Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Monday, September 4, 2017

H P Lovecraft's "Memory": The Apes

Continuing from my previous blog post; my other animated character in my adaptation of H P Lovecraft's "Memory" is an ape, who actually played many apes in the finished film.

It's very rare that I do a puppet which is anthropomorphic or based on real living things, so I relished this opportunity to create a puppet character which took huge inspiration from real life, at least to an extent. In Lovecraft's prose poem there are "little apes" living among the crumbling ruins of a very past civilization. It is implied (at least in my mind) that these apes are actually us; humans who have de-evolved into more primitive beings. So, I didn't want to make these apes entirely like the apes of today, the gorilla, the orangutan and the chimpanzee. Instead I looked at reconstructions of prehistoric man, and the various links from ape to man. I specifically focused on Homo Habilis, and took inspiration from that ancestor of ours.

I sculpted the front of the head and torso as one piece in Monster Clay medium grade, which both gave me a good overall feel for the character, as well as creating the base for the latex skin covering the most important parts of the puppet.

Here's how the latex skin, cast in a dental plaster mold, looks when it's trimmed and cleaned up. As you can see I've also added eyes, made from black plastic beads and placed in latex sockets. There are some apes and monkeys who have strange black eyes with golden irises. That's the weird look I wanted for my ape. To add some support I've stuck thin polyurethane foam dipped in latex on the inside of the skin.

To create the mouth I sculpted the teeth in clay, and used a quick-curing silicone paste to cast a mold around it. I then melted some of the thermoplastic I use for my armatures, and pressed it into the teeth mold. Before the plastic had cooled I also stuck some aluminum wires into the mold, creating the joints for the jaw.

The teeth were attached to the mouth by pressing in more thermoplastic into the head cavity, and then simply attaching the teeth to that "subskull" along with the aluminum wires. There is also a thin copper wire wrapped in sewing string and latex inserted into the upper lip, so it can be drawn back to expose the teeth.

That was actually the complicated part of the puppet-making! The padding of the aluminum wire armature was done with my usual mix of thin polyurethane strips and cotton dipped in latex. You can see a screw sticking out from the ape's butt. That's an attachment point for an animation support arm, which I actually never used.

Thin tinted patches of latex skin was attached to the foam using latex as a bonding agent.

I thought this original skin hue was too strong, so I drybrushed the puppet with tinted latex to bring it down to a more natural grey/pink.

Here's how the finished ape turned out. The fur is fake and cut from an old coat. Instead of making a pattern from the fur, which is attached to textile, I cut small clumps of hair and glued it on in sections, using latex as a bonding agent. This created a kind of distressed, natural look of wear and tear that you can sometimes see with adult apes. I have explained the process in another post, and apart from me using a silicone glue in that description, the method is exactly the same.

There is another character in this film, a genie who travels along the moonbeams and interacts with the demon who lives in the valley of the apes. This role is played by a real person, Henrik Daleke. He actually played this part in a production of "Aladdin" I made with a bunch of people with slight disabilities some years ago. The genie in the "Memory" film is made up from discarded takes from that production. I only used Henrik's face and warped it in After Effects to make it look fluid and strange.

H P Lovecraft's "Memory": The Demon

I continue my Lovecraftian adaptations with a prose poem called "Memory". I found this text a long time ago in an anthology, and really liked it. It's very vague on what it's really about, but it has a dreamlike quality, and some underlying themes which will make the reader figure out some things on his/her own.
I just finished editing the film, and will shortly post it on YouTube. Here's some info on one of the puppets featured in the film.

The title "Memory" actually refers to one of the characters in the tale; a demon who apparently goes by that name. There are no descriptions of the creature, so I went with my own ideas, deciding to create something that looked old and withered, but also regal.

I only sculpted the torso of this puppet, using Monster Clay medium grade and my teeny tiny loop tools.

Dental plaster poured over the sculpture created a mold into which I could then add tinted latex. I supported the inside of this latex skin with cotton dipped in latex, creating a sturdy leathery feel.

To create that "regal" look built up a sort of crown between the shoulders using tooth picks.

The toothpicks were then covered with cotton and tinted latex. I decided early on to not have a head or face on this character, mainly because I didn't want to bother with animating a face. But it also meant that I could make a creature that looked a bit more abstract than most other characters.

The puppet has my usual aluminum wire and thermoplastic armature, with threaded bolts in the feet.

Most of the body was padded with bits of thin polyurethane foam soaked in latex, and cotton dipped in latex. The latex-soaked foam created a material that is almost clay-like. When it has dried you can press it together with your fingers and shape it pretty well.

The demon has a pair of very traditional devil wings, almost as if ripped from a church wall painting. I won't go into the making of the wings, as I've talked about this many times. But I'll refer you to my YouTube video, which says everything you need to know on the subject.

I normally sculpt my skin textures or get them from a surface like old leather or a fruit. But I sometimes create an texture by first starting it as a negative sculpture, if you will. This is much faster than creating a normal sculpture. In other words, I carve or etch a negative pattern into clay, in this case medium grade Monster Clay. 

When that's done I build up a clay containment wall, just like when casting an ordinary sculpture. I add plaster, first by brushing it in to avoid air bubbles, and then pouring in the rest. The plaster has cured, and here you can see what the actual skin texture will look like. 

But you can't cast anything into this plaster casting, so I'll have to make another mold on top of the plaster cast. I choose to do this by mixing dental silicone and curing agent, and squeezing down this silicone paste over the plaster cast. But, if you use a sealing or release agent, you can cast plaster over plaster.
Just be aware that any slightly unprotected sections might stick, and then you're goose is cooked, so to speak. You might break off a portion of your mold, and you'll have to start over again. Which is not a big deal, really. This dental silicone paste sets up in a few minutes, and I can peel off the mold pretty easily. So, to cast latex into this silicone you can wash the mold with some alcohol, if you feel that silicone oil is making the surface very slippery. Or use a dulling spray, which is what I do. In this case here I've actually done neither. I just sponged in tinted latex and it seemed to stick just fine. After a couple thin layers of latex I'm dabbing the surface with talcum powder to make the latex skin easier to remove. Then I can just peel it off. This particular skin was used on the legs of the demon.

Here's the demon puppet pieced together, skin, wings and all. Now it'll get a light drybrushing of tinted latex, as well as some silvery acrylic paint on the chest area.

And here's the demon as it appears in the film, with a head made up of stock footage fire, fixed up in After Effects to look weird and alien.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

My First Vlog

So, I've started a vlog (like everyone else), talking about stuff that interests me. I'll be doing one of these every once in a while, and I'll hope you'll find them entertaining, and maybe even a bit enlightening too.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Making a Little RPG Monster

For a few years now I've been illustrating a Swedish fantasy role-playing game for kids. Now we, the people involved, are starting a Kickstarter campaign to fund the further development of this game. We decided to film a short sequence set in the game world, and featuring one of the weirder monsters; the "hopper". As you can see in the film still above, it's basically a huge eye on legs.

I didn't have a ready-made eye big enough for this puppet, so I had to make one myself. I decided against using a wooden ball since I've always ended up with visible wood grain, having to cover that up with layers of white paint. Instead I used a metal "marble" as a template for the eye. I pressed the metal ball down into a piece of soft monster clay, just enough for it to not move when pushed.

An old paper toilet roll acted as a containment wall for the DragonSkin Pro silicone which was poured around the ball to create a mold.

Using a new plastic called Rhino, cheaper than the usual products from SmoothOn which I normally use, I cast this bone white ball. What you see here is the top part, which will actually be the back side of the finished eye. I could've used this indentation to create an eye lens, but small air bubbles ended up on this side, so instead I used my Dremel tool to grind down a lens area on the opposite side. I didn't have to cut the silicone mold to get the plastic casting out. It took a bit of prying, but Dragon Skin Pro is flexible enough to allow for some seemingly impossible feats.

I used acrylic model hobby paints to create an iris on the ground down area. With a scalpel I then etched in tiny white lines spreading out from the centre.

For the actual lens I used Glossy Accents scrapbooking plastic. It's basically an air-drying plastic which sets up clear. The cured plastic, fed from a bottle, is slightly flexible, so you can scratch it with something sharp. Resin is preferable, but more expensive, generally a hassle to use and smelly.

I sculpted the front half of the hopping body in medium grade monster clay, mostly using small loop tools. I used the original metal ball as the eye and built up the clay around it.

Here's basically my set of hopping parts before assembling them. From my sculpture a plaster mold was created, and skin-colored latex poured into it to cast a skin, reinforced with a cotton/latex mix. The metal ball was used once again to create an eye socked by smearing silicone clay around it. I could then pop the plastic eye into the silicone socket. The fact that a small portion on the back of the eye was gone didn't hinder the eyeball from swiveling around perfectly. The silicone socket was then attached to the body skin by pressing down melted thermoplastic over the back of the socket and onto the inside of the body skin.

The rest of the puppet construction holds no surprises. The legs were made from four 2 mm aluminum wires each, attached to 4 mm threaded nuts in the feet. The toes were wrapped in yarn and then covered with tinted latex.

A simple wrapping of soft and thin polyurethane foam created the basic shape of the legs, and a very thin foam moist rag was used to produce a smooth outer layer before applying cast latex skins.

I built up the back of the hopping with foam and latex skins. I actually didn't paint this puppet, but simply gave it a light dabbing with a bit of foam dipped in the tinted latex. The toe nails were cut from thick paper and also covered with the latex.

It's remarkable that you can actually get a few subtle expressions from a puppet this simple. It's like using an immobile wooden mask; depending how you show it to your audience, you can make it speak and emote.

Here's the clip the hopping puppet was made for. It appears at about 00:40. This video is all in Swedish.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Darmok and Jalad: The Finished Video

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Darmok & Jalad: Our Heroes

The last, but very important, part of my Star Trek fan film entourage is the two main characters, of course. I decided to make them slightly smaller than my usual puppets, simply to have the beast of Tanagra look more imposing next to them. It's a case of having one over-sized puppet vs two under-sized puppets. Hopefully it'll all work out perfectly in the end.

The two tiny heads of these characters were sculpted in Monster Clay medium grade. As you can see I sculpted the mouths open, but after casting the latex heads from plaster molds I decided that they wouldn't be expressive enough. I'll get back to that in a bit.

I wanted to have eyes that could be animated, so I had to place them in some kind of socket. I reverted to an old eye-making trick of mine, which would allow me to work comfortably with the tiny plastic beads I chose for the eyes. I simply pushed them about 1/4 into soft clay and added latex on top.

To add stability I soaked cotton in latex and then placed that over the eyes. This will make the sockets leathery -sturdy but still flexible.

Here's the cleaned-up latex castings of the heads. I've cut holes for the eyes using very sharp and pointy scissors, and covered the mouths with tinted latex. The puppets will be getting replacement mouths instead.

Here's how the eyes look with their sockets removed from the clay cradle. I painted brown irises on the plastic beads and put some black paint into the holes that were already there to create pupils. I can rotate the eyes by simply putting a needle down each hole and turning the plastic bead in its socket.

I'm using liquid latex as a "glue" to attach the cotton/latex sockets to the insides of the heads. It's a bit tricky and fiddly working in such a small scale, but after a few tries and a bit of swearing they got in place.

These tiny (it's hard to get good focus in this scale) sausages are the lips and mouths of the characters. These will become the very simple replacement mouths of the puppets.

And here's a selection of latex mouths. I'll be using a couple of drops of flexible super glue to make them stick temporarily.

My usual thermo plastic and aluminum wires armatures are put into use. Each foot has a trimmed wing nut as a tie down. The fingers are tiny aluminum wires covered with sewing string and tinted latex.

To pad the bodies I used a slightly different method than usual. I cut long strips of soft polyurethane foam and soaked them in latex by dabbing them with a foam sponge. The trick is to make the foam strips saturated with latex but not dripping with the stuff. A hot air gun helped the latex dry very fast, but a hairdryer would've worked well too.

This latex-saturated foam takes on a clay-like quality, and it can be cut in bits and almost sculpted onto the armatures by kneading the material. This way you can control the shape of the foam padding exactly, which is very handy when working with smaller puppets.

To create clothing for the puppets I used old castings of latex skins that I had saved. I also dabbed tissue paper with tinted latex down onto a bit of plastic sheet. These bits of latex were then cut into patterns and draped over the puppets.

Darmok and Jalad each has a weapon, one has a spear of sorts and the other a huge knife or short sword. These were made from a wooden dowel and a piece of dentist's wood tongue depressor cut and sanded into shape. These were later painted with a white enamel color to give the blades a sort of ivory look.

So here's our dapper heroes almost finished dressing up. All of it is latex. My workbench is very messy.

The finished puppets with their weapons and a pair of happy replacement mouths stuck on.

Darmok is supposed to be a mythical hunter, so I gave him the spear-like weapon, and a bit of nicely colored fake fur. These chaps belong to a race known as Tamarians, which, as you can see, has very long thumbs.

His buddy Jalad is more of a mercenary/ warrior type. He carries his sword on his back, as good fantasy heroes are want to do, at least they were in the 1980's. The sword scabbard is paper covered with a latex skin.

Hopefully their meeting with the beast of Tanagra will look something like this in the film. The look of the Tanagrians were designed by Michael Westmore for the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Darmok". I have tweaked their clothing a bit to look more ancient, but the color scheme is basically the same as seen in that episode.