Wednesday, August 19, 2020


The subject for this little film had been on my mind for many years, namely to use a woodcut describing "imps", witches' familiars, as a template for stop-motion puppets.

I am, of course, thinking about the famous woodcut featuring witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins and two of his victims-to-be. The presumed witches are parading a pretty impressive lineup of servitor demons in various animal shapes, some more bizarre than others. The names of these imps were pretty cool too.

Lets' start with Sacke & Sugar, which is actually just the one creature. In the woodcut, it's apparently a black rabbit of some kind. I went with a zombie rabbit kind of thing instead. This little monster has an exposed skull, which I sculpted in medium grade Monster Clay. The skull and the jaw are separate.

Both parts of the skull were replicated in Rhino casting plastic from two DragonSkin FX silicone molds (after cleaning out the clay).

The aluminum wire skeleton has a pair of t-nuts in its feet, with bits of harder wire lashed to the aluminum wires using yarn, creating the "bones" of the skeleton. An aluminum wire also goes into the jaw.

Since most of the puppet would be covered by fake fur I didn't have to spend too much time on shaping the foam padding into exact muscle replicas. General shapes were quite adequate. A latex cast of a mummified-looking chest sculpted for another puppet was re-used. To create bits of shredded, dried tissue I simply rolled up thin skins of tinted latex sponged out over a plastic tray, the so-called "chunks-o-flesh" method. The insides of the ears were simply made by carving negative shapes into clay with the end of a paintbrush and then adding tinted latex into those shapes. The eyes are German-made taxidermist's glass eyes (don't know what animal they're supposed to be used for.

The fur I used was also used for the puppets in Empire of the Robot Monsters and is a short-haired synthetic fur attached to a slightly elastic fabric, which means that it will stretch slightly when animating the puppet.

Greedigutt isn't pictured in the woodcut but Imagined it as a dwarfish Hieronymus Bosh kind of creature. The head and feet were sculpted in clay, and then cast in latex from a dental plaster mold.

This little fellow was built in one day, having a very simple body padded with foam. The tail was built up over an aluminum wire using soft yarn.

Patches of latex cast in old skin texture molds covered the puppet. It was given a base paint of reddish-brown using tinted latex applied thinly with a sponge.

 A lighter coat of tinted latex was then dry brushed on. White latex pigments helped create a pale skin tone. The white eyes were just painted on, but the lower lip could be animated via an aluminum wire.

Another quickly built puppet (though not in one day) was Jarmara, the caterpillar dog. Actually, in the woodcut, he most resembles a creepy version of Dougal from The Magic Roundabout. It doesn't look like he's got any legs, so I decided that he probably walked like a caterpillar. The only thing I sculpted in clay was his head.

A latex cast of the head, reinforced with a cotton/latex mix, was attached to the aluminum wire skeleton. Aluminum wires were also used for the ears, which were covered with more latex and cotton. More padding with that soft yarn.

Jarmara's head and feet were dabbed with tinted latex and his buggy eyes were another pair of German taxidermy work. Strips of soft foam helped to further pad out the body.

Finally, fake fur from an old had was used to cover up the body. The aluminum wire torso could be contracted and extended to ape the movement of a kind of caterpillar.

The idea for Pyewacket (another imp not shown in the woodcut) was inspired by dancers and contortionists who can bend their hips and legs over their shoulders. It's a fairly impractical way of walking, but it sure looks strange. Another simple aluminum wire armature provided the skeleton. The dark grey blob at the bottom is a bit of dense foam from a camping seat cushion, filling up the chest area, without adding any real weight. 

The head was sculpted in Monster Clay..

..While the rest of the body was built up using foam shapes of various densities.

Patches of latex cast in texture molds then covered the foam.

The finished Pyewacket was painted with tinted latex, and detailed with acrylic airbrush paints spattered onto the puppet using a toothbrush. Fake fur from an old jacket collar was glued on here and there using the very strong and transparent Telesis silicone glue.

The best-remembered critter from this woodcut is doubtless Vinegar Tom, the strange cow-whippet-thing. The head was another Monster Clay sculpture, using plastic pearls for the eyes.

The horns were cast in latex from an old plaster mold. Small aluminum wires help move the ears and the jaw. The tie-downs I use are usually M4 t-nuts, but for this puppet, I used M3 to make the feet really small.

For Vinegar Tom, I did a pretty intricate foam muscle build-up. I based this on both cow and dog muscle diagrams.

The pearl eyes were used so I could move them around, BUT looking at the woodcut I realized the eyes were simply too small. I simply glued a pair of bigger glass taxidermy eyes over the original pearl eyes, and built up eye sockets around the eyes using cotton dipped in latex. A finely detailed latex skin was added over the foam padding.

More fake fur was used to add a short mane to Tom's neck. Teeth were made from cotton and latex, as were the toes. This puppet was painted with PAX paint (Prosaide glue + acrylic paint) using a sponge, with acrylic airbrush paints adding a bit of subtle detailing.

Grizzle, our last little critter, was basically a scary pig standing on his hind legs. He only appears for a short bit at the end, so I decided to make him something recognizable. There are examples of demonic pigs in religion, folklore, and pop culture, so it seemed a suitable choice. I sculpted and cast both head and torso in latex from a dental plaster mold.

Again, a very simple aluminum wire armature did the job. It's still strong enough and versatile enough to allow the puppet to be used for more projects.

The latex skin was partially padded with thin bits of polyurethane foam. Aluminum wires go into the ears and the jaw. Also, reflective pearls were glued into the eye sockets.

The foam muscle padding was quite detailed, though most of the focus would be on the latex torso, which was attached to the padded body using liquid latex as a bonding material.

Reddish tinted latex was applied as a base paint, with a purple-greyish latex paint dry brushed over that, with strands of fake for added as bristles to the neck, and cotton/latex tusks stuck into the mouth. Saliva and snot were created with Glossy Accents scrapbooking plastic.

That's all about the imps, but what about their mistress. Well, I don't know who she is, because she's just a bunch of stock footage clips from, but I'm glad I found her. 

All of the film was treated with a couple of filters in After Effects to make the image a bit fuzzy and dream-like. Libby Grant delivered another excellent narration (our previous collaboration was Baba Yaga's Hut). Almost all of the backgrounds were found on, where I have a monthly subscription.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Xorg the Conqueror

I had wanted to make more retro-styled sci-fi after my project "Empire of the Robot Monsters", and this resulted in the all-puppet video "Xorg the Conqueror." It's also nice to intermingle the often dour Lovecraftian projects with some sprinklings of humor.

The character of Xorg is based on a drawing I did for a game project here in Sweden. It's pretty much the very same character.

The front of the head and the torso of Xorg were sculpted in medium grade Monster Clay.

As you might imagine with that look, Xorg's head was the most complex part of his body. The thingie on his head was armatured with aluminum wires, as were the snout-like mouths. The eyes were Photoshop print-outs attached to acrylic domes using Glossy Accents scrapbooking plastic as a glue.

The armature for the body is my usual aluminum wire contraption held together with thermoplastic. Strips of soft polyurethane foam were used to pad out the body. Like the head, the chest/torso area was cast in tinted latex. This piece was also padded with foam and attached to the armature using contact cement.

 Xorg is dressed in a nicely form-fitting suit, made by covering the foam and the wire-wrapped arms with patches of tinted latex cast on the smooth backsides of plaster molds.

Like all good space travelers, Xorg has a backpack. This was made from two magic marker caps (these markers were dried up, so no markers were harmed during the making of this backpack), two plastic balls, a glue bottle cap, and two bits of spring tubes.

Xorg also has a belt with a gizmo on it. Since I couldn't find anything looking like what I had in mind, I sculpted it in clay and made a mold quickly using silicone clay. The actual cast was made in latex backed with cotton fibers.

Lastly, Xorg needed a mighty ray gun with which to blast the poor populations he accosted. Almost all of this prop was made from this old ballpoint pen, held together with superglue and with additions made from thermoplastic.

So, here's Xorg in all his glory. A rather strapping chap, I hope. The tiny teeth in Xorgs mouths are simply tiny blobs of latex tinted white applied to the circular mouths with a needle.

Now for the hammer-headed monster that gets Xorg in the end. I mostly rely on old plaster skin texture molds when I create the flexible skins for my puppets. But for the hammerhead monster I wanted something new, and therefore I sculpted a skin texture with big, horn-like bumps, very inspired by the skins texture imprints found in fossils from the Ankylosaurs. This bit of skin, cast in tinted latex from the resulting dental plaster mold, goes onto the back of the puppet.

Apart from this skin I only sculpted one more thing for the puppet, namely the mouth with adjacent areas.

This is the armature for the hammerhead monster, and it's really simple as you can see. The black clumps on the legs are bits of seat cushions made from compact foam, put there to add volume to the legs.

The actual hammer was made from a plastic latex bottle, a cardboard tube, and a cone made by applying tinted latex and cotton to a clay shape. You can also see the simple foam padding here. This creature has a bulky body that doesn't have all that many toned muscle details.

Patches of cast latex skin from my old reliable skin molds cover the foam padding. The hammer is mostly covered by cotton dipped in latex.

To unify the whole look tinted latex was sponged on over the whole puppet. The eyestalk was added as an afterthought and is just a single aluminum wire covered with string and latex. The actual eyeball is another acrylic dome (used in scrapbooking, apparently) with some more Photoshop art attached to it.

This whole film is filled with candy colors, so the hammerhead was painted blue using tinted latex and a foam sponge. Teeth were made from cotton and latex, and the claws on the feet were latex cast in plaster molds. This creature also has a long tongue, but that's a separate removable piece, an aluminum wire covered with yarn and latex stuck into the jaw of the puppet very much like a pallet or false teeth are placed in the mouth.

Let's not forget our heroes of this piece, the natives of the planet Xorg invades. This puppet is one of the very few ones using replacement faces, and at that in the simplest way. The body sculpture was made to accommodate this. The smaller indentation is for inserting a tentacle.

Here's the body cast in latex with an aluminum wire tentacled added, but I've also added a clay face, as you can see. To make the replacement faces fit as well as possible into the body, I simply pressed some clay into the cavity reserved for the face and sculpted all the details.

The clay faces were then carefully removed and lined up on a strip of clay for casting.

The body was supported with thermoplastic and attached to a foot with tie-down. Each face has a flange of latex on the back which allows it to slit into the hole in the body.

A little plastic pearl was superglued to the top of the body, a nice decoration I think. Using the puppet with replaceable faces I could create a bunch of natives, though this planet seems to be pretty sparsely populated. To animate the jumping motion of these creatures I simply bent the leg into a compressed shape while it was still attached to the animation stage. The actual jumping was achieved by keyframing the puppet moving up and down from the ground in After Effects.

By the way, the running of both Xorg and the hammerhead monster was achieved in similar ways. The puppets were attached to flying rigs covered in green screen sticky tape. The hammerhead had to be animated in a weird angle to make room for his tail.

The backgrounds were my usual collection 2D Photoshop cut-outs made from various stock images. Some of them, like Xorg's rocket ship, were animated using keyframes in AE. And then there's a bunch of explosions and ray effects that I've found on stock footage websites.

It looks like I'll be delving more and more into all-puppet videos. It's not because I can't get my friends to appear in films anymore, but the more I use puppets, the more I appreciate the freedom of animated characters. It won't work for all things, but it's perfect for some projects.