Saturday, November 6, 2010

The King Who Sought Immortality: Fake Feathers for Flying Fiends.

I based one of the creatures in my film on the Assyrian/Babylonian demon Pazuzu. If this figure looks familiar, it's probably because he's the antagonist in the Exorcist movies. Max Von Sydow's father Merrin confronts a statue of the demon in the beginning of the first Exorcist movie. There is at least one very vivid real-life statue of Pazuzu, and I based my design of the stop-motion puppet on this particular one.
 I didn't have any real feathers in the right size to make Pazuzu's wings. Instead, I folded pieces of opaque sticky tape around bits of aluminum wire and plastic-covered copper wire. After trimming the tape and cutting into the sides of each tape length, I ended up with something resembling feathers. I then joined each feather to an aluminum wire wing armature with friendly plastic.

 The wings, four of them, were in their turn attached to the puppet body armature. This demon was intended to swoop down from the stormy sky in one brief shot, so a wire support was added to its bottom to help it stay aloft.
 I added some color to the feathers with my airbrush. More paint was added later.

 As usual with my puppets, this fellow had a foam-padded body, covered with patches of cast latex skin.

 The support wire of the finished puppet was simply attached to a large block of wood, and held still while animating with a clamp.

 The top part of each wing was covered with fake fur, glued on with contact cement.

 The puppet wasn't required to do much, and had only an articulated mouth in its head. The rest of the body was fully jointed. A bit more work than necessary for a few seconds, one might think. However, it only takes a few seconds for the audience to see that a puppet (or any kind of effect) is done badly. So, better to put enough love in all that you do for it to be visible.

 The support wire going up the puppet's bum was removed via a keyframed mask in After Effects. In the film, the flying demon attacks the hero, but is swiftly dispatched by a thrown double-bladed javelin.

The ups of making your own feathers using sticky tape is, of course, that you can decide the size and shape of them, and that you don't have to use parts from a real animal, if that makes you uncomfortable. Fur and feathers are not always removed humanely, and that is an issue for me. Another advantage is that you can actually animate every feather, and bend it as the wings flap up and down to achieve an admittedly more cartoonish, but also very dynamic movement. I'll be experimenting more with fake feathers eventually, and try to make them more and more realistic.


JON said...

Great monster. The tape feathers look perfect. Clever idea!

Vincent Tétreault said...

Tape feathers ? I had to read the text before knowing they weren't "real" ones. Really clever idea and the effect is perfect. The paint job on them is really well done.

Shelley Noble said...

Holy cow, Richard! Those feathers out of tape are INGENIOUS!!! It never would have ever occurred to me to try that! And it also never occurred to me that feathers might have been taken cruelly. Thank you for making me realize there are other ways of making feathers for our art.

Your innovations are so inspiring!

Terrymation said...

sweet wings!

Anonymous said...

the wings look great and the idea is wonderful...I will try it...

StopmoNick said...

Beautiful job with the wing feathers Richard! I'm doing very small feathers for a raven at this moment, with black tissue paper used to sandwich the wire - similar approach. And I've done large feathers for a full sized costume in a similar way so I know the method - but yours are just so beautifully done, so feathery!
That's a great demon puppet too, even without the wings.

Esther - C said...

I love love love how the feathers look it is harder to manage in a larger scale --- so I feel I should post a Link to my how to guide <3