MUSING ON ALIEN WORKSHOP IN "MOSAIC" / PART ONE

Date: January 11, 2018 Author: Jeff Thorburn Categories: features
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I count Habitat’s first video, 2003’s Mosaic, as one of my all-time favourites. Over the years immediately following its release, I watched it from front to back numerous times. Danny Renaud’s opening part is a classic that set the tone for a unique video that stands the test of time, and I expect we’ll revisit that part sometime down the line. Same goes for Rob Pluhowski’s part. But as the years go by, it turns out that the top parts I always go back to watching from Mosaic are housed within the Alien Workshop section. I believe this is the last time the two teams blended together in a video. Alien Workshop welcomed Habitat as an inaugural offering in 2000’s Photosynthesis, and Habitat gave a nod back with this Alien section in Mosaic. Originally I was planning to muse on Anthony Pappalardo’s part, and then I started to think about Jason Dill’s part, and then I started to think about the Alien Workshop section as a whole. So we’ll break this into a three-part musing, starting today with the Alien Workshop montage leading up to Dill’s part. —Jeff Thorburn

Read on and then watch the first part of the Alien Workshop section from Mosaic below.

-The song, "Krusty" by Papa M, eases us into the section and has enough musical changes to make it well suited for the coming montage. It's also a great pacing device for the rest of the section.

-Right off, that absolutely classic logo appears. While it’s sort of a minute detail, that’s sort of what we're about, so it’s worth pointing out that interviews with Alien Workshop co-founders Chris Carter and Mike Hill in recent years have offered differing takes on how the logo was created, and if it was based on a Denny’s sign. First, Carter told Chops at The Chrome Ball Incident in 2016:

We met at a Denny’s once when we were trying to figure everything out… just because there happened to be one midway between Orange County and North County. Denny’s was where we discussed the formation with Neil and Rob. We tried thinking of names there but had nothing to do with the logo.”

While in 2017, Hill told Michael Sieben at Thrasher:

“It was based off the Denny’s logo and the Marathon gas station logos. I made it in the basement of a house I was living in at the time. It was cut with amberlith film and then rigged up with a coat hanger in a curve from a desk lamp with a flashlight shining through the amberlith, so it warped the word ALIEN and then I traced the reflection it made on the desk. Then cut that tracing out of amberlith and made the badge shape around it and added the Workshop lettering from Presstype rub on letters. I was really into amberlith then because it made a crisp line.”

*update: an highly-credible anonymous source has let me know that the starburst part of the logo was inspired by the Dole logo.

Either way, in the end, we have an iconic logo.

-There’s no doubt that the mixing of mediums within their videos are what set Alien Workshop and Habitat apart from other companies for many years. The layers of 8mm, Mini DV, 35mm still photos, hand done titles and logos undoubtedly inspired a whole lot of skaters to doodle in their notebooks, pick up cameras, and even enroll in art school. All of the layers build such a cool mood and are part of the reason why these videos have aged so well. Here, we go from an aerial shot of a street, to a pool with Dill, to a Heath warm-up Ollie, a spinning wheel, some plants, a guy fishing off a pier, Dill in a schoolyard, Berra throwing a pitch in a sandlot, an AVE push, the requisite seagulls, a bike, more AVE pushing, and an Anthony Van Engelen title penned by Don Pendleton:

-Enter AVE, with a textbook Backside Tailslide Shuv-it on his Americana pro model deck. Check these things out:

Expect to see more of those five rings in the coming years, in both ironic and non-ironic graphics.

-As he pushes toward the Switch Frontside Noseslide, note those DCs he was wearing. His pants were getting slimmer but the shoes remained bulky for a few more years. It’s sort of the reverse of what we are seeing happen right now, with DC putting their focus on re-releases to coincide with 90s nostalgia and another big pants comeback.

-Something about Switch Flip Manuals just makes them seem like the ultimate finesse trick for a powerhouse skater, and this downhill one is a great example, from set up to land. He pops it so high and flips it so quickly, and then just hold the reins tightly on the way down.

-Often skated as a kicker, AVE took a different approach on this one with a Switch 5-0 grind up, while on the way up you just hope and then you just know that he’s going to keep it flowing around with a 180 out. It's a move he revisits in Mindfield and makes look even more switch. Take a look at the angle of that thing too. It's a steep pitch: 

-I like the vibe of him and Dill going back to back and bailing out in the deep-end of the pool, followed by his barefoot Nosegrab Backside Grind. I guess those DCs felt a bit thick for backyard pool skating. I think those are probably his shoes sitting on the deck just beyond his back foot:

-Here we have one of the most amazing lines ever caught on film. You can go ahead and argue that, but it would be better if you just enjoyed it. That Switch Flip alone would be enough to immortalize this line, but then to add the Switch 360 Flip and that Switch Backside 180 to 5-0! On top of all that, he’s been charging with speed but never pushed once in this clip.

-And then the Switch Backside Nosegrind on the same set of bleachers. It looks so good when shoulders hold and land in that backwards position so that you know it’s switch. Now, enter Danny Way:

-Interestingly, AVE’s Switch Backside Nosegrind is what leads us into Danny's brief appearance. Danny also has a guest trick in AVE’s Mindfield part, and AVE also does a Switch Backside Nosegrind right before Danny’s Frontside Heelflip. This time though, Danny does a Kickflip Backside Nosegrind before a Frontside Heelflip. Strange, right? Also strange to think about Danny riding for Alien Workshop, but at the same time, it’s pretty sick. This Backside 50-50 probably felt pretty rad to float out of:

-Now for some Canadian content, we welcome in the smooth stylings of Ted DeGros, seen here launching a 360 Flip not far from where the Vancouver Skateboard Plaza now sits (for now) under the viaducts.

-Ted had a sick style and seemed to be on the come up for a while, but things eventually fizzled out for him after stints with Alien Workshop, Seek, and Santa Cruz. His name still comes up from time to time, and nowadays he’s an A-Plus tree trimmer.

-Another cool example of a different take on the same spot within a part:

-While I’ve seen it many times, for some reason I still have a hard time wrapping my head around Ted’s last trick.

-Heath coolly enters the picture, and he’s skating the same prototype Alien Workshop graphic that Danny Way used for his whole Mega Ramp section in The DC Video.

“I skated this one for two weeks, everyday. I filmed the whole Mega section in the DC video on it, so I saved the board complete, I never switched the board out, every trick on that video part is on this board. Plus it’s the only mega board I had that looked almost like a regular street board, I was pretty psyched about that too. That board got a lot of action." —Memory Screened, 2012

-This all ties together with Heath, over 5 years after Danny Way left Alien Workshop, skating the Mega Ramp himself on an Alien Workshop Danny Way deck in Emerica’s Stay Gold.

-Back to Mosaic, and what an entrance to a part, with the slo-mo when Heath lands the Switch Nosegrind 180 coinciding with “If I Think” by Mudhoney kicking in, and the casual yet highly-focused pushing towards a monster of a gap to Lipslide.

-Steve Berra joins the part with a title shot that seems to have some level of irony:

-While they are certainly an odd couple to have purposefully changed teams together multiple times throughout their careers, Heath and Berra did come together for a rad part that ramped up the energy after a tight but mellow opening to the Alien Workshop section.

-Berra strings together a couple of cool opening lines while the the song builds. I always wonder if he was bummed that the flatground Half Cab Heelflip in the second line is totally obscured by sun flare. I like that they used it though.

-When Heath reappears, it’s in this switch school yard line with the nicely toned blues, greens, and reds. It feels like this line is filmed on 16mm but I know it's not. After a stylishly-rocketed Switch Ollie over a picnic table, we see another powerhouse skater with finesse doing a Switch Flip Manual right before moment of black, the song swelling, and Mark Arm yelling “I OPEN MY EYES” as Heath pilots another gap out to Lipslide right into our faces:

-Berra sits on a long Backside 50-50 and then continues to hammer on the set from his opening lines, this time with a lofty Caballaeriel followed by a Half Cab Flip.

-Heath launches out to flash ‘n’ roll the previously lipslid long kinker, sporting a Listen to Alien Workshop t-shirt.

-Clips are flying by and then we take a breath with some black and white shots of the guys, including Berra showing us what some digital cameras looked like before they had phones and computers in them:

-For some reason I always imagined these film shots were from Heath and Berra making a pilgrimage to Alien Workshop headquarters in Ohio once they got on the team, and they were stopping to bowl in some small town along the way.

-I'm a sucker for the baby blue t-shirt Berra’s wearing on the 5-0 in the red brick zone.

-Heath returns to the lengthy kinker yet again to nail it’s coffin shut with a gap to Backside Lipslide in classic form. As the screen fades to black, we reflect on the fact that we never did see Heath and Berra together at the same spot or in the same shot.

-And after that realization, I had to google “heath kirchart steve berra” just to confirm that these two in fact co-exist. They do.

Continued next week with a musing on Jason Dill’s part.

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Read previous musings: Bobby Puleo in "Static II"; Nick Jensen in "Lost and Found"