Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Making of "Dagon" Monster Mask

A couple of years ago I was sort of planning to do an amateur film version of H P Lovecraft’s short story “Dagon”. The plan was to film it down the very south of Sweden, where incredibly tall, dark cliffs rise up from the sea, creating cathedral-like coves. It went as far as me doing a sculpture for a mask of the head of the creature rising up from the depths at the end of the story. I also made a plaster mold from the sculpture. The intention here was to create a monster suit, reaching from the waist up. Usually I do all my monsters as animated puppets, but I’m also unashamedly fond of Japanese monster movies, so… But the actual mask was never cast. I did that recently, just to finish it and see how it turned out.

But starting at the beginning (in my old home, even) I did the mask sculpture in Chavant clay during weekday nights. It took about one week to finish it and I made the mold the following weekend.

The tool I use most often is a loop tool I made myself. It’s quite small and allows you to get in close and add pretty small details. I have an even smaller one for sculpting my stop-motion puppets.

I decided the sculpture was finished at this stage. I tried to make a creature that would look organic, evil and amphibious. I also wanted him to display some character the short moments he would be visible on film.

Just some more shots from the side and the back. The bumps along the sides and the back of his neck are the basis of spines that will be created separately and added to the finished mask.

Here the sculpture is reclining on a table, cushioned by upholstery foam in a plastic bag. I’ve build up a wall from blocks of wood around the head. Clay will be added around the sculpture to create a dividing wall, allowing me to make a two-part plaster mold. The wood blocks will add support to the clay.

The dividing clay wall has been added. If you look closely you’ll notice square pieces of clay sticking up along the wall. Those are clay keys that will create notches that will help line up and interlock the two pieces of the finished mold.

Time to create the actual mold. I always use Ultracal 30, a very hard plaster that replicates great detail. The first coat of plaster, the so-called “splash coat”, is brushed on in order to eliminate air bubbles. Then another, thicker coat of plaster is added. Burlap soaked in plaster is then put over that as reinforcement, and finally a last layer of plaster to smooth it out.

The front half of the mold is finished. Time to turn it over and do the backside (this thing is already weighing a ton!)

Looking at the mold from this perspective it’s easy to see those key notches I was talking about. What happens now is that another clay wall goes up and the exposed parts of the plaster mold is covered in a thin coat of Vaseline, working as a release agent.

As you can see there are new lumps of clay along the insides of the mold. They are there to provide small holes along the edge of the mold, where I can insert screwdrivers to pry the mold open and separate the two mold halves.

Now the whole sculpture is encased in a huge plaster mold. When the plaster has set it’s time to pry the mold open using those screwdrivers I mentioned (you can see one lying in the bottom right corner.) This part of the work usually entails a lot of grunting, swearing and sweating, so let’s skip that, shall we?

The two mold halves are separated (though only one is shown here.) The clay from the sculpture is still in the mold, but that will soon be removed and the mold halves cleaned up for the casting of latex. I got rid of the clay as soon as I could and clamped the mold halves together. If I hadn’t the halves would probably have warped a bit while the water evaporated from the plaster. A good thing I did that, since it would take another two years before actually using the mold!

Here’s the first latex casting, with fin-like appendages added along the neck. They were created with thin sheets of latex strung between spines made out of latex-soaked cotton. The “beard” was also done with cotton and latex.

Here’s the finished mask, base-painted with PAX paint and finished with acrylic airbrush paints. A coat of clear gloss lacquer was added over the eyes. There are actually very small holes in the folds and wrinkles around his nose and eyes, which you can look out through. You still have very limited vision, but this character was never meant to move about much. Maybe someday my “Dagon” adaptation will see the light of day and the mask will be joined with the rest of this monster’s body. Stay tuned…


a guy in a gorilla suit said...

Another great creature ! THe looks: amphibic, half-man/half fish, and very rudimentary' - waht is (as far as I know) one of Lovecraft's favourite adjectives; 'blasphemic' hits the nail too very well !
One of the dudes you won't never met for real, especially at places like you descirbes (cliffs wahsed ot by the sea into cathedral shapes inside)...
'I’m unashamedly fond of Japanese monster movies' great line - I will remember this well... =)

Richard Svensson said...

Yes! I would like to think I got a bit of "blasphemic" in there as well. I really hope I'll be able to make this little adaptation some day.

Ahh, Japanese monster movies; Where else would you find such an unpretentious combination of Eastern symbolism and pyrotechnic mayhem?

Woolly Monster said...

That's all I can say really... Just wow!

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David P. Geister said...

Richard, I know this is an older post, but I must say this mask is simply wonderful! Likewise, as a picture book illustrator myself, I have been enjoying your illustrations too. Good work, old chap!

I have a test of my first stop motion animation on youtube, "Mr. Geister's Goblin" and will shoot the real thing in September.