Monday, December 9, 2013

My Lovecraftian Alphabet part 4: Zoogs

In H P Lovecraft's Dreamland tales (such as his epic "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath") you can find the zoogs in the enchanted wood, just past the Gate of Deeper Slumber. They're small, furry and nimble creatures possessing both intelligence and slyness. They make a wine from the fermented sap of the moon-tree which is very potent, and sought after. They are at war with the cats. I thought they'd make a great representative for the letter "z".

Some years ago I made a bunch of sketches for various Dreamland creatures, and I chose one of those as a start for my zoog puppet.

As usual, I started out with sculpting the head. This time, however, I abandoned my old, tried and true Chavant clay in favour of testing the highly recommended "monster clay" from Monster Makers Inc. And yes; I am in love. This material is the perfect sculpting substance, having the best qualities of both clay and wax. I'll be using this stuff for most of my following projects.

After making a plaster mould for the face I cast the head piece in skin-tinted latex. Friendly Plastic thermoplastic was added to the inside to create a subskull.

The eyes were made out of transparent half-spheres, probably to be used in scrapbooking, but also ideal for making big, watery eyes. I glued the domes down over printed photoshopped eyes using a flexible super glue.

Although you will mostly see the snaking feelers over the mouth, I wanted to make a functioning mouth too. This was simply done by attaching an aluminum wire to the subskull, wrapping it in soft string and covering it with tinted latex. The teeth are just small bits of cotton mixed with latex and rolled  between my fingers.

My usual Friendly Plastic / aluminum wire armature holds together the parts of the zoog, including the wire-wrapped hands, feet and tail.

To cover the body up I chose an old fur hat, which I bought at a flea market some years ago. This is real fur, which I prefer not to use, but it's hard finding good fake fur around where I live. Whatever poor animal was used I hope it's better to donate its fur to creating a new "living" creature, than being stuck on the head of some old lady.

The fur-attaching process is pretty straight forward. I just eyeball the measurements for each body part, cut the fur with a scalpel, and stick it on using flexible contact cement, adjusting the fur pieces as necessary. Where it's needed I stick on individual loose chunks of hair using latex as glue.

Here's the finished critter, waiting for his first star turn.

Jonas Wahlström, zoologist and manager for the Swedish Skansen tropical aquarium, once posed with a tiny marmoset hugging his thumb. The image eventually ended up on the cover of Guinness Book of World Records, and is said to be the most famous thumb in the world. Here's my version of that photo. The zoog's a bit bigger, though.

It is said that the zoogs are fierce creature you should never trust, but this little fellow seems very sweet and.. HOLY CRAP!!!!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bug-Eyed Aliens

Taking a short break from my Lovecraftian Alphabet project I though I'd show you something else I've been working on. I've been out of a steady full-time job since early 2012, surviving on various work opportunities popping up and going away again. Right now I'm working half-time at a project called "Media Power", where special needs people of all ages learn how to blog, make interviews, do pod casts, make videos, and generally find out how to use the free social medias to promote themselves and their various interests. I'm the technical go-to guy, and I also try to think up fun stuff for the crowd to do.
We have some pretty good actors in the gang, and a few of them enjoy making dramatic films. Two of the guys and I decided to do a humorous sci-fi short, where nefarious aliens kidnap earth people. To portray the aliens we concluded that cartoonish animated puppets would best do the trick.

I built only one alien and cloned it in After Affects, after multiple animations in StopMotionPro. The idea was that the aliens, looking like they jumped off the cover of an old sci-fi pulp magazine, would also be cloned, or at least looking all the same. The alien puppet armature was a very simple affair, having no "bones" in the body. I used thick aluminum wire for the whole thing, apart from the fingers and a small joint for the tips of the feet.

I also did something else different from my usual puppet projects; I cast the head in hard plastic instead of soft latex. I decided that the aliens would have a mouth-like organ, but not speak visibly with it, thus relieving me from hours of synced mouth animations. The only thing moving and emoting would be a pair of eyes on stalks. Thus I sculpted the head in my usual fashion using Chavant clay, but made a mould out of silicone instead of plaster.

This being the excellent, soft DragonSkinPro from SmoothOn, the sculpture came out of the mould almost intact.

I used a SmoothOn 325 plastic poured into the mould and sloshed around to create a strong, hollow shell.

The finished casting was very light, and quite strong in itself..

..But I decided to reinforce it further by adding expanding polyurethane foam. While the foam was setting I pressed down a looped aluminum wire into the head, creating the neck joint.

The eye stalks were two bits of aluminum wire wrapped in soft string, with plastic balls attached to the ends. The stalks were held in place within the skull with Friendly Plastic thermoplastic. You can also see that the neck has been covered with more string wrapping.

After attaching the head to the body, the armature was padded with bits of thin sheet foam. The arms, legs, feet and fingers were wrapped in string covered with tinted latex.

To make the aliens look even more sterile and cloned I decided to give them black rubbery suits, with very few details. I cast small pieces of tinted latex on the back of an old plaster mould to create a smooth surface for the suits. Why not use a plastic tray, a table, a mirror, or any other REALLY smooth surface to cast the latex on, one may ask? Because the latex takes longer to dry on a non-absorbing surface, and the porous plaster creates a matte surface on the latex, making it much easier to remove and handle. Give both ways a try, and you'll appreciate not having the headaches of latex pieces sticking to themselves because of their perfectly smooth, but hideously self-attaching backside.

That takes care of the body. The hands and eye stalks were painted with tinted latex, while the plastic head was airbrushed using acrylic colours.

There you have it: One nasty alien invader. Ready to be animated.

To place our intrepid hero, Andreas, on an examination table in the alien spacecraft, he simply laid down on the floor in an empty room in the building where we have our office. We didn't have any proper chroma key screen there, so we simply put some red pillows behind his head, creating a neutral background, that could be removed digitally. The rest of his body and a part of the floor was cut out using the matte tracking tool in AE. The alien was animated as three characters, and all of it was keyed onto a stock spaceship background.

Instead of shooting Andreas as a chroma key subject and adding him to a background, I did a more old-fashioned matte shot, superimposing a photoshopped image over shots of him lying on the floor. This kept him as an element of much better image quality than a chroma key shot would've produced.
And how does humanity defeat the pesky aliens? This particular day, Andreas had enjoyed a too hefty baked beans lunch, and we find out just how sensitive to gaseous anomalies these aliens are.

Friday, November 22, 2013

My Lovecraftian Alphabet part 3: The Ghoul

It's taking awfully long between my blog posts, isn't it? I've therefore decided to make shorter posts, hopefully once a week, so those of you really interested in my craft will have something to look at more often.

Anyone familiar with H P Lovecraft's short story "Pickman's Model"? It's about an artist who paints horrific tableau's, often depicting creatures Pickman calls ghouls. One painting in particular is especially lifelike, and the narrator eventually finds a photo showing the monstrous ghoul portrayed. Pickman later disappears.
Well, he does appear in my Lovecraftian alphabet film, as does a ghoul. In other words I had to find my Pickman, and build a ghoul.

A Chavant clay sculpture was created for the body and head of the ghoul puppet. A latex skin was cast from a plaster mould made over the sculpture.

I.m very happy with my results using armatures with single thick aluminum wires, instead of several wires braided together, so I keep constructing them this way. I wanted really defined, sinewy muscles on the ghoul, so I used a mix of thin sheet foam for bigger, softer areas of the body, and latex-soaked cotton strands for the harder, bonier sections.

It takes a bit of time to build a puppet up. I spent a full week working on just the muscles and covering them up with patches of cast latex skin. I'm thinking more and more about sculpting whole puppets in clay and casting them in silicone, though that process calls for a lot of time and patience too.
As you may see there are some white areas around the eyes on the puppet here. I painted the latex skin with my base paint before putting on the eyes, made from black plastic balls. That way I wouldn't smear any paint on the eyes.

Here the puppet is covered with a thin layer of white base paint, more precisely PAX paint (ProsAide glue + acrylic paint). You can see the eyes better here. I painted a gold-coloured iris around the hole in the plastic ball, thereby creating a weird-looking eye that can be swiveled around by putting a needle down the "pupil" and twisting the ball. The teeth are just small pieces of cotton dipped in latex.

So, here's the finished ghoul puppet, hopefully looking every bit the sun-hating subterranean graveyard-dweller he's supposed to be. Lovecraft describes them as "rubbery", with canine features and hoofed feet.

Ghouls eat corpses, and when we get to Lovecraft's epic "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" we find out that Pickman has also become an eater of the dead, slowly turning into a ghoul himself. Not only that; he's the chief of the ghouls. My plan was to simply make a nasty-looking monster; not to have it look biologically plausible. But my aim is always to have the overall finished puppet seem believable, the same way the tail-swishing, upright-walking dinos in old "King Kong", though now scientifically outdated, SEEM to our minds to be moving the way a dinosaur should move. In other words, I'm just trying to make good monsters.

What about Pickman himself then? My artist friend Niels Elley, who in an earlier project of mine played Gandalf, brought his smock, and his brushes, and kindly stood painting in the empty air for a few seconds in my green screen room. I later added a Photoshopped background, with a canvas and an easel, where I could place my animated ghoul. Thus, suddenly both the artist AND his art turns to observe the observer.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

My Lovecraftian Alphabet part 2

Finally getting on with my Lovecraftian Alphabet video project! Here are another three stop-motion puppets representing various cosmic horrors. Again, these were built pretty fast, using a minimum of materials, and therefore dirt cheap to make.

If you know your Lovecraftian horrors, you know that Nyarlathotep is a key figure in the Cthulhu mythos pantheon. He/it can turn up in a number of shapes. for my puppet I chose the so-called black howler, or red tentacle. Basically, this avatar of Nyarlathotep is vaguely humanoid, with three legs and a slithering tentacle instead of a head. It does seem to have a sort of mouth, though. A basic aluminum wire / Friendly Plastic armature was slapped together. The yellow stuff over the arm joints is thin foam rubber.

 To make the front of the puppet slightly more detailed and controlled, I sculpted a chest, mouth, and torso in Chavant clay.

The arms and legs were covered with rolled lengths of cotton dabbed with black-tinted latex, making these limbs very thin and sinewy. The body was wrapped with thin sheets of foam rubber, and the tentacle shape was created by wrapping thick soft string around the aluminum wire.

Before painting the whole body was covered with cast patches of latex skin.

Here's the final monster, with PAX paint smoothing out the overall colour scheme, and acrylic airbrush colours adding shadows and highlights.
Yes children, this is how the world will look when the black howler finally appears on Earth.

 In his story "The Whisperer in Darkness" Lovecraft describe the alien Mi-Go race thusly: "They were pinkish things about five feet long; with crustaceous bodies bearing vast pairs of dorsal fins or membranous wings and several sets of articulated limbs, and with a sort of convoluted ellipsoid, covered with multitudes of very short antennae, where a head would ordinarily be."
These creatures are also known as "the fungi from Yuggoth", adding a bit of ambiguity to their nature; are they plant, animal or something completely different?
Sounds like the Mi-Go would make interesting stop-motion puppets, don't they? The only thing I really had to figure out was how to make that peculiar head. The "convoluted ellipsoid" is made up of a multitude of fleshy pyramids, and somewhere on or between these the antennae grow forth. I decided to create a backwards sculpture of the head shape, by pressing a hand-made pyramid-shaped silicone tool into a clay ellipse.

This shape was the covered by a thin layer of liquid latex, and then more latex covered with cotton.

The Final shape (although unfortunately blurry here) had a leathery texture, and slipped right off the clay, when I turned it outside in like a banana peel.

 The "head" was then attached to this simple armature, consisting of thick aluminum wire and a wood ball, with holes drilled for attaching wings and legs.

I won't go into the fabrication of the wings this time, since I've talked about it in length in other blog posts. I did try out something new here: Adding a webbed shape on the backside of each wing by dipping a pin tool in latex and "painting" with it. The other side of the wings already had the webbing etched into the plaster mould used to cast the wing membranes.

The legs were simply made by wrapping sewing string into shapes around aluminum wire. The "antannae" were thicker string dipped in latex and stuck on the head while still wet.

The wooden ball was covered with cotton dipped in latex. This mixture was prodded around with a pointy tool until a warty surface was achieved. Cast latex skins decorated the string-wrapped aluminum wire posterior.

PAX paints and acrylic airbrush paints again gilding the lily.

 It's a pretty small puppet, but I'm quite happy with it. Eventually I'll make a bigger one, much better detailed. The Mi-Go pop up in several of Lovecraft's tales, and I'll get back to them eventually.

The short story "The Horror In the Museum" was ghostwritten by H. P. Lovecraft for Hazel Heald.; one of many "revisions" Lovecraft took upon him to get some money for basic survival. There are  several weird monsters mentioned in the story, but the main big bad is "Rhan-Tegoth". I sculpted its three-eyed head in clay, while the rest of the body was built up.

The limbs were sculpted out of Friendly Plastic thermoplastic while the material was cooling. One must work fast, as the plastic sets up in about a minute or less. I was walking home from a train ride one day, while pondering where to find a structure for the monster's round body. Suddenly I found a blue plastic ball lying by the road, just the right size! I punched a hole in the ball, and poured in plastic for roto-casting. When the plastic set up, it turned the ball rigid and durable. The limbs were attached with small screws to the body.

The body was then covered with a latex/cotton mix. This was mainly to get a rough surface onto which latex skins, cast from old moulds, could be stuck.

 Eventually the puppet turned out like this...

And although I never intended to show the back, I added some structure to that as well.

A PAX paint mix was used to the entire puppet. This mixture of ProsAide glue and acrylic paints is so durable I've been able to use it on both latex and plastic. 
I've forgotten to say something about the eyes. They are Photoshopped image printouts covered by transparent plastic liquid used by scrapbookers to create dew drops and the like. I've found this to be a cheap and quick way to make good-looking eyes. Best of all is that you can decide the size of the eyes yourself.

Finally the puppet was touched up with acrylic airbrush paint. Here he's resting on a bag of cotton, awaiting a more regal seating place. And here you also get a glimpse of how terribly cluttered and disorganized my workshop is.

In the story, the alien monster is resting on an ivory throne. Not wishing to spend the time and money on  casting a resin prop, or using any similar method, I simply built up the throne out of the kind of soft plastic cushions campers use. Thick cardboard was used here and the, and decorations created with cast pieces of latex from old plaster moulds, created for various projects. The whole shebang was then painted with white PAX paint.

 Rhan-Tegoth comfortably seated on his throne: "The thing squatted or was balanced on what appeared to be a clever reproduction of the monstrously carved throne. There was an almost globular torso, with six long, sinuous limbs terminating in crab-like claws. From the upper end a subsidiary globe bulged forward bubble-like; its triangle of three staring, fishy eyes, its foot-long and evidently flexible proboscis, and a distended lateral system analogous to gills, suggesting that it was a head."