Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Carcosa Project: The Byakhee


Among the many creatures dreamt up by author H P Lovecraft we find the Byakhee, which is probably one of his weirdest. In his short story "The Festival" they appear as mounts for a strange secret sect, and are described as hybrids with features from such diverse things as bats, moles, birds and decomposing humans. One of Lovecraft's protégés August Derleth also wrote about Byakhees in his story "The Gable Window", but his version of the monster is easier to grasp. I'm building a Byakhee puppet for my video version of Lin Carter's poem "The King In Tatters", and his version of the beast is something in between Lovecraft and Derleth. The sketch above is my concept of the Carter Byakhee, and my guide for the puppet.


 Medium grade Monster Clay was my material of choice for creating the head. "Black-furred and iron-beaked, with eyes of Hell" is how Carter describes it. I tried to get something that looked loathsome and I took familiar features and did something different with them. Therefore I, for example, put the eyes on the topside of the head, like a bottom-dwelling fish. The head was mostly sculpted with tiny loop tools.


The head is cast in a one-piece mold, with the mouth cavity filled up with clay. I try to make most of my molds in one piece. A clay wall is built up around it to hold the plaster around the sculpture.


Can't remember what the small cast is, but the bigger one is the Byakhee head. I'm using pink dental stone, which creates very durable molds, and which are also easy to cast latex into.


The other body part I sculpted was the underside of the body. Again I'm using Monster Clay medium grade, and various sculpting tools, among them a rubber-tipped tool.


My aim with this sculpture was to create an amalgam of different textures, making the body look like it's a hybrid of very different creatures. The sculpture is actually upside down. The warty spiky "back" will be the monster's gut.


The head has been cast in black-tinted latex, and attached to an aluminum wire armature using Friendly Plastic thermoplastic. Two reflective read beads are inserted into the latex skin and attached by pressing the soft plastic up behind them, until they stick as the plastic cools. The neck, a length of folded aluminum wire, is divided up in small sections using short steel nails as "vertebrae" held in place with crochet yarn.


To get the insect element into the Byakhee physique I'm making its front legs look like the limbs of an ant. I'm sure I could've made the claws in some very simple way, but decided to sculpt them and cast them in plastic using silicone molds.


Here's the body sculpt cast in tinted latex and filled with layers of soft polyurethane foam.


The ant-like forelegs with the plastic claws waiting to be attached. Friendly plastic holds them in place.


The various bits that make up the Byakhee puppet, including the spine. All feet have wing nuts in them to hold tie-down screws.


All the limbs, including a stumpy tail are joined with Friendly Plastic. I did attach the belly here, but pulled it off and filled it up with more foam to make it saggier.


I've covered wing-making in quite a few of my earlier blog posts, so I'll just rush through the process here. Aluminum wire frames are wrapped in soft string..


And a combination of cotton mixed with latex and polyurethane foam is used to build up muscle shapes.


Patches of latex skin are cast in old plaster texture molds and used to cover the muscle build-ups.


Here's the skin-covered arm bit of the wings, and the "fingers" have also been covered with tinted liquid latex.


The wing membranes are created by submerging the wing halfway down into cheap hobby plaster and when the plaster has set I can sponge on latex between the fingers. When that has dried I just pull the wing out of the plaster.


I made the wing membranes a little too dark, so I have painted them with a mix of latex and pigments. And as you can see the belly is now removed.


Filling up the belly piece with more foam made the creature look bloated and slightly clumsy when compared to the skinny legs.


Time to build up some bulk on the critter. I'm using a thin polyurethane foam which is manufactured to be placed under plate racks in kitchens to soak up moisture. I'm simply wrapping some of it around the neck.


The rest of the body and the limbs get a more careful build-up of foam muscle padding. Soft yarn is also used to create certain shapes.


Again, patches of tinted latex skin cast in various texture plaster molds I've made over the years are used to cover up the puppet body.


Here's the finished skin patching job.


 I used my Iwata airbrush to create a subtle mottling on the wings, but I then simply painted on the acrylic airbrush paints with a small brush.


I'm almost done with the puppet, but it's supposed to be black-furred, remember?


This fur is actually brown and comes from an old lady's hat bought at a thrift store. I cut strips of the fur and painted it black with the acrylic airbrush paints. This also created a stability in the hairs and made them keep their shape. Tufts of hair are attached using Prosaide prosthetic glue.


The teeth are blobs of melted Friendly Plastic simply rolled between my fingers into pointy elongated shapes. Flexible super glue is used to attach the teeth into the gums of the latex head. Glossy Accents scrapbooking plastic is smeared around the mouth and in the nostrils to create shiny, moist areas.






The finished Byahkee is ready to be animated. To keep it aloft while it's flying I'm attaching it to a flying rig from Animation Toolkit using a wing nut at the rear end of the puppet.


Hopefully, the finished scenes in the film will look something like this. This image is a Photoshop mash-up, with an image of the film's actor Samuel Lange riding the Byakhee as they head for Carcosa on cosmic winds.

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.