Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ups and Downs

Work on the house is progressing...slowly.

Mostly, it's the lights. This will be my first electrified house, so not only am I learning the basics, but dollhouse lights can be fiddly little things with finicky plugs (I considered battery-operated lights, but they would have eaten half the budget). 

Order lights...wait for them to arrive...wait for back-ordered transformer to arrive...find out it doesn't work...wait for return authorization form to arrive...replacement doesn't work...finally get one that 2 of the lights don't work...more waiting for replacements...and I'm still waiting on ceiling roses I ordered ages ago, since I will need to thread the wires through them before I can do the ceilings.

No wonder it can take several years to build a dollhouse.

However, I have had no problems with the first staircase, and really like how it turned out:

Monday, July 16, 2012

That Extra Bit of Detail

I am an excellent multi-tasker.  Today I managed to read The Art of Ratatouille for inspiration while waiting for an important phone call and stewing over how difficult it is to make handmade windows look right - and, more importantly, how to make them fit into imperfect holes. (Have I mentioned that I am not good with power tools? Picture Wile E. Coyote struggling to hold onto a runaway Acme jackhammer. That, in a nutshell, is me with a Dremel.)

Luckily, the talented people at Pixar had some answers.

On page 78, I hit a great quote from set designer Robert Kondo. In part: "We tweaked the tile pattern so the tiles were slightly irregular, and then shading made sure it was worn unevenly, like a real floor...with rats, we were really going to spend a lot of time close to it. If we hadn't taken the time to make the floor look right, those perfectly straight lines and surfaces would've popped you out of the world..."

Well. That makes me feel a bit better about ordering tiny-but-real ceramic tiles for some of the floors, since I've handled them before and they tend to be slightly irregular, too. I experimented with stone mosaic tiles, but they were so uneven it just didn't work.

Then on page 100, supervising technical director Michael Fong explains "From a technical point of view, it's complicated to build a world that works equally well for characters of two very different scales. We build things at a human scale, but when a rat gets close to an object, that object has to have that extra bit of detail that will hold up at the much smaller scale."

I had to laugh; any good miniaturist understands this all too well. Case in point: Mulvany and Rogers put real dust in corners, re-create cracks in floors, and stain chimneys with real soot. Those tiny details are what makes their work so realistic.

Fourteen pages later, a passage on the Paris set design divulges that "...the horizontal and vertical lines of the streets and individual buildings, which tended to form continuous lines over long stretches, were broken up to give each component the feeling of being handmade...the better to include the details that give a city the proper feeling of solidity, of age and wear."

Which sounded sensible enough to me. Paris is a very old city. Old buildings tend to "settle" over time and have little irregularities that you might not notice without measuring tools or a level (as I discovered when I moved into an old apartment building and noticed that the ceiling wasn't parallel to the windows when trying to determine curtain rod placement). Speaking of old buildings...

"There are so many details to an aged look - the effects of acid rain, and the building blocks whose corners round off from years and years of wear, and grasses and mosses and lichens and rust stains."

That came from Belinda Van Valkenburgh, the film's shading art director. I see a LOT of sanding, staining, distressing, painting, and repainting in my tiny house's future, but I do want it to look authentically old. Where I live, some people build fantasy homes - storybook cottages, Mediterranean villas, even the odd castle - and I have to say that most of the time, they look fake because the details are either wrong or missing.

And some final insight from Michael Fong: "Our directors and art directors have been pushing to get away from straight lines and give things a handmade feel; the miniaturized and overscaled look of this film pushed us to examine everything that we make sure nothing had an actual, real straight line in it." Emphasis mine.

If Pixar, known for mind-blowing attention to detail, deliberately avoids straight lines in the name of realism, I suppose it's all right to have slightly crooked windows. It's a French townhouse; I can always blame irregularities on a combination of age, urban pollution, repairs, war damage, and archaic building techniques.

That's enough of my babbling. Here's my progress on the roof:

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dry Fit!

Can you see the changes I've made to Lea Frisoni's house plans?