Sunday, November 14, 2010

The King Who Sought Immortality: Sumerian Dragons and Clay Snakes

The last creatures I built and animated for this two-year project of hope and despair was a dragon and a snake. Which means that the stop-motion part of the film is finally done and finished. Now, only a narration remains to be recorded.

The Dragon was based on the "Sirrush", a pretty mystical creature portrayed on the so-called Ishtar gate, alongside ordinary animals like bulls and lions. The Sirrush has a more than passing resemblance with a dinosaur, but is also furnished with a very snake-like head and clawed paws. Some very enthusiastic  researchers have suggested that the Sirrush is in fact, based on observations of live dinosaurs. The bulls and lions of the Ishtar gate are actually rendered in a quite realistic way. Is this also the case with the Sirrush?
Whatever the Sirrush was meant to be I thought it was a pretty cool beast to build and animate. I sort of took a middle path with my puppet version; It's not quite a dinosaur, and it's not quite the creature from the gate artwork.

I printed a large photocopy of the ancient artwork and measured every part of my armature after it. It wound up looking like this.
So, the proportions of the puppet were fairly close to the Ishtar gate Sirrush. However, the foam muscle padding of the body was entirely based on drawings of dino muscles.

The ancient Sirrush has a spearhead pattern of scales, that looks very ornate, but also very functional. I tried to copy it for the skin of the puppet and soon realized what a nightmare it meant trying to invisibly overlap the skin patches. I managed to piece it all together well enough. You can see the seams here, but when the puppet was painted, they pretty much disappeared.

 The finished puppet is about two feet long, which is manageble, and allows for quite a bit of detailing.

In the film, the king of the title challenges a herd of Sirrush dragons to show his prowess to the gods. The big creatures, however, are less than impressed by the pipsqueak at their feet.

 I did four different animations and spliced them together in After Effects to create the "herd". The longest animation has the puppet lumbering across my chroma key puppet stage, appearing to the right, and exiting to the left. This animation took almost four hours straight to do. Can't say I'm entirely happy with it, but it does show the dragon walking with a bobbing head and a snaking tail.

Now, for the snake. I was so lazy with this very short sequence, I simply sculpted a plasticine snake and animated it. I also animated a pair of gold paper wings for a clip where the snake goes psychedelic and flies away.


StopmoNick said...

Great idea, bringing the creatures on the Ishtar Gate to life!

Shelley Noble said...

Looks pretty damn amazing to me, Richard! I love knowing about the Sirrush and your term, "goes psychedelic and flies away"

heh :)

Terrymation said...

fantastic work! Those s-creatures look great and even better animated.