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.