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!"

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