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FANTASIUM (2013)

Fantasium Front View

FANTASIUM - FRONT VIEW

Inspired by Walt Disney's 1940 animated film, Fantasia, our first major piece, Fantasium, has won awards, both as fine furniture and as innovative sculpture, at competitions throughout California.

  • 1ST PRIZE - ART FURNITURE Design in Wood 2014, San Diego, CA
  • AWARD OF EXCELLENCE (1ST PRIZE) - 3D ARTWORKS: OTHER 3D ARTWORKS Fine Arts Exhibition 2015, California State Fair, Sacramento, CA
  • AWARD OF EXCELLENCE Artistry in Wood 2013, Sonoma County Museum, Santa Rosa, CA

MASUMOTO HERD ART FURNITURE: INTRODUCTION

(2014; HD; 6 min 54 sec) A humorous, musical look at Masumoto Herd and the Fantasium.
(Documentary #1 of 4)

FANTASIUM: ORIGINS

(2014; HD; 9 min 35 sec) A musical tour of the inspiration behind our Fantasium.
(Documentary #2 of 4)

FANTASIUM GLASS: PROCESS MONTAGE

NEW! (2016; HD; 7 min 25 sec) An in-depth tour of the Fantasium glassmaking as Michael makes (and remakes) Pane 10. 3 1/2 weeks of meticulous handwork condensed into 7 minutes!
(Documentary #3 of 4)

FANTASIUM

A Labor of Love... and Suffering

Standing over 4 1/2 feet tall and 5 feet wide, production of our monumental FANTASIUM required the full-time efforts of 2 workshops working for 3 years.

Fantasium Tree Closeup

Fantasium Tree - Closeup

To create the unnaturally sinuous wood grain, Kai built the Fantasium Tree by shaping hundreds (and hundreds) of slivers and wedges of Peruvian Walnut and laminating those slivers of wood into curves over custom-made bending forms. Once he had joined those stabilized parts (several months of work), he carved the tree into shape.

The branches are really frames -- of widely-varying size and shape, placed at crazy angles -- to hold individual panes of glass.

My original idea, formed in blissful ignorance, had been to improve upon the stained glass window. Eliminate all that dark lead caming, I thought. All-transparent imagery! No paints! So much lighter, using custom-made art glass, for the richest possible color that would never fade or scrape off. Hold the glass together with wooden frames, designed as part of the picture, a beautiful silhouette, fully integrating wood and glass in a way never seen before. Emulate Disney's old multiplane camera, I enthused, and build the imagery in layers THROUGH the glass, to create REAL depth, heightened by foreshortening. Create a beautiful vision, filled with life, movement, and positive emotion, yet communicating something poignant and ineffable about being human. A Symbolist work!

Little did I know the technical challenges we would be facing...

Fantasium 3/4 View

Fantasium - 3/4 View

That stylized design, with the impossibly tight tolerances, curves upon curves with compound curves, too... WOW, there was a REASON why no one had ever done something like this before! We ended up creating the most difficult piece of woodworking that any master woodworker we've met has ever seen.

I may appear to be boasting now, but I wasn't while we were building the darned thing. I was kicking myself for being such an idiot! We paid the price for my ignorance with years of sustained stress and worry. The Fantasium Tree alone took one year of 6 day/week work; so, too, did that compound-curved integrated base. OMG!

Fantasium Glass Closeup

Fantasium Glass - Closeup

And that glasswork... an original technique of my own that was so exacting, some of the panes had to be remade 2, 3, even 5 times to complete the finished illusion: the Fantasium as a window into some Realm Beyond, the strange shadow land between Life and Death.

Inexplicably, at shows where we've exhibited the Fantasium, some visitors always ask me if the Fantasium's Japanese Maple leaves were somehow made using REAL LEAVES. I'm flattered that my illusion succeeds so well, but stunned that the question keeps cropping up. I did study the anatomy of real leaves, but then I stylized the heck out of them! Do real leaves throw up their little leaf-arms like dancing cartoon characters?

Fantasium - Single Light

Fantasium - Single Light Source

The ecstatic tree, dancing its joy, throwing leaves into the air in a moment of abandon before the onset of Winter... Those happy leaves, tumbling, each lost in its own little activity... And the harsh, cold light of the Beyond, shining through the breaks in the surrounding foliage. My mother picked up on the Life/Death symbolism immediately; I wasn't trying to be super-subtle. The Fantasium was designed to be a piece of many moods, depending on lighting and situation. Most people find it overwhelmingly peaceful and joyful, but I designed it with a pensive side, too.

The Fantasium is an exhortation to Rejoice, to appreciate Life... and not to fixate upon Death.

Fantasium - Top View

Fantasium - Top View

But the Fantasium IS a piece of furniture, a presentation table; I had to exercise restraint so focus could potentially be given to objects placed upon the table top. That's why the design is so balanced and lacks a color focal point. When the internal lights are turned on, the LIGHT provides the focal point of this multimedia spectacle piece, in the break of the leaves behind the tree's "head." Or the lights can remain off and a viewer's focus will be drawn to whatever's on top because the artwork regards what lies above. The Fantasium provided me a very tricky design challenge which I seem to have made work, thank goodness.

I wish I could show you the effect of the Fantasium's custom-built, fan-cooled, color-changing, internal LED light system as it shines through those branches -- joyful and serene, yet disturbingly eerie, all at once -- but my digital cameras do not photograph LED light properly.

Fantasium Glass Closeup

Fantasium Glass - Closeup

This "Fantasium Glass - Closeup" photo, repeated from earlier, reveals details which friends claim are the most interesting bits.

First, that Japanese Maple leaf is not one piece; it's really elements from two separate panes, created years apart: one at the beginning, one near the bitter end. Looks like one unbroken sheet of glass, doesn't it? Getting those colors and textures to match perfectly required a very disciplined process, but the alignment is what's most impressive. There are actual 3D veins "carved" into the back of that glass which visibly "cross" the branch when the internal light is on, the alignment is that tight. The woodworking and glassmaking both had to be incredibly disciplined to make that feat possible.

Most handmade things, especially wooden ones, have accumulated errors which lead to unforeseen consequences later in the process; these are usually correctible with minor adjustments, up to a point. But the Fantasium couldn't withstand normal levels of imprecision because so many complex elements had to meet precisely.

Wood is a natural product. It changes shape with changes in humidity and the weather. Metal can be machined to extraordinarily tight tolerances, but not wood. Wood is, by nature, imprecise. That's why a wooden bannister rail (for instance) will have fixtures with oblong screw holes; they have to accomodate wood movement. A wooden bannister changes shape over the course of the year, growing longer or shorter with the weather.

The only way to make wood "precise" is to cut it into strips/slices and glue it back together again in a way that stabilizes the wood. The Fantasium branches would have broken apart, over time, if they had been made from unstabilized solid wood. From Day One, Kai began calculating thicknesses of wedges so that the wooden slices would follow all those crazy curves attractively... then, each subsequent step of the process introduced errors which caused the work to snowball in complexity.

But the glass was just as problematic. Each pane consisted of many independent elements. Most of those elements had some graphical component (usually several components in different mediums) which all had to be cut precisely and fired into the glass. Glass flows when fired, which can cause elements to move. So I had to compensate for many potential sources of imprecision. To make things more difficult, glass is not like paint; many colors are chemically incompatible. The Fantasium glass took a lot of careful technical planning to make it come out so nicely.

Fantasium Glass Components

Fantasium Glass - Components

This picture shows the elements that went into just 3 panes of Fantasium glass.

Each completed pane had 6 principal components:

  1. The shaded brown/red glass leaf overlay (top right)
  2. A clear glass "core" to separate chemically incompatible colors and to bind the pane together (left)
  3. The delicate red glass veins (top right)
  4. The fireproof ceramic fibrepaper leaf cutout, into which I cut holes for the veins (top)
  5. The thin ceramic fibrepaper vein cutout, to prop up the veins against the core glass (not visible; inserted into vein-hole of each leaf cutout)
  6. The gray leaf-patterned background glass, into which I cut a leaf-shaped hole (top left, middle and bottom right)

The following video shows approximately how I made those components, and how the components joined together to make the final pane. I have a few things to add, however.

I chose to make all-transparent designs, which made my glasswork infinitely more difficult. Conventional "Painting with Light" techniques always use opaque elements to delineate form. Why?

Opaque glass stenciling is easy. A thin little film of powder, and you're done! Anyone can do it. A good silkscreen takes only seconds to perform miracles of photorealistic magic. You can churn product out by the gross.

Transparent glass stenciling, however, requires THICKNESS. You can't use a silkscreen. You have to use a SUBSTANTIAL layer of powder, OR THERE'S NO COLOR. You can't use any kind of medium or binder, either, because those discolor the glass. For pure, vibrant color, you have to stencil with dry powder. A layer of glass powder is, essentially, a layer of dry sand. Ever try to remove a stencil from a pile of dry sand? The sand crumbles and spills all over the place. I ruined 4 or 5 out of 6 lifts. And this powder can kill you, so I had to be meticulous with cleanup. As a consequence, each lift took 1 to 2 hours. One really difficult stencil, I failed the lift a dozen times or more; it took days. Just remembering it gives me anxiety attacks, seriously. In addition...

Imagine trying to paint with crushed ice, which you have to melt in an oven, then refreeze into the final picture. As your ice melts, it beads up and changes shape, rounding away details, or turning into indistinguishable blobs. Glass is a little more viscous than ice, but that's essentially the process I used to create those designs. How did I manage it? Watch the video and find out.

My secret? Sheer obstinance. It was like a trance of the Eternal Now where no anger was allowed to obtrude. Sort of. More like being stuck in an abusive relationship where you're not allowed to be a human being, only a perfectly oiled machine.

FANTASIUM GLASS: PROCESS MONTAGE

So now, perhaps, you understand a bit more about the craziness of this Fantasium effort! Before I end, let me tell you one more story.

Fantasium Glass Closeup

Fantasium Glass - Closeup

This picture features Kai's biggest Fantasium disaster, near the center, on the lower part of the branch cutting across the right side of the Leaf. When the Fantasium, upside down, came out from clamps one day towards the end of construction, Kai dropped a heavy clamp on the Tree. Splintered a long, 1/4 inch deep gouge into that branch. Two and a half years of work, apparently ruined! Kai just about lost it.

Kai could not make a repair with just any old piece of wood. He had to have a scrap from the particular bent lamination that formed that branch because each lamination was unique in terms of light/dark coloration and slice thickness; no two were alike. I don't know how many days Kai spent searching through our literal mountain of scrap. I'm not sure he believed he would ever find what he needed. Miraculously, however, he did finally find the waste from that particular lamination.

Kai cut out a two-inch-long section of the branch and inserted his patch, eventually reshaping and recarving the branch. He had very little wiggle-room because the glass did not have structure under the frame edges to support a bigger reveal. I honestly don't know how Kai managed to fix that hideous wound so beautifully. Blind desperation, I guess. It's visible, but only if you know what to look for. Kai does amazing work.

Last Updated: June 15, 2016
COPYRIGHT © 2010-2016 MICHAEL MASUMOTO

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