To pay homage to the movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), Kurt worked to recreate a few scenes using HO scale figures and props. While Kurt spent hours modifying and painting figures and vehicles, I researched the exact locations where the original scenes were filmed. The movie was filmed in Southern California where we happened to be staying at the time.
Kurt's biggest challenge was to find the HO scale vehicles to match the ones in the movie. For example, the HO scale tow truck Kurt used in his scene was originally an HO scale US Army 3/4 ton truck that he modified using paint, balsa wood, thread, rubber and cardboard.
My difficulty was to find the nearest location possible when the original filming location wasn't working out. When Kurt tried to photograph the HO scale tow truck driving down the hill in Yucca Valley, he realized that it was not translating well from an HO scale perspective so instead we relocated to the closest neighborhood with nice looking Joshua Trees.
When Kurt photographed the man and his bicycle standing in the road and flagging down a vehicle, we were right on highway 74, outside of Palm Desert. The area has drastically changed since the movie was filmed 54 years ago. Instead of a dusty, barren desert, it's now lush and developed.
The scene in Rancho Palos Verdes was tricky because it was originally filmed on a private estate. Fortunately, tucked in between large swaths of privately-owned land were a few public parks with views of the ocean. One of these parks had the ideal grass height to photograph the Big W scene. The ground was at a slight slant allowing for the horizon (ocean) to show in the final shot.
Although all of the scenes feature blue sky and sun, the last photo shoot on the Kern river started out as overcast and drizzly. Kurt was working with the conditions at hands when the drizzle stopped and the clouds broke for 15 minutes allowing Kurt to capture the last image of the series in nice light and with a blue sky.
We'd like to get back to Southern California soon to photograph more scenes from the movie. Thankfully a few recognizable features are still standing today but for how much longer?
I can't believe 6 months have passed since our last update. Kurt and I have kept busy for the most part with a little idling in between.
During the summer, Kurt and I hosted various family members and friends at Gooseberry Falls where we campground host. We made our Barebones wall tent into a cozy cabin complete with inflatable queen size bed, reclining chair and mini fridge. Some of the activities our guests enjoyed included hikes in the woods, agate hunting on the beach, chatting around the campfire and touring the shops and the eateries along the north shore.
Early fall, we published our third postcard set titled: the American Southwest. Kurt designed the postcard set to look like a miniature magazine with each title describing the postcards inside the set. Our collection of postcards photographed in a handful of National Parks happens to coincide with the National Park Service 100th anniversary!
We spent a couple weeks in the Twin Cities and then headed to the Southwest for the winter. On our way to Death Valley we made stops in Arches, Bryce and Zion National Parks. While in Utah, we also made a quick stop to see dinosaur tracks just outside of Arches. Before we knew it we were back in Las Vegas and it felt as if we had never left.
Kurt and I are currently volunteering in Death Valley National Park, photographing for the park. Here are a few photos of our travels and our work in the park:
Kurt was commissioned by Entertainment Weekly magazine to photograph a beach full of miniature people lounging in front of giant books to introduce the Summer’s 10 biggest reads. (June 3/10, 2016 p. 72-73)
It’s mid-day, we finally found the beach we were looking for. Kurt took a quick test shot on the edge of the lake and confirmed that it was the right spot. We propped up the books on the sand as close as possible to the edge of the water so that the lake would show up in the photo. Occasionally a boat would trigger a series of waves but fortunately none were potent enough to soak the books.
Kurt positioned the miniatures to make up several story lines and proceeded to photograph for the next several hours. Unfortunately we were facing a couple major challenges: for starter, the sand was too dark and too coarse so the miniatures did not show up very well. Also, the books were casting a shadow onto the scene and there was nothing we could do about it. After struggling all afternoon, Kurt admitted that it would not work and we packed it in for the day.
We woke up early with high hopes and ready to do good work. At 10 a.m. we were back on the beach and had it all for ourselves. We propped the books up in the sand and Kurt sprinkled some medium grain sand onto the foreground. Kurt worked on creating a beach scene, arranging the HO scale figures to create new story lines. By the time we were ready to shoot, the sun was practically above us, illuminating both the books and the miniature scene. Somehow, clouds managed to show up at the right time to complete our beach scene. We were very happy with the end result!
A couple months ago Kurt was commissioned to illustrate an article about divorce for the April 2016 issue of Men's Health magazine.
Being based out of Death Valley National Park, Las Vegas was the ideal location to photograph the three scenes as the story was taking place in the Sun Belt.
Here is a recount of our experience in Kurt's words:
We had two days in Las Vegas to complete the photography part of the project. It's always about the light, too much, too little, hard shadows, light coming from the wrong angle... For the scene of the house split in half, we were fortunate to find a crack in the asphalt that matched the scene I had imagined!
Finding a suitable apartment to shoot in was our 2nd greatest challenge. After being turned down by commercially owned properties, we began researching private properties on Craigslist. We found a great little home near UNLV, contacted the owner and shot the scene with the man sitting on the couch watching TV . Check out the "Making of" below where Edwige photographed me prepping this particular scene using fiber optic strands, a false floor and a flashlight.
Finding a traditional looking school was another challenge. The Historic Las Vegas High School (which opened in 1930) turned out to be exactly what I was imagining for the scene!
The Making of...
Death Valley is experiencing a"superbloom", its first since 2005. We're fortunate to be here to witness (and smell) it! The park got more rain than usual this past fall and just enough in January to make this super bloom occur. The flowers in the south of the park are past "peak" but the area around Furnace Creek is really starting to fill in with the Desert Gold flower.
Well, we made it to Death Valley N.P. and we're in our third week of volunteering. Last week Edwige and I were out shooting for the park and we came across some photographers shooting near Mormon Point. We hopped out of the car and started documenting them figuring they'd make good lifestyle shots (aside from the Ranger Programs and landscape photos we're always looking to photograph people enjoying the park).
After I got a few good shots, Edwige walked over and asked them to sign a release so that the park may possibly publish the shots online or in print. One of the photographer's name rang a bell so we looked him up when we got back to camp. Turns out we were shooting John Shaw and Jack Dykinga! I'm not usually star struck but I've been inspired by the work of these two guys for years. I've admired Jack Dykinga's work in Arizona Highways and John Shaw's work in National Geographic. In a way, it was best I didn't know it at the time or I would have felt a little intimidated :)
We have decided to merge both our travel blog (lifeinatravco.com) and our Un Petit Monde blog. I have been procrastinating the merger of the two blogs as I didn't want to confuse our art with our life, which is pretty much the same thing. More on that later...
Edwige and I left Minnesota yesterday for Death Valley National Park. We mapped a course through South Dakota hoping to shoot the miniatures in the Badlands and at the Minuteman Missile Museum. That didn't work out so well. I'm sitting in a cafe at Wall Drug writing this blog as Edwige plots our next move. It seems we'll be stuck with very cold and snowy conditions whichever direction we choose.
Our sleeping bag is rated for temperatures as low as 0 Degrees (fahrenheit), which will be put to the test tonight. My primary concern is our food. We should be cozy enough but not all of our food fares well being frozen. In fact, the food in our Yeti cooler is probably 30 degrees warmer than the food at the back of our van!
It's shaping up to be another exciting adventure! As soon as the frigid cold and wind subsides a little, I'll get to photographing the miniatures again.
The aquarium is perched on the bank of lake Superior in touristy Duluth, Minnesota and holds the title of "America's only all-freshwater aquarium”. We drove by it a dozen times over the summer on our way to the Twin Cities and promised one day to pay a visit with the miniatures.
Some quick research helped get us over the hump as the whole building’s facade looks rather underwhelming and a few appealing online photographs of its interiors got us excited about the possibilities with the miniatures. So we chose a cool and rainy summer day to make our first visit. The admission price was a bit high though a positive side of overpaying is heightened creativity and extra hard work.
The exhibits were overflowing with information, we could have easily spent hours reading about shipwrecks and aquatic invaders but it was not the purpose of our visit. We found a quiet nook on the second floor with interesting looking fish, more importantly fish who liked to have their picture taken with miniatures.
From the start of our project, Kurt and I made a wish list of "wouldn't it be great to get" shots. One of them was to photograph the miniatures with the Northern Lights. We were so blessed to see the northern lights 3 times over the past summer!
Our first sighting happened by chance one early morning in June. I needed to go to the restrooms and Kurt decided to go with. I was looking down at the path holding a flashlight and Kurt noticed what looked like fast moving clouds overhead. The northern lights were stretching from horizon to horizon and joining at the top. It looked like a fast, colorful pulse, it was incredible! The whole experience made me emotional as it was the first time I was experiencing the northern lights.
I don’t remember how long we stood staring before we finally ran back to the tent to get the the cameras. We did not get any miniatures photographed that night, we never made it to the restrooms either!
The second time we witnessed the northern lights we were ready to act. Unfortunately, the event took place close to a full moon so we couldn't see the colors as well but Kurt still tried a miniature man watching the lights next to his airstream travel trailer.
The last episode of Northern Lights yielded the best miniature shot, Kurt used an HO scale shack in his photograph. We felt so privileged to be able to experience the Northern Lights so often!
Before leaving Gooseberry Falls State Park Kurt and I had a chance to hike part of the Superior Hiking Trail while the leaves still had some colors left in them.
We headed out early afternoon, the sky was showing signs of rain but we were prepared with jackets and rain covers for our camera back packs. One of our goals was to photograph an HO scale black bear in the woods. (Kurt’s inspiration for the bear came from an encounter with a real one a few weeks earlier).
While on the trail, it started to rain but we kept pushing forward as Kurt was looking for inspiration around us. When the rain stopped, the colors in the trees and the plants were so vibrant! There was a small clearing off the trail with a forest of tiny pine trees, the area inspired Kurt to set up a scene with a miniature lumberjack hacking down a tree.
We walked passed ruins of the Civilian Conservation Corp's camp built in the 1930s. Most of the buildings had only a concrete foundation remaining but regardless of how little was left it was fascinating to see signs of the group’s life in the park.
The weather turned sunny with a few clouds in the sky and occasional light rains. I counted 4 double rainbows! Our trail was hugging the Gooseberry river and after about a mile we finally reached 5th Falls, the farthest falls in the park. While exploring the river bank, Kurt discovered patches of rich green moss. The light was hitting one of them just right so Kurt quickly set up the scene of a hiker being pursued by a bear. This last scene was the highlight of the afternoon. Overall, it was a great day!