Thursday, September 23, 2010

The King Who Sought Immortality: Crocodogs and Scorpion Men

It's pityfully dour to think about how little you get done on your personal projects while having a day job. It's equally depressing thinking about how little the money you make from your day job, but that's a separate discussion. Take this madcap project as an example, my film "the King Who Sought Immortality". I've been at it for two years now, and though I'm finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, it's taken too long, or has it. The film's an experiment in what can be done creating a virtual world using only consumer market cameras and software, and no money at all. It can be done if you have the one vital currency: Time.

What I'm doing now is simply adding some icing on the cake; Extra details in backgrounds and extra monsters to spruce things up. The scene you can see a still from above is an example of this. The king of the story enters the Underworld to ask help from the queen of the dead. Two "scorpion men" are standing to attention on either side of her throne, and two crocodile/dog hybrids are loitering in front of her. There is nothing Ray Harryhausen about this -no monsters are fought or killed- except that the scene lives up to his idea about making characters out of your monsters. Rather it is inspired by the touches ILM made to the Star Wars and Ewok films they supplied the effects for. Life is visible everywhere in these films, be it strange desert creatures outside of Jabbas palace, or weird birds flying through some swamp or forest.It's all about making a world filled with wonders, a place different from ours.

A quick walk-through on how the crocodogs were made. The upper and lower jaws were sculpted separately and cast in latex, reinforced with hard thermo plastic.

The head pieces were attached to an armature made of braided aluminum wire and thermo plastic (most US puppet makers seem to favour plumber's epoxy putty).

The armature was covered with layers of soft polyurethane muscles, glued on with contact cement.

And on top of that layers of scaly latex skin, cast from a plaster skin mold, were added.

The finished crocodog (there's only one, but filmed twice) was painted with tinted latex, diluted with water. Acrylic airbrush paints added the final details. This was actually the first time I animated a walking four-legged creature. It took two attempts to get it right. The first time around, the animator part of my brain just didn't click.

I made the crocodogs simply because I liked the idea. They seemed like something that appears in ancient myths, although I haven't really found anything resembling them in ancient art. They might also fit nicely into a Conan sword & sorcery yarn. The scorpion men do exist in Sumerian myth and play quite an important role. The "king" film is a hodgepodge of ideas stolen from mainly the Sumerian myths, and I had to have some scorpion men.

In the actual myths, they are rather strange hybrids; Winged, bearded men with bird's feet and a scorpion's tale, brandishing bows and arrows. Among other things, they guard the gateway to the Underworld, a concept which I used for this film. Making a puppet of these strange creatures were tempting, but I had a different idea. While reading about the scorpion men I thought about comic book artist Basil Wolverton's strange and uncomfortable insect/human hybrids, which pop up in his sci-fi and horror tales. I thought that would be a great deal more disturbing to see.

I needed four different scorpion guys, but the only real difference between them would be the look on their faces. So I did something I've never tried before (but will do again): I made one carefully detailed puppet body, with four interchangeable heads. The heads were molded in latex and had aluminum wire mouth armatures. Their necks were simply sawed-off marker pens, with a cork fitted between the shoulders of the puppet body. This may seem like a terribly cheapskate arrangement, but it was, in fact, a very good solution. You know how a thick marker pen pops into its cork and stays there. I could still twist the heads around, and a small joint in the head allowed it to tilt forwards and backwards.

The body was made of two parts, a front and a back side shell. All the body parts were cast in latex, simply because plastic body parts put a greater deal of stress on the aluminum joints. I've made one puppet with rigid body parts, and the joints kept snapping repeatedly!

The armature was the usual mix of aluminum wire and thermo plastic. The latex body parts were glued together around the armature. I wanted the bald human heads to be bizarrely distinct from the rest of the body (Wolverton-style), but I still toned the rosy human hue down in editing to a paler one.


Vincent Tétreault said...

Woot ! woot ! Looks very nice. You're really talented man.

Jeff Lafferty said...

Wow! This stuff looks really cool. I love the alligator puppets, thanks for showing how you put them together.

Shelley Noble said...

I think you get much more done than you realize, Richard. Two years while otherwise working and being a family man as well, is fast as lightning really.

Anonymous said...

Jesus! these are magnificent puppets! I hope to one day make models as stunning as yours!! I also agree with Jeff, I love those croco-dog puppets they are amazing!

JON said...

Absolutely FANTASTIC!!! The construction of the CrocoDogs is fascinating.

jriggity said...

Awesome usual!!

love the croco dogs so much.


Richard Svensson said...

Thanks for stopping by, everyone! Glad to hear that you found some good info in here.

Den Lilla Palentologen said...

jätte cool krokodil hund!

Terrymation said...

I really can't get over your sculpting skills.

GABRIEL said...

oi, thats a very good image, btw i hate to be annoying but please could you tell me where could i perhaps find the image in the background? the female body carved in stone? it looks exactly like a tatoo idea i had like 6 months ago and i would be cool if you could pass a link, thank you

Richard Svensson said...

Gabriel! I'm so sorry I missed your message here, but if you're still around, the relief background is of Lillith.

Gabriele S. said...

You are great