Katrina Retrospective

Yesterday was the two-year anniversary of Katrina's rampage across New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. We are rebuilding homes, businesses, lives, personalities, relationships, all from the ground up. We live in the shadows of corrupt politicians and cowardly criminals, but we trudge on with hope. We are a city of Do-It-Yourselfers, pros at hanging sheetrock and laying tile (I guarantee a lot less carpet in the city these days). There are still some serious issues today, like horrid levee protection and lack of doctors & hospital beds (down 42% from pre-K levels), and ungodly high hikes in home and flood insurance, but we're adapting to the chaos.
In my lifetime, I've had to evacuate maybe 5 times, to avoid approaching storms. And I've watched countless other hurricanes and tropical storms as they've meandered for days in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, watched weather patterns, highs and lows, predicted paths. Within a few days of landfall, we know whether or not to hit the road. Generally, we leave for a couple of days, storm rolls through (some downed trees, a few destroyed homes, a lot of broken windows), and then we come back home. Clean up what needs to be cleaned up, and go about our lives. Katrina was different because she tore through the levees, which were poorly constructed (we the public know now), and poorly tested over the years. The levee system is important to New Orleans because we are as much as 17 feet below sea level, and sinking about 1" every year. One of the downfalls of living at the mouth of a massive river. We are basically a big bowl. The levees keep the water out, and (try to) steer the river along its curves. When those levees were breached by Katrina's floodwaters, basically crumbling in places, the city flooded. Toxic gumbo.
My wife and I left a couple of days before the storm hit, packed up our three cats (who did NOT like sharing one cat carrier, for hours on end), a couple of days worth of clothes, some flashlights and water, pictures and certificates and back up disks. We stayed in Baton Rouge, about an hour away, and watched the horrors unfold on the news. I captured a lot of news footage with my digital camera, in some effort to record it all, knowing I wasn't taking it all in. Really it was all I could do. I remember feeling abandoned, outraged. Being called a 'refugee', as if I had escaped some prison camp in a third world country. Hearing that Canadian mounties on horseback had arrived in the city to help, before our government had even responded. I remember just wanting to go home, not knowing if home was even still there. Even in Baton Rouge, phones were down so I had no contact with family, didn't even know where everyone had ended up. Had they all gotten out? My grandparents were in a wooded area not far from us, so after tiring of the overcrowded streets of Baton Rouge, now teaming with 'refugees', we headed to their more secluded house to make sure they were alright. My wife and I spent two weeks in a house in the woods with my grandparents, in an empty house that my grandfather built with his own hands. I found peace (ironically, in nature). (Got lots of great nature pics too, but thats for another day).....Continued watching the news, recording it (we had a tv with a rigged antenna for crappy reception)...stories spread like wildfire, of car jacking and house jacking, of sharks swimming the flooded highways, prisoners escaped from the prisons, packs of wild rabid abandoned pets.....and then there were stories that you just knew were true...abandoned nursing homes.....full hospitals with no power....no water pressure for firemen....looting and gunfire in the French Quarter, while people were drowning in flooded neighborhoods mere miles away....I remember sobbing on more than one occasion...and I remember the lines.....oh God the lines...the first help to arrive were food stamp cards from the state.....most folks had no access to their bank accounts since local offices had flooded or shut down, but we were just poor....the little money we had when we evacuated had long been used up on gas (which you had to wait in line for, if you could find it), so we headed to the office where we heard they were giving out the cards, and waited in line for about 4 hours, outside, in an unorganized mass of winding people, in summer heat, with no food or water present. About a week in, came the FEMA lines, this time miles of cars in queue.....trucks arrived in surrounding neighborhoods carrying bottled water, ice, and MREs (military Meals Ready to Eat), which we lived on for about a month....I still have a box of them in my kitchen....things like Restructured Beefsteak! and Western Beans!...even eggs (suspect eggs, anyway).....drink powder, napkin, tobasco sauce, and desert (cookie, cake, tootsie roll)....my grandfather (Paw-Paw) told me when he was in the war 'fighting the Germans', MRE's came with cigarettes......and let me not forget the Red Cross line, to apply for unemployment and FEMA housing assistance while on evacuation, because yes, people were still having to pay their mortgages....that one was an all day thing, 9 hours, again outdoors in the summer heat, though this time there was a church next door, and they walked water over to us throughout the day.
Eventually text messaging was functional on cell phones and I was able to communicate with family, friends. No one was allowed back in the city. We discovered our house had received minor damage structurally. We had no mold but some roof damage, electrical surges had wiped out most of our appliances, and that fridge, stood rotting in a corner like EVERYONE else's. There was a particular smell, of oil and waste and death, everywhere, for weeks. I helped my parents, and grandparents, and aunt, gut their houses, saw entire lifetimes piled on the curb, getting bigger and bigger, as there was no trash pickup (that would be weeks away). Our cleanup was vile. I emptied a swimming pool, maybe 6 months after the storm, still filled with toxic gumbo, and writhing live things, leeches....as the black water drained out I expected to find a body. I stood in my parents house, amongst the ruins of my childhood, old books and comics, the first 20 years of my life, drowned. The door that my brother had scratched 'Led Zeppelin Zoso' into, when we were just wee teens. The vine mural I had painted on one wall. The panelling, whose knotty shapes I knew so well, now covering moldy sheetrock. I found myself salvaging items from the pile, my parents in a blind rage to empty, gut, clean. Old photographs, moldy and warped, cleaned up now digitally. A record collection, removed from its damp sleeves and polished. An old leather postcard. I kept recording, as much as possible during the cleanup, but unfortunately didnt get any of the nastiest bits, since I was doing those.
In the months following the return home, every small step was rejoiced, the return of the mailman, the hum of an air conditioner, the taste of fresh produce, and a roast beef po-boy. I remember thinking the landscape had completely changed, with so many trees down. Somewhere in my mind, Jenny Greenteeth had woken from her cave and was swimming through my thoughts. I was unemployed for months, and started cobbling together all of my 'Katrina' footage, editing together a visual record, and yesterday I finished tweaking a video started long ago. A sort of personal retrospective, culled from news broadcasts and, at the end, a little personal cleanup footage, set to Led Zeppelin's 'When the Levees Break'....

Katrina Retrospective from Ubatuber and Vimeo.


Seaclops Shaping Up

Refining the cyclops, added more girth to the neck, put the gills in, shaped the arm/leg/torso, and photoshopped in a pic of Jenny's eye out of curiosity....


Trolling Along

We have hand! I spent a lot of time this weekend drawing and redrawing the hand and I think its finally set. He had five fingers initially, but I painted over one to see how he'd look, then I covered another, giving him an alien paw which I'm happy with. Could also be that maybe he's had to eat them thar digits, ladyfolk on the bridge bein' a rare occurence. I was debating whether or not to add a little pile of skulls under the bridge by his feet, but thought that might be a little too gruesome, a little too forced....no skulls leaves it more to the viewers imagination, makes it a little sweeter, more King-Kongy (what with its romantic beastiality and whatnot). I also had a mini epiphany regarding the composition and its symbols :) The troll is me, the bridge is an animation table, the human is a puppet.....

I also fleshed out the female a bit, and the back wall of the bridge......

More Seaclops coming tomorrow....


The Big Green Guy(s)

Today I worked out the Aquaclops sculpt a bit more, refined some of the shapes. I really like the tubby jelly bean shape of his body. He's getting heavy though, starting to lean, particularly when I'm working on his upper half...I may need to add some kind of support rod. Switched out the eye for a smaller one (5/8" I believe).

Then I painted a new layer on the City Park Troll. Still trying to work out that reaching arm, and the big guy's head (or whats visible of it)....couldn't help adding a little detail to that one leg (its my favorite part right now)..



Slapped clay on the Aqua Cyclops today....added a block of wood to the armature to animate the belly, then wrapped the armature to protect it from the clay, and started sculpting....


Hurricane Dean

The first Gulf-bound storm of the season churns slowly through the Caribbean today. Most of the projected paths put it at the Mexico/Texas border on Wednesday, but there's not really any way to predict the path this early. I've seen some crazy paths in my day, even some complete 180's. Needless to say, everyone is on edge. My wife says she doesn't want to leave after everything we went through last time. I remind her of what the folks who stayed went through. My big worry is this: the Corps of Engineers has been working to strengthen the levees in and around the most damaged areas, where Katrina tore through. But for miles and miles, that same poorly constructed levee lies waiting, untouched, undamaged for now but probably already weakened from Katrina and just waiting to be swept away. Which leaves us in the same boat we were in before. Evacuation would probably need to happen on Monday, if the path shifts closer to us. In the back of my brain I'm already making the list of things to grab and shove in the truck. Can I evacuate the Jenny 2 sculpt? She'd probably melt in the heat.


Aqua Cyclops - Armature

Heres a few pics of the armature, still haven't rigged anything for his belly....

....might go with a slightly smaller eye, this one seems too large...

...similar technique used on Pandora for the fingers...
...the foot with threaded insert....in the background you can see the foot with no tie-down, the extra bit of protruding wire wraps around the threading...
....the foot, epoxied up...


Aquatic Cyclops

The EC story is on hold because of the copyright issue. I am waiting for a response from Gemstone Publishing, who reprints and (as far as I can tell) owns the rights.....I have a feeling it won't be good news but we'll see........(thinking silver lining, I've got 3 sets and 2 puppets, just waiting for a story....maybe something for 'Monster Month' (October) :D

There are developments to speak of, though. I met a local filmmaking feller last week who appreciates (and has dabbled in) the fine art of stop-motion, and has tapped me to create & animate a puppet for a sequence in a live-action film he is developing. His name's Ryan Dufrene, BipolarBearProductions , and I'll let him describe the scene for you.

"Our film is about a Spanish Aquatic Police Force.
The flashback scene shows a young boy hiding behind his Mother's skirt as a huge
Cyclops roars in anger just a hundred yards off of the shoreline. The team leader (who is much younger then we are used to seeing him in the film) is fearless and smoking a cigar as the wind blows upon him majestically. He sizes up the dreadful beast.
We go to a voice-over of the team leader explaining how the regular police force didn't know how to handle the situation, the Cyclops hadn't hurt anyone but technically he was loitering and scaring the hell out of the beach goers. The team leader motions his team to attack, he prepares to watch a long and bloody battle. His team charges across the road with a fearsome battle cry. All five men are instantly demolished by a passing 18 wheeler, they were just a little too focused on the monster. The monster finds their quick exit from this world rather amusing, he laughs. The team leader quickly recovers from the shock of the demise of his entire squad. He flicks his cigar at the Cyclops with impossible force and accuracy. Bam! The cigar plunges directly into the creatures one gigantic peeper. We cut out of the flashback at this point, TEAM MEMBER, "That poor cyclops never stood a chance...."

It's a short scene, and exciting for me to think of working like Harryhausen :) I've done a sketch of the aquatic beast, sort of a blend of Uncle Ray's cyclops, the Kraken, the Gillman, and Paulie from the Sopranos.

I'll need to give his belly some girth, armature-wise....I want to be able to animate the belly-jiggle when he laughs (like a bowl full of jelly), but it'll have to be something that can bake in the oven and is compatible with foam latex (hey Justin/Shel - ever armatured a fat foam belly?)....I start sculpting this week, watch for regular updates (finally ;)

In other news, I've come across a couple of new items. Pros-aide No Tack!! No more tacky mess while painting the foam latex. And for tie-downs, I recently purchased some 'threaded inserts' from a model train shop (also picked up some ultra-sweet looking long green grass for the Jenny shoreline set).


Vision Test

I shot a bit more and started working on the smoky visions sequence. Voice tracks are proxy, there's a lot of noise, and I sort of put my wife on the spot and made her read her lines for the scene because I needed the timing to start futzing with the effects. Originally I planned on shooting stop-mo footage for the flashbacks but then I started plugging in the comic panels and liked the effect, sort of an homage to the original work, by artist Reed Crandall. I'm not done yet, just rendered this clip to test things out. I may change the music too, from Kevin MacLeod at Incompetech.com, though I think it works. I realized after uploading that the sound is a little wonky, so you may have to turn it up a bit.

"Only Skin Deep" - vision test from Ubatuber and Vimeo.


Inishmore in the Times Picayune

Every Friday our local paper has an Arts & Entertainment insert, "The Lagniappe". A few weeks ago there was a cover story about Southern Rep Theatre and the Nola Project, who are putting on two shows at once, 'Wind in the Willows' & 'Lieutenant of Inishmore'. Then this past Friday, a review of 'Inishmore' hit newstands. I'm mentioned in both articles....

"...Each night, five gallons or more of stage blood is shed onstage. Larimer and Rilette are flying in Waldo Warshaw, who did the blood effects in New York, to handle the blood and gun choreography. And they've found a local stop-motion animation artist, Jeffrey Roche, to create realistic limbs that are hacked up."

"...If Sean Creel's cottage interior looks a bit too clean and simple, it may be because they have to wash off buckets of blood every night, provided by Waldo Warshaw, who also directs the fights and gun choreography. The appropriately simple, rough-hewn costumes are by Michelle Bohn. Be aware: Loud gun blasts punctuate the action and there are quasi-realistic-looking body parts by Jeffrey Roche."


I'm BAAAAAaaaaaaaack!

'Ello, 'ello! I'm back in the fray, dusting off the puppets and set, and ready to roll once again on my short film.....But first, there's a painting on my easel that I haven't shared yet.....those of you who have been reading the blog for awhile know that I occasionally traipse off to work on a painting....a month or so ago I got the bug, but this time had an idea for a series.....started on the first one.....its not completed obviously, don't know when it will be, but it is the first in what I hope to be a series featuring characters from Mythology and folklore mixed into New Orleans landscapes. I plan to shop these around to 'the galleries' when I'm done with a few of them.

Meet the makings of the City Park Bridge Troll...

I left off having some trouble with the size of the reaching arm....

Here's the bridge itself, nestled in the heart of City Park.

And a few yards away, a nice little crop of Cypress knees.....

On the stop-mo front, this week I get back to work on my EC Comic short. I've made a few decisions about it, first and foremost is the inclusion of a little intro/outro....See, what I loved about the Tales From the Crypt HBO series was the sense of humor. I became a fan of the show first, then sought out the comics, reprints first, then originals, my Dad and I hunting through back bins and out-of-state shops, buying anything we could find. As a kid I adored the Crypt Keeper's gruesome little puns, as he introduced each short. He had two partners-in-crime in the comics, the Vault Keeper and the Old Witch, who introduced tales in their own books, Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear. The story I'm doing has an introduction by the Vault Keeper, and I've decided to include it. I had cut it mostly to save time. I haven't decided if I want to go stop-mo with it or not, but here's the outro panel for your perusal.....includes a few obvious clues as to the horrid ending of the short.....be warned, be spoiled....

**bonus points for use of the word 'dame' :)