23 September 2016

inDELLible Comic Anthology!

I had posted this in September, 2016. It was my first real attempt at becoming published with a comic book anthology. The book is now being published in a limited print run.

I’m excited to announce that I am returning to my Comic Book roots and will be illustrating two short stories for the inDELLible comic book anthology!

inDELLible is an homage to Dell Comics, a Golden Age comic book publisher whose works are now in Public Domain. Their anthology will include several stories from many talented writers and artists. I’m humbled and honored to be part of the team.

inDELLible is headed up by Editor James Ludwig, Assistant Editor Dave Noe, and art directed by industry veteran Dærick Gröss Sr.

I will be working with Bill Cain on “Naza”- who is a prehistoric warrior looking for his lost love, and "Captain Tornado"- a two-fisted space opera adventurer; and with Brian K. Morris on the “Masked Pilot”, a 1930s hotshot aviator.

We’re in the beginning stages now, but I will be able to share concept art and perhaps a few panels here and there—time to roll up my sleeves and clean up the studio!

23 August 2016

10,000 DRAWINGS... will give you such a crick in the neck!

I always get excited when someone takes an interest in my artwork. I get even more excited when that person also likes to draw but needs some encouragement. It really is about convincing yourself it’s okay to draw and not be where you want to be. It should be exciting- it’s like looking out the window and getting ready for a roadtrip! I don’t mean to sound trite- but it really is about the journey. I had heard somewhere that we have 10,000 bad drawings in us, and it’s up to us to get them out. It’s similar to the 10,000 hour rule- spend 10k hours practicing a skill to become world class. I believe it. For me, it will probably be 30k… but that’s all on me.

I had realized something recently- and it’s taken me a long time to come to this conclusion… but if anything, it’s this: Art is more than the final result. You must ENJOY the method.

You have to like the act of actually doing it! The art is secondary to the act of putting pencil to the paper- of putting paint to the canvas. Once you find that feeling, then the rest is easy… you’ll do it because you enjoy it.

One thing, though, is it becomes difficult when you’re not supported by your loved ones. And being tolerated is not the same as support. That said, you have to do it anyway. If it’s a problem with them, they are the ones that are the problem. Doing the art becomes an act of courage- to overcome the guilt they inflict. That’s the hardest thing to do. And it goes back to the first thing- you have to do it because you have to want to do it, you have to enjoy the process. Even if you can’t do it at home, find a place to do it outside of home- whether it be on a lunch break or take a day off and make it a day for yourself.

Then there’s the whole thing of comparing yourself to others. First off, it’s not fair to you or even to the other person. Your experiences are completely different, and you’ll be on different stages of your journey. Personally I find this very hard. There are so many artists I want to draw like, but then I must realize none can draw like me. I am always striving to get better, but I have to learn to love what I draw. And, after many, many, many years of drawing, I do!

I see a lot of younger incredible artists with amazing ability- but most of the stuff out there looks the same. Disney or Anime inspired. Technically they’re gorgeous, but it’s all the same voice and none of it is distinctive. It’s good to start somewhere, I suppose… but why do I feel like they’re all imposters? Controversial statement? Maybe, but it’s controversial because it hits a nerve. The point is that I want to see some fresh individualism. And there is some of it, and I RESPECT it when I do see it.

But back to wanting to draw. Keep a sketchbook with you as much as possible… even a small pocket-sized one. Learn to draw with implements that scare you- like ball point pens. No one has to see your work. Have fun with it. Play in the sandbox. None of it matters… just keep doing it. Eventually, your newer work will look better than your older work. And, if you structure your art with some good old knowledge, you’ll be THAT much further along.

21 July 2016

The Bookshelf Academy

Fun little project I did for work. It turned out well, but I knew I was out of practice.

I was listless and uninspired.
I was sitting at my desk in a “Now what?” state of mind. I had just finished a large illustration project for work (a series of illustrations, title page above) , and although I was satisfied with what I had done in the time I had to do it, I felt that I could have done so much more. A large part of it was speed, and to a greater extent, I was severely out of practice.

As I reflected on my past week, I felt a bit empty. I had a vacation coming up which will involve travel, but I know how I am—I get antsy when I’m not doing anything creative. So I sat, paralyzed by the thought of my lack of time, lack of inspiration, and knowing full well I need to put in the hours to get better. “Now what?"

Some backstory: I’m currently in the middle of a personal project—inventorying all of my books. It’s a culmination of 25 years of collecting, and I own quite a bit. I haven’t used many of them. I’m on a long journey toward minimalism and I want to unburden myself with what I haven’t used by selling it all off. I thought to myself, “I sure didn’t get my money’s worth."

Then the internal dialogue started...
Why? Why didn’t I get my money’s worth? I certainly thought there was worth when I found it in the bookstore. I sat with said book for an hour or two after I bought it… what was I hoping I could use it for? After the initial excitement wore off, I would put the book down. They would sit from my small table, then they would accumulate to a stack on the large table, then to unused light table, until it eventually was wedged somehow into my overstuffed bookshelf to gather dust. The intention was fleeting.

I despaired, “Man, if only I could draw as well as these authors that work assignment wouldn’t have been so difficult." Then the thought struck me like a bolt of lightning in the back of my skull: I didn’t put the work into those books in order to get the worth OUT of the book.  It wasn’t the book’s or author’s fault that I didn’t find worth in it—I didn’t investigate it. That puts it all on me because I didn’t fulfill my obligation as a book buyer to put in the hours and USE the book by doing the tutorials and exercises. So many lessons... a repository of knowledge that sits untapped. 

In the tumultuous venture of my life, the obvious USE of the books eluded me. 
That was it. I was going to get the book’s worth out of it. Heck, I’m going to get my entire library’s worth out of it. The idea is simple enough: I am going to do the exercises in each book; utilize the book, do the lessons, and not let it go to waste.

Suddenly, I had direction. 
No more sitting around wondering what to draw in the meantime—I have guides now, mentors enshrined on ink-stained paper. I have my own bookshelf academy waiting to be used… an entire university curriculum in three bookcases filled with hundreds of books acquired over 25 years. My personal library is more robust than many small community college libraries. That might be a sad commentary on our society’s value of art in education, but I digress.

I don’t know how well the lessons really are in these. I don’t know if the techniques are sound or not. I do know I will be drawing and discovering. I know I’ll be putting in the time and improving by the very nature of doing. I do know, for whatever they’re worth, I will get the value from what my original intent was.

Going about it.
I’ve been accepted into Bookshelf Academy… great. Now what? I needed to break this down systematically using the typical educational model: course, assignments, and tests. 

Most of the books I have are Instructional Art books: How to Draw People, How to draw comics, how to ink, how to draw sci-fi, how to animate.. on and on. Each book is a course.

One of the things I think that kept me from doing it was my ego. “It’s not going to be my work.” Fair enough- but school had assignments. I needed to shift my thinking- I’m not copying their art, I’m doing an assignment. I can always do it twice- once their way, and once my own way. That is my self imposed assignment.

How do I know it’s working?
I need to find a rubric that would demonstrate how well I absorbed the material. How can I test myself? Well… I’ve always been told that art ability is honest- you know when someone is good or bad by just looking at it.

It’s subjective too… but that’s a whole different ballgame and often tied to the subject itself. A self evaluation is fine, but posting the original art up on boards and getting feedback, and simply posting it on social media and garnering likes… if it gets a lot attention, it’s gotta be good.

This isn’t a perfect way to measure, so it’s a work in progress. Perhaps one of the books has an idea on how to do it. I guess I’ll find out.

19 May 2016

Drawing is how I best connect with people

I have lots of interests. I mean A LOT. I love filmmaking- directing, cinematography, screenwriting... I love animation. I love photography- the craft of working with a manual camera, celluloid, and shaping light. And, I love to draw.

It's all cyclical to me. One interest gives way to another during the course of the year. I'll go for long stretches on something than suddenly change, much to the detriment of my career. Luckily, I am now in a position where I am able to be creative, explore and problem solve and have all my interests addressed.

However, the one thing I have noticed that really draws people in (no pun intended) is when I draw. I have very few close artist friends. I occasionally get freelance work, but I prefer to work on my own art at this point and will almost never take a commission. I don't have much personal time, so I'm not likely to give it up for someone else's project. But, it's the best way I can connect with people. They see something that I thought of, something that I felt... and they react to it. I've always been pretty conservative with what I have shown, but I am slowly opening up. I need to open up more.

And, thus, I'm back at it. I admit though that I am a little creatively blocked. One great way is to find local drawing session classes. Some are inexpensive, some are extremely expensive. But being around other artists and feeling that creative energy can really kick start those juices.

I'm at a point in my life where I am looking back, and looking forward and it seems that the distance is the same. It's kind of scary. But I'm not done yet, and I have much to do.

13 March 2016

SLRs and Rangefinders and Light Meters... oh my!

My rekindled interest in film photography (by way of 8mm and 16mm movie film) has made me want to start shooting some 35mm film again. I went to play with my mechanical Vivitar SLR and it was missing. It wasn't in the case, and I began to suspect it may have either been stolen or I had left it somewhere. In any case, I had spent four days tearing our house apart looking for it, but to no avail.

It's upsetting.

Then I remembered something...

Ten years ago, I had purchased a Canon Rebel-X film camera from a classified ad for $40. I only wanted the lens and the body sat on a shelf collecting dust. So I picked it up, dusted it off, bought a couple of CR123A lithium batteries and added my nifty 50mm EF lens to it. I have just ran two rolls through it and I'm excited to see the outcome of them. I also became a little spoiled with the auto load, auto rewind, the easy exposure meter, and general fantastic electronics on it. I still want a mechanical camera, but again... so nice to have these auto functions.

Despite having great image quality and versatility, SLRs are big and noisy. And intimidating. I feel that even though my camera was old, I was attracting more attention than I wanted. Part of that is me- I'm too observant and fearful (working on that), but the other part is that it's just a big camera to lug around.

Last year I managed to acquire some incredible finds from some local estate sales... and a couple of duds.

One item, which I had ALMOST sent off to Goodwill, ended up being my most intriguing find: I had found a Canon Canodate E Rangefinder at an estate sale for $7. I honestly didn't know what I had- but it's similar to a Canonet with a date imprint function (which only goes from year 1973 to 2009) and a few other key differences.

My renewed interest in film photography made me investigate the Canodate E. Suffice to say, I haven't been able to find much on it other than some forum posts. I can't even find a pdf of the manual online- and despite what many claim, the body is similar to the Canonet, but the lens and many of the functions are different. First off, it needs two PX640 batteries to even operate (which I have ordered- and I'll update this post with pictures when I get them). It's a leaf shutter in the lens system. The camera itself is mostly automatic; you set the ISO, it takes care of the aperture and the shutter speed. It's a Rangefinder, so you focus through the optical viewfinder, and line up a ghost image over the main image. That last part is what is intriguing- you can have selective focus without the weight of an SLR.

I'm not thrilled that the Canodate E is mostly automatic, but I feel like it's a great way to get into just shooting street photography for the joy of it. But my investigation of Rangefinders is making me take them far more seriously.  There are digital rangefinders, and Rangefinders in general seem to be a favorite among street photographers due to their unassuming nature. I am excited to see what kind of photos the Canodate E will take... I'm finding that my google searches are coming up a little dry.

Another estate sale find was one that I had completely forgotten about: a West German made Gossen Lunapro exposure meter! I bought the mint condition item for $5, but again, it needed hard to find batteries. It sat for a long time until recently when I bought some PX625 alkaline batteries from a local Interstate Battery shop, installed them and the meter worked perfectly! Needless to say, this is my new best friend.

It's easy to use (a quick overview):
  • Dial in your ASA (ISO). 
  • Decide if you want to measure the light the camera is receiving (reflected) by pointing it at the subject, or by the subject (incidental).
  • Push the side button, the meter will give you a value 1 to 11 (upper) or 12 to 22 (lower).
  • Use the second yellow dial to find the number needle reading; the time (shutter), f-stop, and frame rate (for cine) line up on the upper dial for correct exposure.

There's other functions too, which, again, would require another article.

I had recently watched "Finding Vivian Maier" on Netflix, and the format of camera she used also intrigued me. I had also started investigating Medium format photography. This really is a whole other article (which I will write soon)

So, I decided to take a plunge... again.. and bought a cheap Ebay find of a (lowly regarded) Lubitel 166B- a never used, boxed camera for $50. I'll write more on it, it's not the best but it's a quick and cheap way for me to learn a little bit about both TLRs and Medium Format- and once I get it and play around with it I'll talk about it more.

28 February 2016

Old glass: B4 mount lens finds new life

Beautiful sunsets on my iPhone 6
In planning my projects this year, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll need a new digital video camera of some sort. I’ve looked into video recorders, DSLRs, Mirrorless cameras, action cameras, iPhone rigs… you name it.

A quick note about iPhone cinematography: It's amazing- but it takes more work than you realize. You can get so much out of the camera that's already in your pocket. You can get a better picture than most 8mm and 16mm film (in terms of sharpness, resolution, and delivery of finished product), but the form factor needs assistance to shoot comfortably and correctly, and it's severely limited with zoom or depth of field. Sure you can get 3rd party accessories, but those costs add up—between the cost of the phone and accessories, you can have a much better dslr or video camera set up. I'll use my iPhone in a pinch, but I want to have better control over my image.

I was seriously looking at three cameras in particular: The Sony A5100, the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera (BMPCC), and the Panasonic GH3.

A quick summery on each:
  • The Sony a5100 is an amazing camera that uses the XAVC-S codec. It’s fun with the Redrock Micro Retroflex, but it lacks a good audio input.
  • The BMPCC is an amazing broadcast quality camera, 13 stops of latitude, but it’s dismal power consumption requires more items to keep it running, and the pricepoint is a tad more than I want to pay.
  • The GH3- still available, is at a good price point, the audio can be monitored in camera; it’s micro three-fourths sensor opens it up to a number of lenses- all dslr if they have mounts, cine lenses that are c-mount, AND B4 Mount ENG lenses that offer incredible zoom ability without changing the stop it’s on.
I chose to go with the GH3. I’m saving up the money to get one as soon as possible.

That said, I started doing research. I checked people’s footage with C-mount lenses and was impressed; I was more impressed with the B4 mount footage… then I remembered something.

Ten years ago, the tv station that I was working at had a a raffle at a Christmas party- they were trying to get rid of all their old equipment. I could have had a Grass Valley switcher from the 70s, but I had nowhere to put it. I did, however “win” an old, broken ENG BetaCam. I didn’t care about the camera- it was the lens that I was excited about.

Nikon f1.6/9-117mm B4 ENG lens
The lens is a huge B4 Mount Nikon f1.6/9mm-117mm lens. It doesn’t have power, but it can be worked manually, and the glass is very clean. After looking online, I found that these lenses are fantastic with smaller sensor cameras, particulary Micro 4/3rds. I also found some amazing footage for very high zoom- and I think I can get some fantastic zoom photos with them.

After looking into it, I discovered that people were adapting these old lenses to smaller sensor cameras. Although people have had great luck using them on BMPCC’s, the GH3 is the best bet- especially since it can take these B4 Mount lenses, if you use the 2x doubler. The rocker zoom switch can be powered by a small 12v power supply. The only other thing I’d need is a lens mount adapter.

FUJINON B4 mount on Panasonic Gh3 from Dario Viola on Vimeo.

Star Studded Panasonic GH3 with Canon B4 2/3" Lens from Gan Eden Media on Vimeo.

It’s amazing how dramatic something looks when you have to zoom on it with a long lens… I am already thinking of scenarios where I am able to use it. I will be able to shoot a zoomed image in low light because it’s a f1.6 lens!

24 February 2016

Getting real about wants and needs

As much as I would love the form factor of the Redrock Micro Retroflex-S and the Sony a5100, I need to be pragmatic about where my money is better utilized. The cost for those (including cards, lenses, etc) would cost $1,500. That’s a serious chunk of change, and it’s not including audio. I may indulge at some point, but realistically I need to be more fiscally conservative.

Panasonic’s GH3 has come down in price considerably since the GH4 was introduced a year and a half ago. I’m sure a GH5 is in development… However, for what I need to do in the next year, the GH3 is more than enough camera to handle the needs of my next dozen or so projects- which DP demigod Philip Bloom shows in the video above.

The micro four-thirds sensor is half the size of a full size sensor, but it can use far more lenses- including old cine/tv c-mount glass and Newsie ENG B4 Mount lenses. How cool is that?

More than anything, I want to make a feature length film. I have had a number of attempts, of which I had learned so much… not just about what it takes, but what I can expect from other people. Filmmaking School of Hard Knox.

One of my constant inspirations is Faith Granger, and her feature length film “Deuce of Spades”. She shot her feature on a barebones budget and a lot of favors- and the product looks amazing. She shot on an first generation Sony HD camera, and edited in Sony Vegas.

The greatest thing about this movie is her passion for the project. Finding the right project to immerse yourself in can be challenging, but sometimes the project finds you. That's true art.

16 February 2016

Shiny: Redrock Micro Retroflex

You have no idea how bad I want one of these:
Redrock Micro is selling them for the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera AND the Sony Mirrorless a5000, a5100, and NEX cameras.

Here is UK Filmmaker Rick Young's assessment of the rig:  
This is Retroflex - Now Available from Redrock Micro from Rick Young on Vimeo.

 I know what you're thinking: Why don't you just buy a pistol grip and viewfinder and save yourself $300? Well, for starters, I would buy it for the metal cage that protects the camera, and keeps stress off of the bottom tripod mount. Plus... it looks cool. For too long have I used DIY rigs and honestly, I'd rather spend my time shooting and ENJOYING the work that I do.

The heart wants what the heart wants.

See more here:

17 January 2016

iPhone Telecine?

A little Robin Hood on Super 8. Note there is no flicker.

Like many other indie filmmakers, I am dirt poor. Because of that, I’m a diehard DIY fanatic. I have made cookie tin DOP adapters and have scrappy looking equipment. I make due with what I have, and I get very creative and resourceful if I cannot afford a method or equipment to accomplish a goal.

So, now I am trying to figure out the best way to make a film ON film. I am deciding the pros and cons of using Super 8 vs. 16mm. I have cameras in both formats- which is more than most people could say 30 years ago.

However, the price of film is hard to stomach. I’ve searched high and low on how to digitize footage after it’d done. Now, many places charge .17+ cents a foot. That can add up really fast. Again, looking at my means, I have been playing around with a simple telecine method using an iPhone and projector.

Not sure of the name of this 16mm film, but the flicker might be from my overhead light.

Now projection flicker is the main problem. I had a large amount of luck with this Super 8 footage (projected on my door) without any flicker using my iPhone. I believe it has to do with the CMOS sensor on the phone's camera- but my attempt at using my 16mm shows the flicker. I'm not sure if it had to do with my fluorescent light- so I'll have to test it again. Focusing and perspective distortion will need to be addressed- but all in all, it seems promising- at least to have a working print of the film to work on sound.

Pretty ghetto... Not as clean as I'd want it, but we make due until we can shell out the cash, right? Well... maybe and maybe not. I'm not thrilled with the lack of sharp resolution- though it's worse on Blogger's compression of my videos. I think in the end I'll need to just scan the footage.

09 January 2016

Super 8 is back in the limelight

2016 Kodak Super 8
I admit, I'm excited by Kodak's announcement at CES regarding their new digital assisted Super 8 camera. The reason? There hasn't been an affordable new Super 8 camera for more than 30 years.

But it's not the first new super 8 camera to come out recently. The superb Logmar Super 8 camera was announced last year, and despite it's incredibly beautiful HD quality footage, the $6,000 pricetag is prohibitive for most independent filmmakers.

Kodak says that the pricepoint will be between $400 - $750 dollars depending on the model. With it's c-mount lens system, you might be just as well to buy the basic model and upgrade the lens yourself. Again, all speculation until this hits the market.

It also houses an SD card and digital audio capture system. Chances are you will need to slate your shot or give some sort of audio/visual mark so you can sync your footage with your sound files. This is NOT a consumer camera, so there's a lot of work you'll need to do to get things going... more on this in a moment.

Many Hollywood filmmakers have flocked showing their support for Kodak's effort. I'm certainly someone who is applauding the effort... but those who are curious may have a rude awakening if they're unfamiliar with the format.

For the uninitiated, some things to know first:
  • A super 8 cartridge has 50 feet of film- running at 24 fps will give you around 2:45 minutes of exposure. Older cameras would suggest running it at 18fps- which would still give you about 3:30 seconds of footage and still look good projected.
  • The least expensive, most available film is Kodak's Tri-X film, a black and white reversal film (meaning once developed it can be projected in a camera and it won't be a negative) costs about $22 from most online retailers.
  • You will need to learn about exposure, how "fast" your film is (how sensitive it is to light), and how to use camera optics to focus as well as how much light to let into the camera. I'm assuming the digital assist on the new Kodak Super 8 will give you a WYSIWYG on the viewfinder- but it hasn't been confirmed. This is the part most filmmakers feel that students should and need to learn- it will teach them patience and preplanning a shot, and will immensely improve their filmwork.
  • Each cartridge will cost on average about $20 to be developed. This process requires you to mail in your film and wait for it to be developed. You will not know how your film will turn out (until you've become familiar with the process) until it is returned from processing.
  • Many of these processing places charge extra for your footage to be digitized. This can wildly vary between resolution and price per foot of footage. IF you have a projector, you can always attempt to telecine your own work by videotaping what's on the wall. This is a whole other subject and can have some pretty terrible results if you don't know what you're doing.
  • Between film stock, processing, and digitizing, expect to pay more than $50+ per 3 minutes of film.
But there is something magical about film. It's inherent flaw AND the organic usage of it is what gives it it's charm.