Tiny Dragon Productions is a digital effects powerhouse of one. TDP, aka Krista Benson, brings to life creative visions of fantasy, sci-fi, eroticism, comics, and anime to produce richly textured images that traverse the planes of reality, imagination and dreamscape. We spoke with Benson about her work on Hollywood's blockbuster films by day and her enchanting fantasy world by night.
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Sez G: How did you become "Tiny Dragon?"
Tiny Dragon Productions: First, let me say thank you for taking interest in my images and me. All my images represent my ongoing love affair with photography and art. My obsession with images started when I had the privilege of repeating the second grade because it was thought I had a learning disability.
It turns out all I needed was a pair of glasses for the world to open up before my eyes. Simple clarity of vision unlocked my imagination and constant daydreaming.
When I was little, I imagined a small dragon as my best friend and guardian. To this day I revel in my wild imagination as much as possible. Tiny Dragon Productions is a metaphor for my imagination and the images I create through collaborations with other models, makeup artists, hair artists, and clothing designers.
Sez G: What influences the direction of your art and the creation of your erotic fantasy characters?
Tiny Dragon Productions: I am a product of too many sci-fi movies and comic books. I use my art as an escape from reality. Often my fantasy characters are my best attempt at bringing my desires and dreams to life. A strong image will burn into my mind and can have a lasting effect. I create the images for myself first, and just hope that other people enjoy them too.
The initial process and photo shoot is collaborative with everything and everyone involved. I have had specific outfits set off ideas in my mind, or often the energy and appearance of the model will guide me in a certain direction.
Sez G: Are you influenced by animé?
Tiny Dragon Productions: I do enjoy certain types of animé. I have always been a fan of Masamune Shirow, and I own the entire collection of Robotech. I love the blend of photos with real anime images, like I have with Melodie Gore on several occasions.
Sez G: Speaking of Melodie, how much collaboration is there between you and the models to create their characters?
Tiny Dragon Productions: I am always open to the models ideas for creating art work, but most of the time the ideas are my own. I actually prefer to have rough concepts before shoots, but I may not know what wardrobe is being worn till the time of the shoot. When I created the tentacle shots with Melodie, she and I talked about the concept beforehand, and we were very much in sync for that shoot.
I try to bring out the characters the muses exude for me. I truly enjoy getting to know my models ahead of time when possible because it helps me create more powerful images, and it is important for my models to trust my ideas and feel comfortable when shooting. I have been fortunate to form good friendships with some of the models and this benefits the process of creation. All of my favorite and most powerful images have been created because of a personal bond with the model and a true desire to create something worthy of people's attention.
Sez G: There are so many creative, intriguing special effects in your images. Can you walk me through the general process of conception, the photo shoot and the image processing?
Tiny Dragon Productions: I sometimes work better without over-thinking anything. If the shoot is raw with no initial ideas, then I will talk with the model at the beginning of the shoot and see what she or the designer brought to wear.
I like to shoot several looks at one photo session and will shoot lots of images until I feel that I am getting what I want. I also like to shoot many images of one look because I might like the face in one image and the arm in another. All of my fantasy creations are shot against solid backdrops of either white, gray, or black in my modest home studio.
Sez G: What's the environment like?
I like to make my shoots fun for everyone involved since I do all this purely for enjoyment. I almost always have music going as I direct the model. I don't use a tripod, and I have Dyna-Lite strobes for lighting. I have had many models tell me that my shoots are very different from other shoots, and they are often surprised at the workout they get during it. I love to show energy and motion in my work when possible, so the model may have to jump around, or often hold a difficult pose for a while.
I am also twisting, kneeling, squatting and running around looking for the best pose during the shoot, so the next day I often wake up with a sore back and bruises in strange places because I become so oblivious to everything else during the shoot. Three "looks" at my studio usually takes five to eight hours to shoot depending on wardrobe, hair, and make-up changes.
Sez G: And what happens when you bring the images into your computer?
Tiny Dragon Productions: After the shoot is done and all the images are uploaded to the computer, I make my selects and begin roughing out the concepts decided on. Every once in a while a specific raw image from the shoot may capture my attention for a specific idea that I never initially intended.
Any one of my final fantasy photos may include thirty or more images at the beginning to create the final image. I will digitally configure the model together into the look I want from my top selects. I have put over eighty hours of post productions work on some of my creations. Photoshop is my primary software used and Lightwave 3D also comes in handy.
Sez G: Your photos are so....mystical. Where does the inspiration for these magical images come from?
Tiny Dragon Productions: The tooth fairy! ... no really that is not too far off though. Some of my best concepts and final images were born in the moments before falling asleep. I always keep a pen and paper next to the bed in case an idea comes to me in the waking dream moments before my mind shuts down for the night.
I also have dreams of creating my own magical sexual fantasy movie one day, so my images are sort of tests for me in a way. Besides, there is so much darkness, evil, and death in the world; I prefer to go in a different direction. I choose to create images that have a magical and/or sexual feeling to celebrate life and engage the viewer. I am a Pisces that fits the mold of her astrological sign, so magic and mysticism are a natural part of me of course.
Sez G: Your models have such strong, memorable make-up design? Who does it?
Tiny Dragon Productions: Good makeup and hair design are fundamental in creating images that stand out. The hair and make-up are decided at the shoot to match the clothing and concept with the muse of the moment. Pamela Vain has been my key make-up artist for many shoots. She is so versatile and is wonderful at making the models feel comfortable. She and I have become good friends, and she is amazing at giving me the looks I ask for. Melodie Gore and Perish are exceptions as models because they always do there own flawless make-up for my shoots.
Sez G: And where do their awesome costumes come from?
Tiny Dragon Productions: I think one of the best turning points in my art work has been collaborating with talented designers. I seek out these designers because I want specific looks for my shoots. I have had plenty of daydreams and fantasies of elaborate costumes worn by sexy men and women, and I love bringing these daydreams to life.
I have had the pleasure of seeking out and forming friendships with several very talented designers in LA. Skin Graft Designs have been featured in many of my images. Bree Wardlow of pinkfouffy.com has designed looks for several of my favorite images too. Venus Prototype also has been kind enough to lend her amazing outfits when I photographed Scar.
Sez G: Lots of naughty tentacles in your designs. Why do they keep making appearances in your art?
Tiny Dragon Productions: Hmmmm… Maybe they represent lots of big, long, strong muscles, grabbing, poking and prodding at a helpless soft naked creamy body. Ummmmmm, hold on, I think I just turned myself on. I love turning my viewers on without actually showing any naughty bits. I find it more fun to entice the audience by creating visuals that exude to sex and spark the imagination.
Sez G: You do visual effects for TV and film by day. Where did you learn your trade and how has your artistic direction evolved?
Tiny Dragon Productions: I got a BFA in Photography twelve years ago in New York. I learned a lot at college, but I would say most of my growth and understanding of imagery comes from hands on work. I assisted fashion and editorial photographers for a couple years before branching out on my own and shooting. Shooting products for clients the way they wanted it done and having to deal with the business side of photography is something I hated, and for several years I stopped shooting and decided to get into post production visual effects (VFX).
In 1997 I jumped into a training program for three months learning Softimage 3D at Video Symphony in Burbank. Because of my art background I did well in the program and was able to land my first job working nights on cinematics for the Playstation game Tekken 3. The first few years as a VFX artist I was freelance, and let me tell you I am not a fan of not knowing when or where my next job may come along. Slowly I worked my way from video game work to TV work and then to B movie work. All along the way I learned as much as possible and naturally drifted my way into compositing.
To explain, compositing for VFX is the process of layering together multiple sequences of different images or 3D renders to create the final image. In 2001 I landed a job at a very good VFX post Production studio, Digital Domain, and I am fortunate enough to have a full time job there now. I have worked on hundreds of commercials over the years and I have seventeen feature credits at this point which include Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Eon Flux, Peter Pan, Daredevil, Star Trek: Nemesis, xXx, The Time Machine, Death to Smoochy, Collateral Damage, A Beautiful Mind and others.
All of the movies, TV shows, and commercials I have worked on have given me a focused and tuned eye for what I like to create. The security of a steady pay check also allows me to shoot only what I am interested in.
Sez G: You're based in LA. Where are you from originally and how did you end up here?
Tiny Dragon Productions: I am originally from Houston, Texas. I was born and raised in Texas, but I never quite fit the conservative mold that my parents tried to raise me on. I would say I am the black sheep of my family, and I love it! I have lived in Louisiana, Texas, New York, and for the past ten years I have been blessed to live in California. I moved to LA in the late 90's in hopes of continuing my photography career.
Sez G: What's next for you?
Tiny Dragon Productions: I desperately need to get a better web site up, and I am working on publishing a book with my images. I often have people writing me or asking directly if I am selling my work, so my plan is to have a better web site up with posters and schwag for sale. I want to set it up so that some of the money toward purchase of any art work will be donated to a good cause, and whatever is left I will probably spend on more photo equipment.
I also have long term goals of directing for film in the future, and with my current job as a VFX artist, that will not be too hard to accomplish, I hope.
To learn more about Tiny Dragon Productions visit TinyDragonProductions.com.
Tiny Dragon Productions - by Sez G.