Saturday, May 14, 2011

Part 20: The House of Fujii / The Year of Mask Making

Newhall, California, in 1981 was a sparse suburb off of the I-5 freeway at the Lyons Avenue exit.  Lyons Avenue was like a giant spine that ran the length of the the town as smaller streets leading to neighborhoods radiated out from it.  There were grocery stores, like Alpha-Beta, the local Tempo Records, (both of which no longer exist) and even a decent book store, and a great pizza restaurant called Vincenzo's which was THE pizza destination as designated by Matt O'Callaghan. 

James Fujii's family lived in Santa Barbara and they purchased a small three bedroom/two bathroom home for their son to live in while he attended CalArts and off-set the mortgage by renting two of the rooms to students.  The other student, Alan White, was also in the Disney program and I hadn't met him at the school.

I pulled the Lizard King up to the house, and James and Alan were already there and moved in.  James helped me unpack, and introduced me to his Doberman Pincer, Kitty (the sweetest Doberman I would ever meet).  Then, James said something that was to change my life, again.  He offered to help me put an area of the garage together as a work space for me to make monsters!  In a scant, few weeks, I would become a garage monster maker (something I have continued my entire life - when I had a garage!) I was at once, moved and elated.

That's me in front of the house of Fujii in 1981.  I believe he and his family still reside there!
However, things were different.  Not being on campus just felt different. Knowing I had to drive to school, daily to attend classes instead of just rolling out of bed and running across campus made me feel a bit detached.  A few days after I arrived, I had to register for my classes so I drove the Lizard King up to the school and got in line.  While walking from table to table signing up for classes, I bumped into Steve Burg and something incredible happened - all of the strife, all of the frustration, all of the negative emotions that had been between us just seemed to dissipate.  I was so happy to see him, I remember giving him a big hug (which always upset him!) and then asked if he had seen DRAGONSLAYER.  He smiled.  We were back on common ground.  I asked him how the hell they had done the effects and he said "I have no idea!"  We were friends again.

After registration, I followed Steve back to his dorm room and met his new roommate, a stocky fine arts student (I think his name was Randy) who was somehow connected with baseball.  He played baseball before coming to CalArts?  It's all fuzzy.  But then, through Steve, I met some new students who would become life long friends.  Steve Moore, a Disney animation student, was from Port Norris, New Jersey.  He was blonde, a bit quiet, but had a VERY wicked sense of humor.  His roommate was from Michigan, Dan Jeup who was gregarious and an impressive animator.  Through them, I met others like Tim Hauser, Rob Minkoff, Kevin Lima; truly there are too many to mention.

I have to stop and mention something.  I posted a story about the joy and frustration of working with Super 8mm film here:

In that story, I mentioned that I hadn't seen much Super 8mm work that was any good.  Here is my exception to that fact:

What impressed me about both Steve and Dan is that they, like Steve Burg and Jim Belohovek, had managed to do some incredible stuff on Super 8 film.  So much more superior to the stupidity I was up to.  Steve Moore had made a few short, comedy films (sound!) that he said were originally produced to fulfill class assignments rather than writing papers.  Dan, had made a pencil test (pencil drawings on paper) animation based on Stevie Wonder's SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS, of a bee wooing a flower.  He had figured out how to synchronize the picture and sound (which used to be VERY difficult to do pre-computers) with very crude technology.  They were both 18. None of these gentlemen let the small format or the lack of technology get in the way of their creativity.  In some ways, I think it inspired them to push harder.

Eventually, James Cummins showed up at James Fujii's house to see my new situation and the gang was complete.  A new school year had begun and little did I know that it would be the year that would define the rest of my life.

Here we all are: Top Row (L to R) : Dave Coste, Alan Wright, Tim Hauer, James Cummins, Steve Burg, Seated on Sofa (L to R) Steve Moore, Dan Jeup, Dan Karpeles, Seated in Front: Your Truly and James Fujii

 My mother had generously underwritten my first year at CalArts, but now, I had to resort to Financial Aid, which meant a Student Loan (which during President Reagan's administration was a difficult thing to secure), and, of course, Work-Study.  My first year, I was hired as the "Athletic Assistant."  That meant that I was second in charge to sign out any school-owned athletic equipment, and since CalArts had zero organized sports, I thought that it would be an easy job.  I worked under an older photography student named Craig, who never seemed to be around (or interested), so it eventually just became me.

Sensing that there was not enough work to keep me occupied, the "Life Support Office", which was the parent office to the athletic office, absorbed me and I became part of a larger work force that provided counseling (both academic and psychological), job placement, and foreign student affairs.  Of course, I still signed out the occasional frisbee or foam bats, but otherwise, I answered phones, filed and did light office work.  The law stated that the maximum hours I could work was 20 a week, and I found myself working the maximum amount of hours.

What I also found myself doing was skipping classes.  It wasn't that I was some bad-ass or anything; the truth was that MOST of my classes were jokes.  I'll give you an example:

One semester I took a class that I thought would actually help me called "Sculpture Seminar."  The description said that the group would study different sculptural techniques and movements, blah, blah, blah.  Not exactly a monster sculpting class, but what the hell.

I showed up in a class with 7 other students and a Teacher's Assistant (I NEVER met the teacher of the class....ever...).  The "T.A." then told us that he was instructed to tell us that we each had to prepare a "lecture" on a sculptor or sculptural movement and include as much visual material as we could.  We drew lots and then from that class on, a student would lecture about something they were interested in.  No teacher.  No real seminar.  Just a group of people bringing in slides (and in my case, films) of a sculptor or discipline.  Yes, I'll admit that in some ways it was "healthy" to challenge the students, but with no guidance it became the students teaching each other....what did we need a teacher for?  Oh, that's right....THERE WAS NO TEACHER!  There were more frustrating classes. I took a beginners piano class thinking I'd learn how to play the piano.  It turned out to be just theory and very little practice.  I think all we did was play scales in different keys.  Never did I have any sheet music plopped in front of me.

So you see?  This is why I started to spend less time in class, and more time at work...AND MY GARAGE WORKSHOP!

Most of my sculpting materials, I purchased at the CalArts bookstore where they had basic blocks of plastilina, oil based clay that doesn't harden or dry.  Having no other knowledge of any other clay and no exposure to anything else, I purchased white bricks of plastilina with the intention of sculpting my first over-the-head mask.  Up to that time, I had only sculpted latex prosthetics, a failed foam latex prosthetic, and face masks.  The latex arms I had poured up were from life molds made by Jim Belohovek, so this was going to be a big step for me.

Being a huge fan of Rick Baker's, I decided to sculpt a melting man-type mask using a styrofoam wig block as a base.  I sculpted a rough skull then, I cut down two ping pong balls for the eyes, then started rolling small balls of clay "drips" and applied them to the skull until I had built up what ended up looking like a melted candle. When Steve Burg saw it, he called it "Waxman" and the name stuck.  I made my first two-piece mold with really no lessons other than what Jim Belohovek had taught me.  When the mold was finished, I cleaned out the mold and then brushed layers of latex into it.  By the time it was done, it had shrunk so much that it wouldn't have fit even if I had cut it up the back.  But I painted it and put it on my shelf.  My first real mask!  Well, sort of...

My first mask.  On the shelf behind me are my "Jenifer" and Zombie masks.


  1. I remember Kitty fondly. And you at the Halloween parties ... Could always tell it was you 'cause your masks and make-up were the best!

  2. Shannon,
    The pizza at Vincenzo's in Newhall WAS excellent! Unfortunately the owner of the restaurant was indicted & convicted of attempted murder with a contract hit on his wife. He was caught before his dastardly plans came to fruition. The owner had quite a tempter.


  3. That was the end of Vincenzo's. The place closed down when the owner was sent to prison.

  4. wondering if you any idea what became of dan karpeles? went to high school with him. i do know that he was declared a missing person on 2011. wondering what info you have.

  5. wondering if you any idea what became of dan karpeles? went to high school with him. i do know that he was declared a missing person on 2011. wondering what info you have.