Friday, May 2, 2014

Brutus the Zombie Bear

Late last year Mark Anthony del Negro contacted me through Facebook about building a zombie grizzly bear puppet for a horror film he's making with a bunch of friends. Yes; it's taken me all this time to finally finish the darn thing dubbed "Brutus" by us working on the film project. It's just one of the reasons I really shouldn't take on any puppet building requests. I'm simply too tied up in lots of other stuff. But I'm hoping to remedy that soon, by being smart and just saying "NO" to stuff I probably won't find terribly fun to do. Money will have to trickle in through other sources. My ambition is to keep on making puppets for people ambitious enough still wanting to use stop-motion in their films.

Since I'm dealing with a "real" animal this time, I took extra pains to get the anatomy looking OK. You'll have to be the judge of how well I succeeded, though. I sculpted a miniature bear skull and jaw in Monster Clay, and stuck them onto a pair of screws.

The screws were then pushed down into clay blocks for the casting of the silicone moulds. I used DragonSkin FX Pro, and SmoothCast 325 (both from SmoothOn) to create the flexible mould and the cast skull parts.

Here's the finished skull with aluminum armature wire attached. The brown lower canines are built up with Aves epoxy putty, due to the plastic casting having problems with air bubbles. One of these days, funds permitting, I'll but a small vacuum chamber to get rid of any bubble casting problems.

And here's the skull and jaw attached to the aluminum wire/Friendly Plastic armature. At this point only the hind feet have tie-downs, but the front paws were similarly equipped too, eventually.

Brutus was supposed to look like a big scary bear, but will certain tell-tale signs that he's not properly OK. The biggest of those is his completely open stomach and rib cage. I sculpted the rib cage in Monster Clay, and created a DragonSkin silicone mould over the finished piece.

The cast SmoothCast 325 rib cage has been cleaned up and attached to the armature.

As you can see on this closeup of the skull, I've painted the teeth and gums, added a small piece of plastic-covered copper wire to animate the nose and upper lip, and attached an armatured silicone tongue. The tongue wasn't cast, but built up directly over a piece of aluminum wire using flesh tone Sculpt Gel.

Another Monster Clay sculpt, this time of Brutus´ head over the skull armature.

Originally I had planned to cast the head skin in silicone. Eventually I just used latex, which works well with this character. Brutus isn't looking completely healthy. He's covered with signs of decay, and his eyes have gone zombie-like.

Since Brutus´ body was going to be covered with fake fur, I just made a very simple foam padding build-up. These photos show the beginning stage. More padding was added eventually. You can also see that the rib cage has been given a build-up of cotton fibres dipped in latex to simulate tendons and skin.

Brutus´ guts are all made out of latex, some cast in plaster moulds, and some built up. The long intestine at the right is a piece of aluminum wire covered with red string and dipped in latex. When attached to the rib cage, the intestine can be animated swinging about as Brutus walks. Tasteful, I know!

Here you can see the guts in place and the fur build-up under way. I'm using a semi-flexible fur cloth, which I also used for a King Kong puppet I did a while back. Nothing fancy, just something I was lucky enough to find in a local crafts shop.

And here's the finished Brutus. The fur on his face was built up using small tufts of the fake fur, attached one bit a time with ProsAide make-up glue. His neck and pelvis are covered with painted-on "gore" (acrylic paints).

I'll do a short test animation of Brutus myself, and I might use the moulds for the bear skull to create a puppet of my own eventually. It's very hard making decent-looking puppets of real animals, and I stand in awe of every artisan who can pull it off. The stop-motion lions and horses in "Mighty Joe Young" (1949) built by Marcel Delgado are the very apex of this craft.


Ken C. Tyner said...

That puppet looks great! I think it looks very realistic (as far as zombie bears goes).

Richard Svensson said...

Thanks! :)
Well, almost every puppet offers a new learning curve. I'd like to be able to make more "real" animals. The biggest problem is always to find fur small enough to work in miniature.

Kelston Hubler said...

Thanks for posting, you make some really cool creatures.

Normally, if I wanted to make an armature, I'd use twisted multi-purpose wire (it's twisted, so I can un-twist it to make fingers) and erector set parts. Can you please tell me where I can buy ball and socket armatures?!

Also, got some new posts on my blog. Antediluvian only has a few live-action shots for production left to film.

After that, who knows? I might do a kaiju film, or a zombie flick, a high fantasy film, or something else.

By the way, have you read Warren Fahy's FRAGMENT?


Shelley Noble said...

Agreed! AN astounding job on this puppet, Richard. My favorite was the guts.

David P. Geister said...

Richard , this is simply fantastic! Thanks for making my evening.

Richard Svensson said...

Thanks all of you for your kind comments about Brutus :)
Kelston: I have used both ball & socket and aluminum wire armatures, and I have to say I prefer the wire variety. It's not just because of the lower cost, but also because of the almost absolute bending and twisting possibilities of a wire armature. A ball & socket armature will bend only so far, and then it'll stop dead. Another joint will then have to take over, which means that a really functional ball & socket armature will have to be a fairly complicated construction.
Having said that, wire armature will almost never carry the weight of the puppet body as well as a ball & socket armature, and the latter has many other advatages as well. As you may have seen, I use only single thick wire armatures now. They allow better and smoother animation (i e more control over your puppet) than braided wire armatures, and are actually more durable.
If you want to look into ball & socket armatures, have a look at eBay to begin with, where you can find good offers sometimes.

Kelston Hubler said...

Hope to see more posts! You're awesome!

Brento said...

First off, I hope you do a Kaiju film. By the way I have a small dog named,"Kaiju."

Secondly, this is what I get for not checking out your blog in a while. Zombie bear looks amaze balls!