Thursday, December 4, 2008

From globe to helmet

Jumping back to my contributions to my friend Daniel Lenneer's film Wavebreaker I thought it could be interesting to chronicle the tranformation of a terrestrial globe into a steampunk diver's helmet. Danny wanted a classical surface supplied diver, or "hooka diver", for his underwater epic. This meant either buying, borrowing or making a big, clunky diving helmer. The two first options quickly went out the window, which meant it was up to me to construct a fake version. All of the underwater footage was to be shot against a greenscreen, so the helmet just had to look good enough.

I started off with a globe I bought at a garage sale for a trifle. Dismantling it was an easy task, but getting rid of the printed paper wrapping was not. It took several days to clean everything off.

I placed the cleaned globe on a hard polyfoam bust I always use for maskmaking, and built up the shoulder and neck areas in Chavant clay. There was a visible seam between the two plastic halves of the globe so I covered that with Apoxie.

The shoulder / neck part was cast in latex, reinforced with cotton until it took on a leathery feel. It was then reinforced with hot-melt glue. I would've liked to cast it in plastic instead, but there were no money for the necessary materials. But this solution worked out fine. The portholes in front, at the top and at the sides were plastic saucers made to hold water for flower pots. I cut holes in them and built up the grids in the portholes using Apoxie sculpt over cardboard frames. Other stuff added was a plastic medicine jar as a valve, and the lid from a container of vaseline. This particular diver had the look of a hooka diver, but in fact he had a steampunk air supply solution in the shape of air tubes on his back, hence the small pipe in the back of the helmet.

When all the details were added and secured the whole helmet was spraypainted flat back.

And here's the finished helmet, painted in brass and aluminum with airbrush to give it a mottled, worn look. I also added a real brass valve to the right (your right) of the helmet.

Danny tries it out and seems pleased with the result.

A couple of frame-grabs for Danny's first composite try-out. I also made some underwater plants/animals/fungi/whatever in rubber, for the divers to pick when they go hunting for food on the ocean floor.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Props and costume for "Slayers of Evil".

When my LARP friend Martin and I decided to produce our own little fantasy epic, we immediately settled on having it look like it jumped out of a 1970's Dungeons & Dragons rule book. Which meant that the wizard should have a pointy hat, the elf must wear Robin Hood tights and the barbarian princess must have a very skimpy outfit.
All of this also meant another call to my invaluable dress-making friend Liz Mattsson, who's provided clothes for both actors and puppets in a number of my films. Nothing is impossible for her to make and if she doesn't know how to make it straight away, she'll figure it out. There is a great freedom, and I have to say relief, not having to rely on what you might find in a theatre wardrobe. Sometimes you strike gold there, but more often you get something that is kind of, sort of what you have in mind. It is a hundred times better to be able to design the entire look of a character from scratch and then be able to stick to it. It's an added cost of buying material for the costumes, but it's worth it.

For our wizard, Aronaxx (played by Rolf Berg) I bought bright red cloth and painted hundreds of astrological and alchemical symbols over it with gold textile paint. It took two full days to do that. Then Liz pieced it all together in the form of a typical wizard's robe. Easy to put on and get out of, and Rolf could even go and have a wee-wee while wearing it.

The wizard's pointy had was made out of a kind of soft, but sturdy cardboard with glue on one side of it. You remove a protective paper covering from the glue side and press the cardboard down on a piece of cloth. In this case I painted on the symbols after I had attached the cloth and assempled the cone.

This photo is taken at the end of the last day of shooting for Rolf, and as you can see he sweated quite a bit!

The wizard's staff was a very simple construction. The staff itself was a wooden rod used for hanging curtains and the top was a styrofoam ball, covered with latex and spraypainted gold. The detaling on the orb was made from latex castings of clay sculptures. It was all made very quickly the day before shooting started.

Rolf was wearing a beard made out of human hair. I bought it a coulpe of years back and originally used it for a film called The Haunted Mill, but since the beard is attached to lace fiber, it can be reused again and again. Which is a good thing since it was really, really expensive.

The character who needed the most elaborate props and costume was probably Vulvia, the barbarian princess (played by Malin Hermansson). Malin was chosen for a number of reasons; she has the looks, the figure and the humor for the job. She can also act and dance, the latter being a plus when fight choreography is used.

Vulvia is certainly the toughest in the bunch of heroes, so we decided to juxtapose this by giving her a taste for pink. Actually (not referred to in the film), the pink fur comes from a bear-like monster living in the wild mountains that are her home.

Parts of her outfit, the cape, the shoulder pads and the boots are taken from a costume made a few years back. The leather arm braces were made by a friend of Martin's. At the time of filming this project, Malin was a brunette and we felt she didn't look Scandinavian or valkry-ish enough. So I bought a blonde wig.

Vulvia's necklace was inspired by barbarian bling-bling seen in Frank Frazetta's Conan paintings. I sculpted the skull of an unidentified nasty little animal in clay, made a silicone mold and cast the finished skull in plastic. It was the painted and stuck on leather-imitation thread with four latex bear claws.

Vulvia's helmet was also sculpted in clay and cast in latex from a plaster mold. I wanted something soft and comfortable for Malin to wear. After I had painted it in dark grey PAX and aluminum paint, Liz dressed it up with pink fur.

The cups Vulvia's bra were made in the same way as the helmet. They were stuck onto one of Malin's own bras. The straps were hidden under some fake leather strips.

Vulvia's sword had to look powerful, but needed to be light and easy to wield. I recycled the blade of an old sword made many years back and used in many projects. The hilt was, again, inspired by a Frazetta painting of Conan resting against his sword. I sculpted the crossguard and the pommel in clay and cast plastic copies from a silicone mold. The parts were painted a dark black/iron and stuck onto the tang of the blade using more plastic as a fixing glue.

The grip was covered with more plastic, and PVC leather imitation was wrapped around it. At the time I didn't have any real leather thin enough for the job, so I had to make do with what was avaliable. It worked out fine and the sword came out as a very sturdy, well-balanced prop. The blade is made out of aluminum stock and was tuned and bevelled for me many years back by a friend's dad, who had a machine-shop. I engraved Norse runes along the fuller of the blade. It's a big sword, but quite light.

The sheath had been made many years earlier and was created out of sturdy cardboard, wrapped in duct tape and the covered with leather imitation (because it was cheap). The metal details on the sheath were cast in plastic. The belt is a garage sale find.

Martin played the dapper elf Falgolan, who likes to dress up in Robin Hood or Peter Pan fashion. Liz made the tunic from my specifications (one of them being a photo of Errol Flynn as Robin Hood). The shirt, the belt and the boots are Martin's own. The mint green tights are ballet tights for men and were bought. They were probably the hardest item to find for the costumes! I also bought a Prince Valiant-style wig. Martin provided the bow and quiver. I made flower-stick arrows with plastic heads, and Martin spent a morning adding "feathers" made out of sticky tape, folded, cut and glued in place.

My co-worker Agneta Rapp-Svensson played the Sorceress, named Lamaria in the script but actually never adressed by name in the film. I bought her dress straigh off a Halloween costume page on the web. I figured we couldn't dream up something as tasteless ourselves. It fitted Agneta like a glove, too!

I did make a couple of things for her character. I sculpted a snake diadem, cast it in plastic from a silicone mold, painted it and and added a glass ruby.

The sorceress also carried an evil-looking pendant. The little horned skull was sculpted in clay, a silicone mold was created and plastic cast in that mold. After spraypainting it with a high-gloss aluminum paint it was attached to a necklace chain.

What we wanted to do was to go in the opposite direction of how things look in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, and I think we succeeded with that. Our hope is that at least some people will experience a feeling of nostalgia when looking at this stuff. It's from a time when fantasy was less textured and could even be allowed to indulge in some silliness.

Recommended reading!

I went to London a couple of weekends ago and visited the Forbidden Planet Megastore. Maybe not the cheapest place on Earth to go shopping, but certainly one of the coolest. I actually didn't know what to spend my money on, since I didn't have that much to spend. Until I found this book, that is.

For those of us who enjoy and practice animation, Ray Harryhausen is God, pure and simple. He has arguably done more for stop-motion animation and the developement of special effects than any man alive. And he is still alive, thank goodness, though he is now in his eighties. This is the fourth book he's written and the third with Tony Dalton. Now, if you have only even a slight interest in animation, this book is required reading, for it goes into the history of the art of three dimensional animation quite deeply. And it's shockful of images.

My London-based animation and model-making buddy Roger Todd informed me that Harryhausen (himself a London resident) was going to appear at said store the weekend after I had been there to sign this book. Which is probably as close to actually meeting by big hero as I'll ever come. But Roger generously offered to buy me a copy to have it signed. I declined, since I already have a signed copy of Harryhausen's book "An Animated Life" and a signed photo of him with the puppets from Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. But I did write him a letter, which Roger printed out and delivered to the great man. So I'm happy anyway!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Filming of "The King Who Sought Immortality", part two.

After spending most of the day in front of a blue screen, we broke for lunch and then headed off to a closed-down sand pit. The place was huge and worked out fine as a kind of quasi-desert. You could see some trees on the horizon and there were weeds growing here and there. It was here that we shot our framing story, where the king emerges from the dark desert night and joins the camp of two exiled princes. He tells his amazing, heroic tale of his journey to the underworld and his quest for the secret of immortality. So, in fact, it's never established that he is a real king. He may just be a guy who found the sword he's carrying in the desert, and he's telling a tall-tale. Though it does have a profound effect on the life of the two princes.

There was actually a fairly large pond in the middle of the sand pit. We used it for scenes when the king jumps into the ocean and comes out of it. When he is submerged he's shot in front of a blue screen. Dag's just done his bit of splashing about in this photo, and is trying to get his loincloth in order. Nothing of his leopard swimming trunks showed up on film.

The king finds the flower of immortality on the bottom of the ocean, but looses it to a hungry snake when he comes ashore. He is greeted by his dead friend who tells him that being dead is not all that bad. Olof, who's been in a few of my films, acted the part of the friend. He is also an old pal of Dag's and a very mellow dude.

When the king enters the camp in the desert he's carrying a huge dead lizard. He then proceeds to cut it up and roast it over the campfire. There are two parts of this lizard, an edible one and a non-edible.

The non-edible variant is a big latex lizard, with a foam interior and a wooden skeleton. It started life long ago as a stop-motion puppet. It was not very well put together, but it worked fine as a "dead" prop. I just had to make a few adjustments and repairs to get it in working order (new eyes, a new paintjob, etc).

The edible version consisted of three(?) chickens sewn together in a Frankenstein-like manner by Dag and prepared in my kitchen oven before bringing the dish to our desert camp. There it was placed on a wooden spit and allowed to roast some more. With added spices it was very tasty, though we did have to pick pieces of yarn from our teeth every once in a while.

Filming ended about 10.30 in the evening. We were all quite ready to go home. Dag, in particular had been active all day and truly given his all as an actor, cook and makeshift stuntman.

Though some of us were still on a high...

All in all, an incredibly good day. I got almost all of the footage I needed in the can. There's still some stuff to be shot with a ferryman in the underworld, and also a couple of scenes with the queen of the underworld. But compared to the rest of the footage, it's easy stuff. I think the finished film will turn out OK, as amateur productions go. At any rate, we had a hell of a good time making it.

Some last minute posing for the ladies before heading home.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Something about the props for "The King Who Sought Immortality"

For this film I wanted some really distinctive props, stuff that couldn't be bought or rented. This meant sculpting and casting quite a bit of stuff. I'll show you some examples here.

This very simple Chavant clay sculpture, with added pearls and buttons, was duplicated in plastic from a silicone mold. I added a big safety-pin on the back of it, painted it gold, and voila; A cape clasp. I made about eight different clasp in this way.

This neck piece for Ishtar started off as a clay sculpture. I made a plaster mold for casting latex, since I wanted the neck piece to be soft and comfortable. In this photo the latex piece has been painted with brown PAX paint. Below it's been dry-brushed with gold paint.

This Chavant clay sculpture was also reproduced in latex and used as a bracelet for Ishtar. The rounded arcs with their straight centerpiece are actually an old Sumerian symbol of divinity.

Now for some complicated stuff; the king's sword. I read that some of the very first swords ever made were made out of gold and copper. Bronze apparently came later. I wanted a short, simple sword that was also light and easy to use. I decided to cast the sword in durable plastic (SmoothCast 325 from I have an old African (?) spear head I bought long ago that was the perfect lenght and shape for the blade. I sculpted the grip in Chavant clay.

I brushed a layer of Dragon Skin Q silicone all over the sword and let that set. Then I made a makeshift mold brace out of cardboard and filled it with more silicone, and lowered the sword into the goo. After the silicone had set I removed the sword by cutting through the middle of the mold, almost all the way down.

The silicone mold itself is very jiggly, so I had to add some kind of support when casting the plastic in it. I simply duck-taped it up against a wooden board and that worked. The finished sword came out nice and straight. Maybe I was just lucky this time.

The plastic sword, with its thin blade, would have been to wobbly on its own, so before pouring the plastic I lowered a thin piece of coal fiber (the top piece of a fishing rod) into the mold. This added the needed strenght and stability. In this photo a coat of brown / green color is airbrushed on.

A mix of purple and gold has been airbrushed on to highlight the sword. Finished!

Well, nearly finished. The sword needs a sheath, of course. I made mine out of sturdy cardboard, reinforced with ducktape.

On the top and bottom parts of the sheath I sculpted clay fittings, later reproduced in plastic from silicone molds.

Before adding the fittings, the sheath was covered in leather-imitation PVC cloth.

And when finished and in the hands of a king, even a plastic sword can kill demons and chop of octopus tentacles.