Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I Thought I Saw That Jersey Devil part 1: The Puppet and Song

The USA is shockful of weird and wonderful legends, and one of the oldest and still most vital among them is the tale(s) of the Jersey Devil. This peculiar gargoyle-ish critter hails from the Pine Barrens forest of southern New Jersey. As legend tells it it's the thirteenth child of Mother Leeds; a local witch who cursed the unfortunate infant for the pains he was giving her. The child transformed into a demon, killed the midwife and escaped up the chimney. Since this harrowing episode, said to have occurred in 1735, the "devil" has been seen numerous times, and is still reported every now and then. It's a seemingly deathless creature. The scream it utters is apparently unlike anything else ever heard. I had relatives who lived in the Pine Barrens in the 1970's and 80's, but sadly, they never had any unusual experiences in the area.

I've done a fair amount of research and articles for Swedish press on the subject of Cryptozoology, and I've returned to the Jersey Devil time and time again. I built a small model of the monster way back in the 1990's, but this now crumbling latex and plastic creation was not made for animation. I thought it was actually high time to produce a proper puppet AND animate it.

Actually, the other big reason for me to make the film is this cool and clever song by Kevin Welch. I saw this performance on YouTube, and thought the tune was both atmospheric and humorous. So I contacted Kevin about being able to use it as the soundtrack for my film, and he said yes without any hesitation. Now I like him even more! So, while waiting for my finished video, please enjoy a live rendition of the song by Kevin Welch.

The challenge I put to myself was to make a large puppet, having the strength to stand on one rather spindly leg in a mid-air leap or stride. So I turned to my Monster Clay, so I could chisel out tiny details in the skin of the creature. The head and chest were created separately, and were the only parts sculpted in clay.

This armature was actually built in a slightly different way than I usually do. I simply laid several aluminum wires next to each other in a clump, tied together with sewing string. I added thin nails with the heads clipped off to the aluminum wire clumps, and thereby achieved the unbending "bone" parts I at least have to have when animating, or the puppet will bend all over its body. As you can see, the chest area has a rudimentary rib cage, and the back has a hunch where the wings will be attached. Those parts are aluminum wires covered with Friendly Plastic thermoplastic.

I've talked so many times about how I make bat wings that I'll skip that here, but here's how the wings looked straight out of their plaster cradles.

The puppet came together very quickly. The head has jointed upper and lower lips, and ears using aluminum wires. I'm having my favourite scrapbooking crimson beads for the eyes. I'm using Friendly Plastic to bond all the parts together. Varying densities of polyurethane foam make up the muscles. The little hoofs are also Friendly Plastic.

The puppet is skinned with patches of latex skins cast in plaster moulds of various sculpted skin textures. The knobbly spine was created by just adding drops of tinted latex with a pointy wooden tool. The claws and teeth are cotton and latex.

The finished puppet has a base colour of black/blue/red PAX paint, and Liquitex acrylic airbrush paint. It's over a foot tall, and very light. You'll see just how flexible it is in the eventual animation. I have to say that it's one of the best and effective animation puppets I've built so far.

Time to step out into the woods and find the proper places where you might expect to meet a devil. I won't be visiting the real Pine Barrens, but I have a swampy pine wood area just a stone's throw from where I live. And who'll be in the film is yet to be seen. I'll be calling on some of my friends that don't mind being chased by imaginary monsters through the woods.


Krystufa said...

Hey Richard! Chris (reddalek555) here! Awesome work as always, I remember seeing the face of that older puppet on your Facebook page, was very curious to see the whole thing. It looks awesome regardless for its age. Nice to see it's more or less in one piece ;)
Interesting to contrast the skills and experience you've gained since the 90s.
Would greatly love to see you tackle some more Cryptids out there. Especially Mothman or Flatwoods Monster. And maybe even do a similar video to you're great Lovecraft Alphabet but with these cryptic creatures.
I would tackle such a project myself but I dont believe I could do it as much justice ;)
Best wishes! Keep it up!

Kelston Hubler said...

Great project! Jersey Devil is a huge part of USA Cryptid culture. Though likely just a legend brought on by capitalists, hoaxers, and paranoia, there have been countless theories about it. My personal favorite is that modern sightings are a colony of imported hammerhead bats, who have an unmistakeable resemblance to the devil, and also kill and eat chickens.

Reddalek's idea of a Cryptid alphabet would be awesome! I have always had a soft spot for these creatures, and you could do them justice!

Also, Atomic's up on my blog. Thank you for the feedback, Richard. More finished projects will definitely be posted.

Kelston Hubler

Richard Svensson said...

Thank you both of you! Yes, that cryptid alphabet is a great idea. I would take me an awfully long time to build all those puppets, though!
I've heard about the hammerhead bat theory as well, and those critters sure have an uncanny resemblance to the Jersey Devil!

1999stopmotionman said...

I defiantly agree with your assessment of calling it one of your best puppets- it looks like something straight out of a scary campfire story! I cannot wait for the final film to see it in bloodcurdling action.

Richard Svensson said...

Thanks! It'll best mostly humorous action, probably, but with a creepy ambience, hopefully.

Ken C. Tyner said...

The puppet looks great! I've been a fan of the Jersey Devil legends for a long time. Another good creature to do is the Moth Man from Point Pleasant WV.

Richard Svensson said...

Thanks, Ken! Yeah, a lot of people bring up the Moth Man. I actually have a model of the Cornish Owl Man, but it's so old I can't animate it anymore.

Kelston Hubler said...

A Mothman would be cool, considering the mythology John Keel built around it. For my first silent film project, I actually used an old MOTHMAN costume my mom made for Halloween. It was very clunky, but it was put to good use.

Richard, ARARANKHA is being posted on my blog. The chapters are being posted. I'd like to hear you opinion on it.

Kelston Hubler