"It’s telling a story through a visual narrative."
Howard advances memorial sculpture in Weta Workshop sessions
By Chris Isleib
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. World War One Centennial Commission
With the unanimous design-concept approval by the U.S. Commission of Fine Art and by the National Capital Planning Commission, in recent weeks, our development of the new National World War I Memorial is in high-gear. Our sculptor, Sabin Howard has taken the design artwork to New Zealand, to work with the incredibly talented artists at the high-tech sculpting studio, Weta Workshop. He took some time to talk to us, and to show us what he has created, and how the sculptural development process will work.
You are in New Zealand right now, working on the WWI memorial bas relief. Why New Zealand, and what are you doing?
We are working at Weta Workshop in Wellington NZ which is normally the go to place for all the top feature movies like Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Planet of the Apes in the creation of sculpture props. The latest technology is available to speed things up so that we can move things through quickly and efficiently. Using technology we get things blocked out and then take over manually or traditionally using the same techniques that sculptors have used to make art for the last 200 years.
We are taking out the grunt work so that the creative process can shine through. This work has to be delivered at a very high level. I like to call it museum quality art. I have till the end of the year to create something that will blow the roof off the art world and create a visceral response from Washington.
New Zealand has great cultural appreciation for their World War I veterans. Have you seen this since you have been there? How has it manifested itself in your team's work?
New Zealand is a relatively young country. You could say that it’s 200 years old. WW1 defines the people of NZ and is similar in importance to our War of Independence.There is tremendous excitement among the crew to participate in the creation of this initial sculptural maquette. I used one of the workers yesterday as a model of the central charging figure. We are doing what film does in sculptural form so everyone at the shop gets it. It’s telling a story through a visual narrative.
How has the process been? Tell us about the tech of this sculpting process. What steps do you need to take? How is it different from 'olden days’?
We have such competence at the Weta Workshop. I have been taking more pictures of models to get more angles needed for the creation of sculpture. Before we were just dealing with a single two dimensional image, but now we have to get around the corner, so to speak. Even though this is not completely in the around we still need to start to think three dimensionally. So I am gathering more information through the use of photography and models in the studio under lights. Then this information can be transferred into the computer to create a three-dimensional Image based upon my drawings. The drawings are still the blueprint for the sculpture.
Traditionally everything was done by hand and took much longer. Because time is of the essence in this project we are feeding the information into a program on the computer that can print out a three dimensional model in Clay. The steps that we are taking right now in the development of how deep the relief will be are established. The forms are a series of overlaps so we have to create a hierarchical system of depth that reads in a perspectival system. We are not blocking out the figures as once was done traditionally or manually, rather we are using a computer program to block things out three dimensionally and then print that out in Clay speeding up the process immeasurably!
You are creating a smaller-scale macquette of the bas relief wall. What will the macquette look like?
The small scale relief will be 3 meters in length and 1/6th scale of the 65 foot long bronze wall. The maquette will have the same clarity of form that the drawing has excepted it will be three dimensional in format. There will be a lot more sense of space, dynamism, and drama because it is sculpture. I always defined sculpture as drawing on steroids! The energy of the piece will increase exponentially and carry a tremendous amount of presence. Your eyes will be able to travel spatially in and out of the piece thinking about how things advance and recede to tell a heroic story about humans. The sculptural model will fit within an architectural framework so it has a reference to the space that it will occupy eventually in Washington.
What will be the next steps after the macquette is finished, to your liking?
I am sure that the sculpture will have a large impact on audiences because something of this depth of artistic process, and conceptual design has not been seen in a long long time. I would expect that this will have a large impact on the figurative art world and become a game changer for what figurative art is today.
A project with this intellectual ideology shown through a beauty or form has been a part of the tradition of art, and now it will come to the forefront again. We are doing something today that people thought was not possible today. We are seeing something from a previous era and making it relevant and contemporary to this moment in time. My job is to play forward the tradition of historical visual narrative at its highest level of artistry and make it exciting and visceral for the Memorial Visitor!.
The next round of regulatory reviews with the CFA and NCPC are slated for early 2018 with final design approvals anticipated by mid 2018. The Centennial Commission plans to complete the design and construction of the WWI Memorial at Pershing Park by 2019. For more information about the Memorial project and to donate to the Memorial design and construction, visit www.ww1cc.org/memorial.