Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Artist Interview: AZRAEL PAUL DAMIEN by Dave Wolff


When I interviewed you for Autoeroticasphyxium issue #20 you were involved in some writing projects. Recall some of them and explain why you went from writing to computer artwork.
I just felt the call to a new medium of expression, writing just didn't give the utter sense of fulfillment that I got when I continued to write. I love CGI because it gives me a chance to see with my own eyes what was once veiled in the clouds of my imagination. Beforehand I wrote the short story Mr. Tinkerton and the published novel Convict Grade. I started to feel unsatisfied by my work and wished for something more visceral so I started making little Youtube videos and one day inspiration hit me that it would look better with CGI. Thus started my new mission to learn all I could about the medium and try to craft out images that people might want to see.

When your interview was published, did anyone discover you by reading it?
I am not sure, I certainly got more friend requests and more interest in what I was doing but as far as solid sales I never really kept track of them.

How much of a response had Convict Grade gotten after you published it? Were you getting a lot of orders for it or was it the lack of a response that made you want to pursue other interests?
Convict Grade started off strong but after the book tour I didn't feel like publishing the second (Tears Of The Fallen was written but never published). I am kind of a Renaissance man; once I feel reasonably accomplished in one area I move on to the next thing that catches my interest. I still get royalties from Amazon so I would assume it is still selling somewhat. I love my readers but I just can’t toss out crap for the almighty dollar. I would rather release a work of passion and interest or not release it.

Did you receive feedback for Convict Grade? Would you release a revised version of Tears Of The Fallen if you had a chance to? How much  do you think you would have to revise?
In fact annoyingly so. My Canadian fans are my best and most loyal I must say. One day I will release the second book though probably only on Kindle. When I do finally release Tears I hope to revise it quite a lot. I was in a pretty dark place when I wrote it and quite frankly tortured my poor characters. Going back I would ease up quite a lot on Tigg; he got it pretty good (laughs). I think the base story would remain the same but I wasn't a fan of my own writing style. It felt needlessly heartless to the plight of my characters.

What was your short story Mr. Tinkerton about? Was this story published in print or on the net?
Mr.Tinkerton was a short story printed in Arcanum Axiom magazine (I think). I haven't heard much on Arcanum Axiom since I dropped off the scene. Mr. Tinkerton was about a handicapped kid at school who was bullied and disliked with a harelip. A series of mysterious murders involving a cannibalistic clown named Mr. Tinkerton began to occur in his high school. A frightened cheerleader took up his friendship for strength in numbers. The ending had her hiding out in a hotel room with him as the killer was apprehended. The twist ending was when the handicapped kid pulled out his false teeth revealing shark type teeth, wiping off his makeup he revealed himself to be a demon with clown-like face, It ended with the line "The real question is, can you say Mr. Tinkerton?" and the laughter echoed into the night.

Had you been writing a lot of short stories around the time you penned Mr. Tinkerton and your published novels?
When I wrote Mr. Tinkerton I was actually in writer’s block hell, so I started writing some short stories just to get the process moving again. I just needed to take a step outside of the characters to get a fresh feel for the second novel. Sad to say it didn't work but that's how it goes I guess. In that time I had some great short stories about demons that grow inside your head slowly driving you mad until they "hatch". The idea was just that maybe a tumor and insanity is more than science will allow us to believe.

That story about demons growing inside your head, what was the title and storyline?
The story was called "Why Do The Voices Call?" It was about a guy who was hearing voices being told by one "expert" after another that it was, this mental condition or that. Eventually the demon began to grow and cat scans showed it to be a tumor of unknown origin. As the story closed out we find out that not only was he possessed but it was growing like a baby in a womb waiting to be born. I won’t spoil the end in case one day I send it to you for your readers.

Have you been thinking up any ideas for new fiction pieces of late?
All of my artwork is fiction as are my videos, but yes I have. I have actually been considering a CG graphic novel type deal, done by many different artists though the idea is still very much in the concept phase.

Where did you seek information about CGI upon deciding to do computer graphic art? Which of the sources you looked for turned out to be the most helpful?
My brother works for a company called DAZ studios. He was showing everybody what CGI was all about I was terribly fascinated by what I saw. It had a rather steep learning curve but I was addicted right out of the gate. I found that I could make things that I had only dreamed about: faeries, vampires, out of this world stuff. I mean you are really limited only by your imagination. I personally like the animation aspect the most. But a good still is also rewarding. I just want to make something that makes people step back and go ‘wow this can be done on a 20 dollar budget that is amazing!’ (The actual budget of my Youtube show is about 20 dollars an episode). If I were to suggest a good place to start it would be DAZ. It’s free and takes about ten minutes to learn but impossible to master as the world of CGI is ever evolving. For example my meridian dance video The Way Things Stay is now obsolete. I have learned so much since then I am like ‘wow Meridian looked like shit back then’. This stuff isn't cheap; it requires wicked hardware if you want to get anything animated. I had have a system built specifically for this, and I am upgrading to a second tower that is solely for rendering!

What hardware are you working with at present, and how well is it doing the job for you? What hardware do you want to work with as your show progresses?
I am running currently an MSI motherboard with an AMD black CPU and 2 GeForce 970 NVidia cards and 32 gigs of ddr3 ripjaw ram. I had it built specifically to use the after effects software before I realized I would eventually venture into CGI territory. I would like to get duel NVidia Gforce 970's.

You told me you recently figured out how to work with green screen effects. What materials do you use for green screen effects and how has that been working out?
For green screen I currently use a ten by twenty muslin screen (x3) and I have found them to be really fun. It’s like being able to put yourself anywhere at any time period. I live in the middle of nowhere and have very limited access to filming locations so I create CGI backgrounds (I used to use photos) and just put us wherever we want to be. Every single one of our episodes were filmed almost entirely in a little 20 by 20 space. The only exception is the Halloween episode which was filmed in my house.

Describe your video The Way Things Stay and explain how much your work had developed up to then?
The video is based on the theme song for our show "Zep and Zen". It was written by a talented man named M.B. Jones, a math teacher most of the time. I got to listening to it one day and thought ‘this is a really danceable toon, but I can’t dance for shit’ (as evidenced by our previous video for Footloose) so I thought maybe I can make Meridian dance. Through much trial and error I learned to use an app within DAZ called Puppeteer to make her move. It was a very tedious project and failed many times before I finally "struck gold" and even now I hate the way her fingers curl back. It’s always a learning process. My current project "The Souls Of The Star Tear" is a piano derivation played by Zep of the song "Star Tear" combined with another song I can’t remember off the top of my head. It will be the most difficult animation piece I have done to date involving ballet dancing, moon faeries, waltzing ghosts, an airship flying through space and a woman swinging from the crescent moon. The second of my current projects is a commissioned animation piece for Moonda Tee for her song Lulla-Bye, a darker piece featuring a vampiress dancing; a combination of mixed martial arts and a sexy type dance. Both of these are pretty heavy projects and with any luck my best projects to date. My goal on Youtube and when working with clients is to try to create something that no one has seen before on a shoe string budget (here is the concept for the Lulla-Bye character).

Internet TV has been gaining popularity over the last five years or so, as more people are developing their own independent channels where they have complete creative control of their work. Do you see this continuing in the years to come?
I think that as far as Youtube goes at least, something has to give. The term fair use is being thrown around a lot with regards to review shows and comedies using copyrighted material. Well as you can imagine Hollywood is getting quite upset with the whole situation. Even moderately large channels like Channel Awesome are feeling the pain of this. A brief explanation of fair use is: “a legal doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. It is one type of limitation and exception to the exclusive rights copyright law grants to the author of a creative work. Examples of fair use in United States copyright law include commentary, search engines, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. It provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test.” A perfect example of this is how I just ripped off that definition from Wikipedia (ironic grin). The point of it is that these reviews and such that we enjoy every day are in danger of being destroyed by Hollywood because they aren't making their cut. The last people on earth who want Youtube to replace cable TV are the overpaid content producers of the major networks and Hollywood. there is currently a battle going on with Youtube’s content ID system (the computerized system used to root out copyrighted material and ban the videos) called #WTFU (I know what you’re probably thinking but it stands for “where’s the fair use”) where content creators (people like me) are battling for our basic entertainment right to parody things. So the outcome of all these fair use battles will really determine the outcome of future entertainment. So if you want to get involved in protecting our rights to entertain you check out #WTFU.

It seems odd the sites being targeted are fan run, especially those that post movie reviews. It’s as if the majors don’t want fans to base their opinions on fan reviews. Do you think the majors feel threatened?
It’s like with independent film, we will use the 90's live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as an example of this, No one wanted to fund the movie; they believed it would flop so the movie was made independently. AFTER Hollywood saw its appeal they swooped in, purchased it, slapped their logos on it and made it their own. With Youtube sometimes, the reviews such as those from the Nostalgia Critic are better than the movie it’s mocking. So the question becomes why see this Hollywood bowel movement after the critic said it sucked? The answer that Hollywood can’t seem to grasp is because we want to see for ourselves how bad it is. It’s like when your friend is like "this smells horrible" you owe him a "courtesy sniff" so when these critics pan the movie we owe them a "courtesy sniff" so we too can say it was awful. If Hollywood can’t take its share or feels like a kid bullied on the playground they fight back and in the case of the turtles, became the bullies.

If Hollywood is that confident, they shouldn’t worry about taking it on the chin from a smaller independent channel. But it seems that Hollywood wants everyone to be unanimous about their movies.
The problem is that independent artists are more of a threat now than they ever were. Why go to a theatre and get shot when I can watch it at home on my 72 inch plasma, and why waste two hours of my time when a review is only twenty minutes and condenses the whole overbloated feature into an easily palatable soundbyte; there is some truth in that. But the paranoia that that will become the norm is ridiculous. To know where you are going you must first know where you started from. The mass word of mouth has always been Hollywood’s biggest promoter, but now that they are simply two-hour long commercials for products as opposed to well thought out fiction. They try to hide the opinions of reviews and only bring to light the positive influence of sheep.

Kevin Smith had a successful film career beginning with Clerks and now does his own podcast (Smodcast) which he promotes independently. So far he hasn’t come under fire. Do independent talk shows pose an equal threat?
I have seen Kevin’s show. The more stars that move to this format, the more challenge they pose to mainstream media. I really do think it will impact television to the point where something has to give. TV is like 100 bucks a month and Youtube is free; the math doesn't lie

Besides Channel Awesome and Nostalgia Critic, are there any other review channels you would recommend?
You can’t go wrong with Cinema Sins, and as far as gaming goes Angry Video Game Nerd. I actually really love the AVGN movie and The Christmas special where he spoofs the Grinch. The song kills me How The Nerd Stole Christmas - Angry Video Game Nerd - Episode 97. And Cinema Sins’ Everything Wrong With Transformers: Age of Extinction Part 1.

Do you post any movie reviews at your Youtube profile? What new movies would you most like to review?
Due to the whole copyright fiasco going on on Youtube today we try to steer clear of reviewing anything except maybe retro gaming.

How long has the Zep And Zen Show been active and where on the internet can it be viewed? Present some information about the concept of this show?
The Zep And Zen Show was kind of a brainchild of me and John Jones (sounds like a fake name but isn't) I watched a lot of Youtube and decided that it would be cool to go inside a movie. After much talking I thought of the idea of using a time machine. Ultimately John decided it should be a Tardis. To avoid copyright infringement we called it the "Re-Tardis". The next question was material. First the concept was comparing new to old, but companies get butthurt over copyright so we decided on parody. Horror movies lend themselves well to this genre so they are naturally the ones we do the most. One day we realized there were not enough actors to effectively do the storyline since there was only me, our props guy Dave Farrell and John, so I got this brilliant Idea to do CGI. The problem was I had to learn to do it. Before Meridians debut I had ONE WEEK to learn it! Now we continue to do parodies as well as music videos, and a new show coming soon called Brain Fluff. It’s a fact based show about whatever facts I feel like talking about, with my cohost the CGI character Meridian. We also do a gaming segment called Get Your Game On where we play old retro games. The last one was Friday The 13th on the NES. Even though I tried to leave horror, for some reason everything is still horror themed.

Tell the readers some more about your Friday The 13th episode? How many episodes of the show have you made altogether?
The Friday the 13th episode (laughs) is the one where you get to see me drink my own pee laced with ketamine... that was one of my absolute favorites to make. That episode was where Meridian (our CGI girl) really came into her own. The idea kind of came to me one day when I was watching Freddy vs Jason. I thought wow what would I Zen do if he were in that situation... short answer... use his inferior intellect to get through it. Essentially all of the Zep and Zen episodes are interconnected going all the way back to Footloose. We have six episodes of Zep and Zen, two episodes of Get Your Game On and one episode of the offbeat shows like the music videos. Sadly due to medical issues I am late in starting this season of the show but we are working on Star Wars. The Friday episode allowed me a lot more leeway in what I could do with my limited knowledge of producing a show. I tried new techniques that worked out pretty well considering our budget. Short catch up Zen is a reject from the 80's that was quickly approaching the end of an era and just didn't fit in with the world anymore. So one night while drinking outside of a gas station he is abducted by the mysterious Dr. what and taken away in the Retardis time machine. Something goes wrong and he ends up in 2015 where he meets Zep, a broken corporate cog who no longer sees the humor in life. Zep ends up stuck with what and Zep as they travel through movies just trying to find a place where they really fit in.

What ideas do you have for the Star Wars episode of your show? When it comes to Star Wars, do you prefer the first trilogy or the prequels? What are your thoughts on the new movie?
The Star Wars episode will start with the original film "A New Hope" and it will chronicle Zep and Zen bumbling through becoming Jedis with Luke Skywalker. Whether we will do all the films comes down to the popularity of the episode. I actually really liked the new Star Wars but the way she was just a Jedi with zero training was a bit annoying, but l prefer the originals by far.

Describe what your Halloween episode was like. Anything particularly outlandish you devised for that episode?
The Halloween episode was amazing to film, it was the first introduction of CGI into our show. I had finally figured out how to add Meridian into real life without a background so it was really the first time we were "in the same room" as the Meridian character. it was challenging because this was before we were used to working with someone who wasn't there so many times I'm looking in the wrong place for her and her perspective was off so she looked two-dimensional. Another funny part was when I was running down the stairs and hit the wall I had actually overshot the bottom stair the first time we filmed it to hilarious result. One problem... the cameraman burst out laughing so I had to do it again and again I was so sore by the end of it. I also came up with the Meridian system on the spot. I thought she was kind of evil to Zen so I wanted the system to have a name that reflected that so we came up with P.M.S. or Portable Meridian Service.

Do you have episodes posted that are based on other holidays? If not, which holiday do you plan to cover next?
We actually thought of doing our own original Christmas special musical. We try to hit most of the holidays. We missed Christmas and New Year’s due to illness but we will have something up for Easter.

How actively have you been promoting the Zep and Zen show on social media sites?
We haven't really done any promotion since I have been recovering from surgery and I still have one more on my jaw but we are making our triumphant return this month sometime. To tell you the truth I could really use some help in learning how to promote the book if I had a marketing team, Zep and Zen has just me and I suck rocks at promoting my own stuff.

I noticed the Zep And Zen Show can be viewed at Youtube; is it available for viewing at other video sites? How many hits has it gotten at Youtube and what do you think you could do to promote it more widely?
The show is currently only on Youtube though we are considering our own website in the future. We are currently at 48 subscribers but hope to see that number grow as our videos do the same. The one thing I would say to our subscribers if they are reading this, is thank you, from the bottom of my weasely black heart I thank you. We love to entertain and we hope that we can continue to do so for many seasons. Right now I am in the middle of a series of dental surgeries so bear with us as talking in front of a camera is a little rough on me at the moment. By the way I play Zen.

Are you considering working with a live actress for the Meridian character?
Meridian is actually voiced by me with several voice filters... what happened was, we couldn't find an actress that was willing to work for free in our area so I had the brilliant CGI idea but then one practical problem arose.... no voice! I recorded myself saying her lines and played around with all the settings in Adobe Audition pro, until it sounded distinctly female. Once I had the female sound I talked with a bit of a drawl and Meridian was born... sorry guys she isn't real!

You have said Meridian was also partly based on the character of Number Six from Battlestar Galactica. Why did you choose this character?
I must say I have always had a thing for Tricia Helfer but beyond just that I also thought if I was going to use a cyber character why not a beautiful woman like Caprica 6 the Cylon? So the more I shaped her the more I thought of Tricia Helfer including one that looked like her to the point of copyright infringement so I had to dial it back. When Meridian returns the resemblance will be more than passing as I have just upgraded my system today. (I got the GTX 970 cards x2) so rendering a better looking image should be easier.

Tell the readers some more about the character of Lulla-Bye and the other characters featured on the show?
For Moonda’s Lulla-Bye she wanted a character that resembled her so I developed a vampire gamer type girl that somehow evolved into a vampyress. She is one of my favorite creations honestly, and as far as the show goes we have only one main recurring CGI character. Meridian is a Genesis 2 female, with various clothing options. Moonda the CGI is a Genesis 3 female with various head and body morphs applied to make her look more like her real life counterpart. Making the characters unique has become the norm for me and I try to keep them looking special and unique for every CGI model.

Are there any new characters you are developing as regulars on the show? How often do you consider new ideas in that department?
We are ALWAYS open for new ideas and characters as well as collaborations. It’s just kind of a process really. If I happen to create a character I really like in CG they will probably end up staying with the show. As far as human actors go it’s not likely that we will hire anyone new because humans tend to want more than they have earned. Youtube especially makes for some prima donnas. I think it’s something about seeing yourself on TV that does it to people.

Do you eventually plan to build an official website for the Zep and Zen show? If you decided to build an official site, what software would you want to use and what would you post there for people to view?
I know nothing of how to build a website I hope to build one sometime this year I am not sure how though. I suppose in the end I will just hire someone to do it. But I would love to have a "marketplace" for my work I would like to start selling custom jobs as well as prints of my currently completed work. Right now if someone would like to purchase a CGI still using their features, an animation for a video, or any other custom job using CGI I can be reached at my Facebook page. We are always open for new jobs and yes I am willing to create nudes (first question everyone asks) but they are a little more expensive. A matted signed print of my already completed work is 15$. A custom job is 30 to 200$ depending on size content and difficulty. I can go all the way up to poster sized. And animations range from 50$ to 1500$ depending again on content and difficulty.

You are currently doing some graphic work from contacts you met through social media. Do you want to discuss these?
I can’t say the clients’ names at will but I can discuss the projects. I have two music videos on the horizon a few fliers and what not and we do work on custom jobs on request. I believe we already covered pricing so Ill detail the things for sale any of the photos of my work can be purchased in an eight-by-ten glossy for twenty bucks or two for thirty. Custom is of course more money but you get exactly what you want!

What other new ideas are you thinking up for the Zep and Zen show and how do you expect them to come to fruition? Would you like to see the show aired on cable access TV or cable TV in the future?
Zep and Zen have many more adventures planed for them including a trip to Hoggy Woggy Hogwarts and many more.

Azrael Paul Damien on Facebook

-Dave Wolff

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