Now In Print – The Art Of The Hollywood Backdrop

The Art Director’s Guild sponsored a book signing event at their gallery space in North Hollywood yesterday, with co-author Karen Maness on-hand to sign copies of the new book, The Art Of The Hollywood Backdrop.

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The book is a cooperative project between the authors, Karen Maness and Richard Isackes and the Art Director’s Guild. With a focus on hand-painted rather than photographic backings, the book traces not only the history and development of backdrops through Hollywood films but the artists who have developed the techniques used and who have passed along that knowledge to successive generations of scenic artists.

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The event was well attended by not only Guild members but by members of the Strang family and the Coakley family of J.C. Backings, the two families which have not only dominated the field in Hollywood but have been the biggest promoters and curators of the art form.

The Coakley family and fellow artists of J.C.Backings

The Coakley family and fellow artists of J.C.Backings

 

 

Co-author Karen Maness graciously signed books all afternoon.

Co-author Karen Maness graciously signed books all afternoon.

This is a big book, and I say that in every sense of the word. Larger than a quarto format at 11 x 14 inches, the hard-cover and cased edition is 352 pages long and weighs in at 13 pounds. Filled with crisp images of both black and white and full-color backings, the photos show the backings not only in a straight-on form but in the environment that they were meant for.  It’s filled with stills from the original films as well as set stills showing them in relationship to the sound stages and the companion scenery.

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dsc_0032This book will definitely appeal to film lovers who have very little understanding of film scenery and stagecraft as well as film professionals who have many films to their credit.

It is available for order through the publisher’s website and will soon make it’s way into bookstores. If you are still making that holiday gift list, this is definitely a book that will have huge appeal to anyone who loves movies. Read an excerpt here, and you can order the book here from Regan Arts.

 

The Digital Bookshelf – Furniture Mouldings

“There is a tendency among those accustomed to the large-scale of moulding detail on exterior work in wood or stone to make their mouldings on furniture and interior woodwork too large. The full-size furniture moulding so carefully drawn by Mr. Warne should be of the utmost service not only to furniture designers but to students of architecture and interior decoration.”

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“This book covers many different types of English furniture; bedsteads, bookcases, bureaus, cabinets, chests, cupboards, chairs and others. This book illustrates cover this book covers molding details on English furniture from about 1574 to 1820 molding is the method adopted by the cabinetmaker to give definition to the lines of his work and the sections of molded detail very very much as one style has succeeded another through the oak, walnut, mahogany and satinwood periods of English furniture the workings of moldings was then so laborious that the craftsman use them with greater restraint and obtained more pleasing effects by their use than is frequently the case today when profusion often eliminates interest.”

H. P. Shapland, 1923

 

E.j. Warne’s book, Furniture Mouldings, is still one of the best resources on 16th to 19th century British furniture. Almost never out of print, copies can be had for as little as $1.

Until you get a print copy, you can download a digital scan of the book below. Scanned from an ex library copy, there are a number of damaged pages but you can get a good idea of the scope of the book.

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– R.D. Wilkins

 

10 Design Reference Books You Should Have On Your Shelf

 

design book montage_1

I think I’ve already made it clear that you just can’t have too many books, especially ones on design and architecture. But it’s also a real pain dragging a lot of them around with you from job to job and it becomes a bigger job to keep track of them once they’re out of your house. So, I try to only take books to my current workplace that I either don’t have a digital version of or just really need to have close at hand.

If I had to limit myself to just 10 books, these would be the books I’d take to start a job.

Here is my must-have list with sources:

1. Architectural Graphic Standards – 5th Edition – This was when the books were filled with great hand drawings and actually showed you in detail how things were built. Lots of period details as well. Out of print for over 50 years (at least in this edition) you can still find copies for anywhere from $20 to $200. The 3rd edition would be a suitable replacement. the first edition is also good to have and has been reprinted several times. Check Abebooks for copies. Not available digitally.

If you are in Great Britain, McKays is the closest equivalent, and is actually superior in a number of ways from our standpoint as set designers. On the Continent, an older copy of Neufert’s is a must. See this earlier post for details. Not available digitally.

In Germany, the best book on period construction I’ve found is Konstruction Und Form Im Bauen, by Friedrich Hess. There are lots of very nice drawings and measured details. Long out of print but you can still find copies second-hand. In Sweden, an excellent book on traditional construction is Stora Boken Om Byggnadsvård, by Göran Gudmundsson. This is a current book and still in print. Neither are available digitally.

2. Time-Saver Standards for Interior Design and Space Planning, 2nd Edition. This is the design complement to Architectural Graphic Standards and covers nearly every situation regarding building interiors. You can find used copies for around $75. There is a digital version available but it’s not only difficult to navigate because of the size of the book but at the price you’d be better off getting a hardback edition.

3. Styles Of Ornament – Alexander Speltz.  Originally published in 1904, this book uses over 4000 drawings to illustrate 6000 years of historical design. As a general design reference I don’t think it has an equal. Architecture, furniture, text, carving, metalwork are all covered. A must-have. (Handbook Of Ornament by Franz Meyer would be a close second.) Available from a number of publishers for as little as $10. A digital version is available.

Low Budget Option- download the online PDF here.

4. The Stair Builder’s Handbook – T.W. Love – Not a design book per se, but a book of rise and run tables that make stair layout a breeze. Available from Contractor Resource for about $18.

Low Budget Option – download the PDF Common Sense Stairbuilding and Hand-railing. Skip the mind bending section on handrail layout and skip to page 99. Also, Stair building, which has a nice section on ornamental ironwork.

Also, In April a new book will be out called  Simply Stairs – The Definitive Handbook for Stair Builders, by Mark Milner, published by Whittles Publishing in London for £25. Pre-release information on the book makes it look very promising.

5. Backstage Handbook – Paul Carter. Originally a technical manual for theatrical designers, the book is full of great information for film work as well. There are more details in this earlier post from several years ago. Available from Broadway Press for about $22. No digital version is available.

6. American Cinematographers Manual – The new 10th edition will cost you about $80 in hardback and almost the same in it’s digital version through the iTunes and Android sites. There’s a free pdf of the 7th edition here, but much of the latest technology isn’t in it. This is the go-to book for all things dealing with cameras and image capture. A lot of people will tell you you don’t need this. I’m sure you could also have a great career as a car designer without knowing anything about how cars work. Because when it comes down to it, all we’re really doing is designing big, pretty things to bounce light off of. Just remember, if the department names were based on physics we’d be the Light Reflector Design Department.

7. Building Construction Illustrated – Francis Ching. An excellent and thorough book about construction details including wood framing systems as well as masonry. About $30. No digital version is available.

Low Budget Option – access the online PDF here.

8. The Classical Orders of Architecture – Robert Chitham. I think this is the best modern book around that deals with the classical architecture proportional system. This book was out of print for quite a while and fortunately is back in print. The new edition deals with the proportions for both metric and Imperial systems. Used copies can be found for about $45.

Low Budget Option – Get the PDF American Vignola by William Ware and The Five Orders by Vignola. Also, download the very nice PDFs on classical architecture from the The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.

9. Illustrated Cabinetmaking – Bill Hylton. I covered this book in an earlier post. If you want or need to know basic furniture design and how furniture goes together this is the book you’ll want to refer to. It’s been referred to as the Grey’s Anatomy of furniture building. Full of exploded drawings of many kinds of pieces. Available from Fox Chapel Publishing for $24.95.

10. By Hand & Eye – George R. Walker & Jim Tolpin. Just because this is number 10 on the list doesn’t mean it’s the least important. In fact if you’re just starting out in set design this is the first one I’d tell you to buy. Most bad designs are caused by bad proportions. This book will give you a solid understanding of proportion and keep you from making simple mistakes. You can download a sample chapter here. Also, I wrote a longer post on the book earlier. Walker and Tolpin are promising a workbook that will come out later this year based on the book’s concepts so look for that. Available from Lost Art Press for $38, hardbound.

Low Budget Option – Cut back on the Starbucks for a couple days and buy a digital version for $18. The mental stimulation might be just as good as the caffeine and it’ll be a lot healthier too.

So what have I missed? There are other books I could list these are the best. What’s on your shelf? What books would you say are ‘Must Haves’?

Share your titles with the rest of us. Let me know the important titles I’ve missed here, I’m sure there are a lot. As an incentive, everyone who posts book suggestions goes into a drawing at the end of the week for a free digital version of By Hand & Eye.

C’mon, give us your list.

 

Chamber’s 1728 Cyclopaedia

1728 Cyclopaedia frontispiece

“Cyclopaedia, or, an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences: Containing the Definitions of the Terms, and Accounts of the Things Signify’d Thereby, in the Several Arts, both Liberal and Mechanical, and the Several Sciences, Human and Divine: the Figures, Kinds, Properties, Productions, Preparations, and Uses, of Things Natural and Artificial; the Rise, Progress, and State of Things Ecclesiastical, Civil, Military, and Commercial: with the Several Systems, Sects, Opinions, etc; among Philosophers, Divines, Mathematicians, Physicians, Antiquaries, Criticks, etc.: The Whole Intended as a Course of Ancient and Modern Learning.”

 

Fellow Set Designer Scott Schneider alerted me to two reference sites that are a real treasure trove of images. The University of Wisconsin  has recently digitized an original 1728 edition of Ephraim Chambers’ Cyclopaedia. They have done an excellent job of creating high quality scans of the plates that have always been hard to read in older scans.

You can find the link to the scans here. I’ve posted the scans of some of my favorites below.

Scott also drew my attention to a great site for period photos and drawings at:

http://archimaps.tumblr.com/archive

Plate of geometry formula

Plate of geometry formula

drawing of the classical orders from the 1728 edition of Chambers' Cyclopaedia

drawing of the classical orders from the 1728 edition of Chambers’ Cyclopaedia

plate of drawings on the rules of perspective

plate of drawings on the rules of perspective

Designing Without A Ruler – “By Hand & Eye” Explores Designing With Dividers.

By Hand and Eye

There are a lot of design books published every year and occasionally a few get written that are actually worth buying. By Hand & Eye is one of those. It’s a book that delivers where a lot of others have gone and failed. Written in an easy, nonsense-free style, the book sets out to explain the “art” of designing with proportions rather than numbers. I’ve found that a lot of books on design tend to read more like a doctoral thesis than something that will actually explain the material in easily understandable language. By Hand & Eye succeeds because  authors Walker and Tolpin are actually practitioners of their craft rather than just writers. It’s like taking a film course from someone who’s actually made a film rather than just talk about it.

Lost Art Press is a relatively new publisher who’s books are primarily aimed at the traditional woodworking crowd but you’ll be missing out on some gems if you assume their books are only useful to furniture makers. Their books are quality products both in their content and their construction. These are not the cheap perfect-bound high-acid tomes that are the product of most publishers and will end up disintegrating on you shelves. (With that in mind, If you do happen to be a furniture and book lover, and the name Andre Roubo means anything to you, you need to must check this page out immediately.)

Jim Tolpin was the most familiar to me as I own a number of his other books, but George Walker is relatively new to the publishing world. George writes a blog called Design Matters which is a record of his journey in the search for understanding what makes for good design. He and Tolpin met several years ago and found they were both on the same path but had approached it from different directions; Walker from a preference for traditional furniture and Tolpin from a more modern bent. Both were determined to discover the “magic formula” that meant the difference between a chair or building being handsome or ugly.

What they discovered is that numbers don’t matter. In fact much of the time they just get in the way. Most of the treasured icons of furniture and architecture were made before the measured rule was in use. It was the divider that ruled rather than the inch or foot. And this system of working when far beyond architecture and furniture.

The exercises they outline are especially helpful if you have only worked on a computer as you’ll be forced to think purely about the design process without the intrusion of a ‘digital helper’. By learning to think proportionally you’ll approach design from a much less restricted footing. A lot of times computers just get in the way of good design instead of enhancing it. Once you stop using numbers and just concentrating on ratios you’ll realize you can make things much easier for yourself.

The book are also a great introduction to traditional geometry and proportion if you haven’t really studied it before or a great refresher if it’s been a while since you exchanged a mouse for a compass. They are developing a website for online access to exercises in the book and you can download some sample animations of the exercises from this web page. You can also read more about the book and download a sample chapter on this page.

While the book does concentrate on furniture design the information translates to everything else in the design world as most of the principals are found in classic architecture.

column cannon ship

For example, traditional sailing ships and cannon have a lot in common with the classical orders in that they were all based on a proportional system. This not only insured that all the moulds would be in proportion to the length of a cannon barrel but that the trunions would be sturdy enough to carry the barrels weight and that the wall thickness of the tube would handle the explosions of the powder charges. The ship’s rigging was based on a similar system. If you knew the mast length you could figure the thickness of the mast stays and the diameter of every piece of rigging on the ship, all without a calculator.

Even an entire structure could and can be built with just a stick and a piece of cordage. Take a hewn log cabin. The picture below illustrates the only drawing you need for a house. It would be scratched out in the dirt with the cord and stick using the cabin width as the main unit of measure.

cabin plan

The length is easily determined in relationship to the width, resulting in a 1.6 plan ratio. The wall height is determined as 5/8s of the width. The same length determines the diagonal roof line which results in a 3/8 rise or a 9/12 pitch. The intersections would be marked with stakes and used as a full size pattern for cutting the timbers and joints without having to use a bevel gauge or fuss with estimating angles.

By doubling the cord the lengths are easily halved into eighths. The metric system is good if you’re working with numbers, multiples of 2 are better if you are laying out a pattern with simple tools.

At one time or another you have probably struggled with a badly proportioned room without realizing it. If you have ever had to design a paneled room and find that it’s impossible to get the panel sizes to work out correctly from one wall to the next, it’s most likely because the room was designed to a bad proportion. Get the proportion of width to length wrong and period details become a nightmare.

By Hand & Eye is now available through the Lost Art Press website. You can order the book here for $34. Also, if you have a peculiar aversion to quality paper products there’s a digital edition available for $16.

Three Types Of Dividers You Should Own

Thinking that you don’t need dividers if you work on a computer is a real mistake. If you have a set of compasses, a set of proportional dividers and a set of equal-space dividers you can accomplish a lot of things in less time than it takes for you to start your computer.

Here are the three types of dividers you should have and where to find them.

Compasses / Dividers

There are a large number of compass and divider styles available. You need to find the best type to fit your work methods

There are a large number of compass and divider styles available. You need to find the best type to fit your work methods.

Dividers and compasses are both the easiest and cheapest of all three types to find and have the greatest variety. If you are just doing the exercises from the book or doing small design drawings on vellum you only need a typical compass. You don’t need to settle for a cheap office store/elementary school type, there are plenty of quality compasses available on Ebay for as little as a few dollars. Usually they will come as part of complete drafting sets, which aren’t a bad thing to own, but often you can find them as one-offs. A compass around 6″ in length should be all you need. If you are feeling like drawing something larger, you’ll need a beam compass. I own one like this which is the best I have ever found. It’s called a Feranco Beam Compass and it was made by a small firm in Cincinnati. They’re out of business but you can find them second hand. Or, you can use a metal straight edge with a set of trammel points like these.

Proportional Dividers

proportional dividers come in a number of styles, most will work for design except for the type manufactured for nautical calculations.

proportional dividers come in a number of styles, most will work for design except for the type manufactured for nautical calculations.

These are definitely more expensive than a set of dividers but are a huge time saver if you are trying to scale a drawing to a different size or want to design to a giver proportion. The cost for a set of these will run anywhere from $30 to $300 depending on the vintage and make. The pair on the left are a 1810 pair made in London. The legs are of iron which are dove-tailed into the German silver body. The tolerances are very tight on these dividers and they stay put when you set them which is often a problem with cheaper dividers. The vintage sets have points which are triangular in shape and come to a very sharp point, which they need to be. Dull points require tuning with a very fine file or emery cloth. This should be avoided if possible because the accuracy depends on the lengths of the legs being a definitive ratio to each other. The modern sets have round pins which come to a point. The advantage of this being that if the dividers are dropped the pins can be replaced, something impossible with traditional sets.

The vintage sets came in two types: standard or second quality in which the indicators ‘Lines’ and ‘Circles’ are engraved on the front, and first quality in which besides these the indicators ‘Plans’ and ‘Solids’ are engraved on the reverse side. For 2D line work you only need the first two indicators. Also, when you are looking for a used set, be sure that one of the indicators does not say ‘Speed”. These are a pair made for nautical use and won’t be very useful for our purposes.

The better quality sets had designations for solids and planes which are for volumetric calculations

The better quality sets had designations for solids and planes which are for volumetric calculations

When you set the dividers to a ratio, the difference in distance between the longer and shorter legs will mirror this. Set the ‘Line’ scale to 8 and then spread the long set of legs along a straight line. The distance between the short legs will be 1/8th the distance. The same method works with circles. Set the scale to , say 5, and them spread the long legs across the diameter of a circle. You ‘walk’ the legs around the circumference of the circle to divide it into 5 equal segments.

The '10' setting under circles gives you the ratio for the Golden Proportion.

The ’10’ setting under circles gives you the ratio for the Golden Proportion.

If you like designing to the Golden Proportion, you can set the Circle scale to ’10’ and you will have a proportion of 1.618 between the two sets of legs.

Equal Space Dividers

Equal space divider come in two sizes: 6" and 12"

Equal space divider come in two sizes: 6″ and 12″

This type of divider is the most expensive of the three, but for scaling or proportion work from drawings or photographs they are impossible to beat. These are the dividers I use the most of all I own and if I lost them I’d have to replace them immediately, despite the steep price. I bought my set decades ago for $130, new now they list for $350. Ouch. My 12″ set were handmade my Alteneder & Sons in Philadelphia and are collectors items. You may get lucky and find a pair on Ebay. New, a 12″ pair runs from $400 to $500. I’d recommend finding a second-hand pair but make sure the tips are not bent or the accuracy will be nil. These dividers are sometimes referred to as 10-space or 11-point dividers. Check the Ebay sites in Britain and Canada. I’ve seen them show up there as well.

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With these dividers you can very quickly divide a space into as many as 10 units. I used to use them mainly for laying out stairs or room paneling but now they are irreplaceable for scaling off a photograph or drawing while simultaneously drafting on the computer. Trying to scale the material from the computer screen while doing this would be much slower. For the times I do have an image in digital form and need to scale from the screen, I’ll flip a piece of acetate over the monitor to keep the sharp teeth from scratching the screen. It’s fun to watch people with expensive monitors see me do this and gasp in horror.

Rendering In Sketchup

For those of you who work in Sketchup and are new to rendering, or are confused by all the different rendering software packages available, a new book is coming out March 25 that will help. Daniel Tal, landscape architect and author of Sketchup For Site Design, has written a new book, Rendering In Sketchup, which is now available for pre-order or as a digital download.

rendering in sketchup

There are now a number of rendering programs on the market for use with Sketchup, with a majority of them working from within Sketchup without having to exit the program. This can be a plus or a minus depending on how you work. Even though most of the programs offer free-use trial periods of their software, It can be pretty difficult and time-consuming to decide which is  the best one for your workflow and budget.

Daniel is an excellent teacher and has written a very thorough and detailed book on the process of rendering from Sketchup using a variety of software programs as well as explaining post-rendering work with Photoshop. While not every rendering engine is covered, he does go into a great amount of detail explaining not only the basics of rendering, but his own methods using Shaderlight, SU Podium and Twilight Render.

The book covers workflow, hardware requirements, how to model efficiently for renders, use and teaching of textures and a lot more. At over 600 pages, the book is both a reference and a guide and can be read for pertinent chapters rather than just cover to cover.

You can get more information on the book here, and you can view the videos on Daniel’s Youtube site here

Here is a really good tutorial by Daniel you should watch which is based on the material from his book:

Land8 Webinar: Rendering in SketchUp – Daniel Tal from Land8.com on Vimeo.

If you want to know all of your rendering engine options, here is a list of rendering programs that work with or within Sketchup;   ( Prices are as of March, 2013. )

From within Sketchup:

Shaderlight – $299 full license; timed access from $50

Twilight Render – $99

V-Ray – $800

ArielVision – $175

Bloom Unit – free software , cloud-based, priced per render

Caravaggio – $295

Indigo Renderer – $220

IRender nXt – $499

Light Up – $189

LumenRT – $295

Maxwell – $995

Raylectron – $99

Render[in] – $160

Renditioner –  $99,  Pro $199

SU Podium – $198

Thea Render – $420

Standalone Software

Artlantis

Kerkythea – free

The Best Chair You’ve Never Heard Of

On campaign during the Boer War, 1900. Major-General R. Pole-Carew , right, is seated in a Roorkhee campaign chair. National Army Museum, London

It’s all our fault. America and India, that is. When the British Empire was at it’s height of power it was sending troops to three continents. It would have been an extreme hardship for the officers, gentlemen in a class above that of the common soldier, to have traveled to these far-off places without the comforts and trappings that they were used to at home.

That meant that the campaign tents that were pitched in the American wilderness and the jungles of India had to be filled with proper furniture. Soon the best furniture makers in London, including Thomas Chippendale were turning out pieces which were designed specifically for, well, camping. To maintain the prestige of the British Army the furniture they brought with them had to be practical, portable and stylish.

A suite of Victorian walnut campaign furniture from 1863. From the book British Campaign Furniture by Nicholas Brawer

These were more than just a few choice pieces which were tossed into a cart. Some officers, when ordering their camp furnishings at the British Crown’s expense, selected nearly 50 pieces including beds, chests, writing tables,  bookcases and chamber pot holders. The size of some of the tents they inhabited while on campaign would have rivaled the size of the average room in a fine country estate. Not to mention the caravan of wagons and horses necessary to carry it all from place to place.

I first learned about campaign furniture while I was working on The Patriot in 1999. We reproduced some Georgian campaign chairs like the one below and I was struck by the ingenuity of the design. Some of the comfort may have been compromised but not the style. Sure the stretchers were flat and mostly featureless but the overall lines were there.

George III caned mahogany folding chair, 18th century. Christopher Clark Antiques, Ltd., Glos., England

Three years later I came across Nicholas Brawer’s book, British Campaign Furniture 1740 – 1914. It still remains, amazingly, the only book on the subject. Brawer explains that the real explosion in campaign furniture came after the Napoleonic Wars, when a brisk increase in travel both on the continent and abroad created a huge market for portable and functional furniture.

In 1899, the British Army experienced an entirely new type of war. The Boer War in South Africa changed the way people thought about modern conflict and the idea of a ‘Gentleman’s War’ was gone. The over-designed and over-stuffed campaign furniture of the Victorian Era was unpractical for the new hit-and-run tactics which demanded something lighter and more austere. The Roorkhee Chair came out of this need for a chair that was both simple and still robust enough to stand rough treatment. Weighing between 11 and 13 pounds, the chair was usually covered in canvas with leather straps for arms and easily broke down for travel. The design also had the advantage of allowing the chair to sit with all four feet level no matter how uneven the ground was. The name of the designer is lost to history, but the chair was named in honor of the Indian Army Corps of Engineers in Roorkhee, India.

Roorkhee chair fitted with canvas seat and back. From British Campaign Furniture by Nicholas Brawer.

Chair disassembled for travel

another style of leg

Victorian Mahogany campaign chair from the 1870’s. The ancestor of the Rorrkhee chair, it wasn’t as robust even though it could break-down as well. The pieces were carefully numbered to match their corresponding pieces to make assembly easy for anyone.

Unfortunately Brawer’s book has been out of print for years, so if you find a copy you should grab it. There are reproductions being made including some very nice ones by Lewis Drake & Associates.

If you’re handy with tools, you can try making your own. Christopher Schwarz, contributing editor at Popular Woodworking Magazine, and living patron saint to hand tool woodworkers everywhere, has done an article on making a Roorkhee you can find here. And you can download his Sketchup model of the chair here.