Saturday, January 14, 2012

2012 IAWTV Awards in Vegas (alt. title: Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner! )

If you have read any of my Dragon Age: Redemption blogs, you know that the show was a challenge, and getting to the finish line was very trying. I am so honored to be able to write this entry now knowing that the effort was worth while, and people embraced and enjoyed the work we did.

At the end of last year, I was nominated for two International Academy of Web Television Awards: Best Production Design, and Best Make-up FX for Dragon Age: Redemption. I was invited to the ceremony in Las Vegas last week, along with friends, co-workers, and fellow nominees from DA:R and The Guild.

The awards were being held during CES, the largest consumer electronics show of the year. People were traveling into Vegas from all over the world for the event, which made it even that more exciting.

Photo 1: As usual, I am in the middle of a heavy work load, so I could only afford to spend a single day in Vegas. It was unfortunate, because so many of my friends were there for the awards AND the trade show, and there were parties and events happening all week. But all was not lost, as the 24 hours I spent there were WELL packed with adventure and excitement. I know that what happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, but I don't think any mobsters will take me out if I share the experience with you...

Photo 2: I hitched a ride with Knights of Good associate Lindsey Koens. The awards didn't start until evening, but people got Lindsey paranoid that we would get stuck in massive traffic and miss the fun if we left too late, so she convinced me that we needed to leave by 6:30am! I talked her into 7:30, since I knew that it was going to be the longest day ever! Needless to say, the hour difference was irrelevant, as we arrived in Vegas around 11:30am, hours earlier than we needed to be! It was about this time we realized that our hotels wouldn't even let us check in until 2pm, so it was off to lunch!

We ate in the Venetian, at a restaurant that overlooked the canals. If you have never been to Vegas, it is both cheesy and miraculous at the same time. The above photo was taken inside the hotel. Like, literally INDOORS! Everything is a fake replica of Venice, including the sky!

Photo 3: I don't drink or gamble, so I am not drawn to the obvious appeals of Vegas. But I have to say, every time I arrive there, I am in awe of the scope and grandeur that the city provides. I know it pales in comparison to all of the real structures they are emulating, but the effort is astounding. If you want to see hints of all the wonders of the world in a single weekend, Vegas is worth the trip. Plus, they have all you can eat prime rib for $15.99!

Photo 4: I guess some of the casino bosses started to finally take note of the rising geek culture! I was surprised to see the huge quantity of genre themed slot machines as I walked across the floor to get to my room. It was like Golden Apple Comics opened a casino! I saw Star Wars, BatMan, Terminator, James Bond, everywhere I looked was one of my favorite franchises begging me to drop quarters. I might have done it, too, if the jackpot yielded Micromachines or Legos! But I needed to get dressed for the show, so I only paused long enough to take this photo for my best friend, Sheri Bryant. She is a huge Godzilla fan, and someday she needs to have this one-armed bandit in her collection!

Photo 5: Believe it or not, even with 2 nominations looming that night, the most nerve wrecking part of the whole event was getting dressed! The invitation asked for "cocktail attire", which I assumed meant a suit. I am not a suit person, but I felt the occasion commanded it. I wore a tie, which was highly uncomfortable to someone who spends every day in a Star Wars tshirt! I figured I didn't want to be too far out of character, so I accented with this T.I.E. clip. Get it!?! Cause it's a twin ion engine fighter clipped on my.... alllrighty, then.

Photo 6: Award ceremonies are funny things. When you get nominated, you're like, "That's cool." The day gets closer, and people ask you about it, and you tend to not think about it much more than that. At least I try not to. Then you arrive, and with each passing moment, as you see stars on the red carpet, and tons of news reporters and photographers, it starts to sink in. And your stomach twists into knots. The possibility of winning becomes as terrifying as the more likely reality of losing. I definitely started getting nervous.

Luckily, my wardrobe fears were put to rest when IAWTV award nominated Guild costume designer Kristen Ingram was impressed with my jacket. This photo may be the very moment she was saying it! Kristen is the best, and the costumes she created for The Guild season 5 blew me away!

Photo 7: Another comforting factor was that so many friends were there. I got to hang out and catch up with everyone as we waited in line to be interviewed on the red carpet. Technically, it was a BLUE carpet, so if I start calling it that, you will know what I mean!

Vu Bui and I reminisced about how it had only been a few short months since our last Vegas adventure, putting MineCon together. We were excited to both be wide awake this time around! Actually, Vu took all of the pictures with me in them that I am posting in this blog. Except of course, for this one, since he's in it!

Photo 8: His brother, Lan Bui, took that one! But now Vu is taking this picture since Lan is in it. And so am I. Get how this is working?

Photo 9: After the Blue carpet run, we all went inside the theater to be seated. I sat next to Felicia Day and Jeff Lewis, which was a highlight of the evening. Jeff asked me if I had an acceptance speech prepared, and, honestly, I didn't! I'm always afraid that the more I focus on winning, the more it will hurt if I lose. It's not like sports, where winning or losing is based on your performance in that moment. I put all my effort into the show back when we were filming, and what's written in that envelope is based on peoples reaction to what I did at that time, and nothing I do at this current moment can change that. Oh, I think I'm gonna puke.

Sorry, that was a tangent on what was running through my head after Jeff asked that question. Thanks, Jeff!

Photo 10: The IAWTV Awards are new, and this was the inaugural ceremony. The Chairman of the Academy took the stage to present the brand new, never before seen award. He warned us that it was extremely heavy, and should only be held by the bottom. The relevance of this was not understood until you actually attempted to hold one! Even with the warning, recipients were shocked at the weight all night as they pulled it from the podium.

He also informed us that the award currently had no name. In hopes that the IAWTV awards some day join the ranks of the Oscars, the Emmys, the Tonys, the Golden Globes, and so many other prestigious statues, he encouraged us to tweet suggestions. I'm not sure if this is still open, but if you have a good idea, send it there way!

Photo 11: The awards ceremony went very smoothly, and they kept things moving at a very fast pace. The live audience was shown an introduction video that asked winners to keep their acceptance speech as brief as possible. No one is as much of a pro as Felicia as she accepted her first award for Best Writing. She makes it look so effortless!

Photo 12: Of course, she gets a lot of practice! Here, Felicia accepts her second award, this one for best Female Performance in a Comedy Series.

Photo 13: And...her third acceptance speech. This time it was for the Guild's web design. At one point, Felicia actually got played off mid-speech! The show technicians raised the music as a cue for her to wrap it up as she thanked everyone involved, and she joked about it. She also joked that everyone was probably sick of her by the third award, but apparently, the Internet cannot get enough Felicia Day!

I am very lucky to be involved in the work of such an amazing and talented person as Felicia. I'm sure many feel that she has won so often based on popularity, but I cannot stress enough how authentic Felicia is. Her ideas have transformed the industry, her scripts are the rock solid basis for the show loved by millions, her work ethic is uncompromising, and the team she has assembled is made of the most talented, most kind hearted people I have ever worked with. When I see Felicia accepting awards, I don't view it as accolades for a single accomplishment, but rather for what she is doing for entertainment as a whole. All my life, I have dreamed of "a better way", and I feel like she is paving the road towards it.

Photo 14: Finally, the block of categories came up that included Best Production design. As they showed clips from all the nominated shows, the butterflies in my stomach got more and more chaotic. It was like the battle around the second Death Star in there. I just kept reminding myself that, win or lose, all that matters is that I was there. But then they announced Dragon Age: Redemption as the winner, and my head spun. Jeff Lewis gave me a hearty pat on the back, and Felicia gave me a big hug. As I approached the stage, the realization that I had NOT prepared any kind of a speech really hit home.

Photo 15: It's amazing how many thoughts can run through your mind in a few short seconds. it felt like I was standing in front of that podium for an eternity before I could even speak. My biggest fear was rambling and getting played off, so I made the conscious decision to keep it short. But what to say in my "short" speech!?! I had to pick through all the topics in my head, and try to link them together in a way that made sense. As I was speaking, it didn't sound very coherent to me, but I must have been on autopilot, because I was later assured that it made perfect sense!

There were so many things that I wanted to talk about. Things that made winning the awards so important to me. I wanted to talk about the hardships of trying to create what we created for the little time and money we had. I wanted to give examples of the intense commitment my crew gave to the project. I wanted to site all the times people said that what we were trying to do was "impossible", and how I felt that this award proved that wrong. But it all seemed like too many words, and things that every nominee in the theater had also experienced.

I wish I could have said something profound, but, I choked! The single most focused thought I had was how grateful I was to have this opportunity, and it made perfect sense to thank the people who gave it to me. I thanked Felicia and Kim Evey for letting me helm the project, and even more so for letting me do what pretty much freaked everyone else out: take control of multiple departments, and be responsible for almost all of the show's physical visual aspects. In essence, Kim and Felicia took the risk of putting all of their eggs into MY basket! It was a task I waited a lifetime to achieve, and I am forever in their debt for allowing me to go for it.

I thanked BioWare for giving me such amazing source material. I wanted to talk about the concept of being a designer for a project based on an franchise like Dragon Age. I've mentioned this before, that as Production Designer, my goal was more to honor the existing designs than to reinvent them. The challenge, in my mind, was that there was no flexibility. A Templar sword in the show had to look exactly like a Templar sword in the game, with no exceptions. The work they did at BioWare was so perfect, we needed to bring it to life in its perfect form. So the term design is very interpretive in this instance.

I also thanked my crew. I started naming them, but realized that the list was way too long. I also realized that thinking about all the tireless hours they put into the project to get me up on that stage was about to make me cry. I accepted the award, but the reality of it is THEY are all the winners. Be sure to see the Dragon Age: Redemption blog posts to see how much work everyone did. I wish I had taken the chance to thank Brian Kameoka, who created a network to find all the volunteers who made up the DA:R art department. So many of them had never worked on a film project before, but their passion and dedication broke all limitations of experience and helped form a team that could accomplish anything.

Photo 16: After I recieved the award (which was REALLY very heavy!!!) I exited the stage, and was taken back to the blue carpet for photos and an interview. I have to say, it felt very different to be on the carpet this time. After that, I was brought back into the theater. It was a total relief to sit down, and Felicia was smiling ear to ear, which made me very happy. But then I remembered that I had another nomination, and this time, the pressure doubled. What were the chances that I would win again? And what did that say about my skills if I didn't? Would losing validate everyone that said I shouldn't helm multiple departments? Why I'm telling you all this is beyond me, I'm just being honest. I assure you it wasn't ego whispering in my ear, it was shear terror!

Another factor that made me nervous was the other nominees, of course! There was so much talent represented at the show, and ironically, my Make-up FX nomination for DA:R was shared by one of the competeing nominees! Kim Graczyk was nominated twice in the same category: for DA:R MUFX with me, and her own nomination for The Guild Make-up. If you haven't seen the Guild season 5, check it out and pay close attention to Kim's work. Zaboo's butterfly make-up alone had me nervous that I could lose the award to my own teammate. It plays tricks on the mind!

Thankfully, Kim and I both won for DA:R, and it was very exciting to get to go back on stage. I will admit that I felt a little more relaxed this time, with anticipation removed from the equation. It also helped that my friends, Team Unicorn's Michelle Boyd and Clare Grant, looking gorgeous as ever, presented us with the award. I was still worried about the speech time allowed, so I thought it was only fair to give the stage to Kim. It was moving to see her fight back tears as she thanked everyone. I was so glad that we won together. In all honesty, I thought Kim hated me by the time we were done with DA:R! Like I said, it was a very ambitious, stressful show. But being on that stage together put everything in perspective, and made it all worth it!

I did take a moment to thank actor Doug Jones. His portrayal of the Qunari mage Saaribas really brought my make-up to life. When working on projects like DA:R, it's important to keep in mind that the FX we are creating are merely a tool, and it will always be the story and the characters that the audience connects with. The best make-up FX ever made will still not be convincing if the actor wearing it does not deliver a believable performance. I was honored and privileged to have Doug as my canvas, and I truly believe that when the Academy was voting for this make-up, it was Doug they were awarding! Thank you again, Doug Jones! You are the BEST!!!

Photo 17: The rest of the night was very exciting, now that I was on cloud 9! I was the academy's first repeat winner (Felicia's multi-wins were after, but I blogged out of order for dramatic effect. Oh, Hollywood!!!) and so many of the other winners were my dearest, closest friends. It made the night very special. And entertaining. Felicia and I noticed that Jeff Lewis had been missing from his seat since he accepted his award for Best Male Comedy Performance. He was gone way longer than everyone else had been. But then he appeared on stage to present with Taryn Southern, and hilarity ensued.

Photo 18: For me, the most moving acceptance speech of the night was by Sean Becker, for his Best Director win. Sean had been nominated twice in the same category: Best Directory for a comedy series, for both The Guild and The Jeff Lewis 5 Minute Comedy Hour. He snagged the award for The Guild, and in addition to thanking everyone involved with the project, he appealed to members of the audience, and home viewers via the live stream, to support his fellow nominees in their goal of making the internet the next evolution of entertainment. He stated that pursuing this career meant that there were endless hours, unscheduled work flow, and often little or no pay that usually put strains on relationships, family, friends, and loved ones alike. He asked for everyone's patience and understanding as we all work our way through the uncharted labyrinth that is web television, and he thanked everyone for helping him, and all of us, get this far.

Photo 19: The ceremony ended with the final block of awards, Best Drama and Best Comedy series on the web. It was not a surprise to me that The Guild won, but it WAS very surprising that my hand was grabbed and I was whisked up on the stage to join in on accepting the award. Kim and Felicia thanked as many people as possible for their help in keeping The Guild going, and there are SOOOOO many of them. Felicia always says that internet entertainment is like a family, and we need to stick together and support each other. Standing up on that stage, it did indeed feel like family.

Photo 20: Another big win for The Knights of Good was Shawna Trpcic's Best Costume Design for Dragon Age: Redemption. Shawna is awesome, and I can't wait to work with her again!

Photo 21: The best part of the night was getting to celebrate with my favorite people in the whole world. There is no greater reward that having friends believe in you, and I am glad that their trust in me paid off!

Photo 22: I cannot express the awe and respect I have for these guys. I hope they know that I will always be willing to help out with anything they do, as their vision and style make very thing we do together a joy. There was no doubt that they deserve these awards, and the fact that they BOTH were nominated twice in their respective categories says a lot about their influence on the internet.

Photo 23: Think of any names for the award yet? Here's a closer look at mine and Shawna's design awards. Collectively, Team Knights of Good won 8 out of 13 category nominations, and Jeff Lewis's adds a 9th. Sean Becker joked that we should connect all our awards to build a Fortress of Solitude!

Photo 24: After the ceremony, there was a cocktail party in the adjacent ball room. We all socialized and networked for a while, but then people split up into multiple dinner parties. I went to a fancy dinner with Vu and Lan Bui at some restaurant that had Ferraris and Lamborghinis in it! Then I met up with Kim, Felicia, Brian, and the gang at Wolfgang Pucks in the Venetian Hotel. Later, a smaller group of us broke off to go to the club Tao. I joined Sean, Becca, Lan, Kristin, and pictured, Michelle, Clare, and yes, that is super agent George Ruiz photo bombing in the background. George represents the winners of 12 IAWTV awards!

Photo 25: The club was packed! Even for a Thursday night! It was huge and glamorous, like all things Las Vegas. They told me I couldn't wear my Knights of Good baseball cap. But apparently you could wear a fedora. The reason? Baseball caps are gang related! But smooth criminals are ok?

Photo 26: We made our way to the dance floor, which was shoulder to shoulder. It was fun for a while, but keep in mind that I had my 20 pound award with me the entire time!!! I wasn't trying to be a show-off, I just really had no place to put it! After toting it around for 6 hours, I could barely feel my arms!!!

Photo 27: Sean tweeted this photo with the caption, "Tonite on OUT OF OUR ELEMENT!" No truer words, my friend! And yes, that is again super agent George Ruiz photo bombing.

Photo 28: After a few hours of elbows to the spine, we decided to call it a night. Apparently we closed the place down, as the hotel was pretty empty on the walk out. With the amazing architecture uncrowded, it was much more obvious that Michelle was almost as tall as the columns! All in all, it was the perfect night. The biggest downside was everyone who WASN"T there! Sandeep Parikh, Amy Okuda, Robin Thorsen, Vince Caso, Rileah Vanderbilt, and Milynn Sarley were seriously missed throughout the event.

Photo 29: I woke up in the morning, and would have thought the whole thing was a dream if it wasn't for the award sitting on my nightstand. It felt good to put on a Marvel tshirt and just be my normal self again as I packed everything up to head back to LA. The celebration was over, and it was time to get back to work. I was sad to have to say goodbye so soon...

Photo 30: But I think we left off on a pretty good note. Congratulations to all of my fellow Knights of Good, The Guild, Dragon Age: Redemption and IAWTV award winners and nominees. And thank you for an amazing night.

The first thing I did when I got back to LA was make space for my awards on the mantle of the fireplace in my display room. Standing back to view them, it became strikingly clear that said mantle was packed to the hilt with props and mementos from ONLY internet shows I have worked on. This shrine includes The Guild, Legend of Neil, Dragon Age: Redemption, and other web based trophies. Traditionally, the house mantle is home to the most treasured of showpieces. It was interesting to me that these props have found their way there over ones I have created for such Hollywood staples as Terminator 2 or Jurassic Park: Lost World. I think it is because, as hugely successful as the blockbuster movies are, I have found my participation in these interweb shows, to me, the most satisfying experiences of my career. I think this is because the web offers a direct conduit from us to you. It is pure. And it is ours.

Duh. I probably should have said that while I was at the podium!


  1. What an awesome day! Thanks for taking the time to tell such a wonderful story, even if it is true.

  2. Congrats on the well deserved awards! Thanks for sharing your pics and experiences. Looks like a great time.

  3. Congratulations on your newly acquired, heavy duty paper weights! ;-) I assume there's no chocolate inside, though it doesn't look like your day in Sin City could have been any better! Thanks for sharing your adventure!

  4. Congratulations on your hard work! Would love to contact you regarding a chance to do an interview for an elementary school regarding your work as an artist/writer.


    C Rapinchuk

    1. I would love to talk to your students! Just submit a comment with your contact information. I won't publish it, I'll just get back to you and we can set up a time to discuss art careers. I actually decided this is what I wanted to do when I was IN elementary school!