Tuesday, March 12, 2024


Last year I discovered American author and poet Madison Cawein, nicknamed The Keats of Kentucky since much of his output centered around his native state. I turned 50 this year, and I haven't exactly been a lazy wastrel, but Cawein, who passed away at 49, had at the time of his death 36 books and 1500 poems to his credit. I wilted a bit when I found that out, looking back at my life thus far and finding my output depressingly poor by comparison. His poem "Will-O-The-Wisp" is haunting, creepy, and a bit melancholy, and I thought it would make a good project for my YouTube channel.

Cawein has a very detailed description of his Will-O-The-Wisp character, which I found wonderfully eccentric. It's a goblin-like creature with webbed hands and feet, with additional whippoorwill features (which I might have added through a personal interpretation). This is the clay sculpture I ended up with. The milky plastic balls (or pearls) used for eyes here also ended up as the actual eyes in the final, finished puppet.

I used dense dental plaster to make a mold for my sculpture. Sometimes I use white hobby plaster, which is softer and cheaper, but for sculptures I've spent a bit of time on I use the denser dental plaster, so I know the mold will last for a while.

By now, you're already familiar with how I make bat-like wings, pressing down my armature in plaster and "painting" in the web sections with latex over both the armature and the plaster surface. The webbing between the fingers and toes was made this way, only I used clay instead of plaster.

I made a very simple aluminum armature, held together with blobs of thermoplastic. Another blob was stuck to the bum of the puppet, where I inserted a square nail to create an attachment point for a flying rig. I've been recommended for years to turn from using a threaded bolt in the puppet and a flying rig arm with a threaded rod, and instead use a square rod and a square hole. That's all fine and dandy like sugar candy, but it's proven impossible for me to find square rods small enough to work for puppets, OR if I've found them, the materials have been prohibitively expensive. For example, you can buy a professional flying rig with the square rod solution, but the cost for that is currently beyond me. So, I figured I could do my own homemade version. However, the plastic attachment point proved to become slightly ground away by the metal nail inserted into it after a while, making the connection between the two parts quite loose. So, that was one experiment that turned out to not work as hoped.

The light yellow bits on arms and legs are thin polyurethane foam soaked in latex, and the green and darker yellow sections are ordinary foam.

Here's the puppet covered with patches of tinted latex cast in skin texture molds.

Here I've dabbed the puppet with tinted latex. It got a few more thin coats until it had a pale blue look.

I added a few bits of cotton dipped in latex to the mouth to make it look a bit more like the beak of a whipporwill. That strange bird also has some sort of bristles around its mouth so I added something like that too. The fetching hat and loincloth are made from "chunks-o-flesh" using latex tinted bone white -better explained it's latex applied to a flat surface, torn up when dry and allowed to bunch up into clumps of web-like material. 1 mm aluminum wires are hidden in the clothing items to make the flap in the wind during animation.

The backgrounds are a mixed bag of stills and footage, all of it from various stock media sources. For example, the background in the shot above is a close-up of real reeds slowly moving, while the reeds in front are CG animated.

The last shot is of a sickly-looking swamp, where the Will-O-The-Wisp encounters the spirit of a drowned man (the man is another stock image), is actually my first AI-generated image, made with Adobe AI. I think it worked out pretty well. 

I enjoy making videos based on poems, especially if they're moody and within the horror or fantasy genre. There's a bunch of them out there, so this one won't be my last adaptation.


Thursday, February 15, 2024

Rumble On Monster Island

 I've always been a fan of clunky monster B-movies. Though I know they've all been cynically produced with profit in mind, and with hardly any artistic ambition, to me, they somehow achieve some kind of bizarre artistry -be it completely accidentally. Many of these old movies have a certain atmosphere, even creepiness sometimes. The monster designs range from the ingenious to the ludicrous. At any rate, they're seldom uninteresting. I decided to make some kind of tribute and create stop-motion versions of some of these creatures. I did a "Robot Monster" tribute a few years ago and that turned out to be pretty well-liked. My idea was to clump some of these critters together on the same island and see how they'd get along -or not. The inspiration is, of course, the Monster Island of the Toho Godzilla movies.

The first monster we encounter is Tabonga from the gloriously titled movie "From Hell It Came" (1957.) In the film, Tabonga is this very bulky rubber suit tree man designed by monster-maker Paul Blaisdell, though he didn't build this suit himself. Tabonga is, probably due to the restrictiveness of the costume, not the most lively of monsters. I tried to give him more motion with my animation.

I sculpted his face and jaw in medium-grade Monster Clay, plus a small slab of bark-like texture to create a skin texture mold for the character.

The aluminum wire and thermoplastic armature is very simple, basically imitating the stiffness of the original Tabonga, though offering possibilities of more motion in the arms and legs. The dimensions are pretty close the the original suit. A single 2 mm wire loop controls the jaw. The eyes are plastic balls, pearls from an old fake pearl necklace, painted and coated with clear resin. The eyeballs are placed in sockets made from silicone clay, and held in place with thermoplastic.

Since the puppet would be covered with very detailed bark-like skin, I didn't add more than the necessary shapes when putting on the foam padding over the armature.

Tabonga has a bunch of branches on his head and shoulders. I built these up using cotton, tissue paper, and latex.

Here's the puppet completely covered with textured latex skin. The toes are made from cotton and tinted latex. 

The finished puppet is dry-brushed with tinted latex using a foam sponge. The teeth are tissue paper and latex. I forgot to add one important thing from the original movie, something you see in my finished film: A white dagger sticking out from Tabonga's chest. That dagger is a magical item that animates the monster into life in the movie. My dagger was made from a splinter of wood covered with plumber's epoxy. I cut a small slit through the latex skin and glued down the dagger into the foam padding.

In my film, Tabonga goes up against this weird creature, which is also plucked from an old B-movie.

"Creature From the Haunted Sea" (1961) was quickly and cheaply produced by legendary B-movie mogul Roger Corman in less than a week, and it looks like it. I can't tell what materials were used to make the very iffy monster costume, but in the context of the movie, I'm guessing it's supposed to be seaweed.

Copying the look of something that was just thrown together, probably in an afternoon, isn't as easy as it looks. I sculpted the monster's head in clay and tried to get the main bumps and cracks seen in the movie just right. I pulled it off well enough, I think.

Like with Tabonga, I made the armature simple but effective, since the body of the puppet would be covered with a very coarse surface. A single 2 mm wire controls the mouth.

And again, the padding is really simple, just basically knocking out the main shape of the character. The fingers are aluminum wires covered with yarn and dabbed with latex.

All of the puppet will be covered with this: Chunks-O-Flesh. I've used this many times, it's a material quickly and cheaply made and it looks very organic. Latex (in this case tinted) is poured onto a flat, non-porous surface -I used a plastic tray- allowed to dry, and then roughed up and pulled apart by scratching my fingernails over the surface. If you dust it down with talcum powder first it'll tar but stay flay. If you don't, the latex will bunch up into clumps. Both variations are useful.

The whole body had been covered by the chunks-o-flesh, except for the hands, being true to the movie look. Sections of the head have also been decorated with bits of the material. The dangly bits hanging from the arms have sections reinforced with 1 mm aluminum wires, so I can animate them wiggling about.

The finished puppet is dry-brushed with tinted latex using a sponge. It's a fast method and perfect for this kind of crude look. The eyes are another pair of painted plastic balls glued into the head. They don't move around but work for the look of the character anyway. Teeth are cotton and latex, and the ludicrous claws are cardboard dipped in latex.

As you can see from the poster, "Monster From the Ocean Floor" (1954) is supposed to be a cyclopean octopus, though, in the actual movie, you only see just a head puppet prop or stock footage of a real octopus. I went for recreating the monster on the poster as a stop-motion puppet.

I've done a few tentacled beasties in my day, so I started off by wrapping soft yarn around 3 mm aluminum wires to create tentacles. The yarn was then dabbed with liquid latex. Two 3 mm wires make up the neck. The eye is a big wood ball, with a Photoshop print.out iris, covered with a lens made from UV resin. The crudely painted blood veins correspond with the look of the poster monster. The eye is placed in a socket made from a used plastic pill jar cut in half. There's also an aluminum wire ending in a t-nut under the puppet. It'll be used as a tie-down on my animation stage.

Soft polyurethane foam was glued down around the pill jar and the neck. A socket was built up around the eye using cotton and tinted latex.

The whole puppet was covered with patches of knobbly latex skin cast in a skin texture mold. Each patch was glued onto the foam and the yarn using liquid latex as a bonding agent. Many years ago I created a plaster mold for octopus suction cups placed in a row. Each tentacle was given a latex cast from that mold for its underside.

Again, this puppet was also given a very simple drybrush job using tinted latex. 

Here's another Corman monster; the mutant fiend from "Attack of the Crab Monsters" (1957). The creature in the movie is an impressive life-size prop with creepy human-like eyes. 

I sculpted the whole body in one piece, basically a flat, roundish blob with the face taking up most of it. 

I mostly used a homemade texture stamp made from silicone clay to detail the skin. The stamp is basically a ball on a stick with lots of indentations in it. I roll the ball over the clay, which creates a texture of tiny bumps.

A mold made from dental plaster was built up over the sculpture and tinted latex was cast into the finished mold. The latex skin was reinforced with a mix of cotton and latex to make the casting really sturdy.

I made a simple lower lip by wrapping an aluminum wire in yarn and dabbing that with latex. In the end, I can't recall actually animating that lip.

I made two more clay sculptures with plaster molds; the claw split into two parts.

The claws were built from empty marker pens with 3 mm aluminum wires pulled through them. Another wire controls the opening of the claw.

Cotton and liquid latex were built up to shape the textures on the claws.

I made six simple claw sculptures and created a silicone mold over them. Into this mold, I cast plastic copies of the sculptures using fast-setting Burro plastic.

The legs were made from wooden dowels with aluminum wires between each part. The dowels were covered with tissue paper and latex. The saw-like protrusions are cut from thick paper dabbed with latex.

Drybrushed tinted latex was sponged on over the whole puppet, with a dash of acrylic airbrush colors here and there. The eyes are big plastic balls, where a concave surface was reamed into the ball using a Dremel tool. Photoshopped iris print-outs were glued into the concave areas and UV resin was added to create a lens effect. The plastic claws were super-glued to the ends of each leg. The antennae are steel wires covered with sewing string and latex.

I almost couldn't squeeze in both battling monsters on my tiny animation stage. I should make a bigger one, since my puppets tend to get bigger.

When it comes to big-headed aliens you can hardly do better than the villains of "Invasion of the Saucer-Men" (1957). These costumes were built by designer and sculptor Paul Blaisdell.

I sculpted the whole head in clay and placed it on a flat clay surface. A clay wall around the sculpture helped keep the plaster where I wanted it.

Again, tinted latex was poured into the plaster mold and reinforced with a cotton/latex mix. The head didn't have any moving parts.

Another simple armature. The aliens in the movie were played by four dwarf actors. I decided to give my puppet different dimensions, with longer arms.

The prominent veins on the head were created with latex and cotton, while the slighter veins were simply painted on with a pointy dental tool. The eyes are plastic balls with a simple painted-on design made with a thin brush and acrylic paint.

Since the alien was wearing a black overall I tried to give my puppet a smooth foam padding.

The aliens have a sort of frill around their necks, going down over their chests, with similar decorations around their wrists. I sculpted these as rows of scales in clay and then cast them as latex pieces from a plaster mold.

The frilly scales were applied with liquid latex as a glue, overlapping each other. The hands were built up with yarn, cotton, and latex. As you might see, there are eyes on the alien's hands. These were made with small plastic pearls.

I only made one puppet, though two appear in the film. One of them is carrying a ray gun made from a burned-out Christmas tree light bulb and a plastic orange pearl. The handle is made from plumber's epoxy.

A mix of dry brushed tinted latex and acrylic airbrush colors was used to finish the puppet. The gold paint is acrylic and quite flexible.

The alien spaceship is a copy of the model used in the 1957 movie. I got hold of a bunch of photos of a model kit version and modified one of them in Photoshop. The image was simply 2D animated in After Effects.

I'm quite happy with the finished film, and it seems to have found an appreciative audience on YouTube. I will be making more stop-motion tributes to old monster movies, since these projects are so much fun.