Every year, my boys and I are tasked by my wife* to come up with a Christmas card to send out to family and friends. And, every year there are the usual challenges to produce something creative and that tops last years efforts.
This year, the original concept was to find a 1930s motorcycle with a side car and figure out how to get it up to the studio. Well, I found one 1934 BMW, in cherry red. But, it was about a foot too wide to fit in the elevator. And the owner was understandably reluctant to separate it for the low budget we had for prop rentals. I even offered to raise my price to 2 six-packs of beverage of his choice. But, we were turned down and had to table that idea. (still looking, if you know anyone).
Plan B was to place the boys some place like 1960s NASA or 1980s War Games (Matthew Broderick, 1983. Look it up.) or, perhaps, Hunt For Red October style of thing.
Which would require the creation of a prop radar screen station and a little photoshop work.
*Disclaimer: Yes, she wants a nice card every year. And, yes, I am the one who decides to turn it into a full pre- and post- production project requiring multiple props, costumes, special effects and a generally quirky sense of humor. But, she loves me anyway.
Step 1: The Plan
Any good, concept based photoshoot starts with a plan. I needed to sketch up the basic idea, both to figure out the shopping list and to share and get approvals from the talent (my boys) and my client (my wife).
You can see that, at this point, the station was going to be Ice Station Blitzen.
Step 2: Shopping List
1 4x4 sheet of luan (1/4 inch plywood)
2 2x3 8' pine
1 lid from 5 gallon paint bucket
various switches, dials, knobs etc.
I found the knobs on eBay a while ago, when I was working on a Steampunk project. I found the old dc volt meters online for another project, too.
I am really kicking myself because I attended the MIT Flea, an amazing tech flea market in Cambridge, MA, about a month before. And, I could have have bought about 4 pounds of various cool and bizarre looking antique switches for what I paid for the 10 or so toggles from a local electronics store. Ah, well.
I also had a couple of old headsets from various garage sales.
The costumes were a couple of brand new shirts (still had the tags) from a local thrift store.
Step 3: Assembly
I cut the 4 x 4 sheet of luan in half and then cut the holes for the dials and for the radar screen. Then I spray painted it with several coats of grey.
I built three brackets made from the 2x3s to support the luan by making an L and then adding an angled piece. (sorry, didn't take a picture of those).
Once I set it up in the studio, we checked for placement of the buttons and dials and then drilled holes for the switches and sockets. I could have also wired in LEDs and more switches but I knew I could add some in post production and didn't want to dedicate that much time to actually wiring it up.
The ring around the outside of the radar screen was made by cutting the inside of the 5 gallon bucket top and spray painting it black. For the photoshoot, I put several layers of diffusion material, plus a couple of green gels meant for balancing strobes to florescent lights.
Step 4: The Shoot
I decided to use hotlights for this shoot because I really wanted to be directional and a bit contrasty. Also, my strobes would have been too much for the radar light.
Check out the video in the next step to see a slide show of the lighting set up.