Thursday, April 30, 2020

They Stalk the Night



I'm a huge fan of M R James's "ghost stories" containing so much mood and weirdness. History, folklore, and the landscape are components that loom large out of his tales. I have adapted a poem by James a few years ago, but I also wanted to write and film my own take on his particular brand of folk horror. I should also say that James wasn't alone in this very unique genre. Some contemporaries such as the Benson brothers were also very apt storytellers within this narrow but effective vein of horror. The above film is the result of my own take on the subject.


The supernatural entities I chose to include in my own text are light tropes in these types of tales: Restless undead, a beheaded ghost, an imprisoned demon, a black dog, a drowned corpse returning, and a boundary specter. All these can be found in folktales as well as variations on themselves in the classic horror tales of the above-mentioned authors. I was happy to find among my collection of stock footage another classic folktale character (of sorts) -the raven. I used the raven as a connecting element between the various segments.


Most of the settings and backgrounds in the film were stock photos found over at Depositphotos.com. I also found a bunch of useful stock video clips at Videoblocks.com, including the floating head ghost, which is an actor with bloodied mouth standing against a black backdrop with a spotlight on his face. This allowed me to insert him as a floating head by changing the transparency setting in his video layer. I also used the matte tool to isolate his mouth, so the blood could remain red while his face was changed into a ghostly blue.


Most scenes were combinations of stock photo backgrounds, with various Photoshop additions or removals and stop-motion animated puppets.


Sometimes live-action elements were added to scenes. In this shot, the girl's eye is a real eye opening, inserted into the still image of the sleeping girl, and trimmed appropriately using the matte pen tool.



The undead walking thing was an older puppet I built a few years ago for my Halloween video. I've pressed him into service before for a few shots here and there.


The (hopefully) sinister back dog is somebody's pet filmed in front of a green screen and shared on YouTube. Again changing the transparency setting in After Effects made the doggie look much darker, and I also added a single glowing eye (a detail sometimes mentioned in folktales) by manually tracking a digitally animated fireball a few frames at a time.


For the demon coming out of a tomb, I wanted something arachnid and uncomfortably familiar, yet alien in its own weird way. I settled on giving it a small head with horns and sharp teeth sticking out of it. The head was sculpted in medium grade Monster Clay.


The puppet had a very simple aluminum wire armature onto which thin strips of foam, yarn soaked in latex and a latex cast of the head sculpture were attached.




Patches of latex skin cast in a skin texture mold covered the whole puppet, and a blend of cotton and latex was used to detail the puppet. Red reflective beads became eyes. Although the puppet's body is quite small it still has quite a big spread, a little over a foot, because of its long legs.


I used a panoramic photo of a Scottish graveyard for a scene where the demon crawls out of a stone tomb.


In order for this shot to work properly, the demon puppet had to emerge from behind something and climb over it. I used a piece of board painted with green chroma key paint. The puppet footage was then aligned correctly in After Effects to sell the illusion of it emerging from a part of the scenery, as it were.


The returning dead sailor fungus man started off as one of my usual aluminum wire puppet skeletons. I used images of a human skeleton to get the proportions right. The thing had after all been human to begin with.


The trusty Monster Clay was again put into action to create a basic zombie/skeletal character.


A dental plaster mold was created over the sculpture, and tinted latex was applied over the inside of the mold using a q-tip.


A very simple latex skin was thus made. The inside of the head was reinforced with a latex/ cotton mix.


The armature was padded with wrappings of thin polyurethane foam. I didn't bother to create any specific muscle patterns since this creature is decomposing.


I wanted a weird organic texture all over the puppet, creating a look that would hopefully remind the audience of nasty stuff you can find growing in the water. To make this texture I resorted to using "chunks o´ flesh", an old makeup FX trick used to create bits of fleshy viscera. Here's how you make it: Tint your latex in any desired color and use a bit of polyurethane foam to sponge out the latex over a slick surface. I used a plastic tray. A hairdryer speeds up the drying process. When the latex is dry you dust it down with talcum powder or corn starch. Then you simply tear up sections of the latex using your fingernails. The latex will bunch up into web-like organic textures with elastic qualities. You can then drape the webbed latex over your puppet, using liquid latex as a bonding agent at points hear and there, to keep the texture hanging on, but at the same time allowing it to move and stretch when the puppet is animated.


 Finally, the puppet gets a rub-down with tinted latex. The puppet was colored a bright fleshy purple, though the creature will appear in the film sporting a greyish-green hue.




This color was chosen because I use a bright green background, and the puppet would not be as easily extracted in After Effects if some parts of it were tonally similar. The color change was easily made in After Effects when the puppet was added to the background settings.


Lastly, we get to the boundary ghost, a revenant that while he lived changed the boundaries of his neighbor's landmarks to gain land himself. His punishment is to spend his afterlife marking where the true, legal boundary lies. This is apparently is a very common ghost story in the West. Here in Sweden, this tale pops up everywhere.


The revenant puppet is an old one, built over ten years ago, but never used. His head was once adorned with a mane of grey hair, but the textile-eating moths infesting my home took care of that, the hair actually being crepé hair, which is sheep's wool.


So I had to replace his hair, and I figured I might as well go with something different. I used this stock footage clip of a spaghetti-like waving CGI texture, extracting it from the light background, turning the texture grey, and placing it behind the puppet. This hopefully created something looking like a cone of hair slowly waving in the wind, or maybe even underwater.


My UK buddy and frequent collaborator John Hutch donated his silvery tones to provide a moody voiceover. Music was again picked from Kevin MacLeod's extensive stock music library. And that's pretty much it for this film. I'm actually working on a comic book version of this material, which will contain more stories about other supernatural entities and situations.

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.