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Brainerd, MN’s Nice Carvings outfits the set for The Green Hornet with Signage

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Melissa Jones began her career handcarving art for her husband, Jason, in 2006. She created these first pieces on a handheld, rotary tool. She posted the first photos online and, when she received positive feedback, decided to create her own company, Nice Carvings, in Brainerd, MN, which solicits business through its self-titled website.

Jones recalled, “My first jobs were for all kinds of off-the-wall requests, like video-game art and college mascots. Eventually, I primarily settled into dimensional signage, and business has snowballed ever since.”
She still works in her garage basement, although Jones’ space has grown from 400 to approximately 1,400 sq. ft. – 600 for fabrication and 800 for painting – inside a larger house. She also plans to launch a dimensional-sign discussion group on the company’s site, signforum.nicecarvings.com.

Jones said, “Because I generate almost all of my sales online, it was a challenge getting potential clients to trust my ability. That problem still exists, although the portfolio I’ve built has eased that problem.”

A major equipment purchase also spurred Nice Carvings’ growth. In 2008, the purchased of a pre-owned, 4 x 8-ft. ShopBot CNC router exponentially boosted Melissa’s production capability.

Jones said, “With a CNC router, I can produce four times as much work, twice as fast. ”Having a CNC router has enabled Nice Carvings to wholesale HDU signage to other shops. She estimates a standard, two-week turnaround time for a 4 x 8-ft. sign. However, a recent rush job will soon help her gain big-screen recognition.

Jones recalled, “The order form just said it was for a film project, and they sent specs that required six signs to be completed in four days. I didn’t think a lot of it at that time. Then, I received the shipping address and noticed it was for Sony Pictures.”

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She discovered her handiwork would be filmed for The Green Hornet, a Columbia Pictures $100-million-budget blockbuster that will premiere January 14, with Seth Rogen as the title character and Cameron Diaz as his romantic interest. Her work includes a logo for the movie’s fictitious newspaper, The Daily Sentinel, and replicas of a Pulitzer Prize medal and National Press Club awards. The centerpiece comprises a seal for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.

Jones said, “We were told to make subtle changes to the actual seal so that it couldn’t be construed as copyright infringement for the actual seal. Using our 3-D modeling software [Vectric’s ASPire], it was a pretty simple process, although I still enhance machine-carved objects with hand-done undercuts and fine detail.”
 

To fashion the signs and accent pieces, Jones primarily used 18-lb. Sign*Foam® 3 HDU (she incorporated some redwood for the Daily Sentinel logo). To create the District Attorney seal, she bonded the Sign*Foam seal to Trupan MDF using a two-part epoxy that provided extra thickness and rigidity. Had the sign been intended for long-term use, rather than a movie set, Jones noted she probably would’ve bonded the HDU to PVC or thicker HDU for more durability.

To make some elements appear aged, such as the Journalist’s Creed placard installed on the Daily Sentinel set, she applied various layers of lettering enamels. For the District Attorney seal, she used artists’ acrylics – because the film crew didn’t want light to reflect from it back to the cameras, she used flat-finish paint.

 

Flat-finish paint also fit the project well because it dries the fastest and helped meet the deadline, Jones said. She hasn’t been informed about the scenes in which her signs will appear, but Jones is eager to see the movie and find out how her creations integrate into the scenery.
 

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