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The colorful art of `sign' language

July 15, 2007|Susan King

Pamela Liccardi

Sign writer

Credits: "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," "Transformers," "Wild Hogs," "Norbit," "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," "ER" and "Without a Trace."

Job description: "We develop all of the sign work and murals, anything that would make a set look authentic. Let's say you walked down Rodeo Drive, all the signs that you see [on the street] would be stuff we would do -- anything that had any type of messages, lettering, parking signs, street signs.

"We have also done murals. For 'Wild Hogs,' Sears was giving money to the movie, so I did a big mural that incorporated a house with a little slogan with their logo and a big paint bucket that was 20 foot by 30 foot on the side of a building.

"Sign writing can be really miniature, where you have to get close up to read, or on a huge scale. We have done water towers. If they need a sign done, no matter how big it is, we do it."

Grand designs: "The art department itself will come up with what they want, do the computer work and then send it to us.

"In 'Tokyo Drift,' they actually had an interpreter go through after we were done with the signs to make sure they were correct. They didn't want to have something come across the screen and people see that and say that's not right."

Staffing: "It depends on the movie. If it is a really big sign movie like 'Fast and the Furious' was, we had no less than five sign writers, which is a lot, because basically [most films] try to get away with just having one sign writer."

Oddest assignment: "We had to re-create some signs for 'Tokyo Drift' that said 'Please do not pee here' in Japanese. It apparently is a common thing to pee on the sidewalk in Tokyo, so they have to designate where you can go."

Problem-solving: "People change their minds quite a bit because when you see it on paper it looks fine and great, but when you get on the set and build it, you all of a sudden realize that's not going to work. Sometimes we have to change what the sign is made of -- perhaps it is too heavy to hang from a building. So we have re-create it into something that isn't as heavy. Sometimes it's just creating the look that they want -- you do the look that they tell you they want and then they'll walk up to you and say, 'That's real nice, but it's not exactly what I'm going for.' "

Waiting in the wings: "We do some standby sign writing -- someone says, 'This spot back here is too blank, we need to put something there.' Like on 'Wild Hogs,' at the last minute they decided they needed a 'Closed' sign on a gas station."

Signs of the time: "You work with so many great people behind the scenes in the industry, from getting [a project] started to getting it finished. I know a sculptor who can create something in his mind and build it without even having something to look at. It's just amazing work you don't see nowadays.

"There are the old-timers and the young-timers, and I am one of the young-timers where we grew up with computers. We didn't grow up developing these ideas in our mind. The old-timers -- all they have is their handwork. So you get these old-timers and you are just watching what they are doing in amazement and then being alongside them you learn from them."

Background: "I have drawn since I was little, painted, that type of thing. A lot of people think, 'I have to go to college to do this,' but you don't. I was going to college for psychology. I had a full-time job -- I was a dialysis technician working in the medical field.

"I lived in Washington [state] at the time and one of my best friends, who does [sign writing] for a living, called me and said, 'We have no sign writers on the books. I have to permit someone in,' and he knew I had the ability to do this. I said, 'When do you need me?' And he said, 'Today.' "

"The first thing I worked on was 'Fast and the Furious.' I'm pretty new in the field, and I have done so much."

Age: 29

Resides: Canoga Park

Union or guild: Set Painters and Sign Writers Union.

-- Susan King

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