Thursday, November 14, 2013

Shipping minis this holiday season?

Sender (and recipient) beware...according to a UPS truck loader, there are quite a few ways for things to go wrong. (Warning: strong language and some adult content. Possibly NSFW.) Prepare for the worst, miniaturists!

And it gets worse: according to an experiment performed by Popular Mechanics, items marked "fragile" seem to be singled out for MORE abuse. (Ugh, what is WRONG with people?)

I am especially shocked that Popular Mechanics rated the US Postal Service gentler than FedEx or UPS, since I've had more than a few mailed parcels arrive smashed, with broken items audibly rolling around inside, or simply looking as though they'd been used for baseball practice. When I've had miniatures arrive broken, guess what - all shipped by USPS from within the USA. (Curiously, I've never had anything mailed from overseas get damaged in transit...)

Anyway, to cut a long story short - if I ever need to ship miniatures, I'm shipping them in one of those cheap hard-sided coolers...inside a big wooden crate...and if necessary, I'll tuck the crate inside an old Volvo wrapped in a couple miles of bubble wrap and ship that via truck!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

All Right, Mr. DeMille, I'm Ready For My Closeup: Spring Fling 2013

Hollywood, California, 1956.

Lydia Lang, a luminous, curvy brunette, is finally a star. This is a peek into her private sanctuary, which I call "The Starlet Bungalow".

"Hollywood" and "bungalows" go together like "California" and "sunshine". Bungalows have been used on studio backlots for decades - mostly as offices and dressing rooms (although Warner Brothers' former animation building, known as Termite Terrace, was basically a bungalow the size of an airplane hangar). Some are in use to this day (Disney Studios famously preserve and use their fabled "Hyperion Bungalow", moved to its current home from the studio's original location).

Although trailers were certainly in use by 1956, it wasn't unusual for big stars to have their own bungalows (an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour even shows an actress taking refuge in the privacy of her backlot bungalow). Lydia finally got her own.

I watched Sunset Boulevard, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (R.K. Maroon had THE coolest office), and - my favorite - The Artist for visual inspiration. The porch railings are based on the porch railings outside George Valentin's dressing room. I made them out of 1/4" basswood strips and love the way they turned out.

There is a topiary hedge on one side of the bungalow, inspired by the whimsical topiaries seen to this day at Fox Studios. I didn't have the skill to do anything too fussy here, so I drew inspiration from a hedge that has neatly trimmed comedy-and-tragedy masks. Rather than copy Fox's hedge directly, this is meant to be a Walk of Fame star.

Rumored to be the secret daughter of Greta Garbo and Leopold Stokowski (she is actually the daughter of a USC professor and a research assistant), Lydia has played priestesses, queens, spies, revolutionaries - she thrives in roles that add to her otherworldly air. Last night, she took home an Oscar for her starring role as Queen Christina of Sweden. Flowers from the studio's top brass have begun to arrive.

I also took inspiration from Cecil B. DeMille's re-created office at the Hollywood Heritage Museum - it has a door with a window (and green pull-down shades), so I took the door off of my 2012 Spring Fling and swapped it for the kit door (a plain slab door is better suited to the previous Fling anyway). Really, a star should be able to see who's at her door before opening it!

This vanity was the first thing I made for the Fling, and I'm glad it was - it's the trickiest thing I've ever done in miniature! The bulbs are real and do light up, although I couldn't get a picture of it without serious glare. Vanity tray is by Patsy-Mac, brush/comb/mirror are from Dolls House Emporium.

Of COURSE Lydia has a chair (from Minimum World) with her name on it! (Such a chair would actually be used on-set, so please humor me by pretending she's re-using a chair from her first big picture.)

The dressing screen is from a McQueenie Miniatures kit. The costume is for Lydia's current project, an as-yet-untitled drama set in 1830s California.

The bookcase is a modified House of Miniatures open-top cabinet, filled with film canisters (actually miniature "biscuit tins" from SP Miniatures with my own labels), scripts and books, a rotary phone (originally a pin), and the fixings for a mid-afternoon cocktail (hey, it's 1956, and even Mr. DeMille kept booze in his office) - gin and tonics by Caroline McVicker, tray by Pete Acquisto, syphon by Glasscraft. The "gin decanter" was originally a tiny perfume-bottle pendant.

Four pictures of "Lydia". The young woman in the pictures wasn't famous, but she reminded many of her friends and relatives of old-school movie stars - polished, sharp, and always dressed to the hilt.

Close-up of Lydia's coffee table (another House of Miniatures kit), with a tiny Academy Award (made by Treefeathers), copies of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, a stack of autographed glossy pictures (I signed them all with a .005 tip pen!), and an open script. (I may have gone a little detail-mad here: even though the text is WAY too small to be readable, I shrank down and printed out a script page from Sunset Boulevard. The two-column format seen here, not standard for screenplays, was used in this case because the film is narrated from beginning to end.)

If you are unfamiliar with Variety (which you probably are), I recommend the Warner siblings' witty take on the trade paper.

Overall view of the seating area. I hope someone takes the time to notice that the window shades have pull cords with covered rings on the ends (I used quilting thread for the cords because it's heavier and tends to hang straighter than all-purpose thread). The sofa is yet another House of Miniatures kit.

Overall interior view. Do note the ceiling beams (and the poster for Queen Christina on the far right).

Loaned tiara (actually a ring) with a Screen Actor's Guild card (Marilyn Monroe's - I couldn't find a blank one) and a set of keys for a room at the fabled Chateau Marmont - where Hollywood goes to misbehave. (What? Lydia's house is being painted...really...)

Another angle.

If you were wondering how I got the background to look so realistic...that's because it's real. I wasn't sure I could paint a realistic backdrop (but if I had, the Hollywood sign would have been on it).

I don't expect to place in the contest, but I am very happy with how this build turned out!

(Disclaimer: Lydia Lang didn't really exist, and the 1956 Best Actress Oscar actually went to the late, great Anna Magnani for The Rose Tattoo - another classic movie worth watching.)