Sunday, May 15, 2016

Carcosa Project: The Faceless Guide

"Down the dark street of monoliths I passed
The shambling, faceless figure of my guide
A voiceless thing that beckoned at my side
And to the dreaded gate I came at last."

So says the Lin Carter poem "The King In Tatters", which I'm working on adapting. The poem is set in the fantasy world of Carcosa; a place that I, as well as the rest of the world, imagine to be a twisted place, a shadow parallel to our own reality. The guide in the above quoted passage was in my mind a great opportunity to show just how twisted life in Carcosa could be, and yet retain certain common features from our shared consciousness.

This is how my original design for the guide looked. It did change a bit along the way, but the main concept remained. I almost always find that new ideas make themselves known when I actually start building the puppet.

I chose to sculpt the bigger part of the torso, mostly the front, in Chavant clay. Big fleshy sockets were built up around the horns, which we'll get back to shortly.

The horns were removed for the casting of the torso, and a simple containment wall made from soft hobby clay was built up around the sculpture.

This produced a single-piece plaster mold into which a thick latex skin was cast. The latex was tinted with Monster Maker's excellent latex pigments.

So what about the horns, then? Well, they're probably the only big innovation on this puppet. A while ago I sculpted a Chavant version of how I imagined a proper Raptor claw should look. It was made for a project that hasn't materialized yet, though the claws have been cast and used for other stuff, including LARP events. I made a DragonSkin FX Pro silicone mold around the sculpture into which various plastic materials could be cast. For the guide puppet I used a material called Feather Lite from SmoothOn. It's a plastic that's supposed to weigh so little it floats on water. I made two Feather Lite castings of the Raptor claw, and cut one of them down to be slightly shorter. Two simple screws act as attaching points, something that Friendly Plastic, the material used to join together the puppet, can grab hold of.

Feather Lite sets up a cream color, which was perfect for the horns. I used acrylic airbrush paints to give the horns depth and weathering. I simply used a hobby paint brush and painted on the colors in washes. Fixativ fixing spray sealed the paint job.

I could get away with a really simple armature for this puppet. Nothing for the face, and not really any joints necessary for the torso. Only the legs needed to be strong, and the arms suitable articulated for some simple gestures and arm swinging.

The torso was filled up with soft polyurethane foam, and the back was shaped out of a slightly denser foam piece to give it stability. The fingers are covered with soft croquet string dipped in tinted latex.

I made sure the arms had a proper network of foam muscles, as they would be in plain focus in the animations. By this point, however, I had made different plans for the legs, and bulked them up by just wrapping thin strips of foam around them. I probably doesn't show very well in this photo, but I've shaped blobs of Friendly Plastic thermoplastic into cloven hooves over the feet.

Thin textured patches of latex skin cast in older texture plaster molds now cover the arms as well as the back, and the fingers have been given latex talons cast in plaster molds I use to produce horns, claws and similar shapes. A layer of PAX paint has been stippled on using polyurethane foam sponges.

Acrylic airbrush paints are applied quite liberally on this puppet to give a dimensional fleshy look. I gave the torso special attention, since it would be the most prominently featured part of the character. Acrylic airbrush paints usually bond very well with the acrylic-based PAX paint, but I also give the paint job a dash of an airbrush sealer used for art applied to leather and other flexible surfaces.

During the work on the puppet I decided to make it a kind of twisted satyr or minotaur, and have the legs be covered with fur up to the waist. I used contact cement to glue bits of fake fur around the legs, which only took a moment, but I then spent considerable time cutting small tufts of hair from the fur fabric and using Pros aide prosthetics glue to lay down a few hairs at a time to create a more natural-looking progression of hair from the waist up the torso a few centimeters.

Some shaggy hairs on the arms were applied in a much quicker fashion using black and brown crepé hair blended together and glued down with Pros aide.

I also added two naked and gnarly knees by cutting away patches of the fake fur, and gluing down two small pieces of cast latex skin.

By this point I had also decided that the creature should be adorned in some way, though not have any clothes or armor. In my box of good-to-eventually-have stuff I found a motley collection of cheap jewellery, and thought that I could probably string some of it together to have a small metallic-looking set of bodily adornments.

Among other things I wanted to have a nasty-looking piece of piercing dangling from one of the monster's man boobs. This, of course, meant that I had to make something that could be animated. A bit of thin chain with a weight attached to it seemed hardcore enough to my lily-livered sentiments. I came up with the idea to use a pipe cleaner stripped of its fur covering, and slightly twisted so it opened up just a little bit without falling apart. Now it looked enough like a chain for me to get away with the concept.

A small hole was drilled into the boob using my Dremel tool, and the cavity inside the latex casting was filled up with a mix of cotton and flexible super glue. One end of the naked pipe cleaner was then inserted into this goop and held in place until the super glue had set up (a matter of minutes). A small nickel ball was attached to the end of the "chain", and a mix of cotton and PAX paint sealed up the entry hole to simulate some suitable droopy and wrinkly skin. Now I had a length of chain links that could easily be animated swinging back and forth as the puppet was walking.
I also attached an ear piece with pendants to the puppet's crotch, but noticed that the dangling pendants mostly rested against the legs, so I wouldn't have to make those animate-able too.

I'm generally happy with how the Carcosa guide creature turned out. It looks very top heavy, but thanks to the Feather Lite plastic it isn't. It stands a little over a foot tall. I hope I can make a nice impression with this character and its short appearance in the film. Overall, my aim is to give this film a visually arresting and interesting feel.

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