tank9 and Mary Elizabeth Notz

December 2012 Featured Videographer of the Month: tank9

Cosplay Photographers: Duy Luu, better known as tank9, is all about “connecting friends through dance and documentary.” If you’ve never heard of tank9 then you’re missing out. Duy and his partner, Mary Elizabeth Notz, attend Anime conventions all around the U.S. where they set up dances and get other cosplayers to join in. They also conduct interviews to document the convention scene. Today we’re proud to interview these two as Cosplay Photographers’ Featured Photographer of the Month! So let’s get it started.

Thank you so much Mary and Duy for joining us today. We’ve been huge fans of tank9 for awhile now and it’s a privilege to interview the both of you. Can you tell us how Tank9 got started?

Cosplay Photographer Location URL
Duy Luu Los Angeles, California, USA https://www.facebook.com/tank9Official

Duy Luu: Thank you! We are both happy to be featured Cosplayer Photographers of the month. This is how tank9 all started. Beginning in 1998, I served for the U.S. Army for three years as an M1A1/A2 tank crew member. My love for driving a tank put me on tracks to videography… Yes, the military gave me an opportunity to try photography with a Canon EOS SLR. However, I was more interested in filming with my Handycam, and editing video with software. I used free software such as Movie Maker and later iMovie to edit until it was too slow for my workflow. When I was honorably discharged from the military, I came to identify myself as “tank.” When I decided to create a YouTube account in 2006, “9” was added to my name for it’s multiplication simplicity.

Cosplay Photographers: Wow, thank you for serving, you have our undying appreciation and respect. So how long ago was this when you got into video?

Duy Luu: I was recording my own voice to cassette tape when I was 5 with a tape recorder. When I was about 12 I saw a man filming me with his rather heavy camcorder on his shoulder, which recorded onto VHS. Later I had my chances of playing with different video cameras that recorded onto smaller tapes called VHS-C and HI8. By 14 I learned how to record TV to VHS and how to add shows to the video tapes without copying over old shows. By 15 I was editing tapes with two VHS players. As long as I could remember I was doing something with a video camera, from filming claymations, animating drawings, to creating stop motion, and adding special effects such as making my brother disappear in thin air. All of this was done by editing on VHS to VHS tape, VHS player to camcorder, and for animations, recorded by pressing the record button, and stopping it quickly.

Cosplay Photographers: Incredible! And here we had always figured Ackson was the “first”, but we think it’s safe to say tank9 is the first cosplay videographer! So at what point or what convention did you first start your experiment of getting cosplayers to dance?

Duy Luu: While I feel that it’s advantageous to be the “first” to do things in a new combination, Ackson and I do things differently as videographers. He is competitive in his own way, and I respect that.

During Anime Expo 97, I recorded some Ranma 1/2 cosplayers, Record of Lodoss Wars Deedlit, DBZ, and some others on a VHS-C tape. That tape has never been uploaded to the Internet. That tape paved the way for filming cosplayers dancing at conventions. I still have my single day badge for AX 97.

It was Anime Expo 2009 that I returned with a borrowed Sony DCR-TRV280, and a catch 22 situation: a very tight budget and no AX attendee pass. It may have been criminal back then, if I didn’t sneak into every place I could for free, and didn’t film a dance video with cosplayers. It was essentially my next industrial dance video, but at Anime Expo. What I’ve done is do with what I had; it was a very low cost production. Cosplayers were surprised that I asked them to suddenly dance with them. On top of that, there were no music for them to hear. I’m glad that cosplayers put in the effort to dance with me, it was really fun, so I’ve been back doing dance videos ever since. I hope I have become a welcomed addition to Anime Expo all these years since 2009.

Cosplay Photographers: So we noticed tank9 has this beautiful girl dancing in the videos as well. Who is she and how did she get started with tank9?

Mary Elizabeth Notz: In September 2010, Tank and I were introduced by a mutual friend at Perversion, a Gothic/Industrial dance club located on Hollywood Blvd at the time. Later that evening at the dance venue we began talking in between breaks from dancing. I was aware of his “Angry Industrial Dancer in Little Saigon” video, and I knew who he was on youtube, but he seemed really nice so I was interested in talking to him and seeing who he was as a person.

A few days after being introduced and casually spending time together Tank sent me a message on myspace asking if I would like to be a guest dancer in one of his upcoming videos. I used to be super shy, but I loved dancing at clubs! To me being out on the dance floor surrounded by the music I loved was the best feeling in the world. I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and go for it! A week later we met up and drove to Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles to film our “Centhron-Dreckstuck” Video.

After the Centhron video was released, there was a demand to see more of me by Tank’s viewers. I began making practice dance videos in my room to feed the demand. A few months after we decided to make our “Downtown Invasion” video featuring us both. From there both of our individual and combined fan bases kept growing.

I joined in on Tank’s third Anime Expo video: “Anime Expo Dance to Space Electro“. Over the months we have created solo dance videos and combined dance videos, spontaneously on the streets or at planned events such as cons. Tank and I are a team, we work together on all of our projects. We both film and dance, collaborate with others, make decisions on the editing. It’s a lot of work, but I feel that we are a strong team and that is what keeps us moving forward. His strengths are my weaknesses in a lot of aspects and vice versa, yet we both envision things and think on the same level, we communicate and that’s what keeps things progressing.

Cosplay Photographers: Wow, that’s awesome! What a great story to tell the grandchildren one day huh? So you guys also do documentary videos. What’s that all about?

Duy Luu: Haha. I can’t imagine what our grandchildren will think of us. I wonder now, haha.

The anime convention documentary videos is our efforts to branch out to try something new other than our original dance videos.

We have been tinkering with short documentary-like films for a short period of time on the OtakuEverything YouTube channel, and now, we feel that it’s time to put practice to its real purpose on our new tankNmary YouTube channel. We feel that there is a strong need to cover anime conventions in all its offerings. There’s so much to touch upon at anime conventions that we want to share with everyone.

At tankNmary (tank9 and Mary Nine), It’s hard work to create awesome anime convention documentaries. In our minds, we have to always consider and remind ourselves to create videos that will appeal to most of our audiences, while still remaining genuine to ourselves. That’s part of the hard work. However, our documentary work is also play time too. We enjoy meeting new people and fans, collaborating with designers and artists through sharing their art pieces, traveling to new places, trying new exciting activities such as anime/Kpop/Jpop/Jrock related Karaoke, and seeing amazing events, such as Battle of the Bands. And, we couldn’t have experienced most of these new experiences without our supportive fans. Much appreciation goes out to them for being a part of our lives.

There’s much more I’d like to touch upon about what we have learned and done for the anime community. However I’ll stay on topic and say this. Mary and I are both new to creating documentaries at conventions. If you join us and stick around to see our newer video projects, you’ll get to see our improvements in documentaries and more. Mary is improving on her techniques with technical video stuff, while I’m improving on hosting in front of the camera. Neither of us are better at all skills, so we teach, observe, and make suggestions to each other to improve in areas we aren’t good at. For example, I’ll teach her how to use the Glidecam camera stabilizer, and she’ll teach me how to deliver my messages effectively. We have helped each other out to create documentaries at conventions as best as we could and will continue to do so as we learn, so please stay tuned!

Cosplay Photographers: You guys are certainly doing some amazing work already from what we’ve seen. Are the documentaries going to be joined in the same tank9 videos or will they be separate videos?

Duy Luu: Thank you. We wanted to branch off from the YouTube channel tank9 to create other works on our YouTube channels, tankNmary and OtakuEverything, while still keeping the tank9 industrial dance channel moving forward. It’s not easy, but the documentaries we worked on are collaborations with many Etsy shop designers, such as hand-made, Avant-garde hair and jewelry accessories designer, Angelica Brigade, and graduate of design school, Lolita clothing and accessories designer, Pop Princess. We also communicate directly with musicians who have made a name for themselves and love what they do for music’s sake. These musicians provide us with License Agreements to their music in exchange for our services of producing a dance or documentary video using their music. In one case we worked with the amazing band Krystal System. They love our dance videos, and have featured us in their own music video called, “Nuclear Winter.” We also had the pleasure to work with Glidecam Industries Inc., which provided us with a free HD-1000 Glidecam to create smooth moving dance and documentary videos. The effort to move forward professionally has lead us to create separate YouTube channels other than tank9 and maryquitecontraryy.

Cosplay Photographers: You guys are certainly establishing a tank9 Network. Maybe in the future we’ll see your work available on iTunes as well? We really like how you’re showcasing so many talented designers as well. Plus, that’s cool how you’re able to legally use music in your videos through trade. So what’s your secret? How do you get cosplayers to dance in your videos?!

Duy Luu: I haven’t thought of putting our videos on iTunes yet, but that’s something we will definitely look into now, thanks for your suggestion.

Thank you, we love collaborating with other talented people, and will continue to work with others. Mary has helped me a lot by writing to many conventions and designers, while I write to musicians and other companies. Writing is communicating. Then we show them what we have created, and that’s only the beginning of developing relationships with other amazing people. Doing things the right way takes more effort and a lot of people’s help, but it’s worth it. That’s how we plan to get somewhere with our dance and documentary projects.

Our secret to get cosplayers to dance in our videos has changed over the years. At first it was asking permission to film them without telling them what would happen next if they agree. Then we would surprise instruct them into dancing with us, and most of the time, cosplayers are fine with this. But, there were times that some were to embarrass to dance, shied away, and that’s fine, because it takes courage to do something new as it turns out from trial and error. Now that we have become a bit more established in videography, and have a better understanding of how to approach people, we have learned that it’s best to let cosplayers know who we are and what we are doing first, to save us time on our production with people who don’t want to do it. Many cosplayers love to be a part of the video projects that we are creating, and it helps that we have so many fans who know who we are at conventions.

Cosplay Photographers: Great insight! Also I’m sure once you reach a certain following of fans, it gets easier to get people involved as they already know what you’re about and are more likely to be excited to be a part of it. So I know you mentioned you have sponsorship by Glidecam, what other equipment like cameras and accessories do you guys use to film the dance videos and documentaries?

Duy Luu: Every year we gain a bit more experience, and with that, an upgrade is necessary to expand our creativity. I remembered borrowing video cameras and asking my friend Sarkstir to help film me when I first began creating dance videos. Only later did I buy my own entry level HD video camera. The current camera equipments we use for video is a Panasonic TM900 with x.07 Panasonic wide angle conversion lens.

Later when we started a Kickstarter project for Anime Expo and Otakon 2012, our amazing supporters funded us a Rode VideoMic Pro for documentary use. Recently, for photography, we have been gifted a Canon Xsi to capture more content for our fans, and It’s perfect for our use. We have plans to add a new DSLR camera for future projects that will give us greater control over shallow depth of field. Other than that, I use a 2.93 GHz 27″ Intel Core i7 16GB iMac to edit video. It’s important that I add that, it’s not the equipment you have that gets you further along where you want to be, use what resources you have available. Even if that means borrowing or starting with entry level equipments.

Cosplay Photographers: That’s very good advice and we definitely agree, it’s not the equipment. So it sounds like the Kickstarter project was a great success! Do you guys have other plans for future Kickstarters?

Duy Luu: You’re welcome! Kickstarter is an amazing program for us! Since Kickstarter is an all or nothing program, we needed to reach our goals of $1500 for each project, otherwise no funds would be available. Succeeding in reaching our goals of $1500 for each Anime Expo and Otakon 2012 project is an accomplishment for both Mary and I. We certainly appreciate all the pledges that were made from fans and Backers on Kickstarter. Thanks to everyone who pledged and made a difference for us. We were able to travel, eat well, share hotel rooms with the awesome videographer Acksonl, meet a lot of cool people, and we completed two videos for Anime Expo and two videos for Otakon 2012. We were most excited to the point of tears that one particular person, who loved us so much, he contributed $1500 single handedly. That person’s name deserves to be well credited, Cameron Tillery, also listed in the ending credits of our four videos.

Kickstarter worked very well in the end, although it wasn’t actually a walk in the park, we most definitely will think about using Kickstarter again in the near future.

Cosplay Photographers: You guys have the best fans! Would you have any advice to other cosplay photographers/videographers who might be considering Kickstarter? Like where to start, what to do, what to avoid, and etc.?

Duy Luu: Sure, I’d be glad to share what we know about Kickstarter. First, read all the suggestions carefully on how to launch a successful Kickstarter project. They detail everything on their webpage. After all, your success is their success. Then, if you are still confused, browse around, and look for successful funded projects, and see how others are doing it. It’s pretty straightforward, I think. Tell people who you are, have a genuine heart, work towards your goal, reward people for helping you, and you will succeed. People will come forward to fund your project if they can see that you are credible behind your words. We had fun working on our projects and have been very appreciative of everyone’s efforts on helping us reach both our goals for the Otakon and Anime Expo 2012 projects.

Cosplay Photographers: Thanks for that great insight. So what’s next for you guys? What cons are you guys planning to be at or wanting to attend?

Duy Luu: We’re happy to say that we are in communication and working with some conventions and fashion/accessories designers. We will be in a better mood for producing more dance videos once the weather cools down, and expect to see more of our dance videos released on our YouTube channels. We will also be in collaborations with musicians. In the future, we hope to collaborate with more talented people and work on all new kinds of projects not yet thought of.

Cosplay Photographers: Thank you so much for sitting down with us and sharing such amazing stuff! We are truly honored and we can’t wait to see what else you guys have in store. Is there anything else you would like to add before we wrap this interview up?

Duy Luu: You’re welcome! It was our pleasure to be interviewed by Cosplay Photographers. Yes, If there are readers out there who want to know how we got where we are today, it’s genuinely working with different people and doing what you love.

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At Cosplay Photographers, we believe that cosplay is an art form to be celebrated. We believe that epic cosplays are about bringing your favorite fantasy characters to life and, through the latest mediums like digital photography and videography, sharing that with the world. We seek to foster a community of talented individuals who wish to promote the art of cosplay and photography.

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