Michael Paul Chan is an American television and film actor. He is known for his role as Lieutenant Michael Tao on the TNT series The Closer and Major Crimes. Chan was born in San Francisco, California. His television work has included roles like Judge Lionel Ping on Arrested Development, Detective Ron Lu on Robbery Homicide Division, the voice of Jimmy Ho on The PJ's, Mr. Chong on The Wonder Years, a Japanese investor in the 1990 Northern Exposure episode "Dreams, Schemes and Putting Greens", an agent of the C.I.A. on a 2011 episode of The Simpsons, and roles on shows like Bones, Babylon 5, and Young and the Restless. One of his more notable film roles was as the convenience store owner in the 1993 film Falling Down, where he refused to give a discount to Michael Douglas' character when he attempted to purchase a can of soda to get change for the pay telephone outside the store. Another was as Data's father in The Goonies. He appeared in both of Joel Schumacher's Batman movies, in two different roles: a Wayne Enterprises executive in Batman Forever, and Dr. Lee in Batman & Robin. Other films in his filmography include Americanese, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, U.S.
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Hi all. My name is Michael Paul Smith. I recreate my hometown of Elgin Park at 1/24th scale size using hand-made models and die-cut model cars.
The buildings are constructed of resin-coated paper, styrene plastic, and basswood, plus numerous found objects. The vehicles are diecast models from my own collection of 300+!
No Photoshop is used in my images; they're all composed in the camera. It is the oldest trick in the special effects book: lining up a model with an appropriate background, then photographing it.
I'm here today to talk about my work, my life, or anything you want to know. So, Ask Me Anything!
Just so you know, volunteer moderator /u/courtiebabe420 is helping me over the phone today.
Ah alright usually it goes something along with ones dad was taking pictures when one were a kid (that's how it went for me)
Only 4 weeks? damm, I would need closer to 3 months for anything remotely similar. Anyways they look fantastic.
48 years?! Good lord. You won't recognize yourself if you shave it one day.
Shaving it off has always been my fall back plan if I have to disguise myself. Seriously, no one would recognize me.
What made you interested in photography? (pretty standard question, but I'm still curious)
How long does the models en general tends to take to make? They look fantastic.
And lastly, that's a spectacular beard. Thanks!
The photography happened by accident. When I started to make my models back in the mid 1990s, I wanted to document them.
Digital cameras were just coming out and I bought a cheap one for the job. A Sony 6 megapixel.
The learning curve was steep for me because I was also learning how to use a computer.
Anyway, it was an Ah-Ha! moment when I saw the results.
As for making the model buildings and some times the vehicles...Each building takes about 3 to 4 weeks to design and construct because I only have basic hand held tools such as X-acto knives, sanding blocks and small hand held manual drills.
Thanks about the beard! I've had it now for 48 years. Haven't seen my upper lip since the 60s!
What motivated you to undertake this project?
Good question and it's multi layered so I'll try to be clear.
I've always had a love of 20th Century culture, especially the everyday items, such as wallpaper design,
popular colors of an era, design evolution of everything...and over the years ended up with an extensive collection numbering in the 1000s. When the collection got to overwhelming, it occurred to me that creating miniature versions of these things could be an interesting project. Also, I had been collecting commercially made diecast model cars and trucks at 1/24th scale [ about 7 inches long and 3 inches tall] When my collection reached the 300 mark, I thought creating historically accurate dioramas which would include the model cars would be an interesting challenge.
What was I thinking?
But here I am now with a complete town that represents the 1920s through the mid 1960s, that can only be viewed on the web.
I'm glad I took this project on because it is a never ending source
of learning and challenges. It's also fun.
How long did this project take to complete?
Actually, the project is still evolving. Over the years I have learned many different building techniques, along with becoming a better
"photographer". I use that term loosely because my little camera is always set on Automatic.
When I got enough nerve to post my first photo on Flickr, which was back in 2008, I really didn't know where it was going. I hadn't even given the project a name.
The early early years were very much trial and error in every area, from the building of the model structures, the set up of the shots and then learning how to process them for the web.
A few years ago, I thought I had reached a saturation point in terms of creativity and story telling with my photographs.
But like most creative processes, there are down times built into
each endeavor. After a few months of floundering around, inspiration resurfaced and new ideas are always presenting themselves. If all goes well, I hope I'm still creating models and scenes up to the day I leave this planet.
Boy was that a long winded answer!
The short version is: I've been working on Elgin Park since 2008.
What was the biggest obstacle to overcome in completing this project?
Mentally, the biggest obstacle was self confidence. I was learning everything as I went along, making many mistakes and ending up at dead ends because I didn't have an overall understanding of what I was actually doing.
When it became apparent that I was creating a town based loosely
on my hometown in Pennsylvania, the mental fumbling eased up.
As for the physical obstacles...by not having a shop to work in, my kitchen table became my work bench and all of the basic hand held tools had to do the work of more efficient machinery.
A creative challenge to say the least. But it is amazing what a lowly X-acto knife can actually do.
Also, discovering "found" objects, such as jewelry pieces, plastic
containers or small parts from clocks, pens and toys, to take the place of hand made items.
I now tend to look at everything as a potential resource for my models. A few days ago I came across some gift package ribbon that was made of mesh. On closer inspection it was the correct scale for window screening on a model house.
How much did it cost to make this the Elgin Park recreation?
I am a dumpster diver of the first order when I comes to obtaining
supplies for my project. Why pay money when you can find so much in the trash. Scraps of wood, mat board, sheets of plastic are free for the taking.
If anything, the spray paint is the most costly item.
But in the same breath, I have to say, the diecast model cars and trucks are by far the most expensive part of the project.
My collection, which contains well over 300 models, was my only big expense. Although they are not being manufactured anymore, they were $150 each at the time.
I have been approached by collectors who have inquired about having a custom made building created for them and they asked what such a model would cost.
If I charged $15 an hour as my going rate, and the building was complete with interior and furniture, and also could be lit, the price would be somewhere around $15,000 to $20,000.
That sounds like a lot, but such a project would take at least 4 months to complete, and that includes working weekends.
I had decided early on not to take on commissioned work because of the dynamics inherent between client and artist.
It is rarely smooth sailing.
Someone did offer me a large sum of money for all of my models and buildings, even though they are not set up as a complete town.
Considerable thought was given to this offer, but ultimately I turned it down because I am still using everything piece to create new scenes.
About how long does it take you to create a scene of a few buildings and a few cars if you have to create the buildings and not reuse anything from the past photos?
Over the years, I have become more proficient in creating the buildings. What used to take a few months has been reduced to a few weeks. Although, if the structure I want to build is complex and detailed down to a finished interior, the projects jumps back up to around 4 months.
Due to my living space, there is very little storage area, so more times than not, I have been reusing parts of other buildings and just taping them together temporarily for the photo session.
I do have plans for a George Jetson type building that I know will take at least 4 months to construct because it is a completely new building using unique parts.
Legos or lincoln logs?
I am a Lincoln Logs fan, but Legos have far more potential, not to mention colors and shapes.
I recently was given an original Lincoln Logs kit and although it was
very nostalgic, there was only so much I could do with it.
It was a sad realization.
iPhone or Android?
Mac or PC?
eBooks or real books?
Coke or Pepsi?
Oh no, I'm going to sound like a Luddite here.
-I actually do not have an iphone or Android. Nor do I have a cell phone.
I did have a rotary phone until it stopped working a few years ago.
-I am a Mac person all the way.
-Real books! There is something very tactile about holding a book.
With the reassuring activity of actually smelling the pages of a book.
[I realize that sounds a bit odd, but paper and ink really does smell comforting]
-Coke still does it for me. Especially when you can buy it in bottles and has real sugar in it as opposed to corn syrup.
what was your first camera?
My first digital camera was a 3 megapixel Sony which didn't last very long. As basic as it was, it seemed like a marvel of technology at the time.
After it died, I moved up to a 6 megapixel Sony. Nice!
If given the option what mammal would you dance on and why?
That's a tough one. If I was dancing ON a mammal it would have to be something fairly large like a horse or cow. If I was dancing WITH a mammal, it would probably be with a dog or Koala Bear. Although I think a Koala is a marsupial. Does that still count?
Your models look great! How do you get them looking so accurate?
The most important aspect of realistic model making is to have everything in the proper scale to each other. As an example; if you are showing dirt on a miniature street, the dirt itself has to be almost the size of dust. The mini dirt I use is from my vacuum cleaner. Once I sift out the big stuff, I am left with an almost soot like product which I scatter along the curb. It might not look like anything, but when it's photographed, it appears to be real.
Another example is keeping the proportions of everything accurate.
The size of the bricks on a model building must be in proper relation to the width of a door frame and the size of the windows.
Anything that is either too big or too small will stand out like a sore thumb.
Another thing about miniatures, is that they do not have to be overly detailed. You can suggest a complicated object by just modeling the important visual cues; the rest will be filled in with your mind.
For example: if I know there will be boxes in the background of the shot, I will make them out of small wooden pieces of wood and just draw pencil lines on them to represent seams and flaps. There is no need to actually create a paper box because of the blurring that occurs in the camera. And this is the way the eye works. When you are looking at an object, all of the other items in your peripheral vision are out of focus.
And one last item...a rule of thumb in model making; If you can't make the object accurately, then don't make it at all, because it will attract attention and destroy the magic.
Have you seen Anomalisa?
If given the opportunity, would you like to work on a project like that? Why or why not?
I would be thrilled to work on a film like Anomalisa, but just as the
props and background person. The challenge of getting the look and feel of each scene and set correct is something that excites me.
I have been approached by film makers to construct miniature sets but without a crew, so I had to turn them down because of that.
A full size shop with a model making crew of at least 5 persons and at least a year lead time is necessary to create a quality product.
The other option is to be a consultant on a film for accuracy of
time period, plus mood and atmosphere of a specific era.
I am an amateur historian of american culture by default.
What do you think about your hometown, now that you are creating models of it? Do you see it any differently than you did while growing up there?
I still love my home town of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, but now that I have been using it as a reference point for Elgin Park, it has become somewhat less "magical" because I have been scrutinizing and mining all of the little details to make my town more authentic.
Sewickley is only 1 square mile in size and was mostly built during the Victorian era and early 20th Century, so there is an almost "movie set" quality to the place, which when I was growing up there
felt idyllic and very special. As an adult, I was able to discern different building styles, make note of street changes, along with the ebb and flow of demographics. All of that information dispelled much of the warm and fuzzy vibe of the town, although personal memories of long summer days, home cooked meals and the like still were intact.
I guess the short answer is than I've become a realist and can now see the "warts and all" of the town, BUT, there is still a comforting glow in my heart for the place.