across a French site that had developed computerized hot wire machines. The still photos they showed were so exciting to me - giant hunks of styrofoam cut into so many complicated shapes. I called them the next day only to find no one who spoke English. So I emailed them and asked for a brochure and their VHS (!!!) tape they offered showing this machine in action.

I waited by the mailbox like a war bride for a many weeks. It finally came and I was not disappointed. The video showed just the mechanical help that I would need to start making big props. I was sold - even though they had only 10 of these things in all of North America and there was no USA support. They did have a teeny-tiny tech office in Canada with one person who spoke English. There was nothing left to do but get a 2nd mortgage on the house and leap off this cliff with faith in my wings and visions of giant kangaroo signs in my head.

Who knew that the machine would take forever for them to make? And then be stuck in customs for 8 weeks as officials figured out what the heck this funny looking thing was used for? I have no doubt that post 9/11 it would not have even been let in the country. I can still feel the excitement of when the truck arrived and unloaded this huge box/crate onto the driveway. My destiny had arrived! We unpacked it layer by layer - like peeling an onion. It kept getting smaller and smaller until all that was left was this meek looking treadmill-like apparatus. This thing was going to change my life and release my creative yearnings? Maybe the manuals would help. Maybe once we got it assembled it would look more impressive.

The first shock came when I found all the manuals were in French. Technical, computer French. Technical, DOS computer French. OK - not a problem - I would call the English speaking tech person in Canada and get a new set of manuals. Well, 3 weeks later the manuals arrived. They were in English I suppose but a "Frenglish" version of English. It was the goofiest kind of English you could imagine. We sat with a French-English dictionary for days on end trying to interpret the meaning of a sentence. When we finally figured out that "turn the bats handle as a watches needle" really meant "turn the knob clockwise" we finally gave up. We just threw away the manuals and used good old mechanical know-how, trial and error and logic to put the thing together. We got it going just like we have conquered most all of the other business challenges we've had since then - by the seat of our pants and with a leap of faith.

I came across that manual the other day while searching for some old photos and just had to laugh. What a time that was. We went on to make tens of thousands of dollars off that little machine. And even now - with a shop full of cutting-edge equipment and software - we occasionally get a job in that only that piece of equipment can do. So we dust off the cobwebs, clear the storage boxes off it and crank her up. It's like an old friend coming to visit as the screen lights up with a bright: "Bonjour!"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I had been making my living as a paper sculptor in the illustration and fine art world for many years - happily running my business, Jeanotilla Design. Dimensional art in all forms had always appealed to me. I had a gift for it. That was why I originally got into paper sculpture. But I had been wanting to do larger and larger work for a long time. Work that could be touched by people - not separated by a frame. Work that would last outdoors for years if need be.

So this was my frame of mind as I sat having lunch with a friend at a local Outback Steak restaurant about 19 years ago. I was going on and on about how I wanted to do BIG dimensional work of some sort. I looked up just then and above our table there was this fabulous carved Outback sign with a big kangaroo on it, boomerangs, exotic trees, aboriginal patterns and the like. It was bright and fun. It was covered in tactile texture I could not resist. It just begged for you to run your hands over it. "This! This is it! This is what I want to do. I want to create really cool work like this."

And so I did. That epiphany at Outback fueled my hours and weeks of searching for the ways and means to create signs like that. I pretty much jumped off the 3D cliff based on my faith in that epiphany and the clear vision it provided. I learned new techniques. I bought new equipment. I researched all manner of tools, coatings, chemicals, hardware - you name it. I changed the name of my business to Big3D Productions, Inc. and began. If I could make something like that - that brought me so much joy to look at and brought the business owner such recognition and good will - I would be thrilled and grateful for the opportunity.

It's soon going to be 20 years ago now, but I have never forgotten the feeling I had sitting there looking up at that cool sign. And I am still thrilled and grateful to make my living by creating such unforgettable things. Things that make people run their hand and eyes over it and say, "Cool."