Colossal Mess

I spent the last week plastering up the entire main set landscape. There were a couple of "What the #@!#$ am I doing?!" that were quickly blotted out with a lot of "Mashed Potato Mountain, Baby, Mama gotta do this." And so I trudged doggedly onward.

Once Nick H mentioned using burlap, the greatest boon to mankind and my new favorite textile, things started to work. At first I used cut up bed sheets to reinforce the layer of plaster, but the course open weave of burlap supplied the necessary support that made the large set pieces rock hard when dry.

The straight away areas went quickly, it was the small curves of the seams where the pieces fit together and strengthening all the edges that took the most time and effort. For some VooDoo reason, about 30% of the strips remained flexible, even with the same amount of mix, temp, material, time, etc. I was able to correct all of it with a second layer, except inexplicably for one small piece opposite the Frog pond. Maybe I smashed it out of shape while sitting on it.

I cut out the bottom of the pond to gain access to more of the set and to give myself an easier time of dressing it and perhaps shooting up from the bottom if I'd like to later. The pond seems even smaller now than it was before, too small for what I'd like. But it does have to be where it is and I don't see a way to enlarge it with the door support being right underneath where it should spread out. Moving on.

Clockwise a. Countless pails of plaster were mixed. Bonus: I could mix perfect plaster in my sleep now. b. I made extree boulders and rocks with lightly crumpled newsprint covered in plastered burlap strips. A layer of papier maché on top when dry will make the surface ready to paint rock like*. c. camouflaging seams where set pieces meet was the hardest part. Making them operate as independent shapes that also work together was a challenge. Paint color and fabric "grass", foliage, etc. will assist the illusion later on as well. d. It took two hours climbing above and below the set to get all the rubble up. The whole house is relieved this mess is done. (people foot and cat paw prints in white are everywhere!)

*Matter of fact, an "Integrity Layer" of papier maché over the entire landscape when dry would offer the perfect shape-keeping, chip-eliminating, burlap weave-covering, paint-me pretty mama, finish to this stage. And would also assure myself that these soon to be lovingly crafted set pieces will survive a potential move and re-assembly without crumbling apart.

I had to dig down for a lot of tenacity and aggression to get this much plastering done by myself. It felt great today to use the industrial vacuum, clean everything up dust free for painting, shower off a layer of plaster and get ready for the next step.

I plan to make some test swatches tomorrow of various formulas of paint, sand, water, and Fix-All/plaster over a patch that's already been machéd to see which will serve as... dirt.

Stats: 140 lbs. of plaster of Paris, 42 yds of burlap.


  1. Anonymous9:19 AM

    Well done, you!
    It's amazing how much you do afford on your own, Shelley, I really take my hat off to you. Are you pleased with how the plaster looks like? On the pictures I get only a rough expression, but to me it looks very landscape-like.

  2. Ow.

    I has a bruise on my chin.

    From where my jaw hit teh floor.


  3. Wow! Even though I love with this everyday it's still a wow. An the best thing of all is that you are really on your way. Can't wait to have you start painting the set.

  4. Live/love... The nicest of typos. :-)

  5. Ok, I'm up now after reward nap.

    @Jessica Hi! I didn't know in advance that I would need to buy all that burlap and plaster. I thought a little free cardboard and torn up paper and starch would do it (that's what's under the plaster as base)

    But once I got into it, I was committed. I didn't realize that the landscape around the cottage would take as much/more effort to make as the cottage, but here I am.

    It wasn't that expensive, still within my "anyone can afford" budget. The burlap was only $1.50/yd. which is why I loved using it so freely.

    As for how it looks; the burlap weave texture is very visible, not ok for camera to me. That's why I need to maché over it and/or paint a layer of plaster/paint dirt where it won't flex, such as right around the cottage.

    Thanks for the tip of the hat!

    @Sven live/love you're right that is the nicest typo in the history of the English language.

    Thanks so much for the jaw drop. It makes me feel like I accomplished something!

    @Ulysses Thanks Sweetheart! You know of course that I'm getting this done solely because of your constant abiding love and support! As BryEND said, I should hug you! Think I will!


    one foot at a time your takin the steps needed. Excellent progress Herself!


  7. My god Shelley, that just looks amazing!!! The pic of you sitting next to the set is incredible! I just can't get over the sheer staggering SIZE of it!!!!!

  8. Anonymous9:39 PM

    I think once you are done with this, Richard Dreyfuss's Devil's Tower will pale in comparison! :-)


  9. wow! you did all that? you're the best kind of crazy. :)

  10. ... ON the set!! Sitting ON the set!!! Geeze, I didn't even notice that at first!!!

  11. Anonymous3:54 AM

    Its super! Everything is coming together now and must be making sense. You're working at large scale, but you will get fantastic depth. Really well done!!!

  12. Thanks, Justin! Yep, I'm pooshin' like I'm troopin'

    HI Mike, next to, on, whatevs! IT'S HUGE! You're right!

    Thanks, Yuji! Oh yeah, Dreyfuss can kiss my arse at this point. Can't wait for you to see this and give me your opinion on what shot might show the space best on camera! yay!

    @gl I would make up and wear a T-shirt with that on it; "Best Kind of Crazy!!" Love it!

    Thanks, Seamus, yes, I believe you're right, it is coming together now!

  13. I am so envious of the amount of space you have, that landscape is truly epic in scale!
    Oh yeah, email me your postal address when you get the chance. I'll mail you a school of fish and a curious looking woolly starfish...

  14. YAY! Woolly Starfish!! Fish in School! YAY! Thank you, Ceri!

    Shelley Noble
    PO Box 111509
    Los Angeles, CA 90011 USA

    (Please include the name and link you'd like to be in the film's credits. in 2014, just kidding I hope!)

    Yeah, the space here is massive. The set is only in less than half HA! of the workshop area! Then there is a whole other add'l space to live in. And the price was less than we'd have to pay for a closet anywhere else.

    It's rough, both inside and in neighborhood, but we're ok with that for the ability to make a... mess!

  15. Blimey Shelley - what work you've done! And having to move all this? Gosh I can't begin to imagine how you think on such a scale! Well done for the mammoth plastering ...
    I keep wondering what will happen to this set when the film is done? A museum? :)
    Bravo! x R

  16. HI Rima! I think in future I can work at a slightly smaller scale, not 1/3 but perhaps half HA! this size.

    As to what's to become of the finished set(s) and puppets and props...

    From the outset of beginning to make this film series I have always intended to place the finished assembled set on display in a gallery with the film(s) running on a screen or two on a loop with benches for people to stop and watch.

    Then they could oogle the set, walk around it, look closely at the texture and detail I intend to create. And hopefully enjoy seeing it. Perhaps even be inspired to create their own worlds for film.

    That's my fondest ultimate wish and intention for this project.

  17. Anonymous9:45 PM

    Whoah, more major developments! So much lovely undulating landscape, in designer white!

    More tips too, if you want them...
    You can put a bit more plaster over the reinforced layers, and stipple it with a big brush, to get rough dirt textures. You may still want to add something over it, but it fills in the telltale burlap weave and gives you a good starting point.

    Sand works for texture, but is rough on drill bits and saw blades if you need to drill tiedown holes or cut sections afterwards. Some less abrasive (but free)alternatives:

    *Used coffee grounds or tea leaves (You get a nice drink first) - dried, then mixed with glue/paint or sprinkled over wet glue.
    *Sawdust, or the coarser stuff you get from drilling particle board - drilldust?

    *Some used herbal teas are good for leaf litter. Sometimes, you can find pockets of actual leaf litter under shrubs with very small leaves, and scoop them up.

    *Some other stuff I can't think of, but when somebody else does, I'll say Yep, that's what I meant, whatever it is.

    *Oh, I know one more but it isn't free - tile adhesive, you spread it on the wall for sticking ceramic tiles. The stuff I've used is dark grey, and has a gritty texture. It also grips well, doesn't flake off, and is slightly flexible but tough. I had some left over from tiling the kitchen and was so good I bought more just for setbuilding. Not the same as grouting, the stuff you see between the tiles.

  18. Crumbled cork makes good little rocks and dirtclods etc.

    I think that's what Nick meant... or so he'll claim now anyway... ;)

    Can't drink it first, but I suppose you could chew on it a bit if you wanted to....

  19. OMG .... you've got your own little obsession going on south! That is fantastic! (just read Nick's tips on texture ... will keep those in mind ;) You need a day or two off now.

  20. HI Kim! I KNOW! It's so crazy up in here!

    Nevermind, if I am able to finish this film it will be gorgeous, at least how I imagine it.

    No rest! No way! I'm plowing hard on getting the set ready to paint now! But first I am applying paper to all the edges to keep their shape.

    YAY! NICK! Some great helpful ideas in there, thank you! Sawdust is my for sure going to do it.

    Here's some funny things that happened while I cleverly also thunk up a few of the things you said above:

    I got a GIANT bag of coffee grounds from Starbucks© (they give all of it away for people's gardens yay!) and you know I need huge amounts of everything for this scale set! Well, I stored the grounds in a plastic tub for several weeks and when I opened the lid to check on it, yep, it asked me to please close the lid! Had to throw the moldy tub out.

    If I do that again, I'll have to dry the grounds in the oven first.

    Yesterday I colored some plaster with the paint I'll be using and stippled into the burlap to cover the texture and all I can say is that it would take another 200 lbs. of plaster to get the whole set. Simply too large a scale to be practical to do this for me.

    To use the tile adhesive (which is very similar to the FABULOUS flexible cement Flex ALL© that I used on the Answer Tree) would also be way to impractically expensive to cover his massive set!

    I'm not kidding this thing IS A MONSTER!!! no, really, I monster that I'm wrestling with and trying not to lose the fight to!

    When I am working on it, like today, so slow going, I fantasize about how much faster and easier a smaller scale would be to work with!

    Leaf litter: I'm all over that one! I have been saving and drying leaves for YEARS! For this moment in time. Child, please! I am stocked to the gills with foliage to scale.

    Sometimes crazy pays off? We'll see.

  21. Oh yeah, Mike! hi. Cork sounds good too. Thanks.

    By the way, about tiedowns, beeeeeleeeve it or not, there are only two places that will have animation on it on the whole set. The rest is all "decorative" as it were.

    The parts that will have animation have been reinforced with aluminum flashing strips for strenffph.

    Cheers!! Gotta go have a drink after thinking about chewing cork--bleckh!

  22. You could always get bulk packs of toilet paper and mache it up. It goes on lumpy and misshapen... perfect for ground texture and covering burlap weave!

  23. Another possibility of course.... actual dirt mixed with watered down glue....

    Hey, it's dirt cheap!!!

  24. Wowzas! I didn't realize how massive that set was until I saw you sitting in it. Man that is huge! Hats off to you.

  25. Thanks, Ryan, that makes TWO barenekkid heads so far!

    Thanks, Mikee Mike, I'm covering the burlap with the same sort of paper/starch layer I used as the base. The ground undulations are already built in.

    Then the new top layer can be paint, patch compound, coffee, sawdust, cork, tp, dirt, anything. I'll only need to make the texture "realistic" near the cottage whr it will be picked up on camera.

    The way back can be roughed up painted poly batting or fleece.

    Leaf liter, bark bits, vines, flowers, etc. will finish it off.

    The stand of trees to the left of the cottage will intentionally look like paper scenery flats to foreshadow the paper puppet show of the characters at the end.


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