Best Of Dallas

Introducing Red, our Pegasus-ian Tour Guide through Dallas

Kathy Tran and Daniel Rockey (in color) are the creative duo behind this year's Best of Dallas artwork.
Kathy Tran and Daniel Rockey (in color) are the creative duo behind this year's Best of Dallas artwork. Kathy Tran
Meet Red. He's a horse (of sorts) about town. Red is here to show us the best in our city. This Pegasus is a kicked-out-at-closing-time partier. Red is a rock star, able to jump a line at The Bomb Factory using his local cred, but also chill enough to enjoy a night of bowling with friends. He is a brand-aware consumer who enjoys dropping Benjamins, but also a zen yogi able to clear his mind as fast as he closes his eyelids. This Pegasus is a dichotomy, as is Dallas — too complex to pin down.

Oh, and for anyone confused: He's a winged horse, like the old Magnolia Oil Co. icon that long sat atop what was once Dallas' tallest building. He's not, as some commenters have suggested, a demon. We admit a slight resemblance to Captain Howdy from The Exorcist, but no, he's a flying horse.

To bring him to life, we sourced many parts of his "self" online. We found that we would have to do a lot of costume remodeling to make a red Pegasus, which is not a popular ready-made costume. This involved buying some latex horse hooves and mask, repainting the mask red with special latex mask paint and adding a red mane and eyelashes from long-pile red faux fur. We found his giant wings in Ukraine and his red tail in New York. We then made him glamorous by giving him a red suit and tie.

click to enlarge Red in all his Pegasusian glory - KATHY TRAN
Red in all his Pegasusian glory
Kathy Tran
But making a costume is not making a persona. We needed the talent of photographer Kathy Tran and her partner Daniel Rockey. The Dallas Observer has reached out to Tran on many projects. We like her ability to think on her feet, to bring a variety of interesting people together and for her quick creative concepts.

For Best of Dallas, we had four sections in which we divide our awards: Food & Drink, Shopping & Services, Arts & Entertainment, Sports & Recreation. Red would have to experience something in each category for the sections' opening photos. We worked together to figure out his persona and what he would be into in Dallas. Kathy had the logistics down on what would work for locations, setup, models, lighting.

Art Director Sarah Schumacher talked to Kathy and Daniel about their collective experience in creating this year's art for Best of Dallas.

DO: Hi Kathy and Daniel! Thanks for helping make Red the Pegasus we now know him as. What do you like best about him?

Daniel: It's definitely the hooves. For those (like myself) who haven’t spent a ton of time around horses/Pegasus, hooves are super weird and only get weirder the longer you look at them. Red does a good job of keeping them manicured though.

Kathy: I like the fact that it's my boyfriend under all that latex. It makes it much easier to coordinate things.

DO: Who is the man behind Red and what was it like being him?

Daniel: Red was filled out by me, Daniel Rockey. I’m a writer for the Dallas Observer, and a freelance multimedia artist around Dallas and beyond. Being Red was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. The outfit has a strange sense of power to it, I think mostly due to the enormous nature of the wings. The mask, though, is very form-fitting, to say the least, and while I’m not claustrophobic, it was sometimes a challenge to wear it for extended periods of time.

DO: In selecting locations for the Best of Dallas shoots, a lot of aspects come into play to compose that engaging storytelling shot. How do you go about testing if a location or situation would workfor a photo shoot?

Daniel: While Kathy coordinated many of the locations, one of the biggest deciding factors was whether or not the location would allow us to shoot at that particular site. The Eye at the Joule, for example, is notoriously difficult to get permission into.

Kathy: I pick elements that would be interesting. Things like the bowling alley, there are a lot of props there. As well, looking for getting clearance quickly is important, as we can't wait around for months until we get access into a location.

click to enlarge Photographer Kathy Tran lines up the shot. Eriana Riuz assists on the shoot for the cover of Best of Dallas 2019 at Sweet Tooth Hotel with the North Texas Bingo Drag Queens. - ASHLEY GONGORA
Photographer Kathy Tran lines up the shot. Eriana Riuz assists on the shoot for the cover of Best of Dallas 2019 at Sweet Tooth Hotel with the North Texas Bingo Drag Queens.
Ashley Gongora
DO: What is the most important aspect to maintain control of in a shoot like these?

Kathy: It's relationships that I have already built for my members of the team. Having previous experience with people and locations means that things can be a bit less formal, which ultimately means everything can run smoother and quicker. Trust goes a long way.

DO: In our experience, people tend to underestimate the amount of work (also talent and experience) that goes into creative endeavors. How long have you been professionally shooting? How much time and conceptual energy goes into planning a shoot?

I have been shooting for more than 10 years, but around seven years professionally. While I can't put an exact time on each shoot, I like to reference my best gift — my ability to make connections. I am pulling up information and contacts, sometimes from many years prior, in order to make a shoot run smoothly. While each “shoot” for this project may have only taken a few weeks per location, I was constantly using assets, people and locations from my entire career.

DO: How do you set up a shoot like the cover, which involved many models and elaborate costuming? How do you go about casting people?

Kathy: I cast people based on bringing people who may not get that access otherwise. Minorities, my friends, sometimes even my most loyal Instagram followers. People who are underrepresented, but still make up what Dallas is all about. I try to put out positive energy for all of my shoots, which I feel goes a long way in making the models more comfortable, and ultimately more responsive towards making a shoot go smoothly.

DO: What sort of equipment do you need to set up shoots like Best of Dallas? Do you need a lot of helpful staff to have a successful shoot?

Daniel: Equipment wise, lighting is one of the most impactful tools we used. The camera and lenses are important, but secondary to Kathy’s careful craftsmanship of light. We used mostly Godox AD200 lights, with a variety of modifiers to shape the light. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a town to coordinate a shoot. We sometimes have more than six people on-site assisting with lighting, equipment setup, styling, posing and behind-the-scenes coverage.

Kathy: I prefer to keep my shoots at a skeleton crew if possible. Everyone I like working with is very multi-talented and can stretch their abilities over a variety of tasks.

click to enlarge Jessica Ayers helps Daniel Rockey with his hooves. - ASHLEY GONGORA
Jessica Ayers helps Daniel Rockey with his hooves.
Ashley Gongora
DO: How is editorial photography different from commercial photography and other types of photography you do?

Kathy: Both types have their own pros and cons, but for this shoot (editorial) there was a lot of whimsy, a lot of freedom to move creatively. Commercial shoots tend to be a bit more stiff and all about perfection, but can present their own unique and fun challenges.

DO: What do you look for in collaborators (clients, models, hair/makeup artists, photography assistants, creative directors, etc.)?

Kathy: People who are a bit less formal. People who are casual about things make shoots more conversational, more relaxed. People who I would invite to come over and hang out is a big one.

DO: What was the hardest aspect and what was the most fun? What surprised you about this project?

Daniel: The hardest part (for me) was breathing. Setting up a successful shot, with everyone posed correctly can sometimes take a long time, and in that time I had to wear Red’s mask, which has some extremely limited airflow. The most fun was having such creative freedom. There are really no rules to this, and finding a way to make each shoot at each location work has a lot of fun problem-solving put into it. I was most surprised by how responsive people were to Red. Turns out a 6-foot-tall Pegasus-Man-Hybrid doesn’t scare people away as much as I thought it would.

Kathy: The most fun was being able to cast models. I had a lot of leverage in deciding who would be best, which makes me excited. The most difficult was working with wardrobe. Making sure everything was able to match each other, and the environment they were modeling in was stressful, especially since it seemed everyone had my phone number — I was getting texts all hours of the day and night about what they should be wearing.

click to enlarge Sapphire Elaine Tailar preps for the shoot. - ASHLEY GONGORA
Sapphire Elaine Tailar preps for the shoot.
Ashley Gongora
DO: What is your dream project? And what might we see you up to next?

Daniel: I work more with multimedia and video than I do still shooting — so a dream project would be to put Red into some kinds of videos! Going about Dallas and performing his usual activities. Outside of this context — I love capturing people’s stories through video especially while traveling.

Kathy: My dream project is to travel locally and internationally while shooting. I want to capture fine art portraits of people’s everyday lives.
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