Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Yogash the Ghoul

 If we are to believe old Lovecraft himself he has a family tree to give you nightmares. If you go far enough back you'll encounter various cosmic abominations in his lineage. Closer to our time, but still very far back in history, we find the name Yogash the Ghoul -apparently one of the first, if not the very first, of that very creepy breed of creatures.

You can study the Lovecraft family tree in one of the volumes collecting Lovecraft's countless letters. The tree was included in a 1933 message to James F. Morton. My fancy had been tickled by the name Yogash the Ghoul for a while since it was both very descriptive (It's a ghoul) and open to endless imaginative story possibilities. 

For those of you who remember bits of my previous work, you'll recall that I did make a ghoul puppet way back in 2013 for a film called The Lovecraft Alphabet. The puppet was very detailed and as it happens also very expressive when animated. It was a combination of a sculpture that I was happy with and an armature that did the job.

In that film, the puppet is shown very briefly to illustrate old ghoul painter Pickman. His art comes alive, turns around, and makes a face at the viewer. That's all the puppet did, so I figured I should do something more with it before it started deteriorating, as all latex puppets eventually do. At this point in time, the puppet is in surprisingly good shape, so I thought I'd give it the starring role it deserved. Now, the making of the ghoul puppet has already been covered in an older blog post, so I'll direct you over to that one instead. You'll find it HERE.

The story I came up with for the film set out to show the horrific world the ghouls live in, but in that world, the ghouls themselves might not be all that bad. In Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath they're quite heroic characters.

To illustrate the weirdness of the ghoul world I added a few other creatures. First up is a transforming sorcerer the ghoul spies in a ruined temple. This puppet was inspired by a previous puppet/sculpture I built for an online game-maker. That character was a woman standing up. The sorcerer has traveled a bit further down the line in his transformation and is lying on the ground. I sculpted the puppet's torso in medium-grade Monster Clay to get the best and most exact detailing I could on the anatomy. 

A dental plaster mold was made over the sculpture and tinted latex was added to the mold using sponges and q-tips. The dental plaster catches and keeps all the delicate textures and details, something that the cheaper and more easy to get hobby plaster usually doesn't. A total of four layers of latex were added, in some parts of the mold, it was ladled on thinly to give the rubber skin more flexibility. 

The rest of the puppet was built up using a combination of soft polyurethane foam, cotton, yarn, and latex. The tentacles were aluminum wires covered with soft yarn, then dabbed with tinted latex. All moving parts had joints made from bundles of aluminum wires held together with polymorph thermoplastic. The teeth are paper dipped in latex. The red monster eye is a plastic pearl with a blue iris created by grinding down a section with a Dremel tool, then painting the concave surface blue and covering it with UV resin. The normal eye is a tiny doll's eye made from acrylic plastic. I bought a bunch of those from eBay years ago. The arm was gradually built up with thin layers of latex over an aluminum wire armature padded with thin strips of foam. The flower-like growths on the hip are cotton tufts dipped in latex and rolled between my fingers.

The finished puppet was dry brushed with tinted latex and given a light touch-up with acrylic airbrush colors. The hair is crepĂ© hair, i e sheep's wool, normally used for stage production beards and mustaches. 

As you can see, the back of the puppet isn't much to write home about. Since you'll never see that part of the character I just didn't finish it. You can see the tie-down point coming out of the back. It's a threaded bolt attached to a metal rod using super glue and baking soda to fix it in place.

Journeying further with Yogash we come to the valley of the behemoths, chubby vaguely humanoid giants. We see two of them in the film. I sculpted one with both face and torso, while the other only got a head sculpt. I re-used the flabby body of his friend for him as well when casting latex skins for the puppet bodies.

The puppets are fairly small, about eight inches tall. I forgot to snap photos of their armatures, but they're very simple constructions using aluminum wires and thermoplastic. The foam padding over the armatures was made using foam of various densities depending on where on the body they were placed.

The finished puppets are covered with patches of latex skin cast in skin texture molds, as well as latex casts made from the clay sculptures using plaster molds. They're painted with tinted latex and acrylic colors applied by dipping an old toothbrush in color and spraying it on by dragging my thumb over the bristles. The eyes are mother-of-pearl scrapbooking acrylic domes.

Eventually, Yogash comes to a human city and encounters a dying boy lying on the floor in a pauper's hut. Yogash asks the boy if he'll come with him to become a ghoul himself, or if Yogash should just leave him there to die. This little chap is Hannes Johansson, whom you've seen in a few of my other films by now. I just filmed Hannes lying on the floor in my buddy Andreas Petterson's flat. Hannes lives above it, so he just stopped by on his way home from school.

Probably the toughest shot in the film, the little challenge I try to put into all my projects so I'll grow and learn something new with each effort, is when Yogash leaves the town carrying the boy. It's a combination of Photoshop and After Effects trickery.

To place Hannes in the arms of the puppet I picked him up and twirled around in front of my video camera, to get views from all angles.

Pulling stills from the video footage, I then cut out Hannes in Photoshop and added another photo of the ghoul puppet with its arms in the right position. I animated the puppet walking towards the "camera", cut away the top half of the animated ghoul with the masking tool, and added the Photoshopped image instead. The trick to making this work was to use keyframes at certain points to make the Photoshop image follow the animated lower half of the body. It's a short enough clip that I think I made it work -barely. There is a tracking tool to make one image layer follow the movements of another layer, but I've never been able to make it work satisfactorily.

All the settings of Yogash's world are various stock photographs pulled apart and re-assembled in Photoshop, usually to work in a number of layers in conjunction with stock video effects such as fog or fireflies. I thought this building looked sufficiently crypt-like to work as Yogash's abode. A guy on YouTube called me out on it and explained it's part of an old waterworks complex just s stone's throw from where he lives.

The graveyard around Yogash's crypt is, I believe, an old French graveyard. I had a stock video of a squawking crow shot against a green screen, so I added that to one of the tombstones.

The town itself was a gaggle of photos of the old Mongolian town Sarai-Batu. I thought it had a vaguely Asiatic or eastern look, which would go well with the esthetics of the proto-fantasy tales that Lovecraft and his pals, like Robert E Howard.

All in all, Yogash the Ghoul got a very good reception on YouTube, which delights me. In fact, people have asked for a sequel. They want to see more exploits of Yogash and "ghoul boy", as they've nicknamed Hannes. And I have given that some thought. Hannes is certainly up for it, and the ghoul puppet is still looking well enough. I'd also like to give other characters from the Lovecraft family tree a spin, such as K'baa the serpent, or Goth the Burrower.