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Daniel Zana knows about working with stiffs. During the day he directs and edits (and occasionally appears in) B&H Online Videos where he makes inanimate objects mug for the camera. Over the last four years he's also made his own movie, a documentary about collectible toys inspired by cartoons, sci-fi films and comic books.
It's called The Vinyl Frontier, and the movie has its New York premiere on Aug. 28. Zana ties in interviews with some 35 artists and heavy-duty collectors in an 83-minute presentation that further documents the attraction between boys and their toys. (There are a few female artists and interviewees as well.) To record the interviews, he mostly used a Canon Vixia HV30, a high-definition camcorder superseded by the HV40.
But the real stars of the movie are the toys themselves, and to that end Zana gathered the characters, which ranged mainly in height from two to 12 -inches, under the Impact Large Digital Light Sheds Kit, a traveling studio consisting of two flood lights on six-foot stands and a translucent light shed meant for photographing small-to-medium objects. Zana used a Canon PowerShot G9 camera (since replaced by the PowerShot G11) to capture a series of close-ups. Besides taking the tent on the road when the toys' owners refused to let them out, Zana set up in his Manhattan apartment, using a dining room table, his desk, piles of books, or a Lazy Susan bought at Ikea as platform risers for the midget cast members. In the latter case, he manually turned the stand, shooting video to present viewers with the characters' full 360.
Zana (right) animated his plastic mates two other ways. First, by taking photographs of the objects, cutting up the prints, and reassembling pieces for the camera, he made images of Godzilla and G.I. Joe appear to strut like paper dolls. He also performed stop motion animation, using the diverse members of his personal collection to populate an empty shelf. "I had the guys crawl into their respective places on the shelf," Zana exclaimed, a routine that took a couple of hours to shoot, resulting in some 20 seconds of screen time.The sequence (final frame with all characters in place is shown in the wide image at bottom) was created using the PowerShot, plugged into his Mac, running iStopMotion from Boink Software. The entire movie was edited using Apple Final Cut Studio 3.
Zana admitted that his cast was more diverse than vinyl alone. "There's a new form called resin toys. Instead of shipping designs to China to have toys made, people are making things with resin in their basement." Characters can also be made out of metal, wood or other materials, he added. As for use of the name, Vinyl, in the title, Zana quips, "People have asked me whether it's about vinyl records, and I've had to set the record straight."
So, if you've ever loved a tin robot (or his vinyl approximation), you shouldn't miss The Vinyl Frontier. Your best chance is on Saturday, Aug. 28, at 8:20 p.m., in the Tribeca Cinemas, 54 Varick Street. Tickets are $8. There will be a free showing on Sunday, Sept. 5, at 1:00 p.m., in the B&H Event Space, but seating is more limited. A discussion with the director and several of the artists from the film follows both screenings. Zana expects to have the film available on DVD later this year. For more information, check out vinylfrontiermovie.com.