In early April 2015, I had a dream literally come true.
(Click left and right arrows to advance the pictures. Click any image to see it large.)
Meet Vanda…. I mean, meet Kaitlin Donnelly, the young woman I met a short time ago (thanks to mutual friend Pat Hanna) who agreed to be my model in a photo shoot for the covers of my three books. In April, after many weeks of planning, Kaitlin, myself and a small group of very talented people got together in the studio to bring my character to life.
I’ve known James Fashing for over six years, and he’s a brilliant photographer in or out of the studio. He was the first one I approached to ask him if he’d be willing to help me with my book covers. After explaining my ideas, he enthusiastically agreed. Not only that, he described the project to his wife Charla, who is an experienced and talented theater stylist. Charla also agreed to help.
Finding my Naomi was honestly one of the easiest parts. My good friend Pat, who has been in the advertising business for many years and knows how to spot model-material, recommended a friend of his for the project, and as soon as I met Kaitlin I knew instantly she was the one.
That evening, she and I picked out costume elements online and made sure everything was sized to fit her. When enough of the pieces had arrived, we got together for a costume dressing. I got to introduce Kaitlin to James and Charla, and we talked about the details of the shoot and went over the kinds of shots I was after. I wanted to get not only cover shots, but also plenty of other coverage in case I wanted to do box set art or other promotional materials for the books (like this Web site). The leather jacket was custom-made to Kaitlin’s measurements.
Naomi’s hair is black, and Kaitlin’s is not. Furthermore, the character’s hair appears different on each of the three covers, showing Naomi’s progression in the stories. Kaitlin agreed to dye her hair black (!!) and two wigs were ordered, one black and one dark purple. Thankfully, Charla was there to help with putting the wigs on correctly and assisting Kaitlin with makeup and nail polish with the costume changes.
Two props had to be created. The powered iWear set was built by my colleague Ben Spears, who is a modeler hobbyist. He delivered a beautiful headset that ran on a lithium battery which could be hidden beneath Kaitlin’s hair. Then there’s the incredible Ixxis-DE pistol, which was assembled and hand-painted by another co-worker of mine, Joy Page. Joy is an amazing artist and both her and Ben’s talent is barely evident in the photos; you really have to see these amazing props with your own eyes to truly appreciate them.
As it happened, the weekend we scheduled for the shoot was the weekend after Easter. Due to its proximity to the holiday, James found that he could get his hands on a Nikon D810 for an extended rental period. This is a 36-megapixel professional camera, the likes of which we don’t keep around the communications department. (We have some good high-grade hardware, but not that high-grade. Ken Rockwell described it as “the world’s highest technical image quality DSLR.” As of mid-2015, it’s a $3,000 piece of equipment.) The opportunity was too good to pass up, so we had the D810 shipped in from New York for the shoot.
The two days we spent shooting were incredible fun. We started around 10am on Saturday morning, beginning with the set for Ghosts. These pictures would be Naomi at her most vulnerable, with long hair and a distinctly timid demeanor. Before our eyes Kaitlin became the character of Naomi. It was remarkable.
The Ghosts set was challenging because the iWear prop was extremely reflective, and was catching elements from all around the studio in the glass like a mirror. Fortunately, James Fashing has plenty of experience shooting wine, since he’s an amateur winemaker himself. So he knew just how to control the placement of everything in the studio to keep these reflections under control.
Furthermore, the LEDs in the prop also required a practiced hand. James knew just how to control the exposures so that the maximum of light was captured from the LEDs without blurring.
Joining us on Saturday was Pat Hanna, who was great to have on hand as he has years of professional experience directing photo shoots. Also there for the Saturday shoot was Steve Fairchild, an accomplished photog in his own right, many of whose pictures are featured in the slideshow above.
After several hours shooting for Ghosts, Kaitlin and Charla left to change outfits for the Demons set, and we switched out the backdrop for the new color scheme. When Kaitlin returned, the difference was dramatic. Not quite the warrior she would become for the cover of book 3, but much more in control and confident. (And yes, in Demons, Naomi gets a gun.)
At one point during the Demons set, I wanted to shift Kaitlin’s finger to rest over the trigger. I was regularly moving her and positioning her like a doll for various poses between shots, and as I was doing this I went to reposition her finger on the trigger, and at first she wouldn’t let me. I had to tell her, “Kaitlin, relax your finger for me.” This is because Kaitlin is an experienced shooter herself and knows how to—and how not to—handle guns, even guns that don’t shoot bullets, like this one. And here I thought I was going to have to coach her how to handle the Sig Sauer.
We didn’t have time to finish with the Demons set on Saturday, so it’s a very good thing everyone was already signed up for a second day in the studio. The next day we were back at it.
We spent a few more hours finishing up the set from the day before, then Kaitlin and Charla disappeared again for the costume change everyone was waiting for.
We were not disappointed.
There was Vanda, real as life. The rest of the afternoon was tremendous fun. What was astonishing to me was the fact that Kaitlin had never modeled before in her life. But not only was she taking direction without complaint and giving 100% like a pro, she was delivering expressions and emotions effortlessly, inhabiting my character as if she’d known her as long as I have. I can’t describe how cool a thing it is to see your fictional creation embodied by someone so authentically. I had to mentally correct myself several times to keep from actually calling her Naomi during the shoot.
Kaitlin was brilliant. James was brilliant, Charla was brilliant, the whole experience was an incredible success and an experience I won’t soon forget.
Thank you Kaitlin, for giving life to my character.
Thank you James, for lending me your significant talent and expertise to this project of mine.
Thank you Charla for giving up your weekend to lend us your expert hand with makeup, hair and costume. And for being James’ dutiful studio helper.
Thank you Steve and Pat for being there with additional ideas, suggestions and practical assistance. (Steve, the photos you took are invaluable.)
Thank you Joy for the stunning Ixxis-DE pistol. And thank you Ben for the awesome iWear set. The production value both of you lent to this project was Hollywood-level quality. –cjw