Putting it together.
Putting it together. Wahooville

When you visit Israel and Eddie, it doesn’t matter if it’s raining out, or too hot, or too loud or too smelly or too dull. Conditions in Wahooville are always perfect.

“We’re a queer-owned multimedia studio specializing in 3D alternative fantasy, says Israel McCollum, who cofounded the studio with his partner Eddie Cruz at their West Seattle home in 2020.

At the time, Israel had been doing a lot of imaginative photography and image manipulation with local drag performers, and Eddie was feeling unchallenged in a corporate job. Both enjoyed a hobby of creating otherworldly images in the vein of Alice in Wonderland, Lil Nas X, and Disney’s golden age. When the pandemic hit, they decided to make their passion their career — and in so doing, began a process of transporting Seattle’s drag icons into a lush realm of fantasy.

“We grew up in a business type of world where you have to go to the office and art doesn’t pay the bills,” Eddie says. Becoming full-time creative business owners always seemed like an idle fantasy until the pandemic gave them a kick of initiative. “We thought, ‘we’re creative, we could do this,’” Eddie says. “It’s going to be scary and risky. … But we’re going through this discomfort of pandemic and change, so we might as well go hard.”

The venture didn’t launch entirely from scratch. Both Israel and Eddie had contacts in Seattle’s creative community, and they knew that many artists and venues were facing a unique challenge: They needed updated promotional material that reflected the reality of the pandemic, but the pandemic made the creation of those materials particularly difficult.

As it happens, the creative workflow that Israel and Eddie have developed is perfectly suited for just that situation. They usually arrange relatively isolated shoots, photographing a lone performer or visual element at a time, without the need for logistically complicated — or risky — group shots. Then they get to work in 3D modeling and painting software to conjure an imagined world around their subjects, using many of the same tools used for visual effects in movies.

Their company has an additional secret weapon, Eddie says, which is vulnerability. As devotees of the social worker/philosopher/inspirational speaker Brené Brown, he says, they’re always looking for a personal touch in their images. They begin with interviews, learning about their passions and preoccupations in what sounds like a strange sort of casual therapy session. Only once they feel like they’ve made a personal connection they are ready to fire up the backdrops, cameras, and modeling software.

Finished product vs whats real.
Finished product vs what's real. Wahooville

The process yields some arresting images. Local musician Archie appears with her body wreathed in fire; drag performer Bosco (with whom I’ve worked) appears seated in a demonic tableau; Miss Monday Mourning gazes through a jungle; model Mackenzie Claude stands buffed and glowing like an oil painting.

When they first launched the business, their dream job was creating 3D environments in VR — a place where friends could hang out during the pandemic, using the performance-focused platform Altspace. That, it turned out, was perhaps both too ambitious and too niche an interest; now, their initial success working with local performers has refocused their attention on delivering one-of-a-kind dreamscape images to creative colleagues.

Each piece is a labor of love for Eddie and Israel, who are romantic partners in addition to being business partners. (It’s a risk that I personally know well: I’ve been with my partner for twenty years, and after we began collaborating on professional projects for the last five, I was startled to discover entirely new methods of disagreeing with someone I love.) Communicating as two different kinds of partners at the same time isn’t easy, but so far Israel and Eddie have navigated the challenges and are looking forward to growing the businesses together.

“We knew everything starts from love,” Eddies says, “and we knew we could fight through anything uncomfortable, because at the end of the day we have each other.”