Friday, February 18, 2011

Building an Oliphaunt

I’m sure most of you know what an oliphaunt is by now. Or Mümakil, as they’re also called. If you haven’t read J R R Tolkien’s poem, then you have seen oliphaunts stomp around in the two last Lord of the Rings movies. They’re big, mean elephants, basically.

I like Tolkien’s poem “Oliphaunt”, or I should say Sam’s poem, as Tolkien credits Sam Gamgee as its actual author. I’ve wanted to make a short-short animated video clip based on it for years. In fact, I started sculpting an oliphaunt puppet three years ago, but got no further than the head. But a while ago I decided to finish the puppet nad animate it, urged on by 10-year old Joel, who has a soft spot for the monstrous elephants. So, a short description of my oliphaunt puppet.

As I mentioned, this sculpture was begun three years ago. I made a plaster mold and sort of forgot about the project.

Recently I cast the skin of the head in tinted latex, sort of creating a mini-muppet.

The armature was really simple, using pieces of very hard cardboard for larger body sections, and thick aluminum wire, untwisted, for the joints. This made the joints less “springy”, and in theory that means easier to animate. As I’ve started animating now I’ve found it to be quite true, but only quite.

 First muscle foam padding of the body…

And then some additional padding to smooth things out.

 The eyes are home-made; plastic beads painted and dipped in Crystal Clear plastic to get a nice shine.

The tusks are paper clay and not as brittle as you might then think. They’re painted and airbrushed. They’re also NOT as white as my camera flash makes them out to be.

The trunk, ready to be attached to the skull, which, by the way is made out of Friendly Plastic thermoplastic.

Trunk attached and covered with latex skin.

Head attached to body, ready for it’s latex skin covering.

I cast about 40 or more smaller latex skin pieces to allow for better stretch and movement. All skin pieces were dyed black.

 Having the latex dyed black meant that I could get away with a very quick paintjob, namely just some drybrushing, using acrylic paint and ProsAid make-up glue.

And here’s the big boy ready for the camera. This puppet is actually pretty big, over a foot tall. It’s not at all heavy, though. I’ve started animating him now, and as with all puppets he’s got shortcomings that you don’t find out about until you start bending and twisting the joints. Still, so far he’s behaved pretty well. My idea was to create a slightly surreal elephant, something that would look a bit funny, but also a bit scary. I based most of my design on Mammuthus imperator, a really huge relative of the Wooly mammoth, and then tried to make the finished look a tad cartoonish.


Shelley Noble said...

Fantastic process shots, Richard!

BlacknickSculpture said...

Wonderful piece of work Richard! I enjoy seeing how you piece together your creations and turn them into stop motion puppets!

Richard Svensson said...

Thanks, both of you. I enjoy makin èm!

JON said...

Wow! Always impressive monster-making. I'm a big fan of your work!

Terrymation said...

This is really turning out to look fantastic. I'm very impressed. So now you just have to make an enormous set to go with it

Richard Svensson said...

Thanks :) I'm actually only using that small bluescreen stage the puppet is standing on. It'll be composited into a somewhat stylized background.

ivan said...

hi im from mexico and i like your work i would like to learn ,
how do you make that, i think its awesome

ivan said...

i thnk you work its awesome can you teach me hod do you make your animation im from mexico

Den Lilla Palentologen said...


jriggity said...




Manuel Sierra said...

Really amazing!

Arion said...

To be able to see the entire process is amazing. Top notch work.


Sven Bonnichsen said...

Fantastic — as usual!