Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I Thought I Saw That Jersey Devil part 1: The Puppet and Song

The USA is shockful of weird and wonderful legends, and one of the oldest and still most vital among them is the tale(s) of the Jersey Devil. This peculiar gargoyle-ish critter hails from the Pine Barrens forest of southern New Jersey. As legend tells it it's the thirteenth child of Mother Leeds; a local witch who cursed the unfortunate infant for the pains he was giving her. The child transformed into a demon, killed the midwife and escaped up the chimney. Since this harrowing episode, said to have occurred in 1735, the "devil" has been seen numerous times, and is still reported every now and then. It's a seemingly deathless creature. The scream it utters is apparently unlike anything else ever heard. I had relatives who lived in the Pine Barrens in the 1970's and 80's, but sadly, they never had any unusual experiences in the area.

I've done a fair amount of research and articles for Swedish press on the subject of Cryptozoology, and I've returned to the Jersey Devil time and time again. I built a small model of the monster way back in the 1990's, but this now crumbling latex and plastic creation was not made for animation. I thought it was actually high time to produce a proper puppet AND animate it.

Actually, the other big reason for me to make the film is this cool and clever song by Kevin Welch. I saw this performance on YouTube, and thought the tune was both atmospheric and humorous. So I contacted Kevin about being able to use it as the soundtrack for my film, and he said yes without any hesitation. Now I like him even more! So, while waiting for my finished video, please enjoy a live rendition of the song by Kevin Welch.

The challenge I put to myself was to make a large puppet, having the strength to stand on one rather spindly leg in a mid-air leap or stride. So I turned to my Monster Clay, so I could chisel out tiny details in the skin of the creature. The head and chest were created separately, and were the only parts sculpted in clay.

This armature was actually built in a slightly different way than I usually do. I simply laid several aluminum wires next to each other in a clump, tied together with sewing string. I added thin nails with the heads clipped off to the aluminum wire clumps, and thereby achieved the unbending "bone" parts I at least have to have when animating, or the puppet will bend all over its body. As you can see, the chest area has a rudimentary rib cage, and the back has a hunch where the wings will be attached. Those parts are aluminum wires covered with Friendly Plastic thermoplastic.

I've talked so many times about how I make bat wings that I'll skip that here, but here's how the wings looked straight out of their plaster cradles.

The puppet came together very quickly. The head has jointed upper and lower lips, and ears using aluminum wires. I'm having my favourite scrapbooking crimson beads for the eyes. I'm using Friendly Plastic to bond all the parts together. Varying densities of polyurethane foam make up the muscles. The little hoofs are also Friendly Plastic.

The puppet is skinned with patches of latex skins cast in plaster moulds of various sculpted skin textures. The knobbly spine was created by just adding drops of tinted latex with a pointy wooden tool. The claws and teeth are cotton and latex.

The finished puppet has a base colour of black/blue/red PAX paint, and Liquitex acrylic airbrush paint. It's over a foot tall, and very light. You'll see just how flexible it is in the eventual animation. I have to say that it's one of the best and effective animation puppets I've built so far.

Time to step out into the woods and find the proper places where you might expect to meet a devil. I won't be visiting the real Pine Barrens, but I have a swampy pine wood area just a stone's throw from where I live. And who'll be in the film is yet to be seen. I'll be calling on some of my friends that don't mind being chased by imaginary monsters through the woods.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

"The Other Gods": The Gods Themselves Part 3

No, it's not over quite yet -we have some stragglers among the Other Gods. This bunch is made very quickly and with scraps and found stuff, which I thought might be interesting for some of you.

The top thingie on this puppet is a left over casting from an alien fungus prop made over 12 years ago. I found it in a bag of old stuff and was surprised to discover that the latex hadn't deteriorated at all. Below that is a wooden ball stuck to an empty plastic vitamin jar. A wood dowel runs through the whole thing, and all bits are joined together with hot glue.
The tentacles and the eye stalks are the same stuff I always make; aluminum wires covered with soft wire and latex. The black blobs are Friendly Plastic thermoplastic helping to keep the limbs stuck to the body.

I used only cotton dipped in tinted latex to build up the structure of the body. I would never use the cotton/latex mix for parts of the puppet that would move and flex a lot. It simply wouldn't work, it'd be like covering your puppet in tough leather. But since the body on this construction was rigid anyway it was a cheap and quick way of building up structure. I'm using long thick needle tools to detail the surface by simply pressing the tools into the latex-soaked cotton. Using a heat gun in between laying on new details helped dry the structure very quickly.

To make the eyes I printed out eye images created in Photoshop and dripped "Glossy Accents" scrapbooking plastic over each eye. This is a very cheap and quick way of making puppet eyes with flat back sides.

The finished puppet was spray painted with Liquitex acrylic airbrush colours and the wood dowel was painted in the green chroma key paint I use for the backgrounds.

Here's another cobbled together armature, using my usual aluminum wires and Friendly Plastic bonding material, and another wood ball (or rhombus?) to form a head. This creature is a "servitor of the outer gods"; a bunch of creatures playing flute-like instruments to sooth bigger, nastier creatures floating around in space.
The flute was the handle of a discarded watercolour brush glued into the head. The trumpet part is a plastic bit from a broken calibration tool, and what looks like a brown wooden ball is just that. In order to minimize the troubles of keeping the tiny hands stuck to the flute while animating I simply stuck the hands to the brush handle using bits of small aluminum wires going from the hands into the flute. The rod sticking out of the monster's bum was a bit of steel rod attached to a block of wood.


A quick padding using many layers of thin, soft polyurethane foam helped bulk up the body while still keeping it very flexible.

The puppet was mainly covered with latex casts from older plaster moulds. These moulds were made for the flying polyps of "The Shadow Out of Time", which in their turn came from clay presses in silicone moulds made over weird-looking lichen growing on rocks by the sea.
The arms were thick macrame yarn with softer string wrapped around it and then covered with liquid latex. Having the arms soft means that I only had to animate the head moving back and forth, and the arms would follow. The wrinkly head was latex and cotton, and the spikes on the back was toilet paper dipped in latex and rolled into pointy shapes.

The puppet was finished off with a layer of PAX paint (Prosaide makeup glue and acrylic paint). One dark brown layer went on first and then a grey/green lighter colour was dry brushed on top of that, accentuating protruding details. Blue acrylic airbrush paints added extra life to the critter. Bronze Warhammer paint was brushed on over the flute using a disposable pipe cleaner.

This other "god" was initially based on Quachil Uttaus from Clark Ashton Smith's "Treader of the Dust", which is a baby-like mummy. While sculpting it it sort of developed into something more fleshy and organic. I used Monster Clay for the sculpture.

The front of the puppet was cast in latex, backed with a cotton/latex mix used everywhere except around the neck, which needed to be flexible. Like my tentacles the arms were aluminum wire covered with string and latex. The head part of the armature was another vitamin pill jar and the body was an empty super glue bottle. A long steel nail went up the puppet's behind as a support. Soft polyurethane foam padded the back of the body.

Bumpy latex skin casts from older plaster moulds and the cotton/latex mix covered up the back of the body. PAX paint and acrylic airbrush paints gilded the lily.

These puppets took only one to two days to build, and the demands on them during animating was very simple. But I hope I've shown that you can create stop-motion puppets without spending either a lot of time or money on your creations.