Saturday, December 29, 2018

A Christmas Cruise

Normally we spend Christmas with family in Canada, or family comes from Canada to our house.

This year we decided to celebrate Christmas in a more traditional way... by taking a cruise to the Bahamas.

Ya know, as our ancestors didn't do.

So after class on the last day of school for the kids we piled into the Minivan of Destiny, and drove to Jacksonville, and got on a ship for 5 days of fun and sun.

These are some pictures, starting with the one on the upper left, of Abigail on our ship, the Carnival Elation.

This is the ship at night.
 And this is the ship in the morning.
 On Christmas Eve we went to a private island in the Bahamas and played with some sting rays, as was foretold by prophesy.
 On Christmas Day we hung out on a beach on another private island, as one traditionally does during the holidays.
 While us adults swam, then sat on chairs and watched the world go by, the kids started digging a hole.  Pretty soon they made friends with some local teenagers and they all dug an impressively large hole in the beach.  Good times were had by all.
 This was a seriously big hole.  Both kids could sit inside it, with a good 6" of clearance above them to the top of the hole.

We did a bunch of other things, but I completely suck at taking travel photos lately.  We saw shows, played in pools, drank pina coladas, spelunked for rubber duckies, and ate a lot of food.  However I'll leave you with this dramatic shot of life at sea.

Have a Happy New Years, all!

Thursday, December 20, 2018

A New Way To Smoke: A Hulk Ragnarok BTS

Note:  This post originally ran on Toy Photographers.  I am super pleased with it as I invented a new photographic technic for generating special effects.

This post is a two-for-one extravaganza.  First is a behind-the-scenes exploration about how I captured the shot of the Hulk figure from Thor Ragnarok I created in my post: Building A Hulk.  The second is to describe a new way of generating action figure scaled smoke for my shots.  Both are covered in this post.

Note:  I am not sure if I am the first to use the process I am about to describe. I have asked many people how to create practical smoke effects and no one brought it up. It is a unique idea in my sphere of people. So I am taking pride in breaking new ground in this area (tho I suspect the first comment will burst my bubble).

This is the image that I am talking about:
Hulk running in search of things to smash.

Special Effects vs Visual Effects

When it comes to toy photography there are some effects that are much easier to add in post production.  These are known as visual effects, or effects done in computer.  Others are much easier to capture in camera. These are special effects, or effects done in real life on set.  Smoke effects fall firmly into the later camp.  While they can be created in Photoshop, its hard to beat the realism of real smoke captured on set.

Ever since I started my photographic journey I have been looking for ways to make toy scaled smoke to add atmosphere to my images.  I have not found a satisfactory way of reliably creating smoke that works for me.  The most common solution I've seen is lighting a cigarette, or using one of those newfangled vape things, and blowing smoke into the scene.  This doesn't work for me because I don't smoke, and don't want to start, even a little.

Other solutions like smoke machines  or smoke bombs are too large in scale.  They are designed for human scale, or larger (like concert stages), so are impractical.  There is a product called a Wizard Stick that produces enough smoke for a LEGO minifig sized image, but not near enough for a 6" action figure.

The same story has been for every other solution.  They were either scaled too small, to large, caused lung cancer, or created a mist effect, but not a smoke effect. It was a very frustrating search.  I was getting discouraged and resigned to do my sub par smoke effects in Photoshop.

That was, until one day, I went to work and played with the bees.

Not kidding.

Bees: Producers of Sweet Honey and Sweet Ideas

So long story short, the food staff at my work place does a lot of sustainable food programs.  They have a community garden, they keep chickens, and they have bee hives for honey.  They also have programs where us desk-bound software engineers can get outside, help with the programs, and learn a few things along the way.

I signed up to be a beekeeper.

Part of beekeeping is looking into the hive (which are in wooden boxes) and seeing how the bees are doing heath-wise.  To pacify the stinging cloud of murder bees than result from cracking into a hive, a bee smoker is used.  It works on bees as it masks the chemicals that they use to sound the alarm to other bees that trouble is afoot.   To me it was an epiphany.

I realized that the bee smoker would be the perfect solution to my action figure scale smoke effect problem.  The rest of this post serves as proof that I was right.

Safety Disclaimer

Bee smokers involve fire, and heat.  Do not use without adult supervision.  If you are an adult, good luck to you.

Smoke'em If You Got'em

Bee smokers are cheap and easy to come by.  This is mine, and it cost less than $20 on Amazon.
My bee smoker

It doesn't really matter which one you get, they all work basically the same.  There are also pellets than can be purchased as fuel, but I found them useless, so I'd skip those and same some money.

How they work is pretty simple.  Fill the main chamber with organic material - paper, leaves, cotton fabric etc. and set them on fire.  When the lid is closed, the only oxygen source is a small vent at the bottom, which is just enough for the material to smolder, but not create flames.  If you've ever been around a camp fire you'll recognize this as a perfect smoke generator.

The bellows on the side are used to pump more air into the chamber to fan the coals, and to push the smoke out thru the spout.  It is designed to pump smoke into a hive, but if you pump it into a camera frame, you get a perfect toy scaled controllable smoke machine.

Behind The Scenes

So the first thing I did was set up Hulk out in my back yard.  I placed him in front of an old stump to act as a nice background (tho due to the smoke this turned out not to matter as the stump is not visible in the final shot.

Then I set up the smoker.  For fuel I used dryer lint as a starter, and some fabric castoffs from my wife's quilting efforts.  If you don't have a quilting wife handy, cotton balls, or Doritos can be used as starter. Any old cotton t-shirt, jeans, or even leaves or pine needles can be used as fuel.  Just tear any fabric into 2"-4" chunks.

Lighting the fuel, which is dryer lint and discarded quilting fabric.

Light the fuel, close the lid, and pump the bellows a few times to ensure things are smoldering properly.  You know its working by a large amount of smoke coming out the end.  (and if you are me, cackling in delight at the possibilities a good smoker provides to my creative efforts).

Finally I set my camera on a Platypod Ultra, attached a remote trigger so I could reach the smoker and the shutter at the same time.  Then I pushed the bellows to pump smoke into the scene with one hand while I triggered the shutter remote with the other.

The setup with the camera on a Platypod, Hulk in front of a stump, and smoke from the bee smoker.
The rest is some basic Photoshop post-processing, and the image is complete.

Final Thoughts

So that is my solution for practical smoke effects for action figures.  The smoker produces a heck of a lot of smoke, really more than I need.  However I can put it exactly where I want it.

Another benefit is that it doesn't require batteries, electricity, or special fuels. All you need is some cotton and a lighter, so it can be lugged to remote places and still be useful.  It also has the benefit of pacifying any bees that are hanging out near your shoot.

So if you are looking for practical smoke effects,  a bee smoker may just be the answer to your problems.

Thanks, bees!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Deconstructing an image: Trunk

One of the words for this last round of the Scavenger Hunt was "trunk".  Now that those images have been revealed, I can discuss what went into it.

As has become my custom I started with a mind mapping exercise.  I list all of the words that remind me of trunk in a notebook, then list associated words with those, and work my way down to an idea.  Sometimes those ideas take minutes, sometimes they take weeks. This one had a nugget almost immediately, but took weeks to refine.

My first idea for trunk was inspired by the Tragically Hip song "Locked In The Trunk Of A Car" and had the idea of a car trunk lid being opened by a mysterious hand.  There will be lights and smoke, and be very dramatic.

After a while I decided to switch away from the car trunk (mainly cause I don't have one - minivans4life) be an travel trunk - like old timey luggage trunk, you know the type. 

Of course I don't have one of those either (well, I do, but not one that will work for this purpose). However a toy photographer is never really stymied by scale, so I decided to make it a toy hand.  Since it is a "rising from the dead" situation, I used the skeleton hand from my Grim Reaper figure.

Now I may not have a toy trunk, but I do have a Makerspace at work. In that Makerspace are 3D printers, and a Glowforge laser cutter.  So I could make my own trunk.

I wasn't exactly sure which one would make a better trunk for my purposes, so I made one with each.  First the 3D printer. Looks like this in action:

It takes about 13 hours to print, but it produces an almost perfect finished trunk when done:

The Glowforge was next.  It cuts the parts in as little as 15 minutes, but it does require assembly afterwards. However it becomes much more photogenic.

The processs while cutting looks like this:

The final cut out template:

And the final image.  It took me about 20 minutes to assemble, mainly because each piece has masking tape on it to protect the material from scorching when cut by the laser (did I mention it has a laser, cause I totally freakin cut things with a laser, y'all!)

The assembled trunk is here:

I decided that the Glowforge trunk would work best for the shot I had in mind, so for the moment I put the 3D printed trunk aside (tho I did end up using it for the image I submitted for "diamond" so not all is lost).

I painted the trunk red.  Why red?  Because it was the paint I had available.  I am glad I did because inspiration was lurking in the back of my demented brain.

This is the shot straight out of camera:

This is when inspiration struck.  Seeing the red trunk made me think of an old Canadian kids show called Mr Dressup.  Mr. Dressup had two puppet friends, a kid named Casey and a dog named Finnegan, and he dressed up in costumes to tell kids stories.  Basic 70s-80s wholesome Canadian kids show stuff.  He kept his costumes in a red trunk with hippy flowers on it, called the Tickle Trunk.  You can see him in action, with the trunk, in this YouTube video: Mr. Dressup Episode Pt. 1 1986

Now, when I was in high school (late 80s, early 90s) there was a urban myth going around the school that Mr Dressup killed himself by locking himself into his Tickle Trunk.   I don't know how extensive that myth spread, but it was all over my school.  Apparently it stuck with me, I assume for this purpose.

Anyhoo, working on the trunk sparked that memory, so I decided to use the sordid tales from my misspent youth and make this image the return of Mr Dressup, rising from from the grave that is his beloved trunk. 

So I added in the flowers, dust, and cobwebs.  To sell it I also added the head of the Casey puppet abandoned and rotting on the floor.

This is the final image:

Note: the urban myth wasn't true - Ernie Coombs, the fellow who played Mr. Dressup, lived until 2001.

Thus is the story of how I conceived and created this image for the word "trunk".

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Deconstructing an image: Balance

One of the words for the latest round of the Scavenger Hunt was "balance."  Now that the hunt  reveals have happened, I can show everyone the image I came up with, and talk about what went into it.

The first thing I do when I get a scavenger word is do a mind-mapping exercise to come up with ideas.  I write down all of the words I associate with balance - balanced cheque book, high wire act, juggling, black and white, justice etc.

I originally had the idea of an action figure (I normally shoot toys for the hunt), balancing a cheque book while in the middle of a high wire act.  I liked the concept, but it ended up being to complicated to put into one image.

So I was stumped.  Then I flew to Europe.

12 hours being stuck in airports and third class seats gives ones mind a lot of time to wander, and my mind wandered over the word balance a couple times.  I started thinking why don't I have an action figure balancing on a surf board.  I've done surf boards before for the hunt, so how about a ball?   Better yet, how about balancing on a board which is balancing on a ball?

I couldn't think of which action figure to use, so I mused that I could just do a self portrait. For the past dozen hunts or so I had only submitted toy images, so this would be a huge departure style-wise, and I didn't want to disappoint my fan base.  However art trumps tradition, so I decided to go for it.

Then in a moment of clarity the whole idea clicked.  Yours truly, balancing on a stone yin yang, on a stone ball, all in motion. Balance all the way down.

I had the basics for my concept.   Some further refinements, and this is the image I came up with:

So, how did I get this shot?

The answer is building it piece by piece.

Photoshop has a decent 3D modeling engine built into it, so I used that to make the ball and the yin yang.  I made them as separate pieces, and stuck em together.  The ball is just an image of floor tiles made round. I used a concrete texture I took in San Francisco a few years ago for the stone look of the yin yang.  Why is the yin yang stone?  No reason, just seemed right to me.

The tunnel effect is several textures stacked on top of each other, all blended together with a radial blur, and some selective darkening in the center to give a receding into the distance tube effect.

Finally it came time for me to shoot myself.  I positioned a light in front of me and up about 30 degrees.  At the last minute I decided to put on a lab coat, and use fans to blow on it, so I would have a "blowing in the wind" effect to add more of a sense of motion to the image.

I hadn't given much thought to my own wardrobe.  At the last minute I decided to do an homage to Gord Downie.  If you are not familiar, Gord is the lead singer of a Canadian rock band called the Tragically Hip.  He died of brain cancer last year, but before he passed, the Hip did one final tour across Canada.  His stage outfit for that tour was a Jaws t-shirt, and a jaunty looking hat.

I have been a fan of The Hip for decades, but I have been listening to them a lot lately, as part of my recovery from depression.  So it seemed fitting as a silent homage to Gord, thru his music, helping me regain mental balance.

In the most fanboy moment I've ever experienced, I had a replica hat made by the same milliner who made Gords hats for the tour.  I also bought a Jaws t-shirt.  So already armed with fanboyness, I had my wardrobe.

This is an AutoAwesome gif of some of my attempts to capture myself in camera:

The rest of the processing was the basic steps of masking, tone matching and adding shadows that goes along with any composite work.

So that is the story behind my image for the word "Balance".


Sunday, December 02, 2018

Cleaning Out The Studio

I spent a large part of the weekend cleaning up my studio spaces, as they were getting cluttered past the point of usability.
Along the way I found the first Mark Rodriguez print I bought, "Tears Of A Clown". 

I finally put it up in my studio, in a place of honor right below the first major concert I went to on my own, and right above the flag of my homeland (the guy with the lightsaber is just a guy with a lightsaber).

I've learned a lot from Mark about images and light, and he invented one of my favourite sayings "Make light your bitch." He's also a friend, so it feels great to have his art displayed in my creative space.
My studio isn't perfectly clean, but its well within the realm of usability, so I am ready when the muse next hits.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Toy Photography and the Beast Of Depression

Note: This article originally ran on the Toy Photographers blog.

Depression is a big nasty powerful beast, and it had me firmly in its claws, dragging me down. Toy photography helped me escape its grasp.  This is how.

One of the most  common diseases in the world that is not talked about much is mental illness.  It is hard to talk about because a lot of the symptoms are emotional and behavioural, and not easily understood shared-experience things like pain or stiffness.  It doesn’t manifest itself in ways that I figured it would. I know, because I didn’t really understand mental illness until I was diagnosed with it.

Specifically I was diagnosed with moderate severe depression back in February 2018.

This post isn’t about what depression is, or the entire story of how I was diagnosed (if you are interested, detailed posts about my story can be found here)

This post is about how toy photography helped reveal to me that I needed help, and how it helps me cope today.

The Downward Spiral

So I have always had artistic tendencies that I explored briefly at various points in my life.  However I really didn’t start exploring my artistic side in a purposeful way until 5 years ago. Once I did start exploring it I took off and never really slowed down.  I didn’t always have the skills to pull of my vision, or even knew what that meant, but I had plenty of ideas, and started creating a lot of work. 

So that was all good until the fall of 2016.  Looking back that is when I started to enjoy my life less and less. The beast was stirring in the shadows.  My energy levels dropped steadily, and I found I couldn’t cope with social issues as well as I used to (not that I was super strong at coping with social issues to begin with).  

About 6 months before I was diagnosed I really started disliking my job.  Now this isn’t unusual - not every likes their job. I had been working at the same company for 13 years by then, and doing basically the same tasks, but I just didn’t get enjoyment out of it.  I just couldn’t get up the energy to give a crap some days. That’s not abnormal tho, so I just wrote it off as needing a change.

Recognizing Rock Bottom

At the same time I stopped having the motivation to create the things I wanted to create.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have ideas, or a desire to create. I had more ideas than I ever had in my life.  I just couldn’t get up the energy to get off my couch, walk the 30ft to my studio, and pick up my camera to realize my ideas.  The spirit was willing, but the flesh… well, the flesh failed me. It failed me miserably.

I never understood what mental pain was until I experienced my body refusing to do what my mind willed it to do. It was like a schism in my brain That sucked. It sucked a lot, and there was no way I could excuse it away.

All of this came to a miserable head in early February when I finally hit my wall and broke down. The beast had beaten me.

I called my doctor, and sought out help.

The Upward Struggle

So, long story short, I got some help, and am now on meds.  Medical science is a little fuzzy when it comes to brains, but based on how my treatment has gone, I seem to have an imbalance in my brain with the chemical that controls mood.  Between the medication, and a lot of soul searching, I am doing much better.

There are good days, great days, and bad days still.  However more days are good than bad. I can create again, I can write again, and I can shoot photos again.  It feels great.

Now toy photography serves a dual purpose in my life.  First it is the same creative outlet it has always been.  Second, it is an early indicator of my mental health. It does this the same way it helped me to seek help the first time, by being a gauge by which I can measure my motivation to work on my ideas.

Keeping The Beast At Bay

Of course everyone has good days, and bad days.  Every artist has moments when they simply don’t want to be creative.  No amount of medication and self reflection is going to change that. I, of course, am no exception.  However I now pay close attention to the dynamic between my motivation and my energy levels.

If I notice that I have ideas that I don’t seem to get around to shooting, it raises some red flags in my head.  I’ll give myself a few days grace, especially if work is being overly hectic, or I am feeling under the weather, but in general of my lethargy persists, I know it’s time for some soul searching and make changes so the beast doesn’t drag me under again.

I refuse to let the beast win, and toy photography is helping me kick its ass.

It is not like we needed another reason why toy photography is awesome, but being mental health therapy is a nice addition to the list, don't you think?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Farewell, Stan Lee

I was saddened to hear about the loss of Stan Lee earlier this week.  Stan contributed strongly to the world of story telling, and bringing the ideas of fantasy, science fiction, and super heroes to our culture.  Without his creative genius it is quite possible I would not have as many toys to photograph today.  I certainly would not have all of the Marvel characters than make up a significant percentage of my art.

The universe he created, and the characters and stories that inhabit it, has been a source of escape, entertainment, and inspiration for me.  My world would be smaller without the Marvel Universe.

Thanks for the heroes, Stan.  Rest in peace.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

BTS: Hulk v Deadpool

This post was originally  written for

Taking a peak behind the scenes is a great way to learn about how other artists get the types of shots they do. To get tips, tricks, and see the madness behind the genius.  That’s the goal of this post: to give you all a peak behind the scenes of how I captured one of my own recent shots, Hulk v Deadpool.

Specifically, this shot:

Behind The Idea

The idea for this shot came to me while I was playing “Strict Parent” for my son, by supervising the cleaning of his room.  While he put away his toys, I picked up his Marvel Legends Iron Man and started posing it (ya know, to pass the time). I eventually put him in a dropkick pose, which I really liked.  I filed the pose  in my fuzzy brain for later use.

“Later” came the next day when my wife needed some ideas for a location to get a shot (non-toy, sadly) of her own.  I recalled a location just up the mountains from our house called Jesse Brown’s Cabin that would be perfect for her needs.  So we made plans to go there the very next day.

Since I now had plans for an awesome location, I flushed out my own concept, and decided it was best served with Deadpool getting the drop(-kick) on Hulk.

Behind the Location

Jesse Brown’s Cabin is located around mile marker 270 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It is a field with an old building, a lonely tree, lots of woods nearby, and it is in the mountains, so it’s the perfect place to be.

It looks like this:

When I arrived, and did what I could to help my wife get her shot (my primary goal for the trip), it was time for me to play.  So I grabbed my action figures, scouted the scene, and picked a location. The criteria for location selection was three fold:

  • The perspective made the figures look life size to the cabin, which was about 100ft from the cabin itself.
  • The cabin was at a flattering angle, so it looked good in the frame
  • The sun was behind me, and therefore shining on the figures. (Take advantage of free light when you can get it!)

Behind The Setup

Since the shot is an action shot, I needed to find a way to support Deadpool mid-kick.  To accomplish this I used a technique I learned from FathersFigures at the Toy Safari in Oregon:  14 gauge black solid-core wire.
I got the wire at Lowes and the budget friendly price of $14 for 50ft.  I keep a couple lengths about 6-8 inches long in my camera bag for moments such as this.  For Hulk I pushed the wire into the seam in his upper back, then created a loop at the ground level, so Hulk is leaning back against the wire, which keeps him from falling over.

Note that I could have saved myself some post-processing if I hid Hulks wire behind his leg, but I didn’t notice that until I got home.  An oversight you can hopefully take advantage of!

For Deadpool I slipped the wire behind his utility belt, and jammed the other end into the ground.  It took a bit of maneuvering to get the one wire to hold him where I wanted, but I eventually got it.

Along the way I learned a handy tip.

Behind The Handy Tip

 I added a small loop to the wire tucked under Deadpool’s belt.  This gave a wider surface for him to rest on, and help him stable in mid air.  Without it he would flop around the wire like a rag doll.
Told you it was handy.

Behind The Camera

All that was left to do in the field was point the camera and shoot.  I don’t remember the camera settings, but luckily for you, it is irrelevant anyway (unless you have my exact camera body, lens, and lighting conditions).  The important part is I took the shot from a very low position, and I zoomed in, so the compression effect of the longer focal length ensures the cabin stays an appropriate size in the background.

After that it is just a matter of exposing properly, and clicking the shutter.

Now we’re off to post-processing!

Behind Photoshop
Before we get going, this is where this post gets highly technical.  Not everyone enjoys post processing, and others can’t get enough of it.  So if you are not a post-processor you can just read the titles of the next sections and get an idea of my methodology. If you are a Photoshop junkie like myself, you may get some useful nuggets from reading the text that you can use in your own work.

Either way, however,  for this wire technique to work you will at least have to remove the wires in post-processing.

Behind The Image Cleanup

The first step is to clean up the image to remove those wires, and get ride of unsightly blemishes.

For this I exclusively used the clone stamp and the spot healing brush.  I started by removing the wires from the image. Then I cleaned up some spots on the plastic.  I have gotten into the habit of removing the joints from my figures, so I did that step here as well.  Again, all with the clone stamp and spot healing brushes.

This is what I ended up with:
Note that I also sharpened the image by using a high-pass filter on a new layer, blended with the overlay blend mode.

Behind 90s Pop Culture References

Expression really helps sell the fake of an image.  The Hulk action figure has a generic angry smash face.  Since he was being kicked in the jaw I wanted to give him a more specific expression. So introduced him to a blast from the 1990s, aka Smash Mouth.  To accomplish this I used the Liquify tool to massage his face into a mid-kick-to-the-jaw expression.

A simple touch, but one that gives the shot more realism.  The little details matter.

Behind The Motion

Since Deadpool is in the air mid-dropkick, I wanted to give a subtle sense of movement.  I accomplished this by introducing a motion blur.

I made the blur by selecting Deadpool, and putting that selection on its own layer.  Then I used the Path Blur filter to generate the motion blur effect. Then I dropped the opacity of the blur layer to match the scene.

Behind The Dodging and Burning

Next step was to work on the atmosphere of the scene by doing a little dodging and burning. If you are not familiar with the term it basically means selectively lightening (dodging) and darkening (burning) parts of an image.    I did this to drop the brightness of the background, as well as to add some shadows to the figures (enhance those muscles).

This was accomplished by adding a couple Brightness/Contrast adjustment layers, and using layer masks to apply the darkening to select parts of the scene.  One was to darken the background, and the shadows on Hulk. The other was to add contrast to Hulk and Deadpool.

Behind The Colour Grading

When one is making images one should be true to their vision.  My personal vision and style has muted tones, a desaturated look, and a bit of grit to it.  This step applies the colour grading to get these muted tones. If your style doesn’t match that, feel free to ignore this step, or salt to taste.

This was done using three types of adjustment layers.  First a Color Lookup Table adjustment layer to introduce some orange tones, and lower the blues.  Then a Black and White adjustment layer at 50% opacity to desaturate the images. Finally some Hue/Saturation adjustment layers with layer masks to fine tune some color changes to select parts of Deadpool.

Behind The Finishing Touches

So this brings us to the finishing moves for the image.  First I added a texture layer with overlay blend mode, to add some variations in tones around the scene to give a more dynamic feel to the image.  Finally I added a slight vignette to the edges (blank layer, gradient tool with black to darken the edges, and adjust opacity to taste).

The end result is the image we started this post with:  Hulk v Deadpool:

In Conclusion

So that’s it – my whole process to get from an idea in my head to a finished image.  The image ended up looking as I envisioned, which is a nice bonus.

I hope you were able to get some useful tips out of reading about my process that you can use in your own images.  If you do use any, or have tips of your own, please tell me about them in the comments below.


Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Rules Of DEIMOS

(This article originally ran on the blog, and is reprinted here, well, cause I wrote it, and I like it.)  
I know what you are thinking: “What is DEIMOS, and why does it have rules?”  Furthermore your thoughts likely lean towards “Why do I care?”, and “anything on Netflix?” 
The answer are, in reverse order “No, your favourite shows were removed yesterday!”, and “I’ll get to that, hold your horses.”
First I need to tell you a story.
Is It A Short Story?
Yes it is (tho I have a tendency to wander in my thoughts, so stay close and hold on.)
So I have listened to the Toy Photographers Podcast since the very first episode.  Frequently the host, James Garcia, interviews various folks about their toy photography activities.  One of the questions I remember being asked more than once (at least I think it was more than once – I didn’t take notes) was something along the lines of: “Do you have any rules for your toy photography?”  
Basically, do you stay true to the source material, or does anything go?
The first time I heard that question, my response was a rather smug and snarky “no rules!”   However the more I thought about it, the more I realized there are, in fact, some rules I seem to follow in my work.  So I decided I’d write them down and explore just what makes my universe tick.
Originally I was going to reveal these shocking and stunning insights during my podcast interview, but I’ve never been asked to appear on the show.  Fiddlesticks! 
(As an aside, I am not sure what it takes to get onto the show, but apparently a subtle nod from across the room at the Oregon Toy Safari in James’s general direction while he’s looking away and eating a Tim Tam is not enough.  Next time I am going to try holding the Tim Tams before I give him that subtle nod, and maybe a playful wink and maybe add in a come-hither look.)
So, slighted at my changes of audio fame,  I decided I’d answer this question here. 
So, What The Heck is DEIMOS?
I am so glad you asked!
Along the lines of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and the DCEU (DC Extended Universe), DEIMOS is  the name that defines the universe my work exists in. It is a name that I invented, while walking thru the mean streets of Zurich 20 minutes ago, so totally legit.  DEIMOS stands for “Dave’s Enigmatic Intersecting Multiverse (Or Something)” It is basically the name for the universe in which reside all of my toy photos.
So now that I have a long term established universe for my work, we can discuss the rules that govern it.
When I say rules, I mean the same definition of rules like the Rule Of Thirds, or the Rules Of Composition – basically, they are guidelines, and can be violated at will if it serves the art.
Also, while I am on a tangent, the following are the rules of DEIMOS.  In no way am I implying that these are rules your work should follow. That would be both incredibly arrogant, and rather boring.  You are free to define the rules of your toy universes anyway that floats your boat. These are mine, and mine only (tho you can borrow them if you like.)
Can We Get To The Rules Now?
Sure, tho like I said, these are more guidelines than actual rules.  Here we go.
Rule 1:   Mixing universes is totally allowed
I haven’t done a lot of mixing of universes, but it is allowed in the DEIMOS.  My Star Wars characters live in the same multiverse as the Marvel characters, so there isn’t really anything preventing them from mixing it up now and then.  It just doesn’t happen often due to the distances of space and time separating the universes.
So once we solve that whole space-time thing, expect a lot more mixing of worlds in my multiverse.
Mixing genres is allowed in DEIMOS, but some care is required to not violate space-time.

Rule 2:  Characters behavior follows their established canon
This basically means that I don’t change characteristics of a given character.  Regardless of where they are placed, Luke Skywalker will always be a good guy. Depending on the age of Luke he may be a whiny brat, or a wise wizard, but always be a good guy.  Furthermore Darth Vader will always be a bad ass with a short fuse. Tony Stark will always be a snarky genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist.  Ewoks will always be yub nub. (You get the idea.)
This is likely why I, like many others, like Stormtroopers.  Due to their anonymous nature of their helmets, they can be anyone, and have any characteristics, so they can be used for pretty much any situation.
Stormtrooper surfing on a sea of foam

Rule 3:  There is no rule 3
Rule 4:  The characters actions must be plausible to their character
Basically this means that whatever the character is doing, it must be plausible and true to his character.  If Captain America visits the Star Wars universe, he’d still be a good guy. If Darth Vader ever came to earth, he would still be a short tempered death wizard villain, and not, say, a pizza delivery guy.  
No matter where he goes, Vader will always love a good force choke.

Again I am not saying that you can’t make Vader a pizza delivery guy in your universe, just saying it is highly unlikely to happen in mine.  Even if it did happen in mine, he’d still be a short tempered death wizard, so you better tip him very, very well.
Rule 5: Mixing LEGO and action figures is perfectly cromulent
DEIMOS does not discriminate between toys.  They can all mix together as they wish.  I’m not here to judge.
Deadpool watching TV Head

Rule 6:  Humans and Toys Totally Mix
When I talk about my universe, I am not kidding.  I do other work besides toys, and it all works together.  Humans and toys are totally allowed to mix, and not in that Toy Story “living in denial” method. Actual mixing.Dave being held up by Chewbacca.

Anything Else?
So those seem to encompass the rules of my universe, DEIMOS.  There are likely some other rules I go by, like “all elements in the frame must serve the story”, and “No Smurfs. Ever.”  but those govern all my work, not just the toys, so they are not really worth mentioning here.
Do you have rules you follow in your toy photography?  I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Weekend In North Myrtle Beach

I spent last weekend in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  The following are some photos from that trip.

My parents, and my sister, bro-in-law, and nieces were all in North Myrtle Beach for the week.  Since we live just 5 hours away, and normally they are back in Canada at 15+ hours away, we decided to toss the kids in the van and make a long weekend out of it.

Fortuitous timing had the remnants of a hurricane that hit Mexico arrived on our first day, so the weather was cold, windy, and rainy.  Despite the nasty weather we managed to get out to the beach some, including getting the above photo of Deadpool and Hulk enjoying a bro-moment at the beach.

The next day was a bit more friendly weather-wise.  Cool, windy, but dry.  So I went for a 5 mile walk to the closest pier. Along the way I got to see a whole mess of birds.

And the sun finally poking its head out for the first time.

Finally getting to the pier in peak light.

That evening we were gifted with a skim board that my nieces had outgrown.  The next day Zeke took it out into the surf and started to learn how to ride the waves.

He got pretty good at it by the end.

Abigail's speed was on the beach, where she built a castle for Belle (from Beauty And The Beast).
Shortly afterwards we headed back home.  A few short days at the beach, but we made the most of it.

One could say we body slammed it.  Maybe too literally?
Personal note:  Beaches are much more fun with action figures and cameras in hand.