Sunday, May 15, 2016

Carcosa Project: The Faceless Guide

"Down the dark street of monoliths I passed
The shambling, faceless figure of my guide
A voiceless thing that beckoned at my side
And to the dreaded gate I came at last."

So says the Lin Carter poem "The King In Tatters", which I'm working on adapting. The poem is set in the fantasy world of Carcosa; a place that I, as well as the rest of the world, imagine to be a twisted place, a shadow parallel to our own reality. The guide in the above quoted passage was in my mind a great opportunity to show just how twisted life in Carcosa could be, and yet retain certain common features from our shared consciousness.

This is how my original design for the guide looked. It did change a bit along the way, but the main concept remained. I almost always find that new ideas make themselves known when I actually start building the puppet.

I chose to sculpt the bigger part of the torso, mostly the front, in Chavant clay. Big fleshy sockets were built up around the horns, which we'll get back to shortly.

The horns were removed for the casting of the torso, and a simple containment wall made from soft hobby clay was built up around the sculpture.

This produced a single-piece plaster mold into which a thick latex skin was cast. The latex was tinted with Monster Maker's excellent latex pigments.

So what about the horns, then? Well, they're probably the only big innovation on this puppet. A while ago I sculpted a Chavant version of how I imagined a proper Raptor claw should look. It was made for a project that hasn't materialized yet, though the claws have been cast and used for other stuff, including LARP events. I made a DragonSkin FX Pro silicone mold around the sculpture into which various plastic materials could be cast. For the guide puppet I used a material called Feather Lite from SmoothOn. It's a plastic that's supposed to weigh so little it floats on water. I made two Feather Lite castings of the Raptor claw, and cut one of them down to be slightly shorter. Two simple screws act as attaching points, something that Friendly Plastic, the material used to join together the puppet, can grab hold of.

Feather Lite sets up a cream color, which was perfect for the horns. I used acrylic airbrush paints to give the horns depth and weathering. I simply used a hobby paint brush and painted on the colors in washes. Fixativ fixing spray sealed the paint job.

I could get away with a really simple armature for this puppet. Nothing for the face, and not really any joints necessary for the torso. Only the legs needed to be strong, and the arms suitable articulated for some simple gestures and arm swinging.

The torso was filled up with soft polyurethane foam, and the back was shaped out of a slightly denser foam piece to give it stability. The fingers are covered with soft croquet string dipped in tinted latex.

I made sure the arms had a proper network of foam muscles, as they would be in plain focus in the animations. By this point, however, I had made different plans for the legs, and bulked them up by just wrapping thin strips of foam around them. I probably doesn't show very well in this photo, but I've shaped blobs of Friendly Plastic thermoplastic into cloven hooves over the feet.

Thin textured patches of latex skin cast in older texture plaster molds now cover the arms as well as the back, and the fingers have been given latex talons cast in plaster molds I use to produce horns, claws and similar shapes. A layer of PAX paint has been stippled on using polyurethane foam sponges.

Acrylic airbrush paints are applied quite liberally on this puppet to give a dimensional fleshy look. I gave the torso special attention, since it would be the most prominently featured part of the character. Acrylic airbrush paints usually bond very well with the acrylic-based PAX paint, but I also give the paint job a dash of an airbrush sealer used for art applied to leather and other flexible surfaces.

During the work on the puppet I decided to make it a kind of twisted satyr or minotaur, and have the legs be covered with fur up to the waist. I used contact cement to glue bits of fake fur around the legs, which only took a moment, but I then spent considerable time cutting small tufts of hair from the fur fabric and using Pros aide prosthetics glue to lay down a few hairs at a time to create a more natural-looking progression of hair from the waist up the torso a few centimeters.

Some shaggy hairs on the arms were applied in a much quicker fashion using black and brown crepé hair blended together and glued down with Pros aide.

I also added two naked and gnarly knees by cutting away patches of the fake fur, and gluing down two small pieces of cast latex skin.

By this point I had also decided that the creature should be adorned in some way, though not have any clothes or armor. In my box of good-to-eventually-have stuff I found a motley collection of cheap jewellery, and thought that I could probably string some of it together to have a small metallic-looking set of bodily adornments.

Among other things I wanted to have a nasty-looking piece of piercing dangling from one of the monster's man boobs. This, of course, meant that I had to make something that could be animated. A bit of thin chain with a weight attached to it seemed hardcore enough to my lily-livered sentiments. I came up with the idea to use a pipe cleaner stripped of its fur covering, and slightly twisted so it opened up just a little bit without falling apart. Now it looked enough like a chain for me to get away with the concept.

A small hole was drilled into the boob using my Dremel tool, and the cavity inside the latex casting was filled up with a mix of cotton and flexible super glue. One end of the naked pipe cleaner was then inserted into this goop and held in place until the super glue had set up (a matter of minutes). A small nickel ball was attached to the end of the "chain", and a mix of cotton and PAX paint sealed up the entry hole to simulate some suitable droopy and wrinkly skin. Now I had a length of chain links that could easily be animated swinging back and forth as the puppet was walking.
I also attached an ear piece with pendants to the puppet's crotch, but noticed that the dangling pendants mostly rested against the legs, so I wouldn't have to make those animate-able too.

I'm generally happy with how the Carcosa guide creature turned out. It looks very top heavy, but thanks to the Feather Lite plastic it isn't. It stands a little over a foot tall. I hope I can make a nice impression with this character and its short appearance in the film. Overall, my aim is to give this film a visually arresting and interesting feel.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Carcosa Project: Weekend Built Mini Monsters

By now more people than ever seem to have heard about "Carcosa" or "The King In Yellow" due to the "True Detective" TV show. These names have their origin in a literary mythology that is similar to H P Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, though it is far from that extensive. In essence it was all created by author Robert Chambers in his 1895 book "The King In Yellow", which is almost unrivalled in its weirdness. I'll come back to the Carcosa mythos in later blog posts as this project evolves, but like in the case of Lovecraft's tales, other authors have continued building upon them. One of them was Lin Carter (1930-1988) who wrote an elaborate poem about the strange world of Carcosa, and what happens when an Earth sorcerer attempts to enter it. I recieved permission last year from the Carter estate to adapt this poem into a film, and that's where these two puppets will appear as background characters.

These two characters will be almost nothing more than ambience in the film, they'll help establish the world of Carcosa as a place of truly strange life forms, though the creatures will hopefully also connect with the viewer to remind them of various styles of art and design from bygone eras. My idea was to build a couple of puppets just over the weekend, and have fun with the design and creation of them. Let's start with the critter I call "the goblin worm". I used Monster Clay to sculpt a head, which I suppose represents the traditional goblin or witch-like features.

I placed the finished face on a bed of more Monster Clay, and also added additional clay to secure the sculpture to this base, and remove the most glaring undercuts in the back of the sculpture. Dental plaster was then poured over the clay, and a latex copy of the sculpture was produced from the plaster mold.

Here's the cast latex face attaeched to an aluminum wire skeleton wrapped in soft polyurethane foam. The back of the head is built up with cotton dipped in tinted latex.

Patches of variously textured wrinkly and warty skin is quickly created by re-using old plaster molds. I use a small bit of polyurethane foam as a sponge to lay on the latex.

And after just a few hours I have this strange fellow added to the puppet cast. The spiky things on his head and the fangs are both created by dipping cotton in latex and simply rolling it between my fingers. The puppet will be animated wiggling across a stone floor. It had some problems with staying upright while animated, so I attached a piece of greenscreen-painted card to the belly of the puppet, and now it's working just fine.

The second stop-motion critter produced this weekend is the one I call "the foreskin monster". The original idea was to make a head on legs, probably inspired by similar creatures in the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516). It did end up a head on legs, but with a wrinkly body and a general appearence that a friend of mine likened to the male genetalia. Again, it's a Monster Clay sculpture with an undetailed area underneath, where the legs will be.

To make this casting work I had to create a two-part plaster mold, which is usually a quick job when working with sculptures as small as this one. A softer hobby clay (the reddish one) was used as a deviding wall between the two halves of the body. The other clay-encircled mold in the above images is the head mold for the goblin worm.

The head and body has been cast in latex reinforced with cotton, and with the help of a shoe drying machine the materals have set up within the hour and can be removed from the mold.

The legs are each made out of four strands of aluminum wire with a wing nut attached to each foot. Tough cotton string is holding together the wires.

 To add muscular shape and bulk to the legs I use thin polyurethane foam.

The legs are attached to the inside of the body using Friendly Plastic thermoplastic. This material is very light and adds very little to the weight of the puppet. In the above photo I've built up shoes of a kind with cotton and tinted latex, and the overall puppet has been given a base coat of PAX paint (Prosaide glue mixed with acrylic paints).

The final puppet has, just like the goblin worm, been detailed with acrylic airbrush paints.
None of these two puppets can emote with their faces, and to have them basically be walking and slithering sculptures make these puppets fast and cheap to make. And that's really all they should be if they're background characters.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sculpting Tips & Tricks Video

If you want some more info on how I work with clays and sculpting tools when building my puppets, then I hope you'll find some good stuff in this video :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Doctor Who Taran Wood Beast

I love classic Doctor Who, and I especially love its monsters. There are many celebrated creatures from the golden age of the TV show, but not all of them are met with love.

Take this shaggy fellow, for example. This is the dreaded Taran wood beast, encountered by Mary Tamm's time lady Romana on the planet Tara. It rears its ugly head in the very first episode of the serial "The Androids of Tara" (1978), itself a part of the longer story cycle "The Key to Time".

This might be a face only a mother can love, for most Who fans certainly don't. Even the serial's director Michael Hayes hated the damn thing, and cringes audibly when it appears during his DVD commentary to the episode. I, however, love this goofy-looking monster and I think it has been given an unjustifiably large amount of badmouthing.
This opinion has now resulted in me making my own doll of the critter, just for the fun of it. Sometimes when I work on a puppet project that drags on and is in some ways taxing, I take a break and relax by -making another puppet.

This doll is really no different from my usual stop-motion puppets, except that it isn't built for animation (though it can certainly be used for that). So, there are no tie-down bolts in its feet, and the hands, feet and head are cast in plastic, and therefore completely stiff. I started with making chavant clay sculptures for these parts of the body.

The sculptures were pressed down onto chavant bases, and encircled with clay walls. DragonSkin FX was poured into each confinement, and tinted SmoothCast 325 poured into the finished silicone molds.

As you can probably see this is my standard aluminum wire armature, held together at the vital sections with Friendly Plastic. The head was cast in a bright orange and the hands and feet in a blue-grey hue. The hands and feet were cast solid, but using a Dremel tool I quickly dug out deep furrows where I could stick the aluminum wires. Quick-setting epoxy holds the wires in place.

I used an ordinary hobby brush to apply washes of airbrush colors, adding depth and skin patterns onto the plastic cast. As you can see, the bottom part of the teeth are dark brown. This is because air got trapped in the silicone mold during the casting, and the bottom of the fangs were missing from the casting. Heavy duty sculpting epoxy was used to finish the fangs.

The body of the doll was wrapped in thin polyurethane foam to build up bulk, and yet have it retain great flexibility around the armature.

I used a cheap but nice-looking fake fur to cover up the doll's body. A textile pattern pencil is used to draw an outline around the doll.

The basic wood beast fur cover pattern -very simple as you see. I made two of these, one for the back, and one for the front.

Flexible and durable contact cement joined the body with the fur. Starting with the back, I then added glue to the foam padding of the doll's front side.

Adding the two halves of the fur covering was really easy. I squeezed out some glue along the joins, and simply pressed the fur tightly around them.

The wood beast has a short mane around its head, and a rather 1980's synthpop-looking fringe hanging over his face. A small piece of longer fake fur was added and "styled."

So, here's the finished doll or puppet -I don't really know what the correct term for such a project would be.

He found his home on one of my book shelves, next to a Who monster colleague, and a stack of Doctor Who Target books.

I actually made a DeviantArt fan illustration the other year, showing the moment when Romana is ambushed by the little monster, and shortly before she is rescued by the villainous, but swashbuckling count Grendel. Is there any longer any doubt that I'm a fan of this curious beastie?

But what was the fate of the actual wood beast? Well, it was almost sold at a Who memorabilia auction a few years ago, but unfortunately nobody wanted the now rather ratty-looking suit, so it went back to its original owners.