Friday, February 18, 2011

Building an Oliphaunt

I’m sure most of you know what an oliphaunt is by now. Or Mümakil, as they’re also called. If you haven’t read J R R Tolkien’s poem, then you have seen oliphaunts stomp around in the two last Lord of the Rings movies. They’re big, mean elephants, basically.

I like Tolkien’s poem “Oliphaunt”, or I should say Sam’s poem, as Tolkien credits Sam Gamgee as its actual author. I’ve wanted to make a short-short animated video clip based on it for years. In fact, I started sculpting an oliphaunt puppet three years ago, but got no further than the head. But a while ago I decided to finish the puppet nad animate it, urged on by 10-year old Joel, who has a soft spot for the monstrous elephants. So, a short description of my oliphaunt puppet.

As I mentioned, this sculpture was begun three years ago. I made a plaster mold and sort of forgot about the project.

Recently I cast the skin of the head in tinted latex, sort of creating a mini-muppet.

The armature was really simple, using pieces of very hard cardboard for larger body sections, and thick aluminum wire, untwisted, for the joints. This made the joints less “springy”, and in theory that means easier to animate. As I’ve started animating now I’ve found it to be quite true, but only quite.

 First muscle foam padding of the body…

And then some additional padding to smooth things out.

 The eyes are home-made; plastic beads painted and dipped in Crystal Clear plastic to get a nice shine.

The tusks are paper clay and not as brittle as you might then think. They’re painted and airbrushed. They’re also NOT as white as my camera flash makes them out to be.

The trunk, ready to be attached to the skull, which, by the way is made out of Friendly Plastic thermoplastic.

Trunk attached and covered with latex skin.

Head attached to body, ready for it’s latex skin covering.

I cast about 40 or more smaller latex skin pieces to allow for better stretch and movement. All skin pieces were dyed black.

 Having the latex dyed black meant that I could get away with a very quick paintjob, namely just some drybrushing, using acrylic paint and ProsAid make-up glue.

And here’s the big boy ready for the camera. This puppet is actually pretty big, over a foot tall. It’s not at all heavy, though. I’ve started animating him now, and as with all puppets he’s got shortcomings that you don’t find out about until you start bending and twisting the joints. Still, so far he’s behaved pretty well. My idea was to create a slightly surreal elephant, something that would look a bit funny, but also a bit scary. I based most of my design on Mammuthus imperator, a really huge relative of the Wooly mammoth, and then tried to make the finished look a tad cartoonish.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Imitating Life

I'm a member of UFO Sweden, an organization researching strange anomalies encountered and reported by people. UFO Sweden is led by the indefatigable Clas Svahn, journalist and author. We publish one magazine for the general public, and one for the investigators. Several years back I drew a comic for the internally published magazine, portraying Clas and his colleague Håkan as Men in Black. The comic was called “The Y Files”, and made fun (rather innocently, I thought) of the sometimes very weird and crazy UFO movement. Some loved it and some hated it bitterly, arguing that this single jest undermined the whole purpose of our organization. Eventually I grew tired of the crybabies and put the comic to rest.

I decided to give Clas a surprise Christmas gift this years, and sculpted a figurine of his “Y Files” alter ego, about to be grabbed by a stalky-eyed alien.

I created both characters in Chavant clay, and built up silicone molds around each figure separately.

The finished figurines were cast in SmoothCast 325, my favorite plastic, and painted with acrylic airbrush paints.

Clas had a really bad Christmas. Both his mom and his father in law passed away within a few days of each other. I hope my little gift gave him cause to smile a bit, and I think it did.

I also made a small sculpture of my uncle Ingvar as a gnome, since he’s interested in folklore and old traditions, but not least because he’s actually seen one!

When I make my silicone molds, I just build up a clay wall as closely to the sculpture as I can, so no excess silicone will be wasted. Also, I don’t want the molds to be too thick. If there’s a good enough thinness, without making the molds to soft and wobbly, I don’t have to make many, or any, cuts in the silicone to remove the sculpture, and later, the castings.

The camera wouldn’t give us any sharp images today, but I hope you get the general idea.