Monday, October 30, 2023

The Path Through the Marsh

A while back I did a short film called "Changeling", based on a poem by American weird fiction writer and poet Leah Bodine Drake. Her poems are a treasure trove of moody genre musings, so I decided to tackle another of her creations, this time "The Path Through the Marsh." This poem dwells on the legend of a fearsome presence in a boggy forest. Is it just a Native American legend of a demonic nature spirit, or is it something akin to Bigfoot? I decided it was something in between. 

I'm a big fan of the movie "The Legend of Boggy Creek", mostly because of its dense atmosphere. You never really see the Bigfoot creature said to inhabit the wilderness around Fouke, Arkansas, but you do glimpse it, and that's all the movie needs to put its audience on the edge. The movie underlines that the mysterious monster is right at home in nature, while we aren't anymore. It's an organic part of the swamp, while we're only intruders. The movie also says that nature may be far scarier and more dangerous than we think, even if we're only talking about the woods around the corner of our house.

All the backgrounds used in this film were found at Depositphotos or Storyblocks, and they're all shots or pictures of American swamp land. I had to do very little tweaking to make them look creepy or moody. I did add a fair amount of fog drifting around because you can't have a swamp monster film without any fog.

So let's talk about the monster. I actually based the puppet on a half-finished abandoned puppet project. this was going to be a big goblin creature, but since I wasn't happy with how it turned out I chose another path and did a different version. I had, however, progressed a bit and saved what I had built. This was the whole upper torso of the character, so I just stuck on a pair of legs, and I had the beginnings of my swamp monster.

Since the body of this creature would be covered with a very ornate and concealing texture, I didn't spend much time n making the foam padding look organic.

I did cover up the foam with patches of textured latex skin since I knew the final texture wouldn't cover up exactly everything.

This texture I keep mentioning is "chunks-o-flesh", a favorite thing among many a special effects makeup expert. You basically take a sponge, soak up some latex, and paint it out on a neutral, non-absorbant surface. You let it dry and then rough it up with your fingernails until the layers turn into something that looks like a fishing net. You can then pull the latex off the surface and the spongy rubber texture can be applied to make fake wounds, stringy flesh for zombies to chomp through, or, as in this case, to make a puppet look like it's covered with strange organic textures. I tinted the latex a dark green before using it. For zombie flesh, you'd tint it red.

The finished puppet turned out pretty okay. The chunky flesh texture bits were attached using liquid latex as a binding agent, and the whole thing was dry-brushed with several light layers of differently tinted latex. The eyes are two scrapbooking pearls that reflect the light cast on them.

The teeth were made from tissue paper dipped in latex. I hope I managed to pull off a character that has both the feel of a malignant nature spirit as well as a Bigfoot flirtation.

Swamp monsters have been around for a while, mostly in comics. The Heap was first out during World War II. He was a heroic character and was followed in that same vein by two more well-known monsters.

I'm of course talking about Marvel Comics´ Man-Thing, and DC Comics´ Swamp Thing. A comparison between my monster and them is inevitable, though none of these were at the forefront of my mind while building the puppet. The original version of The Heap is in the public domain, by the way. I might do something with that character eventually.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Hunter of Hyperborea

I can't recall where the idea for "Hunter of Hyperborea" came from, but the general notion was to make a film starring a hunter or a hero who recorded his successful exploits and clearly lied about the whole thing. I already had a bunch of prehistoric creature puppets, some of them not featured in films posted on my YouTube channel, and that kind of decided the plot. 

Instead of posting the same info twice, I'll just post links to older blog posts detailing the making of the puppet in question. Regarding the "terror bird," it was featured in a film called "The Age of Invention", made with my special needs people film group, and that film isn't posted on my YouTube channel. You can read about that puppet HERE.

The mammoth (there's just a single puppet) was also built for "The Age of Invention," and you can read about making that puppet HERE.

The big yeti-like ape monster was made for a film that is on my YouTube channel; "In the Ooze of Ubbo-Sathla." This puppet was only very briefly featured in that film, so I thought it deserved to have another go. I added a little horn to its forehead in a nod to both "Trog" the giant Neanderthal in Ray Harryhausen's "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger" as well as the "orangopoid" from the 1936 "Flash Gordon."
You can read about the making of this puppet HERE.

So, over to the puppet that was actually built specifically for this project, namely our hero, the hunter of the title. 

The character was sculpted in medium-grade Monster Clay (well, the head and neck.) I tried to make him look meek and maybe a bit comical.

After creating a hard dental plaster mold over the sculpture, I cast a copy of the sculpture as a latex skin. The eyes are made from small plastic fake jewelry pearls, placed in sockets made from silicone clay. Since this puppet was fairly small -about six inches tall- I only used single 2 mm aluminum wires for the armature. 3 mm threaded nuts are attached to the feet with a mix of super glue and baking soda. A 3 mm t-nut was also stuck to the puppet's behind so I could attach him to my flying rig for certain scenes. 

The body was padded with a wrapping of very thin and soft polyurethane foam. Fingers were made with crochet yarn wrapped around aluminum wires and dabbed with tinted latex. And also, he got some hair.

I used crepé hair for the beard and hair. It's sheep's wool boiled and tufted, then braided. Stage productions use it for fake beards and mustaches on actors.

Liquid latex was used to glue down the hair, one tuft at a time. To press down the hair I use a dental spatula tool.

To make the application of eyebrows easy on such a small puppet I simply painted them on.

The clothes of our hunter are actually based on what Ötzi the Ice Man was wearing. So I'm beginning with giving him a linen diaper-like loincloth. this is made with tissue paper dabbed with latex.

The rest of his clothes would be made with leather -or, rather, small bits of latex cast in a texture mold.

The hunter's tunic is made from thicker leather and I resorted to using the thin foam I wrapped the armature in. These are washing pads I bought at a local drugstore.

To make "leather" out of the foam I soaked each patch with tinted latex, applying the latex with a piece of foam sponge.

The shoes were also made from these foam pads.

Apparently, during at least a part of the Neolithic age, nobody wore pants but rather used leg hoses, like many native American people. 

Our hero is equipped with three spears made from simple wooden flower pins.

I roughed up the surface on each pin by rubbing it against a coarse abrasive pad so it'd look a bit more worn and hand-made.

The flint spear points were simply made from scrunched-up tin foil and then painted with hobby paints.

Of course, he'd need some cool hunting trophy so I made a claw necklace from plumber's epoxy and a bit of flexible garden wire.

The hunter would be wearing a rather makeshift deer skin disguise, which apparently was a thing according to established archeology. I made two small horns from tissue paper and latex.

The actual deer skin was a piece cut from an old winter hat made from short fake fur. I added a 1 mm aluminum wire along the edge of the skin, so I could animate it flapping and folding when the hunter was making fast movements.

So, here's our finished protagonist. I also made a flint knife from tin foil, but I can't recall if I ever used it. It was a while ago since I made the film, or even watched it. It seems my little stone-age drama was well-received on YouTube. People got the joke at the end. I used the word "Hyperborea" in the title mainly because it had a suitable pulpy connotation. My hunter had adventures not unlike those endured by hardier heroes like Conan the barbarian, but without any of the success of a legendary champion. The moss he eats at the end of the film was plucked from a branch on a very old oak tree standing at the edge of my garden.