Cinemovements and RFA

asteraceae_00Top row: Spanish needle Bidens alba, Middle row: Firewheel Gaillardia pulchella,
Bottom row: Snow squarestem Melanthera nivea

At least half of the bios I write include some reference to the powerful experience I had as a child seeing Disney’s Fantasia in a movie theater. Movie theater being an important distinction since we see so much animation via the web these days and I don’t think “Night on Bald Mountain” would have had the same impact as a full screen youtube video. The presentation of Fantasia as if it had a live symphonic score made an impression on me as well.

I have always wanted to see my own work accompanied by a live score. Performances by artists such as Miya Matrayek, Brent Green, or even Bruce Brown showing his early surf films while narrating them live (something that apparently happened as late as 2008) further inspired me to take up the charge of creating a live-scored animation. More recently and locally I’ve been impressed by the pairing of the scratch film animation of Brian Ratigan with the music of Koas.

When Andy Smith of Indie Grits Film Festival contacted me to see if I wanted to create a piece for their Cinemovements program I leapt at the opportunity. My first listen to the composition chosen for me to create a visual accompaniment to was enroute to SCANZ 2013: 3rd Nature (an artist residency and symposium in New Zealand). One step in my creative process was a careful study of “All Souls Carnival” (1957) by Len Lye which was on display at the Govett Brewster. The goal of this animated short commissioned to screen alongside a live chamber music performance “was not synchronisation but a free interaction.” I gained a lot of confidence from watching a pairing of Lye’s often frenetic painting on film with classical music since my work is also hard to slow down.

This year’s Cinemovements will consist entirely of music by South Carolina composer Mary Lee Taylor Kinosian performed by a string quartet. The specific piece I animated is “Simplicity,” Kinosian’s interpretation of Mozart and part of a suite of music that traces the cultural progression of music through history. I chose to create the animation entirely from plants in the Asteraceae family (sunflowers, dandelions, daisies,..). The plants are all native to Florida with ranges that extend into South Carolina. At it’s simplest the imagery consists of a single petal flickering like a candle’s flame.

A preview of some of this imagery will be shown during the intermission and exit of Jacksonville’s Riverside Fine Arts series’ concert Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain, another pairing of my art with classical music that I am extremely honored by. I’ll be in attendance at both events and having them fall within a single week in April makes me feel like I’ve made it.

Getting to see my animation with a live score performed by a string quartet will be an uncanny moment where I briefly occupy a place alongside the artists who inspired me as a child and hopefully inspire someone else. The difference between seeing something like Cinemovements live and watching a documentation of the performance online is like seeing a Monet, Dali, or other extraordinary painting in person or seeing the post card reproduction of it. With support from the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences Indie Grits has created it’s own “Fantasia” with a regional character.

Feel free to join me at either of these nights of classical music and animation:

– April 11th – Riverside Fine Arts presents Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain, 7:30 PM, Church of the Good Shepard, 1100 Stockton St., Jacksonville FL

– April 15th – Cinemovements with the SC Philharmonic, 8:00 PM, 300 Senate St., Columbia SC (FB invite)

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Free Culture Dance Party

This exchange is from an interview with Regina Spektor that was on NPR last week.

“CORNISH: When you mentioned being happy that people upload videos of your song, it’s almost the opposite of what most artists are saying now about their work.

SPEKTOR: Yeah. I mean, I can’t really relate. You know, I grew up poor and, you know – and there are a lot of people that grew up a lot poorer than I am, so, to me, I just – I think that if somebody doesn’t have an easy life, they should at least have access to free books and films and music. And I think that I feel very lucky to live in this time where people can go online and get everything I’ve ever made, whether they have a lot of money or not.”

We are very lucky to live in this time when someone can tell you about something they heard on the radio and you can track it down immediately and give it a listen. I love being able to hear “Eet” over and over again from the youtube video stream when I’m in the mood, but several artists have gone a step further, offering high-quality, free downloads that you can carry with you and add to your personal collection. I wanted to share my top free culture music recommendations in no particular order:

Lessazo’s Soleil d’hiver sounds like a looser, more improvisational Manu Chao. This is actually a double disc set with 30 musicians performing on it throughout. It’s under an Art Libre license that basically only restricts “exclusive appropriation” so you can use these tracks for any purpose you can imagine but it’s always helpful to remember that attribution (giving credit where due) is what makes this type of distribution work for the creator. This is first rate eclectic jam music. My personal favorite track is Lendemain au café.

MIA’s “Vicki Leekx” has been out since late 2010 when the whole Wikileaks thing seemed like it was going to boil over and cause people to actually take notice. It’s a high energy 20 min mixtape that succinctly sums up the revolution that the first world needs. The message seems to be further reinforced by the fact that almost two years later nothing much has changed at the top and the fate of Private Bradley Manning is still uncertain. In a strange way I feel this music represents a sort of contemporary re-imagining of the ideas behind John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Axial’s SiMBiOSE is what one might expect Deerhoof (who’s also released a live album available as a free download) to sound like if they had a distinctly Brazilian flair. Their previous albums, also available at the Free Music Archive, are brilliant as well. Their sound is so diverse that I was reminded of everything from my recent experience hearing Briana Marela perform at a Jacksonville house party (by their track Oriki de Oxum) to Eighth Blackbird’s performances of experimental, contemporary classical works (by the interlude in Tamanquero). Axial isn’t quite as danceable as the others but it’s the kind of music I personally gravitate toward and it’s definitely going to be playing non-stop in my car for a while.

I meant to include Major Lazer’s “Get Free” and brag about how Amber Coffman played guitar on an album for which I created one of the official music videos. However, while I was working on this post I discovered that it’s no longer a free download. As of last week it’s just a stream, music video, or link to the iTunes store.

Other artists employing creative digital distribution include Rafter who has made 5 of the 18 tracks from Music for Total Chickens available for download at the Asthmatic Kitty records site and Des Ark whose latest album WXDU V. 3 is available as a “donate what you want” digital download from paramnesia records. I’ll be trying this approach myself with original digital stills available from any of my films posted to the web. More information here.

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Sea Monsters and South Carolina

It’s completely appropriate that the week before going up to Indie Grits Film Festival in Columbia, SC where Zombie Dragonfly Discotheque is playing in the Dark Side Shorts program a sea monster washed up on the nearest beach to my place.

After listening to assumptions from fellow beach goers that it was a giant squid or a big chunk of spoiled meat that was thrown off of a cruise ship I went back to get my camera and my roommate who has a lot of fish cleaning experience. Clues that it wasn’t a squid or octopus included rough patches of skin that felt like sandpaper and ribs protruding out of it. What looked like a tentacle was mast likely a large intestine. I didn’t want to leave until I was certain what the creature was so despite how gross it was I decided to flip it over. The way it settled after the flip convinced me that I was looking at a significantly decayed ocean sunfish, especially since I’ve heard of sightings of live ones in the area.

Making the sea monster story even more uncanny is the fact that while attending Indie Grits I’m staying with Britt Hunt and artist Alejandro Garcia-Lemos who has a sea monster series. (click to see enlarged versions)

Some of them are biting political satire, some of them are nightmares, sometimes they are both. Britt and Alejandro’s home is filled with art (besides Alejandro’s), they host events frequently, and they’re on the board of directors of Palmetto Luna which is a group that brings Latino artists in residence to Columbia, SC among other things. You might say they’re artists’ favorite kind of people. Britt also has a garden that he’s extremely proud of that attracts a lot of birds. From what I’ve heard Indie Grits’ filmmaker hosts are generally incredible and it bears out in my experience staying with Britt and Alejandro.

If you’re the kind of person that would approach a decaying sea monster carcass intrigued by the mystery and nature of death as opposed to disgusted and squeamish you should check out Dark Side Shorts 6:30 PM this Friday (4/27) at the New Nick 1607 Main Street. The screening has slugs, dirty kitchens, creepy abandoned houses in the woods, giant termites, apocalyptic visions, zombies, with an occasional dose of humor. If you’re looking for a model for a fresh, vibrant creative scene in the Southeast you should check out Columbia, SC, especially during Indie Grits. I had a blast here in 2010, I regretted missing the festival in 2011 after hearing about events like the Toro y Moi show, and every bit of my excitement and anticipation for this year has been well met. This year has actually been a sort of atemporal experience in the Bruce Sterling sense, I’m staying in a house that survived the fire during Sherman’s invasion in 1865 while attending a festival whose programming runs the gamut from puppetry and live scored silent film all the way to the best in contemporary independent cinema.

I didn’t expect to find sea monsters in the middle of South Carolina, but I probably should have.

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Epic Fantasy Adverts, Trend?

Recently I’ve come across something starring a Jaguar that I think is a 3 and a half minute advertisement for a watch (apparently detailing the brand’s history) and a similar length crazy vodka ad/music video that features a high stakes race between 3 mecha greyhounds piloted remotely by DJs. I’m wondering if this represents a new trend. I think I’ve mentioned before that I love elaborately constructed fantasy worlds and these two pieces definitely have that, but I can’t help but be somewhat saddened and reminded of this Banksy quote:

“The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists.. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little.”

I might be getting slightly off topic by switching over to features, but when I was young we had films like “The Dark Crystal” and “Labyrinth” that could cater to even fairly young audiences. Is there anything like that now? Maybe some of Guillermo del Toro’s output like “Pan’s Labyrinth” or “The Fall” by Tarsem Singh (“The Cell” being a bit darker than the fare I’ve mentioned so far but maybe not by much over “Pan’s Labyrinth”)

Here are the shorts in question:

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A Proper North Florida Weekend

This past Saturday with a little nudge from my sister I went down to the Fernandina location of the 6th annual First Coast Air Potato Round-up managed by Kathy Russell (a Wild Amelia Nature Festival board member). I feel like I owe it to the native plants that provided me with such exceptional wildlife viewing experiences last year to help control the runaway pest plants they have to compete with. I know for a fact that if an air potato escaped into the lot next to my place there’s a tall, skinny Hercules club tree and a beautiful Passiflora lutea vine, both of which are significant butterfly host plants, that would be easily over taken by it. I knew the heart-shaped leaf from a single specimen that cropped up across the street from me a couple years back, but I had no idea how closely the propagule resembled an actual potato.

The week long hard freeze of the ’10/’11 winter was thought to have dealt with this plant pretty handily, but after such a mild past season they’ve come back so strong that I could sit in one place and fill a good sized tupper-ware with air potatoes that were all within arms reach.

From the Air Potato Round-up I headed downtown to the Amelia Garden Show. The Tent for Reflections of Nature‘s native plant offerings was right through the entrance and the native azalea was by far the most popular thing amongst the pollinators.

As much as I love plants my favorite mainstay of the garden show is the Avian Reconditioning Center of Apopka, FL’s booth. This year they had a little screech owl who’d lost an eye in a blue jay mauling and a handler who credited the birds she cares for with pulling her through a bout with cancer. I definitely want to visit their center in person one day.

This day was my sister, Emily Montgomery’s birthday and as the coordinator of this year’s Air Potato Round-up she said that all she wanted was for me to show up and help at my local site. We’ve been through some rough spots in our relationship as siblings but I’m really proud of her these days for the extremely important outreach work she’s doing on behalf of the GTM-NERR and Florida ecology. It feels like we’re a team again, Each of us trying to achieve the same goal with our respective talents. Namely, creating a future where another brother and sister can enjoy a moment like the one pictured below going off the trail in a pristine natural environment with curiosity and purpose. On her birthday both of us were ducking branches in different parts of North Florida doing our part.

More photos on flickr here.

Lastly, a video edit of some of the day’s highlights (Pill bugs at the Air Potato Round-up, Bumble bees on the Reflections of Nature native azalea, and some of the Avian Reconditioning Center’s birds)

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Deep Thoughts

You know you’re in Florida when you’re sitting in a rocking chair in your living room and you look out the window to see an osprey fly by clasping a large catch perfectly aligned with its direction of flight. Then, a few weeks later you see the same thing out of your car window while driving down the highway. I’m always grotesquely amused by this scene and wonder why the osprey would hold its prey in a position that seems so awkward for its talons. Today I realized it’s usually a good sized fish the birds grip this way and it must significantly reduce the drag during flight.

I sometimes think this flight must be an amusing out-of-body experience for the fish as it sees trees and houses in vivid detail for the first time, that perhaps the exhilaration could negate the sense of impending doom. Then I think of the closest possible analogous experience a human could have. It’d have to be under water because the fish is struggling to breath through its gills so the best thing I could come up with was being held, face forward, in the jaws of a large shark as you’re carried swiftly through a beautiful coral reef the likes of which you’ve never seen, but you probably wouldn’t be taking in the view.

I used to be way better at drawing sharks when I was a kid even though they were mostly in profile and ended up being mutant sharks with crab claws.

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Why – Early Inspiration

I might be at that stage in my career written about in books like Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist” where I’m my own worst enemy. The release of one of my most interesting projects to date is impending. However, on several occasions I’ve questioned why it should even exist and if I can’t rationalize my latest work then why should any of it exist.

I took a video art class in college taught by Brian Mack who was a grad student at the time. Technique was an afterthought, the class was all about storytelling, exploring the genesis of our ideas, and recursively peeling back the layers of “why” and “what” inspired the beginnings of an idea as far back as we were willing to dig. One of the ways I was able to realize value in my work again after these surges of self doubt was to dig all the way back to three creatures that I was captivated by as a child. I believe that the fascination with minute patterns and details in nature that drives my work started with them.


Scoliid wasp Campsomeris quadrimaculata

When I was young I loved the idea of big, living things (think dinosaurs). Often the first place I’d run to in a department or video rental store would be the shelf where I thought I could find Godzilla movies I hadn’t seen yet. I was pretty familiar with insects and wasps in general but I had a few misconceptions with this one. First off, I almost always simply referred to it as a ‘killer bee’ and observed it from a reverent distance. Secondly, I think I never appropriately distinguished these from two or three other species of large wasps. My family always referred to these as ‘cicada killers.’ The insect pictured above isn’t a ‘cicada killer’ but this very well could have been what I was seeing on several occasions. Regardless, I was impressed by their size and the distinctive markings on their abdomen.


Red velvet-ant Dasymutilla occidentalis

Continuing with my fascination toward oversized things it was always exciting to find one of these fast moving, wingless wasps which I thought were giant solitary ants because of their name. One interesting thing tying together all the insects I’ve mentioned so far is that the female incapacitates the larvae or adults of some other species and lays her eggs on or near them so her young can emerge to a meal. Apparently they have a pretty vicious bite, the respect I always gave them was due to the fact that I imagined that sting was directly proportional to size and they were hundreds of times larger than other ants I’d seen and been bitten by.


Eastern fence lizard Sceloporus undulatus

There was nothing I considered cooler than spiky reptiles (I already managed to mention Godzilla and dinosaurs in a paragraph about an insect). The zoo’s reptile house was one of my favorite stops and although they were relatively smooth there was no greater disappointment than finding that the komodo dragons weren’t out. My favorite nature pop-up books featured gila monsters and horned toads. The fence lizard was the closest thing that I could see for myself up close and in it’s natural habitat. They were spiky reptiles, I was smitten.

I was more likely to find these three on brief trips inland from where I lived, a coastal town in Northeast Florida. They flourished in sandy soils and I’d often see them when visiting my grandparents in Lake City, FL or when visiting a place on the Suwannee River that had been in the family for generations. This was probably for the best as at some point in my youth I got pretty sucked into video games and since the portable ones weren’t quite as good yet I could pull myself away on these trips. Some of the games I played constitute positive core influences in my work, but they don’t go quite as far back as these three beings.

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In a Landscape

Steven Speciale is an inspired music teacher and choir director at Loyola High School in Los Angeles. When I post my work to the Internet Archive I think of it being used for VJing or video remix though I always hold out hope that it could be used in education. Steven Speciale managed to combine all of the above in brilliant fashion. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that someone from LA, home to LAVA (one of the most established video art coalitions in the US), who is a mainstay at SoundWalk in Long Beach would make the most innovative use of the Dandelion Free Culture video loops to date.

Steven said that he created the video as a procedural example for his students but that they wouldn’t be replicating it exactly (the mark of a great educational exercise). The rolling of dice determined the timing and editing of the video that he created and set to John Cage’s “In a Landscape.”

I have recently read about the push to change STEM to STEAM, adding Art to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Having taken discrete mathematics in college I know for a fact that being exposed to something like die-randomized video editing in a creatively taught high school music course would have given me a really interesting frame of reference for similar, practical computer science and math concepts. For more proof that STEAM is already being implemented by Steven and some of the other faculty at Loyola High School through mature, cross-disciplinary collaboration that would be the envy of many practicing new media artists see his recent post on Fiskabur 2011.

It’s also really fun to have a poke around his vimeo channel and watch things like “Pure Data Bee Movie” (below) or see what he and his students have been able to do with the open-source reacTIVision framework.

Also, check out the LHSMusicClass youtube channel for the full Fiskabur 2011 playlist. I’m proud that my work could be used in even just a small part of this guy’s teaching.

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GTM NERR Brown Bag Recap

I wanted to thank the staff at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve for inviting me to share my experimental animation with them and the reserve’s visitors. The facility is great for multi-media presentations and the questions from the audience underscored a genuine interest in my art. NERRs around the country do really important work. The GTM’s “State of the Reserve” on Dec. 2 is a great way to get an idea of what they do through a full afternoon of compelling presentations (Free registration here).

Though an intimidating prospect at first I love to present my work to people with strong backgrounds in ecology and science. Collaborating with people in these fields can give my work a context that allows it to connect with and inspire a wider audience.

The first half of my presentation was a short program of my animation. The last video in this part of my presentation entitled ‘gtmnerr’ is a sample of preliminary work made from Florida native plants. I received lots of questions about my technique and some great suggestions of things to animate including Resurrection fern and bee patterns. This next year I want to compile a significant body of work that reflects the biodiversity of Northeast Florida. Presenting at the GTM NERR is a great stepping off point.

The last half of my hour talk was about the social object or sharable device as described by Hugh MacLeod here and here. Success for me is when my work becomes the social object that starts a conversation about nature’s presence in our everyday lives and helps to solve problems like “plant blindness.” I proceeded to run through a list of my favorite ecology-based social objects and the studios, artists, and scientists who create them.

-Jurgen Otto’s Peacock Spider video and images – I was impressed at how Jurgen didn’t have to go far to find a little known species to study and document whose behaviour very nearly rivals the birds of paradise displays captured in those great BBC documentaries.

Whale Fall – a beautiful, hand-crafted film serving as an educational companion piece to the public radio program Radiolab‘s “loops” episode. Sweet Fern Productions

Nervous System – a design studio that works at the intersection of science, art, and technology. When they sent a tweet about a biomedical engineer wearing one of their pieces in a Science Friday video I thought “this is how the internet works.” Fans of Nervous System’s work would likely be interested in the content of the video in addition to the necklace cameo. A perfect example of the social object as a node where audiences interested in science and art converge.

Coral Morphologic/Morphologic Studios – perhaps the worlds only multi-media aquarium studio. I aspire to be the ‘Coral Morphologic’ of Northeast Florida native plant gardening. They’re another great example of serious science and serious art converging.

-WWF “The World is Where We Live” – a sleek and effective creative work. The audience at the GTM NERR was already prepared for dual channel or split-screen work since I included Pollenating II in the program.

Miraslaw Swietek – I recently discovered his unique take on the insect macrophotography niche. I was impressed by the dedication required to seek out these shots.

-Jennifer Angus (FastCo Design slideshow/homepage) – My new favorite installation artist also working with insects.

-Another FastCo slideshow just because I like their layout and functionality.

-Gale McCullough’s Flickr-based, citizen science humpback whale tracking (CNN Story).

I’m always looking to collaborate with scientists and researchers. It was my hope that the common threads in my presentation would give people ideas on how to leverage the web to make the great work done by NERRS and similar organizations accessible to the widest possible audience. Feel free to share your favorite art or science based ‘social object’ in the comments or send me an email.

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The Wizard Leaves the Curtain Open Now

The first time I saw anything resembling live animation I had stumbled across the work of Gregory Barsamian while browsing the Platform Animation Festival’s 2007 awards. I wondered what an award-winning, animated installation looked like and I was floored by what I saw. In a room with a strobe light, animation happens right in front of you in real 3D space. The style and subject matter of Barsamian (an artist who actively dream journals as part of his process) really struck a chord with me as well.

In 2009, the music video for Moray McLaren’s “We Got Time” (below) by David Wilson Creative made a similar impression. At the time I was still mostly working with a flatbed scanner so frames-per-second and shutter speed were things I hadn’t worried about about since school. The “in-camera” effects syncing camera frame-rates with record player rpm’s barely registered with me, but I watched the “making-of” with interest and wanted to build my own praxinoscope (though I never did).

Fast forward to 2011, Tim Wheatley‘s “the Cyclotrope” (below) is posted on Cartoon Brew. Just as compelling as a “making-of” video Tim Wheatley posted a production report detailing what worked, what didn’t, and even the make and model of the camera that he ended up using in the final product. I had been transitioning to a DSLR (for stills and video) for some of my work so I had become intimately familiar with ISO, shutter speeds and framerates again. I also had a spare bike wheel after getting aluminum rims for my beach cruiser. A light bulb went off in my head, through the proxy of a camera connected directly to a screen or monitor you could create interactive, live animation in a public context. This is somewhat redundant given the existence of a simple zoetrope, but with the camera you can zoom in and out, pan, and get an altogether better view of things than when you’re simply peeking through narrow slits.

Up until this realization I’d been struggling to figure out how I could apply my artistic practice to the kinds of meaningful outreach I’d seen going on around Jacksonville such as the Cathedral Arts Project or Amelia Arts Academy‘s collaboration with Communities in Schools. This might just be the kind of tangible, interactive presentation that could make my process compelling and accessible to those who don’t spend countless hours in front of the computer using video-editing and compositing software. I was also excited about showing people my process with wheels made of flowers, leaves, or shells instead of telling them about it.

If you visit either Tim Wheatley‘s or David Wilson Creative‘s websites you’ll quickly find that they openly share most if not all of the techniques used in many of their experimental animated films, not just the ones I’ve mentioned above. There was a time when I was fairly protective of my methods out of a fear that my technique was so simplistic that someone might take it and run with it farther and faster than I could. I was wrong on several counts. First, many artists have taken approaches to “replacement animation” similar to my own: Stan Brakhage, Al Jarnow, Paul Bush, Max Hattler, Michael Langan, Nina Paley, Helena Marikova… just to name a few whose works are quite compelling. Secondly, no one has taken my particular breed of flat-bed scanner stop motion and run with it, it’s absolutely too tedious for most people. Finally, I have nothing to gain from hoarding knowledge and everything to lose. I would argue that what makes works like those of David Wilson and Tim Wheatley much more than sensation-of-the-moment, viral videos is that they’ve shared their process so openly that people return again and again to learn from them. At least I did. The value system of these artists is completely in sync with the participatory vision of “Art in Strange Places” and projects like “Imagination Squared” that have become cornerstones of Jacksonville’s art scene.

If you’d like to see, spin, or create your own disc for the wheel I’ve fashioned stop by Main Street Park in Downtown Jacksonville during the Aug. 3 Art Walk from 5PM until whenever people stop showing up. I’ll be set-up with the wheel, a monitor, and two screens that will be unfurled around 8:45 when it gets dark enough. I’ve enlisted the help of Brian Oakley, his students, and members of the animation club at the Jacksonville Arts Institute to help create content for the wheel as well. This installation will be part of the “Art in Strange Places” debut of the Pop-up galleries going into Main Street park for the next few months. Below you’ll find a video shot in 24 frames per second (much faster than what will be showing Aug. 3rd). Any circular disc evenly divided into anywhere from 12 to 24 (I’ve used 18 just like Tim Wheatley) sections with a diameter of 21″ or less and a hole 4″ in diameter in the center will drop down right onto the wheel, so feel free to create your own before hand and bring it with you. Contact me ( if you have any questions.

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