Miniature Los Angeles: Meet the Artists Who Craft Tiny Versions of the Historic Landmarks Angelenos Love Webinar
Join Esotouric, L.A.’s most eclectic sightseeing tour company, for an immersive cultural history and crafting webinar celebrating local artists who shrink beloved Southland architectural landmarks down to pocket size for fun, love and profit.
Model making from commercial plastic kits has long been a popular hobby, but in recent years there’s been an explosion of scratch built miniature production by Los Angeles artists who specialize in replicating vintage signs and buildings. Fans can vicariously enjoy watching the tiny treasures take shape on social media, buy a finished model, or even commission something completely original for their own collection.
In this webinar, we’ll meet some of the city’s most prolific miniature model makers to learn about their passion for replicating local landmarks both lost and still standing, their working methods, inspirations and research techniques, and some of the interesting experiences they’ve had while crafting and sharing L.A. history that fits on a tabletop.
Our special guest miniaturists are:
Mike Battle (@mikesbattle)— When Rochester native and “The Simpson’s” show color modelist Mike Battle started planning his wedding to Simi Valley’s Kelly Brooks, the couple cooked up a plan for him to build miniature L.A. and Rochester vintage signs as centerpieces for their guests’ tables. After the ceremony was postponed due to the pandemic, Mike just kept making more elaborate miniature places that have significance to the couple’s relationship, and taking the illuminated finished pieces out for night time photo ops with the originals that survive. Local landmarks that light up like real neon include Burbank’s Safari Inn motel, Felix Chevrolet, Samuel’s Florist, Larry’s Chili Dog, Compton Shoe Repair, the Brown Derby and, of course, NoHo’s towering and terrifying Circus Liquor clown.
Chris Casady – Chris is a retired Hollywood animator and Los Angeles native with a soft spot for L.A.’s cultural landmarks. After attending local California Institute of the Arts as a member of its first student body in the early ‘70s he lucked into a position as a Rotoscope artist at Industrial Light and Magic, then in Van Nuys, working on the first Star Wars movie, as his first job. This catapulted Chris into a career in “special effects" and he built his own studio patterned after the one he worked in at ILM, specializing in optical effects, hand drawn animation and rotoscope techniques, all before the advent of CGI. Chris worked on many iconic movies of the 1980s like TRON, The Empire Strikes Back, Galaxina, Battlestar Galactica, Airplane!, Piranha, My Science Project, Short Circuit, Beetlejuice, Dreamscape, Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Running Man, His directing credits include an animated music video for the Beastie Boys, and a duet video between Eddie Murphy and Michael Jackson. His animated film, Pencil Dance, won awards at festivals in Canada, France, Japan and Italy. His film Puddle Jumper was shown at MOMA, NY and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. He was a judge at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in 1990, where his film won first place in 1988. But for this webinar, Chris is going to talk about his personal work in Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI). In the mid 1990s, Chris bought a $100 software program for the Macintosh computer called Bryce, after Bryce Canyon. They called it a landscape generator, but you could do simple modeling with it. He became obsessed with this program because it was so easy to use and delivered great results. Driving around Los Angeles, Chris would see things that looked like good Bryce modeling challenges. He couldn’t resist making his own CGI versions of favorite landmarks, and Bryce delivered great results. Chris will share a selection of these virtual landmarks, including Griffith Park Observatory, the Shakespeare Bridge, Krotona Apartments and the original, since demolished, circular Velaslavasay Panorama in Hollywood. Chris used Bryce obsessively until around 2006. The program was discontinued in 2010.
C.C. de Vere (@littlelostangeles)—Historic preservation advocate and chronicler of the early French history of Los Angeles through her Frenchtown Confidential blog, C.C.’s Little Lost Angeles series honors architecturally and culturally significant structures that should never have been demolished. Among her recent builds are Henry’s Tacos, Mrs. Von’s tiki hut from Clifton’s Pacific Seas, the streamline moderne Yolk store in Silver Lake, the 1904 Tabor farmhouse as featured in the Little Rascals and Ray Bradbury’s house encased in a vintage television set (now on permanent display at the writer’s local Palms Rancho Park Library). C.C. is currently working on The Brown Derby. She also makes illuminated Rainbow Bar and Grill signs and tiny programmatic lemons and Tail o’ the Pup models.
Bruce Heller (@cornerstonebrickdesigns)—A professional Lego block artisan and fan of the architecture of John Parkinson, Bruce has crafted meticulous miniature replicas of two of the architect’s iconic Los Angeles landmarks: City Hall and Bullocks Wilshire (both of which have been exhibited on site), with Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Union Station in the works. Bruce’s City Hall was honored with the Best Microscale award at the 2016 BrickCon convention. He has made a microscale LAX Theme Building from 47 Lego pieces, and builds custom replicas of private homes on commission. His Lego miniature of the historic house where Brentwood Sunshine Preschool operates was the grand prize in their fundraiser auction.
Kieran Wright (@smallscalela)—A newcomer to miniature model making and to Los Angeles, the New Zealand native took up the craft in earnest after he was laid off from his travel marketing job early in the pandemic. Kieran’s models honor iconic Los Angeles businesses and cultural touchstones, and have been offered as prizes in charitable fundraisers. His miniatures include the Black Cat gay bar, Philippe The Original, Fugetsu-do Sweet Shop, Rae’s coffee shop, Morgan Camera Shop, The Apple Pan, Taix French Restaurant, Tiki-Ti, Beverly Cinema, Tail o’ the Pup, the Hollywood Bowl’s curved clock sign, the Frolic Room and Fry’s Electronics flying saucer crash entryway.
Donna Williams – After graduation from Claremont Graduate University with an MFA in sculpture, Donna translated her experience in the fabrication and repair of three-dimensional art objects to establish Williams Art Conservation, Inc., a private art conservation studio located in Hollywood, where she has lived since 1979. Over twenty years of private practice has given Donna a wide variety of hands-on experiences with many kinds of art objects. She has travelled the world to treat and maintain objects owned by museums as well as private, government and corporate collections, and has worked with many well-known artists, including Chris Burden, Donald Judd and Jaume Plensa. Donna has experience with every scale of three-dimensional art, from twenty-foot-tall Calder stabiles to microscopic fragments of Roman glass. When Hollywood Heritage leased a retail space and installed Hollywood in Miniature, as a board member, Donna assisted in formulating plans for its conservation and restoration, and the challenge and thrill of bringing this historically accurate model of Hollywood’s core from the 1930s, into the present day.
Also joining us is architectural historian Nathan Marsak — author of Bunker Hill Los Angeles: Essence of Sunshine and Noir and Bunker Noir! to share the curious history and educational possibilities of the city of Los Angeles’ famous 3-D Downtown Los Angeles architectural model, a hands-on urban planning tool developed under the Works Progress Administration that is on permanent display at the Natural History Museum.
This webinar is an illustrated lecture packed with rare photos that will bring the work of the city’s miniature architectural crafting community to life. And you’ll find the look of an Esotouric webinar is a little different than your standard dry Zoom session, with lively interactive graphics courtesy of the mmhmm app.
During the presentation, our guests will answer your questions, so get ready to be a part of the show.
Can’t join in when the webinar is happening? You’ll have access to the full replay for one week. Please note: the 2-hour running time is just an estimate, and we often run long because the stories take on a life of their own. You can always come back and watch the last part of the webinar recording later.
So, tune in and discover the incredible history of Los Angeles, with the couple whose passion for the city is infectious.
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About Esotouric: As undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz, Kim Cooper and Richard Schave inexplicably hated one another on sight. (Perhaps less inexplicably, their academic advisor believed they were soul mates). A chance meeting 18 years later proved much more agreeable. Richard wooed Kim with high level library database access, with which she launched the 1947project true crime blog, highlighting a crime a day from the year of The Black Dahlia and Bugsy Siegel slayings. The popular blog’s readers demanded a tour, and then another. The tour was magical, a hothouse inspiring new ways for the by-then-newlyweds to tell the story of Los Angeles. Esotouric was born in 2007 with a calendar packed with true crime, literary, architecture and rock and roll tours. Ever since, it has provided a platform for promoting historic preservation issues (like the Save the 76 Ball campaign and the landmarking of Charles Bukowski’s bungalow), building a community of urban explorers (including dozens of free talks and tours under the umbrella of LAVA) and digging even deeper into the secret heart of the city they love.
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