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Sculpture Student Michael Leon Goes Hollywood

Michael Leon has displayed his sculpture in a number of settings, but now he has a new one to tell his friends about — in the middle of a Hollywood film! One of Leon’s pieces was chosen for display in the long-anticipated film version of the Broadway play Rent.

The piece in question was life-sized representation of a mermaid in ice, although as is so often the case in Hollywood, the producers used a bit of sleight-of-hand to make sure the piece didn't melt — this "ice sculpture" was carved in silicone.

We spoke to Michael about his sculpture, his experience working on the project, and his experiences at the Academy:

How did you get involved with the production of Rent?

Someone had called the school looking for help. I was handed a number and told that this person might have some work for me. I had no idea what they wanted, so I called, talked to a couple of people until I found my contact person. To my surprise, this was for the film version of Rent, taken from the Broadway play. They wanted me to sculpt some swans that would look like ice sculptures. The next week, they changed their minds and wanted to see some sketches of mermaids, so I drew some and sent them in. It was a process of several weeks until I got the green light for the project.

Describe the piece they used.

The "ice sculpture" is life-size. She's four and a half feet tall, sitting on a rock. First, I had to build an armature; then, I sculpted it in clay. I used foam core for the bulk of the sculpture, but even with the foam, I still used about five hundred pounds of clay. The art director met with me to take a first hand look at the clay original. He made some minor adjustments and we were ready to make the mold. The mold was made of silicone with a fiberglass mother-mold. I worked with a company that specialized in resin castings. It was absolutely imperative that the finished sculpture look like ice.

How did you feel about your work being used in the film?

Working in the movie industry has always been an interest of mine. I am extremely happy and completely satisfied that I have work in the movie. I hope that the relationships that were built during this project will result in more work in the future.

Have you had a chance to see how it is being used by the production?

The production staff arranged for me to be on set. It was great. I got some terrific shots of my work and also met some of the actors and actresses. It was my first time on a live set; it was very exciting.

How have you enjoyed your experience at the Academy?

My time has flown by. I can’t believe that this fall, I will finish my last class. It has been an incredible time of growth, both in my artistic skills and on a personal level.

Maybe I have a biased opinion of the school, but I think it’s probably one of the best art schools in the country. The instructors are top notch and could compete on a world level. Some of the instructors that have had an influence on me are Peter Schifrin, Mark Zjawinski, John Fick, Earl Enriquez, and Steve Perkins.

What are you currently working on?

My current work has a strong religious influence; it’s about seeing God through the things around us. I have chosen stars as the subject and vehicle to express this concept, as well as adding other religious symbolism and echoes of current world issues. I am a sculptor, and mainly a ceramic artist. I've been doing ceramics for almost twenty years, but right now I am working on a very important series of bronze stars, which will be a part of my thesis show.

What are your goals and your plans for the future, both for your art and for yourself?

Higher education has been very good for me. In fact, I hope to never really leave. I would like to move into teaching ceramics and sculpture classes. It would be an opportunity to give back so much of the skills that have been given to me.


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