Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Re-creating Cthulhu

Horror and fantasy author H P Lovecraft would probably be quite astounded today if he could see what a pop culture phenomenon his monstrous creation Cthulhu has become. And then he'd marvel over how few people have actually read the story "Call of Cthulhu". Cthulhu has become regarded as a maskot or symbol of unstoppable cosmic evil, and is (like his creator) the brunt of many an internet parody or satire. "Cthulhu for president -Why vote for a lesser evil", and so on.

But what, in short, is really this green, octopus-headed, many-loved horror? It's mentioned in a number of Lovecraft's tales, and tales by others trying to emulate his style, but is the focus of the short story "The Call of Cthulhu" (1928). A carved idol representing the monster is described thusly: "A monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind." He came from the stars to the primitive earth with a horde of his "star spawn", and fought other alien races, before retreating into his tomb/sleeping chamber on the island of R'lyeh, which sank into the ocean. Bad omens and hinted at portents reveal that he will eventually wake up, and bring doom to our civilization.

 Cthulhu is generally portrayed in a myriad of very similar interpretations, and the web is teeming with them. Mostly, Cthulhu looks like he's been working out quite a bit in his crypt over the millennia, and can't wait to flex his muscles before the horrified gaze of mankind.
 Lovecraft did at least a couple of sketches in letters, revealing how he saw his creation himself. This version is a rubbery, bulbous, seemingly six-eyed abomination, that has actually been realized as a cast resin sculpture, available for sale on some websites.
So, why haven't I made my own, stop-mo version of the great Cthulhu yet? Well, I haven't had a project for him. But now I have. I won't be doing "The Call of Cthulhu" as that one has already been lovingly recreated on film by the Lovecraft Historical Society. Instead I have a few other ideas, which I will talk about in detail in a while.
 Lovecraft fans are quite vocal about their dislike for half-baked or totally erroneous interpretations of Lovecraft's visions. Hollywood has rightly taken the brunt of this critique. Amateur filmmakers usually avoid taking on stories that demand the recreations of Lovecraft's more elaborate creatures, instead focusing on tales that are driven by suggestions and atmosphere. I enjoy taking the other route. However, instead of burying myself in pictorial research on Cthulhu I just jumped into the creation of my puppet, opting to work as fast as I could, simply driven by my impressions of the character. The head sculpture in Chavant clay was not overworked. I added three eyes on either side, and stopped as soon as I thought I had captured the essence of the monster. 

 For practical reasons I decided to give this Cthulhu only seven tentacles on his octopoid head. They're aluminum wires covered with soft, thick string, made fleshy by covering them with latex casts of wrinkly skin textures. The latex head skin cast was supported by a “skull” made with Friendly Plastic thermoplastic, and the tentacly beard was stuck to this structure using more plastic.

 The body armature was made, as I always do, out of thick aluminum wires acting as joints, with Friendly Plastic bony parts.

 I've written before about my home-made technique for making bat/pterodactyl/dragon wings, but here's a recap: An aluminum wire bone structure is covered with sewing string, and latex. This whole thing is lowered into thick plaster of Paris, the cheaper hobby store kind, and half submerged.

 When the plaster is dry I etch veins and other details into the plaster, and the areas between the “Fingers” are covered with latex simulating wing membranes.

When the latex has dried, the wing is removed from the plaster. I either add more wing details to the smooth backside of each wing using a needle dipped in latex, or simply cast thin latex pieces from the plaster moulds, and attach them to the wings using liquid latex.

 The wings are attached to the body armature with more thermoplastic. I can now begin to bulk up the body with padding.

 I did the padding work very quickly and without dwelling too much on details. I kept a vague body outline in mind, and tried to stick with that. Some structures and muscle build-up were achieved using rolled up cotton pieces covered with a thin layer of latex.

 The skin was cast from a variety of old skin moulds, originally produced for monsters in other films I've made. I keep re-using those moulds over and over. As you can see I've added a dark green tint to the latex during the casting process.

 Here's the puppet with a light coating of PAX paint (Pros-Aide glue plus acrylic paint)..

..And here it is with acrylic airbrush shading and detailing.
 I am a frequent user of pearly plastic scrapbooking beads to simulate glowing eyes. The thing is, these half-beads reflect light shone at them right back into the camera at all angles, so you'll always get a sinisterly glowing red dot (or whatever colour you're using) staring back at you from the centre of the “Eye”, even if your puppet isn't lighted very well. Much simpler and cheaper than using small electric lights.

 As you can see, this puppet isn't very big; just about a foot tall. All in all, this puppet took about four days to build from start to finish. As I said, I didn't want to dwell too much on details, but focus on the essence of this very famous character. Hopefully I managed to do him justice.

 This puppet will be used in a project just nearing completion now, where he'll be seen in a short four second clip. But so far the reaction to this puppet in various social media has been so good that I'm already thinking of using it a bit more elaborately. One day I'll probably make another version, which is done with more consideration. For now, this fellow will do, I'm sure... A great wailing shall be heard, and the cities of man shall fall before his might!!

By the way, my favourite all-time version of Cthulhu is this knitted one, made for me a few years back by German knitting artist Hecateslight Muse on Elfwood and Deviantart.


Ken C. Tyner said...

That creature looks amazing! I can't wait to see the new film!

Richard Svensson said...

Thanks! He'll probably be featured in a couple of projects.

David P. Geister said...


McTodd said...

As ever I am gobsmacked by your ability to create the most wonderful creatures, all the more so as you use the build-up technique. I am currently faffing around making my latest stopmo beastie and have elected to use the build-up technique, but never again! I just really cannot get on with it, which induces in me even more admiration for your superb results!

David P. Geister said...

As usual, your work inspires me. The use of the craft "gem" for eyes is such a simple and effective approach. I bow down before the creator of "The Elder Gods", and thank you.