Sunday, May 21, 2017

Darmok and Jalad: Alien Plants

Calm down, calm down -plants are cool too, especially if they're alien. It's not just about the monsters. Actually, there might be some fun tips and trick in here about how to use puppet-making materials to also make props, and props that you can animate at that.

I wanted some weird plants on the world of Tanagra. You're never shown how that planet looks in the Star Trek Next Gen episode on which my film is based. I will be using lots and lots of Photoshopped images of strange fungi, weird fruits and such, but I also wanted some plants that I could position for my own photography, as well as some I wanted to animate. Thus, the three aluminum wires above will form the very simple armatures for a bunch of strange growths.

To build up the basic shape of these plants I'm wrapping the wires with thin polyurethane foam.

After that I built up more detailed shapes using cotton dipped in latex. Pointy sculpting tools were used to press lines and wrinkles into the gooey material. Actually, one excellent thing about the cotton / latex mix is that it will create its own subtle textures as it dries. Small and very organic-looking bumps and wrinkles will appear naturally.

And here's how the finished three growths turned out. They're based on fungoid animals from Earth's primal seas. The plants are attached to a clump of Polymorph plastic, into which a wing nut is attached. I can then bolt this flexible prop down, and animate it to make it sway in the wind, for example.

The next plant is also growing in a clump. A bunch of aluminum wires wrapped with soft string make up the stems.

The string is covered with tinted latex -let's make `em pink. I'm only adding one layer of latex, so the string will still be visible and form a wrinkly texture.

The stems are attached to a block of Polymorph plastic with a wing nut at the base. The tops are small bits of rolled up paper with balls of cotton, all of it covered with latex. Here's the deal with these plants: They will be eaten by an animal, covered in my previous blog post, with a funnel mouth, and the tops will slide off the stems and fly into the critter's mouth. In other words, the tops come off easily for animation, but are also quite secure while stuck on the stems.

Another plant will be kind of palm tree-like, but will be swaying in the wind like an underwater plant billows back and forth. To create the branches / leaves I sculpted this simple shape in medium Monster Clay.

This dental plaster mold was made over the sculpture and with a pointy tool I added these sort of fern-like shapes, just dripping the tinted latex into the mold.

The dried latex leaves are pulled out of the mold and attached to aluminum wires covered with sewing string and tinted latex.

The trunk is yet another bit of aluminum wire, wrapped with polyurethane foam and a latex skin. The four leaves / branches are attached to the top with Polymorph plastic, and a wing nut foot keeps the plant stuck to my animation stage.

The last plant won't really be moving, except that I may animate it being uprooted in the fight between the beast and the heroes of the tale. I sculpted a trunk inspired by the look of a cycad.

Again, I've made a plaster mold from the sculpture into which I could cast a hollow latex skin. I filled this skin with a fast-setting plastic, and attached some flexible garden wires at the bottom along with my customary wing nut. The cone-looking thing at the top is simply cotton dipped in latex, with more tinted latex drops added over it.

That's it for the plants. I hope they'll all look good and weird when duplicated many times in After Effects, and help create a truly alien-looking landscape.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Darmok and Jalad: Alien Animals

After taking a break from working on the puppets for the Darmok & Jalad music video, I'm slowly getting back on track with that project. The island of Tanagra, where the myth / song is set is populated with strange plants and animals. I don't have time to focus too much on those, since the length of the song will dictate the pace of the film. But I have built two critters that will make an appearance.

The puppet for the first animal is super simple. I wanted something both alien and slightly comical, so I hit upon the idea of having a living slinky. For those of you who don't remember these toys, they were large spring-like coils of wire which would walk end to end down a flight of stairs. The slinky animal is basically a sausage with clawed feet at each end, and the very simple armature consists of a folded over aluminum wire with a wing nut at the ends. The wing nuts were attached with polymorph thermoplastic and covered with cotton and tinted latex. The wire was padded with a wraparound of soft polyurethane foam.

I cast tinted latex into a plaster skin texture mold and pulled out one big bit of latex skin. I wrapped this over the foam, using liquid latex as a glue. Drops of more tinted latex were added along the length of the puppet to add more details. Maybe those little bumps are eyes(?) The claws are also latex, cast in plaster molds to produce teeth for latex masks.

Here's the finished slinky animal, painted with tinted latex. It only took one day to build. There will be a whole herd of these things running down the beach on Tanagra island in the finished film. I bet it will be fun animating this guy.

I've built one more creature, dubbed the "funnel cow" since it'll have a funnel-like mouth with which to suck up flowers and fruits like a vacuum cleaner. As you can see the plastic / aluminum wire armature is fairly simple. The creature has two legs and a tail, with a jointed swallowing mechanism under the neck. The legs and the tail have been padded out with thick but soft yarn.

The body padding has been achieved by mixing soft and dense polyurethane foam, attached in muscle shapes over the armature. The insides of the torso have been filled up with cotton balls.

I had no idea what this creature would look like apart from its basic body shape, so I simply doodled out the head in medium grade Monster Clay. This is what I ended up with.

Only the top of the head was cast in latex. The underside will simply be built up using cotton and latex.

The snout will be going back and forth when the creature is eating, so I made a very simple aluminum wire armature for it. It's covered with soft string to fill out the basic shape of the snout opening.

The head has been attached to the armature with thermoplastic, and the underside is filled up with the cotton / latex mix.

Time to dress the puppet with some latex skins. I use liquid latex, dabbed on with a foam sponge, as the bonding agent.

By now I have amassed a ton of plaster skin texture molds, into which I can cast skins for any kind of puppet. For this critter I used a bumpy reptilian texture for most of the body, and an alligator-like layered pattern for the belly.

The puppet has been covered all over with the cast latex skin patches, but you can see variants in color which needs to be painted over. To smooth the transition between the main body texture and the belly I've added drops of latex where the two textures join.

Besides the paint job using tinted latex dry brushed on, with acrylic airbrush colors over that, I've also added horns made from a mix of latex and cotton. The eyes have been painted with the airbrush colors, and then covered with liquid scrap booking plastic. Like the horns, the toe nails are also latex and cotton.

I might add at least one type of flying creature, but I want it to be quite abstract, so it'll probably just be a Photoshopped image 2d animated in After Effects -a bunch of strange shapes whizzing by.