Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Redux: How to Make Courageous Butterflies

While making various more humorous Bug Party puppets recently, I hit upon the way I can create the more serious Courageous (formerly known as Handicapped*) Butterfly characters that had vexxed me so earlier.

Rima and everyone were right, I'll be much happier with these puppets when they aren't human forms with wings, which looked more like comical fairies to me. But rather more delicate insect-like suggestions of human limbs on decidedly more bug-like bodies.

Above you see the figure on the left that gave me the answer. I was building up the wires with matte medium when I noticed the legs in back were starting to gently suggest human-like legs, albeit with distorted/exaggerated proportions and positions.

Point is, after making several flies and bugs legs this week, I've gotten a certain new level of comfortableness with playing with these shapes and now feel much more confident that I can strike the right mixture/balance of bug to man. The answer I think will be in making the balance shift more toward the Insecta.

Thanks for watching and waiting while things emerge here.

*Still searching for the right name/term to describe these creatures in 1/2L. They will be missing limbs on their human aspect but yet there is nothing diminished about them in this world. They fly gracefully and are noble and elegant in every way. They are not disabled. There are not impaired. They are not hobbled, or gnarled, or handicapped. They are lopsided and misshapen but that doesn't convey their nature.

I'm trying to represent the attitude of individuals who are physically different from the norm, and yet towering over people with all their faculties intact, due to their inner strength and personal courage to be all they can.

Writing this post gave me the answer. Thank you. I love it. Courageous Butterflies, it is.

And the Guests Keep on Arriving

These are further bug party invitees that are works in progress I wanted you to see... Look for the finished versions in the film!
This absolutely cracks me up. The puppet is an earthworm being built being carried along--sort of (Ha!) by a balloon! You see I was trying to create a way of making the hollow-looking part of a dandelion for the film and I was experimenting with methods and materials (finally sorted the solution out today! A: plaster globe mold and hot glue over the inner seedhead) to make transparent globe shapes when I put one down next to the puppet in progress. (A connect-->the-->dots moment!) I laughed out loud at the sight of him!

The next day I set about making several brightly colored pink and orange balloon for him to use at the party! Took forfrickingever to figure out a way to make them. Finally today figured out how! A: Ice Resin-ed colored tissue paper wrapped over clear acrylic marbles on wire!) I've since finished this puppet off too. His organza wrapped body now has metallic thread stripes tightly over-skinned with fine metal mesh. And the iron wire rusted from the wet matte medium, looks so natural and great!

This pupp is being built upon a [shudder] store-bought decorative dragon fly (who used to look like this) I gave him hand-painted eyes and a gash mouth that makes him look grumpy--all the bugs at the party are. And when I added bits of wire to extend his leg length, the position he put himself in looked to me like he was a very old and weary military general from the bug wars! So, I've decided to tie colored balloons around his middle too and to put a wooden sword in in right front leg! Charge! His big golden crown is made from a myrtle pod.

I made so many extra small cabbage moths while making the halo crown that I've adopted a few to finish for this party scene. Here you see how I'm using either matte medium or thick white glue applied with a toothpick tip to slowly build up the wire armatures with the shapes and attitudes I want. They will be finished with paints and fiber textures. The guy on the right will have a funny large proboscis. While the fellow on the left with the currently bright rice paper wings will wear purple pollen pants after his belly gets big (read funny) enough.

There will be a few other moths to come along with their tango partner (!) caterpillars. And I mustn't forget to mention also the first, a plaid sweater wearing millipede named Herman!

Project Rule #3: There's never a good enough reason to feel bad about anything. Enjoy every part.

Snug as a Bug

So glad to share this with you. I got lucky with the light the last few days which enabled some proper great shots as I was delightedly making and/or finalizing these tiny bug puppets for the mushroom cafe night time party scene in the film.

(And this post will be especially useful for Cirelle as a helpful guide to the emerging bug characters at the "Mimizard's Birthday Party" storybook she'll be writing with the same cast too. I'm going to show you the finished bugs here and tell you what I know about them and then she can take up the story making from there as she likes!)

This guy is either a beetle or a roach made from a natural seed pod body and has micro twigs for legs. He wears a golden pod cap with leaf pennant as all the party guests are decked out in their nature's best finery. His mouth is a very small stem end painted with nectar as he's been enjoying the party fare.

This guest is the largest and looks the most important. He's brought a wrapped present on a leaf and wears a small gold calyx crown. His wings sparkle from the front and are more moth like from the back. I call all the party bugs "Drab Bugs" in special party wear. They all should be rather dull, not flashy in their day to day lives, but dressed up with great excitement for this big event. I used pressed plant material for the phalanges on his back and carefully flocked the transitions to his body. His wire legs are positionable and his head turns. I think he is high ranking in this bugdom. Well regarded.

Distorted view through a magnifying lens of the spider guest with gold microbead cluster eyes and two flower petals tied onto his back like a cape. He is also known as a performer and came to the party wearing eight tiny sparkly tap shoes!

Under him we see one of the caterpillar guests, there will be several there, inching their way up the mushrooms for a seat for the festivities. He's got a gold crown too, so I'm thinking these are like party hats for them. I made him from a purple and black silk selvage wrapped onto a twig shaped like a worm coil that had all the weft tips painted with florescent orange. I put three eyes on him, two visible in any position he might need to be in.

Hopper is the waiter for the catered affair. He is serving fresh pollen cupcakes with tiny mushroom decorations on his leaf tray and wearing his crisp white apron. His legs are made to attach to the overhead party lantern streamers as he offers a cake to bugs at each table. (I should be using exclamation points after each of these--so fun will this be to see!!!!)
This fellow you've seen in the post about making his bouquet, but here's a better view of his now woolly body and damask pattern wings. He has two mates with him at the party, like attendants fluttering in the background. His legs are posable and he's on a wire to fly.

Here's one of the flies, an enormous one, ten times bigger than the ones inside the Time Frog, with peacock fond feather hairs on each of his six legs. His front four legs are holding the striped straw he's using to get all the delicious nectar from one of the tea cups at a mushroom table. His wings are made from a dried leaf (reinforced with several coats of matte medium or as I call it, Halfland magic maker.) And he's sporting a rather hilarious bright green curly mohawk. Paaar-tay! w00t!

These two clumsy flies were from my first attempts at Musca Tempora making. I made them into background party guests rather than to waste them. They are a couple. I added tiny blossom party hats and one is in a seated position sipping her nectar tea. The other can applaud all the dance performances with his two front legs I figure.

More background extras as it will take a lot of bugs to make a real full party scene. The top guy uses a pair of the initial Handicapped Butterfly wings (I have decided to scrap those puppets and have finally figured what I want them to look like and how to build them (brief peek in next post). His repurposed drab-a-fied wings are hinged to open and close and his woolly body made with snipped fibers from a wool sweater is finished with yellow pollen SHOES! (couldn't help adding that "!" because I love the idea of some of the bugs using the pollen to make dressy shoes for this! Ack!)

Below him are two little horrible bedbugs or fleas with petal wings and sparkle eyes. These are crude bugs and will gossip in the background as I first made the bodies with thick silly wire waaaaaaay back in 1993 (!) for this project. I didn't know about the party back then but I knew that even the bugs in Halfland would be puppets. I used paperclay which I now know sucks for most puppets--too fragile and back then I didn't know wire came in different gauges.

I like that I've used nearly every single bug body that I started way back then, nothing has gone to waste. I've found a way to move everything forward. I think I'm a lot more skillful with my hands than I was back then. (I think it's all the tiny Christmas presents I made back in 2007 that did it.) I feel as though I can build anything I want, the way I want now. At least to my likes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tinting Tenting

A very beautiful shaman's tent in progress next to the desert palm from the front and as seen from above, with its Flower of Life motif that will be visible in the very end of the film series as the Tarn character drifts up above the desert sand.

Very proud of this. Actually ahead of the game a bit with it. I've been tasking Sherie with the far away desert set building when she comes over. First she built the amazing palm tree seen above, then she and I started in on the tent. We labored hard over making a muslin pattern to get a paper pattern for the six tent segments to scale.  It needed to look right next to the palm, be big enough for the puppet character that lives in it, and be hexagonal like Rana's cottage (don't know why that shape is a 1/2L. theme but it is).

I snatched the flimsy cotton cloth table skirting around my worktable that was already sewn half orange and yellow, and had David and Sherie start cutting out the six segments from it, along with dozens and dozens of heavy canvas petal shapes to use as appliqué on each side.

The tent belongs to the serpent sage musician who's body is half snake and half powerful man. He sits and plays sacred music alone in the desert like a wise man. His music has a habit of causing flowers to begin to grow from his head and those who listen to it. The tent's pattern motif had to convey both serpent scales and floral petals (Cirelle's wonderful idea!) and I worked very hard to get a pattern that suggested both at the same time. It also has a slight Eastern flavor to it that works.

Sherie helped me sew the appliqué pattern onto the base. I felt the colors were too clear and the fabric too cheap looking. I wanted the tent to feel like an old oiled circus carnivale-type shelter. I tried various overlays but found the perfect solution was the simple tulle netting that a friend gave me from her old wedding dress. I matte medium'ed it over each panel and then the girls pitched in with using dilute acrylics and pigment chalks to shade and patina the now heavy canvas-like cloth (see middle right photos close by clicking)

I went over them repeatedly to unify the coloration/shading, pinned the panels together and used the machine to stitch and then top-stitch them into shape. It fit perfectly onto the support structure we had built, with a tweak here and there. I have to finish the very top and continue to design the rest of its construction, including the many prayer flags, saffron yellow satin cushettes, and carpets suitable for serpent sitting.

Rana's Halo Crown of Moths

Seen on the Rana sculpt in progress and when all finished on me.

Putting Ice Resin on rice paper got me excited to dive into the small cabbage butterfly halo/crown that hovers around Rana's head in the film. It's meant to indicate that she is a sacred creature rather than a pagan witch (not that there's anything wrong with that.)

It's just that I see 1/2L. walks a fine line between occult symbolism and how I mean it. There are archetypal figures and loads of what could be described as polytheistic nature worship in it because everything in its nature is conscious and sentient. That association would be inadvertent. The characters and story come directly from my own imagination and are intended as an original folktale. In as much as these tales dwell in an imaginative realm, it can be said they tap into common mythology. But it is important to me that Halfland stay firmly grounded in beauty, upliftment, learning, joy, the qualities of a positive side of things. Hence the nearly-holy crown.

Constance started things off adorably by modeling the wire halo rigging I had prepared for her work. It was the flexible lip of a soft plastic take-out container, painted black, pierced and looped with two rows of 32 gauge black annealed wire. She then needle-felted fuzzy little moth bodies to wire the rice paper wings and wire antenna onto. I had tremendous fun gold leafing, painting, and speckling all 23 of the moths.

Each moth has a heavy foil "hinge" (seen well in middle right photo) that enables them to open and close their wings while being positioned in any direction by the wire loop attached to the plastic ring.

I plan to animate the halo separately on black velvet and composite it over Rana's head for a brief moment when we first see her standing. She also has spiders for jewelry.

Another thing the halo/crown does is to utilize the sacred nature-over-head device that will be used in later Halfland scenes during the Flowering Thoughts acts at the end.

It's so pretty almost everyone loves to wear it!

Meet The Time Keepers


Had a total blast making tiny fly puppets for the inner clockworks and for The Time Frog puppet. I had to make a few very small flies to fit inside the Frog's paper gear clock works. The flies are swallowed by the Frog and they in turn operate the gears and give us all Time as a result. My hope is that everyone familiar with Halfland will wonder, just as a passing thought, whether they are seeing one of the Time Keeper flies when they see a common housefly in their real world lives.

Got the small flies and a few more for the Time Frog's pond scenes, one for close-ups on the big pink rubber tongue, etc. And at least THREE extra that I've promised to Mike Brent, Nick Hilligoss, and young Mariah for helping me especially with the production.

I wanted a mesh effect over the bright red fly eyes but I didn't want the mesh to be flattened out by glue. It was tricky to work out a technique for wrapping each micro glass bead in various types of silk tied with thread and glued from behind only (bottom left). At first all I had was red seed beads, but then I found smaller still delica beads (compare bottom right). On the puppet guts sized flies I just went with small dots of glossed paint as the whole fly would fit on your pinky nail.

I wasn't trying for the stunning realism that grand insect artist, Graham Owen gets in his astounding work. I needed these to look hand-made like the rest of Halfland and to have more comic character as puppets. But I did employ as much of Graham's techinques as I could manage to construct them. I learned from him about using Creatology Fun Foam Sheets cut into small strips as a base under it all. I tried to replicate the fine hair or lanugo of insect legs by wrapping different types of single fronds from feathers onto the leg wires. I found that making my own flocking fibers, by my roulad slicing method at felted wool, gave a nice hand-crafted look.

OH! And the BEST FIND of all was that Ice Resin, mentioned in the window pane post, when applied to all kinds of papers makes them perfectly transparent and yet completely stable! I slathered Ice Resin onto every kind of paper I had here--just to see what happens. And I was DELIGHTED at the various glass-like effects! For the fly wings, I found the very best of all tried to be common cheap white tissue paper! The nerve! I used also Ice Resin on white glassine above but it was the common gift wrap filler that was sublimely sheer and yet fully durable enough to be incised by a pin point! See what I mean upper left, click to enlarge, as always.

The fly hind segments were painted with Pearl Ex Duo Green-Yellow pigment  that looks for all the world like real fly backside. It is a true duo-chrome which means it's gives a certain shimmer that is neither just "iridescent" nor "opalescent". I can't explain it except that it looks like a fly. I saw it in an art supply store 17 years ago and bought it EXACTLY for the purpose you see above. Talk about having and holding a long view!

Feeling the Pane

One of the biggest laughs I've had on the project was when, years ago now, Mark Fullerton, my hero with the laser cutter, generously sent me a variety of laser cut acrylic forms made to my specs. Some were in an intact form while others were incised/etched, etc. On the bag that had all the individual window panes cut out he wrote (seen above top) "Are you Crazy? Don't even try this (but it would be the coolest)" It was such a sweet and funny comment. I loved that he wrote it. It only took me a nano-second to know which set I would have to use to get that special Tudor window sparkle from each pane being set slightly off from the next.

I had worked out a method of making the three panels two years ago but the problem with such a long term project as this is that I totally forgot the method by the time Carol showed up to help me build them. I had hand painted all the panes with either clear urethane (in nontox glue form) or with tinted gloss in the colors of the cottage. I'd long ago glued down pressed rose leaves and other inclusions and decided that the mullions were to be cut straight twigs to give the half organic/grown--half traditional architecture feel. But when Carol started in to assemble them with hot glue the other day loads of difficulty showed up. It was far too ramshackle (HA! What do you call Rana the goat woman's cottage? a Ram SHACKle--lol), I thought as I watched her, to hot glue the twigs to a single layer of panes. It was aright, but it wasn't working well enough for me.

So I continued my window making saga for days after. I have been barking up the wrong tree on this cottage feature over and over (see waste-of-my-time old posts on the subject) but I'm happy to say NOW THEY ARE ALL DONE and they look beautiful to me. (final installed shot coming in future post)

I went NUTZ and decided that the windows had to be double paned (and it was a double/triple pain indeed) I took real butterfly wings that Constance had brought to Halfland (from where they died natural deaths in her window at home). I used the wrong stuff for this, acrylic gel, which unexpectedly bubbled in the low oven when I had to heat them to get them to dry clear. Some panes even slumped (too high too long toxic--I know--won't do that again.) Didn't matter to me, I was on a tear. I was using these mofos no matter what. ONWARD! In the end I'm glad because now they windows aren't all the way transparent which means I don't have to build a backdrop to cover my computer from that angle on the set. Light gets through but not direct image.

With double thick panes, filled with leaves, wings of all sizes (one with even a natural sheer window in itself), and silk threads in color, Cicada wings from Halfland's Official Naturalist in Georgia, etc. it was far easier to puzzle together the panes and twigs.


The first step was to make a paper pattern directly on the previously built bay window of the cottage. These were in no way regular shapes, more like torqued trapezoids, and each of three were utterly different. I used my hand to press brown paper into the openings as a way of getting an accurate pattern. Even so, I can't recount to you how many mistakes I made turning the panels around the wrong way or mixing them up. I am no Andrew Fucking Brown, let me tell you. (Hate his flawless set building ability with a cold passion.)


Great New Material Alert: Ice Resin

Here's what saved the day, non-toxic jewelers-grade clear resin called Ice Resin. It's a careful measure 2-part gel--but no harmful fumes. I wore gloves and used near open window for good measure because I trust no one. But I have to gladly report that this stuff is absolutely winning. (used it for other things too, details coming)

I blue-taped the mosaic as it was built to hold it in place, turned the panel over and poured a small batch of the resin over the whole face of it. It takes three days to dry chemically. Unfortunately the tape was not enough to seal every seam and so great pools of (rather expensive) resin collected on the undersides. This ruined my bare twig mullion idea and somewhat squashed my sparkle pane hopes as it essentially made a solid piece of resin out of the panel, at least on one side.

After painstaking removal of the blue tape (why it came off successfully at all I won't know) I rallied once again and hand painted the mullions with matte medium to differentiate them from the glossy panes a bit and struggled to hack-saw the excess edges off each panel to size. I also had to carve out the wood casements in spots to make it all fit.

Next came shoe-molding as further casement framing as the three panels were finally installed in the bay. As I look through the window from the interior, with it's hand-dyed vintage fabric cushions and warm woolen blanket, I am immediately transported to Halfland and can actually feel the urge to curl up there and take a nap.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Halfland Character Collection Book Giveaway

 Took a couple hours and put together a 20 page soft cover collection of all Halfland character sketches and development to date, to have their development documented all in one place as things progress.

UPDATE: OK--HALFSTERS! It's the Ides of March and still no actual urls?! wha? You have until midnight tonight....Ok, perhaps the contest involved a question that didn't beg to be answered? No problem. I'll go ahead and leave the post open and if people/persons ever do answer the question in the comments (not even a video required now) I'll choose a winner to get a copy of the book as their 1/2-gift.  (The book is also available for order (at actual cost of printing) from the link below for $12.79 until March 23 in case you must have it.)

Giving away a copy (!*) to the reader who can express what YOU might like most about living in Halfland in a very brief yet sincere (and ideally) entertaining video posted to YouTube by March 15, 2011. May use any form of artistic expression, animation, live action, painting, song, poetry, etc. Post the video's url in the comments here for all to see. Winner will be notified via an update to this post. (*I totally just spontaneously made this giveaway idea up as I was typing.) YAY!


(Feel free to use any imagery from the book or this blog in your entry! Don't take much time away from your own projects--can really just be a sentence or two. Good luck! xoxo)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Day Has Dawned

Here's the latest plan of action...

It's been great to actually set a date for beginning filming. It's been a concrete external push that's ramped up the progress significantly. I did see the dawn yesterday morning as I toiled away many hours building the cottage windows to finally get them finished and installed, for example.

My initial thought was to hurry up and finish the set, build two of the main puppets during February and begin shooting a small scene inside the cottage on March 1. I kept humping toward that as quickly as I could but didn't want to break the required tasks down onto a schedule toward that end. Instead wanting to follow its natural flow. But even if I had made a daily plan, I could not have kept to a schedule due to weird health challenges. Nothing serious, just had to watch as my treasure of time to work on the project drizzled away like incontinent urine into a towel. Just saying. You might say I pissed the time away.

Between that, ballet, home life, and design projects that I only obsess about instead of actually get to, I might be the most stressed out yet least productive person on earth.

Plan B was to finish the nearly made Time Frog puppet and top off the pond set, oh-so-nearly done, and shoot a little underwater frog action. Neat idea, because that scene would only need the lights I have on hand and would be a nice way of getting my feet wet. Hardy har har.

But the windows became a real saga of I'm nutz, post coming next.

The Plan Now: Breathe/relax/enjoy each moment of this project. Visit Darkstrider's blog archive for the notes on what lights and analog camera cable to get again. Install those amazing windows, finish that beautiful frog, start shooting. Woefully unprepared--but why not? Just to get going. That first scene can always be re-shot.

For those that have been anticipating, sending good thoughts and notes of kind support, for Halfland's start date for shooting, I thank you and hope to share what's in store very soon...
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