Thursday, June 28, 2012

Puppets by Request: King Kong

Last year, British animator and King Kong enthusiast Lee Ashworth asked if I could make him a Kong replica puppet, and I set forth on my mission with some trepidation. Kong is one of the greatest pop culture icons of all time and I figured nailing down his look wouldn't be an easy task. I was right. It took me over a year to get the damn thing finished, and in the end it doesn't really look like Kong anyway. But we'll get back to that. I did blog about this project last year HERE.

After many attempts at sculpting Kong's face, Lee and I finally settled on this look.

Lee had sent me a ball and socket armature for his Kong puppet, but I deemed it to small to work for the hairy Kong puppet; I couldn't find any fur that was short enough. Instead I made one of my usual aluminum wire armatures, built after the same dimensions (though slightly scaled down) as one of the original Kong armatures.

Kong's eyes were plastic beads, which had a filed down smooth flat top surface,with added printouts of Photoshop eye art, and then covered with Crystal Clear plastic from SmoothOn.

Though the original Kong face was built up by master craftsman Marcel Delgado using cotton and "dental dam" (some kind of latex material which creates condom-like skins) I knew that I could never get the same felixibility out of one of my own latex constructions. Therefore the face was moulded in DragonSkin FX silicone. The eyes were inserted into silicone sockets.

The body was simply padded with foam rubber pieces. I added only enough of detail to get some bulging shapes under the fur.

Kong's face had, besides the jointed jaw, aluminum and copper wires inside the brow and the upper lip. Teeth and gums were sculpted in Chavant clay and cast in moothCast plastic from silicone moulds. The tongue was built up with latex and cotton.

Apparently Kong's fur in the original movie wasn't as gorilla-black as the black and white film suggests. It's been said that it was actually brown. I found a soft fake fur of agreeable length, which I decided would work well. It's a very dark brown, and has a slight stretch to it.

The build-up procedure was very simple. I just cut bits of the fur, like I was making patterns for an overall, and glued them down over the foam padding using a flexible contact cement. I also sculpted and cast in silicone Kong's ears and a chest piece.

Adding fur to Kong's head was another matter. Had I simply glued down bits of the fur like for the rest of the body, he would've had a huge head of hair. Instead I had to clip tufts of hair and glue them down a few hairs at a time, gradually making my way up from the neck to the brow.

This is a real low-budget Kong. I can point out several faults with this puppet, including a too thick neck, a slightly crooked jaw, a fur that's too long, etc, etc. But I think of this as "Kong Mark 1". I plan to give this character a go again and again, until I've nailed him down and found the best fur for this project. At least Lee got a pretty decent practice puppet out of this one.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Monsters For Lovecraftian Computer Game

Since I'm actually starting to build a reputation as being able to recreate at least some of H P Lovecraft's nightmarish creatures successfully, I'm also starting to get requests from others who are making their own versions of his stories in various formats. Rolando Gutierrez is currently building a computer game, probably an online game but my details are a bit sketchy at the moment, inspired by Lovecraft's horrific monster mythos. His concept is, refreshingly, to use real actors, photographic backgrounds, and stop-motion animated monsters in the game.
 So far I've built two puppets for the project, and here they are:

Somewhere in the game a gigantic worm creature will rear its ugly head and make matters worse for the players. This monster is built from one of Roland's designs. I made it quite large to allow for more details, especially the head.

We wanted the head to be interesting to look at and went for a flowery design. The front of the mouth was sculpted flat in Chavant clay and a plaster mould built up over it. The cross shape you see in the middle is the mouth, here closed, that opens up during an attack.

This sculpture is the inside of the mouth. I sculpted it smooth, but once the plaster mould created over the shapes were dry, I drilled lots of small tunnels in the plaster, creating what looks like many tiny legs growing out of the "lips" when the latex was poured into the mould.

Here's the front of the mouth being cast in latex in its plaster mould. The latex is tinted with tinting powders from Kryolan. Even though the finished puppet may be in a different colour I prefer to tint the cast in dark fleshy hues; it helps add depth to the final paint job.

In order to create a back side or neck part of the mouth piece I removed the latex cast of the front mouth piece and simply sculpted the back over the plaster mould. This helped me make a back part that would line up very well with the front part. I could've simply built up the back with latex and cotton, but I wanted more exact detailing, and that you can almost only create by sculpting it in clay.

Here's the mouth with all of it's parts pieced together. All the petal-like frills are jointed with bendable wire and can be animated.

Here's the head attached to the spine; a thick aluminum wire with a thinner wire wrapped around it.

And here's the mouth painted and with a latex throat also added.

The body is supported by many small legs. The first eight have claws to hold onto its victim, the other legs have small nuts in their feet, so the puppet can be anchored to the animation stage. The armature design is based on (or stolen from, how you choose to see it) Ray Harryhausen's moon calf monster from "The First Men In the Moon".

The body was padded, as I usually do, with pieces of foam rubber, and the covered with patches of latex skin. In this case a wrinkled skin for the belly and an insect-like shell armour for the back. Both skin shapes were first sculpted flat in clay.

Here's the worm pretty much pieced together and awaiting its final paint job.

The puppet was painted with a thin layer of Prosaide III mixed with acrylic paints, and then airbrushed with Com-Art airbrush acrylics. I find these airbrush paints to bond very well to most surfaces, but I add a top coat from Medea textile airbrush colours, as an added bonding agent. The transparent Medea coat is supposed to help airbrush paints stick to leather and similar surfaces.

The tongue added in these photos is actually a separate puppet piece, to be animated on its own and added in post production editing. Here you can see the mouth fully open and fully closed.

The other puppet I built is some kind of demon character. It's based on a creature from a wood print titled ‘diable’, which comes from Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal, which was published 1863 in Paris. It pops up here and there as a piece of occult copyright-free art. My version of the creature is, hopefully, a little bit scarier, but still keeps the basic look from the woodcut.

The armature is, like all my armatures, homemade using aluminum wire, Friendly Plastic and wing nuts for tie-downs in its feet.

Only the head and the front of the torso were sculpted in clay and then cast in latex. The rest of the body was built up with latex, cotton and toilet paper (to create a wrinkly skin texture).

Here you can see the muscle detailing using cotton shapes, right before they're covered with tinted latex.

All the body is covered, and the head added. The teeth are also latex/cotton shapes and the eyes are Photoshop print-outs, covered with a transparent Scrap booking plastic (great stuff!)

With some Prosaide III paint mix and airbrush colours the demon is finished. It stands about a foot tall. I have added more latex/cotton shapes over the cast latex pieces to give them a gnarlier diseased look.

I have been asked to create a third puppet, which will be based on an actress participating in the game, and apparently showing her in mid-transformation into something nasty. There will be more reports about that eventually.