We get all of the fun assignments!
Recently we were called upon (for an undisclosed client) to create a photographic rendition of the classic Cassius Marcellus Coolidge painting “Dogs Playing Poker“. We weren’t tasked with exactly duplicating the original, or any of its subsequent variations, but rather to incorporate some characteristics and personalities of the talent we were going to be using to create the tableau. God this was fun!
It of course all began with pre-production. We got the opportunity to pull in set & prop stylist Hiroshi Yoshida who worked closely with us and the client, to ensure we captured the essence of each role without things going over the top. Hiroshi’s sensibilities brought the perfect understated tone, while keeping in the spirit of the overall theme. And under the heading of serendipity, go figure that Hiroshi already had a personal collection of quirky dog art that was a spot on fit for our smokey backroom. Over a several conference calls we settled on color, tone, mood, and all of the various props. We also discussed our game plan for how we would ultimately shoot the vignette.
The day of the shoot was a blast. Hiroshi came in with his crew started building our environment. We played with variations and worked the camera angle, till we found our sweet spot. Once we locked down the camera and set, we started by shooting plates and elements that we could use in post-production to fill out the scene.
Then it was time for talent on set! They say “don’t work with Animals or Kids”. I disagree! I love working with both. Our talent’s personalities were as varied as their breeds. I have been on both the great, and challenging ends of working with animal talent. For me it is three things, professional animal talent, a great trainer, and PATIENCE. Thankfully we had all three. We had budgeted the appropriate amount of time that we needed for this setup and having the peace of mind that you are not rushed brings an air of calm over the set, which animals clearly sense and consequently react accordingly. We also had a great trainer who had a long relationship with all of our talent, so there was an ease and comfort as we explored various positions and poses. The on camera time was chill. Everyone hit their marks and then some. And there was still time for some romping and belly rubs.
It all came together in post-production. I was confident we had everything we needed while we were on set, but once in front of the computer, it was really gratifying to see that all of our preplanning had paid off. There was a good amount of screen time invested, and a few variations explored with poses and expressions, but ultimately our photographic homage to this humorous illustration came together in an amazing way, thanks to an incredible collaboration, and permission from the client to do what we do.