Review Me: Dave Hull: Art DNA
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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Dave Hull: Art DNA

Dave, thank you very much for accepting our invitation to this interview. That’s really generous of you. Tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?

My life changed when I was 9 years old and saw Star Wars in 1977. I was old enough to realize that the visual effects in the movie were carefully crafted to help tell the story. The visual effects combined miniatures, stop motion, motion control, and magesatte paintings in conjunction with the live-action shots to create these images. This started my journey and love of filmmaking. The mix of creativity and technology is what has fueled all of my various creative adventures.

Some artists, even with lots of ideas and passion, may be skeptical about the artistic path they have taken for a sec. What about you, Dave? Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely?

My goal after graduating with a Film and Television degree was to work in the visual effects industry. I had experimented with Super 8mm stop motion in High School and College. I interviewed for an internship at Industrial Light and Magic, the visual effects company that was set up to produce the effects shots for Star Wars. I was not hired there, but I did have an Internship at Skywalker Ranch during the summers of 1990 and 1991, working in Producer Services. After graduating and moving to Novato, California. I had a few more weeks of work at Skywalker Ranch. After that, I then worked as a Production Assistant for Matte World on Visual effects shot for Michael Jackson’s music video “Black or White.” I then moved back to Montana and worked on personal 3D computer animation projects for years. I wanted to work with a new medium with creative and technical challenges which led me to Multiplane photography.

I got my answer. You are an invincible artist! It’s very interesting for our readers to know about your daily artistic life. What is your daily routine when working in your studio?

I tend to do a studio session in the morning. Objects must be placed on the glass with utmost precision. If the objects are not in the correct position, the illusion is broken. When I am adjusting I have to use the camera’s point of view to ensure alignment.  If I have 10 layers of glass, there are potentially 11 surfaces (10 layers and the bottom background) to align perfectly for every portion of the image.  This precision is why most of my images take around 50 hours to produce a single photo.  Part of the beauty is also the temporary nature of the setup.  After all the time to set up and the photo is finished, it is cleaned up in minutes.
When I am “on the glass” as I call it, it reminds me of when I used to do stop motion animation. To make the smallest adjustment, I have to tense my body to adjust without moving anything else.  Imagine adjusting a paper clip with a yardstick reaching between narrow layers of glass.  An enormous amount of energy is used.  I can usually work around 2 hours, “on the glass”, then I am spent.  If I try to push it beyond that, I risk falling into the Multiplane, and getting hurt as well as ruining a setup.  I may try another session that day after some rest. When I am not in the studio, I work on material prep, pre-production, and/or marketing.

Great job! Now let's go with you step by step. So, take us through your process of making your artworks.

Once an idea gains traction, I can then work on pre-production. Just like a feature film, actors and backgrounds must be put in a position before lighting and shooting.  Material and objects must be prepped for production.  I have used bits of paper, foam, staples, beads, and many other objects. After the objects are placed on the glass, lights are placed and adjusted. The camera pointed down “sees” the world created on the layers of glass in- the camera. The images can be realistic, fantastic, or a combination. When you sculpt and position items on the glass, what you see is what you get!
Following is an example of the power of the Multiplane.  I made a 4” model of a cactus out of foam. When I place it on a layer of glass close to the lens, it would extend over the top and bottom edges of the frame.  If I need to change its size, I can quickly move it down a few layers and it has “shrunk” in relation to the camera.  If I move it even lower, it will shrink to an even smaller scale.  With this one model, I have the possibility of numerous representations of size and scale in the final image.  When multiple objects are placed, it creates a setting for magic that only exists at the focal point of the camera.  A finished Multiplane setup is a temporary sculpture that only looks correct from the camera.  Viewing it from the tiniest fraction off of the focal point will destroy the illusion. 

Some artists use similar constructions or themes for their artworks or series to convey an integrated message, while others like to have different messages in each of their artworks. Is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?

I try to keep my images unique. I don’t understand why some artists produce images that are almost identical to previous works.... I would get bored doing that! I produced images for Swing High, Swing Low, a children’s book on mental illness. These had a similar feel to them, that helped the narrative and made production easier.
I also produced a triptych... Birds, Bees, Honey. These were in the same universe and had a connection of the characters. At some point, I want to produce a coffee table book Infinite Junk Drawer, with images created from everyday items we all have in our junk drawers. I also want to do a series with images made up of various pieces of candy.

Dave, your artworks are among the unique ones with special techniques. Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?

I am all about technique. When a viewer looks at one of my works and asks how the image was made, I share my process of the technique used .... Multiplane photography. The images sometimes look painterly and I share with them this is a photo of objects on layers of glass. I am not into pretentiousness in any way and I also believe an artwork should stand on its own merits. I am not an expert at anything, but I do believe in technique and discipline which can be seen in creative content.

Artists just need a little push, a few ideas, to get them going in the right direction. How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?

I am inspired by storytelling. I imagine if my image was in a movie, what would be the one image that would be on the movie poster. This process will drive my image creation for my more narrative pieces. For abstract pieces, I am open to less confined inspiration.

What an attractive premise to inspire and visualize your artwork! And the subjects. The subject is the one an artist is genuinely interested and engaged in, isn’t it? How do you select your artworks subjects?

I am driven by a narrative, a story. Using everyday objects in unique ways can also drive inspiration and creativity. In my piece Fish, I used forced perspective in the production of the image. Forced perspective is an optical illusion that makes an object appear farther or closer away than it actually is. It manipulates perception through the use of the scaled objects and the correlation between them and the camera.   For the mountains in the distance, I wanted the focus to be extra soft. If I were to capture this image in nature, the mountains would be thousands of yards away from the fish. To achieve the soft focus, I used tiny pieces of green and black paper an inch away from the camera lens. Between the composition and the soft focus on the green mountains compared to the sharper focus on the fish, it looks like the mountains are far away. 

Dave, you’ve set aside time for your art on a consistent basis. You create your artworks so beautifully that it would bring excitement. Is there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for?

I love DNA with the background fading from bright pink in one corner to black in the opposite corner. I also like the illusion that all of the bent paper clips on all of the layers of glass look like a connected the strand of DNA. My most recent piece, Emerging Plaid, is an abstract piece that I liked doing as well. I typically haven’t done many abstract pieces, but want to do more in the future. My abstract works tend to be a little easier in production, than my representational pieces.

Wow, DNA, that amazing piece of art…. Our readers were really into it. They are influenced by the idea and techniques of your artworks. Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?

At some point, I want to revisit the production of a coffee table book Infinite Junk Drawer, with images created from everyday items we all have in our junk drawers. I tried to fund this, as a Kickstarter project a few years ago, but was unsuccessful. I also want to do a series of images made entirely up of various pieces of candy. One aspect I love about the Multiplane is that while photos may have similar setups, no two are ever the same. Lighting, object placement, reflection, and refraction are all different.  I may have not met my original goal of working on feature films, but have been able to use my passion and make visual effects for a single image, minus the film! My ideas, my process… my studio! I will always be exploring and producing new images. I hope to lecture at some point and inspire others to this discipline. If you do give Multiplane photography a try, I wish you patience, safety, and luck.  One more thing, you can never have enough carabiner clips and cable ties, trust me!

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