Grant Diffendaffer

Design. Make. Educate.

Come out to Maker Faire 2018 for the best and freshest maker goodness and see what has become of the original Maker Faire after over 10 years in action. I’ll be there with Steadcraft, where you can see my latest designs–wearables inspired by vintage fashion and crafted with a hybrid of digital and manual techniques.

Design by Grant Diffendaffer for Steadcraft. Machine embroidered, finished with bronze buttons prototyped by 3D printing and molded from metal clay

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In my last post, I discussed some of the inspirations involved in the Capitol Theater. We are fortunate in this era that despite the loss of many great movie houses of old, that others still are being restored to their former glory. The Fox Theater Oakland has been of great inspiration since it was restored to the tune of 86 million dollars. Originally to be called the Bagdhad Theater, the Fox Oakland features middle-eastern influences. Another splendid Fox theater, in Atlanta, was originally designed as a Shriner’s temple and features a mix of North-African and Spanish Style. The Fox Spokane was also beneficiary of a multi-million dollar restoration for its ocean-themed deco grandeur. I was lucky to receive a tour of the theater recently and was stunned into snap-happiness. I hope you enjoy my snaps:


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In my stories about the Capitol Theater, I mentioned the theater-seat end-caps that I designed and which were fabricated from laser cut steel. The mobile deco theater, which was inspired by the great movie palaces of the 1920’s, reflects many of the design choices made by architects of the great Fox Theater chain. Some of these imaginative masterpieces have been restored today to their former glory. Deco was a diverse and sometimes contradictory mix of influences and could be seen to incorporate both sparse modern geometry and lavish ornamental tradition sometimes lifted directly from Egyptian, Middle Eastern, and South Asian cultures. Prime examples of the latter are the Fox Oakland, and The Fox Atlanta. A full and honest critique of these design choices would have to take into account the arguments of Orientalism, and cultural colonialism. Is this just culture candy? What is the difference between an homage and a rip-off? Considering these choices and responsibilities with respect to the Capitol Theater was an interesting personal journey, and it was important to me to stay on the side of homage. I think that is the intention of the Capitol Theater generally, as a playful through-the-looking-glass view back at these historical treasures.

My original inspiration for the end-caps was from the Fox Theater in Spokane, another masterpiece of the era which eschewed fetischization of foreign cultural influences to a degree (not entirely) for a blend of natural (ocean) imagery and strict geometric forms.

Here is a shot of the Spokane Fox Theater seat end-cap:

Spokane Fox Theater seats

While the Capitol Theater features a facade that is largely streamline and geometric, the interior is inspired in many ways by Indian architecture and culture, in particular the scalloped arches found throughout Mughal design across Northern India. This theater’s proscenium arch can be seen in the Red Fort in Delhi for example. I was lucky to pick up this project from Clif Florio, who gave me the idea of a sun, moon, and stars theme. I added to that the arch curves, which the Capitol Theater features in several places, most prominently in the proscenium arch. In addition to layering them at the bottom of my design, I also carried them into the rooflines of the moon chair and the parapets of the sun chair–both ways in which the curve appears in traditional architecture. I’ve always been inspired by the desert, and in addition to having traveled the deserts of Rajasthan in Northern India, I am a lover of the desert of Southern Utah. The star chair includes the iconic profile of Factory Butte in the San Rafael Desert of Southern Utah.

Capitol Theater Seat End-Caps. Design by Grant Diffendaffer. Capitol Theater by Five Ton Crane

Capitol Theater. By Five Ton Crane. Theater seat end-cap design by Grant Diffendaffer. Photo Copyright Grant Diffendaffer


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Capitol Theater. What a looker. I couldn’t stop snapping shots. I’ve updated the gallery from my last post with a bunch more images. Hurry and glom a seat–the curtain is about to go up!

Capitol Theater by Five Ton Crane

It’s a challenge to credit a big job like this–please be patient as I document and attribute. I retain photo copyright but give permission to publish with the following attribution: “Capitol Theater: Five Ton Crane (or properly credited individual artist); Photography: Grant Diffendaffer.” Thank you.

Over 60 artists contributed to this project. Kudos to all. If there was something subversive about this show I’d have to say that one element is the exhibition of a collaborative work of art that makes no particular effort to call attention to the individual artists. There are no little number stickers with a matching placard on the wall. The answers you are looking for come out of the art itself. That became apparent to me looking at this display of film reels, which happened to be in a glass museum case outside of the theater.

Film reels

Extra special thanks goes to Lead Artists Bree Hylkema and Sean Orlando, Lead Fabricators Jay Kravitz, Clifford Florio and Stephanie Shipman, who put in hours daily for the 10 (short ?!?) weeks it took to build this. Multiple artists helmed major individual projects. To name a few of those: Mural painting and gold leaf–Tania Seabock; Marquis paintings of Crocodile and Swan–Imogen Speer; Concession Stand–Derrick Gomez; Candy–Mike Woolsen and Katie Keech; Movie Directore–Allen White; Choreography and Dance–Jody Power; Poster Design; Jay Kravitz and Becca Henry, Dashboard; Michael Sturtz; Hood Ornament–Jo Slota… It might not be possible to de-construct art like this by simply listing constituent elements and tying them to names, but there are names behind its construction and they all deserve to be in the Smithsonian.

The artists, as they have identified themselves:

Capitol Theater Crew List

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I’m fresh back from Washington D.C., where I attended several days of festivities for the opening of “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.” An incredible time was had by all. If you read my last post, you know that my creative colleagues in Five Ton Crane debuted our latest work there. It’s called the Capitol Theater. It was commissioned for the event and built from scratch (not a modified vehicle), in just ten short weeks. If I may say so myself, it’s beautiful.

As a team, we made everything right down to the black and white movies. I myself designed the decorative steel end-caps on the end of each row of theater seats. I also laid much of the tile floor and contributed with a few carpentry odds and ends. The seats are my pride and joy though–drafted in Rhino and laser cut from 1/8″ steel.

Enjoy the photos. If you can make it to D.C. by September, I highly recommend the show. It is free to visit and extends into the surrounding neighborhoods, helping make it the largest ever show put on by the museum. The museum itself is beautiful too, and has the distinction of being the first building in the country built for the purpose of art exhibition.

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Five Ton Crane is profiled in the New York Times! So proud of my friends and what we have been able to create for this occasion (and everything leading to it). I visited the Renwick Gallery back in 2008 when I was in town to participate on a creative jury for a show at the Bead Museum of DC. Little did I know that 10 years later that said scrappy museum would be gone and I would be finding my work presented with that of my friends in the museum dedicated by the Smithsonian to showcase American craft.

The article highlights pieces commissioned for the show, including that of Five Ton Crane. Read to the end to see two preview pictures of our creation, the Capitol Theater, an Art Deco movie house on the back of a big red bus. The photo of the theater seats is such a tease for me–I designed the decorative steel endcaps just out of view in the image. I’ll be looking forward to sharing images of those as well as more of the rest of this gorgeously detailed piece after the show opens next week.

Grateful for the opportunity and the hard work of many friends over many years to make this possible. Well done Five Ton Crane. See you in D.C.

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You read that right. As part of the upcoming exhibition at the Renwick Gallery, No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man, Five Ton Crane has been commissioned to create a mutant vehicle–an art car. In the great tradition of the event and of our creative collaboration, we are proud to present the Capitol Theater, a vehicle designed to convey one not only through space but through time. It is a mobile movie palace from another era.  Grand and curvacious, the open air Art Deco inspired theater bus seats 12 and is filled with lush detail (including films) from a crew of hard working artists that produced this new old wonder about in three months.

If you are in the Washington D.C. area, be sure to check it out. If you aren’t, maybe you should get there. You’ll find the Renwick Gallery just across the street from the White House. The show will be up from March 30th 2018 until Jan 21st, 2019. The first floor, including the Capitol Theater, closes September 16th, 2018, so be sure to make it before then if you can.

Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti, Totem of Confessions, 2015, Photo by Daniel L. Hayes.

According to the Smithsonian,

Large-scale installations—the artistic hallmark of Burning Man—form the core of the exhibition. Individual artists and collectives featured in No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man include David Best, Candy Chang, Marco Cochrane, Duane Flatmo, Michael Garlington and Natalia Bertotti, Five Ton Crane Arts Collective, FoldHaus Art Collective, Scott Froschauer, HYBYCOZO (Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu), Android Jones, Aaron Taylor Kuffner, Christopher Schardt, Richard Wilks, and Leo Villareal. Multiple installation sites have been selected throughout the neighborhood surrounding the museum for No Spectators: Beyond the Renwick, which will include works by Jack Champion, Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson, HYBYCOZO, Laura Kimpton, Mischell Riley, and Kate Raudenbush.

Here’s a look at some of the local art heading to the Renwick, including a peek at the Capitol Theater. I feel honored to have been able to design the theater seat end-caps, which I prototyped in plywood using a laser cutter, and which were cut in steel using another laser cutter, and then cleaned up, welded and painted by a crew of amazing people while I was busy crawling around laying tile on the theater floor. I’ll be sure to post photos of my handywork as well as the rest of this outpouring of creativity–after the show opens, March 30th.

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One of my most exciting recent projects was my involvement with the Gods in Color exhibit at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco. I was invited by Curator Renee Dreyfus to projection map a large marble panel from the ancient Parthenon. The museum had in their possession a plaster replica of the approximately 5 foot wide panel, which was “liberated” from Greece under the Ottoman Empire by the Earl of Elgin, who from 1801 to 1812, moved almost half the marble sculpture from the Parthenon to Britain, where they now controversially reside in the British Museum.

Parthenon Panel. Without projection mapping.

A fact not known to all who have grown accustomed to seeing classical sculpture as pure white marble is that all of these sculptures were once actually painted in full color. It is not known exactly how everything appeared but research has revealed the natural pigments that were used and where they were applied to the marble. It is thought likely that the surfaces were finished in rather garish fashion to highlight them from afar.

Parthenon Panel. Projection mapping by Grant Diffendaffer

For the exhibit, I used a painting that was a historical representation done by Rebecca Levitan, as part of a project at Emory University. For my part, I began by photographing the panel to create a digital 3D photogrammetric representation of the panel. For that purpose, I used 250 high res photos, which I processed using Autodesk’s Recap Photo software. From there I used a process that moved back and forth between ZBrush and Photoshop to accurately project the lines of the painting to the surface of the digital model.

My hope was to use this process to correct and align the artwork so that it would accurately display when shown from a single projector onto the surface of the actual plaster panel. This was something that was somewhat easier said than done. While I had hoped to make the actual projection alignment a digital process, using either scanning or photogrammetry, it ended up being a more manual process.  It was still a useful and productive journey for me to pass through that digital space, and it was clear to me that this is a useful projection mapping workflow–one that will get easier as software and hardware options combine to basically let projectors “see” what they are projecting.

Many thanks to all who made the project possible–Renee Dreyfus, Rebecca Levitan, and Rich Rice, as well as the photography department of the DeYoung.

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