Interview with Mikel Sauve, Part 4

Welcome back to the conclusion of our interview with Mikel Sauve of the Vulcania Volunteers.

The first part can be read here.

The second part can be read here.

The third part can be read here.



AA: You and I are also part of another project together, although involved at different times. This would be the Vintage Tomorrows steampunk documentary. What was your experience when director Byrd MacDonald came calling?

MS: I wanted to go hear Byrd & James speak at Steamcon III, but I just couldn’t get away.  They hosted a screening of the film and I missed it, but the whole project has evolved since then.  It originally started out as an Intel short film documentary project, but now it’s going to be a full-blown, feature length documentary.

I was first approached at GEARcon by one of the cameramen, Alan Winston, who is also the editor on the project.  He asked if he could film some models & one of my presentaions. Then I met Alan again at one of Paul and Anina’s ‘Frank Reade’ book signings. A steampunk world getting smaller, …Allen said that he wanted to introduce me to Byrd and asked if would I be interested in doing an interview-segment involving the maker aspect of SteamPunk.


A lot of the earlier film was based on the curiosity aspect – what is steampunk and it’s role as a social phenomenon.  I was asked if I would be one of the featured makers, I said yes & invited them out to my shop a couple times, where we talked about all the aspects of the Vulcania Volunteers, the props I make and my take on Steampunk.


One of the three interview sessions was Paul and Anina visiting my shop & the BP build—which was a genuine honor for me, having the creators of BP coming to my shop.  I was just crazy nervous talking with Paul and Anina. I love it when that kind of energy is in the house, in the place where I work and create, when other creators come over and visit. It was really a wonderful experience.


It was a great working with Byrd and Allen because that’s one of the reasons I got started in all this—making films and props. With them making the documentary, I was in it but I also loved watching them filming me. It was just a great experience overall.


Byrd is not a steampunk. He’s just exploring this and shining a light on it.  I’m honored to be a part of this film and I had the chance to reflect on a lot of the things that I enjoy doing. I’m curious to see it and how it will be seen by the public and the world at large – the people outside the steampunk community and the people who are in it—are they going to dismiss it or are they going to embrace it.


AA: Hopefully we won’t have that long to wait—hopefully it’ll be out by the end of this year.

MS: That’s a long time for me, I’m really anxious and look forward to seeing it.


AA: And I think that movie’s going to be a lot of great fun; I can’t wait to see it myself.

MS: Abney Park was interviewed & mentioned throughout the film. The band just went through personnel changes & at the same time released two new albums that have been received really well.  I suggested to Byrd & Alan, “You should re-interview Abney Park. They just went through a dramatic, documentary-worthy episode in their career – making a substantial personnel change and hit the ground running without missing a beat.  I thought it’d be great to interview them again.


Significant changes in steampunk could to lead to a Vintage Tomorrow’s Two.


AA: I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

MS: Because steampunk is growing and evolving so quickly, I don’t think one film is going to cover it all.  And with its rapid evolution, it’s not going to be recognizable—pretty soon people are going to stop asking, “What is steampunk?”  That question is already old hat, in spite of people who have made a career out of answering it, which is great (I guess) but only because some questions seem to need answers.


Steampunk is one of the biggest, for lack of a better term – fashion movements – that I’ve ever seen.  Like historian reencactors, the SCA or Ren-Fairs, but this has the potential to be much more….


Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars fandom specifically follows a TV or Film series.  But I think steampunk is bigger and it doesn’t have a lead-in film or TV series.  It’s on its own.  It’s a bastard child, yet there are a lot of people claiming to be the father, mother originators of it. It merely a thing with a name and yet it’s caught on like fire. I think within a year or two, the definition of steampunk is going to evolve way beyond
anything that can be defined with one, movie, book, convention-presentation or on-line interview.

AA: There’s certainly been a lot of expressions, and even those expressions have changed over time.

MS:  Exactly—I no longer call it steampunk, because it makes my friends cautious, they look at it and say, “but there’s no punk.”  And I just reply that it’s more like steam wave, you know, like New Wave,


Jeter, when interviewed, said it was merely a random connection of words.  He pulled it out of his head because he was being confronted with a question & needed a quick answer, so he came up with that phrase.  He put those two words together randomly and it’s so much more than a mere definition.


Kind of my point again. It’s now an activity. Captain Robert said it brilliantly, that “steampunk is no longer just Victorian science fiction, now it’s whatever steampunks do”.


That is both profound & eloquent.  He took the many definitions and redefined it on the fly, and he is correct.


And I don’t think steampunk is Victorian…


I understand the bent-logic of calling it that, but the French at that time didn’t call it the Victorian Era; it was called the Belle Époque meaning the “Grand Era”.


Only in England did they call it the Victorian Era and I guess because they were insistent about it over the years, it held up as the definition of that time period.


I’m French and I’m a fan of Verne, and H. G. Wells in the same breath.  So, to me, it’s the Belle Époque, owing only 1/2 as much to the British & their Queen Victoria.


I love that about steampunk; that you can start in one place and then you have to split off into six other things because there’s no way to stay in just one place.  Every question & answer about steampunk has six equal parts and they’re all valid.  That’s why one definition doesn’t make sense to me—when someone says that this is or that isn’t steampunk, I’ve lost interest already because definition isn’t an activity—I’m a maker, I’m a do-er, …I’m active.


I admire the philosophies of definition; it’s nice to know where you’re coming from and it also dictates where you’re going, but like Capt. Robert said, steampunk now is what steampunks do.  So if you’re not doing it, you’re talking about it, and if you’re just talking about it, you’re static, you’re stationary and you can only talk about current things. But if you’re out there doing it, you’re making the next day.  I’m already making the next day and I’m thinking about tomorrow.


AA: You mentioned that you’re in Portland with Paul and Anina.  How is that location working out with the kind of work that you’re doing, building these props and models.  Does location really matter for resources and access and publicity?

MS: Basically, it doesn’t matter.  If you have the passion, you’ll find a way to get there. Location is not that important if you have the passion, the background, the skills, and the interest. It may contribute to fortunate circumstances, but it’s not a required ingredient.


It’s a plus to have access to Paul and Anina.  There’s no deadline, no money being paid.  It’s not a commissioned project, so it’s just lot of fun and an honor that they appreciate my work. Paul has taken the time to answer some of my questions about the details and origins of pieces that he used to create the original. But with the Internet, today anyone can connect with others who share their same model-interests.


AA: That should give a lot of people hope that no matter where they are, that with technology—the Internet, and all forms of access—that it doesn’t mater where they live.  That they can reach out to other people, and get information, work on things, learn things.  With whatever project they have in mind.

MS: True enough. I was simply musing with you about how interested I’d be in making a dog for Boilerplate, something like K9 and you said you knew someone who had access to copies of the original plans. So, just though a casual conversation with you, & because I knew of your interest in Doctor Who, and I wondered if there were any plans out there – I asked & because you’re a saint – the heavens opened up & provided me the means to build a dog-bot.



And with those kind words, we’ll wrap up our interview with Michael Sauve.

Keep up to date with his activities, check out the website for Vulcania Volunteers and their FaceBook page.

Published in: on September 9, 2012 at 8:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Interview with Mikel Sauve – part 3

Welcome back for the third part of our interview with Mikel Sauve of the Vulcania Volunteers.

The first part can be read here.

The second part can be read here.

AA: It’s certainly great that you’re working on all these things now and you’re very, very busy.  And looking at your own work, you’ve got an extensive history creating props and models—what was your first model and how did that project come about for you?

MS: I was between junior high and high school,  and a local community theater asked for assistance with some props.  It wasn’t a full production—just a reading, a one-night only kind of thing, but they needed an old fashion roller skate.  The kind that you strap on to a shoe, the old, all metal ones, with the little belts and the key so you could lengthen or shorten it. One-size skate that fits any shoe.  The mother in the scene holds up the skate and says, “I told you to put this away.  You want me to kill myself?”  The poor actress was relegated to holding up part of a telephone because they didn’t have a skate to use. So, I went home, found a drawing of one and I made it out of wood. The little belts I bought at a second hand store. It looked great on stage.


AA: And it was probably lighter than the real thing too.

MS: Yes, & because it was made out of wood, painted with gray paint & drawn on details – it was fast & inexpensive. It served its purpose.  It was on stage for a full, I don’t know, maybe a half a minute.


That makes me think about other TV and movie props that, on screen, may look great and fantastic and real, and they’ve got heft to them, and when you actually see pictures of the real prop, – it looks like a painted block of wood.


That is exactly what I saw when I went to Desilu studios and held one of the Star Trek communicators in my hand.  It was made from a block of wood.  I could see the wood-grain and I was crest-fallen.  Finally getting to hold this prop in my hand, one that I had seen every week, & it was made of wood.


There were better made ones that the main actors would carry, but a lot of the ones that went on the hips and belts of the crew, those were just quick painted blocks of wood, painted and paper details added on.  They didn’t have the flip-up lids—I think there were only two or three hero communicators that were made better.  But the bulk of them, that I saw on a table with about twenty on it, were all made of wood.

AA: And for distance, they’ll be on camera, and …

MS: Exactly—on someone’s belt, walking down a hallway, you’re not going to notice a thing.  And that’s what the skate did.  It’s not going to require a child to put on and go skating—it’s for the mother to hold up and just get the impression of the idea of a skate.  That’s the one thing about props that I really love:  it wasn’t what it seemed, it wasn’t a real skate and I love that aspect.  It’s like dressing up—you’re creating an illusion, a state of mind. It’s all just smoke and mirrors.


AA: And then with that, in creating props that are meant to be held and be close-up to people, to fans – it can’t be just a block of wood where we see the grain—it has to look like the sleek plastic, metal of the twenty-third century, or for steampunk things that look like metal.  That appearance just pulls it off, so the quality becomes much better than the originals.

MS: Yes, you’ve seen my Nautilus underwater rifle.  A lot of people comment about the metallic look of it and the feel of it.  And that’s why I’m so proud of my models—the fact that I know that these are meant to be appreciated & marveled at.  They’re not made for the quick shot on the screen – the actual underwater rifles seen in the movie have less than a minute of screen time. My props are meant to be held in the hand, admired and enjoyed & to take pictures or to hang on their wall and stare at for hours on end, if you’re so inclined.  And one of the things I pride myself in are the paint finishes, people ask if it’s hammered copper and what kind of metal did you make it in. I say, “No, that’s all paint.”  If you do the paint-finish right, it looks exactly like it’s supposed to.  And I want my props to bear up to close scrutiny. I want to catch the eye

AA: And really capture the imagination in doing that.  The impression that “this is real.”

MS: Exactly.  There are time when I hand my rifle to somebody and they’re admiring it and we get into conversation. They actually get quite comfortable holding it and I have to say, “Excuse me, can I get my rifle back?”, because when it becomes a part of them —I love to watch that. People fall in love with these things I make and they want it to be a part of their lives, …that’s when I get my reward.



AA: That’s very impressive.  So with that, like the rifle and the other things, what are some of the other items that you’ve created over the years?  Top ten.

MS:  Well, that’s a long list because I’ve made props for movies, TV, private collectors and museums, so I really don’t even know where to begin – or end.


I’ve taught friends who have gone on to work in the film industry. One of my apprentices worked on Avatar recently, he also made one of the elevators in Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  So what I’ve done and the projects I’ve worked on, it’s still going on in the people that I’ve taught how to do this stuff.  That’s why it’s tough for me to answer, even a ‘top ten’, because it’s an ongoing thing and, truth told, I also don’t want to name drop.  And there are so many people who I worked with, who did more than I, and some that worked less I did, who claimed they did more, so it gets to be a sticky thing to answer and get into particulars about some of that stuff.  Case in point: the other day—I mentioned a Prop master who just recently won Emmy’s for working on The Pacific, …I just mentioned his name and this fella I was talking to says, “Well I never heard of him.”  And I replied, “That’s ok, he’s never heard of you either.”


So I’ll just say – I’ve made models of just about everything under the sun and I hope to keep doing it.


AA: If one of our readers wanted to start down that same path and learn how to build models and props, what sort of research goes into a project, and what sort of skills did you have to develop over time to make these?

MS: My models come out looking good because I do my homework—homework being – going out and collecting & archiving as much photographic and technical information that I can.  Then creating a good plans. You get out what you put in – the rest of it is simple follow through. But good plans, I think, are the most important thing—about seventy percent of the actual work.  After that, I would say a nice, good selection of tools & supply of building materials.  The right tool for the right job, that’s really important.  Lastly, the patience to do it and the dedication to complete the task.

AA: Looking to current day, you’re working on another amazing project that’s coming together really well and you’ve been documenting on Facebook.  Could you share some details about that, and current status, and what’s next for it?

MS: My other wonderful passion – Boilerplate.  I first saw the book a couple years back and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting’, but somehow I got sidetracked, set the book down and I didn’t come across again it for another two years.


Now I’m currently building a 1/1 scale life-size replica of BP & I’m lucky to be living in the same town as its creators, Paul Guinan and his lovely wife, Anina.  It’s a wonderful build-subject that I can get completely immersed in because of the simplicity, but the design & details are also pretty challenging – to get perfect. I’ve photographed and studied the original Boilerplate maquette that was used to make the book & from that I’m working-out an amalgam of Boilerplate’s dimensions. The Revisioneers have since created a set of plan/drawings and using them – I’m building a life-size replica that will be six and a half feet tall when complete.

I’ve since launched a ‘Boilerplate Build’ site on Facebook, if anyone wants to come over and join and watch. I’m doing a step by step of the build – covering different aspects of the project.


AA: That’s great and certainly address the DIY aspect of steampunk to first create this yourself, but then be able to turn around and share with other people, and essentially teach them how it’s done.

MS: And I love that part of it too.  It’s a lot of fun, and teaching is something I’ve always wanted to do.  And even though I didn’t design or create this icon initially, I’m enjoy working with a true artist like Paul Guinan. And I really enjoy getting back to my roots, doing some really down-home old school model making.  It’s great!

AA: That’s very cool.  What’s next in the build—or how soon will it be done and people can start seeing it at conventions or events?  What kind of plans?

MS: Well as far as the finish date, the build has started to evolve into something more than intended.  Originally, it started out with me wanting to make a life-size maquette for Paul & Anina to use at conventions and other events but now, there are some are BIG things happening in the Boilerplate Universe.


J. J. Abrams just bought the rights to the book and he’s going to be making a feature-length motion picture based on it.  That has, in turn, upped my game.  Initially, I was building this in my spare time and all along, I had planned a humble gesture of giving it to the guy who created and inspired me to build it in the first place.  But now that the film is coming out and all eyes are on Boilerplate, it’s now motivated me to take this build to the nine’s. I’d like to give him some posable & movable parts & I think it would be interesting if BP was able to talk. I’d also like his eyes to incorporate functional irises that’ll operate via remote control & be lighted to give him an animated, soulful appearance.


The short answer – I don’t know when he’ll be done, but I want my replica to look like it just walked out of Archie Campion’s shop & maybe, just maybe, – onto the silver screen.


AA: It sounds like a great project, a lot of fun.

MS: It’s the perfect project for when I just want to get the Nautilus out of my hair for a minute & a day.  I can wander into the Boilerplate universe—and it’s right there in the steampunk neighborhood, a wonderful distraction—just what I need.


We’ll pause here in our conversation with Mikel and next time as we continue, we’ll talk about conventions, reactions, and model making.


Until then, check out the website for Vulcania Volunteers and their FaceBook page.


Published in: on September 2, 2012 at 9:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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