Tuesday, August 31, 2010

About me & The Pennsic House: Design

I never suspected I would start a blog, I'm sure this has been said more times than Google can count.

This blog is about some of my hobbies and artwork, as well as unique skills and artwork I discover on the web. I'll also try to cover the techniques I use and interesting tools.

First, a little of my background.

I grew up in a very inspiring and creative environment, as my Father was the founder of a welding. An Aerospace welding, machining and fabrication shop in Manchester Ct. Early on, one of my childhood dreams was to be an oceanographer or astronaut. But when the Apollo space program ended and my father’s shop was forced to go from 40 employees to around 9, I decided that a career less dependent on the economy was for me. I had always been fascinated with illusion, whether that be magic, make up effect or movie special effects, so perhaps the film industry was for me.

My parent’s hobby was sports car racing, in the New England region (NER) of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). My Dad was in Flagging & Communications and my Mom was in Credentials.

So, I spent many weekends hanging out at race tracks in New England like Lime Rock, Thompson, Breyer, Watkins Glenn with drivers and crews such as Mark Donohue, George Folmer, David Hobbs, Sam Poesy and some less famous guys like Mario Andretti and Roger Penske.

Bob Tullius and I at Sebring in 1967 (http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=3932279&fbid=383587017860&op=2&o=global&view=global&subj=138967114072&id=756032860#!/Group44)

I had always been taught not to be shy and ask questions, so that most likely made me a little pain in the ass. But the drivers and crew where always friendly and often I got to help changing tires or reaching into engine bays to hold nuts or retrive dropped bolts with my small hands, as well as rides in many of the cars. I also was a young salesman and entrepreneur. I started off selling programs and posters at various New England race car tracks. Then I started selling racing numbers and letters for the guys to put on their race cars. In the SCCA then, you didn’t always get the car number you had on your car, as there may be a conflict with another car, especially if they combined different classes of cars into one race, so guys had to use duct tape to alter their cars number. I realized, if someone had self adhesive numbers and letters at the track, they could make a fortune (Well a fortune to an 8 year old anyways…) I was right. With my little card table and file box, I set up shop and raked in the dough. 15 cents per letter, 25 cents per number and 50 cent for the white circles. (This was because the numbers where only in black) I became such a “fixture” at these races that the NER asked me if I wanted to sell their SCCA-New England reigion products. Well I went from that file box and card table to half a station wagons worth of stuff. Ties, ashtrays, watches, coffee mugs, beer steins and so on. Well this lead to a motor sports accessories dealer asking me (and my parents) if I wanted to sell stuff for him. Well, now I had the whole station wagon full of stuff. (Thankfully we also brought a camping trailer so my parents had a place to put their stuff.)
Because of my parents’ involvement with Auto Racing, the first people to encourage me in the direction of film and television were Paul Newman and Jim Brolin, whom I met and got to know throughout my childhood and teenage years. Both were supportive and encouraging, but I think I caught the “bug” from Paul’s son, the late Scott Newman. He wanted to learn how to operate a new digital stop watch he had just bought (from me) and he offered to show me basic stunt work techniques in trade for me explaining the stop watch. Well I was hooked. Stunts, that was a cool illusion. That led to Makeup effects, acting and eventually to props and costumes.
Over the years I gained valuable experience in many avenues of the aerospace and entertainment industry. I worked at my father’s Aerospace company learning the art of metal work; free forming, welding, machining... I also worked as a stunt man in Old Tucson. (A western movie location west of Tucson Arz. In 1981 after my father died of cancer, I moved to LA where I worked in design-, model-, wood- and plastic- shops at companies such as The Hand Prop Room, Ellis Mercantile and ISS at the same time continuing to gain more experience working as a freelance photographer, stunt man and armorer.

Around 1983 I had a few independent jobs and needed a business card. Well many Hollywood effects companies had creative names and being a fan of Tolkien, armour and history, I decided to call mine, Diligent Dwarves Effects Lab. My brother Randy, an incredible talent, went to school with a fellow named David Wenzel. http://www.davidwenzel.com/ David is a fantastic illustrator and made a name for himself with a series of graphic novels based on “The Hobbit”. One of the illustrations in the books was of three dwarves standing in a arch. This needed to be my logo. Well David gave me his blessing and I made business cards.

In 1986 I was ready to officially start my company. Starting from a little garage at Hollywood Hills, My other brother Kerry and I started Diligent Dwarves Effects Lab. We worked on projects from “The Witches of Eastwick” to “Predator”, to “The Blob”. Now, when you look up “Dwarves” in the dictionary, under the subheading- folklore, It defines Dwarves as “Excellent artificers, creators of the weapons and treasures of the gods” Well I thought we had a great logo and Diligent Dwarves was an awesome name, and thanks to Mr. Wenzel’s talent, we couldn’t keep our tee shirts in stock. Well Hollywood must not read that much classic litature and folklore, because all they thought was which of the seven was I and all we made was armour.
So in 19991 we changed the name to “Global Effects” and incorporated. (http://www.globaleffects.com/)

Here are some highlight of my career:

• Received a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Actor Climate System / "Cool Suit" that I developed in 1991 for my friend Kevin Peter Hall for his role as the Predator.

• Manufactured the historic spacesuit replicas for the great HBO mini series "From the Earth to the Moon"

• Accepting a real world challenge project from NASA with his friend Denis Gilliam by designing and manufacturing a prototype EVA (External-Vehicular-Activity) spacesuit.

Recently created the first "Commercial spacesuit for the company Orbital Outfitters. (http://www.orbitaloutfitters.com/)

But most importantly, behind the success of Global Effects Inc. is and has always been a tremendous amount of talent and devotion from a very large and talented group of people working for and with me at my company. In this blog I post some of the work of those talented people.

The Pennsic House: Design
The first project I'd like to profile here is a 16th century Italian house I'm building for an annual event held by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) called the Pennsic War. I have been attending this event for the past 25 years.
For a little over two weeks each year an average of 12,000 people from around the world show up to this small town to renew lifelong friendships, share their various skills, compete in tournaments in medieval armour (Not mock battles but, full contact combat.) and party. There are hundreds of groups or “households” that range from just a bunch of friends, too groups dedicated to a particular time period or culture.

Over the past 10 years at Pennsic, one group, Casa Bardicci has become the "go to" place to hear some of the best musicians and see the greatest performers Pennsic has to offer. Each year a group of talented artisans toil for a week to set up this incredible 16th century Italian villa on the edge of Coopers Lake in Slippery Rock PA.. http://casabardicci.org/
This is an artist’s household, which has steadily grown under the patronage and guidance of Baron Don Guillermo Bardicci. https://www.facebook.com/CasaBardicci
Last year I was asked by his Excellency if I would like to camp with Casa Bardicci. Now, as this event is nearly 40 years old, prime camping spaces are harder to find than golden geese and I had been made “an offer I could not refuse”, prime real estate, right on the lake. Well, I could not take this invitation lightly, so, as a result, I have decided to make a house fitting the Baron's incredible generosity.

The goal of this project is to produce a house that once set up looks like a real 16th century Italian house, but using modern materials and it is easy to set up and is relatively light weight. (I have to be able to carry/move any piece by myself) Given I will have a commanding view of the lake, It needed to be two stories, with a balcony to have breakfast and enjoy the view.

Starting last August I spent about 3 to 4 months doing research and drawings (I use Corel Draw) and figuring out ways I could make this as easy to set up as possible. I have over 30 years experience building things for the motion picture/ entertainment industry, as well as a 6000 sq. ft. shop with equipment for plastic forming, casting, welding, metal fabrication and sewing. So as the late Mark Donohue remarked, I have an unfair advantage.
Since Casa Bardicci’s timeline is exactly 500 years in the past, this year is 1510. So I tried to limit myself to artwork, architecture and furniture from 1460 to 1510.

Here are some of the images that inspired me.

Here are the drawings I created to build the “portable house”.

The main frame of the house will have steel fittings that bolt together a 2”x10” wood frame and 4x4 supports. These steel fittings utilize 3/8” bolts threaded into metal threaded inserts or “T-nuts”. All attachments in the house are to be made with machine screws only , no wood screws, as these will wear out the holes after repeated use. As I plan on setting this up year after year, durability and ease of setup and strike, is most important.

The second story will be held up by 18 4”x4” wood posts that fit into the steel fittings that are laser cut from 4"x4" square steel tube. These steel pieces will also allow the 4x4's to be tied into the 2x10 perimeter joists. There will be 5 main box beams, 12' long that traverse the house and will “clip” into the 4x4’s metal tubes via a set of laser cut 2"x4" steel tubes with a double tongue arrangement similar to ones used on some bed frames. The drawings will make it a bit clearer.

This is a drawing of the box beams that traverse the width of the house. Showing the metal "clips" and how they interface with the 4" steel tube uprights.

This is the drawing for the 4" steel tube uprights and the corner supports (I ended up changing the design slightly.)

Here is the plan view and elevation of the final design. The design went through many iterations and eventually ended up 12 ft. wide, 23 ft. long and, due to a height restriction at the event site, 16 ft. tall overall.

Next: The construction process.


  1. I love this. Thanks for sharing the intimate details.

  2. Still crazy after all these years. And just getting better.

  3. Amazing! I'm glad I finally got the opportunity to see this firsthand. Thank you!

  4. So about how much did this cost to do? I am thinking of modifying it for my shop at Pennsic "The magic Mirror". Wish I had seen it set up, the pictures look amazing!

  5. Tristan,
    Not counting labor or furniture, I think I spent around $10,000. If you would like to see it being set up, or help set it up, come to E19 at pennsic next year and I would be happy to show you.

  6. could i get more information about the construction, please?

    1. Have you read the follow up posts on the house? There is a lot more information about the build.

    2. I may be missing a link or something. the "Next: The construction process" is not a link, which is why i was inquiring. the link for casabardicci.org is giving me a nonexistent page error.

  7. http://diligentdwarves.blogspot.com/search/label/Pennsic%20House