Friday, August 19, 2016

"It Was Big Enough To Nab A Horse"...

Bananas Not Included...
About a year ago, I spent the summer at a platation home in St. Francisville working on a film as a storyboard artist. I had a up stairs bedroom with my own bathroom and a door leading out to the back porch. For a while, it was great to go out to the porch and have a lunch overlooking a bevy of trees and a small lake to forget the deadlines and changes that always seem to make this job more difficult.

I say, for a while, because one morning, out of nowhere parked in the middle of the porch doorway this humongous spider. For the next four or five weeks this animal, which with legs and all was about as large as a long shoreman's hand. It seemed every morning there was some new insect or farm animal stuck in the web of this yellow monster with a head full of cold, emotionless black eyes.

Well, three weeks after cutting a bunch of tree branches that were hanging on top of the roof, I finally decided to clean up the mess I created. I casually walked between two large pin oak trees that are about ten feet apart from each other and found myself caught up in what seemed to be monafilament fishing line. In the blink of an eye, I was being sized up by a half dozen little black eyes.

The underside of the female...
I swatted at it as I untangled myself from the spider's web and ran to the protection of one of the trees. I noticed the badass spider also took off for the shelter of the opposite tree. We both looked around the trees from afar, sized each other up and decided to leave well enough alone.

I came out later to take a few pictures in order to find out exactly who the visitor was and investigate its "modus operandi". I found it's commonly called a banana spider and to be a native. This particular spider is the only species of the genus Nephila to be found in the Western Hemisphere. They live in warm regions, from North Carolina and across the Gulf States through Central America, as far south as Argentina, and in the West Indies (found extensively throughout Puerto Rico).

Well, the good news is that the spider is a beneficial predator and it doesn't eat people. And, oh yeh, it's silk is being investigated as a component of bullet proof vests. That should tell you something!

Copyright 2016/ Ben Bensen III

Saturday, August 6, 2016

"Hey Pete, Your Walk Can't Get Much Closer!"

Well, here in New Orleans, it is a sad Saturday, day. 
Pete Fountain passed away this morning at 86 years of age. No one, except Louis Armstrong, represented all the facets that is this crazy town like Pete!
"Hey Pete, your walk can't get much closer!"

Copyright Ben Bensen III/2016

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

"Aches and Pains Of Those Glory Days!"...

Five of the eighteen frames for Western Airlines that is currently my Facebook cover piece.
I don't believe this concept ever got sold and aired on TV. I thought the concept was a great way to introduce the new and improved Western Airlines. I could never tell, in the older commercials, if that spokesperson, sipping champagne while leaning against the vertical stabilizer in the tail section of the aircraft, was an eagle or a parrot! But, as the plane zoomed across the screen from left to right, the bird ( I'm told the voiceover was performed by the long time actor, Jim Backus ) looked toward the camera and with an rather deep and sophisticated voice garbled...

"Western Airlines, The Only Way To Fly"

I'm mentioning all of this because my back problems aren't going away, but there is a good story here. Once upon a time, while playing flag football at Santa Monica City College, I injured my back intercepting a pass. It wasn't a monumental, game winning feat. It was just another one of those weekend warrior interceptions of the mid air variety. Though I came down with ball in hand, I spent the rest of the game crumpled up on the bench. I really didn't think that much about it, but I apparently hurt it more than I thought I did. I never went to see a doctor about it. Eventually in time, it healed, but it healed wrong.

Well over the years my back would, every now and then, act up. One year it went BOING while I was peeling potatoes. Another time it TWANGED while I was up in our tree picking oranges. Seldom was there a rhyme or reason but it had never gave me a problem as I sat at the drawing board.

One day I got called to a meeting with an art director at NW Ayer/Los Angeles, I think. I got briefed on a presentation designed to changed the aircraft "branding" of Western Airlines and the creative team picked me to orchestrate this "floating ribbon" idea. I am sure that there were many other creative teams hashing out other ideas, but this idea was important enough to the agency for me to receive a large scale model of the McDonnell/ Douglas DC-10 to take home as reference. Over the years, being given what amounts to poor quality xeroxes to work from, having Ayer loan me this model as reference said more than enough to me about the seriousness of the presentation.

I brought the model home and proceeded to hang it from clothesline with monofilament line. I took lots of pictures of the plane from all kinds of angles because I needed eighteen frames to depict in the storyboard how the newly designed ribbon caresses and wraps itself, midair, all around the aircraft. A few days later, I returned the model and showed the AD my pencils. As it always seems, there were some changes to the sketches, but nothing too complicated.The complicated part came when I arrived home and got out of the car... DOIING!

When I finally got myself to bed, I stayed there for the next two days. When I could get out of the bed, I really couldn't sit for very long. The deadline loomed as I was being hounded to bring in the changes for the account people to make more changes and kick it around some more before going to the finals. This, naturally, was before the computer was in vogue. I couldn't get up, much less, drive over to the agency. So the AD and the writer suggested to visit me at my home "studio" to work with me on the details of the board. Although I gobbled up some pain pills, when they arrived, my wife had to lead them to my "sick bed."

"Man, you look bad. Are you okay to finish the job?" the writer asked.

Then, the art director chimed in, "Ben, you're the right guy for this job, but...uh"

I assured them that I was still excited about the job and that I'd be okay to finish the board in due time AND... that it would look great. In the back of my mind, I really wasn't sure at all if I was gonna be flexible enough to finish the project. But I wanted the money and the idea of me backing out of the job to hassle the account people for a kill fee was not something I really wanted to do. So, with me sitting up, kinda, in the bed with pencil in hand, we worked out the details of what I considered to be minor changes.

With the deadline looming larger, and the approval cycle complete, I was able to finish the artwork in a few days with the help of muscle relaxants, coffee and a couple of blocks of ice. The art director came by the "home studio" to pick up all eighteen frames and seemed pretty happy with the results. I suppose, though, he was mostly relieved that the work actually got done.

As I mentioned, I don't believe the concept was ever bought. I certainly never ever saw it run on local TV. It wasn't too much longer, maybe a year or so later, that Western Airlines along with PSA were no longer in the flying business.

For the longest time, I searched for the entire storyboard of eighteen frames, but never finding it. I'm not sure why. I'm not sure why I didn't photographed the entire set. I'm not sure why it was important to me to have the complete set. I was proud of my tenacity and that my patience and persistence had won out. Maybe, getting the job over with was my main motive. But every time I ran across these few frames in one of my many slide trays in hopes of using them in a promo piece, I would relive the past and all the hassle I went through to get the job done.

Then, I would think about my father.

How important should it be to me to show this work fifteen, twenty and even now thirty years later? How coincidental that my back is again showing it's age as I have once again attempted to find all of the slides. Why should it matter? What difference does it make? What story am I trying to convey by displaying art that is, while competently and painfully done, certainly way past it's prime?

Suffice it to say, that board, my back problems then and my back problems now are a constant reminder of something my dad always complained about whenever he would attend social gatherings like the ones the Diamond Club put on annually. The Diamond Club was a local organization comprised of living baseball heroes, officials, scorekeepers, sportswriters and such.

"All these guys want to do is gripe about their aches and pains and expound on their glory days... I'm tired of dwelling on the past. I'm about right now," he'd say.

And, as I now moan and groan to myself about my aches and pains, and shuffle through irony of my artistic past, his words continue to haunt me.

"Yeh Dad, I know, I got it, okay... I got it!

Copyright 2016/ Ben Bensen III