Sunday, November 08, 2015

Live-Photographing my Engagement

As I mentioned in my previous post, wedding planning is a very exciting and a very busy time, so it's been a while since I blogged. But I wanted to write this down so I can recall it in the future and also to share with you, dear blog readers, my fun and exciting experience of live-photographing my engagement as it happened.

The setup
Already a lot of secrets were in motion for the engagement day. This was a long time in planning because I had spent about 3.5 months custom designing her engagement ring. During that time I also had the chance to plan a few other fun things for the "Engagement Weekend". I dropped the question on the day before her birthday, on August 8th, 2015. This then allowed us to have a whole weekend of fun activities surrounding the engagement, all of which I planned (or, helpfully, SHE planned!) under the auspices of this being her "Birthday weekend".

The location
It was very important to me that we get engaged at the same place where we had our first date. This is on "our bench" at the Ferry Building Farmers Market in San Francisco. It is a beautiful spot -- and it's a complete and utter description of me as a person. It's just on the outskirts of the Ferry Building. For 10 years now I have been picking up some tasty local produce and baked goods and coffee in the midst of the madness and swarms of "localvores" and over-energetic tourists (of which I was one in the past). I am undeniably in love with this place. It is magnificiently meaningful. While the market is amazing, the bench is even more -- it allows you to take part in the bustle and the fun madness and then to withdraw from it, and people-watch it from a safe distance. I go on a Saturday, so in a way it's my "Shabbos" -- it's a place where I can turn off my iPhone, be relaxed, and slow down for a moment. Also in bright white letters, the title "Port of San Francisco" is there, reminding me always after a busy or hectic week at work to be grateful. To remember that I am so lucky to live in San Francisco. To remind myself that I had always dreamed of moving from tiny London, Ontario to epic California, and how somehow I have managed to achieve that in my life. This place means everything.

Since our first date, "my" bench has quickly become "our" bench. We take the time to enjoy it, to "sip and savour" as they say, and to sit back and relax and enjoy the magical and crazy world of San Francisco. Of course, we are crazy. As my buddy Alex wisely said, "You are the only person I know who would go to the busiest place in the city to get some peace and quiet." This, of course, is spot-on. We are busy, bustling, locally-integrated, excitable, hectic people. But yet, we know how to step back, how to pause, how to be calm and to stop, smell the roses, and appreciate what we are so lucky to have in our lives. So this is what the bench means. As you can see, we obviously had to get engaged there.

Planning the photography
As well as being blessed to live in this epic city, we are also blessed to have so many amazing friends who are incredible photographers. Since I work in Visual Effects, most of my friends have at least a Canon 5D Mark II camera, and are only called "Amateur Photographers" rather than "Professional Photographers" because they have another job already. I see them all as being absolutely stellar at their photography skill, and my buddy Sean Wells was the obvious choice.

"Have you ever photographed an Engagement before?" I asked Sean. "Well", he said, "I have photographed a lot of Weddings before and also done Engagement Photo sessions -- but I have never shot a live Engagement, AS IT HAPPENS before!! I am as nervous as you are!"

Of course, I knew he would do an amazing job and since we are colleagues at ILM/Lucasfilm, that implies a certain amount of artistic obsessiveness and perfectionism -- generally a trait in all of my friends and colleagues. :) This was, of course, a perfect and necessary skill to pull of this kind of photography "heist" as I called it.

In true form, after sending Sean a Google Maps pin to show him the exact location of the bench, he went out to "location scout" the place and to photograph it with his girlfriend Crystal in place of where Michal might be standing on the actual day-of. This was perfect and he tested out some lens options and generally made some great planning decisions in advance. Sean, you are epic.

He sent me these "proofs" and I was very pleased with the style of the photos -- getting the "Port of San Francisco" sign in frame as well as capturing the action. Approved!!

The lead-up
Leading up to the day-of, on the Thursday (we got engaged on a Saturday), I talked with Sean at work and hashed out the "action". We decided that it made more sense for Crystal to come along as well as that would both add Crystal's lovely personality into the mix, as well as being a great distraction to Michal for a moment as I would need to futz around and get the ring box out of my shoulder bag. We made a rough "script" and test out our Improv Acting skills, "Oh, hey, is that Sean??! Hey man! What are you up to?" "Oh, just trying out some new lenses..." haha. So cheesy. But so good. I figured by the time Sean was almost set up for the photos, Michal would likely click into the idea and realize I was about to ask her to marry me... and almost on-cue on the day of, that's exactly what happened. :) But I figured it would be a good enough distraction that I could get prepared, into the right location and down on one knee just as she was piecing together what was just about to happen.

The big day!
The big day arrived and I texted Sean well in advance. First from Michal's place as I secured the ring (side note, why the hell are ring boxes so damn large?!??! It makes it near-impossible to secretly put it anywhere if you're trying to keep a secret!). We then headed off on a walk (as I had set up) to the Ferry Building as we usually do on a Saturday. The Saturday before I had declined a trip to the Ferry Building (claiming "Oh, I REALLY want to go pick up my new bike today!") so that I would make sure there was no discussion of to whether or not we should go to the Ferry Building this week "since we just went last week". So that all worked out like a charm. I had to take my shoulder bag, which is unusual since I never take it (to secure the ring), but I figured it might be sortof an OK sneaky plan. She thought it was a bit odd, but I did skirt around it carefully so she wasn't too suspecting of it. Of course she had SOME idea the engagement might be somewhere around then (notice her perfectly manicured nails!) so she also gave me the benefit of the doubt if I was being particularly odd compared to usual.

We headed to the Ferry Building and I texted Sean again on arrival with a 30-45min out warning. He got prepared somewhere else downtown and then said he'd wait for my final "NOW!" text which would be a 5-min warning.

We picked up some food, and I ate next-to-nothing as the butterflies in my stomach would not allow it. :) We went to the bench and sat nicely for a bit, talking about I-have-no-idea-what. I had planned to ask the question sometime around 12:30-1:00 and at about 12:23 it started spitting rain, just a tiny bit. I literally looked up to the skies and thought ("Please, just give me 5 minutes!") It was good motivation. :) I actually was hoping for grey skies because the contrast is really nice and there are no harsh shadows on your face like you would have in bright sunlight. The Ferry Building bench is usually in bright sunlight so this was very lucky... but the rain was no good! So I went to "throw out the garbage" in a bin and texted Sean "NOW!!!!!". Michal told me later she thought it was odd that I was texting from the Garbage Can, but didn't piece it together yet.

3-4 min later, Sean and Crystal started walking towards us. As expected, eventually Michal noticed, "Hey, is that Sean?!" "Nah, I don't think so", I said oh-so-slyly. Of course I was trying not to look over there constantly and nervously for the previous 5 minutes straight. :)

They got closer and Sean used his great line, "Oh just trying out a new Lens!" haha. Awesome. I got into place, and down on one knee... and the rest, as they say, is history. :)

Sean captured some incredibly amazing photos, all live and as-it-happened. I am so grateful to him and to Crystal for helping with my crazy idea, and for helping make these photos just perfect. They are amazing. You'll see in some of the photos I am down on one knee but she already has the ring on -- this because I had a 2nd "ring" proposal for her. I had promised we would move in together only after we got engaged, so my first act as an Engaged man, immediately after she said "Yes" to the ring, was to get back down on one knee and to make true on my promise -- the 2nd "ring" was a "keyring" to my apartment, along with the phrase, "Will you make my apartment our home." Success. :)

Thank you to Sean and to Crystal for putting up with my insane amount of detailed emails in advance, and to Sean for capturing this incredible moment as it happened.

Thankfully, the rain held off and we spent the next 3.5 hours sitting on the bench and reveling in teh joy, and personally calling all the close family around the world. I had planned a block of time right after the engagement time (before we had a "birthday"/congratulations on your engagement party for Michal later in the day) because I knew she/we were going to want to personally call a bunch of people. It was awesome. And it worked out perfectly.

Hilariously, the sun came out in full force at exactly 1:00pm. The photos were done (and were not shot in direct harsh sunlight, wahoo!!!), everything was a huge success, and we got to bathe in the glorious sunlight as we called so many important family members from our glorious Ferry Building bench. :)

What a day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My design process for a custom Engagement Ring

Wow, it has been a while since I've blogged -- that's what Wedding Prep is like, a very busy, fun, epic, crazy all-encompassing time!! I wanted to jot down some thoughts and memories here just to remind myself and family in years to come of the exciting and intricate process of designing my girlfriend fiancee's wedding ring.

Also, if you've found this page randomly via Google Search: then... welcome, congrats, mazel tov, and I wish you the very best. Here are some of my thoughts and design process as I created a custom engagement ring, and how the process generally worked.

But first, the piece-de-resistance:
The final ring!

Custom ring design or buy a pre-made setting somewhere?
This to me was a pretty obvious choice. I wanted to make something very personal and one-of-a-kind. This is not to say that you cannot achieve this with a pre-made setting, as every single diamond/stone you might get for the center stone is utterly unique and will add the kind of charm you're looking for -- so I did want to explore both options. But after seeing a few pre-made settings, I knew that I wanted to pour my heart and soul into the design and that would be a fun and meaningful experience for me, and in turn, for her.

Working backwards from the engagement date
Michal and I got engaged on August 8th, 2015. I wanted to make sure that I had the ring ready well in advance (give yourself buffer time! I had a short delay in the engraving and I'm very glad I had told them I needed the ring an entire week before I actually needed it).

As you've probably seen from my blog/facebook/twitter madness over this year, I had a lot of crazy and exciting this happening this year -- I lived in London for work for a month, I traveled in Scotland and Israel, my sister's wedding on a cruise from New York to London, the release of the Batkid Begins movie in theatres, promotional/press junkets and premieres and interviews for the Batkid film release... it's been one AMAZING and NUTSO year!! So with all of that said, it was very important to me that the engagement not feel like it was right in the midst of a million other things. We needed time to savour it, to enjoy it for it's own purposes, and not just have it be one of a thousand things on our busy, over-calendared life this year. It was very important that it came at a good time. So, I picked a good time for it, made secret plans for the "engagement weekend" (more on that later) and decided on a good time to start planning the ring.

Secret or not-secret?
I got some great advice from one of the Jewelers that I spoke with: "Are you absolutely certain that she does not want to be a part of the design process?" This is a great question to ask yourself. He said that a high percent, like 80%, of people that come into his shop come in as couples. It's not as common these days (at least from his perspective) for the man to secretly design the ring with NO input from the woman -- or at least only with the input he has cobbled together from little things she's said over the years ("I like classic earrings", or "I really don't like yellow gold" or "Look at THESE rings (shows you a magazine ad)".) Thankfully some girls (like mine) will help you out immensely by telling you plainly what they like and don't like. They may already have artistic style well-developed (look at her earrings, other rings or necklaces she already wears -- take photos of them and send them to the designer).

I think also the Jeweler wanted to be sure I actually was creating something I was sure she would love -- not just something I thought looked nice using my *own* design sensibilities. This, of course, is a ring for her, not a ring for me. Important things to think about as I moved forwards with this.

Ultimately, in my case, I decided that she would be overjoyed that I spent so much time, love, and energy in designing and carefully considering all the things she might love. I also had family heirloom diamonds I wanted to use and that would be very meaningful to her as well. She has a sense of style so I knew I had to be very careful in designing the details towards a style she likes -- it's very hard to buy people jewellery anyway, let alone a ring they are going to wear everyday for the rest of their life. So, choose wisely! If you're not very detail oriented, this process might not be for you and you might prefer to get some help from her friends or from a Jeweler. You can still make it a secret, or even get a "temporary ring" to get engaged with and then go pick one out with her in person.

But if you're jumping in the deep end like I decided to do and figuring it all out yourself and creating something one-of-a-kind that has never been done before... I hope my experience below is helpful!

I decided I wanted this to be a secret and that was going to be a good experience for her too (as she wasn't 100% set on one specific thing and would like the fact that I spent countless hours of care and energy on this) -- here's how I proceeded.

Reaching out to design firms
I wanted to do the design in secret so I didn't want her around when it was happening. That's near-impossible if you already live together, and we didn't yet at that point so that was helpful. You can also get some sneaky computer googling time at work or on the weekend as needed to try to find out the style you think you want to start from, and also where in your local city is able to do it to your specifications, and also which Jewelers even have styles similar to what you think you are going for.

I started the whole process in the midst of my work trip to England. I had 3-4 weeks there, totally uninterrupted, and could spend lots of evenings googling ring designs, talking with people, etc without her watchful eye anywhere near :) This was very useful. I start the process originally by googling designs I liked, as well as making a "code name" for the project. Any trusted friends I wanted to talk to about it I said "Do not use the word "Engagement Ring" in any email subjects -- she might see it pop up on our shared iPad by mistake." Always use the project code name :)

I called mine "Project Aragorn" (so nerdy, I know) after the dude from Lord of the Rings. (Yes, I am huge nerd). Aragorn->Lord of the Rings->Engagement Ring. Silly yes, but something she would never look at or wonder about if she saw an email subject saying: "Need your advice re: Project Aragorn designs".

I then started emailing people like crazy. I wanted to set up some meetings in advance so when I got back to San Francisco from London I could start meeting people and asking about how to incorporate the heirloom diamonds into the design, which ones of the choices I had I should use, etc. My initial error was sending an email as long as this blog post -- I sent a thousand details, talking about what I wanted and what I didn't want, send a bunch of photos of her existing jewellery and talking about designers I know she likes for earrings, etc. This was crazy and too long. No one responded. My best-man Matt said "Don't you think this is too overwhelming as an initial email?!" On my high horse I said "If they want my business, they had better respond!" Of course, as usual, being my very practical voice-of-reason for the past 25 years, he was totally correct. I made a way smaller summary PDF document with photos embedded a few days later after getting zero responses, and re-sent it out to some of the same design firms in San Francisco. This was a massive success and several wrote back immediately, helping me set up in-person meetings for when I returned to SF.

From then, I continued Googling and found lots of styles I liked, but upon thinking about it further I decided she would not like.I compiled a few "this is sortof where I am thinking it will go" images, and sent those out. Notice early on, I had already reduced all the choices down to it to being a white-gold (or platinum) ring, along with white diamonds and blue sapphires integrated together. So I had already gotten pretty close to what I figured would be meaningful to both of us and what I suspected she would want in terms of colour and stone type. But initially I had the ring style way-off.

The original concept after Googling a lot -- I sent this in the PDF to all the design firms
I was stuck in my mind on the idea of an Art Deco-style ring -- that one on the top right was one of my favourite pre-defined settings. Very ornate, intricate (things I did keep in the design, ultimately), but as my Dad famously put it, "Don't buy her a Superbowl Ring"!! These are quite beautiful, but given Michal's petite hand as well as her personality, she wouldn't want a massive, chunky ring. Working out and running and on a computer a lot as well, I didn't want her to have something so chunky, something a little more streamlined and feminine was important, ultimately.

That said, I'm sure she would have loved whatever I came up with (she is just amazing like that), but I am very glad that this was my starting point and not my ending point. :)

How the hell do I figure out her ring size?!
This is hilarious. I trusted nobody. I didn't want anyone to take her to Tiffany's and "try on stuff" as then she would be totally onto me. I didn't want to go with her to some Jewellery place because then she might have a totally different idea of what I was getting her and the second she started looking at a yellow-gold ring I would probably freak out and completely change my design, second-guessing my gut instincts and taking anything she said there as gospel as to what she wanted. It seemed like it would derail the process. So I decided to go a bit MacGuyver with this.

MacGuyver-ing the ring size
She never wears rings, so I couldn't take one she had already. Darn. So, I waited till she had gone to work one day and rifled through her stuff (fun!) I found a few older rings of different sizes and found a few chunky ones (far right) that seemed like they were older and probably from street vendors -- so I opted to measure the metal ones that looked like they had been bought as a gift for her in the past. I made a paper cone and taped it together (thank you Frank for that excellent idea!) and dropped the ring onto that cone. Then, I used a pen to mark the position on the cone. I repeated that process for several of the rings she had to cross-check. Then I used that plastic ring measuring tool (see middle of the picture) to measure where the pen lines were on the paper cone. They read approx 6-6.5. Seemed like a good guess, as the average woman's ring finger (as I learned) is a size 7.

Side note: this was totally wrong. Her fingers are TINY. Turns out she was was size 4.75?!?!?! Crazy. The one ring here that actually fits her, I thought was a pinky-ring. And the other ones she used to wear on her middle or pointer finger instead. Wow. So this process only got me in the ballpark of size. I had confirmed with the design firm that it was OK to be a bit off -- they said that was absolutely no problem and they could easily re-size up or down a couple of sizes. But I needed to be in the ballpark otherwise major re-designs would need to happen. So, ultimately this process got me close enough. Would have been great if she usually wore rings and I could just have measured one of those, but you have to work with what you've got. :)

Working towards the CAD design
After a good amount of deliberation, I decided the style of the lovely ladies at RedStart Design in San Francisco were the winners. They are so awesome there, and have a magnificent vibe of true craftspeople -- they are a combo of designers and engineers from Stanford, so they had a cool art+science vibe that reminded me a lot of my own workplace. I really trusted they would be the great partners I would need to help me along throughout this process. I wanted people with their own excellent artistic sensibilities to help me take my concept and craft it into something she would love. I did not want a designer just to do whatever I said -- I am not that smart or talented to know exactly what she would want, and I am certainly not arrogant to think I know the first thing about Jewellery design. That said, I did feel it was very important to work in some personal touches and little personal reasons for making certain choices in the ring, and since the diamonds were all heirloom diamonds from South Africa (where my family is from) and were given to my Great Grandmother Lily on her Wedding day by my Great Grandfather Norman... this was a very personal gift for Michal. I wanted it to have a personal touch from me, and not just to set the stones in a pre-existing setting. Thus this design process.

So! RedStart was the perfect combo of "helping me achieve what I think she will like" and "steering me away from making bad decisions since I am not, in fact, a Jewellery designer". They struck a perfect combo.

We worked together back-and-forth for a few weeks. This was great and I really enjoyed the process. They were great about responding to my 7,000 word manifestos about the specific angle of things or the type of engraving or millegrain dots. They were also very smooth but not pressurey at suggesting changes: eg. ultimately I ended up choosing this in unplated white gold (rather than plated white gold), something I didn't even know existed, so it better showed off the stones rather than contrasting too much with them.

Ultimately, after a few weeks of design ideas and passing drawings back and forth, we ended up with this CAD drawing from them, which is darn close to the final ring. This did not yet include engraving.

CAD design -- getting close!

I wanted Michal's ring to be a combination of "new and old" -- just like us. Tradition is very important to us but we are also modern people -- so I wanted the ring to reflect that too. We are also very balanced in terms of bustle and relaxation -- we are a tension of opposites, in some ways. I wanted to get this idea into the ring. Michal's style of Jewlwery (for her earrings, etc) is often very "antiquey" -- plus these stones were hand-cut in 1907, so this is literally an Antique -- though I didn't think she would like a purely Antique-style ring. So the mix of antique and modern was important to me.

I decided that the ring design should be mostly modern, and we would achieve more of that "antiquey" look via the engraving and millegrain detail.

We figured this part out by drawing on top of the ring design CAD printouts, and ultimately coming to a decision reasonably quickly about what kind of engraving would look good. I kept having to remind myself that the engraving would not be dark like the pen drawing on the paper, ultimately it is much more subtle than that in reality.

So this was great, and helped me get to the final design. And then... all I had to do was wait!

We were off again on another trip, this time for my sister's wedding on a cruise ship with no access to the internet of phone for 8 days! I had planned to handoff everything to RedStart in advance of the trip and just had one last-minute call to clarify one of the final engraving decisions about 2 hrs before we left for the boat!! Crazy-pants. But I knew I could trust the ladies there, and with all artistic things, you need to work your butt off in advance and then just let it be. I knew I had put in a bunch of work to get it "right" in advance and she was going to love all of the time and dedication and design details that went into the ring.

We set off on the boat, and I suspected that when we arrived in England, most things would have been completed on the ring. This was exactly the case and when I got back online, I had an email waiting for me called "Sneak Peak" showing off the not-yet-engraved, but completed ring!! OMG!!!

OMG!!!!!!!!!!! It's real!!!!!!!!!!!!
This was an amazing moment of awe and wonder. They had taken the heirloom diamonds, beautifully merged them with some awesome add-on sapphires I wanted, and the ring design was smooth, femine, beautiful, unique, streamlined, and so so glorious. I was so happy. This was now very close to the final completed ring and I was over the moon with joy -- she was going to LOVE IT.

Then, as I mentioned above, I waited for a little longer and trusted the engraver (who has been doing this for 45 years) to take my initial "I want something like this" input and to make it a beautiful reality. And, of course, he did. It was perfect, and the final ring was a slam dunk.

The whole process was so much fun and also so satifsying. I knew I wanted to put my own personal touch into her ring. I had the opportunity to go the other way, to pick a pre-defined setting and to get another place to fill in other stones. I could have also traded in the heirloom stones for something else and bought new ones that were bigger, brighter, different... blah blah. Ultimately the most important thing is the spirit and the meaning inside the ring, and I knew she was going to feel the same way. I actually had a ring designer at another studio try to convince me to trade them in for something else bigger. I said "Thank you for your time" and basically did an about-face and left. That would have been a terrible idea. The heirloom stones are not perfectly clear flawless stones, certainly. But they are much more inherently meaningful than anything I could have ever bought, with any amount of money. They mean carrying forward a family tradition, together. This is ultimately what marriage is all about for us. So I am very glad I stuck with the plan, and so glad I found a design firm keen and willing to work with me, and not try to convince me to do things outside of the core values I wanted the ring to represent.

Ultimately, and my bride-to-be agrees, I ended up with something that is the most meaningful to us, and represents what our love and marriage will stand for. And spending 3.5 months of effort to "get this right" and putting in so much time and energy on her behalf, is I think an excellent and fitting way to start off on the right foot. Energy and effort = time = love.As Mumford and Sons say it, so well, "Where you invest your love, you invest your life". And what a life it will be together!!

Looks good on her :)

To anyone reading this and struggling with a decision about making a custom ring, I hope this was helpful. Good luck. If you decided to go for it, just make sure you choose someone you trust to help usher you towards a final design that she will love.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Dana and Kurt interviewing on Netflix's

Check out this fantastic interview on Netflix's

The esteemed Kurt Kuenne and Dana Nachman interviewing at Netflix this week to talk about Batkid Begins now available on Netflix's DVD service.

It really warms my heart hearing the words that Kurt says here about the purpose of the film -- it represents exactly what I felt was one of the most important dialogues in the film: the "why". We could have just let the day happen and that would have been perfect and achieved Miles' wish.

But once it became more than just that day, and a moment of the world paying attention, the creation of this film was "the extra mile". A documentary became the best way of "sharing it" and talking and telling people why it matters -- this has a lot of power to make volunteering a more enticing thing for people to do.

This, ultimately, is how we can all help make the world a kinder place. I am still blown away that Kurt and Dana so beautifully carried this message for the world to see. I am eternally grateful for their care with this story and this message. Let's see if we can't just fix a few things on this planet while we're here.