Kickstarting My New Zombie Project!

January 17, 2013

Hi kiddies!  I have officially started my first Kickstarter Project!

From May 25th through June 29th 2013, the great Travis Louie will be curating a show at the Last Rites Gallery in NYC entitled “ZOMBIE.” He has been kind enough to invite me to be a part of this show, so I am raising funds to help with the costs of creating my most ambitious photograph ever, “LAST STAND.”

This photograph will feature a family in their last moments right before they are completely consumed by a horde of zombies! The central figure will be the Father, who is blasting a zombie in the head with a shotgun.  My camera will freeze every detail of this explosive moment. The Father does not realize that right behind him his wife and children are already being taken down and eaten by the zombies pouring in through the broken barricades of the front door. This image will include over a dozen characters in full zombie make-up interacting all at once, on a set that will be destroyed by gunfire and fake blood.

Please check out my Kickstarter Page. There are wonderful incentives, and all pledges will receive a signed print of the final image. Tell all of your friends, help spread the word by sharing my link on Facebook, and let everybody know.  This image will be amazing!

I have already cast the role of the Father, and I am thrilled to announce that he will be played by none other than PHANTASM’s A. Michael Baldwin!

The special effects will be led by my friend J. Anthony Kosar, who recently exhibited my work in his Chicago gallery, and made his television debut this past week on Season 4 of Face/Off!  He is monstrously talented and a sweetheart and we are very proud of him! He won both events on the first episode – can you believe that? I am super-excited about our upcoming collaboration.

All prints will be signed by me, Kosar, and my star Baldwin.

Please help spread the word.  I will keep you updated on progress!

Neurobiology of Fear

December 17, 2012

Continued from post What is Horror?

If the Horror genre is best defined by the intention to elicit and manipulate the emotion of fear, what then exactly is the emotion of fear?

The dictionary defines fear as: a feeling of agitation and dread caused by the presence or imminence of danger.

Persons experiencing fear display increased alertness, concentration on the source of fear, attack and fight-or-flight behaviors, and evidence of sympathetic-nerve stimulation such as cardiovascular excitation, superficial vasoconstriction, and dilation of the pupils.

Fear evolved as a basic survival mechanism. It is the ability to recognize danger, which leads to an urge to confront the danger, or flee from it: the fight-or-flight response. This mechanism allows animals to move quickly away from a location of perceived threat and hide.  All people experience fear as an instinctual response to potential danger – this mechanism is important to the survival of all species.

Although many fears are learned, the capacity to fear is part of human nature.  Many studies have found that certain fears are much more common than others.  These fears, such as fear of heights, predatory animals, darkness, etc. are also easier to induce in the laboratory. Because early humans who were quick to fear dangerous situations were more likely to survive and reproduce, certain innate fears developed as a result of natural selection.

People also develop specific fears as a result of learning.  Fear can be acquired through a traumatic event. The area of the brain most involved with the learning of conditioned fears is the amygdala.

Amygdala

The amygdala is located behind the pituitary gland. In the presence of a threatening stimulus the amygdala generates a secretion of hormones that influence fear and aggression. Once response to the fear stimulus commences, the amygdala elicits the release of hormones into the body to put the person into a state of alertness, in which they are ready to move, run, fight, etc.

There are many physiological changes in the body associated with fear. The fight-or-flight response accelerates heart rate, dilates blood vessels, and increases muscle tension and breathing rate. Only after this series of physiological changes, does the consciousness realize an emotion of fear.

After a situation which incites fear occurs, the amygdala and the hippocampus record the event.  The stimulation of the hippocampus will cause the individual to remember many details surrounding the situation. Memory formation in the amygdala is generated by activating the neurons in the region.  Once the person is in safe mode, meaning there are no longer any potential threats surrounding them, the amygdala will send this information to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) where it is stored for similar future situations.  The storing of memory in the mPFC is known as memory consolidation.

Recent studies show that a person learns to fear regardless of whether they themselves have experienced trauma, or if they have only observed the fear in others. Fear responses in the amygdala can develop in both conditions.

Fear is transferable.

This is partly achieved through mirror neurons.  A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another.  The neuron ‘mirrors’ the behavior of the other, as though the observer himself were acting, not simply watching. Such neurons have been directly observed in primates and other species. Mirror neurons are the neural basis of the human capacity for emotions such as empathy.

Fear and the emotional response to dangerous situations can be triggered through observation and simulation.  Recreational Horror, such as Horror movies, roller coasters, and Haunt Attractions, all simulate danger for the bodily pleasure of the fight-or-flight response in the absence of real threat.

Corpse Bride

December 13, 2012

Hey kiddies.  I shot this for fun the other day.  My children have dubbed it ‘The Corpse Bride’.

Bride

I rented the corpse from BJ Winslow and dressed it up in a wedding dress that I found at a thrift-store.  I aged the dress and veil with Lipton tea. I rented the coffin from my friend Jerry at Have Guns Will Rent.  I borrowed the ring from my sister. I photographed my Corpse Bride in the garage, with black fabric as a backdrop, a single soft-box as the light source, and white foam-core to bounce light into my shadow areas. Here you can see me getting things set up:

001

It was fun to shoot something so uncomplicated.

What is Horror?

December 2, 2012

The Horror genre is a vast sprawling landscape, populated by numerous sub-genres and hybridized genre mutants, like the Horror-Comedy, Sci-Fi Horror, and even the Horror Musical.  Some would argue that it is impossible to devise a definition of Horror that encapsulates them all.  What is the difference between a Horror film and a Thriller?  Or a Horror film and a Suspense film?  Does a movie require a monster, or a supernatural element to qualify as Horror?

Dictionary.com defines Horror as “an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting.”

The Horror genre seeks to elicit this negative emotional reaction from viewers.  Stock elements, such as ghosts, vampires, serial killers, and so forth, may populate the Horror genre, but they do not define it. Movies about the supernatural, and movies with monsters, are not necessarily always horrific.  I believe that the Horror genre is best defined by it’s intent to terrorize the audience.

Although many sequences in non-Horror films are frightening, they do so to advance narrative agendas that have something other than fear at their cores.  Non-Horror films may frighten the audience to tell their stories, but Horror films tell stories to frighten the audience.  In the former, fear is a side effect; in the latter, it is the object of the exercise.

MALEFICIUM Dark Art Exhibition 2

October 30, 2012

Hi kiddies!  My photographs JACK THE RIPPER and LADY BATHORY will be on display as part of the fabulous group art show MALEFICIUM at the Kosart Gallery in Chicago Nov. 3- Dec. 15.

Curator J.Anthony Kosar has put together an amazing line-up of artists for this exhibit.  The opening reception is on Nov. 3 at 7 p.m.  If you are in the Chicago area I hope you can check it out!

Making JACK THE RIPPER

September 4, 2012

Hey kiddies!  This is the first part of my new project JACK THE RIPPER.

Conceived as a 2-panel diptych, JACK THE RIPPER depicts the moments “just before” and “just after” a grisly alleyway murder.  What makes Jack the Ripper so compelling to me is that nothing is known about him.  Because he was never caught, we have no actual information about who he was or why he committed his gruesome crimes.  What we have is not a historical or biographical portrait, but a communally imagined idea of Jack the Ripper as an aristocratic predator.  As a boogeyman, he graphically symbolizes the idea of the wealthy and powerful preying on the poor.

Unable to find an appropriate alleyway in Kansas City, I decided to build a set.  The walls were made from large sheets of styrofoam that we carved and sculpted to look like brick using a hot-knife and heat gun.

My cousins Steve Hoffine and his brother Jerry Hoffine help run a Haunted House called 3rd Street Asylum in Bonner Springs, a small town just outside of Kansas City.  They were kind enough to allow me to build my set inside an unused hallway in their Haunted House.

The part of Jack the Ripper was played by my friend Chad Hawks.  With his heavy brow and swarthy good looks, I thought he would be the perfect model.  And despite what he looks like in my photograph, Chad is one of the kindest, sweetest people you will ever meet.  He grew out his own muttonchops for the role, and flew himself in from Chicago to help me with my project.

The part of Jack’s victim was played by Celine Collins.  Celine is, in many ways, the real hero of this project.  She owns Monkey Wrench Clothing, and I originally drafted her to help make the elaborate costumes that I needed. She was already doing all of this costume work for free when I asked her if she would be willing to play the part of the victim as well.  Despite her shyness, Celine agreed, and gave me an absolutely marvelous performance.   Monkey Wrench Clothing specializes in corsets and steam-punk attire and shares storefront space with Retro Vixen on 39th Street in Kansas City.  You should definitely check her out.

Celine’s wig was styled by Ruby Von Blush.  Her make-up, for good or ill, was done by me.

My regular assistant Demian Vela was back to help me with this photo-shoot, as was my beautiful and talented wife Jen Hoffine.  She helped Celine add wire to Jack’s coat so that it would hold it’s position without the use of a windmachine.

Steve and Jerry Hoffine, as well as their friend Mike Clouse, came down on the night of the shoot to help run fog machines and spray atmospheric mist over my set.  The rats were plastic toys that I repainted.  I added whiskers made out of fishing line.  And lastly, the all-important top hat was loaned to us by my super-talented friend Damian Blake, who had previously played the part of Thurber the patron in last year’s project PICKMAN’S MASTERPIECE.

On October 1st I will release the second half of my project: JACK THE RIPPER 2.  It is by far the goriest image I have ever made.  I hope you can check it out!

See you next time!

Making PERSEPHONE

February 29, 2012

Hey kiddies!  This is my new project called PERSEPHONE, named after a figure from Greek mythology.  Persephone was a nature goddess who became Queen of the Underworld after being abducted by Hades.  The myth of her abduction represents her role as the personification of vegetation – which shoots forth in spring and withdraws into the earth in autumn.  When she is in the Underworld we experience winter.  And when she visits the world she brings with her spring, flowers, and the resurrection of life.  As both a Goddess of Spring, and the Queen of the Underworld – she exemplifies the tension between life and death.

My lovely bride Jen (Lady Bathory) returned as my assistant for this project, as well as my faithful friend Demian Vela.  We also worked with some new collaborators.  Rebekah Whitt played the part of Persephone, and her make-up was done by Shawn Shelton with Bandersnatch Studios.

The walls and archway of the set were made from plastic VacuForm panels that we painted to look like stone.  We built the set inside a factory near Robert Kurtzman’s studio in Ohio.  Kurtzman is a legendary make-up FX artist and the founder of KNB EFX.  He also wrote the original story for the movie FROM DUSK TIL DAWN and was the director of WISHMASTER.  Kurtzman introduced us to David Greathouse (House) – who created all of the foam latex vines that we wired and glued to the walls of the set.

Kurtzman also introduced us to Beki Ingram, who turned out to be the real hero of the project.  Jen, Demian and I were all enormously impressed as she spearheaded the enormous task of dressing the set walls with fake foliage and roses, which were meticulously glued to the walls, one flower at a time.

Beki has recently become a TV celebrity.  She is one of the leading contestants on the hit reality show FACE/OFF, which features up-and-coming special-effects make-up artists in a winner-takes-all competition.  The program airs on Wednesday nights on the SyFy Channel, and each week we are glued to our TV sets rooting for our friend.

Demian took a week off of work and drove 800 miles to Ohio to help with this project.  I think he was excited by the prospect of hanging out with Robert Kurtzman.

Me with our half-finished set walls.

We needed more space for our lights so we moved to another part of the factory to finish our set dressing.  Here you can see Beki, Demian, and Jen slowly dressing the set walls with green foliage.

We stole grass and sod from Kurtzman’s backyard and hauled it to the factory in the back of my mini-van.  I inserted fake arms (minus the hands) into the set floor.   I would have used the hands as well but they looked so fake that I cut them off.  We hung giant sheets of black velvet behind the set.  Black velvet and a fog machine are all we had to hide the fact that our set was built inside a factory.

Here is a lighting test with fog.

Two interns from Kurtzman’s studio came by to help on the day of the shoot.  Beki painted their hands and arms to match the prop arms on set.  I shot their hands separately and used Photoshop to graft them onto the fake arms that I photographed on set.  The out-of-focus hands in the foreground of the final image were photographed live in front of the camera, with the interns kneeling beneath the lens of my camera like puppeteers.

See you next time!

Making PICKMAN’S MASTERPIECE

April 1, 2011

Hey kiddies!  This is a recent project I photographed for Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine called PICKMAN’S MASTERPIECE.

This sequence of images is based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft called PICKMAN’S MODEL.  This story was originally published in 1927 in Weird Tales.  I was attracted to this project because of the character of Pickman – who in Lovecraft’s mythology is a brilliant but marginalized artist notorious for his horrifying artwork.  Due to the graphic and disturbing nature of his work,  he is shunned by his fellow artists.

All of this struck me as eerily familiar.

With limited time and budget, I chose to focus on the moment in the story when Pickman brings Thurber, the narrator, into his underground studio to show him his Masterpiece – his greatest and worst work – the one that can never be shown in public.

Instead of creating one heroic image, I wanted to create a sequence of images as if they were shots from a scene in an old Hammer movie.

The character of Thurber was played by Damian Blake, a talented performer and professional Charlie Chaplin impersonator.  He was able to provide his own vintage wardrobe and grew a handlebar moustache just for this project.  Here you can see Damian standing in for a lighting test while still wearing his coat.  The basement location was very cold.

The character of Pickman was played by my friend and regular actor Bob Barber.

My friend and regular assistant Demien Vela, as well as my lovely bride Jen Cogar (who played the lead in LADY BATHORY) acted as crew.  Here you can see Demien running the fog machine and moving the sheet into position using fishing line.

Pickman’s artwork was provided by fellow Horror Photographer Chad Michael Ward.  To see more examples of his work (which ranges from Horror to Erotica) check out his website at DigitalApocalypse.com

Thank you to Phil Kim at Famous Monsters for inviting me to shoot this project.  See you next time!

Making ROBOT

October 28, 2010

Hey kiddies! This is my new photograph called ROBOT. This time the theme is addiction and dependence, especially as it pertains to technology.




I began this project by acquiring the materials necessary to build a life-size Robot. I consulted with a local Steam Punk artist named Cliff Robinson, who helped oversee construction. Cliff taught me how to paint plastic objects so that they looked like metal. The body of the Robot was made from a baby bicycle seat and a diaper genie I found at a thrift store.



I spent weeks rummaging through thrift stores and flea markets looking for potential body parts. I used pieces from Tonka trucks and golf carts, grape juice bottles, tripods, plastic plumbing elements, flashlights, toy lightsabers, and knitting needles. Rivets were made by spray painting ‘googly eyes’ and then glueing them onto the body.


The head was made from an air humidifier, radio antennaes, and different Star Wars ships pieced together. We placed a small LED flashlight inside the eye so that it would glow. It was important to me that my Robot have one red glowing eye like HAL in 2001.



I recruited my friend and frequent model Bob Barber to play the part of the Robot’s willing victim. Bob has played the villain in several of my photographs, including DEVIL, BABYSITTER, and most recently KEYHOLE. But this is the first time he’s been cast to play the victim in one of my images.

We glued latex appliances onto Bob’s arms to create the oversized junky track marks.



I used eye shadow to accentuate Bob’s gaunt features and bulging veins. I used black clown make-up on his shirt so that we would appear to be covered in engine oil.



We attached metal rods to the Robot’s arms so that my assistants Matt Tady and Demian Vela could puppet them into position.


We used Fullers Earth to create the atmosphere of steam. Demian and I made a rig with an air compressor to blast it into the air. The grit and texture of the Fullers Earth looked more like steam than the smooth fog I usually use.


After placing Bob into position, my only directions to him were to look as if he were in a state of religious ecstasy. I removed the puppet rods using Photoshop.


I also used Photoshop to replace the yellow plastic syringes with actual glass containers of fluid – in this case Barq’s rootbeer. I did this separately so that I would be able to backlight the fluid and highlight the air bubbles inside.

After photographing Bob with the main Robot body, we photographed the Robot legs. Here you can see Demian positioning a leg with heavy guage fishing line. The leg was made from a weedeater, a Star Wars lightsaber, part of a tripod, an old fishtank purifier, and bicycle sprockets. By this point I had run out of money, so I made only one leg and photographed it in four different positions, adjusting the lights as we went along. I added the legs to the original photograph in Photoshop, completing the insect-like Robot design I was aiming for.


See you next time!

Fangoria

October 7, 2010

This month Fangoria, America’s leading Horror magazine, features a two page article about me and my photography.  Fangoria described my work as “nothing short of jaw-dropping.”  I had a subscription to Fangoria as a boy (I had very indulgent parents) – so I am amazed and excited to see my work in their hallowed pages!


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