Tag Archives: Business

An Historic Event: Endeavor

 

September 21, 2012……a day thousands of Angelenos will keep in their hearts and minds for a long time. Like a lot of other Californians, I spent a huge part of Friday hanging out with like minded others waiting for the shuttle Endeavor to fly by. My son and I chose as our vantage point a parking lot overlooking JPL. With the high elevation, open space, a ladder and long lens I’d be in an excellent position to capture a worthwhile moment. What I didn’t expect was the collective energy, conversations and good vibes that permeated the event. That made it fun while waiting around trying to keep my son, gear and self relatively cool.

There were tens of thousands of photographs made of this historic flight, people you might say, endeavored to capture the moment. The speed at which pics were posted to FB was phenomenal. Of course most of them were smartphone snaps with a few DSLR images thrown into the mix….and some were worthy of the day but most were just good old snappers.

And that was my intent….make a good recording while sharing the experience with my son and others. As I hung out at the site and saw hundreds of people taking pictures I realized I had to do better. I had to place my photograph into another category. After all, “I build photographs, I don’t take pictures.”

The idea for this post derives from my ability to lift mundane photography events, (subject access and lighting conditions) up a few notches. My process of building better photographs celebrates photography and what one can do with a pre-visualization routines and a passion for the art form. I absolutely love the process!

The RAW file:

This image was chosen specifically for its’ focus and point of view. In ACR I added a neutral picture style, lens correction, cropping and general toning:

I was underwhelmed and spent about 30 minutes imagining how I might build on top of this terrific base image. I am a composite geek and try to put together images that serve my vision in the hopes that it appeals to others. So it was off to my Layer Cake Elements sky collection and there it was….the perfect cloud formation that matched the lighting and time of day.

I went back and reprocessed the original RAW file into three new distinct files to ensure I had the sky coloring, subject coloring and contrast ratios needed for my vision of this image.

The final result:

“A successful photograph is a series of small decisions made correctly.” This is my guiding philosophy for building better photographs. The planning for this shoot:

Because I wanted my camera to be as high as possible, I’d need a ladder. Check. I needed a cable release to minimize vibrations while shooting. Check. I made sure the tripod head was level so that when I panned with the Endeavor as it moved across the sky the horizon line remained level. Double check. I brought two liters of water and a chair. We ran out of water but a nice fellow who brought extra bottles and struck up a conversation with me gave us water from his stash. That was really great of him. Thanks Jim!

I brought an umbrella for shade but we had to park so far away and my son and I could only carry so much. I put the camera into position, worked out the camera settings and then put it away as it was way too hot to leave it in the sun. We waited over 90 minutes for the fly over and I wasn’t going to bake my gear in the process. That’s what the umbrella was for. Oh well you plan and execute as best you can.

No reason to kill yourself and shoot something like this in manual mode. In-camera reflective meters average whatever you point it at into 18% middle gray. They don’t see color, they see tonal values. A blue sky at the time of day the Endeavor flew over is always 18% gray. (if you remove the hue) I used Av exposure mode with the lens set to f/11. ISO 200. The shutter speed bounced around between 1/320 and 1/500 of a second. Evaluative was the metering mode. Auto focus was set to the center point. I always shoot using Canon’s Neutral picture style as I really like the flexibility I get once I’m in post.

The rest is a mixture of vision, taste and passion for the process. How long does it take to work on an image until it hits just the right emotional note? I work on it until it feels right. I’ve been at this long enough that I know when my vision has been realized with as little compromise as possible. And that’s when I finalize a piece.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. please pass along if you did.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Entering New Territory

During the past few weeks I put together an RFP package for a government contract. It was submitted on August 22, 2012 at precisely 2:45 pm. How do I know this? I hand delivered four, 3-ring binders, 24 pages each. It was due by 3pm on 8/22/12 and although I hadn’t planned on it going down to the wire, it did. Added a bit of stress to the process but it was a tremendous learning process. And for that I am grateful. And if I get “the call”, my reward will be doubled.

This is something I’ve always wanted to do and when the opportunity came up to do so…I initially hesitated…and then went for it. Why did I hesitate? Because it was a 39 page document that had provisions: scope of work, qualifications needed, insurance requirements, references, affidavits to be notarized amongst other to do items that were required prior to submittal. An onerous task, time consuming, costly and thought provoking in that I kept asking myself,  “how the heck do I fill this stuff out?”

I submitted as the prime contractor and I’ve brought in subcontractors to help out with the parts I cannot do as well, specifically aerial photography. Why was this proposal interesting to me in the first place? Let me go back a step or two to set this up. As a state certified micro-business I am given certain considerations on government contracts. A federal mandate that 30% of of any contract must to be awarded to the sector of small, minority and disabled veteran owned businesses puts me in select company. I am certified at the state and city levels. I’m a member their vendor networks and when interesting contracts come up, I have the option of pursuing or passing. This was one of the good ones IMHO.

I read the RFP (Request for Proposal) three times to fully comprehend what the requirements were. I began to talk with potential partners. Out of these talks a list of questions was developed asking for clarification of specific aspects of the RFP. This list was submitted as part of the RFP process. After receiving the answers it begins: fill out the documents in the RFP as well as gather up sales information, insurance documents, and scour through my archive to find the most appropriate examples of what was called for in the portfolio portion of the package. My photography is the area where I shine brightest but it gave me pause because I had to think about the flow and strength of my work when submitting to people I’ve yet to meet and may never. (it’s a distinct possibility)

I culled through hundreds of photographs: landscapes, portraits, political campaigns, my time-lapse project for The Huntington, etc. Spent dozens of hours deciding which photos made the first cut and then deciding how they might work together in the required portfolio. Mind-numbing effort but necessary and I got to do all the work myself! I also spent time learning more about the ZERO carbon footprint flying machine covering the aerial portion of the RFP.

Simultaneously I’m gathering the required documents, double and triple checking that they are filled in and out correctly, making sure the grammar and syntax are correct and so on. I never would’ve been able to complete this portion without the incredible help of Ms. Molly Moran, a thoughtful and smart writer with a particular expertise in RFP’s.

The documents and files are gathered, I spend $250.00 on four notebooks, 100 pages of document holders, 100 sheets of inkjet paper and seven ink cartridges. Printing 14 image files, burning and printing one CD, printing seven text files times four, plus assembly takes six hours. Oh and in between I make a trip to the notary to make my affidavit official. I am a beat dog by this point. And I still have to hand-deliver. Both of my printers run out of ink at the same time, (with 7 prints to go) I am now in overdrive mode: I shower quickly, dress, drive to store to buy more ink, (cartridges eight and nine) print, sleeve, load and hop into my car (which is almost on empty, oh great.) for the 35 mile trip to the client’s office. Mostly freeway through downtown LA. Traffic and idiot driver central. Oy!

Luckily I there is very little traffic, I arrive early, turn in the four notebooks, get a time-stamped verification and drive back to my office, with very little traffic. Who knew the traffic gremlins would take the afternoon off? I am humbled and grateful for this learning experience.

You may be asking yourself why subject oneself to this form of abuse? Four reasons: the government never seems to run out of money, the intellectual growth I’ve experienced through this process, the people I’ve met (did I mention Molly?) and the knowledge gained about how I’m perceived by other experts will prove to be invaluable….

A process I highly recommend.

Michael

Related Images:

Make the Most of Opportunities

 

I entered the 5th year anniversary artists contest held by the copyright alliance a few months back. My video won in the multi-media category. As part of my winnings (feelings of satisfaction and a happy client), they offered to interview me for their blog. As an SECP, I jumped at the chance to talk about my favorite subject: me! All kidding aside, always look for opportunities to spread the word about yourself, your thinking and your work. And why not? If you don’t have an agent (I let my rep go, a good story in itself and it involves Marilyn Monroe) and your mom is too busy, then it’s up to you.

If you don’t grab opportunities to promote your brand then what are you doing working for yourself? Hoping for the best? Hoping magical thinking will takeover and you’ll have everything you deserve? When was the last time that happened? I live by the credo of putting good karma out to the world and doing good things for people. It always come back to me.

You may be thinking so what, the Copyright Alliance is not a big organization. That’s true. They’re only five years old and don’t command the world stage like the Zuckerberg-led copyright rip off team at Facebook. But the Copyright Alliance is a large organization compared to what I’ve associated with in the past. I’m able to  capitalize on their SEO juice which will immediately add to my credibility as an artist, educator, author and speaker. My global reach steadily expands every time another organization focuses their attentions on me, what I’m about and what I have to say. In other words my world is growing, my influence is growing, organizations are recognizing this and more easily connect with me in meaningful ways.

As I’m now going for very large and complex contracts (involving multiple photographers) with huge agencies, this method of building my background profile gains in importance. It adds up and makes it easier for me to pry open new opportunities for my business model. This is my multi-pronged goal. To create more business. For myself. And others who connect with me.

Thanks for reading.

Michael

 

Lightroom 4 Custom Presets

For years I’ve been a Bridge and Photoshop workflow geek. I didn’t see the need for Lightroom or Aperture even though I purchased version 1 of both applications. But all that changed after I shot 100,000+ images for my time-lapse project and at the same time was asked to teach a class in Lightroom, Photoshop, color management and inkjet printing. I was forced into this learning curve by necessity but can accurately say I have no regrets. Lightroom is an incredible time-saver and allows for a measure of control that inspires me to envision new ways of interpreting my work. Hence this post.

 

Click on the images to see them at full resolution….no stealing!!!!

For each of these images, I was in the Develop Module. Working with many of these adjustments I was able to create what I call my “Bonanza Faded E-6 Film Look”. I was a huge fan of Bonanza and watched reruns religiously back in the 90’s. I’m a huge fan of the outdoors too. I also love the look of faded color slides. All three came together after I went on a camping trip to Sequoia National Forest in May. As I was looking at my take I started thinking about Bonanza, Little Joe, Hoss and Ben. And it hit me, the perfect storm of nostalgia, landscapes and historical photography….I was going to take these images to a place I usually never go…a place where I’m really interpreting a feeling and my emotional response to the work. You have to appreciate that most of my work is straight-forward interpretation. Except for my portrait work I usually deliver very clean documentary type imagery. This work represents a huge creative step for me. More below….

After each interpretation I saved the work as a preset to be called upon when needed. As I made a preset and saved it, I then made it active on subsequent images. If I liked the look, then all was good. If I went and tweaked the preset because I felt the current image needed a bit of additional work, then that was saved as a new preset. This method helped me build a collection of 18 presets for this catalog of work. And these presets can be used on subsequent catalogs of images. Sweet.

I want to add two items that don’t show on the screenshot of the Develop Panel above: Lens Corrections and Camera Calibration. I set my lens corrections so any distortions are removed and my camera calibration is always set to neutral so I am always working on a base RAW image without interpretation from Canon’s Picture Styles.

I haven’t had this much fun working on my files in quite awhile….

Comments welcomed.

Michael

Nirvana & Hell: Time-Lapse Editing with Adobe and Apple

I bought a 27″ iMac last September specifically to help facilitate the processing of a 100,000 RAW images into multiple time-lapse videos. You can read about the beginnings of this project here and here. And to view a few of the completed videos, go here.

In this previous post I called out all of the programs I’ve been working with to create these mini-movies. I have become very comfortable using Adobe Premiere, the striking similarities between the various Adobe products minimizes the learning curve and I appreciate Adobe’s dedication to this end. But……Apple and Adobe do not play well together, at least not when the files are HUGE. All previous videos I’ve completed have been a complete joy to do: 16 gigs of RAM, 700 gigs of free hard drive space and an Intel Core i7 processor. Sweet by most standards. When the assets: JPEGS, intro and outro quicktime movies, music and wild sound tracks are under 5 gigs, the program breezes and I’m in the nirvana portion of the editing process. But when the total amount of the assets grows to +7 gigs, the system falls apart….almost completely.

Launching Premiere with assets over 7 gigs means I wait 30 seconds for the assets to load. The 16 gigs of RAM notwithstanding. The first edit in the timeline and subsequent preview rendering and playback go OK. The second edit and preview rendering takes a hell of a long time. I empty the media cache database. No help. I save and close and reboot the iMAC because sometimes there is application memory leak and I need to free up RAM. No help there either. My brand new iMAC is constantly churning away even when no applications are open. A call to Apple didn’t help. This morning shortly after I sent this behemoth of a file to output, it caused an out of memory error to pop up. I got this error message with both Adobe Media Encoder and exporting directly from Premiere. I was going to take the iMAC in as it’s still under warranty but I can’t help but think with all I’ve set up to work at a professional level, perhaps I’m asking too much of both parties.

As a last resort I called my MAC guru and as always he was very obliging. He is in charge of several MAC labs at a very prestigious private college here in town. He was in the same position at a high-end audio lab so he knows his stuff. The key for him is that I’ve did my homework: repair permissions, software updated, reset SMC, restart in safe and verbose modes, etc. Apparently my SWAP files were corrupt. SWAP files are the virtual RAM that all machines need to use. Even when working with big mutha files (:()), SWAP files (virtual memory) come into play regardless of the amount of RAM installed.

He had me do two things…reload LION and reset the SMC in a way that Apple no longer mentions but that works! What’s up with that? Apple…you’re supposed to help your customers not piss them off. What’s that? You don’t care cause you’re Apple? Well guess what?  Apples rot, get eaten, get cooked or thrown away. Which do you prefer? Just help us when we call with legit issues and don’t make it sound like we’re dopes and your machines are infallible. Oh yeah one more thing…Lion is the first OS that is installed from the net. No disc or file saved on the drive. It would have been nice if you had told your customers that reloading Lion has to be done online. Apple is ridiclueless when it comes to informing people about simple procedures like this.

I want my visions to come to fruition for my clients and me and I don’t like it when my expensive technology fails me. Or their “support” network.

Thanks for letting me rant.

Be well.

Michael

Develop Your Rap

The butter and eggs portion of my business is the corporate headshot. To date I’ve done over a thousand. Location. Studio. I’ll go anywhere clients request. Period. It’s called service. With a smile. And a decent price tag. For both parties. I want to share with you one of my trade secrets: the interview rap. The interview rap works well when I’m doing one or two people per assignment. When I’m doing five plus a day, my rap is done on-the-fly. The energy level I must bring during the bigger sessions contributes to its’ success. When it’s only one or two people per assignment it’s a bit different.

Here’s what I do: I call the subjects and spend time getting to know them. And they me. I offer congratulations on their new hire or promotion (or whatever the reason is for them needing a headshot). I ask if they’ve been photographed professionally, how they felt, how the photographs turned out (in their opinion only), would they like to do something different this time? The way they answer drives my rap…funny…informational…topical…personal, etc. If there is an ease to their answers, no detectable strain in their voice I come back to them with a jokes, recent movies I’ve seen or food I’ve eaten mixed in with my answers. The tone and length of their responses inform me as to what type of personality I’m beginning to engage. And vice-versa. In my world both sides of the photographic session have to be authentic as much as possible. I’ve been doing this too long to play games, I’m determined to do a successful and professional job that fills my clients needs every time I pull the trigger.

In essence I want my subjects to know me and I them. I strive to create a relaxed, engaging and informational photographic experience and it begins with the interview rap and moves forward clothing ideas, haircut (at least a week in advance), booking date, length of session, what we will accomplish and a delivery date.

So may I ask…what’s your rap?

Thanks for reading.

Michael

Related Images:

What You Don’t Know, Learn

Regarding my ten month time-lapse project; principal photography is complete. Post production is under way. What began as an email inquiry from a representative of The Huntington May 2011, ended with a flourish as dignitaries and donors visited the Japanese Garden for the dedication ceremony and reception April 12th. Over 103,000 photographs, video clips and sound effects were generated during the course of this 10 month assignment. What a gas!

As I begin the post-production process in earnest, (I’ve already spent about a hundred hours designing, practicing and refining the workflow) I took stock of all the applications I was unfamiliar with at the beginning of this project and the ones I use now as a result of this project.

The list above is in order of familiarity: Photoshop, Quicktime and Keynote were all applications I’ve been working with for years. Garage Band, Lightroom, Premiere, Soundbooth and Media Encoder are the applications I’ve had to learn in order to produce the contract deliverables.

It’s not that I don’t particularly want help from other specialists (I’m currently looking for a composer) it’s just that in order to know what I wanted I had to be able to create variations so I could finalize the look. Additionally today’s technological breakthroughs have allowed us SECP types to flourish in ways we never could before. The potential contained in the last sentence is awesome.

After going through many, many iterations, I finally have the look I want.

Some of the conclusions I’ve come to during this learning curve: editing is crucial to the success of any motion picture project. Jump cuts, dissolves, playback rate and cropping help drive audience reaction the visual elements. Volume, cross fades and wild sounds are just as important to the audio content. This is by no means an exhaustive list but you get the idea. There is A LOT that goes into a time-lapse, especially one with a strong narrative.

As part of my post-production protocol, I’ve been partaking in webinars, reading blogs, talking to experts and experimenting based on my new knowledge and skill sets. This IMHO is what is required to deliver new and innovative content for a fast-evolving marketplace and client expectations.

Good luck and let me know if I can help you.

Thanks for reading and comments welcome.

Michael

Kwit Ur Bitchin’

As many readers know, I find value in spending time managing my presence and forum contributions on LinkedIn. The positive feedback I receive tells me that people appreciate my input. And the strategy is working. What strategy is that Mr. Stern? The strategy of building up credibility, contacts and opportunities for my photography, education, public speaking and training businesses. I’m a member of several groups, some in the photography industry and some not.

It’s amusing and annoying that so many folks start off a topic bitching about the lousy state of business today, either their own or their industries. Business is always bad and always good…for somebody. That’s the way it is now and has been since I hung out my first shingle some three decades ago. Who said it would be great? Or even good? No promises is what I remember being told. Talent was no guarantee. Business savvy was no guarantee. Doing all the right things was no guarantee. Hard work was no guarantee. Persistence was going to be really helpful however. Blend all five together and eventually success will show up. But will it stay? Again no guarantees.

My own story is that I was so caught up in becoming a successful commercial photographer that I didn’t plan or even think about managing success once it arrived. After three straight GREAT (’94-’96) years I began sliding towards lower sales, lower prices, lower profits and lower income. The slide backwards picked up speed until like the ending of Thelma and Louise, I went right off a cliff. I was overwhelmed by the wreckage…..lost business, income and confidence in that I began to feel I didn’t know what I was doing and that I didn’t belong in business as an SECP. (self-employed creative professional) I then went back to my business plan hatched in 1989…multiple income streams. Mind you I had been in business for 10 years at that point in time. And had multiple income streams set up. I didn’t tend to my business and my business died.

Multiple income streams are the hedge against business fluctuations. However you label it, it’s the same; have more than one source of revenue. Period. The concept is simple. It’s the execution that makes us nuts. And that’s where I screwed up. I forgot to listen to my mentors and I forgot about the beauty of the multiple income stream model. Getting back to success was imperative.

If all you want is to just shoot..well unless you’re supremely talented, supremely lucky and supremely positioned, you’ll need to generate multiple income streams…or do something else related to the industry to keep your name in the game.

As the title of this post says… Kwit Ur Bitchin’ and do something about your situation….PLAN!!!!! Spend time to imagine your future and the industries future and where you see yourself in that future. Think about and develop contacts throughout the industry…manufacturers, educational institutions, book publishers, bloggers and the like. Get your name out there. Become the acknowledged expert, a force to be reckoned with and sought after. There are so many opportunities today to make a name for yourself there is NO EXCUSE not to be successful. Read up on trends, practice your craft, talk to other shooters, develop a new technique, a new vision, try something you haven’t done yet. I got into blogging while writing my first book. My co-host and I have been producing a podcast for over a year. I spend time learning about the art and science of SEO.

Get nervous. Jump into the abyss. Or get eaten alive by those who are doing what needs to be done. And mind you has always needed to be done. Why am I militant? Because I’ve failed before. Three times since I started in the industry.

Several times a week I shoot (whether I’m paid or not), go to events, make contacts to meet people and exchange ideas. This informs my work and my process. Blog, teach, keep up with clients, friends and other contacts. Mind your resources (investments, cash, etc.). And plan, plan, plan. E. H. E. Endless hours of effort.

It takes consistent and persistent effort. Often it seems like WTF, it ain’t working, I’m not working, what do I do? But the multiple income stream system works if you do. Complaining is not action. No one but your mother wants to hear it. And sometimes not even her.

Plan your work and work your plan. Have faith. Put out good karma and good vibes. Put forth your best effort and you will be rewarded. The trick is you don’t know when it will break for you. Success is not on your schedule, it’s on its’ own. You do have to prepare for it, expect it and embrace it when it arrives. In whatever form it takes.

If you do as I have suggested you will become successful. And stay successful. Unless you’re that dumb. Or lazy. But if you were, you wouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place, so your good (:())

Believe and you will be. I’ve lived this credo since my college days and it has gotten me through several dark stages of my career. Look around you, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for anyone: corporations, governments or individuals. We all have our turn in the barrel. Learn how to roll with the punches, how to be your own best friend. Learn how to keep yourself out of harm’s way.

Most of all stop feeling sorry for yourself and be the provider of your own success.

Good luck to you.

Michael

Sensing Business Opportunities


One of the joys of self-employment is searching for new business. I dedicate part of each week to searching out opportunities that others miss. This is a good thing because the misses of others creates easier selling opportunities for me.

I subscribe to the LA Times. The business, sports, valley and calendar sections contain stories about persons, events and companies. Every edition. Somedays there are so many juicy opportunities, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

I’ll read a story, article or interview and inevitably some idea gets ignited: I’d like to photograph that. Or: I’d like to be the go to photographer/creative force for that company. Starting to get the idea? sometimes the opportunity just scream out at me and sometimes I have to let the story percolate for a few days. Usually something will strike me and I just go with my instincts. Which brings up the other side of this process: I have trained myself over the years to listen to that voice in my head as to whether or not something is worth pursuing. As I have really honed this over the years, I’m rarely wrong about moving forward. Sometimes I’d rather hand the actual shoot off to another photographer because it’s the smell of the hunt that really gets my blood coursing.

I’ve never counted the total number of deals I’ve negotiated over the years but I’ve just made contact with a major learning institution here in LA about producing time-lapse, virtual 360° panoramas and real-time videos for a major event happening over the summer. Read about it in the sports section, page two, a favorite haunting ground of mine.

I did an online search for a number, made a call talked to a person who redirected me to the decision-maker. This person liked my pitch and I sent some work samples and links. I received an email back indicating that my work is indeed what they’d like to have produced. I was then asked to keep in touch and as summer nears, we’ll meet to discuss further. Sweet!

That’s all I wanted for now, to see what the temperature of my idea is and their timeline for needs.

In these instances, the newspaper is like a marketing company to me in that they have pre-qualified the buyer.

Been doing it this way for years and I believe part of the success is that they don’t expect a pitch for business to come in this way. Sort of a backdoor entrance if you will.

In this day and age we have to be inventive in how we gather and qualify leads. Our careers depend on it.

Good luck!

Michael

Noisy. Dirty. Hard. Dangerous. Awesome!

I’m not talking about politics in D. C. I’m talking about construction work. Specifically the Asian Gardens do over project at The Huntington Botanical Gardens where I’ve been commissioned to produce a series of time-lapse video sequences as well as one grand movie. As I’m helping my client fulfill the mission of The Huntington: documentation, education and preservation, my work will be archived for generations to come, posted online and potentially associated with a book project. I’m blessed and the happiest I’ve been as a pro-shooter in many years. Good times right now.

Today was particularly special because it was a boyhood dream come true. The two fixed position time-lapse units were online, I shot real-time video via a dolly track system, but the pièce de résistance was my rover unit put in position to capture the planting of a 4 ton 20 foot tall tree that was excavated from one spot on the grounds and moved to its’ new home near the tea house. I used a 16mm lens so you know I was close.

The backhoe, the crane truck, the transportation vehicle, the noise, dirt and general commotion I was witness to thrilled me. I had to be present for the majority of this sequence because the danger of chains snapping, crane malfunction, damaged camera or getting hurt was real. And real close. I was accepted by the crew. We were specialists doing our jobs: crane, backhoe, foreman, photographer, landscape architect. They were there working this tree into the ground and my work will provide the historical record and context for this event.

This serves the mission of the organization and all are appreciative of the amount of effort I’ve put in and continue to put into this tremendous project. They’ve made numerous comments about what my work means to them. They have asked me to speak about my experiences as part of their docents’ training. I use this feedback to motivate myself (even more than I am) to explore new ways to capture and produce this project. They’ve acknowledged the amount of hours I’ve put in and have mentioned that I may not feel like I’m compensated enough. There’s some truth to their perception but only a little bit. I’m having a ball.

When I’m out there to set rover for the day, I get to see the sunrise in arguably the best garden spot in the US. Observing the specialists that have come here from Japan to do their thing here has been like watching a painting being made. Layer by layer. Color by color.

I am a happy man.

Michael