Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"The Other Gods": The Gods Themselves Part 1

SPOILERS: If you don't want to have a peek at the monsters of "The Other Gods" before the film is finished, then go watch some funny cats on YouTube or something else. Or keep reading if you're not hyper sensitive to such things.
Since the "gods" of Lovecraft's short story aren't defined as any of the recognizable critters of the later Cthulhu Mythos, I felt that I didn't have to adhere too strictly to descriptions of any certain creature. I did, however, include the avatar of Nyarlathotep, also known as "The Howler In the Dark", "The God of the Bloody Tongue", etc, since I had already built that puppet. I made it for my Lovecraftian Alphabet film, but didn't include it in the end. 

You can find a complete description of how that puppet came to be HERE.

One of the puppets built specifically for "The Other Gods" is my version of Shub-Niggurath, “The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young”. This cosmic horror is, like most Lovecraftian beings, just too terrible to be described, so the puppet had to be something quite simple. I hope it'll still be spine-tingling enough.

This is a miniature skull I did years ago as a piece of LARP jewelry. I sculpted it in Chavant clay and made a Dragonskin silicone mould for it. I thought it might do as the naked skull of Shub-Niggurath.

It didn't have a lower jaw, though, so I made one in Monster Clay.

Testing it out against the plastic skull, so the teeth will overlap and interlock properly.

And here's the final plastic cast, joined to the skull with two bits of aluminum wire. I chose to tint the plastic a tan colour, since it would make a good base colour for the aged look I wanted for the finished skull.

Since she's supposed to have “a Thousand Young” I thought I'd better equip her properly. This sculpture was made in Chavant clay and will become a latex cast for the front of the puppet.

I decided to give her a "skirt" of tentacles, while her torso had two human-looking arms. These tentacles are aluminum wires wrapped in thick soft string, and then dipped in latex.

The tentacles are stuck to the rest of the wire armature with melted Friendly Plastic, and the middle is covered up with cotton and tinted latex. Before the cotton dries too much you can sculpt wrinkles into it using a thick needle.
The body is padded with bits of old cushion foam, and then covered with the cast latex skin of the chest and belly. In the center of the tentacles is a support rod with a wing nut for attaching the puppet to the animation stage.

More bits of cast textured latex skin cover the rest of the body, including the back. Small tentacles around the waist were created by mixing latex and Cabosil micro balloons into a butter-like paste, which I could roll between my thumb and index finger to make the shapes. The same technique was used for the outgrowths on the back.

Here's the finished puppet, with a base paint of PAX (acrylic paints and Prosaide glue), and then touched up with Liquitex acrylic airbrush paints.

I also gave her a long tongue made the same way as the skirt tentacles, so she can "kiss" the head tentacle of Nyarlathotep by wrapping them together. Isn't love beautiful??

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"The Other Gods": Filming Cosmic Horrors In a Tiny Green Room

First of all: Happy New Year! Let's help out making 2015 a really swell year. Unfortunately, 2014 was almost only work, work, work for me, and not of the fun kind. But never mind that now; new year, new possibilities.

We're off to Lovecraft Land again with my latest video effort. This is another of my projects that's been lingering on for a couple of years, bit which is finally getting to the finish line with editing and effects work.
First a few words about the actual story. "The Other Gods" is apparently an early effort by weird fiction master H P Lovecraft. Scholars say that it's an example of the influence of Lord Dunsany's lyrical and mystical tales on Lovecraft's imagination. This one is sort of a moral tale, with a couple of characters sticking their noses into business they'd better leave alone. Barzai the Wise and his disciple Atal climb mount Hatheg-Kla to spy on the dancing gods of the Earth, but find out too late that they do not dance alone..

My stalwart buddies Håkan Håkansson and Björn Hansson tackled the moderate challenge of portraying Barzai and Atal, and my equally reliable voice-over artist John Hutch supplied the narration, providing the gravitas that only a genuine English accent can create.
We filmed the whole thing in one 2013 afternoon, in my crammed green screen room.

Håkan looked suitably sage in a fantasy astrologer/astronomer outfit..

...And Björn might actually pass for Sinbad the sailor in his get-up. Something that got me thinking regarding future projects.

All the scenes were pieced together in After Effects. I now subscribe to software in Adobe Cloud, and therefore have access to all the tools I need for my creative digital work. Or almost all tools. The standard AE plugin Keylight is very good, but since I almost never get the ideal quality green screen shots I always think I'll get, I need stronger stuff to pull a good enough key. So I coughed up the $799 Red Giant want for their Keying Suite, which includes Primatte Keyer, Key Correct and Warp. I'm very happy with the results I'm getting, so for me it was certainly worth every penny.

Here's how the opening shot of Barzai in his tower looks when finished. I'm still sticking to a not-quite-real look, which is inspired by both Ray Harryhausen's fantasy films as well as more experimental auteur's like Karel Zeman. 

Here's how the full background image looks. It's created in Photoshop and consists of 22 layers. The various bits are photos from Wikimedia, travel photos from friends and other sources. I love creating my "sets" in Photoshop, since the possibilities are endless. There are, in fact, no limits to what you can stitch together for your film.

Since the background image is so big, I could flip it and use bits of it for close-ups of Håkan. The telescope is also just a photo collage.

All in all, there were only three background images created for the tower interior. In some shots we actually used natural sunlight coming in through a window to light the green screen set-up. It worked better than I at first thought it would.

Walking in the desert might seem like a difficult thing to do, when you only have a green screen with a length that will allow for about four steps. The solution is simply to film each actor in two separate shots, and then combine them in AE. And have them walk very slowly.

You can even climb mountains, though your green screen studio feels like a closet. You only need a few seconds here and there to convey each part of the story.

And, of course, you have to prod your poor actors to crawl around in scenes which they have no idea how they'll turn out in the end. This little studio is history now, since the building is being renovated. Now I'm using another space, which I have to pay a small rent for since it's at a school, and I'm not the only one using . Ideally I'd love to have a big room just for myself, but that'll have to be a future project. It's on my dream list.

Without giving too much away (if you haven't read the story) things don't go too well for our heroes. Here's Björn with scratches and sores made up with fake blood and bread crumbs.

Barzai's fate is a grim one indeed, and it's probably correct to say that he's the first in a long line of Lovecraftian protagonists that meet a sticky end. So what is Barzai actually looking at? Well, since the story is called "The Other Gods" it's presumably clear that it's not the beings he climbed the mountain to have a peek at. More about those in a coming blog post, but here are a couple of dancing monstrosities to hopefully tickle your fancy.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Sinbad Cyclops: A recreation

Here's a record for me: The longest I've ever taken to finish a puppet! And one made for a client to boot. I started building this puppet in 2011 and just finished it a couple of weeks ago.
Any die hard stop-motion fan can see that this is a recreation of Ray Harryhausen's perhaps most famous puppet character; the cyclops from "7th Voyage of Sinbad". Making accurate recreations is NOT my best talent, but I hope I got most of the details right. This will be the last job I undertake of this sort. I much more enjoy creating original, if derivative, characters.

I've already made two posts about this project some years earlier, but I'll try to summarise what I've talked about before. The cyclops started life as a chavant clay bust. This was the part of the puppet I felt I needed to have the biggest control over, while the rest could be built up using my preferred construction techniques.

This puppet, like most of my puppets, is built up using layers of soft polyurethane foam covered with bits of latex skin. The hooves are cast in SmoothCast plastic from a silicone mould of a clay sculpture. Apparently I never took a photo of the armature, but it's my usual aluminum/Friendly Plastic concoction. The eye is a plastic ball with a Photoshopped iris printed on paper and glued to the ball. The eyeball was dipped in Crystal Clear casting resin and hung upside down to set, and create a transparent lens over the iris.

The finished cyclops, with fake fur for its legs, latex teeth and claws, and a latex/cotton club built up over a piece of wooden dowel. The horn is built up with melted white Friendly Plastic. A light paint job of drybrushed PAX paint guilds the lily. The plan is to send the cyclops off to his new master before Christmas.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Witchouse Monsters part 1

It seems I will be lending my time and talents to quite a few projects during 2015. I have lots and lots of stuff I want to do myself, not to mention stuff that needs to be finished, but I thrive on collaborations, especially where several talents are involved and each contribute to a piece of the creative puzzle.
Here's one of those collaborative projects: The video-horror-musical "The Dreams in the Witchhouse", based on the rather good tale by H P Lovecraft. The mastermind behind the film is Brian O'Connel, who apparently acquired the rights to the music from the Lovecraftian rock opera of the same name.
This time I'm not designing the stop-motion beasties, I'm building puppets based on drawings from DeviantArt artist KingOvRats.

This octopoid creature will be one of several monsters floating around in a parallel dimension, which the "hero" Walter Gilman" visits in a hallucinatory experience. I decided to make the puppet rather big, and started with a head sculpture in Monster Clay. Details like the saw-toothed edges on the monsters beak/snout and the crest of spines were added later.

Most of the puppet was actually built up in a rather improvised way, which I don't do very often. The head was such an important feature, though, that I felt that had to be made as exact as I could replicate it from the design drawing. 

To create the tentacles, aluminum wires covered with soft string were dipped in liquid latex, and casts of wrinkled and textured latex skin pieces were stuck on as a covering.

The spine was another bit of thick aluminum wire, covered with Friendly Plastic thermoplastic to simulate unbending bony parts. As you can see, the creature will eventually be quite blue. The green support rod at the rear part is detachable, and will only be used when animating the puppet against a green screen. The saw teeth have now been attached, and are simply made by cutting out the shapes in paper, and then covering them with tinted latex.

The body was built up with simple foam padding, augmented with thick layers of cotton held in place with a thin cover of liquid latex.

The skin on the body was created by casting multiple smaller patches of latex from many old plaster moulds. Additional texture were created by simply dipping pointy dental tools in blue-tinted latex and dripping warts and small wrinkles onto the skin. The spines on the crest were created by mixing latex and cabosil to a butter-like paste, and rolling the goop into pointy shapes between my thumb and index finger.

 The puppet is now ready for it's final touch up, which is a coat of tinted PAX paint (Pros-aide glue + acrylic paint), and finer detailing with acrylic airbrush paints. This was a fairly simple puppet to build. For example, it didn't need any complicated head joints for jaw or brow movement. The lack of joints also makes it very light for a puppet of its size, which is a little over a foot long.

Here's what it might look like in its natural habitat. We'll see how this project develops, and how long it'll take to finish. It's presumable that all involved will work on it on and off for quite some time, but that's the nature of non-commercial projects. All those crowd funded films seem to take forever to finish up, but it's eventually they do get made and released, and we should all be much happier for it. Every finished little rogue movie points the way for more of the same, and perhaps also to the future of film making as we know it.