Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Goblin Wood Trailer

I made this little trailer last night for my friends who helped me make this film. As of yet, they've seen naught from the post-production except stills. Hopefully I'll get the finished film up pretty soon. Still have some intricate soundwork to do.

I'm pretty disappointed with how my vids turn out on YouTube. They're often blurry and "jumpy". My animation often looks like crap, which bothers me more than anything else. I'll seek counsel with one of my mates, who's a lot more successful with his uploads. So the linked-in version you can see here is quite shitty. Go to the trailer on YouTube instead and see if you have the "HQ" button in the lower right corner of the YouTube viewscreen. Click that and the film will at least look decent.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Making of "Dagon" Monster Mask

A couple of years ago I was sort of planning to do an amateur film version of H P Lovecraft’s short story “Dagon”. The plan was to film it down the very south of Sweden, where incredibly tall, dark cliffs rise up from the sea, creating cathedral-like coves. It went as far as me doing a sculpture for a mask of the head of the creature rising up from the depths at the end of the story. I also made a plaster mold from the sculpture. The intention here was to create a monster suit, reaching from the waist up. Usually I do all my monsters as animated puppets, but I’m also unashamedly fond of Japanese monster movies, so… But the actual mask was never cast. I did that recently, just to finish it and see how it turned out.

But starting at the beginning (in my old home, even) I did the mask sculpture in Chavant clay during weekday nights. It took about one week to finish it and I made the mold the following weekend.

The tool I use most often is a loop tool I made myself. It’s quite small and allows you to get in close and add pretty small details. I have an even smaller one for sculpting my stop-motion puppets.

I decided the sculpture was finished at this stage. I tried to make a creature that would look organic, evil and amphibious. I also wanted him to display some character the short moments he would be visible on film.

Just some more shots from the side and the back. The bumps along the sides and the back of his neck are the basis of spines that will be created separately and added to the finished mask.

Here the sculpture is reclining on a table, cushioned by upholstery foam in a plastic bag. I’ve build up a wall from blocks of wood around the head. Clay will be added around the sculpture to create a dividing wall, allowing me to make a two-part plaster mold. The wood blocks will add support to the clay.

The dividing clay wall has been added. If you look closely you’ll notice square pieces of clay sticking up along the wall. Those are clay keys that will create notches that will help line up and interlock the two pieces of the finished mold.

Time to create the actual mold. I always use Ultracal 30, a very hard plaster that replicates great detail. The first coat of plaster, the so-called “splash coat”, is brushed on in order to eliminate air bubbles. Then another, thicker coat of plaster is added. Burlap soaked in plaster is then put over that as reinforcement, and finally a last layer of plaster to smooth it out.

The front half of the mold is finished. Time to turn it over and do the backside (this thing is already weighing a ton!)

Looking at the mold from this perspective it’s easy to see those key notches I was talking about. What happens now is that another clay wall goes up and the exposed parts of the plaster mold is covered in a thin coat of Vaseline, working as a release agent.

As you can see there are new lumps of clay along the insides of the mold. They are there to provide small holes along the edge of the mold, where I can insert screwdrivers to pry the mold open and separate the two mold halves.

Now the whole sculpture is encased in a huge plaster mold. When the plaster has set it’s time to pry the mold open using those screwdrivers I mentioned (you can see one lying in the bottom right corner.) This part of the work usually entails a lot of grunting, swearing and sweating, so let’s skip that, shall we?

The two mold halves are separated (though only one is shown here.) The clay from the sculpture is still in the mold, but that will soon be removed and the mold halves cleaned up for the casting of latex. I got rid of the clay as soon as I could and clamped the mold halves together. If I hadn’t the halves would probably have warped a bit while the water evaporated from the plaster. A good thing I did that, since it would take another two years before actually using the mold!

Here’s the first latex casting, with fin-like appendages added along the neck. They were created with thin sheets of latex strung between spines made out of latex-soaked cotton. The “beard” was also done with cotton and latex.

Here’s the finished mask, base-painted with PAX paint and finished with acrylic airbrush paints. A coat of clear gloss lacquer was added over the eyes. There are actually very small holes in the folds and wrinkles around his nose and eyes, which you can look out through. You still have very limited vision, but this character was never meant to move about much. Maybe someday my “Dagon” adaptation will see the light of day and the mask will be joined with the rest of this monster’s body. Stay tuned…

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"The Sword of the Oceans"

Last year I promised my friend Daniel Lenner to help him out building props and doing modelwork for his Jules Verne-inspired film Wavebreaker , but I had no idea it would be such a dragged-out, energy-consuming event. The film is scheduled to get finished at the end of March. Then I'm finally off to finish some of my OWN projects. It's been mostly fun doing the stuff for Wavebreaker, though. But one thing seems to have been particularly gremlin-infested; the creation of a workable version of Captain Nemo's sub "the Nautilus". I first built a 3 feet long version made out of two joined plastic bottles, detailed with Apoxie sculpt. Just as I was getting the final shape sanded and finished for more intricate details, I dropped the damned thing on the concrete floor in my workshop and the model shattered into quite a lot of pieces. I discovered I had not taken any photos of the model prior to the accident and I had none taken after it, as I ran outside with all the pieces I could find and hurled them fuming into the trash can.

So what to do now? I remembered I had an old Revell model of the Hindenburg zeppelin stashed away somewhere. I found it and stripped it down to its very bare essentials, turned it around with its stern becoming the stem, and found that, yes; this could actually turn into a decent steampunk submarine.

I added some very minor details, as Danny's intention had always been to have a very sleek, rocket-like sub, much like the Nautilus from the original illustrations from the first edition of "20 000 Leagues Under the Sea", and not at all like the fish-like Disney film version. To create the famous ram of this fantasy sub I made plastic casts of a saw-toothed knife blade. While the plastic was still soft I pulled out the casts from their silicone molds and bent them slightly to fit the shape of the hull. I added a small command tower from a war ship model kit, reused a fin from the Hindenburg to make the rudder and added a big propeller from another old toy model.

And this is the finished result, painted with airbrush acrylics. The windows and portholes are a mix of clear plastic beads with flat undersides and casts made from Crystal Clear plastic. Now a bit of a problem arose. The original model was built quite big in order to photograph well. This little bugger, its substitute, is only little over 1 ft long. This meant that our original intentions of having it animated in very cool camera moves went out the window. Instead I asked Ola, the husband of a friend of mine, to take some good close-up photos of the model, that could then be cut out and 2D animated in After Effects. Ola is a pro photographer with his own studio and the photos he took really did the trick. Thanks, Ola!

The photos Ola provided already had the model against a pristine white background. Cutting it out and putting it against a solid blue background was therefore not a problem. I took separate photos of the propeller in three different positions and added those to Ola's photos. I imported the photos of the Nautilus into my StopMotionPro animation software and looped them. This created long sequences of shots of a hovering Nautilus with a spinning propeller, that I could then 2D animate in After Effects.

And here's what some of the finished shots look like, with animated 2D and model fish added. These shots will all have a "underwater" filter added.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Little Big Octopus

I've been criss-crossing between my different projects on this blog and this post is no different. The puppet I'm going to talk about here was made for two different films. Having made a big latex octopus tentacle for my friend Daniel Lenneer's film Wavebreaker I thought about putting it in one of my own projects. It ended up in "The King Who Sought Immortality", shot last summer. So both projects now featured said rubber tentacle and both stories needed additional shots of the rest of the octopus. The beast was to be realized as an animated puppet.

This is the early clay sketch, done in Chavant clay (that I always, always use for any kind of sculpture to be cast).

A lot more detailing added and ready for its Ultracal 30 mold.

The mold is cast and the clay removed (we're really moving along quickly here!)

A sculpture for the underside of the tentacles. Another for the top side was also made, but looked a lot less exciting so I'm not showing it here.

The armature for the octopus was made out of very thick aluminum wire. So thick, actually, that I had to grind the top end of each tentacle wire to a thin point. But this little trick added tremendous flexibility to each tentacle when I started animating them.

Each tentacle wire recieved a covering of thick, soft string (the same kind I always use when adding bulk to body parts that need to be somewhat symmetrical.) Yes; it took some time to wrap all that string.

While getting incredibly bored wrapping string around aluminum wires all day long, I took a break for casting the head of the octopus. It was done as a soft, flexible latex skin.

The latex castings for the tentacles, and their molds.

Waiting to be stuck onto the armature...

And this is the actual armature for the octopus. As you can see it's incredibly simple. The green plastic piece of tubing (from a roll of plaster bandages) is attached to an aluminum wire, that will allow for the animation of the head bobbing up and down.

Some very soft upholstery foam has been added to the armature. It's almost obvious now what it's going to turn into.

The eyes have it, both for some dating humans and for some stop-motion puppets. I was never going to go for a 100% accurate, natural look for the octopus. It's a monster octopus and they need certain details to make them look really handsome. For something as non-human as an octopus, this puppet needed eyes that made it look as alive as possible. The coloring of the eye was done in Photoshop and printed out on sturdy paper. The actual eye lenses were glass thingumabobs that you're supposed to put in flower pots. They have a bulging lens-like top and flat undersides, and I've discovered they're excellent for making watery eyes for larger puppets. I painted the slit-like pupils on the underside of the "lenses" and attached them to the printed pieces of paper using hot-melt glue around the edges.

The eyes are stuck to the inside of the head skin using more hot-melt glue.

There! All pieces of skin are stuck to the foam-padded armature. Time to add some paint.

This nasty-looking goo is acrylic paint mixed with Prose-Aide No-Tack glue (also known as Pros-Aide III), thus creating a variation of make-up man Dick Smith's famous PAX paint. It sticks to latex well enough, remains flexible and doesn't cover up smaller details on the puppet.

The paint is simply sponged on, using pieces of old upholstery foam as sponges. I use two of them; one to add the paint quite liberally and one to soak upp the excess.

The coat of paint has been added and allowed to dry.

Now for the neat details. A mottled coat of blue-grey acrylic paint is airbrushed on.

The finished paint job. I sometimes overdo the painted details like highlights and shadows, but I find that I often have to in order for them to show up in my camera.

The big guy ready to get moving on my little blue screen stage.

Sometimes you stumble on really simple solutions. I had to animate the octopus emerging from behind the semi-submurged sub Nautilus in a shot for "Wavebreaker". The model for the Nautilus was too small to work with the big octopus puppet. I needed something cylindrical and at the right scale to wrap the tentacles over. And it had to be blue, so I could matte in a close-up of the Nautilus under the tentacles. I found a plastic bucket in a kitchen cupboard that did the trick perfectly.

Here's an early test shot of the octopus on the hull of the Nautilus. It seems to work pretty well.

While working on this puppet I noticed that my budding latex allergy had reached full bloom. For some time now my eyes have been really irritated, even when using protective goggles, and this time and I actually suffered some respiratory problems as well. It's the ammonia that does me in. This is probably a good sign that it's time for me to go silicone, like many others have done before me.