Street artist Tracy Lee Stum may not have any involvement in movie-making, but she did something really cool that is movie-related. Using chalk and the sidewalk outside of L.A. Live, Stum recreated a scene from Ang Lee’s Oscar-winning, 3D film, “Life of Pi.” She worked on the project from March 9-12, and the completed piece was on display until March 16.
Stum recently spoke to the Chico Movie Examiner about the project; drawing on public streets; and her thoughts on Lee’s film and the 3D technique. Check out the interview below.
David Wangberg: Is this your first movie-inspired drawing?
Tracy Lee Stum: Actually, no.
DW: What other ones have you done?
TLS: I did a piece for the DVD launch of “The Davinci Code” back in 2006, and I actually created a Guinness World Record for that.
DW: With all of the scenes in “Life of Pi,” what made you want to choose the scene where the whale is jumping over the boat?
TLS: Actually, we batted that idea around – which scene we would use. Of course, the most obvious would be using something with the tiger, but I thought – certainly anamorphically and working for the illusion – the idea of something jumping out of the pavement would be terrific, so that whale scene was just perfect for that, and I think everyone agreed that that was a great way to go.
DW: The press release said this took three days to create. Is that average for all your other drawings, or are there some that have taken shorter or longer amounts of time?
TLS: Yeah, that’s about average.
DW: What made you interested in wanting to do 3D chalk art, and on the street, too?
TLS: Well, the first time I drew this was at a festival in Santa Barbra in 1998 – it was on a parking lot in front of a mission in Santa Barbra – and I immediately fell in love with the art form, and I immediately fell in love with the art form, because it was a quick and fun way to render a full-sized mural. I was a mural painter at the time when I found this art form. It normally would take me several weeks to do a piece, but this was getting the piece done in two or three days. That was very interesting for me, and also the way the chalk works on pavement is just terrific. There’s a unique richness and vibrancy that you get from that medium that you don’t get from other paint on canvas. So I was hooked in on that.
As far as the 3D goes, the first piece I did was an MC Escher-inspired piece, because I thought of manipulating an image somehow to morph into something else. That was just an impulse that I kind of went with, and then I thought, “Wow, this is very interesting.” Then I realized, “Hey, there are actually some artists making some 3D artwork out there.” And I had seen a couple of examples from the past participants of the festival, and then I thought, “I want to try that.” The next year, I started doing 3D artwork, and I have to say the first couple of attempts were dismal failures – in my mind – but everyone else had liked them. I thought, “You know, I’m not achieving what I had really hoped to achieve.” So, I really had to – just by trial and error – just practice and keep going. It’s been a fascination ever since – certainly manipulating a flat base to create the illusion of depth or another realm was fascinating to me. So I just kind of went with that.
DW: When you do these on the street, do you have to get permission from the city or the building outside which you do it?
TLS: Yeah, in the United States, it’s very restricted, as to where you can draw and how you can draw it – mostly relegated to art festivals or sanctioned events, like the “Life of Pi” event. You have to get a permit from the city to do it. It’s unfortunate that we don’t have sanctioned, pedestrian areas in the United States like they do in Europe. In Europe, you can go to any given city in Italy; contact the Madanari Association; get a permit; and they have areas where you can just go and draw. I could see 42nd Street having that – I could see the 3rd Street Comonade have something like that. But, here, if you go out and just start drawing on the streets, the authorities will stop you. It’s amazing to me that people get upset about that because it’s chalk – it washes off.
DW: For your drawings, are they roped off, or do people just walk around you and see what you’re doing?
TLS: Most people are very respectful, and if they’re aware that you’re drawing, they’ll stay off the artwork – there are some who will come and ask you and walk around. But I have been in locations where there have been barricades, and people just walk right through them. They’ll walk over them or through them – the baby strollers and things like that. If you’re going to be a street artist, you have to be prepared for that kind of stuff.
DW: With your completed work, like the one you made where the ground is opening up, has that actually frightened people as they walk by? Do some think it’s real when they first approach it?
TLS: You know, I don’t know if they’ve had that kind of reaction. But, certainly, when they come up and look through the camera lens – more like viewing lens – they instantaneously see this drawing with depth, and they are just amazed. So, they’re walking on what is obviously on a flat surface from an oblique angle – not the viewing angle – and they see that it’s abstract and they’re like, “What is this?” Then they come around, and they look, and they’re like, “Oh, my god. It looks like it’s dropping down.” So, I don’t know that they can see the illusion without the camera. Some people can, but most people can’t.
DW: Do you have another project you’re working on at the moment?
TLS: I do – I always have several projects going at once. [laughs]
My work is never done. But, you know, I’m not complaining.
DW: I think that may be all the questions I have, unless there is something you wanted to add about the “Life of Pi” display or anything else.
TLS: First of all, I loved the film. It was visually astounding. Even when I saw the film, I thought, “This would be great subject matter for a street painting.” And then I got called to do it – I was really excited, because I thought, “I want to do my best to represent this as authentically in my style as I can.” And, given that opportunity, I really enjoyed the whole process of that project – and certainly working with Fox was terrific, and everyone involved was terrific. It was very fun – great location, lot of people coming out to see it – that was great.
DW: Well, actually, as a 3D artist, do you go see a lot of 3D films and what’s your opinion on the current 3D technology?
TLS: Yeah, I’m all about seeing what’s new and out there in the world of entertainment. I love 3D films. It’s great – great fun – and certainly an enhanced experience. I love it; I’m a visual person, so bring it on. [laughs]
DW: With the way Ang Lee did his film, he shot it in 3D, and then there are some who do post-production 3D. Do you care what version a 3D film is, or do you just like it in general?
TLS: I’m not that picky about the version, but I think it’s great that he (Lee) shot it in 3D and approached it that way. I think the end result is what you see in the theater, and how the average person is going to connect or relate to that film, or that message, or that visual treatment. They were extremely successful with this one – I thought it was great. It’s actually mind-boggling how they render that tiger so beautifully in each scene. It was a really great representation of a natural form. Kudos to those guys who did the animation – they were terrific.
This concludes the interview, but the Chico Movie Examiner would like to thank Tracy for taking the time to speak about her work. Click here to view a slideshow of her completed piece.
“Life of Pi” is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.