Wednesday, September 10, 2014

D & D Monsters: The Beholder

Yet another monster for my collaborative (as of yet nameless) fantasy film project with John Hankins. If you're making a film filled with Dungeons & Dragons monsters, you can't do it without the infamous "Beholder"; a floating, gnashing monstrosity, which is more than an awful eyeful.

 Here's how the Beholder was originally depicted in the first "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual" from 1977. There have been much scarier, more detailed illustrations since then, but because John and I are trying to recreate an innocent retro feel for our project, this is the design I based my puppet on.

This is my first rough clay sketch of the beholder, something John and I could discuss. As it turned out we went with this design with very little alterations.

 Here's the finished clay sculpture, executed in Monster Clay. The eye stalks are not there for the casting, as they will be added at a later stage as built-up features. The holes for the stalks are there, however. The big watery eye comes from a discarded mannequin. I added some extra blood veins and covered the whole thing in transparent lacquer.

I cast the sculpture in a two-part mould. It's a slight bit of a hassle, so I don't do this very often. Half the sculpture is walled off with a softer clay simply called "plastellina" here in Sweden, but it has nothing to do with the famous Roma Plastillina sculpting clay. As you can hopefully see I've added three small bumps in the clay wall.These will become "keys" in the plaster mould, helping to interlock the two mould halves.

This is how the two-part mould turned out. Monster clay comes out easily from plaster moulds, but you can see some brown residue from the softer "plastillina".

Ordinary liquid latex is tinted with universal tinting colours and dabbed onto the inside of the plaster mould halves with a sponge. Four layers of latex was added this way to build up a sturdy, but not too firm latex skin. I went with a rust red/brown hue, which will form a good base for the additional layer of colour going on when the whole puppet is finished.

Here's the important detail, though. The insides of the latex puppet halves are lined with thin sheets of foam rubber. This will add support without making the latex skin too leathery and still allowing some stretch.

A plastic bottle screw cap becomes a cheap but effective eye socket for the glass mannequin eye. Friendly Plastic thermoplastic holds the cap in place, allowing the eye to swivel freely. I've also added the first two eye stalks, held in place by the plastic.

The two body halves are now joined together with contact cement, and the join is covered with more tinted latex. A thick but bendable aluminum rod has been added to the screw cap using more Friendly Plastic. This rod is a support to keep the "floating" puppet aloft while being animated. I've covered the rod with soft string, which will ease the application of the green screen paint, which will be added later. I've also added a looping piece of string wrapped aluminum wire to the insides of the lips.

The eye stalks are aluminum wires covered with soft string, and then tinted latex. The eyeballs are plastic balls used to make "pearl" necklaces. I've ground down a flat area on top of each ball, where a printed photoshopped iris image has been added. The eyeball is then covered with Glossy Accents, which is a transparent, slightly rubbery air drying plastic used by scrapbookers.

Time for teeth! These are simply made by mixing latex with cab-o-sil (fumed silica), which creates a butter-like latex paste. Rolling this paste between your thumb and index finger will create small, pointy, flexible, bone-white bits, which dries quite fast in normal room temperature.

The teeth are stuck to the mouth using tinted liquid latex, and the hole in the puppet's bum is covered up with a cast latex skin patch. The inside of the mouth is created by contact cementing two pieces of thin urethane rubber to the inside of the mouth cavity above the lips, and covering these with cotton shapes and tinted latex.

To finish the puppet a thin layer of purple PAX paint is sponged on over the puppet, taking care not to over apply and cover up the various wrinkles and crevasses on the puppet body.

Hopefully, John's encounter with the Beholder will look something like this. Beholders are among the "boss" creatures of fantasy gaming, so they're not just ugly; they're smart too. They're also able to fire various nasty energy emissions from their eye stalk eyes, so it's a meeting between hero and monster full with exciting possibilities!


Luffy said...

It's a fabulous puppet. One of my favorite D&D monsters!

Richard Svensson said...

Glad you like it! It's a very simple design, but it took me a little while to figure out. The puppet is essentially a hollow ball, that must be both flexible, and strong enough in its structure to support its shape.
Small challenges like this are the real goodies in my puppet-making hobby :)

Luffy said...

Challenges like that are not only the real goodies, they're the real benefit - you get better at puppet making each time!

Kelston Hubler said...

Amazing puppet.

I read about the Rust monster and the Beholder in a monster book. You're beholder managed to look slightly realistic and imposing, while still being cartoony and funny. Good Job!

Got a new project underway, a Cryptid Project called Unknown Species, which I posted about on my blog. Can you suggest any cryptids that would be cool to add to the story?

Kelston Hubler

Richard Svensson said...

There's a whole bunch of cool cryptids out there: The mothman, the chupacabra, lizard men, batsquatch, the manpinguary, goatmen -take your pick! :)

Luffy said...

Kelston Hubler: I would suggest the Mothman (a grotesque man with moth-like features), the Chupacabra (a dog-like vampire), the Goat Man (a grotesque goat-like man or man-like goat axe), and the Snallygaster. This last one was made up by Maryland inhabitants (probably to frighten freed slaves). Sometimes it is a half-reptile half-bird vampiric creature with a metallic beak, razor-sharp teeth, and octopus-like tentacles. Other times it is a similar flying beast with "enormous wings, a long pointed bill, claws like steel hooks, and an eye in the center of its forehead.". It is either completely silent or makes a low whistling shriek as of a locomotive; either way, it descends from the sky and grabs it's victim up. The Smithsonian Institution offered a reward for it's hide. Theodore Roosevelt considered postponing a safari in Africa to hunt it himself.

It certainly is nonsense, made up by people to scare slaves, and there is no belief in it now. But I think it would be the most interesting puppet to see. Richard, you should try it, too.

I hope this has been helpful.


Kelston Hubler said...


I actually have both the Mothman and Chupacabras on the list for featured creatures, as well as Munnochwa, Burrunjor, Honey Island Swamp monster, and the Yeti. I like the Sallygaster, but I want realism to the project, and consider it a fearsome critter. Still, might use it in the future. Thanks for the feedback!

Kelston Hubler

Luffy said...

No problem, Mr. Hubler. I like your work. I am now following your blog. I hope to see more from you in the future.

Richard Svensson said...

Brian: I have aquired the rights to using a musical composition illustrating several Fearsome Critters, so eventually I will tackle a film about those too.

Luffy said...

Wow, that's awesome! Can't wait to see the final result!

Arturo said...

Amazing work. Crazy to think someone who was playing the game back in the day had a dream about this thing and now it's all in our collective consciousness. Beautiful work; I never would have thought to add latex to fumed silica for the teeth.