Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Part 23: The Long Slow Spiral Downward Begins

My wife, Tracy, has told me that there have been new studies publishing evidence that people under the age of 25 have less developed brains than the brain of a mature adult, especially where it comes to reasoning.  That's all I needed to hear to rationalize my actions in the spring semester of CalArts.  I wasn't getting anything out of my classes and I started not going.  I spent all of my time either working in the Life Support Office, or in Fujii's garage working on my masks.

I think what really killed any enthusiasm for CalArts was two things:  1.) The school had received a Motion Control Camera system (from the United States Navy, I was led to believe). We were told that no "commercial" type work was to be done on the camera and students were only going to be allowed to "experiment" and find new applications to make "art" with the equipment.  Ugh.  That would mean we would have to sit through more abstract shit produced by a top of the line system without being able to use it in more practical applications. 2.) At my sophomore art review, the Assistant Dean Myron Emery looked at my work and told me that if I knew I wanted to work in Hollywood movies, I should just go out and get a job.

It was obvious that the school didn't support my goals, and I didn't buy into their philosophy.  What we had there was a failure to communicate.  I left the school at the end of the semester on academic probation.

I received a notice from the Financial Aid Office informing me that I had used up my allotted money for Work/Study which meant I lost my job at the Life Support Office.  Knowing that I needed to continue paying rent and gas, clay, plaster, latex, etc. I had to find a job and I had to find one quickly.

Answering a job placement ad for a sculptor, I landed a commission to replace the head of a cowboy dummy in a local dentist's office.  They paid me $100 and materials.  He even gave me some alginate and dental trays

Even if I had better photos of the dummy, I'd never publish them.  Sheesh!
 I heard that my friend, Jim Belohovek had landed a job with miniature builder Sue Turner of Visual Concepts Engineering.  VCE was run by CalArts alumnus Peter Kuran and they were working on post production for THE THING. Steve Burg had left for New Jersey for the summer, informing me that he hoped to return some time next fall or as soon as he could.  My Disney school friends has either left for Disney (or competing studios like Don Bluth) or were drawing caricatures at Magic Mountain.  James Fujii even offered to train me, but I knew in my heart that I just couldn't draw like the animators.  I had tried and failed.

Jim in his dorm room.  Jim graduated after he did a 2-D animated film about the sinking of the Titanic.
 James Cummins and his crew had left for Canada to work on a sci-fi film entitled STRANGE INVADERS, but he said that due to the schedule and the amount and quality of the work that they needed to do, he didn't feel comfortable hiring me, with no professional experience.  It all seemed pretty hopeless.  I'm fairly confident that the other problem was that I didn't have enough money to return back home and I knew I couldn't be a further financial burden on either of my parents.  There was no other alternative.  I began searching for a job. 

(NOTE: I find that actually typing the following words are causing me a small but significant amount of physical pain - )

The only thing I could find was at a new Carvel Ice Cream parlor that had opened up in a brand new strip mall in Canyon Country. Yes, I bought white jeans, white shirts, learned how to scoop, make sundaes, and dip cones into molten chocolate.  In fairness, they were really nice people to work for, but even at nineteen years old, I was three years older than most of their other employees.  They did rely on me to do some light assistant manager type things - lock up at the end of the night, that kind of stuff.  But it was a bit humiliating.  "Big monster maker", "next big make up artist", scooping ice cream for lines of Santa Claritans.

One night, however, Jim Beinke showed up, with a friend, looking for ice cream and discovered me there. He could have laughed (he may have, I wouldn't have blamed him) but instead asked if I was interested in working on a theater project.  It paid, roughly what I was making at Carvel, and at least I would be making something other than banana splits.  I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

The show turned out to be the official entertainment of the Gay Olympics being held in San Francisco that year.  It was a Sci-Fi themed stage show entitled "Celestial Lords" and required masks, head dresses, and costume pieces for different "ages".  We were working out of the "Wonder Shop" (the theater set/prop building shop) at CalArts and since it was the summer, we pretty much had full run of the place. The costumes had been designed by the guy who had designed all of the "Holidays on Ice" shows and he determined what parts of the costumes we had to make, the shop and production was supervised by one of the CalArts theater scenic instructors, Marcia Hinds.

Marcia and her crew built this giant octopus armature for the show, but for the life of me I can't remember what it looked like finished...
 It was better than working at Carvel, for sure, but the work was a bit "rough" in many ways.  We were just a couple of cheap kids who didn't mind working round the clock for the little cash that they were paying us.  I think that the most ambitious and successful thing we did was a couple of "skeleton" suits that when the dancers who were wearing them stood in a specific pose, it looked like giant dinosaur skeletons.

These were giant Phoenix wings cut out of styrofoam and then covered with expanding soft polyfoam.  The first time I had ever used that material.  It was like some sort of toxic miracle!
 Jim did most of the sculpting, but I did sculpt the "post-apocalyptic" gas mask helmet and cod piece (which looked like a pair of grenades masquerading as testicles).  Most of what we made ended up being cast in latex, and we had taken one of the public restrooms (that wasn't being used for the summer) and converted it into an oven.  Now what I'm about to tell you is important:

Jim and I worked in a "tool cage" on one side of the shop.  It was set up with tables, lamps, etc. but was within a chain-link fenced off section of the shop.  Then there was the shop itself that was easily 150 feet or so in length that was cluttered with band saws, drill presses, sanders, table saws, etc.  Through a pair of doors on the opposite side of the shop from the tool cage, was a hallway that led to the bathroom/oven where the latex pieces were drying in their molds.

One night, I was getting ready to leave the shop.  It was late at night, Jim and I were by ourselves working late and I was tired.  Jim as in the middle of sculpting something and asked if I would go check on some molds in the oven that we had just poured an hour ago.  I agreed and began walking across the shop.  About halfway across, I can "tell" that Jim is walking behind me so I just start talking to him about what was going on, what we had to build, what-not.  We go through the double doors and into the restroom oven.  I reach inside of the "Iron-Age" Helmet mold and it is completely dry after only an hour.  From behind me I hear an impressed whistle.  "Yeah,", I said, "I can't believe they are dried out already." I turn to Jim and he's not there.  In fact, NO ONE is there!  Standing in the middle of this hot oven, I suddenly got FREEZING COLD!  My first thought was - "Shit! Jim's playing a prank on me." I ran into the hall - no one.  I sprint into the shop, hoping to get a glance of Jim running between tables back to the cage - nothing.  I run into the cage and ask Jim if he was messing with me.

Suddenly, his eyes grew wide. "You saw IT!" he said, "I can't believe it!  I've worked here for a year and have NEVER seen it!"  My heart started pounding.  I asked him what he thought I saw and he answered "The ghost; this place is haunted everybody knows that!"  He then went on to recall a series of sightings in the CalArts Modular Theater.  Even the entire cast and crew of the show SOLID GOLD that was shooting there, saw a figure in an unused, locked, stage control room.  The Dean of the Theater department used to walk around campus with his dog who would follow him everywhere, except into the Modular Theater.  The dog wouldn't cross the threshold.

Try as we might, we could never get the ghost to make contact.  We even made a Ouija board and put it into the theater lighting catwalk hoping that the planchette would have been moved from the position we place it.

The "Fish Guy" Helmet that Jim Beinke sculpted, being molded in sections
Another view.
Jim also sculpted this Fish Guy Shell Back Piece.  Note the ALIEN poster in the back.
Here is the Post-Apocalyptic Gas Mask I sculpted.  I lathed the custom hose out of s\Styrofoam and molded it.
The "Iron Age" helmet.  Wish I could remember the guy's name who's wearing it.  That's Marcia's husband's back.

We finished building and the pieces were sent up to San Francisco to the costume department who would make adjustments and make it all work with what they were fabricating.  My summer job was over and I certainly didn't want to return to Carvel.  I was sure that they wouldn't take me back anyway.

I was so broke that I called Tracy and asked her to send me some money, which she did.  I was out of school, out of work, borrowing money from my girlfriend, and not sure how I was going to pay rent the next month.

Not knowing what the next step was to be, Fate made it for me.  I received a call from Mark Shostrom.  He was looking for a roommate.

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