The Carver County Veterans Memorial Committee envisioned a memorial with 6 panels. Each panel was to be etched with a unique design of a saluting figure that represented a specific branch of the military and a POW/MIA.
The committee contracted with Coldspring, a granite company, for the construction of the monument. The contract specified polished black granite panels measuring 36 inches wide by 80.75 inches tall.
Creature Works' challenge was to design the high resolution imagery for the panels.
The first thing to consider was that a monument's location and viewing distance often determines how large a human figure on it should be.
Typically, for an outdoor monument, the smallest scale that is appropriate for a human form is "life and a quarter", or 125% of life-size. The reason for this is apparently due to the fact that we humans have an oddly inflated sense of ourselves. A life sized figure placed under the big blue sky seems strangely small and diminutive, which is the last thing you want if you are honoring someone.
Elevating a figure enhances the viewing distance but the greater the distance from the observer to the figure, the larger the figure would need to be. Our memorial panels would be raised slightly but would be viewed from relatively close up, so life and a quarter seemed an appropriate size.
A quick mock-up showed however, that a figure scaled up to 125% would not fit well on a 36 x 80.75 inch panel. It left no head room and the saluting arm would be clipped. Re-negotiating with the granite company for larger panels was not a viable option.
To solve the width problem, we proposed using saluting figures turned to a 3/4 view – which would have a narrower profile.
To handle the height problem, we proposed positioning the figure with comfortable head room and using foreground elements at the bottom to push the figure back into the frame which made cutting off legs visually acceptable.
Given that the figures would need to be extremely high resolution, and that they needed to be in a specific pose, it became clear that we would not find what we needed using stock photography.
Models and Uniforms
The Veterans Memorial Committee had already done a preliminary photo shoot at the Carver County Historical Society for a couple of the military branches, but we needed to expand on that to cover all branches and add some diversity in personnel.
We contacted the Guthrie Theater's costume department and they were very helpful in selecting and loaning us uniforms. The Veterans Memorial Committee arranged for a live shoot using military personnel at the Armory in St. Paul, MN. Some of the personnel would be wearing their own uniforms. With the addition of the uniforms from the Guthrie Theater and the Carver County Historical Society, we had all branches covered – some in multiple eras.
Positioning the Camera
We knew the size and placement that we wanted for the figures on the panels, so we needed to determine a camera position for the shoot.
Using the 125% scaled soldier mock-up, we could see that eye level (64" for a 5' 10” viewer), would be approximately at the soldier's solar plexus.
So by shooting the live figures with the camera pointed at their solar plexus, (about 46" from the floor) we should get the correct perspective for viewing the installed monument panels.
We did two photos shoots with photographer Gerry Thomas to capture multiple angles of all uniforms which gave us plenty of still images to choose from.
An early mock-up for positioning and ordering of the panels: Army, Marines, Navy, POW/MIA, Air Force, Coast Guard.
Corrections and Alterations
Although there were no specific time periods for any of the uniforms, each uniform had to correctly represent one that could have existed for a chosen rank at some time in each military branch's history. To get these details right, we consulted with experts and did a lot of research.
All accessories, logos, insignia, buttons and uniforms were examined and corrected if needed.
Some were easy Photoshop changes – as seen in this 'before and after' Coast Guard Example:
Others, like this POW example, were more involved.
Background Elements Design
Each panel needed background elements that would relate to the military branch being honored. It was important that any equipment used in a panel belonged to that branch of the military. This involved extensive searching to find hi-resolution images which were then altered to serve desired functions within the spaces available.
We also decided that it would be a unique feature for the monument if each panel contained a colored flag. This option was discussed with Coldspring and they indicated they could do it by sandblasting color into the panels.
Each panel has a theme but does not limit itself to any specific conflict or battles. The idea was that we would be representing everyone that served – regardless of rank or time period.
The final designs were created at 300dpi and converted to bitmap screened images.
Coldspring had specific requirements for the luminance ranges that would reproduce well on polished granite. Areas too bright would not retain details and areas too dark were prone to speckling in the screens as the values ramped up or down.
A few elements were chosen to deliberately not receive any etching; The silhouette of the taps player in the Navy panel, the prison camp barbed wire and tower in the POW/MIA panel, and the land masses in the Coast Guard panel.
The etching of the granite panels, plus the cutting and assembly of all granite elements was done by Coldspring
The monument was erected in Nov 2018 at the Carver County Veterans Memorial site adjacent to the Dakota Rail Trail in Mayer Minnesota. This photo was taken shortly after the granite panels were installed but the full memorial was still in progress.