Sometime in the summer of 1989 I was contacted by W. David Howser, the Art Director from Popular Science magazine. He wanted me to make a 3D illustration for the magazine. I was very excited to have the chance to work with them. They were writing an article about computer viruses, one of the first major pieces about them. (To give you some perspective, the article mentions Internet (not the internet, just Internet) long before anyone but scientists were using it and Mark Zuckerberg was about 5 years old at this time.) I was told they wanted a sick computer character model to illustrate the article. You can see the full issue on Google Books.
I did some sketches and brought them to their offices on Park Avenue in Manhattan. At the meeting I met John B. Carnett, their staff photographer who would be shooting the model I would be building. We discussed how big it should be and how it would be photographed.
The illustration would be an interior spread. They really liked my sketches and gave me the go-ahead to build the model. I went down to Canal Street to buy some stuff to build the computer. I went to Canal Plastics (still there), Industrial Plastics (long gone) and Pearl Paint (sadly, also gone). I bought all kinds of acrylic containers, acrylic tubes, balsa wood and other stuff. The top of the computer is a container. I found a plastic photo frame that fit over it for the part surrounding the screen. I sculpted the face in Super Sculpy and used an acrylic tube for the thermometer. I made the bed from foamcore, balsa wood and various fabrics.
After a week or so they called and said they would like to hold the article for the next issue and use the illustration for the cover so the model would have to be able to be shot in both horizontal and vertical format. Once the model was finished I brought it into their offices to have John shoot it. John told me stories of diving in tanks at NASA with astronauts and shooting all kinds of cool stuff on locations around the world.
I was very proud when the magazine came out. I had the computer guy on display in my apartment in Brooklyn for a couple of years afterwards. Unfortunately, instead of succumbing to a virus he was knocked off his shelf by one of our cats and smashed into many pieces. I put all his broken parts into a box and put him away to be repaired some day.
The box was packed up with all of my stuff a few years later when we moved to England. The box was then shipped back to the States when we moved back 5 years later. It sat in a basement in New Jersey, then in an attic in Maryland until I got a storage unit a decade ago. Then it spent a number of years there.
Earlier this year, when Covid 19 struck, I found myself traveling less and having some free time on my hands. I’ve written about building a new Penny Doll prototype, restoring the animation models of the lips from Peter Gabriel’s BIG TIME music video and cataloging my designs and sculpts of Mini-Boglins toys for this blog. I decided my next project would be to fix the computer virus guy.
Looking closely at the box I realized it had come from the Park Slope Food Coop, a place I have not visited in 30 years. I pulled out all the pieces to figure out what needed repairs and what needed replacing. When I had bought the original plastic pieces on Canal Street I had bought extras of some of them. The face, frame and top of the computer were intact. The keyboard which I had made with a small container and some acrylic cubes was also fine. The middle section was smashed but I had a second one. The square base of the computer was also smashed but I did not have another.
I measured what was left and made a new wood base, covered it in wood filler and sanded it smooth. I knew I would have to repaint everything and tried to find a grey as close to the original as I could (I can be a bit anal-retentive at times but I decided to settle for close and not exact).
After painting I started putting the pieces back together. I glued the frame over the face and glued the center circle and the base together. I also glued the arms and hot water bottle back in place.
I had two big challenges trying to rebuild the model as close as I could. The first was the thermometer which had shattered into 4 parts. The original was a clear acrylic tube with a clear ball glued to the end. I had pushed clay into two thirds of the length of it to give the computer a high temperature. I needed about a 5 inch piece but I do not have a local plastics store and travel was not available to me. After trying a few online sources I discovered that Canal Plastics was still around and I could buy the right diameter tube. The only problem was that their minimum length for shipping was 6 feet. I bought it, so now I have an extra 5 and a half feet if anyone needs it.
The second issue was the fabric. The original bed was a foamcore box with fabric wrapped around it. I had made a pillowcase of the same fabric to put over the sculpted pillow. I no longer had the mattress with the fabric on it. I searched for a long time for a perfect match to the more than 30 year old pillowcase. I decided to settle for capturing the sprit of the original and find something that worked. I also had to replace the blanket as it had gotten stained in the box over time. The blanket is a piece of fleece with a length of ribbon heat-sealed to the edge.
So here is the final restored model. One of the last things I had to figure out was the orange juice in the glass in his hand. For the actual photo shoot I used an eye dropper and put actual orange juice into the glass. It’s actually the top of a small spray bottle. I wanted a more permanent solution so I played around with stuff I had on hand or could easily get. I tried clear epoxy resin with oil paint mixed in but it dis-colored in the heat of curing. I had two other possible solutions. I bought clear school glue and mixed that with acrylic paint and I also bought some orange scented wax which I could melt and pour in. The glue test worked so I used that method.
So here he will stay in my office, I moved my printer to the other side of the room so he will be visible when I do virtual school visits or Facebook live events. Now the only thing I need to do is keep my current cats from knocking him off of his shelf.