Sunday, March 22, 2020

Krampus Night



Visitors to my YouTube channel have been bugging me for a while about why I don't do any holiday-related videos. I have done a Halloween-themed film, but that didn't exactly set the internet on fire, so I stopped thinking about doing something similar. However, this past Christmas I decided to do something with the Krampus; the so-called Christmas Devil, the evil counterpart to Santa. I was already working on another project, but I paused that to make room for my Krampus video. In other words, this past December was one of the few months where I managed to produce two films featuring a fair amount of animation, and effects editing.


To give you some context, let's have a quick look at Krampus. Traditionally the Krampus character has flourished best in Eastern Europe, the alps and German-language regions like Bavaria and Austria. When Santa comes with candy and gifts, Krampus comes with coal and bundles of sticks for thrashing the bottoms of naughty children. If the kids are really terrible, Krampus puts them in his sack and carries them away.


There's been an odd resurgence of Krampus-related festivities in the last couple of decades. There are Krampus parades in both Europe and the US, and pop culture has placed the fiend in movies of varying quality and budgets. To sum up all of this info I wrote a poem that served as the basis for my video and read it myself.


I wanted my Krampus to be super traditional. Thus I sculpted a character that sort of summed up all the characteristics of the old devil folklore archetype. Medium grade Monster Clay was used, as usual.


I also sculpted what would become the horns in clay, placing the sculpture on a flat surface to make the casting of it easy.


From a plaster mold made over the sculpture, I cast two latex horn skins which were attached to a pair of metal rods padded with yarn and foam dipped in latex. When the latex had dried I twisted the wires with my fingers, making the horns curve in a way you can see on certain goats and antelopes.


The armature was super simple; my usual mix of thermoplastic and aluminum wires. I decided to give my Krampus one human leg and one goat hind leg. He also has a tail.



The tail was covered with a wrapping of yarn soaked in latex, while the body was padded with soft polyurethane foam. As you can see the head wasn't attached at this point.


That's because the aluminum wires inside the head -for brows, ears, and jaw- were stuck directly into the latex cast of the head and torso. Thermoplastic was used to create the skull and the jaw, and also held the two pearls used for eyes in place. Liquid latex applied to both the inside of the latex skin and the foam padding worked as an adhesive.


Patches of latex skin cast in various older skin texture molds were attached in the same way. The teeth are cotton dipped in latex and rolled into pointy shapes. The human foot shape was built up using tinted latex and cotton.


I wanted the Krampus to have a mix of muted colors, ashen grey to be exact, and a color that would make the puppet "pop" a bit on screen. A dark purple seemed to do the trick.





The finished Krampus puppet was adorned with clumps of crepé hair (sheep's wool used for fake beards) to make him look old and mangy. Thin steel wires were used to make bits of body jewelry, and claws were created in the same way as the teeth. Krampus is often portrayed with a long tongue, so that had to be in there in one scene at least. I couldn't fit it into the puppet's mouth, so I made it from latex and a single aluminum wire as a loose prop that could be inserted into the mouth.


Krampus´ sack was made from real burlap and was lined with aluminum wires, so I could animate it bulging and moving around when Krampus was carrying away the kid.


All of the backgrounds in the scenes featuring the Krampus were Photoshopped images layered in After Effects. One of the busiest shots is the one where Krampus minces up the kid. It contains 12 layers: the log cabin wall, the bundle of chains to the right, the big chain to the left, the Krampus turning a mincer handle made from plastic, the table, the cleaver, the bowl, the meat (footage), the mincer, the leg going into the mincer and some smoke. The mincer handle was actually attached to a model mincer I made, but that model kept moving about when I animated the puppet turning the handle, so I simply covered it with a photo of a real mincer.


All the images I used for backgrounds were downloaded from Depositphotos.com. Most of them needed only minute Photoshop manipulation to work on the film.


Now for the actual antagonist of the film. Remember Hannes Karlsson who was the hero in my film "The Two-Headed Monster?" I recruited him again for this project, and he will pop up again in my films later this year.


My long-suffering buddy Andreas Pettersson also appears in the film as a sleeping relative given a whipped cream mustache by Hannes. Andreas' friend Leif also puts in an appearance where he's hit over the head with a pillow.


The rest of the people you see in this film are all stock footage from Videoblocks.com. They had a bunch of Christmas-themed clips which were all so horribly saccharine that I couldn't possibly produce anything myself to match them.


One of the more complicated shots in the film is when Krampus puts Hannes into his sack, simply because it needed to look totally effortless. Technically it's not very complicated. Hannes is placed over Krampus´ hand via tracking, and a mask over Hannes´ legs allow them to pass behind the sack.


Making the shot work all hinged on Hannes selling the illusion, and luckily, that's just what he did. In a single take, he's sitting on the edge of a greenscreen-clad couch supported by the arm of his mom, also clad in green. Balancing on the edge of the couch seat he looks like he's hanging in free air.


The take then continues with Hannes flipping over to a semi-handstand on the floor, wiggling his legs in the air. I sped up this part in editing, so it looks like he's very quickly stuffed into the sack. The Krampus puppet is animated to match Hannes´ movements in this footage accordingly.

So I finally made my Krampus film! It was fun and relatively quick to put together. Coming up, if I can make it, is a film about Walpurgisnight, and the goings-on of witches and fiends on that spooky evening.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Dreadful Deinotherium



Still trying to catch up with my YouTube backlog, this film was posted on my channel in early December 2019. I'd been wanting to adapt this old-fashioned kooky poem for a while, and I finally got around to it. It's written by Hilaire Belloc, and is included as the letter "D" in a work called "The Moral Alphabet." For me, it was also an opportunity to delve into a very particular cinematic style, but I'll get back to that.



The Deinotherium was a real animal and lived up until ca 11 000 years ago. It was a huge mammal with tusks protruding from its lower jaw. Traditionally it's been reconstructed as very elephant-like; that's the version I grew up with as a paleo art-fascinated kid. Nowadays it's been turned into something looking more like a tapir. I wanted my Deinotherium to be not only extremely old-fashioned but also something of a caricature of those old depictions, to go with the jokey tone of the poem.


 The only part of the Deinotherium puppet that was an original sculpture was the head. I used medium grade Monster Clay, and a pair of small acrylic doll's eyes I had bought on eBay.


The head was cast as a skin in tinted latex. Aluminum wires padded with soft yarn were covered with patches of latex skin cast in an old texture mold and attached to the head using Polymorph thermoplastic. An aluminum wire loop also made out the jaw. The rest of the "skeleton" was also pieced together using aluminum wires and Polymorph, with a piece of hard foam filling out the chest area to reduce weight.


The whole body was padded with small bits of soft polyurethane foam cut in the shape of muscles and overlapped in a way that imitates the muscle diagram of a modern elephant.


The same type of patches of cast skin used for the trunk and the ears also covered up the foam padding. The poem gives the animal a sort of saw-ridged back, wich I made with cotton dipped in latex.




The finished Deinotherium was dry brushed with tinted latex using a foam sponge. The tusks were latex casts created in a plaster mold and the teeth were a latex and cotton blend. I should also say that the doll's eyes were placed in latex cradles cast around the eyes. The cradles were lubricated with Vaseline and the orbs were animated by pressing a pencil eraser against them, making them move slightly between frames.



The style of this film is an imitation of the look pioneered by Czech filmmaker Karel Zeman, where  2D backgrounds in the style of 19th-century etchings are used and integrated with live-action and stop-motion elements.



I simply downloaded real etchings from stock image site Depositphotos, did a bit of tinkering with them in Photoshop and added the images in After Effects along with my animated Deinotherium puppet. Also in AE I added a filter simulating old, flickering film stock, as well as the sepia coloring.


There are two other puppet characters in this film, and that's a couple of apes inhabiting the tree that the Deinotherium moronically climbs and topples. They're the same puppet animated twice, and it was originally built for the film "Memory", based on a prose poem by H P Lovecraft.

"The Dreadful Deinotherium" seems to have been pretty well received by my tiny but dedicated YouTube audience. Some have asked if I'm going to use this look for another project, and I might, but it's also a look that can grow old (no pun intended) pretty quickly if not used effectively and with the right motivations.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Two-Headed Monster



Last autumn I discovered the vibrant, funny and slightly irreverent children's poetry of Darren Sardelli. He's both an author of several books but he's also doing lots of work within the US educational system, inspiring kids to start writing. Good stuff, in other words!


Of course, I was mainly attracted to one of his poems called "The Two-Headed Monster." I thought it could become a bubbly, crazy YouTube video, featuring a really weird and goofy stop-motion monster. I contacted Darren and he gave me the go-ahead straight away.


So let's start with the two-headed star of the show because that's what I did. I sculpted the heads and the torso in medium grade Monster Clay, using plastic pearls for eyes. I didn't sketch out or prepare any designs for this character other than I wanted to make it look goofy and maybe a bit scary in the same way that the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire cat from Alice In Wonderland are a bit scary because of their craziness. I applied a mold of dental plaster over the sculpture.


I wanted to make the arms a bit cartoony and bendy-toy-bendy, so this is what I came up with. The balls or bumps that make out the arms are actually yarn wrapped around aluminum wires to create these shapes. The wrinkly skin is bits of latex cast in a skin texture mold.


As per usual this puppet armature is made from bundles of aluminum wires held together with Polymorph thermoplastic. You can see in this photo the t-nut tie-downs in the feet, as well as the spiked ball at the end of the tail. It's made from a paper ball covered with cotton dipped in tinted latex, with cotton/latex spikes attached.


The body didn't have to be all that detailed when it came to the padding. I just wanted it to be lumpy. Thin strips of polyurethane foam were wrapped and glued down over the armature.


Here's the puppet covered up with latex skin pieces, and with the cast torso latex piece attached to the armature and the foam padding. I've also stuffed some cotton balls into the belly.





Here's the final objet d'art. Teeth and claws are also latex, mixed with cotton. The final paint job is achieved with tinted latex, dry brushed on. The plastic ball eyes are simply animated by sticking a needle into the pupil hole and twisted around.


Here's our young hero of the piece, played by Hannes Johansson (reading appropriate literature in the shape of Ruth Manning-Sanders "Monsters.") Hannes is actually placed into a wholly fake and Photoshopped room. Almost all of the elements used to create the backgrounds were stock images downloaded from Depositphotos.com.


In actuality, Hannes was residing in a very simple green screen set-up, which is how all the scenes with actors were shot for the film.



In one shot, Hannes is sitting on the couch that gets eaten by the monster. The couch is a Photoshop printout glued to a bit of stiff card, and Hannes is cut out from his green screen environs and stuck to the couch by manual tracking in After Effects. There is a semi-automatic tracking tool in AE, but I've only made it work satisfactorily once.



The shot where grandpa (Andreas Pettersson) gets his hat plucked off his head was another blend of interaction and animation. Hannes' mom Martina stuck her arm into a green bodysuit and snatched the hat away. In After Effects her hand was keyed out and replaced with the monster's animated hand.


All the stuff the monster eats was made the same way as the couch: It's all Photoshop printouts glued onto thick bits of card. When the monster eats I just snip off bits of the image with a pair of small sharp scissors.


One thing is not made from paper, though, namely mom's cooking. That peculiar dish is a bit of oil-based clay animated like a shapeless blob flying into the monster's mouth.

I'd like to adapt more of Darren's fun poems for kids, although I can see that my videos made for a younger audience won't reach the kind of viewing numbers my Lovecraftian and pulp horror pieces get. But it's an area that's almost unexplored by me and I believe I can achieve some entertaining and imaginative stuff in that department too.