Sunday, December 11, 2022

Spider Mites

"Spider Mites" is adapted from a poem I found on a website listing creepy Halloween-appropriate poems. I thought it was really to the point and imaginative. I contacted the author, Max Scratchmann, via Facebook and found him to be a quirky, very interesting guy. He kindly gave me the go-ahead to let me do my stuff with his text.

So let's start with our little titular monsters. There are clues to what they look like in the poem, mainly their clicking, clacking legs. I started with sculpting their heads in medium-grade Monster Clay. I placed them side-by-side on a slab of clay and cast a plaster mold over the heads.

I poured tinted latex into the plaster mold to create two flexible skins. The latex was tinted a pale blue. They will be painted white, so I thought that color would make a good base hue.

To give the skins some better stability I soaked thin bits of polyurethane foam in latex and pressed them into the skins. This helped make them sturdy without compromising the flexibility of the latex. In this photo, you can perhaps also see that the top fronts of the heads have been lined with white Polymorph thermoplastic. This is so I'll have a hard part of the heads I can grab hold of when animating, and the plastic also grabs hold of the aluminum wires moving the jaws.

The legs are a mix of many materials. Mainly they're built out of aluminum wires, wooden ice cream sticks cut and sanded into various shapes. There are also bits of pens, glue tube caps, and small scrapbooking gems. The green girder-looking bits are rolls holding plaster bandages. Each leg has a foot with a small threaded nut attached to aluminum wires with a mix of super glue and baking soda.

As I'm building two Spider Mite puppets I made two sets of legs. They were attached to a base made from thermoplastic and ice cream stick parts.

Besides having the reinforced, hard foreheads as a hold-on point when animating I also added a short bit of plastic piping to add extra stability to each puppet.

The pulpy bodies were bits of soft polyurethane foam, with yarn wrapped around parts of the foam to give it some extra shapes. You can also see here that I've painted the legs. I've used a black base color spray paint.

To build up the skin on the body I added patches of latex skin cast from skin texture molds. When that looked ok I dry brushed on latex-tinted white using a foam sponge until I had a good balance between the white paint and the blue base paint.

Under the body and between the legs I wanted something looking like scrap metal clumsily riveted together. I use EVA foam for that. It's a very popular material for model makers and cosplayers. I cut lots of tiny rivets out of the foam using a leather hole cutter.

The EVA foam build-ups look pretty good, especially when the metal pain went on. EVA foam is pretty cheap and when working with puppet scales it lasts forever. You get a lot of material out of a single A4 size sheet.

The legs were dry brushed with a metallic waxes, mainly copper color. The teeth are snippets of tissue paper dipped in latex and shaped with my fingers. They're attached to the gums using liquid latex as a glue.

The settings and backgrounds are a mix of photos and stock videos. The photos have been cut up and prepared in Photoshop so the puppets can move around in these 2D environments, sometimes in front of parts of them and sometimes behind. All shots were put together in After Effects, as I usually do.

Hannes Karlsson, who's now been in a few of my films, played a scared kid who gets visited by the Spider Mites. I shot the scene in the bedroom of my friend Andreas Pettersson (also a frequent actor in my projects). We used ordinary daylight, with some help from a floor lamp. the color temperature was changed in After Effects. Lastly, I added a stock video of an old projected film, with catches dust and all that stuff. I just thought it would go with the jangly, scrappy nature of the little monsters.

It's quite possible I'll contact Max Scratchmann about adapting another of his works because this one was great fun to work on.


Sunday, November 6, 2022

The End of the Quest

This film has gotten a very good reception on YouTube, I'm happy to say. Quite a bit of work went into it. I tried to build up this little world with strange denizens and strange landscapes, but at the heart of it, it's a very traditional swashbuckling adventure story.

So let's start with our unusual hero. I wanted something alien, but also familiar, so I gave him a strange body with tentacle arms, but he's also got a cape and a sword, as well as patterns on his chest that are meant to remind the viewer of old uniforms. I sculpted the torso out of medium-grade Monster Clay and added a glass marble for an eye. My idea was to include this marble in the puppet and animate it to always be moving, making the bright patterns swirl around.

And that's actually it regarding behind-the-scenes photos taken of this puppet. To my shame, I apparently took only these two snapshots and forgot about the rest.

I did take this image of a decorative needle, with a filigree knob made out of some thin metal. I cut out half the knop and made it into the cup guard on the rapier. The blade of the rapier was a discarded airbrush needle, and the grip was simply some yarn wrapped around the needle and painted with hobby paint. a silvery plastic ball was added to the end of the grip.

Here's our finished adventurer. The marble rests in a dental silicone putty cradle behind the latex exterior of the puppet's torso. The scabbard for the sword is a drinking straw with some thermoplastic details added.

The cape is a single flat latex casting out of one of my texture molds. The edges are lined with a 1,5 mm aluminum wire, allowing me to make the cape billowing in the animation.

The lady the hero is searching for is documented better, however.  Here's her very simple armature, with aluminum wires covered by soft yarn, dabbed with tinted latex.

A very simple wrapping of thin polyurethane foam outlines the shape of the body.

More latex skin cast from a plaster skin texture mold is used to create her garments.

Here's the finished lady. Unlike the hero, she's got a "tiara" of small stems coming out of her forehead. The robe, like the rest of the puppet, is painted by applying tinted latex with a sponge. There's also a threaded bold at the base for attaching to the animation stage.

The first creature our hero encounters on his journey is a multi-eyed inspired by Sumerian clay sculptures (maybe they were visited by aliens?) I made the front of the head a sculpture.

I wanted this very alien character to also have very alien eyes. They're plastic balls pulled from costume jewelry and decorated with Photoshop print-outs of strange irises. The top half of each ball is covered with UV resin and topped off with pupils made from shiny half-pearls

As you can see, this puppet has a super-simple armature. The wood section in the middle is one of those tongue depressors dentists use broken in half and joined together using hot melt glue. When I started out making my puppets way back when, large chunks of them were held together with hot melt glue and scraps of wood. The head has here been cast in latex with the eyes added to silicone sockets supported by a big blob of thermoplastic.

The bulk of the body was created using two bits of dense cushion foam, padded with the green softer foam. The feet are adorned by two latex castings made for an elephant puppet many years ago.

The finished puppet is covered with a wrinkly latex skin, which has been dry brushed with tinted latex in thin layers.

I wanted our brave hero to have a confrontation with some sort of monster, as heroic characters often do. This critter pops up a few times before actually engaging with the protagonist. The head was an original sculpture inspired by both birds and dinosaurs.

I made a dental plaster mold over the sculpture and then cast a thick latex skin into the mold. As I usually do to add depth to the eventual paint job, I tinted the latex a dark color.

Another simple armature for this puppet. I used 3 mm aluminum wires for the whole puppet. The tail was wrapped in thick, soft yarn covered with latex.

I added a block of dense cushion foam to the chest and then covered the puppet in patches of thin foam to make a smooth, bulky body. The spikes on the back are made from thin EVA foam.

I've cast small sections of wrinkly latex skin cast in texture molds and stuck those to the foam using liquid latex as glue. I've created bumps and warts by adding drops of latex to the skin. The eyes in the head are blobs of UV resin placed over print-outs of Photoshopped eye art.

The finished puppet was painted with tinted latex, with colorful details added with acrylic airbrush colors. The teeth are tissue paper dipped in latex.

I simply called this monster "the hunter" for obvious reasons. Here he's successfully chased down and grabbed a "runner", so let's talk about that puppet now.

It seems all my puppets in this project have really simple armatures. Nothing bad in that, since they all worked beautifully. The legs only bend where they join the body. Again, the tail is covered with wrapped yarn dabbed with latex.

A little bit of foam padding to this rather slim creature. The funnel-like head was built up with tissue paper and latex.

Nothing on this puppet came from an original sculpture and castings. I only used latex castings from older molds, originally created for other puppets. The single eye is an acrylic dome covering another Photoshop print-out.

Up in the mountains the hero encounters, and defeats, a band of brigands. When we get into that part of the story he's knocked out the first two and is dealing with the last guy. The two villains lying on the ground are photos of older puppets posed like they were knocked out. The last guy standing was an original puppet, though. I was inspired by old African wood statues when making this character, especially the circular pattern on its body.

The circle pattern was created by punching down an old ballpoint pen into clay and applying plaster over that texture. The arms and legs are castings from older texture molds. The eyes are acrylic domes glued onto Photoshop art using scrapbooking plastic as glue.

The teeth and nails were tissue paper and latex. The sword is made from two thin steel rods glued together, with a hilt composed of two plastic jewelry details.

At one point the hero traverses a plain where he meets giant creatures that ignore him. They probably don't even notice him. The puppet representing these behemoths was built for another filmmaker's project; James Balsamo's "Alien Danger! With Raven van Slender." I've recycled that creature here as a flock of them. I started by making a fish-like head sculpture.

For the stilt-like legs, I used long knitting needles glued to 2 mm aluminum wires. 

More foam padding. I mainly use bits from old cushions and mattresses.

The flag-like outgrowths on the creature's back are made from latex and tissue paper and glued on using more latex. You can really do a lot with just latex and some kind of fibrous material, like tissue or cotton.

The finished puppet has a basic paint job using tinted latex and detailing with acrylic airbrush colors. The teeth are tissue paper and latex. The small bits of skin between the back and the "flags" were made by placing flat bits of soft clay there and then painting on latex in the space. The eyes are covered with transparent air-drying scrapbooking plastic. Today I would've used UV resin instead, but at the time of making this puppet, I didn't realize that material existed. I also added a couple of long skin flaps on the jaw, to accentuate that fish look even more. Those are 1 mm aluminum wires covered with sewing string and latex.

Our hero keeps asking about the way to his destination and finds this emaciated creature lying on his side in dunes of what looks like small piles of salt. My idea was that this is some very old god or titan who fell to the surface of this world. I used a zombie puppet I've used numerous times by now, and simply added a cut-out image of a stone statue to make it a new head. This head and face are all that's left of how the god might've looked in the beginning. The dunes of salt are actually a photo of snow covering the stones on a graveyard.

Another friendly being the hero comes across is this stargazer. The big telescope is a Photoshop mash-up of various old camera -and binocular parts. The puppet was originally built for the film The Red Brain.

This place, which I appropriately call The Sea of Hands, is another Photoshop mash-up. Two strange flying beings are rustled when the hero comes through. They're almost all digital, with a CG pineapple for a body and stock CG animation wings. The tail is a tentacle animation I did years ago, and I keep re-using it for various projects.

The protagonist walks across many plains on his journey. This one is populated by mushroom-like plants swaying about. The idea is that they move this way to catch various pollens and insects under their umbrellas. I built a single puppet and animated it a few times turned in various positions to get a little bit of variety in the animation. If I just used the one animation for all the plats it would've been painfully obvious.

Most of the backgrounds used in this film were found on They're almost all of them CG images and used by me through a subscription license. I've added to them in various ways, either in Photoshop or After Effects. The shot above, for example, has a moving sky added.

The hero's sword is electric and he uses it for self-defense a couple of times. In After Effects I added CG lightning animations overlaid on the animations in the finished shot compositions. Suitable sound effects completed the effect.

I've had a few comments from people who enjoyed the sword fight scene. The hero and the last brigand exchange blows with their swords, and they do employ attacks, parries, and feigns that are used in foil and saber fencing. I've worked as a sword fight arranger for a number of stage productions, and I have an interest in historical fencing. The fight I put together for my puppets is a very basic one of the kind you can see in old swashbucklers and TV series like Disney's Zorro.

The hero eventually reaches his goal which turns out to be a pyramid-shaped temple wherein lives his damsel. Again, this is a stock CG image with some Photoshop additions by me. Moving flames were also added in After Effects.

As I said, I'm happy with how well this little epic has been received on YouTube. It's not inspired by any texts or art in particular. I just wanted to do a very weird-looking, but otherwise very traditional adventure story.