Friday, March 11, 2011

My Hollywood Screening

I have always loved Universal Studios - especially their Back-lot tour. Sure the mechanical shark used in Jaws isn't that scary (after the first time) but the earthquake sequence in the subway still gets me going.

Just seeing how the Hollywood set designers work their magic to transform the same building into the Old West, 2024, and then downtown New York amazes me.

The key to their craft lies creating the right "impression". For things to seem real, set designers simply add the elements that we expect to see and whether we recognize the deception or not, it works.

When you think about it, many restaurants use a similar approach in their interior design. On occasion I can almost feel the trade winds when I order my pina colada from a thatched bar. Other times I feel like I'm trapped in a 7 year old's birthday theme party - I'm pretty sure real pirates don't wear paper hats - I could be wrong but I'd wage bets on that.

Since I've just created a fake fireplace in my living room, I wanted to use the Hollywood approach to add to my "kiva" illusion without ending up with something so fake that it's painful to sit near.

On the whole, I think my kiva fireplace looks pretty real from a distance - the size, shape and texture is darn close to the real ones I've seen...except for the electric flame part. It's a long way from the flickering tissue paper flames on the 1970's but it's not 100%.

Now don't get me wrong, the folks at Dimplex have done a terrific job at making a realistic fire sequence - the flames are irregular heights and occur in a random pattern (Dave swears he has watched long enough to find the repeat but I've never seen it personally) but there is just one obvious hiccup...

No doubt you're familiar with the expression, "smoke and mirrors"...we'll that's EXACTLY the approach Dimplex uses. Behind the fake logs is a mirror complete with a foggy layer of arching "smoke". The flames play upon this mirror smoke to create a fairly realistic fire effect...unless you are sitting directly across from the fire (the most obvious place to sit mind you). In that case you can actually check your haircut or locate spinach in your teeth.

Handy, I admit - but not really "snuggle down in front of a roaring fire" activities.

And it completely destroys the illusion. I needed something that would distract the eye from that reflection. So I decided to camouflage the mirror effect with some finishing touches that would help make the leap from "theme party" to "real" ("real" after a few cocktails anyway).

I settled on two typical fireplace accessories - a screen and some firewood.

The firewood part was easy. A friend had a barrel full of branches/logs that were the same size as the fake ones and was happy to donate them to the cause. I chopped the logs to length to fit under the banco and arranged them artistically (okay so I stacked them - I meant to arrange them artistically but I got a splinter in the process and so just jammed them in there).

The smooth bark ones were no problem - but the mesquite? OUCH!

Then I priced out kiva fireplace screens. Turns out not only do they cost more than I'd spent on the whole darn project but they have to be custom ordered!

I mentioned my dilemma in passing to a friend who is taking flying lessons. I told him I'd decided to try and make my own using some screen mesh left over from the stucco phase of the project.

Turns out Jay has a background in metalwork and was more than happy to trade some fabrication time for some flying lessons (I am not a "pilot pimp" regardless of what some might say - Dave was a willing participant in the deal - particularly the part where HE didn't have to fabricate anything himself).

Now I know nothing about metalwork, or welding so poor Jay was stuck starting at the very beginning with me. We started by bending some round stock into the arch shape of the kiva opening (luckily I'd saved the piece of plywood I'd cut out to make the opening).

Then we welded. Really Jay welded - I put on heavy gloves and super dark welding glasses and tried not to squeal like a girly-girl every time the acetylene popped (in my defense it was very loud and the liquid metal splashes - it IS scary).

I am a human clamp here while Jay tack-welds the corner.
Did I mention that the torch often lights the plywood on fire...oh yeah, and the table TOO!
Then we had to grind the welds to smooth them out - by "we" I mean Jay.
The arch turned out perfectly - mostly because Jay corrected my uneven bending.
How cool is that???
Notice the holes in Jay's shirt? Yup, sparks and hot metal caused those - welding is not an "anyone can do it" sort of hobby.
A quick coat of flat black and it looks perfect!
Sorry about the dark pic - trying to show the flames...
The screen does the trick - the flames are easily viewed but it's challenging to make out any reflection in the mirror now - mission accomplished!
Hollywood - Arizona style!


  1. Awesome! It looks like a real fire! Love it :) Trading skills for other skills is a very useful thing. :)