It was a fine, sunny day and we had a good turnout yesterday at Simmons HallAs people entered the theater, they smelled beeswax from the candles we had burning. Beeswax is such a distinct fragrance in making pysanky that I felt it needed to be part of the moment. We also offered a blown-out egg to everyone so they could feel the curved form in their hands, rotate it on any axis, and experience its fragility by either accidentally or intentionally breaking it.

At shortly after 3 pm, MIT’s Prof. Steven Hall introduced the event and thanked the organizer, Dr. Ellen Essigmann (a kickstarter supporter), and the sponsor: Division of Student Life, Residential Scholars at Simmons Hall program. Then I talked a little about the project. 

I mentioned the unexpected community of supporters that arose through this kickstarter campaign, which ended successfully one year ago today. I explained briefly what pysanky are and what problem I was trying to solve by making a film to display them in the round. I introduced the videographers/animators, JoeK and Erin from Abbott Imaging, and prepared the audience for seeing a silent film with a music soundtrack of mostly original improvisation. Then it was time to dim the lights and see the film.

I have to tell you that at that moment I had never seen the whole thing in one piece. I had seen most of the footage many times in separately rendered snippets, parts of scenes, or even whole scenes. But despite having worked most of this past week with very little sleep, we had no single rendered file until 45 minutes before showtime!

This whole project has been an exercise in steadying my nerves, especially in the last 6 weeks. Recently we ended up encountering quite a few unforeseen issues that slowed our progress as the premiere date approached. For example, as more edited footage came together, we couldn’t get the music for one of the scenes to fit right. I had to go back to the keyboardist, Christa Rakich, and ask for more music. Despite being very busy, she kindly found time and sent us another 4 takes that we were able to use.

But we also caught a lot of lucky breaks. The film is in HD, but the projector yesterday was not. This turned out to be a good thing; some of the refinements we did not have time for — but will have time for in the downloadable file and DVD — would have been lost in the lower definition projection yesterday anyway. In addition to not being HD, the projector’s settings were not available to us during the screen test on Thursday. The test appeared overexposed. We thought we would have to render a darker version of the film, because the story is about a plain white egg and the first scene starts on a white background. In the test, we couldn’t even see the white egg, only its small smudge of a shadow! How could the story make sense with no obvious plain egg at the beginning? We then planned to render a darker video but ran out of time. Besides, how much darker should we have made it? Without another test, we were guessing. Fortunately, MIT accessed the projector’s controls yesterday and adjusted the brightness back to normal. Despite that, the projector did seem to drift brighter during the show, probably as it warmed up.

Despite all that, people thought the film was great and we had a lot of interesting questions during the Q&A. For example:

Q: What kind of software did you use? 

A: Adobe Lightroom, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Photoshop. 

Q: How did you make the title? 

The short answer: we melted wax off an emu egg. 

The long answer: 

1) I stripped off the dark green outer shell and wrote the title in wax on the mottled gray inner shell. Of course I used the Into the Ovoid font! 

2) Then I dyed the egg black. 

3) Then I carefully hand-sawed the egg in half and covered the title half with more wax. 

4) Then we built a rig so I could aim a heat gun under the half shell while we videoed the title shell from above. The rig is inside a large soft box to help diffuse the lighting.

5) The wax melted and slid off, revealing the title as I planned. However, we had to do several takes to figure out how to eliminate unwanted reflections, such as a reflection of the camera! Several times I had to reapply wax so we could shoot another wax melt-off. 

6) Then Abbott Imaging edited the video to speed up the melting a bit, fit music to it, and brighten the de-waxed letters.

It’s a cool opening.

After the lengthy Q&A, many people joined us at the reception. I didn’t manage to get any food but the classy spread that MIT put out for us looked amazing.

We had an area set up at the reception for breaking the blown-out eggs people were still holding on to. Breaking empty eggs is surprisingly fun and a little addictive if you’re trying for unusually shaped shards.

Also at the reception I had set up the display case with a selection of my pysanky, including some with starring roles in the film.

I wanted to share with people how relatively small these eggs are that we had manipulated into flying around for 20 minutes at super sizes on a big screen.

In related news, last Thursday we made the local paper again: “Arlington artist lets mini masterpieces shine in film.”

On the basis of this press, I met a handful of people from Arlington at the reception who hadn’t heard of the project before but came to see the film. I also met other pysanky-makers, which was more of a thrill for me than I would have expected. This seasonal passtime of making pysanky has always been so private; sharing techniques with others is new and, it turns out, wonderful.

Today I will be resting. Soon, though, we’ll move on to preparing the file for online viewing and DVD. Next weekend we plan to show the film at the studio on Vernon Street during Somerville Open Studios

Thank you all for being a vital part of bringing this project to this point and helping to make a successful premiere possible!