Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beware the Blunderblat!

One of my ambitions with posting films on YouTube is that I would get in touch with likeminded people from all over the world and even get to collaborate with them. This means exchanging footage without ever having met, and still making a film together. My first attempt at this was "Concerning Brown Jenkin", which I filmed and RavenOfPoe from Australia narrated. But now it's time to try and take things one step further.

One of my favorite children's authors of today is Englishman Colin West. I'm especially a fan of his nonsense rhymes and I had been wanting to do a little film based on his poem "The Blunderblat" for a long time. I finally contacted him and asked for permission to make the video and post it on YouTube. Colin gracefully agreed and disclosed that he (like most people, it seems) was a YouTuber as well.

I asked one of my YouTube friends Amanda, aka VanillaPomme, if she'd like to do the live-action part of the film if I provided the animation for the monstrous Blunderblat. Amanda thought this was a great idea and I mailed her my storyboards for the project. She's a crazy (in the best sense of the word) 13-year old with big acting abilities and ambitions, and perfect for what I intend to put together. So, the idea is that Amanda will play two parts in the story (something's she's vary apt at doing), film all the footage needed, mostly in front of a green screen, and upload it somewhere where I can get it. I'll animate the Blunderblat puppet in front of my blue screen and edit mine and her footage together. The finished film will be posted by us both (and by Colin, if he'd like to) on YouTube. There will probably be some technical issues with the US NTSC footage and my European PAL footage, but I know that they can be resolved. I'm really looking forward to putting this together.

Now; something about the Blunderblat puppet.

There's really nothing new about this puppet -it's made the way I make almost all of my puppets. But it does have insect wings cast in semi-transparent plastic, which is a first for me. More about those later. Basically all the parts of this puppet started as clay sculptures. The Blunderblat is very insect-like. An illustration by Colin West and the line "I watched it rise into the skies Like some colossal locust" seems to indicate this. So I made it as a sort of cross between a grasshopper and some kind of crustacean.

All the parts for the body were cast in latex from plaster molds. All the joints were made with braided aluminum wire and held together with the thermo plastic Friendly Plastic.

The tail and body latex skins were filled with hard, but light, expanding polyfoam. The excess material was cut and sanded down.

Aluminum wire joints to animate the mouth, eyes and mandibles were added to the latex head skin using Friendly Plastic as bonding "bone" material.

I did sculpt and cast parts in latex for the legs, but eventually they just turned out to be too bulky. So I re-did the legs by simply building them up in Friendly Plastic over the wire armature. It took a bit longer to do it this way, but the legs turned out much better.

Now for the wings. This is how I did them, but there are probably better and simpler ways to achieve the same results. I just couldn't figure them out. I started by drawing one wing on a piece of paper, and then traced the drawing onto clay by simply pressing the pencil hard on the paper. I then turned the drawing over and did another inprint in the clay to make a mirror version of the wing. This is how the tracings looked after a bit of clean-up.

I then did a plaster cast of the clay imprint and a silicone mold of the plaster cast. This finally yielded a mold to cast the plastic wings in.

I did two castings of each wing in SmoothCast 325. This plastic is a slightly milky transparent and quite perfect if you want something that'll look transparent, but really isn't. I couldn't make the wings totally transparent, as I was using a blue screen behind them. The wing castings were then pieced together using more plastic to make two wings.

Here's a wing after piecing two halves together and cleaning them up. I didn't mind the little imperfections along the edges of the wing, as that would be natural for a giant insect monster (I suppose). As you can see I've drilled a little hole at the base of the wing...

This is for attaching a bit of aluminum wire with Friendly Plastic. The plastic goes through the hole and really attaches itself to the wing, making the bond between wire joint and wing much stronger.

The Blunderblat has been pieced together and is ready for its paint job. The eyes are plastic beads and the teeth and neck skin are latex. The mandible claws are Friendly Plastic.

The Blunderblat was painted (as I always do) with PAX paint (a mixture of ProsAide glue and acrylic paints). The base is a dark brown with a mix of grey and gold drybrushed on top of it.

The eyes, teeth, mouth and some highlights were airbrushed with acrylic airbrush paints. They usually stick very well to the PAX mixture.

Along the back a pattern in yellow and bright purple was airbrushed on. It was inspired by markings on certain insects.

The wings also got a dash of paint to give them a bit more depth.

In order to animate the beast flying around with as little trouble as possible I attached a thick aluminum wire rod to the puppet. The rod was covered in soft string and painted blue, and stuck to the side of the puppet that isn't going to face the camera as planned. If I were to change that set-up I'll just flip the image in the editing and that should work out fine. I prefer to use a support rod to hanging the puppet from strings attached to an aerial brace, which can be a bit of a mess. You also have to stop the puppet from swinging every time you've touched it. When the puppet is attached to a rod it stays put. Sometimes you have to remove the rod in post prod editing, but it's worth the trouble.

Well, that's all for now, boys and girls. Hopefully the Blunderblat will make its YouTube debut before Christmas and you'll find out exactly what a Blunderblat does, why Amanda is cloning herself and how our collaboration worked out.