The Chop Master

Early on a Sunday morning in Hong Kong, nestled away in a pedestrian alleyway in the residential neighborhood of Sheung Wan, one stall among dozens is open. It belongs to Ng Kam Chun, a reserved 57-year-old man whose work most Hong Kongers have likely seen without knowing it.

Ng’s business, like that of all the stalls lining Man Wa Lane, is customized chops — traditional, necessary tools for doing business in Hong Kong, China, and beyond. A chop is essentially a square-shaped seal made of jade, marble, or wood with the owner’s name engraved onto the bottom, which is used to stamp a “signature” on important documents, cheques, and contracts. Chops symbolize a company’s identity, and in many offices are kept in safes.

Every nook and cranny in Ng Kam Chun’s tiny stall, which can fit two people shoulder-to-shoulder if you’re really squeezing, is filled with shelves that hold boxes and boxes of blank chops — slabs of stone waiting to be carved. Ng estimates there must be around 10,000 in there. 

Continue reading “The Chop Master”

The Bubble Queen

img_0005
“I will never get tired of bubbles,” Yang says.

Since age 3, Melody Yang’s life has always revolved around bubbles. And not the wimpy bubbles that are emitted from a tiny plastic wand that fits in your back pocket. Serious, record-breaking bubbles.

Bubbles run in her family’s blood: Along with her siblings, Yang is one of the stars of the Gazillion Bubble Show, which her father started more than 20 years ago. For every New York show, she uses about 30 gallons of her family’s secret bubble solution; for bigger international shows, she’ll use up to 60 gallons. While she wouldn’t reveal the solution’s ingredient list, Yang did impart some of her other secrets — like how she made the world’s largest bubble (170 feet long) and fit the most people ever inside a bubble (181; it was supposed to be 200, but the shorter kids weren’t counted).

Continue reading “The Bubble Queen”

Hollywood’s Go-To Prosthetics Makeup Artist

“How are we gonna kill that person this week?” is a question that Matthew Mungle would periodically ask himself when working on the set of The X-Files in the late 90s. “I couldn’t wait to get the script to see what monster we had to create next.”

That might seem strange for a man with a terrible phobia of blood, but Mungle’s job is hardly within the realm of normal. Though you may not recognize his face, you’ve surely seen the prosthetic makeup Mungle has done in more than 200 film and TV projects, including Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for which he won an Academy Award. And it’s not just faces: He’s also designs prosthetic pensises, breasts, and pregnancy bellies. “We’re known for realistic-looking work,” Mungle says. “We don’t do too many aliens.”

But the work is Frankenstein-esque in the sense that Mungle hatches new creatures from scratch. He and his team may spend an entire month on one effect, like someone’s hand getting cut off in CSI. That work could be edited together so it’s only on screen for four seconds. But hey, those are still pretty impressive bragging rights.

Special Effects Makeup
Mungle at work on an autopsy body for CSI.

Continue reading “Hollywood’s Go-To Prosthetics Makeup Artist”

The Costume Wizard for ‘Hamilton’

IMAG2993
Jennifer Raskopf, in the room where it all happens.

There’s a little show on Broadway right now that you may have heard of — it’s a musical about the life of a Founding Father.

Yes, that’s the one.

Jennifer Raskopf is an assistant costume designer for Hamilton, the show that picked up 11 Tony Awards last night (no biggie). She’s seen the show about a dozen times — or two dozen, if you count shows that weren’t fully staged — has cried every time.

Raskopf helped shop for and do swatching and fitting for costumes for the 28 members of the current cast, from bras to buttons to the king’s cape. Like most typical theater-goers, she has about 30 Playbills sitting around her apartment; unlike most typical theater-goers, she can casually reminisce about the time Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created and stars in the show, started singing DuckTales while everyone was waiting for lighting onstage.

Continue reading “The Costume Wizard for ‘Hamilton’”

The Real-Life Willy Wonka Behind Those Classic Candy Hearts

geoff-bloomThe magic happens in a room with a giant tub that looks like Play-Doh, in a 810,000-square-foot factory, in a small city named after Paul Revere.

The New England Candy Company, better known as Necco, produces 100,000 pounds of Sweethearts — those colorful conversation hearts you got from everyone in your third-grade class on Valentine’s Day — each day for nearly the entire year, even though they’re only sold for several weeks in January and February. They’ve been around for decades — 150 years, to be exact — but Geoff Bloom, the creative director at Necco, is tasked with finding ways to keep them fresh. (“On Fleek” is one of the phrases you’ll find on the hearts this year.)

Valentine’s Day, a one-day holiday to you but a six-week one to Necco, is the company’s biggest moneymaker; about 2 billion Sweethearts are eaten each year. But none of that would be possible without Bloom’s careful touch.

Continue reading “The Real-Life Willy Wonka Behind Those Classic Candy Hearts”