Monday, March 25, 2019

Strange Aeons

My main Love for the prose and poems of H P Lovecraft comes from his unparallelled talent for generating mood or atmosphere. Whatever I do in my video adaptations of his texts I'm always chasing that mood. Sometimes I stumble over another work of art that has managed to generate those qualities.

A while back I bought the CD "Strange Aeons", which is produced by British musician and artist Steve Lines. Besides his own work the CD also contains contributions by Childe Roland, The Zoogs, Black Monolith and other bands, as well as spoken word pieces by Lovecraftian authors like Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell and Robert M. Price. Highly recommended! The opening track is also called "Strange Aeons" and is written and performed by Steve Lines himself. It sums up what Lovecraft's cosmic horror is all about, and I thought it would make a great subject for a YouTube video. I contacted Steve and he gave me permission to use the track.

My plan was to mainly show prehistoric Earth during the reign of the various evil entities that arrived here before the advent of humans. I wanted to put some of the older puppets back into action before they became too brittle to use for animation. I also had some new ideas for a few new puppets.

I thought that Ramsey Campbell's monstrous space slug Glaaki would make a novel stop-motion monster, and started off with sculpting the underside of the creature in medium grade Monster Clay.

The armature for this puppet was super simple, just a bundle of aluminum wires, with a t-nut foot at the rear for tie down purposes. The eyes are plastic balls on aluminum wire eye stalks. The round mouth also has a band of aluminum wires to allow it to open and close like an orifice. The black chunks on the armature are bits of dense foam, added to build up bulk without impeding the animation (like thick foam would've).

The body was padded with balls of cotton encased in a "suit" of thin, soft polyurethane.

I used an old plaster skin mold to cast the knobbly skin of the slug covering the foam body. The whole thing was then dry brushed with tinted latex.

Glakki is covered with metallic spike which it uses to infamously impale human victims. These victims then turn into Glaaki's zombified servants. The spikes were bits of cotton dipped in latex and then rolled between my fingers to create the spiky shapes. Silver latex tinting powder was used with the latex to add the metallic effect.

The finished Glaaki had airbrushed eyeballs covered with air drying scrapbooking plastic to create a gelatinous lens-like effect.

The other thing I wanted to do was to illustrate the line "Wantonly they trod the dark ways, cavorting in the steaming fens, until all the planet had known the touch of the Great Old Ones", by having two of Cthulhu's star-spawn -basically his minions- play wrestle in the primordial swamps. A star-spawn is more or less a smaller replica of Chtulhu. It's the sort of form that can be endlessly varied and still be recognized. I made two sculptures of the front of the heads where the eyes would be located and the tentacle beards would hang down.

I made the armatures out of several bundles of aluminum wires, making them very sturdy. Arms and legs were padded with hard foam and the tails were given shape with soft string wrappings covered in latex. The wings were my usual constructions of string-wrapped aluminum wires, submerged in soft plaster with a latex wing membrane build-up.

The padding of the main bodies was achieved with cotton balls. Since I wanted these creatures to look flabby, with folds of warty skin covering their bodies I didn't spend a lot of time creating foam shapes to indicate muscles. Instead a fairly basic foam wrapping made up the general shape of the bodies.

Lots and lots of patches of tinted latex skin was cast in several old molds and attached using liquid latex as a glue.

The finished star-spawn were dry brushed with tinted latex, and touched up with acrylic airbrush paints. The eyes were the usual reflecting scrapbooking beads I use to make glowing eyes for my puppets.

This guy was also an original puppet made for this project. Despite its likeness to the infamous penisaurus of porn comedy "Flesh Gordon" it's actually another Great Old One called Gobogeg.

Other creatures in the film, like this one, were created using only partly animated elements. The fringed eye is a Photoshop creation..

..While the tentacles are just the one tentacle, animated a few times and clumped together in After Effects.

The apocalyptic end times were realized using different techniques altogether. I wanted the return of the Great Old Ones and their destruction of our world to appear in ultra slow-motion, to show the inevitability of it -or something like it. I can't really describe the effect I was after, but I think I achieved it.
 These shots were all created using photos animated in After Effects using the puppet tool. Smoke, falling ash and various digital effects were superimposed, and the whole finished film was color graded and various filters were applied to create an otherworldly look. The prehistoric scenes in the beginning were also mainly made with Photoshopped images, animated in After Effects.

I think the most powerful effect Lovecraft achieves in his writings is the concept of "deep time", which is about vast stretches of time so far in our planet's past that we can't really comprehend it. This film was an experiment of sorts, trying to chase that concept with moving images.

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Jersey Devil: The Finished Film

It took a while, but I've finished my Jersey Devil film project. There's actually not that much to say about it production-wise, because I've already said it! You can find all that info on an earlier post right HERE.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Ballad of the Gods

Here's another adaptation of a Weird Tales poem, this time by a very young Henry Kuttner (20-something when this was first published). Kuttner went on to pen some major and minor classics in the field of fantastic literature, often in collaboration with his wife C L Moore under the pseudonym of Lewis Padgett. Moore was also a great author in her own right, writing tales like the oft-anthologized "Shambleau".

"The Ballad of the Gods" seems to exist in its own universe, but it certainly has the same feel of doom and gloom as Lovecraft's tales and some of Robert E Howard's prehistoric adventure stories.

For my own sake, it offered me the opportunity to do my own living statue piece; a sort of cliche in stop-motion history. Best known is probably Ray Harryhausen's bad-tempered bronze giant Talos, from "Jason and the Argonauts", but there are more examples from later films like "Dungeonmaster" and Harryhausen's own "Golden Voyage of Sinbad."

Let's start with the feared primal deity Jubbodar-Thool. When you read the text he seems to be made of mostly stone, or at least "his head is carved from a weathered rock." Though the head was always going to look very simply made, I wanted the best control of its look I could get, so I sculpted it in Monster Clay and created a plaster mold for it.

The puppet has a plain aluminum wire and thermoplastic armature. I’ve used very thick wire here to make the armature extremely sturdy. It’ll have quite a volume of rubber to push against when animated. To build up light weight bulk on the puppet body I attach dense but light foam using hot melt glue. The foam shapes are trimmed and softened down. Fingers and toes are fleshed out with soft string, which is later soaked in latex.

The rough shapes of the torso was created with very soft cushion foam. The shape of the limbs was defined by wrapping thin strips of foam around them. I’m using contact cement to stick all the foam bits together. The latex cast of the head was given support on the inside with thermoplastic, plus a jaw joint and a neck attachment point created using aluminum wires. I trimmed the foam body buildup a bit, and then I actually added a layer of tinted latex with a thickening agent added. Which means I could apply the latex like a layer of butter. It’ll soak into the foam a bit, but really only enough to attach to it.

My inspiration for the look of Jubbodar-Thool is actually the bulky monsters of Marvel artist Jack Kirby. So in line with his aesthetics I had to add some snaggly big teeth. Those are made from latex and cotton. I also added a few small horns using the same materials. My idea was that these pieces might be carved from real bone or ivory and attached to the statue.

The actual stone texture was made from bits of latex cast in an old plaster mold. I made this mold way back when working on my all-stop-motion video adaptation of Tolkien’s poem the Mewlips. 
This texture was a dungeon wall where the Mewlips sit and count their gold. Piece by piece the puppet was covered with this patchwork of stone blocks, using liquid latex as a glue.

Jubbodar-Thool's big nose is, apparently, "the trunk of a tree", which I made by simply adding cotton dipped in latex over a bit of carved hard foam.

Painting the puppet, I’m first giving it a unifying layer of tinted latex. Then various different shades are dry brushed on. I decided to give the puppet an additional patchwork look by adding various metal clamps, applied to the statue as it started falling apart with age. I had an old plaster mold with various sculptures  of that kind of stuff, so I cast a few copies of those, and stuck them to the puppet using very strong super glue.
Lastly I put a rubber horn on his chin and added a pair of dark bronze-colored pearls to his eye sockets, so you could see something glinting in there, reflecting light.

To make the joins between the rocks in the statue's body glow during animation I filled them out with blue chroma key paint, which allowed me to remove the blue and mask in lava-like textures behind the puppet in After Effects.

Now on to the fish god Vake, who makes a very brief appearance in the film. This puppet is mainly inspired by the Sea Bishop, which was supposedly a merman creature fished out of the Baltic Sea in the 16th century. 

 I started off with sculpting the body in medium grade monster clay. I used a pair of professionally made acrylic taxidermy fish eyes and implanted those in the sculpture. I wanted to make the look of this character kind of ornate, not necessarily organically realistic, but rather like a living representation of an old illustration or wood cut. Which meant adding scales that were slightly exaggerated. Now, there is a tool you can get, or make yourself, which is used for sculpting scales. And the results look great, except for that you can’t really vary the size and shape of the scales. In order to have that freedom you have to sculpt them individually. Some might balk at that thought, but it’s not really that hard or time consuming, and the result is totally worth it. So I’m using one of my loop tools to carve out the scales. Then I’m using a pipe cleaner dipped in Vaseline to smooth out the rough edges. 

A dental plaster mold created over the sculpture is used to cast the skin of the body in tinted latex. A piece of aluminum wire allows the jaw to be animated. The acrylic eyes are stuck to the inside of the head with thermoplastic, which also fills out the head and creates a skull. A simple aluminum wire armature was covered with soft polyurethane foam for the padding of the body, and strips of cotton dipped in latex for the arms and legs.

I wanted a different scaly texture for the arms and legs and so I needed a new texture mold for those. To create this mold I sculpted the scales in reverse by making imprints in clay with a sculpting tool. This is actually an old technique used by ace animator and puppet builder Jim Danforth. When the texture is finished I apply plaster to the clay to create a positive from my negative sculpt. The first layer goes on, as usual, very carefully, and the rest of the plaster is dumped on top of that. Now I need a new negative mold to cast my latex skins in. Danforth simply used another plaster layer, with a generous application of release agent. However, I prefer to make a mold over the plaster cast using a dental silicone putty.  Tinted latex was then sponged into the mold.

The webbing between fingers and toes was created by sticking flat bits of clay to the underside of the limbs, and tinted latex was then filled in between fingers and toes. he same was made for the gills, except that they weren't attached to the puppet first. Bits of cotton and latex rolled into pointy pieces were pressed into clay and skin was built up just like with the webbing.

My reliable buddy Martin Merkel was pressed into action for another video project, here playing the hapless protagonist who has abandoned his father's gods.

All of the shots with Martin were actually filmed in the upstairs hallway of my home in front of a TINY greenscreen. Somehow we made it work. Martin is a historical reenactor and has a bunch of stuff from different time periods. To this project he brought a hand made leather shirt, a Viking short swords and other bits and bobs. To create a, kind of, pulpish fantasy look I hanged a fake fur toga over him. The wig is actually made from human hair and was a bargain on the Swedish equivalent of eBay.
Backgrounds were my usual hodgepodge of Photoshopped photos from various sources, mainly Depositphotos and Wikimedia.

There are a lot of hidden treasures in the old pulp magazines, and an astonishing amount of the material is now in the public domain. My aim is to keep digging up poems and stories that I can manage to adapt into my YouTube videos. Much of it is pretty unsophisticated when viewed according to today's standards, but there's also a lot of inventiveness and wonder to be enjoyed.