December 6, 2009

Creations to Make You Go ‘Ooh, Neat’!

An interview with plush toy and yummy bento maker, AnnaTheRed

Part 1 of 2 (Link to Part 2)
Click any picture to enlarge to original size

Unlike many of the interviews we’ve featured here at Homeland Insecurity – uh, we mean – Ziggy Nixon, today’s feature is not going to include a great amount of details about the private life and/or adventures of our featured artist, ‘Anna The Red’ or as she writes it, in line with her web-site or on-line warrior ID:
AnnaTheRed. This is simply because Ms. TheRed prefers her animalous... her amoebadiversi... her ayenonnynonny... her privacy. Instead, what we will feature today are just some really cool and fun creations that Anna has been producing over the past few years, including in Part 2 of the interview so ‘How To’ bits she recently posted. And if in the process you find yourself saying ‘ooh, neat’, well, then as they say, her work here is done.

What we have managed to gather about Anna comes in large part from her own, really-fun-to-explore personal blog: she was born in Japan and moved to the United States in 1994. Since then, she has been living and/or moving around in the state of New York, including for her art school education (more later). Like oh-so-many of her fellow classmates, she finds herself these days working in a non-art related job. But perhaps unlike oh-so-many people these days, she really enjoys what she does. However, at first glance, you may not guess correctly what it is that a full-time GM for an on-line card game called
Alteil does. Again, more later to these mysteries.

In her free time, she loves creating stuff with her hands, enjoying such cool craft-oriented hobbies as sewing, cooking, and drawing. Perhaps you’ve seen Anna’s works as she has made, quote, tons of plush toys, which she usually anyway just gives away as gifts or other little memento’s. Still, her most recent claim to fame has arisen from her new-found love for making bentos, meaning ‘lunchbox’ in Japanese, noting that apparently in the land of the Rising Son, lots of moms wake up early to make bento for their kids and their husbands. Quite often, these lunchbox treats are made to look like cute animals or characters from anime shows, so that their kids or marital units will enjoy eating healthy food. Such bento are also called either
kyaraben or charaben (character bento). Several of Anna’s creations have either found their way onto Flickr or again are presented for all to enjoy on her blog, duly noting both creation and consumption dates!

So do enjoy getting to know the fun stuff that AnnaTheRed fills her time with, and remember: every single reference, picture, character and most likely even word of this interview is copyrighted by someone else, and should in no way be used otherwise for your own financial gain! Including that. And that, too.

Ziggy Nixon: Hi Anna. I’m curious as well where your alias middle and last name’s came from, namely, ‘The’ and ‘Red’? Call me crazy (go ahead, I’ll wait) but I don’t usually associate anyone of Japanese heritage with monikers along the lines of ‘The Red’ (axe-wielding, grog-drinking Viking invaders, yes, but not anyone who is pictured on-line standing with a large pink bunny, no)?

AnnaTheRed: I have a full-time job as a translator/creative producer at my company, and I just want to keep my professional and creative side separate. Besides, the Internet is a scary place...

As for the origin of the name ... well, let's just say it's got something to do with

Ziggy Nixon: Can you share a little more about your studies in New York?
AnnaTheRed: I studied Fine Arts / Sculpture at the
School of Visual Arts in New York City, majoring in sculpture and video installation. I love NYC, and I picked SVA because it was simply cheaper than other art schools for Fine Arts.

Ziggy Nixon: Granted you’ve stated that you did not wind up in an ‘art-related’ job, but with your work with ‘bento’ – which I’ll use for the sake of brevity to encompass both ‘kyaraben’ or ‘charaben’ in this set of questions – and also plush toys, do you not (still) consider yourself a ‘designer’ or ‘artist’ in some / many ways?
AnnaTheRed: I don't consider myself an artist. I'm just crafty. But, I also consider myself to be very lazy.

You see, I don’t think I'm very good at creating something original, but I'm good at making stuff based on something. This is probably because I went to an art academy in Japan – which was a school where you studied very hard for your entrance exams for college – and all I did there was to draw Greek busts and still-life’s all day long, 5 days a week for a year and a half.

Ziggy Nixon: How has then your background-slash-education in sculpture and video installation influenced your various hobbies and / or day job?
AnnaTheRed: I loved art school, but I realized that I was more crafty than artsy. I always preferred something that actually had a shape rather than paintings. I like figuring out how the shape is formed.

That's why most of my bento is 3D and not 2D. I also made video installations but I don't do any video editing anymore now. At the art school, I had to use Final Cut Pro on Mac (I'm a PC person) and when I applied for the job at my current company, they needed someone who knew a little bit of Japanese and Final Cut Pro. So you can say that my video installation experience helped me get a job.

Ziggy Nixon: Also, ‘sculpture and video installation’ – that’s an interesting pair of study areas to be sure. How did you come to go in this direction(s)?
AnnaTheRed: As I mentioned before, I like making something that has a shape and figuring out how the shape is formed.

Still, I started doing video installation because I just couldn't afford the materials to make sculptures. I was very broke when I was in school and was living off the money my parents sent me. However, since I was a foreign student, I wasn't legally allowed to have a job off campus. I thought I'd rather spend the time on actually making stuff than working at a library or cafeteria. So I used to use most of my food money to buy materials.

But one day, I learned that the sculpture studio had a projector. I thought it'd be cheaper to make a video and project it onto something or perform in the video. This wound up being really fortunate for me, because performance was accepted in my sculpture major. It turned out I was pretty good with video installations.
So, my friend at school and I started a video club in SVA, and the school started putting more money into video equipment in the sculpture studio. My works at the senior year open studio were both video installations.

Ziggy Nixon: How did you get started making ‘bento’s’?
AnnaTheRed: One day I made a chicken made out of a hard boiled egg, and octopus made out of a sausage, and put them in my boyfriend's lunch box. He went "awwwwww" when he saw it, and that's how it started.

Ziggy Nixon: Has this ever had a commercial side to it for you?
AnnaTheRed: I've never made bentos for sale. I’m not saying that I won’t ever do it, though.

Ziggy Nixon: Making sculptures which are then to be eaten seems to lack a sense of permanence that most sculptors seek. Is there anyway that you could, I don’t know, preserve them for posterity? Freeze them in Transparent Carbonite maybe?
AnnaTheRed: NEVER. Food is meant to be eaten! And I don't like wasting food.

Ziggy Nixon: Why do you focus so much on anime or science fiction themes?
AnnaTheRed: Because that's what my boyfriend likes. Fortunately, I like them as well and it makes it easier for me to make them.

Ziggy Nixon: Is that similar as well in Japan or what would be the main themes in use there?
AnnaTheRed: I'm sure everyone in Japan loves
Totoro, and it's used very often in bento.

But my other bento that are based on games which are rated for mature audiences including BioShock, Half-Life, Portal, etc. ... are definitely not the popular themes in Japan.

Since kyaraben (bento with characters like my bento) is usually intended more for kindergarten aged children, then characters from
Pokemon, Disney, and Kamen Rider seem to be much more popular.

Ziggy Nixon: I don’t want to stay too serious about the topic for too long – it just seems to be so fun is why – but how focused are you on the overall nutrition of the lunch set-ups?
AnnaTheRed: Nutrition is probably the most important thing for the bento I make. Bento is all about nutrition and portion.

I always try to put the right amount of rice, veggies, meat or fish in the bentos I make for my boyfriend.

Ziggy Nixon: What about publishing your work into a book? Has this avenue opened itself up to you yet?
AnnaTheRed: Yes it has, in fact, I’ve received several offers. But it seems like the publishers and/or editors in the United States have no clue when it comes to publishing, quote, a ‘book of creations based on copyright protected characters.’

You see, I work for a company which deals with licensing Japanese anime. So I'm very, very aware of the consequences of making profits off from copyright characters without any permission from the original creator of the character or the copyright holder. In the case of getting asked to make a book, I always ask the publishers what they will do about the copyright. However, they usually say ‘It should be fine’ ... and that's not good enough for me.

If you look at Japanese kyaraben books (not bento books), they always have copyright information below the pictures. Some say it's probably a different case in the U.S.; but the last thing I want to do is to tick off
Miyazaki with my bento. If I ever do publish a book I want the publishers/editors to be 200% sure about the copyright.

Ziggy Nixon: Whereas the bento boxes seem to gain the most publicity, I am absolutely enthralled with your fantastic plush characters! How did these come about?
AnnaTheRed: My mom used to collect teddy bears, so I used to make them for her. One time I made the character my friend liked for her as a Christmas present. She really loved it, and that's how I started making different plushes for my friends. Nothing more, really. It's like baking a cake for a special occasion.

Ziggy Nixon: Again – and I mean no disrespect to you or your friendly neighbourhood
Nerd Blogger – a lot of these are very fantasy game and / or anime oriented in theme. Why is that?
AnnaTheRed: Most of my plushes are based on characters from American cartoons, actually. Many of my early plushes were the characters designed by
Jhonen Vasquez, and now I'm very in to the characters designed by Dan Paladin, the art director of the game company, The Behemoth.

Also, I seem to really like characters that have a huge head and big eyes (huge eyes + big eyes being the main ingredients of cuteness). I got to meet Dan at a convention. He and everyone at the Behemoth were super nice, so I made plushes for Dan's birthday.

I also made prototypes of four anime characters my company holds the license of to be mass produced before, but that was just a business, and it wasn't a very fun process.

Ziggy Nixon: Again (Part 2, ‘Again’s Revenge’) – I also see that you rarely (never?) offer these plush creatures – or to use the proper vernacular – ‘plush stuff’ for commercial promotion. Why is that?
AnnaTheRed (shown here at left relaxing after a day of battling, with her equally approachable boyfriend below): If you're talking about selling my plushes I make to someone, I have one word for you, and that word is again COPYRIGHT. Say if I ever decide to sell a ‘Master Chief’ plush to someone, it's very possible that I'll be fined and sued by Microsoft BIG TIME.

A lot of people take copyright law very lightly (as you can see on Etsy), but it can really be scary and may cost you a lot of money. Some characters are owned by many different people and companies too. So, if one person said it's okay, that really doesn't mean I have the legal right to sell them.

Another thing is that it's just not respectful for the original creator to make profit that way. That's why I give them away to the people who I know for sure that won't sell them on eBay later.

Ziggy Nixon: Again (Part 3, ‘The Final Tolerated Usage of This Bloody Word’) – it seems at least from your blog entry about same, that these are produced using a very much design-oriented and structured process. Is this more of a hobby for you or is your inner creative side trying to free itself from the shackles of whatever kind of shackles you might be wearing?
AnnaTheRed: It's both my hobby and a way to stay creative.

Ziggy Nixon: As a pretty well-trained lazy person myself (I indeed have a black pillow in Aey Lai Dowan), I know something about the art form. Why do you consider yourself so ‘lazy’, which seems in contradiction for your non-idle handiwork and blog updates?
AnnaTheRed: I really am, otherwise I'd be blogging everyday.

Ziggy Nixon: I’m also curious about your day job. Can you explain to the uninitiated what is offered by an ‘on-line card game’ company like Alteil?
AnnaTheRed: Like you said, it's an on-line card game (no trading) which my company brought to the U.S. from Japan a little more than a year ago. It runs in Flash, so nothing to download, and anyone can get a free account with 50 cards. You can also earn in-game money by playing a mini-game. The card art on Alteil is done by various talented Japanese artists.

Ziggy Nixon: Concerning this, when I read your biography, I naturally assumed that you were the GM = General Manager of same. However, I instead see that this is apparently a shared-duty that you participate in along with such characters such as Lupos, GaoGaiGirl, Logress, DWildstar, EdgarFigaro and Arakis. To my questions: what is it that exactly you and this interestingly monikered group of compatriots do?

AnnaTheRed: ‘GM’ stands for ‘Game Master’. GMs act as the organizers, arbitrators, and officials in rules situations in the game.

Everyone on the Alteil staff have multiple tasks, and one of them is to be a GM. So we have to do regular work and play the game as well. However, I have to point out that it’s not as fun as it sounds though.

Ziggy Nixon: Granted you’re having fun and doing well at Alteil, but have you ever considered switching to a career more focused on your obvious creative skills?
AnnaTheRed: I’m not sure if I would want to make a living using my creative skills. I like what I do. I've been working for the same company for 8 years now, and I'm very comfortable with the people I work with.

But if I had to pick, I think I’d like to maybe work as a plush prototype maker for cartoons or games. Hm, still, that would probably be freelance and as such not very stable financially.

Ziggy Nixon: Just as a little game, let’s say you’ve just won the Nobel Peace Prize in the new field of ‘Improving Mankind Through Bento and Soft Cute Things.’ What would you do with your prize money and why?
AnnaTheRed: I should say stuff like ‘buy a life sized Gundam’ or something silly like that. But in reality, I'd just take my boyfriend to Japan in the first class, you know, and just travel all around Japan. I've never travelled that much in Japan, and there are so much more to see and eat there.

So yeah, I'd rather use the money for experiencing and eating different things than buying stuff. I'm sure we could blow away a LOT of money really fast in Japan.

Ziggy Nixon: Finally, what could you tell us that you’ve never mentioned before in an interview that will neither ruin your career nor relationship, land you in jail, get you deported, etc. (not necessarily in that order)?
AnnaTheRed: Anything red is 3 times faster!

Continued in Part 2, including details on ‘How To’ for plush doll making and also bento preparation!

Extra Credit:
See her slice, see her dice!!

A little while ago, Anna was asked to make a promotional bento video for ‘Create a video of you building the Google Chrome Icon’ event by Google. So here she is making a Google Chrome Icon bento, noting she really does work this fast! (Additional Editor’s note: kids, do not try this at home without proper supervision by an adult or otherwise primarily sober person!)

All pictures and images used in this interview are the sole property of AnnaTheRed and/or the original copyright holders. No further use or other reproduction of this material is allowed without expressed written consent of AnnaTheRed. No financial gain or other promotional benefits were obtained through this publication. Microsoft has people that will come into your house at night and steal your harddrive if you copy any of this stuff. Seriously. And don't even get me started about the Japanese gaming folks, that's way to scary to even begin to describe.

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