Friday, February 15, 2013

Midnight Magic

 After pestering me for some new clothes for over a year, Nefera de Nile was thrilled to discover that she can wear Bratzillas outfits.

Meanwhile the packaging included artwork that looked like it would make good backdrops so I finally de-boxed all my Midnight Magic dolls and decided to use them to practice lighting a night scene.

Classic photographic lighting begins with a three point system.  A key light illuminates the overall scene, a back light separates the subject from the background, and a fill light kills any shadows that fall in unwanted areas of the frame so I was very pleased to get three of these gooseneck lamps from Target last year.

They are easy to position and the LED bulbs cast a fairly pure white light.   

The color temperature of the light can make a big difference in image quality, especially when you are shooting with low end digital cameras.  In particular, in my work as a videographer, I have spent a lot of time looking for ways to present people of all complexion types “in the best possible light” so the multi-colored monsters were an interesting challenge.

    Kayley has lavender skin and brown hair.

She photographs like a very fair-skinned person so it was hard not to over-expose her under the studio lights.

We borrowed this outfit from Vidia, one of the Disney fairies because the Lovely Patsy outfit she came in was a fashion train wreck.

I thought this blue dress would show to better advantage next to Adele's pink skin than it would on Mila but it still took me a long time to get good shots of Adele.

Brunettes like Adele have a high contrast between their dark hair and lighter skin.

Low end digital cameras don't manage high contrast well so I was bound to encounter problems when shooting a brunette subject with my iPod Touch which has no means of manually adjusting the focus or exposure.

Adele made it worth the extra time it took to adjust the lights properly.

Indeed, you can easily make shooting stages for your dolls by sticking colored poster board to scrap cardboard.

I made this black stage for night scenes, a neutral gray one for when I want to show the details of a doll or her outfit without distractions, and a green one for chroma key work.

I can remove the green background in an image editing program and replace it with any background I like.

    Mila has blue hair and blue skin like an ancient Celtic warrior goddess.

Subjects with fair skin and hair can wash out under bright lighting but blue is a color that digital cameras read very well.

Since Mila’s hair and skin are in the same color family, the camera did not have to deal with contrasting color values.  As a result she was the easiest to light.

She also has a strong personality that came across clearly in the poses she chose to present Pipa’s silver snakeskin dress.

Dark-skinned subjects, however, can be the most difficult to capture because the auto-focus features in digital cameras are designed to take the brightest area within the frame as the focal point.

Indeed, as one African American man discovered in this hilarous but sad video, digital cameras are programmed to think that "white is right."

Yet, contrary to the assertion that "Hewlett Packard Computers are Racist," the camera's technological flaws in representing the full spectrum of humanity are not due to deliberate acts of discrimination.  Thus, while Pipa's features in no way suggest African ancestry,  her gray skin and dark hair caused her to appear underexposed until I was able to adjust the lighting to compensate for the camera's limitations.

The bias in digital imaging technology does however reflect aesthetic biases towards fair skin, the socio-economic barriers that for many years kept darker people out of careers in scientific research and engineering, and the failure of the corporations that manufacture and market digital imaging technology to recognize the fact that large populations of potential customers have dark hair and/ or skin.

Fortunately the future looks very different.  I teach at a large engineering school where my students are as diverse as the Midnight Magic girls who posed here.  I am also encouraged to see that at least 30% of my students are women.  One of them is currently completing a thesis on computer optics.  Maybe she can fix some of this stuff in the future :-)!

À Bientôt

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Phat as Duckbutter

Having survived a root canal earlier in the week, yesterday I dropped into Walmart to do some retail therapy and struck gold -- the new, articulated SIS dolls dressed in Baby Phat fashions were on the shelf.

Unfortunately these dolls do not have the pivotal torsos or knees that allow the Fashionistas to pose so expressively.  Their range of motion is the same as the Kenya dolls, but Kenya feels a little lighter and more brittle.

Trichelle is not available in this wave of SIS dolls. Marissa didn't want her to feel left out so she let her model this Baby Phat fashion.

I am not fond of this melon pink, probably because it is a color I can't wear however I love the purple print leggings.

The Baby Phat logo necklace is a fun accessory

and the purple shoes are scrumptious.

When I lived in New Orleans, I used to tutor the little girls who lived next door.  One day when we were drawing self portraits, the middle girl who was about twelve used the brown marker to color her face and then exclaimed "oh no!  that's too dark!"  Then she took the yellow marker to give herself blonde hair.  I always felt that Kara had the same kind of complex about her complexion.  At least she has found a better colorist this time.

Now if we could just get her to ditch the pink lipstick...

Fortunately this Kenya Fashion madness dress compliments Kara's complexion well and her feet are small enough to squeeze into Kenya's shoes.

Meanwhile Marissa now has enough points of articulation to really work Movin' On Kenya's outfit.

Each of the Baby Phat SIS dolls comes with a pair of stylish sunglasses.

The face screens on some of these dolls seems a little askew but I'm sure Chynadoll can work wonders with them.

Kenya loves Kara's Baby Phat shorts and sweater.

The sweater fits well even though Kenya is a bit better endowed than the SIS dolls.

The tube top and shorts are sewn together as a one piece romper that fastens in the back with a strip of velcro.

While Kenya is searching for her contact lens we can admire her... Baby Phat shoes!

Kenya and the SIS dolls have a very different sense of style but they can wear each others' outfits and add their own personal flair to each one.

For example Grace can rock Rock Star Kenya's jacket and jeans

but she adds her own a note of sophisticated elegance with her Baby Phat sunglasses.

I was never sure what color Grace's eyes were supposed to be before but in this new face screen they are clearly green.

Kenya's hips and thighs are fuller but she can fit comfortably into Grace's slinky black leggings and pink top.

The asymmetrical collar is a very distinctive detail.

Ankle boots complete the ensemble.

The two divas find they can respect each other.

Chandra even invited Kenya to attend her church.

I was disappointed that Chandra's outfit turned out to be a one piece dress.  At the very least, I feel the jacket should have been a separate piece but Kenya was so happy Chandra loaned it to her that she stood up and shouted "Hallelujah!" 

When it came time for the collection she proudly tipped up to the altar in these snazzy shoes.

Kenya is obviously one of those people who goes to church to be seen.

In contrast, Chandra fell to her knees and gave thanks that she has finally been blessed with an articulated body.

I was very glad Chandra was also blessed with soft, curly black hair.  She accented Riviera Kenya's three piece pink suit with a matching Baby Phat headband. 

While I love Chandra the best

all of the new SIS dolls are phat as duckbutter!

À Bientôt

Friday, February 8, 2013

Kiddles 2

In my childhood doll world the Marx cowboy, Johnny West married Barbie's redheaded British friend, Stacey and they had a passel of redheaded children.  Virginia (alias Trikey Triddle Kiddle) was the oldest one.

To show her big sister status, I upgraded her to a Dawn body.

The long, loose dress from a Mattel Rosebuds doll conceals the fact that Dawn was a 1:12 scale adult woman.

Mattel produced Kiddles 'N Kars from 1969-1970.  These Kiddles each came with a "horseless carriage" and an updo hairstyle.

I was charmed to have a doll from the era portrayed in Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy books.

Rosemary Roadster's car has long since gone to the great junkyard in the sky but I still have her original purple checked suit with the hobble skirt although she "outgrew it" in her role as the oldest child of General Ivan Zacker and his wife, Babette (nee Dupont).

She is also on a Dawn body hidden under another Rosebud dress.

Lois Locket was one of the 13 Lucky Locket Kiddles produced between 1967 and 1970.

Each of these 2" dolls was enclosed in a plastic locket that you could wear around your neck.  My Lois had a lovely green dress with lace trim.  As she grew up, I upgraded her to a Dale body.

Dale was Dawn's African American friend.  Since I never got any other black dolls her size, she was more than willing to sacrifice herself so that Lois could be part of a 1:6 scale family.  

On July 20th, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin made the first manned landing on the Moon in the Apollo 11 Lunar Module.  Toys like the Kozmic Kiddles (produced in 1969/70) reflected the impact that the space program had on the popular imagination. 

Meanwhile under the Green decision of 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court had decreed that "freedom of choice" desegregation plans such as the one offered in New Kent County, Virginia were a sham and established the "Green" factors as criteria for the acceptability of school desegregation plans.

The impossibility of achieving equality of facilities, transportation, extra-curricular activities, and an equal ratio of black to white students and faculty in school districts drawing students from segregated neighborhoods led to the implementation of extensive busing plans that transported students citywide or across city-county boundaries. 

I was never bussed but I had integrated an entire elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia during the 1968/69 school year when I was in the first grade. My mother taught at the school and had obtained permission to enroll me even though we lived in Maryland.  From then on there was never more than a sprinkling of other black students in the schools I attended.

For most of my education I felt like the "sister from another planet."  No wonder I identified so strongly with my Purple Gurple Kozmic Kiddle.  

Girlfriend's space ship cracked up years ago and her antennae broke off so she couldn't communicate with the Funkadelic Mothership and ask them carry us home.

Thus we had to learn the ways of earthlings.

To see what the original space ship looked like, check out "Pictures of my Kozmic Kiddles Collection."

À Bientôt