Thursday, July 20, 2017

Making a Little RPG Monster

For a few years now I've been illustrating a Swedish fantasy role-playing game for kids. Now we, the people involved, are starting a Kickstarter campaign to fund the further development of this game. We decided to film a short sequence set in the game world, and featuring one of the weirder monsters; the "hopper". As you can see in the film still above, it's basically a huge eye on legs.

I didn't have a ready-made eye big enough for this puppet, so I had to make one myself. I decided against using a wooden ball since I've always ended up with visible wood grain, having to cover that up with layers of white paint. Instead I used a metal "marble" as a template for the eye. I pressed the metal ball down into a piece of soft monster clay, just enough for it to not move when pushed.

An old paper toilet roll acted as a containment wall for the DragonSkin Pro silicone which was poured around the ball to create a mold.

Using a new plastic called Rhino, cheaper than the usual products from SmoothOn which I normally use, I cast this bone white ball. What you see here is the top part, which will actually be the back side of the finished eye. I could've used this indentation to create an eye lens, but small air bubbles ended up on this side, so instead I used my Dremel tool to grind down a lens area on the opposite side. I didn't have to cut the silicone mold to get the plastic casting out. It took a bit of prying, but Dragon Skin Pro is flexible enough to allow for some seemingly impossible feats.

I used acrylic model hobby paints to create an iris on the ground down area. With a scalpel I then etched in tiny white lines spreading out from the centre.

For the actual lens I used Glossy Accents scrapbooking plastic. It's basically an air-drying plastic which sets up clear. The cured plastic, fed from a bottle, is slightly flexible, so you can scratch it with something sharp. Resin is preferable, but more expensive, generally a hassle to use and smelly.

I sculpted the front half of the hopping body in medium grade monster clay, mostly using small loop tools. I used the original metal ball as the eye and built up the clay around it.

Here's basically my set of hopping parts before assembling them. From my sculpture a plaster mold was created, and skin-colored latex poured into it to cast a skin, reinforced with a cotton/latex mix. The metal ball was used once again to create an eye socked by smearing silicone clay around it. I could then pop the plastic eye into the silicone socket. The fact that a small portion on the back of the eye was gone didn't hinder the eyeball from swiveling around perfectly. The silicone socket was then attached to the body skin by pressing down melted thermoplastic over the back of the socket and onto the inside of the body skin.

The rest of the puppet construction holds no surprises. The legs were made from four 2 mm aluminum wires each, attached to 4 mm threaded nuts in the feet. The toes were wrapped in yarn and then covered with tinted latex.

A simple wrapping of soft and thin polyurethane foam created the basic shape of the legs, and a very thin foam moist rag was used to produce a smooth outer layer before applying cast latex skins.

I built up the back of the hopping with foam and latex skins. I actually didn't paint this puppet, but simply gave it a light dabbing with a bit of foam dipped in the tinted latex. The toe nails were cut from thick paper and also covered with the latex.

It's remarkable that you can actually get a few subtle expressions from a puppet this simple. It's like using an immobile wooden mask; depending how you show it to your audience, you can make it speak and emote.

Here's the clip the hopping puppet was made for. It appears at about 00:40. This video is all in Swedish.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Darmok and Jalad: The Finished Video

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Darmok & Jalad: Our Heroes

The last, but very important, part of my Star Trek fan film entourage is the two main characters, of course. I decided to make them slightly smaller than my usual puppets, simply to have the beast of Tanagra look more imposing next to them. It's a case of having one over-sized puppet vs two under-sized puppets. Hopefully it'll all work out perfectly in the end.

The two tiny heads of these characters were sculpted in Monster Clay medium grade. As you can see I sculpted the mouths open, but after casting the latex heads from plaster molds I decided that they wouldn't be expressive enough. I'll get back to that in a bit.

I wanted to have eyes that could be animated, so I had to place them in some kind of socket. I reverted to an old eye-making trick of mine, which would allow me to work comfortably with the tiny plastic beads I chose for the eyes. I simply pushed them about 1/4 into soft clay and added latex on top.

To add stability I soaked cotton in latex and then placed that over the eyes. This will make the sockets leathery -sturdy but still flexible.

Here's the cleaned-up latex castings of the heads. I've cut holes for the eyes using very sharp and pointy scissors, and covered the mouths with tinted latex. The puppets will be getting replacement mouths instead.

Here's how the eyes look with their sockets removed from the clay cradle. I painted brown irises on the plastic beads and put some black paint into the holes that were already there to create pupils. I can rotate the eyes by simply putting a needle down each hole and turning the plastic bead in its socket.

I'm using liquid latex as a "glue" to attach the cotton/latex sockets to the insides of the heads. It's a bit tricky and fiddly working in such a small scale, but after a few tries and a bit of swearing they got in place.

These tiny (it's hard to get good focus in this scale) sausages are the lips and mouths of the characters. These will become the very simple replacement mouths of the puppets.

And here's a selection of latex mouths. I'll be using a couple of drops of flexible super glue to make them stick temporarily.

My usual thermo plastic and aluminum wires armatures are put into use. Each foot has a trimmed wing nut as a tie down. The fingers are tiny aluminum wires covered with sewing string and tinted latex.

To pad the bodies I used a slightly different method than usual. I cut long strips of soft polyurethane foam and soaked them in latex by dabbing them with a foam sponge. The trick is to make the foam strips saturated with latex but not dripping with the stuff. A hot air gun helped the latex dry very fast, but a hairdryer would've worked well too.

This latex-saturated foam takes on a clay-like quality, and it can be cut in bits and almost sculpted onto the armatures by kneading the material. This way you can control the shape of the foam padding exactly, which is very handy when working with smaller puppets.

To create clothing for the puppets I used old castings of latex skins that I had saved. I also dabbed tissue paper with tinted latex down onto a bit of plastic sheet. These bits of latex were then cut into patterns and draped over the puppets.

Darmok and Jalad each has a weapon, one has a spear of sorts and the other a huge knife or short sword. These were made from a wooden dowel and a piece of dentist's wood tongue depressor cut and sanded into shape. These were later painted with a white enamel color to give the blades a sort of ivory look.

So here's our dapper heroes almost finished dressing up. All of it is latex. My workbench is very messy.

The finished puppets with their weapons and a pair of happy replacement mouths stuck on.

Darmok is supposed to be a mythical hunter, so I gave him the spear-like weapon, and a bit of nicely colored fake fur. These chaps belong to a race known as Tamarians, which, as you can see, has very long thumbs.

His buddy Jalad is more of a mercenary/ warrior type. He carries his sword on his back, as good fantasy heroes are want to do, at least they were in the 1980's. The sword scabbard is paper covered with a latex skin.

Hopefully their meeting with the beast of Tanagra will look something like this in the film. The look of the Tanagrians were designed by Michael Westmore for the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Darmok". I have tweaked their clothing a bit to look more ancient, but the color scheme is basically the same as seen in that episode.

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.