Monday, May 4, 2009

Brown Jenkin Comes Alive

Last fall I got in touch with Jennifer, who has the YouTube channel RavenOfPoe. She creates little videos with philosophical musings, poetry readings and quotes. She did a terrific reading of a part of H P Lovecraft's short story "The Dreams in the Witch House". The part in question describes "Brown Jenkin"; a rat with a human head and a witches familliar. I thought her reading was so good I asked if I could use it for a short-short video project on the subject. She gladly agreed and I went off to my workshop to produce the Jenkin puppet. A couple of months ago I shot scenes with a friend of mine acting out the angst of Walter Gilman, the unlycky hero of the story. Last weekend I shot the last live-action scenes with a witch puppet and some background footage, so it's time to put this one together.

Which means I have no moving images to show yet, but I do have a pretty thorough documentation of the making of the Brown Jenkin puppet. As always I started off with a sculpture of the head. If you get the head right, the rest follows quite easily.

First I cast a stiff latex head skin and attached it to the aluminum wire/friendly plastic armature. My intention at the beginning was to not show very much of Jenkin apart from something quick-moving. But of course while working with the character I fell in love with him and wanted a better-looking head.

This meant I would finally cast my luck into the silicone pond. A make-up artist friend of mine recommended PlatSil Gel 10 to me and I bought a set from Mapont in Sweden. This silicone can probably be found from a number of retailers in the US, the UK and other countries. One place I know of and can recommend is Bity Mold Supply. Mitch, who runs the store, also has a very cool YouTube channel, where he shows how to use many of his products. As you can see, the finished silicone skin is very flexible. I added some Silc Pig red and flesh tint from while mixing the two-part silicone. Ideally, I would've added some red flocking but that wasn't available when I bought the silicone.

The head armature for this puppet turned out very simple in the end. I chose to add just two moving sections; an aluminum wire to animate the nose/upper lip and a jointed jaw.

The silicone face was attached to the head armature using Sil-Poxy silicone glue. This stuff also comes from SmoothOn and will stick silicone to absolutely everything.

Sil-Poxy takes about 10 minutes or so to do its work properly. The question was how to keep the silicone face pressed against the armature without having to sit and press on it with my fingers. The simple solution was to hold the face in place with some bits of thick aluminum wire.

Here's the face attached to the armature. As you can see I've also started to add some pieces of upholstery foam to the body.

There was no need for any accurate reconstruction of muscle patterns. Just some basic stuff, so I would know that I was on the right track shaping the body while adding the fur later. The tail and the feet were simply wrapped with thin string and dipped in flesh-tinted latex.

Claws are sometimes a bit of a bother since it's hard to get them to stick properly to the fingers. The best solution seems to be to make them out of the same material as the fingers, in this case latex. I cut out claw shapes in thin cardboard and dipped them in latex tinted black.

The latex-covered paper claws are then simply attached to the fingers with some un-tinted latex. They are quite flexible and very durable, and always maintain their original shape.

I've started adding the fur. So far it's just about gluing down pieces of fake fur. But for the legs and the face I had to add small clups of hair, glued down with latex or silicone glue.

Here's the Sil-Poxy again. When using this to add hair to the silicone face I scraped up a tiny amount of glue on a dental tool.

A small clump of fur was cut off the fake fur fabric.

The Sil-Poxy was smeared onto the face.

The clump of fur was pressed down onto the face and a tiny amount of Sil-Poxy was added on top of the hair ends.

Here's the finished result. Since Sil-Poxy is transparent it won't really show up that much despite being a bit shiny. If you add it thinly it's even less obvious and you don't have to add that much, since its bond is super strong.

Time to paint the little bugger. Which means it's time for some more SmoothOn product placement. Their Psycho Paint is designed to be used on any platinum silicone, which means that it will stick to PlatSil Gel 10 as well. You mix the two Psycho Paint components with whatever tinting you find workable. I used SmoothOn's Silc Pic pigments.

When thinned with Toulene you can put the Psycho Paint mix through your airbrush, though I didn't have the guts to try that out this time. It wasn't necessary either, since the puppet's face only needed some minor touch-ups.

And here's the finished paint job.

The fur on the legs was stuck on with latex. The process is very simple, with overlapping layers. You just have to remember which end is the right one to start at.

The finished fur covering on a leg. The latex bond is very strong and should a shiny surface appear from it, just dab it with some baby powder or transparent make-up powder.

The finished Mr Jenkin. Hopefully, you'll se him wriggling about on a YouTube screen near you quite soon. Lastly; a quick description of the creature by Lovecraft himself:
"Witnesses said it had long hair and the shape of a rat, but that its sharp-toothed, bearded face was evilly human while its paws were like tiny human hands. It took messages betwixt old Keziah and the devil, and was nursed on the witch's blood, which it sucked like a vampire. Its voice was a kind of loathsome titter, and it could speak all languages."


McTodd said...

Good God, awesome as always!

And another exemplary tutorial to inspire!

Shelley Noble said...

Love these techniques. The melding of human to animal is handled wonderfully. I hope to God you use a cartridge respirator with those products, especially the Toulene! And/or aren't planning to reproduce other than your puppets.

jriggity said...


I love your work man....


Richard Svensson said...

Thanks, everyone!

Shelley: I haven't used the Toulene mix yet and am planning to do so outdoors , WITH a respirator. The silicone products I use are odourless and supposedly non-irritating to the skin.

Shelley Noble said...

yay. Relieved to hear that, Richard. "Outdoors WITH a respirator." Now you're talking!

TheRavenOfPoe said...

I thoroughly enjoy getting a glimpse behind the scenes!

You brought Brown Jenkin to life masterfully and he is perfectly suited to stop-motion.

It was an honour to have my recording as narration, thank you! =)

Woolly Monster said...

Amazing puppet, truly amazing!

a guy in a gorilla suit said...

'I do have a pretty thorough documentation of the making of the Brown Jenkin puppet.
You sure do !

'If you get the head right, the rest follows quite easily'. Same thing occured to me, when I did the first sketches for my first character (which will be finished before the end of summer (I hope...). Made some sketches, but the face was my leading point. The rest came all by itself - a man, that knows how to dress himself. And as a huge Lovecraft fan (he brought me back into fantasy/sci-fi literature long time ago) this one really got me. Lovecraft's descripition really matches your creature. He really doesn't look like a pet you would leave anybody, at least a child, a moment out of your sight. Awsome creature !

ZandraK87 said...

Nice work! :D

Richard Svensson said...

Thanks, Zandra!Glad you stopped by :)

Mr Black said...

I am building a witch for my yard haunt and I wanted to make Kazia Mason,I of course was going to make Brown Jenkins as well. You have given me some much needed inspiration. Thank you!

Rambling Steve Appleseed said...

Horrible. I was searching for citations as I reference Brown Jenkin in a novel I'm writing. This model is so repulsive real I think I might leave the mention out.

David P. Geister said...

Very inspiring!! Thanks for sharing your technique.

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