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.



Shelley Noble said...

Absolutely brilliant, Richard!

You described your process so well, and the voice-over performance was exceptionally good. Hmm, more talents emerge.

Happy Birthday, go get em gogogo!

Richard Svensson said...

Thank you, Shelley :)

John Caulder said...

Hey Richard, I never had the bravery to comment before, but I've followed your creations for some years now. I've introduced your videos to some online friends as well, and I have to say, you're really good at stop-motion like Ray Harryhausen!

John Caulder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Svensson said...

Hi John!
Thank you for your kind comments. I really appreciate that you're spreading the word about my projects. Word of mouth is still the best way to do it :)

John Caulder said...

Thanks! I actually had an idea for a stop-motion film you may like. What about having puppets of famous horror figure Vincent Price boarding up a Mansion and defending it from your various Zombie puppets? Could be a fun little film in the vein of Herbert West: Reanimator, and a tribute to the now-late horror icon Vincent Price.