OAKLAND -- Here in Oakland, Burning Man has already begun.
Although, the weeklong art festival, which offers a motley mix of experimental art, music and all of the above, does not begin until the week before Labor Day about 120 miles north of Reno, it is crunchtime for building Burning Man's art installations.
A crowd of 50,000 erects a temporary city on a dry lake called a playa in the Black Rock Desert around the sculptures, many of which are built in the East Bay.
Burners have been busy building. They say the East Oakland art space NIMBY feels like the playa.
Here, more than a dozen projects are headed to the desert including a giant brain, gay sheep, an octopus, a steampunk ship and an alien time machine.
"If you're just going to Burning Man, you're not really getting the whole experience," said Dan Fox, the artist behind the four-story-tall "Alien Siege Machine." "What they really miss, it's not really about the festival. They miss all this community."
Hundreds of people work on their giant sculptures and party buses on the weekends leading up to Burning Man. Over barbecue, they swap construction and fundraising tips. Most installations are on crowdsourcing sites and hold group fundraising events.
"The people are self-motivated doers, makers. They're alive," said Michael Snook, who runs NIMBY. "They're not sitting around waiting for something fun to happen. They're making it happen."
After helping build the well-known "Trojan Horse" in 2011 and "Anubis" the next year, Fox wanted to keep working on collaborative projects.
Months ago, he came up with the idea of the "Alien Siege Machine," a 45-foot-tall wooden structure, and gave it a narrative set in a computer-simulated world.
By the time it's done, more than 100 people will have helped build the alien time machine and performed in the alien's awakening ceremony on the playa.
The counterculture celebration revels in interactive and collaborative art.
"The Kraken," an octopus made of recycled wood, will be shot down with a flaming harpoon -- "Moby-Dick" style. Its creator, the East Bay Burners group, has done all its projects at NIMBY.
"We've all become friends," said Dylan Modell, project lead for "The Kraken." "This is the real Burning Man. This is Burning Man to me. I go to Burning Man to create art."
Apart from its tools and recycled resources, NIMBY has become a hub for Burning Man construction because of its learning environment. More experienced burners teach others how to build a successful installation, from welding skills to transportation logistics.
Snook said people usually just camp at Burning Man their first year and either hate it or love it. If they want more, they join a camp making art. NIMBY is known for welcoming sophomore burners with open arms.
"Just yesterday, I worked on one, two, three, five, six or seven projects," Modell said. "I would say this is a good place to come to expand your skill set, your horizons. You can just come here, be courageous and do anything."
The Phage Camp, made up of mostly scientists and engineers in hot-pink construction hats, finished building a giant, climbable, drivable brain-shaped jungle gym on top of a retrofitted school bus last weekend. "Dr. BrainLove" lights up, mimicking actual brain function, and can help teach science.
The team is setting up exhibits, such as "Ask a Drunk Scientist," in hopes of infusing Burning Man with more science among all the "crystals and magic" at the playa.
"There's this like-minded space that exists between science and art, and when trying to create within that space, something beautiful emerges," said Laura Ray, a member of the Phage Camp.
The steel structure is based on an MRI brain scan of a neuroscientist teammate.
After Burning Man, they want to take "Dr. BrainLove" on tour at science festivals and maybe put it on exhibit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. (They're crossing their fingers.)
Three NIMBY art sculptures will be on display Saturday at Berkeley Spark, an art, tech and innovation festival that brings Burning Man to Berkeley. Local burners and Downtown Berkeley Association CEO John Caner started the event last year.
"It's not only for burners to get in the spirit of Burning Man but to share a taste of the festival with the broader community as well," Caner said. "The festival is a pre-Burning celebration."
The East Bay has a rich burner heritage, he said.
And when Burning Man leaves for the desert, Snook said, "Oakland will feel like a ghost town."
What: If you can't attend Burning Man, Berkeley Spark offers the same vibe, without the dust.
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, 2151 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley
Info: Burning Man is Aug. 25 to Sept. 1 in Black Rock Desert, Nevada. For details, go to www.burningman.com