Saturday, April 12, 2014

Little Plastic Monsters

For a while now I've been illustrating the kid-friendly role-playing game "Äventyret" ("Adventure") by my fellow Swede Daniel Lehto, and his daughter Julia. It hasn't been making a huge splash in the Swedish gaming community yet, but since it's the only one of its kind it has been receiving very nice reviews and comments. I was actually nominated for best game artist last year.
I believe Julia is 10 now, and since her own fertile imagination is just as powerful as the influences she's getting from other games, the monsters she comes up with for the world of "Äventyret" are rather eccentric.

When I was a kid in the late 1970's, you could actually buy primitive-looking but very charming plastic miniatures of the crazy monsters of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson's ground-breaking "Dungeons & Dragons " game. I have a few of those.

I suggested that we (or rather, I) do a few "Äventyret" monster figurines, and now we're off and running. It's nothing we'll make any money off, but they're probably good for marketing the game. They'll surely be an eye-catcher at conventions and such gatherings.

I started of with the "hopster"; a bipedal monster of a rather innocent and humorous disposition. This is not a stop-mo puppet project, but I thought it could be interesting to share anyways. Who knows, I might eventually do some "Äventyret" stop-mo monsters, as they are (to me at least) screaming out to be animated.

I've started to use the Monster Makers "Monster Clay", which has a more waxy consistency than the Chavant, and I must say I'm in love. I find that I can work in smaller details faster than in the Chavant. As another example, here's a Roman centurion Medusa chest plate I did for a friend.

..And here's a work in progress for a stop-mo puppet. So, as you can see, the details are crisp, and the hard consistency of the Monster Clay will permit pretty rough handling of the sculpture without denting or smudging, which can happen during the moulding process.

Anyways, to continue with the hopster, I used Chavant to create the containment wall around the sculpture.

Dragonskin FX silicone was mixed and poured into this and left to set.

Most of the little sculpture came out intact from the finished silicone mould. This makes no matter for the project itself, but it shows the softness of the silicone. It's good to know if you're making a mould over a fragile object, for example. To get the sculpture out, I had to cut a slit in the space between the monster's legs. Other than that, the mould is a simple one-peice affair.

For the actual casting of the figure I'm using SmoothCast 65D from SmoothOn. It's semi-rigid, which allows a fair amount of impact resistance, meaning that if you drop the damn thing it won't shatter. SmoothCast 65D sets bright white in colour. I mixed in some So Strong flesh-coloured tint, which created a good base for the figurine. I don't have many So Strong tints, as they are a bit costly, but they do help when casting stuff, as you have a base colour which will always be there, even if some of the painted-on mediums will eventually rub off.

Here's the hopster cast, and ready for its painting and touch-ups. However I cast, I always end up with air bubbles. This will not me remedied until I get a vacuum chamber, which is a costly thing. Until then I simply use epoxy paste to fix larger castings, and I actually use (and recommend) a scrap booking liquid plastic, which is dispensed in droplets from a handy little bottle and dries a flexible transparent plastic. This is good for castings with smaller bubble holes, like the hopster.

The hopster now has a light coat of plastic hobby paint, and some airbrush acrylics applied with a small paintbrush for the eye. I enjoy making these things as much as my stop-mo puppets, and I'll try to find the time to make more of them in the near future.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Lovecraft Alphabet: Effects and Animations

Here's a little video with me babbling on about how stuff was made for "The Lovecraft Alphabet". Hope you enjoy it and get inspired :)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Beans vs Aliens

 Remember that I posted about a video project I did with the group of disabled people I work with in my day job? Here's the finished video. It's in Swedish, but I think you can follow along despite this. If you know the title is "Beans vs Aliens", I think you'll figure out the basic plot of the story! "Bruna bönor" = Brown beans. The nasty aliens find out that invading Earth might be a bad idea, since mankind seems to have a built-in weapon..

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Music Video Devil

Some faithful readers of this blog might remember that I built a cartoony devil puppet last year, to be featured in a video for the band Angry Johnny and the Killbillies song "Kill Again". Well, that video is finally finished and posted on YouTube. Most of the cheers go to my pal Christoffer Åström at Wizworks, who designed and edited the video. My contribution was to build the puppet and animate it. The devil pops up a few seconds here and there in the video.

But hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen; though the video has its own brand of bizarre humour, it's also pretty gory!

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Lovecraft Alphabet: The Finished Film

So, here it finally is. I started working on this in April 2013, and finally finished it 5 January 2014. It's still far from perfect, but it's the best I could do at this point in time. And I'm quite happy with it.

What for 2014, then? Well, my aim has always been to be very productive, but I rarely live up to that ambition. Trying to juggle a day job with various illustration assignments, and my film and animation interest doesn't really pan out. At least it hasn't yet. For the last year I have gradually upgraded my technological assets, as far as my economy has allowed it. For example, I now have a Nikon that allows me to shoot in slow-mo (sort-of), animate in HD, and create greenscreen shots with clearer image quality. Things like that actually make a big difference, as it allows me to work faster when editing.

Anyways, I hope you'll keep visiting my Blog, and find stuff here to inspire or provoke you into getting creative yourself. Happy 2014, everyone!

Monday, December 9, 2013

My Lovecraftian Alphabet part 4: Zoogs

In H P Lovecraft's Dreamland tales (such as his epic "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath") you can find the zoogs in the enchanted wood, just past the Gate of Deeper Slumber. They're small, furry and nimble creatures possessing both intelligence and slyness. They make a wine from the fermented sap of the moon-tree which is very potent, and sought after. They are at war with the cats. I thought they'd make a great representative for the letter "z".

Some years ago I made a bunch of sketches for various Dreamland creatures, and I chose one of those as a start for my zoog puppet.

As usual, I started out with sculpting the head. This time, however, I abandoned my old, tried and true Chavant clay in favour of testing the highly recommended "monster clay" from Monster Makers Inc. And yes; I am in love. This material is the perfect sculpting substance, having the best qualities of both clay and wax. I'll be using this stuff for most of my following projects.

After making a plaster mould for the face I cast the head piece in skin-tinted latex. Friendly Plastic thermoplastic was added to the inside to create a subskull.

The eyes were made out of transparent half-spheres, probably to be used in scrapbooking, but also ideal for making big, watery eyes. I glued the domes down over printed photoshopped eyes using a flexible super glue.

Although you will mostly see the snaking feelers over the mouth, I wanted to make a functioning mouth too. This was simply done by attaching an aluminum wire to the subskull, wrapping it in soft string and covering it with tinted latex. The teeth are just small bits of cotton mixed with latex and rolled  between my fingers.

My usual Friendly Plastic / aluminum wire armature holds together the parts of the zoog, including the wire-wrapped hands, feet and tail.

To cover the body up I chose an old fur hat, which I bought at a flea market some years ago. This is real fur, which I prefer not to use, but it's hard finding good fake fur around where I live. Whatever poor animal was used I hope it's better to donate its fur to creating a new "living" creature, than being stuck on the head of some old lady.

The fur-attaching process is pretty straight forward. I just eyeball the measurements for each body part, cut the fur with a scalpel, and stick it on using flexible contact cement, adjusting the fur pieces as necessary. Where it's needed I stick on individual loose chunks of hair using latex as glue.

Here's the finished critter, waiting for his first star turn.

Jonas Wahlström, zoologist and manager for the Swedish Skansen tropical aquarium, once posed with a tiny marmoset hugging his thumb. The image eventually ended up on the cover of Guinness Book of World Records, and is said to be the most famous thumb in the world. Here's my version of that photo. The zoog's a bit bigger, though.

It is said that the zoogs are fierce creature you should never trust, but this little fellow seems very sweet and.. HOLY CRAP!!!!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bug-Eyed Aliens

Taking a short break from my Lovecraftian Alphabet project I though I'd show you something else I've been working on. I've been out of a steady full-time job since early 2012, surviving on various work opportunities popping up and going away again. Right now I'm working half-time at a project called "Media Power", where special needs people of all ages learn how to blog, make interviews, do pod casts, make videos, and generally find out how to use the free social medias to promote themselves and their various interests. I'm the technical go-to guy, and I also try to think up fun stuff for the crowd to do.
We have some pretty good actors in the gang, and a few of them enjoy making dramatic films. Two of the guys and I decided to do a humorous sci-fi short, where nefarious aliens kidnap earth people. To portray the aliens we concluded that cartoonish animated puppets would best do the trick.

I built only one alien and cloned it in After Affects, after multiple animations in StopMotionPro. The idea was that the aliens, looking like they jumped off the cover of an old sci-fi pulp magazine, would also be cloned, or at least looking all the same. The alien puppet armature was a very simple affair, having no "bones" in the body. I used thick aluminum wire for the whole thing, apart from the fingers and a small joint for the tips of the feet.

I also did something else different from my usual puppet projects; I cast the head in hard plastic instead of soft latex. I decided that the aliens would have a mouth-like organ, but not speak visibly with it, thus relieving me from hours of synced mouth animations. The only thing moving and emoting would be a pair of eyes on stalks. Thus I sculpted the head in my usual fashion using Chavant clay, but made a mould out of silicone instead of plaster.

This being the excellent, soft DragonSkinPro from SmoothOn, the sculpture came out of the mould almost intact.

I used a SmoothOn 325 plastic poured into the mould and sloshed around to create a strong, hollow shell.

The finished casting was very light, and quite strong in itself..

..But I decided to reinforce it further by adding expanding polyurethane foam. While the foam was setting I pressed down a looped aluminum wire into the head, creating the neck joint.

The eye stalks were two bits of aluminum wire wrapped in soft string, with plastic balls attached to the ends. The stalks were held in place within the skull with Friendly Plastic thermoplastic. You can also see that the neck has been covered with more string wrapping.

After attaching the head to the body, the armature was padded with bits of thin sheet foam. The arms, legs, feet and fingers were wrapped in string covered with tinted latex.

To make the aliens look even more sterile and cloned I decided to give them black rubbery suits, with very few details. I cast small pieces of tinted latex on the back of an old plaster mould to create a smooth surface for the suits. Why not use a plastic tray, a table, a mirror, or any other REALLY smooth surface to cast the latex on, one may ask? Because the latex takes longer to dry on a non-absorbing surface, and the porous plaster creates a matte surface on the latex, making it much easier to remove and handle. Give both ways a try, and you'll appreciate not having the headaches of latex pieces sticking to themselves because of their perfectly smooth, but hideously self-attaching backside.

That takes care of the body. The hands and eye stalks were painted with tinted latex, while the plastic head was airbrushed using acrylic colours.

There you have it: One nasty alien invader. Ready to be animated.

To place our intrepid hero, Andreas, on an examination table in the alien spacecraft, he simply laid down on the floor in an empty room in the building where we have our office. We didn't have any proper chroma key screen there, so we simply put some red pillows behind his head, creating a neutral background, that could be removed digitally. The rest of his body and a part of the floor was cut out using the matte tracking tool in AE. The alien was animated as three characters, and all of it was keyed onto a stock spaceship background.

Instead of shooting Andreas as a chroma key subject and adding him to a background, I did a more old-fashioned matte shot, superimposing a photoshopped image over shots of him lying on the floor. This kept him as an element of much better image quality than a chroma key shot would've produced.
And how does humanity defeat the pesky aliens? This particular day, Andreas had enjoyed a too hefty baked beans lunch, and we find out just how sensitive to gaseous anomalies these aliens are.