We have fallen in love! With our animation studio. Good thing too because we spend a vast amount of time here in Sunset Park, Brooklyn making Signe Baumane's animated feature film "My Love Affair With Marriage".
Our studio is two blocks from the old Bush Terminal on the Brooklyn waterfront of New York Harbor. During World War II half the ships carrying soldiers and supplies to Europe left from either Bush Terminal or Brooklyn Army Terminal, 20 blocks to the south. In its heyday, Bush Terminal was a city unto itself employing 25,000.
Bush Terminal in 1958, Manhattan in the far distance
Time took its toll. The docks shut down in the 60's and 70's, the piers quickly crumbled and the area became an industrial wasteland. But change has been coming. The city built Bush Terminal Park, where we sometimes sit on the rocks at the end of a renovated pier and watch the ships pass by the Statue of Liberty. The Brooklyn Nets basketball team built their state-of-the-art practice facility several blocks away. Industry City, a huge complex of renovated Bush Terminal buildings is fast becoming a go-to destination with its food, events and family activities.
Sunset Park is currently a haven for artists and small businesses (how long will that last?), the old industrial structures perfect for both. Originally, our building was headquarters for processing and handing out paychecks to longshoremen. Bars featuring sexy women sprang up a block away in either direction tempting dockworkers to lighten their wallets before heading home.
Our building in 1940 and present day, with views from opposite streets - it's a block wide and has three separate entrances
Inside, our building is a sprawling labyrinth of hallways (you need a map) hosting a wide variety of businesses: a number of clothing manufacturers, cabinetmakers, office furniture, an iron shop, a halal butcher, a moving company and much more. The Joseph Koch Comic Book Warehouse, a tenant for 40 years, has over 1,000,000 comics in stock.
Tucked away on the third floor is a long U-shaped hallway set aside for Artists, 17 studios in all. Most of the time we operate in our own little universe. Downstairs there is constant bustle. The loading dock is always in use and and a oversized freight elevator delivers pallets of goods up to and down from the second floor. However, to get anything large or heavy up to the third floor, there is only an old, skinny conveyor belt. Maybe that's why management gave artists the third floor. Who else would put up with a conveyor belt?
We've actually grown quite fond of our conveyor belt
Most of us don't have running water in our studios. We're constantly running to the bathroom to fill our water jugs, wash dishes, clean brushes or do our business. The hallway is a great meeting place. Many of us work in relative solitary, so we embrace human connection. We gossip, talk about our work, share tools and techniques. Sometimes we even share our art.
Sandra Osip has sadly left the building to return to her hometown of Detroit, but before moving she loaned us four of her cement sculptures.
Sandy in her studio surrounded by sculptures
We were working on a particularly dark section of the story - Zelma, the main character, loses a close friend - and Sandy's four sculptures, Bombed Out, Disaster, Decimated and Demolished seemed perfect for an important scene between Zelma and her future husband Sergei.
Sandy's sculptures, our lighting, and a floor of sand - we would have never thought on our own to have made a background set such as this
Sandy wasn't the only artist in our community that we turned to for help. Signe needed a drawing - a very specific one - in a different style from her own.
At a party in the film, Zelma admires a picture hanging on the wall. "Sergei drew it," her friend tells her. "Who is Sergei?", Zelma asks immediately intrigued.
Sergei's drawing on the wall of the college-dormitory set where Zelma first meets him
Signe turned to our studio-neighbor Doug Fitch to make Sergei's drawing. Doug is a multi-talented artist-sculptor-performer-director-set designer-costume designer, as many hyphenates as any one person is allowed. He is in high demand and his studio bustles with activity. Still, Doug took the time to help.
He's a ventriloquist, too. Doug with his alter-ego, Professor Wigglesworth.
Closeup of Sergei's drawing as created by Doug. The road signs in Russian say "here" and "there".
Much of My Love Affair With Marriage is set in the Soviet Union during the 1970s, 80s and through its collapse in the early 90s. In state buildings Soviet officials often hung portraits of Marx and Lenin to overlook their business - and, perhaps, to reassure the proletariat that everything they were doing was on the up-and-up.
To paint Marx and Lenin (and much more) we hired Yasemin Orhan in January. Not only has Yasemin become a trusted artist on the film, she is now a full-fledged member of our third floor community.
Yasemin paints Lenin and Marx
In the film Zelma and others take the body of her friend to the Hall of Ceremonies where a Soviet Master of Ceremonies performs assembly-line funerals under the watchful eyes of Lenin and Marx.
Shooting the funeral in the Hall of Ceremonies. Yasemin made the Soviet flags out of paper-mâché and painted them.
Coffins. We built and painted 18 of them and recently photographed a stop-motion sequence of coffins descending into the unknown. We were inspired, of course, by our conveyor belt. This was one of our crazier sets to make and a challenge to shoot.
Lots of trial and error went into making this work
Descending coffins. We were unhappy with the look until we tried backlighting.
And more coffins: the U.S. Military brought home thousands of fallen American servicemen through the South Brooklyn terminals during and after World War II.
It gives us pause to think of all the history that has happened at our doorstep.
Thank You for your support! We could NEVER make this film without you.
Sturgis, Signe and the entire My Love Affair With Marriage Team