Tuesday, January 6, 2015

"The Other Gods": The Gods Themselves Part 1

SPOILERS: If you don't want to have a peek at the monsters of "The Other Gods" before the film is finished, then go watch some funny cats on YouTube or something else. Or keep reading if you're not hyper sensitive to such things.
Since the "gods" of Lovecraft's short story aren't defined as any of the recognizable critters of the later Cthulhu Mythos, I felt that I didn't have to adhere too strictly to descriptions of any certain creature. I did, however, include the avatar of Nyarlathotep, also known as "The Howler In the Dark", "The God of the Bloody Tongue", etc, since I had already built that puppet. I made it for my Lovecraftian Alphabet film, but didn't include it in the end. 

You can find a complete description of how that puppet came to be HERE.

One of the puppets built specifically for "The Other Gods" is my version of Shub-Niggurath, “The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young”. This cosmic horror is, like most Lovecraftian beings, just too terrible to be described, so the puppet had to be something quite simple. I hope it'll still be spine-tingling enough.

This is a miniature skull I did years ago as a piece of LARP jewelry. I sculpted it in Chavant clay and made a Dragonskin silicone mould for it. I thought it might do as the naked skull of Shub-Niggurath.

It didn't have a lower jaw, though, so I made one in Monster Clay.

Testing it out against the plastic skull, so the teeth will overlap and interlock properly.

And here's the final plastic cast, joined to the skull with two bits of aluminum wire. I chose to tint the plastic a tan colour, since it would make a good base colour for the aged look I wanted for the finished skull.

Since she's supposed to have “a Thousand Young” I thought I'd better equip her properly. This sculpture was made in Chavant clay and will become a latex cast for the front of the puppet.

I decided to give her a "skirt" of tentacles, while her torso had two human-looking arms. These tentacles are aluminum wires wrapped in thick soft string, and then dipped in latex.

The tentacles are stuck to the rest of the wire armature with melted Friendly Plastic, and the middle is covered up with cotton and tinted latex. Before the cotton dries too much you can sculpt wrinkles into it using a thick needle.
The body is padded with bits of old cushion foam, and then covered with the cast latex skin of the chest and belly. In the center of the tentacles is a support rod with a wing nut for attaching the puppet to the animation stage.

More bits of cast textured latex skin cover the rest of the body, including the back. Small tentacles around the waist were created by mixing latex and Cabosil micro balloons into a butter-like paste, which I could roll between my thumb and index finger to make the shapes. The same technique was used for the outgrowths on the back.

Here's the finished puppet, with a base paint of PAX (acrylic paints and Prosaide glue), and then touched up with Liquitex acrylic airbrush paints.

I also gave her a long tongue made the same way as the skirt tentacles, so she can "kiss" the head tentacle of Nyarlathotep by wrapping them together. Isn't love beautiful??

Thursday, January 1, 2015

"The Other Gods": Filming Cosmic Horrors In a Tiny Green Room

First of all: Happy New Year! Let's help out making 2015 a really swell year. Unfortunately, 2014 was almost only work, work, work for me, and not of the fun kind. But never mind that now; new year, new possibilities.

We're off to Lovecraft Land again with my latest video effort. This is another of my projects that's been lingering on for a couple of years, bit which is finally getting to the finish line with editing and effects work.
First a few words about the actual story. "The Other Gods" is apparently an early effort by weird fiction master H P Lovecraft. Scholars say that it's an example of the influence of Lord Dunsany's lyrical and mystical tales on Lovecraft's imagination. This one is sort of a moral tale, with a couple of characters sticking their noses into business they'd better leave alone. Barzai the Wise and his disciple Atal climb mount Hatheg-Kla to spy on the dancing gods of the Earth, but find out too late that they do not dance alone..

My stalwart buddies Håkan Håkansson and Björn Hansson tackled the moderate challenge of portraying Barzai and Atal, and my equally reliable voice-over artist John Hutch supplied the narration, providing the gravitas that only a genuine English accent can create.
We filmed the whole thing in one 2013 afternoon, in my crammed green screen room.

Håkan looked suitably sage in a fantasy astrologer/astronomer outfit..

...And Björn might actually pass for Sinbad the sailor in his get-up. Something that got me thinking regarding future projects.

All the scenes were pieced together in After Effects. I now subscribe to software in Adobe Cloud, and therefore have access to all the tools I need for my creative digital work. Or almost all tools. The standard AE plugin Keylight is very good, but since I almost never get the ideal quality green screen shots I always think I'll get, I need stronger stuff to pull a good enough key. So I coughed up the $799 Red Giant want for their Keying Suite, which includes Primatte Keyer, Key Correct and Warp. I'm very happy with the results I'm getting, so for me it was certainly worth every penny.

Here's how the opening shot of Barzai in his tower looks when finished. I'm still sticking to a not-quite-real look, which is inspired by both Ray Harryhausen's fantasy films as well as more experimental auteur's like Karel Zeman. 

Here's how the full background image looks. It's created in Photoshop and consists of 22 layers. The various bits are photos from Wikimedia, travel photos from friends and other sources. I love creating my "sets" in Photoshop, since the possibilities are endless. There are, in fact, no limits to what you can stitch together for your film.

Since the background image is so big, I could flip it and use bits of it for close-ups of Håkan. The telescope is also just a photo collage.

All in all, there were only three background images created for the tower interior. In some shots we actually used natural sunlight coming in through a window to light the green screen set-up. It worked better than I at first thought it would.

Walking in the desert might seem like a difficult thing to do, when you only have a green screen with a length that will allow for about four steps. The solution is simply to film each actor in two separate shots, and then combine them in AE. And have them walk very slowly.

You can even climb mountains, though your green screen studio feels like a closet. You only need a few seconds here and there to convey each part of the story.

And, of course, you have to prod your poor actors to crawl around in scenes which they have no idea how they'll turn out in the end. This little studio is history now, since the building is being renovated. Now I'm using another space, which I have to pay a small rent for since it's at a school, and I'm not the only one using . Ideally I'd love to have a big room just for myself, but that'll have to be a future project. It's on my dream list.

Without giving too much away (if you haven't read the story) things don't go too well for our heroes. Here's Björn with scratches and sores made up with fake blood and bread crumbs.

Barzai's fate is a grim one indeed, and it's probably correct to say that he's the first in a long line of Lovecraftian protagonists that meet a sticky end. So what is Barzai actually looking at? Well, since the story is called "The Other Gods" it's presumably clear that it's not the beings he climbed the mountain to have a peek at. More about those in a coming blog post, but here are a couple of dancing monstrosities to hopefully tickle your fancy.