By Nichole Dupont
February 11, 2013
Poring over a thick picture portfolio of nearly two decades of work as a graphic model maker for film and television, artist and sculptor Dai Ban shakes his head and laughs lightly. “Nothing on TV is real,” he says, “Not even the real thing.” Inside his bright, cozy Great Barrington-based studio, the handsome, jet-haired artist — dressed all in black save for electric orange Crocs — combs through a scrapbook filled with images of perfect fake food arrangements, uncannily real model airplanes, miniature rooms, and even an enlarged toothbrush. The reproductions are so detailed and life-like that one could arguably call them art, but Dai Ban just shakes his head, saying, “No, no. It’s just work. This is work.”
But, journeyman efforts though they are, clearly the work of a master. Since receiving his BFA in sculpture from Musashino Art University in Tokyo in 1984, Ban has earned his model-making chops with thousands of commercials and films –Judge Dredd, Back to the Future…The Ride, Eraser – to boast about over the last two decades. He has worked with acclaimed directors and special-effects extraordinaires (including Oscar award winner Douglas Trumbull) to create and build small-scale set models for filming large-scale scenes. That piece of his life, however, is just a small slice of the his creative career. While he occasionally still takes on jobs for commercials (for the sake of cash flow), for the most part, Ban says that that kind of real life work has dried up, thanks to the computer age of digital effects and images.
“Everything used to be live action, you had to make a model for every sequence and every movement,” he says, squinting at a lifelike replica of a Butterfinger bar. “But then computers dried out those jobs. We all had to start over.”
Ban and his wife Robin (and their two sons) got an opportunity to start over in 1994 with the making of Judge Dredd. While he was only commissioned to stay in the Berkshires for 6 months, halfway into Ban’s temporary tenancy, the decision was made to stay in the area, indefinitely. Here, he would embark on a more creative path doing sculpture and commissioned pieces, as well as fine jewelry and even a few forays into abstract art.
“We wanted to raise the kids here. It’s such a beautiful place,” he says, sweeping his hand at the barren winter view. “I picked up a few small commercial jobs and stayed home with my sons and my wife opened Seeds in Great Barrington. I was very lucky to raise them and spend time with them when they were young. I was able to really start thinking like an artist. It was just so wonderful.”
Just as he is designing fingernail-sized precious jewelry, Ban also revels in using giant proportions to make a statement. He recently completed two commissioned works for the Crane & Co. paper headquarters in Dalton, MA, using the company’s newest fiberglass “paper” (most commonly used in water filters). The two works, The Wing (7’x11’, at right) and The Lily Pond (5’x15’), engulf the company’s front foyer and the meeting room. Natural light and some overhead lighting illuminate the texture of the works, giving them the appearance of delicate statuary.