When it comes to the art of stop-motion animation, the creation of what goes into it is quite fascinating, but there’s no denying that it is probably the most tedious and frustrating of animation techniques.
This isn’t just drawing figures on paper, or moving them in three-dimensional space within a computer. Stop-motion requires someone to physically alter a three-dimensional figure within a real-world space. Moving their limbs, rotating an eyeball, maybe even ruffling their hair or clothes. Plus, there’s the construction of miniature sets, let alone lighting them for the proper mood and tone. Action has to be shot on one frame of film at a time…and if you mess up, you have to start all over again!
Fortunately, there are those who have the tolerance and patience to pull off this feat, and a number of them are in the Portland, Oregon area.
Laika Studios was founded there in 2005, and ever since they released Coraline in February of 2009, I’ve made it a point to see each of their new stop-motion releases. Over the last decade, they have become my favorite North American animation studio, eclipsing my feelings for PIXAR (feels good to know we haven’t had a Coraline 2 yet!).
The studio’s mandate to forego test-screenings, let alone float the possibility that their films may scare ‘the little ones,’ always has me eager to see what chances they’ll take.
While I had seen several pieces of production material related to Paranorman when visiting Universal Studios Hollywood in 2013, word that Animating Laika would showcase items from all four of the studio’s films, made me eager to make my first visit to Portland, Oregon.
When one enters the museum through it’s Park Avenue entrance, guests are immediately greeted by The Pink Palace, from the Other World in Coraline.
Once you make it past the pink palace (it may take awhile!), you then enter the central hall of the museum…where you come face-to-face with the studio’s largest stop-motion puppet: an 18-foot skeleton, seen in Kubo and the Two Strings.
Right beside it, is an array of replacement faces, that the studio has used in it’s productions. It can be a little unnerving seeing them with no eyes, but the detail of the creations is definitely something to admire.
Upon entering the special exhibition gallery, I was a surprised by the amount of space, and how it was utilized.
In the past, I’ve seen exhibits related to topics such as Pixar Animation Studios, and Muppets creator Jim Henson. In those cases, the layout of the exhibits seemed to lead guests on a ‘journey.’ It was like being in a maze, guiding the viewer through twists and turns, and leading them to an eventual ‘conclusion.’
With Animating Life, such a layout did not seem to exist, almost like the studio and the museum, were coaxing guests to create their own path within the exhibit space.
Much like the darkened curtains that often segment off different work-areas at Laika Studios, much of the exhibit is cloaked in black cloth and in low-light, allowing the eye to drift to lit areas, showcasing various items from the studio.
The mood lighting also contributes to highlighting the centerpiece of the exhibition: the massive ‘Coraline Garden’ set (see above), illuminated with all sorts of plants, and other items from the film’s nighttime sequence.
There are also little ‘pockets’ of props and scenes from the studio’s films, from the Babcock family’s home in Paranorman, to the lavish ballroom seen in The Boxtrolls.
In various areas, there are displays also dedicated to the miniature wardrobe of the film, the design process of what goes into creating the puppets, as well as what goes into creating effects-work within the films.
The section regarding the studio’s work with effects was definitely intriguing. There are some things on-screen that look like they just used computers to make some transformations. However, it was nice to see them show how the studio went the extra-mile, to 3D-print out things like Archibald Snatcher’s allergic reaction in Boxtrolls (see left), or Aggie’s emotional torment in Paranorman.
While there are pieces from each of Laika’s films, it feels like Kubo and the Two Strings gets the most attention regarding the various items on display. This could also be not only because it was the studio’s most recent film, but also because their craftsmanship and technology, took some major leaps during the production.
One area I was disappointed in while viewing the exhibit, was in regards to the film’s conceptual artwork. Exhibits like these make me excited to see original props and pre-production artwork on display, but for the majority of such pieces here, the studio had opted to only showcase reproductions of their artwork.
Along with the main gallery, there are a few other areas in the museum, dedicated to the exhibit.
Part of the Asian Art gallery was converted into a makeshift theater for the exhibition. Several videos are run on a loop, showcasing the people who work at the studio, and showing what working for Laika entails.
There is also a small area off to the right of the main gallery, that houses a ‘hot set’ recreation (see upper-right). The little set-up, is meant to show how the animators prepare to ‘find the character’ they will be working on for a production. I’m sure some people were surprised to realize the kind of planning that goes into bringing a character to life.
The museum’s gift shop can also be exited through near the rear of the exhibit. While Laika doesn’t have the kind of merchandising reach that Disney does, there were still products such as Coraline handbags, exclusive T-shirts, and even a limited-edition poster by Mondo Posters, chronicling characters and situations from all of their films.
As of this posting, the exhibit is in it’s final days, and will be closing on May 20th, 2018.
While I wish there had been a lot more to see regarding Laika’s productions, I still give the studio and the Portland Art Museum props for putting on this 6-month exhibition, and getting me to make my first visit to Oregon.
It’s definitely worth a trip to see the miniatures and props from the studio’s films, let alone understanding that this isn’t just ‘claymation,’ but a much deeper, and in-depth artistry that goes into bringing the studio’s films to life.
In recent years, a few conventions (courtesy of film and television studio promo departments) have started delving into advertising via ‘experiences,’ in which a limited number of attendees, can take part in rare, once-in-a-lifetime events.
In 2016, HBO unleashed a Westworld Experience at San Diego Comic-Con, and word was, it happened again this year. New York Comic-Con had their own experience as well in 2016, but when it came to the main attraction, unlike San Diego, it was simply a lead-up to a virtual reality experience, taking place within the Westworld park.
This year however, the experience was revamped to give visitors a full, live experience, and in the days leading up to the convention, word began to spread about the event via Westworld’s Twitter handle.
Needless to say, after seeing the series for the first time, the weekend before the convention (courtesy of free HBO weekend on Hulu!), I decided to make an effort to see if I could get in.
As the first day of the convention approached, HBO was tweeting out hints to the sign-up locations, which would randomly pop-up in the morning, before the start of the convention.
On Thursday, October 5th, I found myself checking Twitter, and seeing if anyone else had found anything. I was at least 10 blocks from the area, when Westworld‘s twitter feed dropped the actual location at 8am, and quickly took a Lyft ride to 27th Avenue.
Before long, I joined a long line, snaking alongside a large brick building. I had gotten to the location 10 minutes after it had been revealed online, and already, I was among those being considered for “stand-by.” Nearby were several people in dark suits, wearing Delos security badges, keeping an eye on us.
Eventually, I made my way up to a white tent, under which two white-dressed reservationists were seated. The one who assisted me did so with a polite smile, and I was told my reservation time to visit Westworld, would be 7 pm. After I confirmed the time, she wrote it on a Delos business card, and I headed off to The Javits Center, to partake in what the convention had in store for that Thursday.
Along with the time-field, the card also had the address of the location, which was right up 37th St, a few blocks from The Javits Center. As my first day of NYCC came to an end, I made my way to the locale.
Pretty soon, I and several other people, were lined up outside the door of Delos’ New York Offices, with several men keeping an eye on us, and one checking our names against his list.
As we waited, we asked a few questions about being able to get in. Apparently, if you show up late for your appointment, you’re shut out completely (we were told about one girl having a ‘meltdown’ about that earlier that day). Plus, I and a few others were ‘stand-by guests.’ This meant that if those who were scheduled for their timed session didn’t show at 7 pm, we were free to take their place.
Eventually, the time rolled around, and we were allowed inside. After being greeted by a receptionist, we were directed to an adjoining room.
In the middle of the room, was a lit case showing several vintage guns and knives, and along the walls, were mannequins in western attire. A male host at the far end of the weapons case, politely welcomed each of us.
Next, the receptionist and our male host, requested we watch the large screen in front of us. As we did so, promotional images of Westworld appeared…but then, started to glitch. Pretty soon, we were seeing scant traces of things going horribly, and terribly wrong.
However, our hosts acted like nothing had happened, and our male host began to read from the guest list. As two of the main guests hadn’t shown up, I and another standby person, were permitted in!
I was then put in a group of three with two other guys, and we were led down a corridor, to each be given an individual evaluation.
As I sat down in the room, my evaluator gave me a few questions, to determine what my experience in Westworld should be. The questions covered everything from how I saw myself, to my thoughts on handling a tense situation.
After going over the evaluation, she determined that I was a person who believed strongly in doing what was right, and was often willing to help others if they needed it. As she rattled off a number of other traits to go with these things, I felt like I was hearing my workplace’s DISC assessment results: her analysis felt so on-the-nose, it was scary!
She then directed my attention to two hats, hanging on the wall: a white one, and a black one. From her evaluation, she sensed that I would be very well-suited for a white hat, but…I sensed that she was also giving me leeway, to put aside how I behaved out in the real world, and to possibly consider the choice of a black hat.
It felt like the choices I was given in the video game, Epic Mickey, in which Mickey can choose to do good things, or bad things, and just like in going through that video game environment the first time, I decided to ‘play ball,’ and went with the white hat. Of course, like most hats, it didn’t fit my irregularly-shaped head (wearing baseball caps feels like I’m wearing a beanie-hat!). However, my evaluator claimed the hats came in several sizes, and upon giving me a 2x-sized hat (with the Westworld logo stitch into the inner-band), I was amazed how well it fit!
When I exited the room, my two cohorts had already finished their evaluation, and had both donned black hats. A female host then led us to the elevator, where a number of plaster casts of other hosts’s faces, lined the walls.
We were then taken up to the 12th floor. As the doors opened, piano music caught our ears, and passing through a set of swinging doors, we entered into the Mariposa Saloon.
Our main saloon girl welcomed us, as we bellied up to the bar, where a bartender and her two assistants also watched over us. The main host made note of our hat colors, as well as inquired what we were planning to do ‘out in the park.’
The two guys with their black hats, were very much like the character Logan in Westworld, playing on the “bad boy” vibes, while I kept with the role I felt was befitting my white hat (shades of the character William from the show). I gave a few answers, and kept an eye on things, being the stoic “good guy,” looking for any signs of trouble.
Very quickly, we were served several mixed drinks. The ‘tasting’ started off with an alcoholic punch, then a whiskey/bourbon mix (prepared with fire!), and finally, a milk-concoction with shaved ice on top. Each one of them was very tasty, though we only had a little time to finish each drink, before the next one was being prepared for us.
Eventually, our hostess led us over to the player-piano. As she did so, my eye was drawn to the ‘music roll,’ as a splotch of faded red rolled into view.
“Looks like you had a little fight in here recently,” I said to her.
“What do you mean?” she asked, sounding confused.
“You didn’t see the blood?” I replied, pointing to the sheet.
“…doesn’t look like anything to me,” she said, after taking a long look at it.
Suddenly, a red light went off, and klaxxon-sounds pounded our eardrums, as our host and the bartenders suddenly froze in place! An announcement was then made, that the place was on lock-down, and all guests were to leave at once.
As security forces entered, we grabbed up our things, and headed through another corridor, to a different elevator. The two security men then rode with us down to the ground floor, where we soon realized we were to exit the building, returning out onto the noisy streets of New York City.
After it was over, I checked my watch to see that it was 7:29, making me believe that each experience, is only meant to last for half-an-hour.
My fellow “black hats” and I then began to discuss what we observed, and when the group after us exited the building, they joined in our conversation too!
We were mainly interested in the evaluation process, and the different answers we each gave. Like me, one of the guests claimed she was so surprised at how accurate her evaluator’s assessment was of her.
Pretty soon, we all parted ways, and I had to chuckle, as I headed back to my Airbnb in New Jersey, wearing my cowboy hat the entire way.
I have to say, that for how brief it all was, the Westworld Experience was a very fun tie-in, to one of the most intriguing shows on cable television!
The people playing their roles do a good job mimicking the animatronic staff in the show, with some adding an extra tinge of ‘niceness,’ that can seem a little off-putting. Plus, the numerous touches to the show (such as the weapons-table, and plaster casts of the hosts’ faces on the wall), helped ground us in the show’s world.
One thing I realized after it was all over, was that unlike some other things I’ve done, I didn’t have to sign a waiver for the experience. I guess HBO trusts their guests to be pleasant enough to the staff, and intelligent enough to behave themselves.
I will admit that once I was through the front door, I was sorely tempted to just keep snapping pictures left-and-right, but took only a select few, to try to fully experience what was going on.
The theming of the area worked quite well, though it did seem odd to have an old-west saloon 12 stories above the ground. I of course, rolled with it.
During so much of the experience, I kept flashing to thoughts of my friends, who I could see enjoying certain things, or even sampling some of the drinks that were served to us.
One guest in line that I had fun talking to, was named Zara. She was accompanied by her little dog, which was a service pet (her dog alerts her if she’s going to pass out). It looked like she would be turned away for bringing her dog, but they let them both in (I kept wondering how the saloon staff would react to seeing a dog in their place!). Like me, Zara was quite introspective over the experience, and before we parted, I felt it would be fitting to get a snapshot with my ‘line-buddy.’
After it was all over, I did consider maybe trying to get in the next day, and go for a black hat. However, in the end, I decided to sleep-in, and give someone else the chance to have their own Westworld Experience.
On Saturday, October 7th, I left my luggage at a place near the Delos offices, while I headed off on a little trip across town. On my way back to retrieve my luggage, I walked by Delos, and saw a group of 6 people, discussing their experience and choices. I couldn’t help but stop and find out what they had decided, making me think the aftermath of the experience, is just as fun as the experience itself.
I wish the experience could be open to more people. However, I understand that the rarity of it, makes it a lot more memorable, probably much like traveling to the actual Westworld park would be.
At this point, there’s no further word if HBO will do the experience again. However, given that Season 2 is set to release sometime in 2018, I’m at least sure they’ll bring it back for the San Diego Comic-Con. Personally, being from Chicago, I would be all-in if they did it as a promotional experience during C2E2 (Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo), but as much of the entertainment industry skips over our city for convention promotions, I’m sure I’ll need to fly to the coasts, if I get the urge again to visit Westworld.
Wow. Who would have thought that almost 2 years ago, I’d find myself actively watching a cartoon from the DisneyXD cable channel…and I don’t even have cable!?
Daron Nefcy’s series Star vs the Forces of Evil, managed to push my buttons, given it’s weird humor, as well as it’s own take on ‘magical girl anime.’ Because of it’s unconventional storytelling (being written by myriad storyboard artists and writers), the show is often fascinating, in seeing where it’s episodes will lead.
Over the last few years, I’ve heard of Daron and a number of the show’s staff appearing at numerous events, but was never able to be near any of them. This year, there was word that she would be attending the bi-yearly D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. The Expo is a celebration of all things from The Walt Disney Company, and seeing several items related to Star on the show’s itinerary, I decided to check them out!
With the impending release of the 1-hour Battle for Mewni Season 3 special that weekend (actually, the first 4 episodes of Season 3), I expected a few extra events revolving around the series, but everything related to Star, I found to only be happening on the first day of the Expo.
One thing that bugged me about some fan-related events in the past, is that noone was able to record or chronicle most of what had taken place in them (such as the last few panels out of San Diego Comic-Con!). With that in mind, I decided to focus on chronicling what I experienced during this year’s expo.
And so, on Friday, July 14th, 2017, I found myself in an enormous line, snaking around the outside of the Anaheim Convention Center, mere steps from the Disneyland Resort. Some in the line, had been there since the night before, attempting to get into some of the bigger panels throughout the day.
Once I had made my way through the masses of humanity and onto the convention floor, I immediately headed to the D23 Expo Arena, for their first panel of the day: From Screen to Page: “Gravity Falls” and “Star vs the Forces of Evil.” The panel would cover the process of creating books for both of the series.
(Note: while there was discussion about Gravity Falls at the panel, I’m only going to be focusing on the information regarding Star vs the Forces of Evil).
Before I could even sit down, I was already smiling, seeing a number of cosplayers who came dressed up as characters from the show. However, there were no obscure characters I could see, but plenty of Star Butterfly’s and Marco Diaz’s. The majority of Star’s were dressed in her ‘ghost squid’ dress, though one was dressed in Star’s royal Mewnian dress, and one had her green dress from Season 2.
Our panel’s moderator claimed he was a big fan of both series, and first brought out series creator Daron Nefcy, and Dominic Bisignano. While many of us know Daron as the creator of the series, many might not be as familiar with Dominic, but he’s been a part of the series since the beginning!
Along with working on the book Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension, Dominic has worn many hats on the show, working as a storyboard artist, writer, director, and voice-actor (he voiced the minotaur woman in the Quest Buy segment from Season 1, as seen on the left).
We also heard from several people from Disney Books, who worked on the guide as well. What was great to hear, was that the people from Disney Books, are also fans of these series , and oftentimes, want to put out a great fan-pleasing product!
Also during the panel, Daron and Dominic managed to spill some secrets in regards to some of the show’s episodes:
- The segment in Season 2 titled Ludo in the Wild, was originally going to be completely silent, with the little bird-creature never saying a word. However, voice-actor Alan Tudyk watched the piece, and improvised all the dialogue and sounds Ludo makes during the sequence, and it was soon edited to incorporate his ad-libbing.
- When it came to the Bounce Lounge’s music from the Season 1 segment Party with a Pony, Dominic said he told composer Brian H Kim, to make it sound like “bad German techno music.” (Personally, I rather liked what Kim came up with).
- Upon viewing a layout of Star’s 3-story bedroom that she magicked at the Diaz’s house, Daron and Dominic explained how they didn’t have a fully-realized floor plan, and could often play around with what was on the upper floors.
There were also questions that were asked, that had been submitted via Twitter. Of course, the moderator saved the biggie for last, about making the fanshipping mania known as “Starco,” canon.
Both Daron and Dominic weren’t saying yes or no to that one, but did say that they didn’t believe in ‘forcing’ characters into relationships, reminding me of a line Marco said to Tom in Mr Candle Cares (“You can’t make Star be your girlfriend, unless she wants to”).
When the moderator asked a question about what Daron thinks about the fandom, she made mention of how she was somewhat intrigued by people on Twitter, who created accounts based around the show’s characters. One she made special mention of, was supposed to represent Marco’s parents (Raphael and Angie Diaz). A call was put out into the audience to see if the account’s creator was with us, but there was no response.
We were also treated to two Star-related surprises at the panel.
The first was a short clip from the Battle for Mewni Season 3 premiere, where a younger Moon Butterfly, goes to meet with a monster general, some called “the lizard”…but whom most of us know, as Toffee!
The second surprise, was the announcement that another book related to the show would be coming out at a later time: Star’s Magic Instruction Book!
It looks to follow the same route as the creation of the Gravity Falls Journal 3 book, taking a fictional tome, and filling it out with more material. My one hope is we’ll finally be able to decipher the Mewnian language (something I’ve been trying to do since Season 1!).
When she had come onstage, Daron was carrying something that looked like a copy of Journal 3, but was in actuality, what I assumed to be a physical mock-up of the instruction book! Holding it aloft, it is about the same size as Journal 3, and not the 4-foot tome that almost broke Marco Diaz’s back. Of course, one wonders if there may be a limited edition, with the kind of care and detail afforded to the limited edition release of Journal 3.
In discussing the book and what was inside it, Dominic made note that he felt that when it came to reading books, Star was a ‘skimmer.’ This meant that she would skim a page for some words, but not read through everything. Apparently, there was more to the spell that gave Marco his monster arm in the Season 1 episode of the same name (though I guess we’ll need to wait to find out what more there was, besides “Releasio Demonius Infestica”).
After the panel, I headed off to the autograph signing for Star and Marco’s Guide to Mastering Every Dimension.
Rules for the event were that no outside material could be brought into the signing area, and that anything signed, had to be purchased from the Expo. What was most bizarre about this rule, was that for a book signing (of which I’ve attended quite a few!), there was noone at the signing area, with books to purchase!
If you wanted the book, you had to walk a ways over to the Disney Consumer Products booth, and purchase it there.
When I got to the Products booth, there were signs near the books saying “get this autographed,” but the message seemed vague. It didn’t explain who would be doing the signing, or more importantly, when and where it was happening! I could imagine someone buying the book, and then finding out they had missed the event.
When I returned to the signing area (see picture on left), I was surprised to find that the line for Daron and Dominic held only a few dozen people, while for the Gravity Falls creators, their queue had been closed off, as I gazed upon several hundred people on the other side of the signing area! Needless to say, I wasn’t going to be getting a copy of Journal 3 signed that day.
While waiting in line, there was still plenty to see and do, given that many of us who were there, were fans of the series. It was exciting to discuss episodes and scenes with some people that were just as crazy about things as I was! One girl was eagerly quoting lines from the film (oftentimes not caring that her voice was escalating in volume, as she excitedly quoted a number of familiar scenes!).
Speaking of crazy, my vote so far for best Star/Marco cosplay at the expo, goes to this couple (right), who dressed up as Princess Star Butterfly, and Princess Marco Diaz, from the St Olga’s Reform School for Wayward Princesses episode! The fact that they went all-out to do these obscure costumes definitely shows they’re pretty big fans. Plus, the woman had custom-made her own Flying Princess Ponyhead!
When it was my turn to finally meet Daron and Dominic, I was pretty excited, and explained how even though I was outside the show’s target demographic, the storytelling kept me intrigued, let alone how Star was the first series that had made me put down money for season passes on iTunes!
While I had their ears, I also decide to lay down a few fan theories I had.
One of them was based on Glossaryck of Term’s rather laissez-faire attitude in recent episodes, which I attributed to him being able to see from the beginning to the end of time. I didn’t get a yes/no answer, but Dominic said I was “on the right track.” Plus, as a bonus, he drew a little image of Glossaryck above his signature when he signed my book (left).
Another theory that I posited to Daron, was regarding Star’s wardrobe, which is decidedly retro when compared to what the other kids in Echo Creek are wearing.
I felt that when the Royal Family -arrived on Earth in the first episode, the King and Queen saw what people in the Earth dimension were wearing, and decided Star needed proper attire to fit in. I imagined that they had stopped at the first clothing store they came to…which happened to be a thrift store, and Star had stocked up on retro dresses from 30-60 years ago.
Daron said she thought it was an interesting theory, though in early ideas regarding the series, she said she felt that Star would have gotten some of her outfits and accessories from a Halloween store. This would have led to Star even using a pumpkin-shaped trick-or-treat basket, as a purse!
Along with her added information about the series, Daron graciously signed my book, AND, drew a little sketch of Star (right)!
I also had to ask Daron, if we were ever going to see the end of the Deep Trouble, 8-issue comic series (that had stopped running shortly after issue #4 was released in January). Sadly, Daron said she didn’t know if we’d get the next 4 issues, with the possibility that low sales and limited availability, might have contributed to Joe Books stopping it’s publication of the title. I did hint to Daron, that I hoped maybe one day, the final 4 issues could be collected in some type of trade paperback (which has currently been done for the first 4 issues).
As I exited the signing area and was putting my book away, I suddenly saw a guy in an aquamarine shirt attempt to enter through the exit.
“Sir, you can’t go in there,” said the security guy nearby.
“No it’s okay, I work on the show,” he replied.
As I looked at the guy’s face, I suddenly realized, I was standing in the presence of Adam McArthur (aka the voice of Marco Ubaldo Diaz)!
I quickly voiced that Adam was correct, and a few seconds later, the guard let him enter the signing area. As he did, I struggled to try and get out my book and a pen, but by then, Adam had sidled up to Dominic and Daron, and become a part of the signing for the rest of those in line.
I was still hoping to get the chance to catch Adam when he left, so I went for a short walk, hoping to be back in time for the signing to end. However, I returned to find the area empty.
After that, my attempts to see the Expo’s big feature animation panel involving Disney Feature Animation and Pixar Animation Studios, were met with bitter failure, as I and many others were shut out due to the huge crowds (many of whom had lined up since the day before to get into that panel!). With nothing else big to wait for, I puttered around, eventually heading outside the front of the convention center, taking a gander at the numerous cosplayers milling about.
As I headed back towards the convention center’s front doors, I suddenly heard someone calling out to me. I turned to my right, and to my surprise, there sat Adam, with a friend of his!
He claimed he had only meant to pop in and say ‘hi’ to his coworker/cohorts, but did say he was willing to spend a little time to talk with me, if I wanted to. I have to say, getting some time to talk face-to-face with Mr McArthur, made the loss of not getting into the animation panel melt away in seconds!
As I sat down eagerly, I first had to thank Adam for giving me a shout-out on my Birthday earlier this year. For those wondering, when the ‘Star-bomb’ of Season 2 episodes hit, Adam did a live Marco Diaz stream, where you could tweet him questions to try and answer. This took place the same day as my Birthday, and I had a huge smile hearing him say my Twitter handle (and even getting my last-name right!).
We talked a bit about those Marco chat sessions, leading me to ask about a hunch I had.
During the chat, someone had asked for the recipe to “Marco’s Super-Awesome Nachos,” and Adam had read off a list of ingredients and directions. When I picked up Star and Marco’s Guide a few weeks later, I noted the recipe seemed the same, and Adam confirmed that he had been reading off an early copy of the book he had on hand during the Q&A event!
It was right after this, that I decided to see if Adam would sign my copy of the guidebook. He gave his signature a little message as well (see left), and I will say, I did eat some nachos the next day at a nearby Rubio’s (any chance to have their super-awesome fish tacos!).
I was also curious, given how Marco can scream and yell a lot, if Adam ever lost his voice after any sessions. I was assured that that hadn’t happened, though when it came to some video game vocal roles, Adam said he had to push himself a bit harder.
My inquiry about his voice, had come about thinking of him screaming in the episode Monster Arm, which I claimed was my favorite episode.
Upon hearing this, Adam related a fun little story. Apparently, when he sometimes encounters voice-actress Grey DeLisle (who voices Jackie Lynn Thomas on the show), she playfully greets Adam with one of her lines from the episode (what that line is, I’ll leave for you to figure out).
I was also curious, if there were any episodes Adam worked on, where he really had a hard time keeping a secret. That turned out to be the case with Running with Scissors, where he was really excited about playing an older version of Marco. We even had a little discussion regarding the mind-bending nature of that segment’s ending.
Eventually, Adam was drawn away by some other people he and his friend were meeting. He apologized for cutting the conversation short, but I was fine with it. He had given me some of his time, and personally (especially at conventions with this many people), I never want to be ‘that fan’ of a series, who monopolizes the time that others can partake in.
By the way, In case you’re wondering, I did not ask Adam about ships or anything top secret (I don’t want him to lose his job, and there’s plenty of other fans who can ask that stuff, and get vague yes-or-no answers). My goal is to usually inquire about some things that I can get answers to.
So that was my crazy “Star Day,” which went pretty well, considering the helter-skelter insanity of the first expo day.
Both Daron and Dominic were great to talk to (though I probably could have asked more in-depth questions of them for hour!). Originally, Adam wasn’t scheduled to show up, but his appearance was quite a surprise. I and many fans have thrilled to him giving little shout-outs and appearances on social media, and it was nice to see he was just as personable in person! I will admit, much like how Star got distracted by ‘certain things’ in Running with Scissors, I found my brain going on auto-pilot a few times as Adam talked, because his voice just seemed to drift into Marco’s so effortlessly, that I began to imagine it was Marco talking to me at times.
While all of my Star-stuff happened on that Friday, I managed to carry over some of that fandom to the next day, when I and a person at the Airbnb we were staying at, decided to line up 5 hours before the Saturday live-action film panel. Having over 5 hours of time to kill, we began looking for ways to keep ourselves pre-occupied.
Along with discussing pros and cons regarding animated and live-action Disney films, I had mentioned my liking the Star series, and had downloaded some epsisodes onto my iPad for viewing, which we proceeded to watch over 3 hours of (one that seemed most appropriate to our line-waiting, was the Goblin Dogs episode!).
To my surprise, my companion was enjoying them and cracking up, as well as asking some questions about the show.
Later on when we met up for dinner, she said she had gone back to the Airbnb, and looking for stuff on Hulu, saw that the show’s two seasons were available. However, due to the sketchy wifi at the place, she was unable to watch any episodes, but claimed she planned to watch more at a later date!
So yes, we may have another person joining he fandom! She also got a kick out of Princess Smooshy’s “Cameraphone” line in the Sleep Spells episode, and in a Facebook post, included that in a hashtag, giving me a laugh!
Sadly, I had no way to watch The Battle for Mewni that day, but given the Star-related hijinks that I had been a party to those 2 days, I was feeling pretty happy. Though for some of you wondering what I thought of the first 4 episodes of Season 3, my review of them will be coming over the course of the next 2 weeks.
When I was growing up in the safety of suburban Iowa, it was the works of filmmaker Tim Burton, that brought a strange intrusion of the bizarre and the macabre into my life, with his imagery of clowns, swirls, and striped monstrosities.
In the last few decades, another intriguing filmmaker emerged…one who has channeled his own personal and eclectic tastes (many of them similar to Burton’s), into films and projects that appeal to his love of The Victorian Era, steampunk, and creature features.
That person, is filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (see left).
The writer and director of films such as Hellboy and Crimson Peak, Del Toro is also a connoisseur of collecting items, some of which, are strange and unusual to many.
On his property in Los Angeles, there is a place he refers to as The Bleak House (named after the novel by Charles Dickens). Within it’s walls, he has curated a vast collection of personal mementos, as well as toys, collectibles, rare production art, and items from the various films he’s worked on. Being a fan of horror and science fiction, he has often remarked that he based his private abode on “The Ackermansion,” the home of Famous Monsters of Filmland‘s editor, Forrest J Ackerman.
When word and imagery of Del Toro’s private abode reached the mainstream media, there were quite a few that were enthralled by what they saw. Key among them was Kaywin Feldman, the director of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (aka MIA). After reading an article about Bleak House in 2011, Feldman wanted to find a way to share some of Del Toro’s collection with the world, via an exhibit, that became what is now known as: At Home With Monsters.
Working with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), MIA coordinated a 3-city tour (now 4 cities!), to showcase the exhibit from 2016 through 2018.
Monsters arrived at MIA in March 2017, and recently, I decided to take it in. I will admit, that it did feel like a ‘homecoming’ was taking place, when I headed back up to Minneapolis.
17 years ago, while attending college in the state of Iowa, a classmate and I drove up to MIA, to view the traveling exhibit, Star Wars: The Magic of Myth. It was one of the first exhibits regarding film and entertainment items that I ever saw, and in a sense, At Home with Monsters is very close to that previous exhibit in terms of it’s content.
For the At Home with Monsters exhibit in Minneapolis, a portion of The Bleak House collection is distributed through eight different areas, each one with a specific theme.
Each section also contains several audio/visual items that help offer atmosphere to specific portions of the collection. There are specially-mixed series of sounds to help provide mood, and flat-screen television sets provide videos that tie into each room’s themes. A few rooms even have projected visuals to enhance portions of the collection.
There are also interactive iPad displays throughout, that give glimpses into several of Del Toro’s personal journals. Plus, the exhibit is bi-lingual, with each room’s summary presented in both English, and Spanish.
Of the various areas, I found myself most enamored with the one titled Childhood and Innocence. In most of Del Toro’s films that include a child or children, they are often never fully-protected from danger, whether it be Mako Mori as a child in Pacific Rim, or the young Carlos in Devil’s Backbone. Oftentimes, the children in his films try desperately to cling to something safe, but find the world around them to be an unforgiving place, much like in the old Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
Notable in this room, were a number of original concept art pieces Del Toro owns, some from his own films (like Pan’s Labyrinth), and others from early animated Disney features. Like Hansel and Gretel amazed by the witch’s candy house, I couldn’t help but ‘eat up’ the inspiring concept art of such Disney artists like Gustaf Tenggren, Eyvind Earle, and even Mary Blair!
Concept, production, and original art pieces are a major highlight of the collection. Along with some of Del Toro’s own art, there are pieces by the likes of James Cameron, Mike Mignola, Richard Corben, and many more. There are also a number of art pieces from the last decade, some of them digital, but often tying into Del Toro’s love of the macabre, or the unusual.
Also of note, are a number of full-size figures from Del Toro’s films (such as the faun from Pan’s Labyrinth at right), along with several, specially-created wax figures. Two of the most notable, are wax figures of H.P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Allen Poe. Del Toro has claimed that both authors have had a great presence in his life’s work, and that presence is also felt throughout the exhibit.
Over the years, Del Toro has often talked of wanting to make a film adaptation of Lovecraft’s famous novella, At the Mountains of Madness. Around 2011, he had attempted to get the film made, but sadly, it sounds like his passion project may never come to pass.
However, a reminder of what could have been is included in the exhibition, in the form of a 2-foot tall maquette (see left) by the production company Spectral Motion. Made in 2011, it gives us a taste of what the six-foot-tall albino penguins in Lovecraft’s novel may have looked like! I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never read anything by Lovecraft, but this definitely has me intrigued to know more about the famous story.
Out of all the films that Del Toro has directed, it feels that the two that stand out greatly in the exhibit, are Hellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth. I will admit that while plenty of space had been given over to some of his more elaborate and memorable films, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more concept or prop art related to Pacific Rim.
One small part of the exhibit that had me most intrigued, involved references to Del Toro’s love of Luchadores (aka Mexican wrestlers). Wrestling is an influence in the fights within Pacific Rim, and in the TV series The Strain, where a luchador known as The Silver Angel, helps it’s heroes fight vampires.
The Silver Angel may be a reference to one of the most famous of all Mexican wrestlers (who also wore a silver-colored mask!), El Santo. Going through the section labelled Magic, Alchemy, and The Occult, I was very surprised to see on it’s walls, a framed piece that contained Santo’s Screen Actor’s Guild membership papers and membership card, which revealed his true identity (many never saw Santo’s face, until after he retired in 1982)!
Of course, a highlight of the show, are the numerous references to famous movie monsters, from Nosferatu, to The Metaluna Mutant (from the 1955 film, This Island Earth), and most famous of all: Frankenstein’s monster.
It is Frankenstein’s monster that is most prevalent throughout the exhibit, with one of the most eye-opening pieces, being the huge, 7-foot-tall head that famously hung above The Bleak House‘s entryway.
It truly is an amazing sight, seeing the pores, stubble, let alone all the little creases and details! Artist Mike Hill, who fashioned the likeness from Boris Karloff’s depiction of the monster, also contributes his talents to other figures throughout the exhibit, including several based around likenesses of characters from the 1932 film, Freaks.
Yes, there’s plenty to see throughout the exhibit, and I won’t lie: I spent over 5 hours going through it, 3 times over! However, I will admit that after seeing other exhibitions and shows in my lifetime, there was definitely room for a little improvement.
What struck me most, was the rather helter-skelter way that certain items from the collection were labeled…and sometimes, not labeled at all.
Having visited The Art Institute of Chicago, I am often used to seeing an art piece’s label, that gives it’s name, artist, and medium (aka what was used to make the image). Surprisingly, none of the art pieces here (that were a part of the Bleak House collection) mentioned their ‘medium.’ I felt this was rather odd, as a few times, I couldn’t be sure if what I was seeing was a licensed print, or an ‘original’ art piece.
Some items are set up to seem almost like typical ‘oddities on shelves,’ and have no label whatsoever. It struck me as a little odd for a few, as I doubt the average museum guest would have recognized the infant Dren from the Del Toro-produced film Splice, or the Prince Nuada puppet maquette from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, settled amongst a group of marionettes.
Despite some hiccups here and there, I was very impressed by what had been brought to the Midwest.
Personally, Minneapolis is not a place that I would have imagined displaying The Bleak House’s trappings, much less find one of MIA‘s directors being the ‘mastermind’ behind the whole touring exhibition!
This is also the first exhibit I’ve seen, that actually has an R-rating, and trust me, it is definitely warranted (note: the Faun from Pan’s Labyrinth is ‘anatomically-correct!’).
This was another factor that impressed me: the museum was willing to display an exhibit like this, with restricted access.
In Chicago, entertainment-related exhibits that display items from popular culture like Harry Potter, The Muppets, as well as the life of Walt Disney, often find their way to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. However, the museum is often stuck with the addendum to make exhibits like these, an all-ages experience.
MIA’s ability to not ‘cheapen’ the experience, was definitely a welcome sight, as the culture in Middle-America can often be somewhat prudish and narrow-minded, when it comes to what Del Toro’s Bleak House contains.
As of the time of this review, the exhibit is in it’s final weeks before it closes at MIA, on May 28, 2017.
Following it’s closure in Minnesota, it will then go on to The Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, where it will be on display from September 30th, 2017, through January 7th, 2018.
AGO was originally to be it’s last stop, but in recent months, the touring exhibition has been extended to include Mexico City, for the year 2018 (however, no museum location or start/end date for the city has been set yet).
If you have an open mind and are somewhat fascinated by the strange and unusual, then At Home with Monsters is a highly recommended show to take in!
Of course, if you are unable to make it to any of the exhibition showings, a companion book to it’s catalogue has also been released (see right), with a number of images showing some of what is on display, as well as anecdotes and notes from Del Toro himself, on his personal collection.
While the book is a wonderful little memento of the exhibition, I still say that nothing compares to being inches away from it’s wax figures, elaborate costumes, original artwork, and much, much more!
Some days, it seems you just can’t get a museum built. That seems to be the case for George Lucas in recent years.
As he entered his 70’s, the famed (and much-loathed) director, began to consider his retirement from the world of filmmaking.
Along with selling his company Lucasfilm (as well as it’s big name titles like Star Wars and Indiana Jones) to The Walt Disney Company in 2012, Lucas also had plans for his personal art collection, which contained a number of illustrations, filmmaking materials (not just from Star Wars), and paintings (most notably, a number of them by Norman Rockwell!).
Over the years, Lucas has been known for donating to the arts and education, and had now decided to invest over a billion dollars of his own money, to ‘gift’ his art collection to the public, placed in a museum he’d fund out of his own pockets.
But first, he needed a city.
His first attempt to make his museum a reality, hinged on obtaining a parcel of land near San Francisco’s Presidio, located in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. However, after 2 years of trying to work with the Presidio’s board, he was unable to secure the area he had hoped for.
When the plans fell through at the Presidio site, a number of other cities came calling. Out of all of them, it was the invitation of Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel, that caught George’s eye.
His wife Mellody Hobson hearkened from the city, and Lucas himself had been known to visit there as well. What was being offered with the museum, was definitely something different than the other art-based museums within the supposedly world-class city.
Of the different sites that were shown to Lucas, the one he gravitated towards, was a parcel of land, between the city’s Soldier Field stadium, and McCormick Place East convention center facilities. Currently the site of an overflow parking lot for Chicago Bears football games, architectural renderings by the MAD Architects firm, showed a return to a more natural environment, though many were agog at the unusual ‘naturalistic’ art style of the museum being proposed.
However, the efforts were soon hindered by a non-profit group called Friends of the Parks, who claimed that the deal undermined the city’s Burnham Plan. The plan claimed that the city’s lakefront property was not for sale, and was to remain “open, free, and clear,” for the citizens of the city.
Lucas and the Mayor’s office attempted to come to a compromise with the group, but after 2 years of neither side willing to budge, plans fell through in early May of 2016.
With the Windy City behind him as an option, Lucas returned to the west, where a number of cities once again attempted to gain his favor.
It was in the Summer of of 2016, that Lucas made a change from his usual decision-making process. Instead of singling out one city, he gave two the option of vying for his museum: Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Both cities were given time to submit proposals, and once Lucas selected a site he deemed worthy, the MAD Architect firm went to work. Instead of just transplanting the Chicago site design to the west coast, the architects worked around the environments, to give each a unique design.
Finally, in the fall of 2016, the proposals and designs were unveiled to the public.
For San Francisco, the location chosen was on a stretch of landfill, known as Treasure Island. The site of a decommissioned naval base, the city had long been looking to revitalize it, for residential and commercial development.
5 years ago, Lucas’ first pitch to have his museum placed in the Bay Area, did not go over well. His request for a bayside spot for his museum, was denied by the Presidio Board, causing him to seek out a new location.
When the Chicago deal started to fall apart a few years later, San Francisco did call upon George, claiming they were willing to welcome him back (though not at the original location he requested).
As he returned to the west coast for ‘attempt #3,’ Lucas kept designer Ma Yansong along for the ride.
The designs Ma came up with for the Treasure Island location, reflects on the more open space that was being considered, compared to the rather confined parcel of land in Chicago.
The organic architecture has a better chance to ‘breathe,’ and ‘opens’ up in a more horizontal fashion. Windows are more abundant than in the Chicago design, allowing more natural light in, and views towards San Francisco, and the Pacific Ocean.
Back when I posted my article about the aftermath of Chicago losing it’s bid for the museum, there was little information as to where the museum might go if Los Angeles was chosen.
Unlike San Francisco with it’s famous Bay Area waterways, Los Angeles is land-locked, leaving many to wonder where Lucas would consider placing his museum.
When word came that Exposition Park was chosen, I was a little surprised…at first.
Located near Lucas’ alma mater (The University of Southern California), the site for the Los Angeles proposal, didn’t boast any bodies of water close by. However, the area seemed oddly reminiscent of the Chicago location Lucas had wanted: within walking distance of a nearby stadium (in this case, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum), a number of local museums, and…the proposed structure would be built atop two areas that were currently serving as parking lots for the park!
Ma Yansong’s design for this proposed area, seemed to ‘elevate’ the museum experience, compared to his previous designs.
While the last two designs by MAD had taken up considerable ground space, the bulk of his Los Angeles design, made it look like the museum was ‘hovering’ over the area, with several structural ‘bases’to support it. Landscaping and greenery were also included among the upper tiers, giving the structure a melding sleek curves, intermingled with the organic.
Unlike Chicago’s very public land ‘battle,’ the two cities where Lucas was considering to put his museum this time, brought forth proposals and land selection choices, with minimal public outcry. Both cities seemed to welcome George Lucas and Melody Hobbson with open arms, eager to make the third time the charm, wherever he might consider.
Checking social media, I scanned tweets and some other postings, but found very little online dissent, like the kind that exploded out of Chicago (thanks to Friends of the Parks painting Lucas as an out-of-control billionaire, looking to cheat the good citizens of the city out of lakefront property).
The only dissent I saw, was from the head of Salesforce in San Francisco. The head of the company, felt that for being generous with his ‘gift,’ Lucas should also channel some funds into the city’s infrastructure as well, if they were to accept his museum.
Originally, word was that around the beginning of 2017, there would be a decision by the museum’ s board, on the chosen location.
Early word pegged a January 6th announcement, but the day came-and-went, and news out of California, was that the announcements would be postponed until the end of the month.
However, on January 10th, 2017, around 3pm Pacific Standard Time, an official press release appeared on the museum’s Facebook page.
A decision had been made, and the lucky city was: Los Angeles!
I will admit, when the announcement came, I was surprised!
This decision seemed counter from the Presidio and Chicago lakefront locations: a landlocked space in the heart of Los Angeles, with what seemed the most minimal of natural space. Even the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic Blair Kamin took a jab at the museum’s placement in a snide tweet (then again, almost all of his tweets had been condescending towards the museum), wondering why Lucas did not choose the water view like some assumed.
On further observation, I soon began to consider why George had chosen Los Angeles’ Exposition Park.
Going back over the location on Treasure Island in San Francisco, I could definitely see it’s positives. The museum would be allowed to have a much larger ‘footprint’ on the land being provided. Plus, San Francisco sees Lucas as one of it’s more famous citizens, and, it’s location across from San Francisco’s famous Embarcadero, seemed a decent setting. One could imagine looking across the waters, and seeing the structure’s stark-white exterior rising up from the surroundings, also possibly lit up as evening set in over the Bay Area.
Unfortunately, while the location would have been picturesque, I believe the decision to not build on Treasure Island, came down to two factors.
The first factor, is access.
Currently, the only way to access Treasure Island, is by using Interstate 80, heading east out of San Francisco. The access route onto the island, leads one through the smaller Yerba Buena Island that connects to the landfill.
The city’s plans to turn the island area into a new place for development, could mean that new construction projects would be lined up in the future. However, with current infrastructure changes happening on I-80, it could have been seen by Lucas as a possibly hindrance regarding ‘easy access’ to the location.
There had been some thoughts, that much like the ferries to Alcatraz Island, a ferry service could also be utilized to transport people back and forth, beetween the Embarcadero, and Treasure Island. There was talk that the amount of money to help construct a service, would have been folded into the museum’s plans. It is possible, that Lucas may have drawn the line on just how far he was willing to stretch his ‘gift.’
The second factor, is isolation.
Both the Presidio and Chicago locations, had a setup that seemed to be picturesque to Lucas: a location close to easy access for families and tourists, while also near the shores of a major body of water, sandwiching his museum between the natural elements on one side, and man-made elements on the other.
When it came to his choices for the third go-round, he had to make some tough decisions.
San Francisco would give him a chance to have a picturesque view near water, but he would be isolated, ‘adrift’ on an island, with limited access for visitors.
Los Angeles would give him the yang to San Francisco’s yin. While it would be land-locked, the location in Exposition Park, would mirror his thoughts to keep his museum close to other tourist spots, and like the Chicago location, allowed easy access to other museums that families and tourists could also visit.
I like to imagine that Lucas’ wife Mellody had a hand in steering him towards this decision. Word was she was sad when her hometown of Chicago failed to secure the museum, and I could imagine her reminding George, that while he might favor picturesque, his museum was also seen as a learning center. Families in large cities may like to go to museums, but there would be considerable effort to get to the museum, if it was on Treasure Island.
Los Angeles is known for not being easy to get around in, but unlike Treasure Island, there are also other ways to get to Exposition Park. Several bus routes border it, and the city has a Metro Rail line, that services both USC, and the park.
Also like Chicago, it’s museum campus contains three museums currently: The California African-American Museum, The California Science Center, and The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Most notable, is the park’s Science Center, which made headlines in the last few years, when NASA allowed the Space Shuttle Endeavor, to be transported to the facility, as it’s final home.
The Center is also planning a major expansion, that would place the shuttle vertically, with it’s booster rockets and external tank attached, making it the only space shuttle to be displayed in this configuration, in the world.
From my perspective, it looks like smooth sailing from here on out for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts. In the time since the announcement, I haven’t heard word of any preservation groups in Los Angeles, raising a ruckus like the Friends of the Parks group in Chicago did.
The most dissent I read, was mainly from those wondering if Lucas was so wealthy, why didn’t he use some of his money for other purposes? But then again, it seemed no different than articles in Chicago that claimed Lucas trying to build his museum here, was a waste of time and money.
As it stands now, word is that the project will probably take 5 years, with groundbreaking sometime this year, and an estimated completion date, sometime in the year 2022.
Hopefully, Lucas’ struggles have come to an end, and he can get to work overseeing the construction of one of his final projects, within our galaxy.
*I chronicled my following of The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art‘s 2 year journey from announcement to death in Chicago, in my 5,700 word blog post from May of 2016. This post continues where that one left off. If you’d like to read more about the rocky attempts to bring a new museum experience to a “world class city,” CLICK HERE
The Night Chicago Died
Ever since May 3rd, 2016, it felt like Chicago’s plans to keep the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in its city, were pretty much dead.
It all started in June of 2014, when it was announced that after reviewing different locations in the city, filmmaker and philanthropist George Lucas, had decided to build his Museum of Narrative Art, on an area along the shores of Lake Michigan, between the Soldier Field football stadium, and the McCormick Place East convention hall. The site in question, was currently serving as an ‘overflow’ parking lot, used several times a year during Chicago Bears football games.
While many of the necessary hurdles were cleared, one was unable to be cleared so easily.
Shortly after the museum’s announcement, a non-profit group called Friends of the Parks, filed a lawsuit, claiming that under a local ordinance, that the land belonged to the people of Chicago, and was not to be given away to others.
Even though there was the promise of Lucas himself paying for the construction and endowment of the museum (valued at around $800 million), the group dug in their heels and refused to ‘play ball’ or negotiate, claiming that the Museum Campus grounds (which also housed The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, and The Adler Planetarium), were off-limits. If Lucas wanted to build his museum, they were more than willing to point him to other areas away from his chosen spot.
What followed was almost two years of negotiations, as the museum’s designers and the city tried to find a compromise.
This included reducing the museum’s ‘footprint’ on the parking lot area, and giving over more space to greenery and prairie, as well as a very expensive ‘Plan B.’ ‘Plan B’ called for a $1.2 billion plan that would keep the parking lot intact, but raze the McCormick Place East convention hall, placing the museum there, with the additional 12 acres of space left over, converted back into park land.
But even this rather expensive plan would not sway the group into dropping their lawsuit.
And so on May 3rd, 2016, word was officially released by the Lucas Museum, that other cities were being considered. Lucas had already spent 2 years from 2012-2014 trying to get his museum built on a specific area of the Presidio park in San Francisco, and it seemed that was about how far he was willing to wait for Chicago as well.
A number of additional items were offered to the group as incentives, but still they refused.
The public also attempted to show their support, with a number of persons protesting outside Friends of the Parks’ downtown Chicago headquarters, and a local man named Gino Generelli, who collected 2,500 signatures for his pro-museum petition, and delivered it to the group’s headquarters.
Finally, in mid-June, with public sentiment seeming to be building against them, the group offered up a list of demands.
However, the list was deemed as “extortion” by a number of people.
It called for such requests as:
- A 100-year moratorium on any further Lakefront development
- 5% of the museum’s ticket prices going to fund additional parks projects in the city
Though the one that was almost a slap in the face, was that after claiming a month ago, that they would not accept the ‘Plan B’ site build, the list claimed that this would be the only site they would allow (meaning the original parking lot site was still off-limits).
And what of the parking lot site? That was also listed under the demands, that it be ‘reclaimed’ as green space.
After word that they would not accept that ‘Plan B’ site back in May, the Mayor had called off further interest in it, and instead attempted to get the lawsuit regarding the parking lot site thrown out. The parking lot site would also be simpler, as the ‘Plan B’ would have still meant that $1.2 billion would be needed to raze McCormick Place East, and compensate for its leveling.
Maybe if the list had been submitted 3-9 months earlier, the Mayor and associates from the Lucas Museum might have considered negotiations, but given that the non-profit was dropping this on them 23 months after the lawsuit had been filed, it looked more like them saying, “If Mr Lucas wants his Museum, he’s going to pay…and pay a lot.”
Shortly afterward, the group sent out a notice through social media, that they had been contacted by the museum’s associates, and been given a 24-hour deadline to end the lawsuit, or the museum was going to leave Chicago in the dust.
The 24-hour period ended with no deal, and on June 24th, 2016, a notice was issued that the museum was no longer going to become a lakefront addition to the Museum Campus…but would instead, be heading right back where it started from: California.
In the aftermath of the museum officially leaving the city, the Friends of the Parks group dropped their lawsuit, and were hailed by numerous persons as local heroes, having thwarted an evil outsider who looked to destroy public land (even though it was already a parking lot, and it would have also meant additional green and recreation space around the museum area).
One can only assume that maybe 50-60 years ago, there would have been little chance of stalling in getting the museum placed on the campus, but in the 21st century, priorities on what constitutes ‘importance’ to a “world class city,” have definitely changed.
Plus, Chicago as a whole never fully seemed to embrace what the museum was, or what it could do. The average person were quizzical as to what “narrative art” was, let alone the media taking every chance to call it “A Star Wars Museum,” as if it was going to become some warehouse/museum of the filmmaker’s prop collection.
But then again, the Midwest often isn’t as open-minded towards film, animation, or narrative art for that matter. While I and a select few were understanding of what was being offered, trying to convince persons on things that are more foreign than sports or local business, is often like trying to talk to a brick wall.
And so, The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, will surely fade from the larger collective memory of Chicago, Illinois. A city that could have had something amazing, something wonderful…but as is often the case, I’ll most likely end up visiting it when it opens where all the things regarding film and animation fascinate me: California.
Back to California, Part II
Back in February of 2016, there was word that San Francisco, CA, was looking to see if Lucas might give them a second chance, after the refusal to build his museum on land near the Presidio, on the west side of the city.
Rumor was that Oakland was even attempting to throw their hat into the ring, and a number of cities in the last week since the Museum claimed it was heading west, have also added their voice. They include Sacramento, Vallejo, and some have even recommended Lucas’ hometown, of Modesto.
However, much like his wanting the museum in Chicago and San Francisco, I still see the location George wants, being one of ‘convenience.’
Many seem to be under the impression that Lucas will build his museum, and then just walk away, but given where he’s wanted it (near a natural location, with other museum and family facilities), he surely is expecting to come out to and visit the museum as well, once it’s completed!
As of the time this post is being written, two locations are prominently being mentioned as possible locations.
Though full location details have not been finalized, I thought I’d discuss what has been brought to light in the last few weeks.
Location Option #1: San Francisco
Unlike the previous location near the Presidio that Lucas originally was going for, the city has been talking in the last few months, about offering him a place on a man-made island, dubbed Treasure Island.
The ‘island’ in question, was actually created by landfill, and is attached to the smaller, Yerba Buena Island. Both landmasses sit between San Francisco and Oakland, and are only accessible by the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
Treasure Island, at over 568 acres, was originally constructed in the 1930’s, for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition. With the country entering into World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Naval and Auxiliary Air Station was soon located there.
For some time now, the city has been trying to redevelop it into a tourist destination. One difficulty towards this is that the only access point for many, would be along the Bay Bridge, and an additional network of roadways and ramps would be necessary to make it more easily accessible for the typical volume of tourist traffic.
Word has been ‘floating’ around, that a water-taxi service could be put into place, to allow persons from the Embarcadero or Fisherman’s Wharf areas to the west, to travel to the island. Though the Mayor has happily mentioned this in a few articles I’ve read, I doubt Lucas will expand his proposed monetary amount to include added infrastructure improvements. I’m sure that will need to be something the city will need to consider.
Even so, current word is that the plans for the island’s rehab, will be a 2o-year, $5 billion project. The island will be rehabbed to become almost like a floating neighborhood on the bay. Plans call for park, office, residential, retail, and hotel space…and it’s a good bet that the city would love for the museum to become the crown jewel of the project.
There may be an advantage to coming back to San Francisco for George. Given he chose them originally, but came back after attempting to look elsewhere, the city may be a little more eager to work with him, than the Presidio board was a few years ago.
Also, unlike Chicago that sees him as an arrogant billionaire, George is more of a hometown hero for the city San Francisco. Basing much of his Lucasfilm production company around the Bay Area, and even consolidating his numerous facilities (Lucasfilm, Lucasarts, and Industrial Light & Magic) into the Letterman Digital Arts Center in 2005, when the facility opened.
It should also be noted that Treasure Island also figured into a Lucasfilm-produced film.
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy and his father attempt to leave Germany, by way of the Berlin Airport. Treasure Island‘s Administration Building, ended up serving as the exterior for the establishing shot.
Location Option #2: Los Angeles
Though George Lucas is a filmmaker, many assume that he harkens from the City of Angels, where the filmmaking capital of the world resides. However, Lucas over the years, has often made mention that he shuns the moviemaking system there, and since the 1970’s, chose to make and finance his own films, in the San Francisco bay area (like his friend, Francis Ford Coppola).
However, his journey becoming a filmmaker did send him to the city, where he studied at The University of Southern California (USC), which has also churned out a number of famous filmmakers including Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, and many others.
Throughout the years, George has not forgotten his alma mater, and has often made generous donations to their film school. One of the biggest donations he made was in 2006, which totaled $175 million, and a more recent donation in the fall of 2015, was as a means to promote diversity in filmmaking.
Just south of the main USC campus, lies Exposition Park.
Originally a racetrack and fairground area (word was camels were even raced here!), it was re-developed in 1909, and much of the rather ‘unsavory fare’ of the day, was soon replaced by gardens and museums.
With the Los Angeles Memorial Stadium at its center, and several other sports-based structures at its southern area, the bulk of its museums are along Exposition Blvd areas close to USC.
These museums include:
- The California African American Museum
- The California Science Center
- The National History Museum of Los Angeles County
Current word is, that the city of Los Angeles is offering Lucas a spot on the Exposition Park grounds, though just where the facility could be built, noone has said.
Much like San Francisco’s Presidio Park and Chicago’s Museum Campus, Exposition Park does offer something for families and schools to partake in, allowing one to experience several different places in a short walking distance from each other.
The park did make the news a few years ago, when its Science Center, became the final resting place for the Space Shuttle Endeavour.
Analyzing the Choices
Though the Treasure Island location has been mentioned regarding San Francisco, there’s been no solid word on just where in Los Angeles Lucas may see as a potential site. The Exposition Park location, has been the only one mentioned verbally so far in the news regarding Los Angeles.
Word is that both cities are being given 18 months to submit proposals to Lucas and his board members, after which, a decision will be made. Hopefully, third time will be the charm, and there will not be an overly-picky non-profit organization that will step forward.
Unlike the Presidio and Chicago lakefront locations, if one looks at the two areas currently being offered, Lucas may have to make a compromise.
Both of his previous locations, were near an area with other museums, but also nestled in a nature-like area, near a body of water.
The two current choices, do not come with all these things:
- The Treasure Island location would afford Lucas a chance to build his museum in San Francisco, and get the watery/natural view he’s so eager to have…but the museum will most likely be seen as a singular tourist destination, with no word on any other museums or learning facilities nearby.
- The Exposition Park location would put Lucas among a number of the city’s prominent museums, and also place him next door to his world-famous alma-mater. However, there is a limited amount of space currently available, and one wonders if the footprint of the museum would need to be shrunk down further than its last iteration. Plus, the fact that the park area is landlocked, means that a more sprawling natural environment, may be out of the cards. One could almost imagine maybe putting the museum in the center of the park’s famous rose garden, but I’m sure that would ire a lot who view the 7.5 acre garden as important to the park’s heritage.
Word is that like the Chicago proposal’s design, organic architecture will also be used for the California location. The MAD Architect firm from China, is still being considered for the design-work, and word is they have reviewed the site at Treasure Island. One rumbling is that the design will be similar to Chicago’s natural look, but with more windows.
At least we can be sure that in both of these cities, the architecture will be met more favorably than the negative bashings from the Midwestern peons, who dubbed the Chicago design, as “a salt pile,” or “Jabba the Hutt.” But then again, organic architecture is largely a foreign concept to a world filled with buildings that are more angular than organic.
Of course, that’s not to say that the Lucas Museum is being fully embraced by those in California.
Recently, the CEO of Salesforce named Marc Benioff, took to social media, feeling that the city of San Francisco should ask for more “social support” from Lucas, if he wishes to build there. Benioff’s feelings were that additional money should be donated by Lucas, for schools, hospitals, and homeless programs.
It seems that even back in California, you can’t please everyone, and I guess in the 21st century, it’s tough to be a philanthropist.
Epilogue…and one more vision from the past…
And that brings us to today. While much of social media is filled with persons congratulating the Friends of the Parks group and vilifying Lucas as a maniacal foreign outsider, very little word has been coming out of California, as the details are still being worked out.
Though I’m sure I’ll be keeping tabs on (and blogging about) the future decisions for the Museum, and trying to keep the facts straight since so many online have not really grasped the history of the project, or the ups-and-downs of what even went on in Chicago over the last 2 years (many on social media couldn’t get their facts straight on which location the museum was originally going to be built on!).
Though in the wake of the death of The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Chicago, some new information has been released in the last few days.
A number of firms were commissioned to come up with designs for the lakefront museum. Though the only designs shown were from the MAD architect firm in China, word has recently surfaced that New York-based architecture firm, OMA, also did some design concepts. In the last few days, they have been showing several of the images they did on their Instagram accounts, revealing what they proposed.
Unlike the more amorphous look with no right-angles that MAD made, what OMA designed, was more angular in design, with a translucent outer-dome area above, almost making it look like a jellyfish.
The museum in their design, would seem to ‘float’ above the area, with the space below it re-purposed from the parking lot, into “a new urban park.” Though whether the museum would have underground parking, they didn’t say.
The concept would be that the main area of exhibition, would be on the extended, “suspended galleries” that spread out from the central ‘atrium tower.’ The upper levels would be protected by a ‘membrane’ of ETFE pillows (a high-strength, translucent polymer).
In one of their descriptions, OMA claims that the building’s design, offers “8 times the public space it occupies,” in its hovering state.
It was nice to see what OMA proposed for the site, and does make one wonder, now that the dream is dead in The Windy City, if we may see additional architecture firms show their own ideas for what might have been for this “world-class city’s” chance to move further into the world of narrative art.