Entries in Eva Zeisel (2)


Computer Generated Reflections

When you're shooting cars—or shooting anything, actually, and come to think of it, when you're designing anything shiny, like cars, 
... furniture (my favorite Eames chair, here)

... or vases (I would kill for one of these Zeisel Fig Vases)—
it's all about the reflections. Designers are actually designing the shape of the reflection, in addition to the feel of the shape, on these kinds of products.
The above is a pretty cool car commercial for the Lincoln MKZ that my brother shot recently at the Calatrava museum in Valencia. The car is digital, and the way they mapped the reflections of the building onto the surface is pretty darned cool. Still don't really understand how it was done, even after reading Bill's shooting notes:
This is a Lincoln MKZ commercial I shot for Director Andrew Sinagra at Ntropic. Andrew was also the Visual Effects Supervisor on the project. The car we were selling was so new, it was not available to us at the time of shooting, so we shot a BMW 6-series as the stand-in car on location. The location is the huge Museum of Arts and Science in Valencia, Spain.

Then Andrew, along with Nate Robinson and his crew at Ntropic placed a CGI version of the new car into the various shots. We shot with Arri Alexa Plus, recording the camera pitch & roll, lens focus distance, lens focal length, and lens aperture to the imbedded Alexa shot metadata. They utilized this metadata in post to help fit the CGI components into the shots. We were constantly zooming during the shots, something without the frame-by-frame metadata, would have made the post very difficult to achieve.

We also recorded the light in the environment with a 4mm fisheye on a Red Epic, shooting straight up, mounted on top of another vehicle. After we did each shot with the stand-in car and the Alexa, another crew would drive the Epic camera through the shot to record the reflections that were later mapped back into the CG car surfaces. You will notice that the lens flares that we shot with the Alexa and Epic on location are blended perfectly with the CG car. The Alexa was mounted on a Gemini Crane, mounted on a Porsche Cayenne camera car from Camera Car Industries, with a Filmotechnics gyro stabilized Flight Head.

Things have come a long way since they shot the Dodge "Time" commercial 

which was an early use of digital design. I think it that case, though, the cars were real. I remember visiting the set for this one and saw they had the car mounted in the air on its side, completely masked off with tape (covering the car) so that they could shoot just the outline of the car (later they'd use that mask to strip in background, etc.). It was pretty cool to see a car suspended in mid air, sideways, about five feet off the ground.
But it's also pretty cool to enjoy a great building through the reflections in a digitally-generated car.

Eva Zeisel, 11/13/1906 - 12/30/2011

Eva Zeisel, the last of the 20th Century masters, passed away peacefully today. She arose, showered and dressed, sat in her chair, and soon afterward left us, I would like to think, to pursue her "playful search for beauty" in the great beyond.

At Eva's 90th birthday, James Fulton, her student (Pratt 1951) and a major figure himself in industrial design, said that Eva "moved through all the modern movements yet was moved by none of them." She defied convention. During the sterile and, as Eva said, "anorexic" years when Modernist dogma commanded us to "reduce, reduce, reduce" designs to their simplest Euclidean form, she reveled in curves, color, and, yes, ornament. She said to me once that young designers will ornament their bodies with piercings or tattoos, yet it would be forbidden for them to add those ornaments to their designs. "The vase with the flower on it will never get the award. The student who presents in in class will get an F."  

She mentored generations of designers, from her students at Pratt from 1939 to 1954, to young designers in the present, teaching us all that the playful search for beauty is in itself a noble goal. 

She used the word "pretty."  

When she leaned toward me in one of our conversations and said, "We are makers of pretty things," I recoiled as if struck. I come from the generation of industrial designers educated in the 80s, who faced some hard years in the trenches, defending our expertise to corporate types who hadn't a clue about what it was that we actually did. We never referred to our work as "making pretty things." In our client pitches, we loaded - and still load - our language with B-School grenades like "adding value" and "impacting the bottom line," endeavoring to break through the culture barrier in the corporate conference room. We fought an uphill battle - intuitives in a world that worshiped the quantifiable. 

She rejected formulaic solutions. 

In the 50s and 60s, the Museum of Modern Art endeavored to teach Americans what "good design" was. Zeisel was on one of their expert panels and refused to answer the question, "What is Good Design?" She refused to ordinate one design as "good-er" than another. 

This does not mean that she settled for less than perfect. Comparing her work to others in her millieu, she made most look like slouches. Her pieces show a sure-footedness of line that knows exactly how a curve will start, where it will go, and how it will end.  

If you are lucky enough to see one of her designs in the flesh, and if you are even luckier to be able to put your hands on it, there is a visceral jolt at the touch, the feel of it. Just the other day I received in the mail one of her Town and Country casseroles. I had never held one. As I laid my hand on the handle, the sensation of that shape in my palm was electrifying. Her designs reward the hand. 

She was a master of masters.  

She created designs that were lauded by the design cognoscenti and also loved by ordinary people. She traveled the world and said that encountering her designs on kitchen tables from Kansas to Krakow was like seeing "so many well-behaved grandchildren."


These days, we talk alot about expressing emotion with our designs. One of the most important lessons I learned from Eva was that to her, design was not driven by a self-serving need to express herself; it was an act of generosity, giving a gift. She spoke of "making soul contact" with her public, in very much as the same way as Charles Eames' "guest-host relationship," where the designer is the gracious host.

My teachers were Modernists. Their teachers were Modernists. Their teachers teachers were Modernists. Under the 70-year thrall of Rationalism, the knowledge of how to sculpt curvilinear form, not to mention how to use color and apply ornament, was lost to us. As we strive to break the code today, Eva has much to teach us.

She was one of the keepers of the lost art. May she rest in peace.

William L. Hamilton's New York Times obit was published December 30, 2011, on page B7.