Four Weeks of Boat-Building in Four Minutes

Back in 1989 I made a 10′ x 8′ self-portrait composed of 6400 tiny xerox copies of a portrait of Andy Warhol.

I used an early Macintosh II to help me map the location of each “pixel”. It was the only Macintosh II on the entire University of Oregon campus, and while considered very powerful at the time (it lived in a special studio that only a select number of art student had access to) it was incredibly slow. I spent a lot of time asking the computer to do something and then waiting waiting waiting for the computer to do it’s work.

Sometimes I’d go get a cup of coffee and a candy bar. Other times I’d draw or write in a blank book I carried with me (a long forgotten practice I should probably revive) and one of the things I’d sketch were dream work-shops. Back in 1989 the production of photographic artwork required a lot of specialized and expensive tools, and even then I was starting to explore fabrication, and fantasized about having a shop equipped with a various sorts of cameras and lights and grip gear, a steenbeck, wood-working equipment and who knows what other sort of paraphinalia. (Actually, I could tell you exactly what, if I wasn’t too lazy to get out of bed and go fetch one of my notebooks from the shelve in the livingroom.)

The video above was made with photos taken on a $95 digital point and shoot and on my iPhone. I put it all together on iMovie, which calls the pan and scan of the images the “Ken Burns” effect, but in fact, Ken Burns merely popularized this sort of still image treatment; he did not invent it.

In fact, when I first got to New York City in the mid-Nineties, I made good money doing this sort of work. Back then it required something called a rostrum camera, and I didn’t even know how to operate one.

In addition to the (expensive and large) machine itself, Rostrum camera work (usually) required two people: an operator who knew how to run the machine, and a producer who understood the requirements of the project. Working together in a dark room they would map out camera moves, a start point and an end point and time between at a minimum, review and refine in preview mode, and then commit to film or videotape.

The greatest cost was in the machine time, $200/hour or more in 1995; plus an operator, $40-$60/hour, plus me.

But around 1997 I bought an Media100 and a copy of the Adobe After Effects production bundle. Regular old After Effects cost about $500 and was protected by a serial number; the Production Bundle had a passle of more advance annimating features, and was protected with a dongle. (The same was true of my Media100; the board itself cost about $2500, but various dongles unlocked more powerful features. The collection of M100 dongles I owned cost about $35,000)

I was only interested in one feature of the After Effects Production bundle: the acceleration/deceleration controls for its 2-D animation. Without it 2-D animation on After Effects looked amateurish; with it the look of rostrum camera work could be duplicated, at a fraction of the cost. Being ahead of the curve on this (and a few other digital video things) is more or less how I was able to buy my house.

Over at The American Scene David Session has a post entitled You Don’t Get to Keep the Sexual Revolution and Give Back the Sex. I offered this comment:

I arrived at the court house about an hour before they opened their doors, and found a woman already waiting. She was about 80 years old and she told me she’d never received a ticket and had never been in traffic court before and could I tell her what to expect.

As we talked I found out that she was a doctor and also a professor of medicine, with some non-trivial medical discoveries to her credit.

[I] also found out that her husband was also a doctor, and in fact they had met and married in medical school, an this was notable, because at the time, women med student were unusual, and it was the medical school policy that if a woman student married, she would be expelled.

The rationale for this policy was that if a woman married, she (likely) soon become pregnant and have to drop out of her studies, so expelling women who married was simply opening up a spot to another student that much sooner.

I don’t recall the details of how she and her husband fought this policy, but obviously they were successful. I do recall her telling me that she graduated #1 in her class, and I believe she was telling the truth.

Over at The Atlantic Rebecca Rosen is fretting about the “strange distortions” that copyright law is having on what books Amazon stocks in its warehouse. I offered this comment:

[T]he idea that the great copyright concern of our time is that The Mouse will be private property for another hundred years or that there are orphan works the public is clamoring for access to is farcical in the extreme, and Ms. Rosen and The Atlantic should be ashamed of further promulgating this poisonous and false meme.

The wholesale violation of copyright, done as cavilierly as people break speed limits has devastated a generation of independent professional creative voices, and left a world of corporate mega works and whatever amateurism can be sustained with a laptop and a blogger or YouTube account. This era will produce no Kevin Smiths or Werner Herzogs because just like you and everyone else Smiths and Herzogs need to eat.

The video offered above was assembled using Apples iMovie, a startlingly powerful video editing package that come free with the purchase of any Macintosh. The rostrum camera Ken Burns Effect work I did took about 30 minutes. It’s not as precisely crafted as what I would have done 20 years ago, but its good enough, costs orders of magnitude less, and I did it on a laptop, sitting in my bed on Sunday morning. When it came time to compile and upload the movie to YouTube, I had bacon and pancakes with my family.

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6 thoughts on “Four Weeks of Boat-Building in Four Minutes

  1. Very nice, David.  What strikes me is that its seems such a joyful enterprise.  I’ve wondered—and I say this as a “creative artist” meself—whether our society hasn’t got snobbish about elevating the creative arts to the stuff of transcendence and myth, and shorted the idea that making something like a boat with your bare hands isn’t as creative, fulfilling and praiseworthy.  That somehow laying down three chords and a cloud of dust is more ennobling to the human spirit than seeing an enterprise through to the end, with an objective gauge of failure or success:

    One can create a brilliant but flawed piece of art, but the boat must float!

    WD, sir.  With the finish line in sight, I look forward to witnessing the final stages.



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    • Thanks Tom.

      Here’s the funny thing: Making boats is easier than making movies, or at least making boats that float and work more or less as intended is easier than making movies that cover expenses and provide a reasonable living for their producers.

      But a well-made movie (at least a movie made the way I like to make them) puts a lot of emphasis of being a transparent conveyance of the viewing experience. I want my audience to be lost in the experience of watching my films. not caught up in the existence of the film itself.  A good movie is effortless to watch, and the audience should have no reason to consider how many hours or how much money went into creating it.

      By contrast, boat, even small, build in a weekend boats, have a huge hold on our collective imagination. I have literally receive more effusive, reverent praise over the first, roughly made 12 footer I made than over any of the films I’ve made. So if anything, my experience has been just the opposite, that boat-building is lionized out of proportion with the effort.

      In that’s fine. We fully intend to us the fact that MON TIKI was made by *us* as a selling point, and all the more so that we made it in one Winter. And I have full confidence (and not just because he’s dead) that I’ll never hear Steve Jobs say, “Now anyone can make a 40 foot catamaran.” when in fact, it’s much easier to make a 40 foot catamaran that can cross an ocean than it is to make a 40 minute movie that people will pay to see.  ;-)


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      • Thx, David.  Let me put what I’m getting at another way, then: the completion of an enterprise.  I meself have produced albums, some I wrote & performed, some I just produced.  Some I engineered and recorded every note, set up the mics, pushed the record and stop buttons, etc.  There was the doing angle involved, not just the creating/conceptualizing end.

        And you too, as a producer/director of films, no doubt have a hand in the editing and the work-work of the shoot, and are in on the “doing” part too.  What I’m trying to get at is the accomplishment end.  And I say this with my wife an accomplished actress, and meself quite happy to front or play in a band with no production responsibilities.  But I think the dimension of producing something [I’ve made an album with these bare hands] is a thrill that I’m not sure people–kids—are aware of.

        The performing or creating part is instant gratification, but producing a product is a more adult pleasure.

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        • Somewhere on the order of 90% of the man hours in my films is me, so yeah, I know what you mean about the “I made that” feeling, and yes, it’s deeply satisfying.

          I can’t really take any conceptual credit for the Tiki 38. It’s a pre-existing design, with many successful examples built.

          I *might* be able to take some credit for the MON TIKI boat/concept. Step one was imagining a JWD boat being able to pass USCG muster without being turned into something else in the process (it did). Step two is actually building and launching the thing (getting closer!). And step three is actually turning it into a sustaining business (we’ll see.)

          When/if that happens, I’m going to feel pretty chuffed.

          Also just launching the thing is going to feel pretty good.

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    • We have been spending a lot of time on the Pacific Voyagers website study the colors of their canoes. We’re doing a copper/epoxy anti-fouling treatment to just about the waterline that will take on a blackened vert de gris color and tanbark (old fashioned brick red) sails.

      Between I’m not sure, but I’m leaning towards the gold/butter/taupe some of the Pacific Voyager boats show for the topsides, and white for the deck..

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