Well that was a hell of a lot of work.
I finished photography for the Ant Farm at the beginning of February, but that did not mean I was anywhere close to being done with the project. No, that’s when a whole other level of work kicked in.
But maybe I should back up a bit first and describe the process that was happening during the photography stage. Each of the 100 models was shot in either a horizontal or vertical set piece that helped me keep the proportions correct. I had everything set up so that the lights would be the same for each shot, ensuring a consistent appearance. (It also helped that I was doing everything very high-key, so there really wasn’t an issue with watching out for shadows.)
I jumped on the post-processing right after doing each shot rather than saving it all to the end. Not only did this keep my sanity by spreading this work out over a long period of time, but it helped me catch some set-up issues early on that I was able to correct. But still, this means that for each of the 100 models I had to:
- Recruit and schedule, often involving quite a bit of back-and-forth emails.
- Do the shoot, which usually was fairly quick.
- Do the post-processing for that image.
- Add that image to the overall grid. The more the grid was filled in, the trickier this became because a domino effect would kick in. I’d discover that the new image would look great in a particular spot, but that meant I had to move another, and the process would start all over again.
Once all 100 models were photographed I spent a couple weeks doing final arrangements to make sure each person was in the perfect spot. At the same time I was constructing the framework they would be standing on. This was a bit of a challenge because I know very little about creating and manipulating textures in Photoshop, so it took a while to come up with something that had the gritty, orangic look that was stuck in my head. This is something I could have keep tweaking for the next two years, but at one point I just had to call it done and move on.
My original plan was to just output the Ant Farm as a single-sheet print, which would have required using a professional print shop in order to get the size I wanted. This led me to start thinking if there was some way I could print it with my Epson 3800, even though its maximum print size of 17″x37″ falls far short of the 60″x45″ size of the image.
After a lot of experimenting, I decided to pursue a staggered, overlapping tiled design that is a slight tip-of-the-hat to the late James Rizzi. I divided the image into a series of about 35 panels, each with two to four models. I then worked through some small-scale mock-ups to find a series of vertical offsets that would work across the entire pieces.
Now that I had a game plan, it was time to move on to the construction portion. This entailed:
- I isolated the separate panels from my primary Photoshop file and employed my finest Tetris skills to arrange as many as I could on each sheet of my expensive 17″x22″ Exhibition Fiber paper.
- I proceeded to waste several sheets of paper while dealing with printing problems, which turned out to be the result of accidentally selecting the wrong paper profile in the Print dialog box.
- When each sheet came out I hung it up in a safe place for 24 hours to give the ink sufficient time to dry. I have no idea if this is really necessary, but it makes me feel good.
- After drying, each sheet gets two coatings of Hahnemuhle protective spray.
- Once the spray is dry, each panel is carefully cut out using an X-Acto.
- For each panel, I cut out a foam core backing that is the same shape as the panel but slightly smaller so it would not show.
- I ran a black magic marker along the edge of each piece of foam core to help hide it even more. Ideally I would have just used black foam core, but when I went to buy it all the black sheets were annoying warped so I bought white and just dealt with it.
- I spray mounted each panel to the foam core.
- I defined four different heights of standoffs I would need to support the panels and decided to use styrofoam to keep the weight down. I bought a sheet of rigid styrofoam insulation and trimmed the blocks using a power scroll saw. This was extremely messy.
- Meanwhile, I was also constructing the wood frame. Fortunately, it worked well to just use simple 1″x6″ boards and a sheet of plywood for the backing so the construction was rather simple. When building something like this, however, it’s very important to think ahead as to how it will be hung on the wall and work that into your design. I added a couple support pieces to the back that will bear most of the weight. A couple coats of flat black followed by a protective clear coat and it was ready to go.
- I dry-fitted the panels several times to ensure that everything fit and looked good. Once I was satisfied, I glued everything in place. (The brevity of that last sentence does not convey how long this took. I spent several days glueing a few pieces at a time, letting them dry, then continuing.)
- Once everything was secured I affixed a sheet of clear acrylic over the front and called it done!
Since you’ve been so nice and read to the end of this long post, I guess I’ll show you what it looks like:
Ha! Fooled you! The best you’re going to get now is this shot with the blue protective film still stuck on the plexi. I won’t be posting an unobscured image of the Ant Farm until it is debuted at SEAF in June 2012. In fact, I suggest you simply attend SEAF and see it in person!