Sunday, May 7, 2023

Yum, Yum, Said the Moon

When YouTube started marketing its YouTube shorts as an alternative (and a rival) to TikTok, a lot of people jumped at making very short content in a standing format. There were promises of funds handed out to YouTubers trying out the format, and it seemed the concept gained popularity among watchers. For a weak moment, I considered what I could bring to the table, and thought up a few story ideas adapted for this new format. However, after doing a poll among my own watchers, as well as doing a bit of research among YouTubers trying out making shorts, I decided that it probably wasn't for me. Instead, I simply made shorter-than-usual youtube videos, and they seem to have been well received.

"Yum, Yum Said the Moon" is the first of these shorts-wannabees. The story is childishly simple: A jogger is eaten by a creepy man in the moon. The setting is a bit of nighttime landscape in the countryside, and it never changes during the run of the short film. The setting is a photo adjusted in Photoshop to suit my needs for the film.

Let's go over to the evil moon, the only puppet in the film. I should warn anyone with Trypophobia (a phobia of holes) that you should probably stop reading now since the moon is covered with tiny craters.

This is the main sculpture of the moon, made with medium-grade Monster Clay. I actually sculpted both sides of the face but only covered this side with craters, wrinkles, and other small details. I knew I'd only shoot the moon from this side, so no need to spend time detailing both.

I used simple hobby plaster to create a mold around the sculpture. Four layers of tinted latex created a flexible face.

For the crater-marked skin of the rest of the puppet, I sculpted an oval filled with craters on a flat piece of clay.

Again, hobby plaster was used to make a simple skin texture mold.

And again, a few layers of tinted latex created bits of skin that could then be attached to the body of the puppet.

The moon only has one eye on the side shown to the camera. It's a plastic pearl painted with acrylic airbrush colors and sealed with clear varnish. Here it's placed in a matrix of silicone paste, which allows the eye to be swiveled around by putting a needle in the "pupil" and turning it.

Here the moon has been padded with soft polyurethane foam. Under the foam, there's a 2 mm aluminum wire running through the puppet all the way out into the horns. This is so the moon can curl up and grab its prey with the points of the horns. There's also a 1,5 mm aluminum wire circling the jaw, so the moon can talk and chew.

Here's the moon with patches of pock-market latex skin covering all of the foam padding.

I should also add that a threaded 3M nut is placed at the back, joined with the main 2 mm aluminum wire. This is so I can attach the puppet to a ball-and-socket flying rig, holding the moon aloft.

The puppet is painted by dry brushing tinted latex onto it using sponges, and applying the paint in thin layers. The teeth are made from tissue paper dipped in latex and rolled into pointy shapes with my fingers.

The puppet was animated against my puppet stage green screen backdrop, with green screen tape covering up the flying rig.

The jogger assaulted by the moon is a looped digital animation of a man running in a tracksuit.  I simply keyframed him being grabbed by the stop-motion moon and sped up his movement to look like desperate leg-kicking as he was eaten. When the moon licks its mouth I used a bit of pink oil-based clay bought in a toy shop.

So that was "Yum, Yum, Said the Moon", a short bit of silliness. But, it's been surprisingly well received. One viewer commented: "Now THIS is the kind of surreal and niche horror I admire so often!" I can't ask for a better reaction than that.


Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Yogash the Ghoul

 If we are to believe old Lovecraft himself he has a family tree to give you nightmares. If you go far enough back you'll encounter various cosmic abominations in his lineage. Closer to our time, but still very far back in history, we find the name Yogash the Ghoul -apparently one of the first, if not the very first, of that very creepy breed of creatures.

You can study the Lovecraft family tree in one of the volumes collecting Lovecraft's countless letters. The tree was included in a 1933 message to James F. Morton. My fancy had been tickled by the name Yogash the Ghoul for a while since it was both very descriptive (It's a ghoul) and open to endless imaginative story possibilities. 

For those of you who remember bits of my previous work, you'll recall that I did make a ghoul puppet way back in 2013 for a film called The Lovecraft Alphabet. The puppet was very detailed and as it happens also very expressive when animated. It was a combination of a sculpture that I was happy with and an armature that did the job.

In that film, the puppet is shown very briefly to illustrate old ghoul painter Pickman. His art comes alive, turns around, and makes a face at the viewer. That's all the puppet did, so I figured I should do something more with it before it started deteriorating, as all latex puppets eventually do. At this point in time, the puppet is in surprisingly good shape, so I thought I'd give it the starring role it deserved. Now, the making of the ghoul puppet has already been covered in an older blog post, so I'll direct you over to that one instead. You'll find it HERE.

The story I came up with for the film set out to show the horrific world the ghouls live in, but in that world, the ghouls themselves might not be all that bad. In Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath they're quite heroic characters.

To illustrate the weirdness of the ghoul world I added a few other creatures. First up is a transforming sorcerer the ghoul spies in a ruined temple. This puppet was inspired by a previous puppet/sculpture I built for an online game-maker. That character was a woman standing up. The sorcerer has traveled a bit further down the line in his transformation and is lying on the ground. I sculpted the puppet's torso in medium-grade Monster Clay to get the best and most exact detailing I could on the anatomy. 

A dental plaster mold was made over the sculpture and tinted latex was added to the mold using sponges and q-tips. The dental plaster catches and keeps all the delicate textures and details, something that the cheaper and more easy to get hobby plaster usually doesn't. A total of four layers of latex were added, in some parts of the mold, it was ladled on thinly to give the rubber skin more flexibility. 

The rest of the puppet was built up using a combination of soft polyurethane foam, cotton, yarn, and latex. The tentacles were aluminum wires covered with soft yarn, then dabbed with tinted latex. All moving parts had joints made from bundles of aluminum wires held together with polymorph thermoplastic. The teeth are paper dipped in latex. The red monster eye is a plastic pearl with a blue iris created by grinding down a section with a Dremel tool, then painting the concave surface blue and covering it with UV resin. The normal eye is a tiny doll's eye made from acrylic plastic. I bought a bunch of those from eBay years ago. The arm was gradually built up with thin layers of latex over an aluminum wire armature padded with thin strips of foam. The flower-like growths on the hip are cotton tufts dipped in latex and rolled between my fingers.

The finished puppet was dry brushed with tinted latex and given a light touch-up with acrylic airbrush colors. The hair is crepĂ© hair, i e sheep's wool, normally used for stage production beards and mustaches. 

As you can see, the back of the puppet isn't much to write home about. Since you'll never see that part of the character I just didn't finish it. You can see the tie-down point coming out of the back. It's a threaded bolt attached to a metal rod using super glue and baking soda to fix it in place.

Journeying further with Yogash we come to the valley of the behemoths, chubby vaguely humanoid giants. We see two of them in the film. I sculpted one with both face and torso, while the other only got a head sculpt. I re-used the flabby body of his friend for him as well when casting latex skins for the puppet bodies.

The puppets are fairly small, about eight inches tall. I forgot to snap photos of their armatures, but they're very simple constructions using aluminum wires and thermoplastic. The foam padding over the armatures was made using foam of various densities depending on where on the body they were placed.

The finished puppets are covered with patches of latex skin cast in skin texture molds, as well as latex casts made from the clay sculptures using plaster molds. They're painted with tinted latex and acrylic colors applied by dipping an old toothbrush in color and spraying it on by dragging my thumb over the bristles. The eyes are mother-of-pearl scrapbooking acrylic domes.

Eventually, Yogash comes to a human city and encounters a dying boy lying on the floor in a pauper's hut. Yogash asks the boy if he'll come with him to become a ghoul himself, or if Yogash should just leave him there to die. This little chap is Hannes Johansson, whom you've seen in a few of my other films by now. I just filmed Hannes lying on the floor in my buddy Andreas Petterson's flat. Hannes lives above it, so he just stopped by on his way home from school.

Probably the toughest shot in the film, the little challenge I try to put into all my projects so I'll grow and learn something new with each effort, is when Yogash leaves the town carrying the boy. It's a combination of Photoshop and After Effects trickery.

To place Hannes in the arms of the puppet I picked him up and twirled around in front of my video camera, to get views from all angles.

Pulling stills from the video footage, I then cut out Hannes in Photoshop and added another photo of the ghoul puppet with its arms in the right position. I animated the puppet walking towards the "camera", cut away the top half of the animated ghoul with the masking tool, and added the Photoshopped image instead. The trick to making this work was to use keyframes at certain points to make the Photoshop image follow the animated lower half of the body. It's a short enough clip that I think I made it work -barely. There is a tracking tool to make one image layer follow the movements of another layer, but I've never been able to make it work satisfactorily.

All the settings of Yogash's world are various stock photographs pulled apart and re-assembled in Photoshop, usually to work in a number of layers in conjunction with stock video effects such as fog or fireflies. I thought this building looked sufficiently crypt-like to work as Yogash's abode. A guy on YouTube called me out on it and explained it's part of an old waterworks complex just s stone's throw from where he lives.

The graveyard around Yogash's crypt is, I believe, an old French graveyard. I had a stock video of a squawking crow shot against a green screen, so I added that to one of the tombstones.

The town itself was a gaggle of photos of the old Mongolian town Sarai-Batu. I thought it had a vaguely Asiatic or eastern look, which would go well with the esthetics of the proto-fantasy tales that Lovecraft and his pals, like Robert E Howard.

All in all, Yogash the Ghoul got a very good reception on YouTube, which delights me. In fact, people have asked for a sequel. They want to see more exploits of Yogash and "ghoul boy", as they've nicknamed Hannes. And I have given that some thought. Hannes is certainly up for it, and the ghoul puppet is still looking well enough. I'd also like to give other characters from the Lovecraft family tree a spin, such as K'baa the serpent, or Goth the Burrower.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Silly Asses

"Silly Asses" was adapted from a short story by Isaac Asimov published initially in Future Science Fiction, # 35, 1958. It has slipped into the public domain since, and I thought it would make a short, fun project for my YouTube channel. All of the story is there, basically. I have changed parts of the text that work better as imagery on film.

There are two main characters in the story. Let's start with this one, which I call "Shrimp Guy."

His most distinguishing feature is probably his head. It's actually the nose section of a different puppet made for a different project. Way back in 2014 I was involved in the pre-production for a rock opera adaptation of H P Lovecraft's "The Dreams In the Witchhouse." The monster designs were made by my DeviantArt buddy King OvRats and I was responsible for translating his drawings into puppets. We put quite a bit of work into the project, but nothing came of it in the end. I finished one of the puppets, but I haven't used it for any of my own films. I still have the mold made from the nose and thought I could at least put that to good use.

Here's my original sculpture for the nose, one of the first I made in Monster Clay. Turned upside down it would be used as the head of Shrimp Guy. If you want to read the full story of the Witchhouse project, or as far as it got you can read all about it HERE.

I cast the headpiece in tinted latex, making it as pink as I could. The inside of this latex skin was lined with a latex/cotton mix to make it sturdy and to make it hold its shape. I also added thermoplastic to create a sort of skull inside it. The thermoplastic also worked as an attachment for the two eyestalks and the pincer-like mouth of the character. The body is a paper ball covered with thermoplastic. Tail, arms, and legs were made from aluminum wires wrapped in soft yarn dabbed with tinted latex. The limbs don't have any "bones" in them. They're jointless and move about very much like the limbs of cartoon characters in old animated films using the so-called "rubber hose" animation style. The claws on the feet are also latex cast in an old plaster mold for horns and such, made many years ago.

A bit of polyurethane foam padding puts more flesh on the torso and tail. The skin textures are latex casts made from molds for older puppet projects. The combination of textures and latex casts is a real mishmash.

Here the puppet has gotten its base coat of pink paint, which is made from tinted latex. Detailing with acrylic airbrush paints now awaits. 

Here's the finished puppet. The eyes are photoshop print-outs stuck to the backside of clear acrylic domes. These domes as well as the transparent glue used on them were bought from a local scrapbooking shop. 
The device he's holding is a plastic cast taken from a silicone mold made over a model kit part. I think it's a motor part or some kind of hatch from a Klingon ship.

Now for Shrimp Guy's impatient boss. He's actually an older puppet used once for a film called "Beans." I touched up the puppet a bit and added a chest plate made from latex and silver paint. He also got plasticene eyebrows and a plasticene lower lip and teeth, so I could animate him talking and add a few bewildered expressions to his face. It's cartoon acting of the lowest order. You can read all bout how this puppet was made and the "Beans" project HERE:

The Galactic Federation planet is populated with many alien races, some of which are briefly glimpsed in one shot as they're walking past the "camera" in a corridor. For this, I only used old puppets from various projects, and I also stuck an old toy robot in there - an R2-D2 knockoff bought for me at the end of the 1970s. The city and its densely trafficked skies are a blend of CG stock footage and CG stock images, animated by me in layers in After Effects. 

The same goes for the office of the boss. I found a few CG images of a spaceship interior on and adapted them in Photoshop, changing the perspectives and adding or removing details. The computer graphics floating around the room were also stock media found of Videoblocks and Videohive, and again adapted in After Effects to suit my needs. I did the voices for both characters, and my Italian friend Marco Zanelli provided the trippy music.

I really like Sci-Fi, probably more so than fantasy, so I'm planning on doing more projects in that genre.