Sunday, November 20, 2016

Carcosa Project: The Finished Film

After working on this project for over a year, here's the finished film. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Now here's the story behind it. In 2015 I bought Chaosium's collection of Hastur-related tales, and found among them Lin Carter's poem "The King In Tatters." I thought it was very atmospheric, and offered many interesting visuals, if one were to adapt it as a film. I contacted Robert M Price, who is the manager of the Lin Carter estate, and he generously gave me the permission to make a filmed version for YouTube.

Originally "The King In Yellow" is a book by Robert W Chambers, first published in 1895. For a book of that age it's very modern, and collects a number of more or less weird stories. Some of them circle around a fictional play, "The King In Yellow", a work said to drive people insane with its second act. The text alludes to a place called Carcosa, and a mysterious king with a pallid mask.

Other writers after Chambers have expanded the rather impenetrable hints given by the original author, and the world of Carcosa and its inhabitants have been gradually fleshed out. It has been given a mythos of its own, though it is sometimes included into the Lovecraftian Cthulhu mythos, basically created by Lovecraft's protegĂ© August Derleth, and not always for the best. In the same way Chambers´ mysterious dreamlike references to Carcosa and the King In Yellow has been given a tad too much clarity sometimes. Not surprisingly, this mythos has been incorporated into RGPs, just like Lovecraft's world.

The King In Yellow also pops up in various other pop culture phenomena, most recently in the first season of "True Detective." There have also been comic book adaptations, and various amateur film efforts.

My version of the world of Carcosa began taking shape last September, when I filmed Samuel Lange, the friend of a friend (but now also my friend) as the narrator of the poem; a man who seeks forbidden knowledge through arcane practises. As the weather was fair we shot all of his scenes outdoors, with my greenscreen slung over a light erector set.
Samuel costume was pieced together from a number of things. The boots are riding boots bought at a garage sale. His pants were salvaged from a closed-down stage wardrobe. The red robe is a gospel choir robe bought from the Swedish equivalent of eBay; Tradera. And the sword is a Greek "kopis" or "falcata" made from aluminum and brass by my blacksmith buddy Martin Merkel.

The only thing created especially for this project is the pendant, sculpted in clay and cast in 325 SmoothCast plastic from a silicone mold. It sports the classic Hastur sign, made popular by Chaosium's RPGs and then other illustrators. It was silly going for the most well-known version of "The Yellow Sign." I should've made my own version, which I eventually did for the Hastur puppet. Let's just say that its inclusion in the film is because Samuel's occult cultist is a fan boy, and that he, like me, didn't know any better.

What I had no idea about when asking Samuel to join my project, was that he actually had two big occult tattoos on his body; a pentagram on his chest, and an image of black magic bad boy Aleister Crowley on his back! I guess fate was in play, or as the poem says: "Fate, or my stars, or some accursed pride had brought me here."

The only complicated shot in the film (which wasn't really complicated) is when the character mounts his interstellar ride, the Byakhee. Samuel just straddled a bar stool covered with green screen fabric, and I was later able to place him on the back of the Byakhee puppet. Some masking in After Effects placed him behind the neck of the monster, though he was really superimposed on top of it.

When the Byakhee is in flight and seen from afar I just printed out a small still image of Samuel, cut it out and taped it down onto the back of the puppet. The simplest solutions are always the best.

The only exception to this is this shot, where the Byakhee has a paper cut out of Samuel's legs on its back, while the torso of the live-action Samuel is keyed in on top of the cut out legs. I did this in order to have some subtle movement in his robe and from his head during the shot. It's there, though hardly noticeable. I'd like to think it still helps sell the illusion. I hand tracked Samuel's torso in After Effects, also using the masking tool to place him behind the neck of the puppet.

As usual, I'm shamelessly using tons of stock footage from Videoblocks and Pond5. They have a wealth of atmospheric nature footage, which can be dropped into my film with hardly any additions, except for a few filters. I'm subscribing to Videoblocks yearly, and it's so much quicker and easier for me to log in, find what I need and continue editing, than going out with my own camera, trying to film the backgrounds that I want.

I do, however, piece together my own "matte paintings" in Photoshop. The example above shows the palace of the King emerging from the Lake of Hali (another name-drop from the Carcosa mythos). There is about eight layers to this shot. All the cliff faces are photos I took of rocks by the sea in the south of Sweden, the castle is a mix of stock photos of various ruins, and the tree is another stock photo. The sky is a mix of a Nasa space photo and stock footage time-lapse clouds. The lake itself is footage from a sewage plant, with stock smoke shots added around the base of the castle cliff, with fires shot against black from Detonationfilms coming out of the castle towers. All of it is, of course, brought together in After Effects.

And as usual, the narration for the film is provided by my trusty voice-over guy John Hutch, recorded while on vacation in Spain, no less.
After I had shot the footage with Samuel, which only took a couple of hours, and had to let go of the project for quite a while. I was at the time working on a media project for disabled people, which started to eat up almost all of my time, even on supposedly off work hours. As this project wound down in April I found myself hurled out into the world of unemployment again, and vast vistas of free time opened up before me. Still, putting together all the bits of the film, building the puppets and animating them, dealing with wonky technology and other issues, made this production a very lengthy one. again, I've learned a lot from it, and I'll take it with me to the next film.


Ursula Hitler said...

Just amazing. At times the imagery is like something out of Bosch! Truly inspired.

I don't have a lot of connections in the art world, but I do frequent galleries around Los Angeles where they feature horror/fantasy art and I wonder if they might be interested in exhibiting and/or selling work like yours. Would you like me to email you some gallery names? Or if you wouldn't feel confident contacting them, I'd be willing to reach out to some of them on your behalf, as a volunteer. Your work really deserves to reach a wider audience! If you do want to contact me I'm at my name at

Ursula Hitler said...

I'm sorry, maybe I overstepped. It was a sincere expression of my fandom, but if it was crossing a line I'll back off.

Richard Svensson said...

Hello Ursula!
Sorry for my late reply. Many thanks for your kind offer to put me in contact with those galleries. Personally, I don't think my visions are gallery material, but I'd be stupid if I didn't look up some of these connections, so I will contact you on Yahoo.