Thursday, April 6, 2017

Stoner Dragon

Besides working on my own projects I also try to squeeze in contributions to other people's films. Here's such an example. I was approached on Facebook by an independent filmmaker about buying old stop-motion footage from me for one of his projects. I instead suggested that I build and animate a brand new puppet, one of the characters from his film for that same sum, and he went with that. I should probably keep the lid on this project a bit, since it's currently in production, but I can say it's a fantasy stoner comedy (that's a combination surely made in heaven), and the character I've built and will be animating is a pot-smoking dragon. It's as basic as my puppets go, but I'll walk you through the steps anyway.

As I usually do I started with the head to get the feel for the character. I had a bit of artwork for a proposed poster to base it on. The dragon is basically inspired by meat-eating dinosaurs with small Elliot the Dragon-like wings (the animated Disney original). I sculpted the head in medium grade Monster Clay, leaving the mouth open to add more space around the gums. What I tried to do was create a character who could look fierce, but still had certain traits that, well -made him look a bit stoned.

When I was happy with the look of the head I cast it as a hollow latex skin in a dental plaster mold. This head skin is supported with cotton dipped in latex to give it stability. The corners of the mouth were filled with strips of soft polyurethane foam. The eyes are two plastic beads with holes through them, painted and partially covered with lacquer. They sit in hard silicone sockets stuck to the insides of the head using Polymorph thermo plastic, which covers most of the head interior to create a skull of sorts. I can insert a needle in the pupils of the eyes and animate them rotating. The teeth are made out of cotton and latex.

Aluminum wires and Polymorph plastic make up the armature, here temporarily missing its tail, since it was mostly in the way when I pieced together the armature. The blue sections are covered with soft string and tinted latex. The legs have been given extra bulk by adding bits of dense seat cushion foam.

I've talked many times before about making latex wings for puppets, so I won't go into the process in any greater detail. Basically I create a wing armature with aluminum wires, I cover it in soft string and latex, and then embed the whole thing halfway down into soft hobby plaster. I can then etch details into the plaster that will become a part of the latex skin membranes that are painted in on top of both the wings and the plaster.

After two layers of latex has been applied the finished wings are peeled out of the plaster. I deliberately left some holes in the wings to make them look a bit worn. These holes have no ill effect on the structure and durability of the wings.

After the wings have been attached to the armature I can start padding the puppet using soft polyurethane foam. I added a bit of a gut to the character by putting a bunch of cotton balls in the centre of the puppet and covering them with a thin sheet of foam. This will make the midsection of the puppet soft, and allow the spine to bend properly. I've also added a small bit of aluminum wire and plastic under its chin, so I can animate a piece of the throat swallowing.

After the padding is done I cover the puppet with bits of cast and tinted latex skin. Seams are painted over and additional scales and warts added by placing tinted latex over certain areas with a pointed sculpting tool.

The dragon has been given a base color using latex tinted blue applied with a sponge. I've added horns cast in pink latex, as well as sections in the face made from smaller spiky bits created by rolling cotton dipped in latex.

And here's the finished character, haven been given a finishing layer of drybrushed paint with PAX paint mix, as well as some augmentations using acrylic airbrush colors. The garish, slightly psychedelic look is again based on that poster concept. I'll get back to you eventually when I have more to report on this project.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Darmok and Jalad: The Beast

2016 was the 50th anniversary of the first Star Trek episode broadcast, but I seemed to keep myself too busy to make something fun out of it, contributing to the celebration. However, I had for years planned to make my very own Trek fan production. I am a dedicated Trekkie, or Trekker -whatever you prefer to call it.

One of my favorite Star Trek episodes ever is the Next Generation story "Darmok", about the starship Enterprise encountering and trying to communicate with an alien race speaking only in metaphors. Within this story is the tale of Darmok and Jalad, two strangers who become friends when they have to join forces to defeat a common enemy -the Beast of Tanagra. A few years ago I found a YouTube video of a guy named Oliver Mains, aka Tachyon Beam, performing a very Dylanesque song retelling the myth of Darmok and Jalad, and I thought it was both clever and catchy.

I quickly received permission from Oliver to use his song in a video project, but time passed and I was busy with lots of other projects. However, a couple of months ago I decided to pick up the threads and get on with the film. I contacted Oliver again, who provided me with a better recording of the song, which you can now find on iTunes.

I contributed an illustration for the song, and if I'm not mistaken there might be more collaborations of this kind further down the road.

I decided to make this video all-puppet, with my usual brand of Photoshopped backgrounds. Starting off I focused on the Beast of the story, and went through a bunch of designs. In the end I went with none of them, but incorporated certain elements that stuck through the various ideas I had about the creature.

I started sculpting virtually with no idea of how the end design would end up, except for it being big and scary. So a huge mouth into which I could stick lots of teeth seemed like a good idea, as well as pointy things and spidery eyes. In the end, what I wanted was a representation of brutality and horror that would be worthy of a mythical monster. At the same time I wanted to honor the many excellent creature designs we've seen on the various incarnations of Star Trek through the years. My sculpting material here was Monster Clay medium grade. The eyes are scrapbooking beads, which I've used for lots of my puppets by now.

The mold for this sculpture was made in one piece from dental plaster. I cast a thick skin out of tinted latex into the mold, though not so thick that the skin wasn't perfectly flexible.

I decided to make crustacean-like segmented arms for the monster, and sculpted the segments and a shoulder section in Monster Clay.

The arm segments were cast in latex reinforced with cotton dipped in latex, and threaded onto a bundle of aluminum wires that also made up the three-pronged claw.

I also sculpted and cast a back and tail section continuing the bug / crustacean theme. Again these latex skins are just thick enough to hold their shapes, but perfectly flexible too.

The armature was my usual aluminum wires concoction, held together with Polymorph thermo plastic. You can see some wire extensions which were eventually covered with plastic. They're there to help build up bulk on the puppet while providing stability when I grab onto the puppet while animating.

The body was covered with a build up of layers of thin polyurethane foam. The torso is actually filled with cotton balls, and not foam. This helps keep the puppet as light weight as possible.

I have a bunch of older skin texture molds in dental and gypsum plaster that I can always rely on for interesting and detailed skin casts. I'm using liquid latex to bond them to the foam. The scaly back and tail pieces are also joined in this way.

The teeth are cotton dipped in latex and rolled between my fingers into pointy shapes. The claws on hands and feet and the tail horns are latex cast into plaster molds for big pointy teeth. I re-use those molds over and over again too. When all the patches of scaly latex skin are in place I cover up the seams with more tinted latex and a pointy sculpting tool. I also use this tool for placing drops of latex here and there in order to connect the various textures.

The finished Beast is painted with a mix of ProsAide cosmetic glue and acrylic paint. Finishing touches are made with acrylic airbrush paints. I forgot to say that I also added a tongue that can be animated, and that the feet have extra big threaded bolts for tie-downs during animation. This puppet turned out to be a big bugger, exactly 50 cm from nose to tail, so he needs all the support he can get to stand up while being animated. Though not being very heavy, the puppet is clumsy. But I wanted it to look huge when compared to the Darmok and Jalad puppets I'm also working on, and the Beast will be able to grab them, and look intimidating at this scale.

I'm not a huge enthusiast when it comes to fan films, but I'm approaching the Star Trek-verse in a way that I don't think has been done before. Anyway, I'm enjoying myself, and that's the only excuse I need. More to come on this project very soon!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Dinorilla -A Swedish Kaiju

Last month I talked about the big muppet-like monster I made for Ola Paulakoski's Swedish b-movie epic "Hermit: Monster Killer", which is currently making the rounds at a number of European film festivals. Well, Mr Paulakoski is at it again, this time with a Swedish tribute to classic Kaiju films, or in non-nerd lingo: movies about giant monsters, which are often Japanese. The idea is to create a rubber monster suit, and have the actor in the suit stomp around models of well-known cityscapes. In other words, it'll be done the good old proper way. I might be involved in the making of that suit, but at this point in time everything is at the concept stage, and Ola is working hard at selling the project to potential investors. In order to make this easier I've built a model of the monster, the dreaded "Dinorilla", which can be positioned in various dramatic poses and photographed to create production illustrations in Photoshop. Something like this:

What I have built is one of my standard latex-skinned stop-motion puppets, but it may never be used as such. I might still do a bit of animation just for the heck of it.

To begin at the beginning, I made a few sketches of what the monster could look like. My only brief was that it had a gorilla-like scaly body, and a Triceratops-like head.

We ended up settling on this body for the creature, but the head was still not quite right.

 Ola picked the middle head in this sketch, and I placed it on the preferred body.

Other sketches followed, illustrating specific ideas for the film, including this landing party of counter strike troops. The Dinorilla is living off oils and gasoline the same way Godzilla needs his radiation. In Scandinavia the big Oil nation is Norway, and the monster strikes primarily at this country. A team similar to the G-Force in the Godzilla movies is put together by the Scandinavian countries to deal with the monster, and various scenes of conflict and destruction ensues, budget permitting, of course..

The next step was to make a clay sculpture of the head, which defined the creature more than any other aspect. When this was OKed by Ola I created a mold from dental plaster around it. The mouth was filled up with clay to make the casting easier and the teeth were removed.
The eyes are made by me by simply using plastic balls from a novelty necklace, printing out Photoshopped irises and gluing them to the balls, and covering the whole thing with Glossy Accents scrapbooking plastic. That's a very cheap way of making eyes and it looks great.

I cast the whole head in tinted latex as a thick rubber skin. The corners of the mouth were thinner in order to make the movements of the jaw as easy as possible.

The inside of this head skin was lined with Polymorph thermo plastic. This plastic is melted in small bits with my heat gun, and pressed into the skin cavities as soft blobs. When the plastic cools it becomes semi-hard, and creates a great support for the head. Aluminum wires were also inserted into the plastic at this point to create the jaw joint and the neck.

To create sockets for the eyes, and make the eyes swivel and easy to animate I placed the eyes on the inside of the eyelids, and pressed silicone clay (activated by a blue agent) used by dentists against them. This created eye sockets that allowed the plastic eye balls maximum movement due to the nature of the semi-rigid silicone, which doesn't stick to anything. This also means that the dental silicone wouldn't stick to the latex around the eye, but the layer of thermo plastic held it perfectly in place.

Here's the finished armature for the Dinorilla, made from bundles of aluminum wires and thermoplastic. The chest area is built out to create a stabilizing point on the puppet, a place I can grab hold of as well as a cavity where a bunch of fill-out material would've added unnecessary weight to the puppet.

One important note about the feet of this puppet. Since I knew that the puppet would be slightly bigger than my usual creations, a little over a foot tall, and therefore a bit heavier, I decided to forgo my usual wing nut foot tie-downs in favor of something even more stable. The two things in the photo above are t-nuts, where the threading would go longer into the feet than on a wing nut. I wrapped three 2 mm thick aluminum wires around the t-nuts and added a blob of thermo plastic to secure them there. However, this turned out to not be enough, since I added more stuff to the puppet after the legs were constructed, and I eventually added two more aluminum wires to the legs and feet to make them extra stable and strong.

This was going to be a bulky monster and to add extra lightweight mass to the limbs I hot-glued strips of dense foam seat cushions to parts of the armature. In order to smooth out the angular shapes of the foam I wrapped these bits in thick yarn. You can also see that the fingers have been wrapped with the same thick yarn.

Parts of the latex skin covering was sculpted and cast from dental plaster molds. The piece above is for the shoulders. This sculpture is made in medium grade Monster Clay.

This bit is the chest piece, sculpted in soft Monster Clay. I used a homemade texture stamp to quickly press details into the clay.

These little shell-like bits will become scales on the back of the monster, and they play a rather important part in the story. These are also very quickly made using the soft Monster Clay, which is much faster to work with than the medium grade variety, though it doesn't really lend itself to very detailed work using sculpting tools. Everything I cast with plaster I first give a brush over with a brush dipped in the dental plaster. This irons out (almost) all  air bubbles and air pockets. I clean the brush in water and it usually lasts for at least a year.

Each of these scales are attached with aluminum wires and thermo plastic. In the story of the film these scales open up and energy is released out of the monster. These three rows of scales, with metal wires and the plastic added, put on the extra weight that required adding more wires to the legs.

Time to pad the body with foam bits in imitation of muscles and fat. The bare joints are covered with strips of very soft polyurethane foam.

The chest was covered with equally soft foam, but under this foam sheet is a big bundle of cotton balls. They allow the waist joint to bend freely, which it couldn't if I had added a thick piece of foam instead.

Here's the finished padding for the Dinorilla, except for a little bit that went under the chin, where a joint allowed the monster to swallow visibly.

The specially sculpted parts with horns and peculiar bumps have gone on here, along with scaly skin cast in a skin texture plaster mold made some years ago for another project. Liquid latex is used as glue to fasten the skin pieces.

Here's the finished skin application. Time to paint it.

I used acrylic paints and ProsAide make-up glue to create the flexible so-called PAX paint, which was brushed on with a foam sponge.

Finishing touches were added with acrylic airbrush paints. I also stuck on old castings of various horns and teeth I have in my monster-bits-that-might-be-useful box (where left over cast latex pieces go).

We'll see what happens with the Dinorilla project. Right now I'm snapping photos of the puppet which will be used in those staged production illustrations, and who knows; they might impress the right people enough to actually have this project properly funded.