Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Table of Contents: May 2012

Quick Access Links

Willa: An American Snow White
Storyboards for a family film

The Icebook
Miniature Traveling Theatre

Mount Mitchell
Western NC Mountains

The Power of Your Name
Amnesty International

The Power of Words 
My Brightest Diamond

Lord of the Rings for Kids

A Weird Poem

Trick of the Light
Vintage Laser FX

A Tribute
For Mother's Day

World Travel
Photo Essay (Part 3)


Cool Curvy Architecture

"Deep Space"
An image for Rickie Lee Jones

Mix Tape Cover Archives 1

Willa: An American Snow White

With all these recent Snow White film adaptations coming out of Hollywood (Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, and another recently canceled Disney live-action version) it reminded me of a project I worked on several years ago. I had kinda forgotten about it. Although it was a wonderful project and a fun experience. Stroll with me won't you, down memory lane. For we have to remember where we've been, to understand just where we are. 

Tom Davenport is a wonderfully talented filmmaker and the nicest guy you'd ever hope to meet. He made a  series of films based upon The Brothers Grimm folk tales. All adapted to a "period" American setting. Castles became mansions. Spooky German forests transposed to rural Appalachia and the green rolling hills of Virginia. These old stories now had settings as familiar (to us Americans anyway) as the characters have become.

When we began work in 1993, he had already made about 10 "folk tale" films, each more ambitious than the previous one. But his adaption of Snow White would be his biggest production yet. It would be a full-length feature, produced with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The project would span several years of production. During this period of development, the film had the working title of The Stepchild, but would later be released asWilla: An American Snow White.

I was brought in at the beginning of pre-production as the storyboard artist. My task was to take the script and visualize how each finished shot would look. Before any set is built or dressed. Before lights and cameras are placed and actions blocked out. The cast and crew need to know exactly what is to be seen by the camera in each shot. So working with Tom I did a simple "comic-book" style drawing of the entire film. Shot by shot. "How about we show this and then cut to that?" *sketch sketch* "Then maybe we dolly the camera over to this?" *sketch sketch* Tight shot. Wide shot. Cut to storm clouds and lightning flash, etc. Unfortunately only the first HALF of the script was written at that time. More on THAT later.

Storyboarding is probably the cheapest method to determine what works and what doesn't to tell the story. Most film directors today use this process. Some even draw the boards themselves (Ridley Scott). While other directors like to work spontaneously on the set and avoid using boards (Werner Herzog). But Tom sensed early on that storyboarding would be crucial for this large a production. Since films are typically shot out-of-sequence (unlike a live play which is linear) the boards helped us immeasurably. Films are made up of tiny pieces that only create the illusion of continuity when edited together. Therein lies the bulk of the storytelling (along with costumes, sets, music, etc. which contribute to story). It can be daunting just keeping it all straight in everyone's minds as to what we are shooting and where we are in the story at any given moment. When viewing the drawings in sequence, as if watching the movie play out, we could see where we should consolidate shots and determine exactly how much film set we even needed to construct based on what the camera would actually see in each shot. No sense in building four walls if the camera only aims at three.

Here's an example of a single storyboard and the accompanying finished shot. Then imagine hundreds more.    
Another blog writer happened to catch something we did with the role of the "evil stepmother". Her character was inspired by Gloria Swanson's over-the-top performance in the classic Sunset Boulevard. The aging actress clinging to her fleeting fame, and the young beautiful up and coming actress seen as a threat to her status as the "fairest in the land". It's a clever modern twist on her motives that fits so well into the story you almost don't realize the evolution. And Caitlin O'Connell was a natural in the role of Regina. She got to chew some scenery and of course... oops almost spoiled the ending.
Sunset Boulevard (left), Willa (right)

And why Mark Jaster hasn't been cast as Chaplin in a remake of City Lights I'll never know. That's a shame and a real missed opportunity. The guy is amazing. He plays Regina's butler, chauffeur and eventually Willa's accomplice.  

Not to rehash our plot, but we don't have a character who IS actually Snow White, we have a character who is the embodiment of Snow White (from her jealous stepmother's perspective) and is a young aspiring actress who finally portrays the character of Snow White in a performance for a traveling medicine show, that has taken in the little run-away. She helps to entertain the masses and hold their attention while her colleagues pitch tonic water, snake oils and other useless "medicines" to the audience. She's an innocent and partakes not knowing the true value of the so-called "miracle elixirs". She sells illusions, not unlike us film-makers. To her, it's simply a way to avoid her frighteningly oppressive stepmother and escape into her beloved make-believe. And yes, one of the members of the medicine show is a little person.

In the title role, playing Willa, we were blessed to have Becky Stark, in her final year of High School. She did a great job in a pivotal role. And she fit nicely into Davenport's plucky leading lady types (ala Robbie Sams' genuine performance in Mutzmag, who troopered through the production only to sadly lose her battle with cystic fibrosis shortly after that film wrapped). 

Becky has gone on to have much success with her band Lavender Diamond (seen below touring with The Decemberists) as well as writing, acting and performing. She hasn't changed much at all. If we needed some pick-up shots of Willa... she could still pull it off I think.
Normally her work with Lavender Diamond is bubbly and fun-spirited, some might say even goofy, full of bright colors and puppets. But I thought I'd post a link to this more subdued piece. In case you hadn't heard this side of her work. FYI: That's NOT Becky in the video.

I also have a cameo in the film as a... well, how about I just let you find me. ;-) Many of the crew contributed ourselves to the crowd scenes. I'm the one over-acting. 

Now because of location scheduling issues (we only had access to the interior of the mansion in winter) and the fact that our lead actress was soon heading off to Brown University, we had to quickly shoot the first half of the film. But we did not have a finished script for the second half once Willa runs away from home! We toyed with various ideas much more closely aligned with the folk tale. But for various reasons (many of which Davenport discusses in the nice lengthy interview on the DVD) when we resumed production, we grounded the "fantasy" story back down to reality a bit more. Starting a project without knowing how you are going to end it (ala Apocalypse Now) is scary, but it also pushes you to think creatively and logically. It puts more importance and weight on your creative decisions. So you think twice about everything whereas before you might've just plunged on ahead as if your ideas were set in stone. Also it can become a more collaborative endeavour as various cast and crew make contributions to the story. In the end, because we had that break in the middle of filming, the finished product benefited.       

We had our 1997 gala premiere at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Willa went on to win the Parents Choice Award and the ALA Carnegie Medal for "Best Children's Entertainment Film". Film-making is typically a grueling amount of effort. But sometimes, you get lucky and the various elements come together properly and the movie just works. And based on audience response, it seems this film works. Tom Davenport has a knack for making his films work. His attention to detail really comes through on screen. Personally I can't detach myself and just enjoy the film as a movie. Everything in it triggers feelings of "Oh I remember shooting that. I was hiding behind the camera there. Oh that was a long cold night. I wonder what he's doing now. I wish I could've done that differently. Everyone looks so young." etc. And of course, the passing of my mother during production affected me greatly. But the experience of the production itself remains a pleasant memory. And the film continues to do it's job well... to entertain.  

I still do a lot of storyboards. Both presentation and production boards. Mostly for commercials. The process hasn't really changed that much in 20 years. But with CGI you are now freed to move the camera anywhere you want. But that doesn't mean you should. You still have to keep thinking about the message or story you are trying to convey. Do what best serves the story.

For those interested in learning more about the art and process of storyboarding I suggest this blog. And a book I highly recommend is Daneil Arijon's Grammar of the Film Language. It's essential reading for those getting into the film industry in general. 

Here's a short preview. 
Unfortunately the image quality here is not great.  

You can preview more of Tom Davenport's films here. And of course there's

Well... that's a wrap.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Icebook (Traveling Show)

The Icebook is a miniature theatre show made of white paper and moving light. An exquisite experience of fragile paper cutouts and video projections that sweep you right into the heart of a fantasy world. It is an intimate and immersive experience of animation, book art and performance. For more information please visit:

Davy & Kristin McGuire
Davy & Kristin are an award winning director/designer duo whose projects range from music videos, commercials, animation films and installations to live theatre shows, dance performances, video projections and everything in between. They created The Icebook and recently directed, designed and performed a critically acclaimed stage adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle at the Southwark Playhouse in London. Their clients’ list includes Cirque du Soleil, Microsoft, Canal+, The Guillemots, Partizan and Aardman and their works have been viewed over 325K times on Vimeo last year. Their productions have also featured on the BBC, on TV in Japan, on Canal+ in France as well as being published in Kerrang, Digital Arts, Contageous Magazine, Time Out, Metro, Times and Elle Girl Korea.

The Icebook is currently on tour in Europe. See the schedule here.

Enjoy this preview:

Hiking to Heaven

Here's some shots from a recent walk in the mountains of Western NC. Mount Mitchell is the tallest peak in the United States east of the Mississippi River. Because of it's altitude, it's normally clouded in, but luck was on my side that day.

Got some nice long-range pics
From one of the Blue Ridge Parkway overlooks 
Wise old tree on the trail to Craggy Pinnacle before the rains came
Too bad these photos don't even capture a fraction of the true beauty 
The lush greens almost hurt your eyes
The forest is alive
Nowhere to go... but down
Care to join me?

The Power of a Signature

Amnesty International doesn’t just reveal the outrage of human rights abuse but inspires hope for a better world through public action and international solidarity.
We help stop human rights abuses by mobilizing our members and supporters to put pressure on governments, armed groups, companies and intergovernmental bodies

It's people who make the difference.
Click the banner above to see how you could help.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Power of Words

I have never loved someone the way I love you
I have never seen a smile like yours
And if you grow up to be king, or clown, or pauper
I will say you are my favorite one in town

I have never held a hand so soft and sacred
When I see you laugh, I know heaven's key
And when I grow to be a poppy in the graveyard
I will send you all my love upon the breeze

And if the breeze won't blow your way, I will be the sun
And if the sun won't shine your way, I will be the rain
And if the rain won't wash away all your aches and pains
I will find some other way to tell you you're okay

Thursday, May 17, 2012

New Fantasy Books for Kids

AVAILABLE JUNE 5, 2012 | |

Enter the magical world of Alyndoria. A mythical island kingdom filled with a variety of colorful characters and unusual environments. Meet a helpful faery named Periwinkle, a seventy-five foot (give or take) dragon who collects books, an ancient wise mystic woodsmen who communes with the forest animals, a misunderstood not-so-scary bridge troll, a mysterious and beautiful unicorn, ... and three eager young protagonists. A trio of spoiled princes and princesses who think they know it all. But are about to get a lesson they'll never forget. 

Well, hopefully they'll never forget.  

For the future of Alyndoria itself may very well rest on their tiny shoulders. Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself.... that's Book 4.

The ALYNDORIA series of "fantasy" books from Robin Moyer (and me) is designed for parents looking for thought-provoking, yet non-violent chapter books for their young children. 
The moralistic fables are deliberately "old-school" in style and tone. Harking back to a simpler time. Intelligent modern "classics" with absolutely no sense of self-irony or pop culture references. Fun stories set in fantastic landscapes, featuring young characters with universal problems today's kids can identify with. So although the settings may seem fantastic, the character's emotions are completely authentic and all too real.    

Something absent you might not even realize upon your first read.... a villain. Much like real life, these magical tales do not culminate in a violent confrontation to kill anyone or destroy anything. No the modern twist, if there is one, is that they tell stories of very personal journeys that the young protagonists undertake, the obstacles they overcome and the hardships they endure. The stories culminate is self-awareness and lessons learned. For the problem is often within themselves, and the solution is often found on the road less traveled. And as a reader, one's ultimate sense of fulfillment comes from witnessing (and paralleling) their admirable achievements. Each book contains riddles the young reader helps decipher along with the main character.

On June 5th, Wynwidyn Press is proud to present the first three books in the series.
The Crystal Tear, The Golden Flame, and The Emerald Heart. They will be available through their website and wherever books are sold soon after. 
But there's an interesting back story here worth reading...   

Author Robin Moyer (then known as Robin Maglione) wrote Alyndoria in 1985. She found a suitable illustrator in a sixteen year-old high school kid named Darren Wheeling. That was me. I "got" what she was going for and she liked my visualizations of her characters and situations. Due to budgetary considerations the original book (released in 1986) was only published in black and white. It featured all three stories above (now separated and expanded into three stand-alone smaller books) and was called ALYNDORIA: TALES OF INNER MAGIC. It met with some success. We did bookstore signings and it was turned into a cute stage play by Green Hedges Elementary School in Vienna, Virginia. 

But the climate for fantasy works aimed at children was not very conducive in the 1980s. Dungeons and Dragons had many parents worried their children would turn to witchcraft. Yes, really! Now 25 years later, stories of teen wizards (Harry Potter) (and even romantic teen Vampires!) are the biggest franchises in media. Parents gather up their kids and flock to these "event" pictures. Thanks to new techniques in film-making, the fantasy genre is thriving. The culture has changed. The time has finally come for Alyndoria to be embraced, make it's mark and find it's widest audience. So Robin decided to revisit the old story. She tweaked the text a bit, and then new ideas for where the story could go next started to develop. Perhaps Alyndoria had more tales to tell. More surprises to share. 

But if she was to do a sequel she would need it illustrated. Then she wondered what ole Darren was up to. But Robin and I had not had any contact in 25 years. She did not know if I was still alive or if I would be the slightest bit interested in the project. Perhaps I was now a tax accountant somewhere. Or the manager of a miniature golf course with five kids.

Enter that neat little invention... the internet.

She Googles me. Then emails me. Then calls. After a few "how-ya-beens", and "wouldn't-it-be-neats", we realized Alyndoria was destined to be reborn. Because as it turned out, Robin was now working at a book publishing house in Michigan. And I had become a professional free-lance graphic designer (with no social life) in North Carolina. The perfect storm. What are the chances. So  I said, "Yeah, why not?"

We first discussed the sequel, and whether I would be interested in illustrating it. Then we thought we should first re-release the original three stories as they lead into the next plot line. The original book is long out of print so her publishing company would have to re-release it to prime the market for the next adventure. But we both felt that the old black-n-white artwork I did when I was a teen should be redone to match the art for the sequel. So now... I've completely re-illustrated all three stories (and created new covers) leading up to the cool sequel which is coming later this year. It'll be called Alyndoria: The Eternal Seed and is nearly the length of the first three books combined. By the way, I don't recommend to any young authors or illustrators out there to undertake and complete three (or four) books at one time. One is plenty. This boy is tired.

Plus Robin has such complete attachment and devotion to her "baby", that she quit her job at the other publishing house and has finally set up her own publishing company. Something she's wanted to do for years anyway. Now she will personally release the Alyndoria series and many other books (from her and other authors). Her new company is called Wynwidyn Press (named after a central character in The Eternal Seed). She tells her clients it stands for What You Need When I Do Your Novel. Ha ha. So then I designed her new company logo and she's going nuts with constructing this huge tree "growing" through her entire office space. Books and authors are "sprouting" like leaves and fruit all over it. I'm sure she'll post photos on the website when it's ready. 

Interestingly, we've done all the work completely remotely via the web. We still haven't seen each other since 1986. But we plan to do some book signing tours together soon and other promotion. Even this blog entry is something we could not have imagined feasible back in 1986. Marketing has changed so much in the interim years. It's been a fascinating journey for us as creators, to make something people enjoyed. Then move on to other things and let life get in the way. Then out of nowhere, decades later, that same creation returns to it's original creators for Round Two. It stirs up new ideas and wants to reach more people. To grow. I feel Alyndoria is telling Robin and I what to do. Not the other way 'round. And that joint creation has reunited it's creators for it's own purpose. We now joke that those same Green Hedges Elementary School students are now themselves parents and THEIR children are now ready to enter Alyndoria. The next generation awaits. And Robin and I are anxious to see where this journey leads us as well. I hope you enjoy the books. Welcome to ALYNDORIA. And don't be afraid... the dragon is friendly.     

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Brimstone! (a poem)

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This was just a little comical piece that kinda took on a life of it's own. I've been writing little... "things" down that come to me and kind of confuse me. Little sayings and ideas that make sense, but not really. Not in a traditional way. Of course I'm not making sense now. Hmmm, how do I explain it. I guess I don't. Too bad I'm not better with words, but I guess if I was I would'nt have to explain my poetry in the first place. 

The image is just a pencil sketch I took into Photoshop and animated the little drop of life. 

Oh Wait! I just remembered something...about the title. In the mid 1990's I kept a dream book tucked away in a cavity in the headboard of my bed. It's a small blank hand-made cloth covered book I fill with sketches and ideas for stuff. Lots of times when I have a curious dream, I'll take notes before consciousness erases my memory of it. One day I found the mysterious word BRIMSTONE! written on one of the blank pages deep into the book. Nothing else, just that word. With a big exclamation point. It was scrawled in a handwriting I did not recognize. I can't remember writing it personally. No one else knew of the book. So I can't fathom it as a prank nor does it even seem like a proper prank anyway. Perhaps it was already written in the book when I acquired the book years before and I never noticed. Actually it was a gift from my mother a decade before and she passed away around that time I found the word. To this day I have no idea where it came from or who put it there. The word at the top of this page is the actual scan of the page...or actually I hand copied the word onto another page for some reason not long after discovering it and that's actually what I scanned and used above. For some odd and aggravating reason I can no longer find the original page that had the word. It's gone. And I drew that little guy with the spikey hair under the copied word at the time as well. I don't really know what exactly the word even means, to me it'll always just be that "word" that showed up uninvited in my dream book... and then years later when I wanted it to be there to scan it for this website, it wasn't there anymore. Like a dream. It existed and then it didn't. At least that's what I thought. Maybe it never was. 

~ Darren Wheeling (6-25-2002)