Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Monday, September 4, 2017

H P Lovecraft's "Memory": The Apes

Continuing from my previous blog post; my other animated character in my adaptation of H P Lovecraft's "Memory" is an ape, who actually played many apes in the finished film.

It's very rare that I do a puppet which is anthropomorphic or based on real living things, so I relished this opportunity to create a puppet character which took huge inspiration from real life, at least to an extent. In Lovecraft's prose poem there are "little apes" living among the crumbling ruins of a very past civilization. It is implied (at least in my mind) that these apes are actually us; humans who have de-evolved into more primitive beings. So, I didn't want to make these apes entirely like the apes of today, the gorilla, the orangutan and the chimpanzee. Instead I looked at reconstructions of prehistoric man, and the various links from ape to man. I specifically focused on Homo Habilis, and took inspiration from that ancestor of ours.

I sculpted the front of the head and torso as one piece in Monster Clay medium grade, which both gave me a good overall feel for the character, as well as creating the base for the latex skin covering the most important parts of the puppet.

Here's how the latex skin, cast in a dental plaster mold, looks when it's trimmed and cleaned up. As you can see I've also added eyes, made from black plastic beads and placed in latex sockets. There are some apes and monkeys who have strange black eyes with golden irises. That's the weird look I wanted for my ape. To add some support I've stuck thin polyurethane foam dipped in latex on the inside of the skin.

To create the mouth I sculpted the teeth in clay, and used a quick-curing silicone paste to cast a mold around it. I then melted some of the thermoplastic I use for my armatures, and pressed it into the teeth mold. Before the plastic had cooled I also stuck some aluminum wires into the mold, creating the joints for the jaw.

The teeth were attached to the mouth by pressing in more thermoplastic into the head cavity, and then simply attaching the teeth to that "subskull" along with the aluminum wires. There is also a thin copper wire wrapped in sewing string and latex inserted into the upper lip, so it can be drawn back to expose the teeth.

That was actually the complicated part of the puppet-making! The padding of the aluminum wire armature was done with my usual mix of thin polyurethane strips and cotton dipped in latex. You can see a screw sticking out from the ape's butt. That's an attachment point for an animation support arm, which I actually never used.

Thin tinted patches of latex skin was attached to the foam using latex as a bonding agent.

I thought this original skin hue was too strong, so I drybrushed the puppet with tinted latex to bring it down to a more natural grey/pink.

Here's how the finished ape turned out. The fur is fake and cut from an old coat. Instead of making a pattern from the fur, which is attached to textile, I cut small clumps of hair and glued it on in sections, using latex as a bonding agent. This created a kind of distressed, natural look of wear and tear that you can sometimes see with adult apes. I have explained the process in another post, and apart from me using a silicone glue in that description, the method is exactly the same.

There is another character in this film, a genie who travels along the moonbeams and interacts with the demon who lives in the valley of the apes. This role is played by a real person, Henrik Daleke. He actually played this part in a production of "Aladdin" I made with a bunch of people with slight disabilities some years ago. The genie in the "Memory" film is made up from discarded takes from that production. I only used Henrik's face and warped it in After Effects to make it look fluid and strange.

H P Lovecraft's "Memory": The Demon

I continue my Lovecraftian adaptations with a prose poem called "Memory". I found this text a long time ago in an anthology, and really liked it. It's very vague on what it's really about, but it has a dreamlike quality, and some underlying themes which will make the reader figure out some things on his/her own.
I just finished editing the film, and will shortly post it on YouTube. Here's some info on one of the puppets featured in the film.

The title "Memory" actually refers to one of the characters in the tale; a demon who apparently goes by that name. There are no descriptions of the creature, so I went with my own ideas, deciding to create something that looked old and withered, but also regal.

I only sculpted the torso of this puppet, using Monster Clay medium grade and my teeny tiny loop tools.

Dental plaster poured over the sculpture created a mold into which I could then add tinted latex. I supported the inside of this latex skin with cotton dipped in latex, creating a sturdy leathery feel.

To create that "regal" look built up a sort of crown between the shoulders using tooth picks.

The toothpicks were then covered with cotton and tinted latex. I decided early on to not have a head or face on this character, mainly because I didn't want to bother with animating a face. But it also meant that I could make a creature that looked a bit more abstract than most other characters.

The puppet has my usual aluminum wire and thermoplastic armature, with threaded bolts in the feet.

Most of the body was padded with bits of thin polyurethane foam soaked in latex, and cotton dipped in latex. The latex-soaked foam created a material that is almost clay-like. When it has dried you can press it together with your fingers and shape it pretty well.

The demon has a pair of very traditional devil wings, almost as if ripped from a church wall painting. I won't go into the making of the wings, as I've talked about this many times. But I'll refer you to my YouTube video, which says everything you need to know on the subject.

I normally sculpt my skin textures or get them from a surface like old leather or a fruit. But I sometimes create an texture by first starting it as a negative sculpture, if you will. This is much faster than creating a normal sculpture. In other words, I carve or etch a negative pattern into clay, in this case medium grade Monster Clay. 

When that's done I build up a clay containment wall, just like when casting an ordinary sculpture. I add plaster, first by brushing it in to avoid air bubbles, and then pouring in the rest. The plaster has cured, and here you can see what the actual skin texture will look like. 

But you can't cast anything into this plaster casting, so I'll have to make another mold on top of the plaster cast. I choose to do this by mixing dental silicone and curing agent, and squeezing down this silicone paste over the plaster cast. But, if you use a sealing or release agent, you can cast plaster over plaster.
Just be aware that any slightly unprotected sections might stick, and then you're goose is cooked, so to speak. You might break off a portion of your mold, and you'll have to start over again. Which is not a big deal, really. This dental silicone paste sets up in a few minutes, and I can peel off the mold pretty easily. So, to cast latex into this silicone you can wash the mold with some alcohol, if you feel that silicone oil is making the surface very slippery. Or use a dulling spray, which is what I do. In this case here I've actually done neither. I just sponged in tinted latex and it seemed to stick just fine. After a couple thin layers of latex I'm dabbing the surface with talcum powder to make the latex skin easier to remove. Then I can just peel it off. This particular skin was used on the legs of the demon.

Here's the demon puppet pieced together, skin, wings and all. Now it'll get a light drybrushing of tinted latex, as well as some silvery acrylic paint on the chest area.

And here's the demon as it appears in the film, with a head made up of stock footage fire, fixed up in After Effects to look weird and alien.