Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Monsters of Loch Ness

People have been bugging me for a few years now about making a stop-motion project featuring cryptozoological creatures. The obvious choice for me was to tackle the Loch ness monster, not just because it might be the most well-known monster mystery in the world, with Bigfoot a close second. There also seems to be a plethora of "Nessies" that have been observed around and in the famous lake.

I am a cryptozoology buff myself, and I write a column for the Swedish quarterly magazine "UFO News", a publication that doesn't concern itself just with UFOs. I'm also acquainted with a few "real" cryptozoologists, i e people who are zoologists and knowledgable authors and researchers on the subject. You can think what you like of the notion of unknown creatures living in our midst (virtually), but the fact is, the deeper you delve into the various reports and purported evidence, the more puzzling the various cases get.

So this project was basically about recreating, as best I could, the various versions of Nessie that people have reported seeing. I started with sculpting the heads for five of the puppets on one slab of clay. I also did the spine for one of the monsters.

A mold of dental plaster was made over the sculptures and tinted latex was applied to the mold to create skins for the heads. depending on the size of the head I added 3-5 layers of latex.

Let's start with talking about what I think is generally regarded as the most popular concept for Nessie, conceived by naturalist Sir Peter Scott in the 1970s and named Nessiteras Rhombopteryx: The Monster of Ness With the Diamond-Shaped Fin. His idea was that Nessie is an ancestor of the plesiosaur, an extinct marine reptile. Contrary to its sleek predecessor, Nessie is a bulkier creature, adapted to the colder waters of modern-day Europe. The famous three humps, sometimes reported by witnesses, are in fact fat reserves. He also speculated that the two small horns or antenna-like appendages also mentioned by some witnesses are two snorkels, extensions from the nostrils. This is the Nessie I grew up with and believed in. In the latter years, I've changed my personal theory about Nessie, but I'll get back to that later.

The correct shape of the body was so important to me that I actually sculpted the top part of it, the most recognizable part, in Monster Clay. The sculpture was placed flat on a plastic tray and a dental plaster mold was built up around it.

As usual, I cast tinted latex into the finished mold to create a skin. I applied four layers of latex, and then added cotton soaked in latex as reinforcement, plus thin polyurethane foam dabbed with latex on the fins.

Aluminum wires wrapped in soft yarn were stuck to the back and the fins using more latex and held together with Polymorph thermal plastic. The back was filled up with several layers of foam glued in place with contact cement.

More aluminum wires make up the neck and the tail. The whole body was padded with thin strips of polyurethane foam.

Patches of latex skin cast in a texture mold covered up the foam. I didn't want a texture that was too smooth or too exaggerated. I think I hit just the right spot.

My Nessiteras was dabbed with various hues of tinted latex. I added a wing nut as an attachment point to the far back on the right side of the puppet's armature. I could insert a ball and socket flying rig there to hold the puppet aloft when animating it. To make the animation as slow as possible but also relatively smooth, I shot on "twos", meaning that I snapped two frames instead of one during each repositioning of the puppet's limbs. this slows down the animation but can also result in a clumsy-looking strobing effect. I think it worked OK in this shot.

Motorcyclist Arthur Grant claims he saw this creature crawling across the road next to Loch Ness. It's kind of conventional as a Nessie depiction, except for the hind legs.

A simple armature, with yarn and foam wrappings around the neck and tail. All four limbs have 4M bolts as tie-downs.

The body of this puppet was wholly built up using bits of soft polyurethane foam.

Lots of latex skin patches cast from the same texture mold as used for the Nessiteras puppet. When the padding was completely covered the puppet was given a unifying coating of tinted latex.

The eyes were simply painted on. The teeth are drops of latex tinted white. The claws on the hind legs are cotton dipped in latex.

The creature Aleistar Dallas claims he saw resting on the shore of Loch Ness is one of the weirder ones. Some speculations suggest that it could be some kind of manatee,

As you can see, this aluminum wire thermoplastic armature has a lot of hollow space. This was later filled out with chunks of foam. The single tiedown nut is placed in the middle bottom blob of plastic.

Careful layering of thin foam sheets gradually builds up a smooth body. This is actually more time consuming than making the bodies of most other puppets. The flippers and the fins on the back were made with thin foam soaked in latex and allowed to dry. The material can then be pressed together and applied in an almost clay-like fashion.

For this puppet, I used a texture mold that produced wrinkly, elephant-like skin. It's an effective look that can remind you of several large creatures, but Dallas actually described this creature as having smooth seal-like skin. So, a bit of artistic license was taken here, in other words.

Again, this puppet was dry brushed with tinted latex, but was also given a light dab of airbrush paints here and there for a subtle effect.

If anyone is wondering what this critter was supposedly doing when being observed, it was sucking algae from a rock on the shore. At least, that's what it looked like.

Lieutenant McP Fordyce is another witness with a weird sighting, maybe the weirdest of them all since this monster doesn't connect to any of the myths or preconceived notions about what the Loch ness monster ought to look like. It's basically a shaggy camel with a snake head seen on land a bit from the lake.

This puppet has a pretty defined musculature copied from a camel muscle diagram.

A mix of different skin texture molds was used for this puppet.

After the body was dry brushed with tinted latex, strands of fake fur were attached to the skin using liquid latex as glue. The eyes were painted on here too. When the eyes of a puppet are so small you can hardly notice them, the easiest solution is to just paint them on.

Not only Loch Ness has monsters but also the river Ness if we are to believe 12th-century cleric Walter Bingham. According to his manuscript "Itinerarium Scotiae" ("The Journey Through Scotland"), a bear-like monster attacked a youth who helped Bingham cross the river.

I actually already had a silicone mold for a bear skull, since I built a zombie bear for a project some years ago. I did a new casting in Rhino plastic (which sets bone white, so that was perfect) and attached it to my aluminum wire armature. I added wires for the ears and the upper lip, and the jaw, of course.

Here's how some of my skin molds look. A couple of them are made from dental plaster and the rest from dental silicone. I've dabbed tinted latex into them to create patches of the warty, knobbly skin I wanted for this creature.

I looked at a muscle diagram from a grizzly bear to build up the foam muscle padding in this puppet. The thinner sinews on the forelegs are made from this foam soaked in latex and rolled into these shapes.

I usually make a detailed clay sculpture of the head for my puppets, but not this time. The skull was covered with a mix of cotton and latex and latex-soaked polyurethane. I did cast the ears from an older plaster mold.

About 30 bits of latex skin, big and small, were used to cover the puppet. The eyes were acrylic half domes used for scrapbooking. I simply painted on color on the flat backside and super glued the eyes in place. The eye sockets were built up with cotton and latex.

The finished puppet was dry brushed with tinted latex, with no additional touch-ups. Fake fur was attached to the skin using liquid latex as a bonding material. The teeth and gums were painted with Warhammer paints, and the claws were made from cotton dipped in latex.

The next Nessie has never been reported by any eyewitnesses, as far as I know, but it's certainly been seen many times. It's the postcard Nessie, or rather, my favorite version, which is this sort of Scottish terrier-dinosaur hybrid.

The head is quite articulated. It can swivel its ears, open its mouth and jiggle a couple of tendrils growing from its jaw. The eyes are two plastic pearls set in latex sockets. Most of the head is filled with thermoplastic, so it's very solid.

The foam build-up on this puppet was very exact. I wanted to get close to the postcard illustrations.

I probably used three or four different skin texture molds for this Nessie. The ridges on the back were sculpted along with the heads you saw in the photo further up this page.

I'm very happy with how this puppet turned out. It was very easy to animate. The padding or the latex skin didn't hinder the bending of the joints, which can sometimes be the case. Again, teeth and claws were made from cotton dipped in latex. The beard and the hair on the ears were fake fur dabbed with tinted latex. The tongue is made from toy clay and added during animation.

There's a bunch of other Nessies in the film too, but they're either not wholly puppet effects, and some or completely 2D animations of photos. There's a shot of a monster emerging from the river Ness while St Columbo defies it. I wanted it to be deliberately vague since there are no descriptions of what it actually looked like. I pressed my old Nidhögg dragon puppet back into service for this shot in s short animation and covered it by a few layers of mist effects in After Effects. The background footage is a stock shot of an actual British river, but it's not the Ness. All my stock footage clips are downloaded from St Columba is a stock photo of a guy dressed up as a Celtic missionary found on I added a tiny bit of animation to the photo using the puppet tool in AE.

In my reconstruction of Greta Finlay's observation (a version of Nessie that's been reported many times, by the way) I built a head and neck attached to an M4 t-nut tie-down. This simple puppet was built up suing thin foam around a bit of aluminum wire, and then covered by tinted latex. The little horns were built up with foam soaked in latex. The two humps were photos of the neck bent into a u-shape.

The Doc Shiels Loch Ness mollusk is a combination of 2D animations in After Effects.
I was thinking of making a puppet, but since this creature is featured so briefly I decided on taking another route with it. I did a clay sculpture, took a photo of it, and added a texture in Photoshop. The undulating side fin was a cut out of a portion of the Photoshop image animated in AE using displacement tools. The tentacles were made up from a single 2D tentacle layer a few times. And that's how it was put together. If the creature had been featured more I would've made it as a puppet.

The Grant couple observation is another all- 2D animation. The body and the truck (or is it a neck?) were made in Photoshop using various textures, adding light and shadows. The undulating appendage was made to move using a wave distortion tool.

The Tully monster is another 2D animation, using a Photoshopped image. Again, since the scene is so brief, there was no need to build a puppet.

I use many shots of Loch Ness in my video, but no real footage, actually. At Depositphotos I found many photos of Loch Ness, but the water is static in those, of course.

Time for some radical cheating. In Photoshop I cut out all the water and added stock footage of the sea behind this photoshopped image in After Effects. I used ocean footage for all my Loch Ness shots because the lake is huge. I just had to turn down the color saturation of the footage because the waters of the loch are filled with peat and very dark and murky.

Lastly, the very brief shot of the legendary water horse was achieved with more adapted stock footage. The horse is a real horse filmed rearing against a blue sky (which made the removal of the sky easy). The footage was then treated with various AE filters. I was just winging my way through this bit and trying out different things. All water splashes were stock shots on a black background.

I have actually been to Loch Ness when I was six years old, but Nessie was a no-show. For many years I was a subscriber to the plesiosaur theory, but the more I read up on what people have reported I lean more and more towards the idea that Nessie is a large invertebrate of some kind. 

The best representation I've seen of the so-called Loch Ness slug theory is the image above, from DeviantArt artist mobydog. It kind of ticks all boxes regarding what eyewitnesses have reported as well as looking like a plausible animal when compared to real sea slugs.
Since I have this keen interest in cryptozoology I will return to the subject a few times, but I don't have any concrete projects planned at this moment.