Monday, March 16, 2009

Little Big Octopus

I've been criss-crossing between my different projects on this blog and this post is no different. The puppet I'm going to talk about here was made for two different films. Having made a big latex octopus tentacle for my friend Daniel Lenneer's film Wavebreaker I thought about putting it in one of my own projects. It ended up in "The King Who Sought Immortality", shot last summer. So both projects now featured said rubber tentacle and both stories needed additional shots of the rest of the octopus. The beast was to be realized as an animated puppet.

This is the early clay sketch, done in Chavant clay (that I always, always use for any kind of sculpture to be cast).

A lot more detailing added and ready for its Ultracal 30 mold.

The mold is cast and the clay removed (we're really moving along quickly here!)

A sculpture for the underside of the tentacles. Another for the top side was also made, but looked a lot less exciting so I'm not showing it here.

The armature for the octopus was made out of very thick aluminum wire. So thick, actually, that I had to grind the top end of each tentacle wire to a thin point. But this little trick added tremendous flexibility to each tentacle when I started animating them.

Each tentacle wire recieved a covering of thick, soft string (the same kind I always use when adding bulk to body parts that need to be somewhat symmetrical.) Yes; it took some time to wrap all that string.

While getting incredibly bored wrapping string around aluminum wires all day long, I took a break for casting the head of the octopus. It was done as a soft, flexible latex skin.

The latex castings for the tentacles, and their molds.

Waiting to be stuck onto the armature...

And this is the actual armature for the octopus. As you can see it's incredibly simple. The green plastic piece of tubing (from a roll of plaster bandages) is attached to an aluminum wire, that will allow for the animation of the head bobbing up and down.

Some very soft upholstery foam has been added to the armature. It's almost obvious now what it's going to turn into.

The eyes have it, both for some dating humans and for some stop-motion puppets. I was never going to go for a 100% accurate, natural look for the octopus. It's a monster octopus and they need certain details to make them look really handsome. For something as non-human as an octopus, this puppet needed eyes that made it look as alive as possible. The coloring of the eye was done in Photoshop and printed out on sturdy paper. The actual eye lenses were glass thingumabobs that you're supposed to put in flower pots. They have a bulging lens-like top and flat undersides, and I've discovered they're excellent for making watery eyes for larger puppets. I painted the slit-like pupils on the underside of the "lenses" and attached them to the printed pieces of paper using hot-melt glue around the edges.

The eyes are stuck to the inside of the head skin using more hot-melt glue.

There! All pieces of skin are stuck to the foam-padded armature. Time to add some paint.

This nasty-looking goo is acrylic paint mixed with Prose-Aide No-Tack glue (also known as Pros-Aide III), thus creating a variation of make-up man Dick Smith's famous PAX paint. It sticks to latex well enough, remains flexible and doesn't cover up smaller details on the puppet.

The paint is simply sponged on, using pieces of old upholstery foam as sponges. I use two of them; one to add the paint quite liberally and one to soak upp the excess.

The coat of paint has been added and allowed to dry.

Now for the neat details. A mottled coat of blue-grey acrylic paint is airbrushed on.

The finished paint job. I sometimes overdo the painted details like highlights and shadows, but I find that I often have to in order for them to show up in my camera.

The big guy ready to get moving on my little blue screen stage.

Sometimes you stumble on really simple solutions. I had to animate the octopus emerging from behind the semi-submurged sub Nautilus in a shot for "Wavebreaker". The model for the Nautilus was too small to work with the big octopus puppet. I needed something cylindrical and at the right scale to wrap the tentacles over. And it had to be blue, so I could matte in a close-up of the Nautilus under the tentacles. I found a plastic bucket in a kitchen cupboard that did the trick perfectly.

Here's an early test shot of the octopus on the hull of the Nautilus. It seems to work pretty well.

While working on this puppet I noticed that my budding latex allergy had reached full bloom. For some time now my eyes have been really irritated, even when using protective goggles, and this time and I actually suffered some respiratory problems as well. It's the ammonia that does me in. This is probably a good sign that it's time for me to go silicone, like many others have done before me.


Emily said...

It looks amazing! Can't wait what you do with silicone if you switch - I've been playing with Dragonskin but would love to see what you would come up with using it!

Richard Svensson said...

Thanks! Like you I've been dabbling with Dragonskin silicone, but the damn thing always gets stuck in my plaster molds, no matter what lubricant or release agent I'm using, and it drives me crazy. A friend of mine is a pro make-up artist and he's really into PlatGel silicones. I'll start picking him for details about that.

jriggity said...


that is some serious pro work right there.

I am very impressed and very inspired.

Thanks for bloggin your process on this ...


Richard Svensson said...

You're very welcome!

Shelley Noble said...

Looks fabulous, Richard!

Sven Bonnichsen said...

Phenomenal work! Wow!

I'm so glad Marc mentioned this on ... I've been through all the photos on your static site, but hadn't realized that you've a blog now.

Thank you so much for sharing this stuff! It's really inspiring. :D

a guy in a gorilla suit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
a guy in a gorilla suit said...

This one is amazing ! Wonderful stuff ! The features of your Octopus is, how to say: it has this 'slightly dumb, very powerful and being aware of it' look... a bit weak-minded and this way slightly dangerous in cause of maybe not being so aware, what havoc it might cause. Great stuff !

Shelley Noble said...

I just read the post more closely and besides admiring your superb craftsmanship I'm here to nag!

Maybe you do, so forgive me for not knowing, but in your photos I notice you're not wearing a proper dual cartridge respirator.

Your airbrushing alone without one would be enough to give respiratory reactions, not to mention the latex, as you said.

And silicone is no better. I hope you will consider wearing one, if you don't already. Heck--even saw dust or plain dust on the floor can be irritating, even more than me!

rich said...

wow! Thank you so much for posting this. this is incredible and sooo useful. wow. amazing work.

Emily said...

I've heard the Dragonskin reacts differently in different climates even - I've been using a Liquitex matte medium as a release and it's worked no problem, but it's peeled off of plaster without a release even, strange thing. Good luck either way - and as Shelley said, masks do wonders - your work is way too cool to risk getting less of in the future ;)

Richard Svensson said...

Shelley: Thanks for your comments! I am actually wearing a respirator (and goggles) while working with any chemical. I also use latex gloves while mixing anything that might be toxic. I don't use any protection while airbrushing my puppets, since the airbrush paints applied are in tiny amounts. But I should probably gear up for that too. I almost always use latex gloves when sponging on PAX, but just because it's so sticky and messy. But thanks for your concern; I'll better myself so I can keep doing this for as long as possible.

Sven: Thanks! I had no idea Marc mentioned this on his page. He's a sweet guy with loads of talent.

Mr Gorillasuit: I'm glad you can see some sort of character in the octopus, because that was my intention. I don't want to antropomorphize animals, but it's still possible to add personality and character to them.

Rich: Thanks! I hope I can inspire and educate with what I do. As animator Bruce Bickford said: People should be making movies. The world would be a much better place then.

emmymine: For some reason my DragonSkin sticks like life depended on it to my Ultracal 30 plaster. It may be that the silicone gets lodged in pores of the plaster. I've never had any problems getting latex out of plaster molds. But I've amassed quite a lot of first-hand info on that Platgel silicone the last couple of days. I'll give it a go as soon as my wallet will allow it.
And thanks for liking my stuff!

McTodd said...

You've done it again! Simply fantastic, and I notice you didn't skimp on the number of arms!

Sorry to hear about the latex allergy. I must confess to being utterly rubbish and not using any protective gear when mucking around with stuff like that...

Unknown said...

Nice,Thank you so much for posting this. this is incredible and so useful.really amazing work you have done.
thank's dear for sharing us.
Copper Wire ! Armoured cables

Unknown said...

Wow that's amazing work!
I was wondering how you adhere the latex to the armature and glue the arms together.
Also is there any animation tests?
The test shot looks badass!

eric isbanioly said...

Richard thank you very much for posting this and for your blog. I was wondering how you achieve the texture effect on the octopus? (while still in the clay state).

Coco said...

I sought out on an internet quest to try and build a lacquered foam moose head for my wall, and, lo, I found you and your amazing octopus instead.

I just wanted to take the time to convey to you how very impressed I was by the quality of your work! That thing was creepy as hell :D

Great job.

sasha dale said...

love your models you're so talented.