Saturday, June 24, 2023

Forbidden Words

I sometimes contribute to the various publications of Graeme Philips, which all have Lovecraftian content of some kind. In the booklet "Forbidden Knowledge" I found the poem "Forbidden Words" by Frank Coffman and decided that it would be a perfect addition to my cosmic horror selection on my YouTube channel. After I got Frank's permission to adapt his poem, I set to it. 

I wanted to do something that had the atmosphere and look of the AIP Roger Corman Poe adaptations, which meant over-embellishing certain colors, using bombastic music, and a gothic setting with overdressed rooms. 

I was briefly contemplating finding a real location for this, but I quickly realized that wherever I went, I'd have to augment the place in After Effects anyway to get the look I wanted. So instead I went with completely digital 2D backgrounds, composed in Photoshop. I mainly used a bunch of stock images found on, with additional elements added.

For the main character, a man searching for taboo knowledge (aren't they always?), I recruited my stalwart actor Andreas Pettersson, whom you've seen in a number of productions by now.

I shot all of his scenes in his living room in front of a green screen. By now we have this process pretty much down to a T.

The occult book our hero reads from is just an old book -a cookbook if I remember correctly- with a printed-out spread placed into it. The pages are a Photoshop mash-up of parts from a 19th-century astrological calendar.

In the end, our protagonist conjures up a demonic entity, and I could've gone with a number of creatures, but for some reason, I decided to go with a hovering skull. I had a bag of plastic Halloween bones lying around and I thought the included skull had the right dimensions.

As props bought from dress-up shops often are, this skull was made from rather flimsy plastic, and I had to reinforce it by mixing a batch of Burro casting plastic (from FormX in Holland) and lining the insides of the skull with it. After that, I cut loose the jaw and re-attached it to the skull with aluminum wire hinges. In the eye sockets, I placed two tentacles made with aluminum wires wrapped with soft yarn and dabbed with latex, and a long tongue made the same way. The tongue was rolled up and pushed up into the roof of the mouth when not lolling out to be animated. I placed screws on the inside of the skull to help attach the tentacles, the tongue, and the jaw joints. A wooden dowel was also attached to the rear of the skull as a support rod.

The whole skull was then covered with a mix of cotton and latex. This created an organic-looking surface and a base for creating more elaborate shapes.

Using more cotton and latex and using a pointy dental tool I built up a textured skin, with bumps and wrinkles.

I also made teeth with the cotton / latex mix.

I also used yarn to create some of the shapes. This whole procedure is pretty quick and very economical since you don't have to make any molds, but since the latex/cotton mix dries to a sturdy leathery quality it's only applicable to projects where flexibility isn't necessary. using this technique on a full stop-motion puppet would not work at all.

Here's the finished skull before the paint was applied.

I started off with a mix of latex and red pigments sponged on with a bit of foam. This created a very organic-looking base.

Other colors were mixed the same way and dry brushed on with more sponges (bits of foam from an old cushion). I used I light layer of white acrylic paint over everything to get a glowing effect. Lastly, blue acrylic airbrush paint was hand-applied with a brush to offset the other colors and augment the psychedelic effect.

Here's the finished skull puppet. The stand is simply held fast with a glue clamp when animating the puppet.

This is how it looks when piecing together the various elements that make up one of my monster scenes. In this case, I have the animated skull in the front layer, and behind it, I've added layers of smoke and a cloudy luminous background. I've also added a part of the billowing smoke pillar over the skull to create a sort of widow's peak coming out of the top of the head.

The skull only makes a brief appearance, but that's the only thing it should do. This was a very quick project but I'm quite happy with it. Stuff like this is perfect for experimenting with creating mood, which is one of my favorite challenges.