Sunday, October 27, 2013

A Historic Homecoming 20 Years in the Making.

Even though the Rana puppet, the Halfland film series' main character, is still in progress above, this marks the first moment in history anywhere that Rana appears in her own cottage. Even though she's elevated on a base, I can tell her scale will work perfectly (whew).  Her hand-made-ness, the paper texture, her demeanor, everything is so exciting for me to actually get to finally see!
Always grabbing 1/2L reference material, years ago I made a screen grab on a YouTube video of a village animal in China that was wearing some sort of sandal(!) These are being reproduced on the hooves sculpted from rigid air dray clay that cover the puppet's armature tiedowns. I've made tracings around each one and cut two each out of chip board that will sandwich hand-painted cording seen raw, lower right.

Lower left shows how I taped down the strands of goat hair flatly in order to paint on a line of Fray Check elastic glue to hold them together before cutting off the lash lines to glue onto her eyelids. Upper right, previews how her fetlock will look once the legs get covered in the skins.
Here she is, folks! all ready for her final flexible skin layers to be added onto her. Plus a preview of how her hocks might look in the goat skin piece I bought 20 years ago in New York for this exact moment.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Putting a Lid On It

Horns were textured with featherlight spackle and grooved with the edge of wire mesh. Color was added to lips and cheeks, etc. although the pink will ultimately be toned-down with transparent flesh color later.

Eyes were surprisingly made of large glass pearl beads. Rana represents wisdom so it could be said her eyes should be pearls of wisdom. Lower left, you can see the first set of lashes from fabric (these were later cut off and replaced with natural goat hair to match the fur covering her legs, shown in an upcoming post.)

The edges of her mouth, eyes, where the ears meet the head, and lash line were coated with Fray Check elastic glue which allows them to be animated without cracking or tearing the paper skin. It's a wonder.
Eye lids were made from thin skins of foam glued onto wire rings. These were completely coated with the Fray Check to make repeatedly flexible and to smooth out the cells of the foam texture. The bottom wire edge gets pushed up to open the eyes, and pulled down to close them. I never saw Rana asleep before this development. It's going to look GREAT when she's cuddled up in her bed at night!!
This morning I added some wittle widdle teefs, just four of them, to the upper palate. They were sculpted from rigid air dry clay and ended up having the sweetest little space between the two in front. I never thought Rana's teeth ever needed to show, she doesn't speak, and her range of expression should be subtle and calm. But I'm glad I put them in so that should an angle occur during filming, getting all up in her grill as it were, there'll be a bit of toofus.

Her tongue gets positioned via the employment of cushioned tweezers. Upper right, is today's progress on the new goat hair lashes.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ranature: The Dry Build Out

CRAZY!!!!!! As Frankenstein as this body looks, it seems to work! Mr. Kaneshiro's armature is embedded inside a papier mȃché skin dry-filled with layers of regular foam. Once fully assembled, strategic slices were made down to the bones to allow for full range of the armature's motion.

I've been working everyday on making the Rana puppet for real (even as I should have been doing other things, obsessed). This post documents the stage of when I manhandled her armature into a brown paper cast from her mold. (More Rana puppet progress shown over next few days as well.)

The method I ended up using was completely unexpected to me. My hands kept stuffing and slicing and taping it all together while I watched and thought my hands might be nuts. What are you doing? I asked, shhh, the body will always be in clothes and the legs from the waist down with be entirely covered by goat skin fur and won't show at all. The puppet only needs to function well, not look good, they replied. This will work.

You can do another layer of brown paper over the masking tape to make it look neater and to ensure the integrity of the puppet after the adhesive on the tape ultimately fails in the years ahead, if you really want to, they said. Besides, isn't the whole point of using a mold so that you can make matching multiples? my hands wondered.

Well, if that's so, then this method is the most difficult and ridiculous possible. It's like making a build-up puppet INSIDE a fixed paper shape AROUND a one-of-a-kind armature. It was messy, challenging, and I had no idea what was happening next.

The lightweight air dry clay horns were attached to the head with steel wire. The foam and wire ears were installed with armature wire (both seen far left). PVC pipe cutters are frequently useful on this project, here they sliced down two pieces for her neck to pivot and bend on. The inside of her face mask was layered of many materials; a light washi outer skin, heavy washi layers, cut foam filling in lips and brows, air dry clay layer, friendly plastic layer to keep the eyeballs in place and to fight against collapse of shape while animating. Lastly, far right any remaining void was crammed with more foam, and the pipe was wired in place.
For the body, all paper parts were glued up with a layer of 1/2" foam and allowed to dry. Areas that need to maintain a rigid shape, like her tush cheeks, with stuffed with styrofoam half-dome implants wrapped in more foam sheets. The halves were stitched together with 30 gauge steel wire tightly, excess foam wrapped onto the lower legs. Arms were filled the same way. Once all together, I sliced through everything (!What was I doing??!, I said) to free the figure to move at the waist, hips and shoulders. I used masking tape to secure all the cut edges as I went. There are gaps left at the top of the legs in back and at the tops of the shoulders, to allow for all positions to be held. But, if the finishing is done well, none of that will show in the film as there'll be a flexible skin layer added overall.
Made a tongue out of foam, wire, and Fray Check elastic glue (a new indispensable 1/2L material!). It was secured to the neck pipe before installation.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


As I was previewing the water barrel that will carry the mermaid when attached to Rana's back, seeing her like that started to remind me of someone else... who... who could it be, who could it be?!

Love your brilliant work, Nick! ;-}

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Beside Her

Noticed the shadow on my work surface was a little, um, spooky? (upper left)
It's amazing to me how much these critters become more life-like after simple bends are made in the legs with small pliers. (upper right)
And The finished little crystal spider on her web on the cottage front porch.

Monday, October 14, 2013

New RSVPzzzz

While making the bumble bee for Rana's bonnet I made two more bug party puppet guests from the leftovers. I have so much fun making these Halfland insects that I could probably keep making different ones endlessly. Good thing I keep them in a fancy specimen case nowadays. They fool some viewers into thinking they might be a little real.

The face of the bumble bee was made by rolling a small square of animal skin leather to create the feeling of a bee's eyes.

The hard shell of the yellow beetle was made from a piece of pod of some kind and his antenna were extended from their wire roots with collected (never taken) cat whiskers for their strong yet delicate taper.

Counting these two new additions, and the 5 members in the bug band, there are over 30 creatures ready to party hardy!

A Bee In Her Bonnet

So I had this idea a few weeks ago to have Rana's hat that she'll wear while on the troop trip North to the desert sequence to have a big bumble bee in it. You know, an actual "bee in her bonnet" like the old-fashioned expression meaning to talk a lot about something one thinks is important.

I am very happy with the way it has come out. I used a single dogwood blossom for the bumble bee to sit on so that the bee concept would be easier to grasp and yet also make sense for it to be decorating a hat. It's that elusive 1/2L 50/50 half this half that balance.

I wanted to carry the theme forward into the hat by making the veil suggestive of a honey comb. I painted tulle of the right sized mesh in a natural base color that matched my reference image (upper right) and began a lengthy process of layering up honey like filling for portions of the veil.

I tinted Aleene's plain gel glue with sepia and yellow ink to keep the material translucent. The final heavy with honey look was achieved (lower right) by touching a toothpick dipped in Diamond Glaze to several of the amber-colored glue-filled combs
I started by making her hat from two store bought straw doll hats that were nearly the right size. I carefully wired them together to control its movement and painted the wire to match. I embroidered them together further with wool yarn and floss into a flower petal pattern when seen from above. This will foretell the same shape on the roof of the desert tent at the very end of the series.
I set out to make the bumble by going to my bag of faux fur, trimming down a longish piece in white, and coloring his yellow and black stripes with fabric markers. Twisted black wire (32 gauge) wrapped around some bulk start the body. Wings were brown paper made translucent from Ice Resin (which I was disappointed to find to be highly toxic while in its raw state--something the sellers have refused to acknowledge to/inform their customers--by the way. I'd highly recommend using an honest to god, truly non-toxic resin alternative because of that dangerous dishonesty.) Resin makes most paper translucent and I'd saved a sample in my insect wing bag, so what the heck. I scribed a few lines into it with a sharp tool and stained them with walnut ink.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Prying Eyes

I forgot to show you the prying open of the big Rana UltraCal 30 mold back in the later part of July.
The original sculpt is always gone as part of the mold making process but here's what a kraft papier mâché cast from the mold looks like with the full armature and head assembled in position.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Halfland Web 2.0

 I have fretted over building these spider webs forever. I knew I wanted them to be durable and lasting, be the right scale, look natural/organic, look carefully woven, have crystal drops on them to suggest dew drops as jewels. And somehow, I wanted them to have lace patterns included--not lace as a web--but as though part of the web suggested lace as we know it. Whew. I did it. I love it. And wish I could do a bunch more but will limit it to just two. The big one on the porch, shot from 2 angles, seen above.
In the film, the main character Rana walks through the web and it remains on her as a necklace.
I was able to make this happen by using a special elastic for the web that the puppet can actually walk into frame by frame. The next shot after that will have a non-elastic replica of the web worn on the puppet's body.

I used a combination of the stretchy and plain white sewing threads to weave the pattern. I included crystal beads into it as well as stiffened details of handmade lace that friend Mandy gave me.
I had gathered many reels of various styles of elastic cording for this task, all of which will now be put to use in the armature making depart instead after I found... GOSSAMER FLOSS! Of course purely by accident. I stopped into a random bead shop just the other day and they carried this product (I have a life theory that one must shop at every bead store one sees to be complete as each shop carries different items. Words to live by) I had never heard of this stuff and even though it cost twice what the others do (I paid $7 for 20 yards), I knew the minute I saw it that it was THE stuff to make these webs.

The first web I tried with it, straight off the card, was too thick even when stretched (seen on left in photos above this one). So I fricking snipped it and frayed its fibers down to microns and used it which worked perfectly. It's translucent, latex free. I suspect it must be essentially Lycra fibers.

I attached the spokes to little hardware eye screws anchored in the set wood and then wove more snipped down elastic and plain thread into a sort of drunken crossways pattern. Where the fibers were too thin, I bulked them back up with a layer of elastic jelly called Aleene's Stop Fraying, which remains 100% flexible when dry.

Everyone's so creative.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Time Stands Still

Here's the final Story Board for the Pond Sequence. I'm using my Lytro to snap camera angle ideas and then sketch them up with sound effects, action, shot set ups, camera directions, and the approx duration of each set up. It's always going to be a rough idea that will likely shift during filming. I estimate the sequence above to run about 48 seconds when finally edited [1,152 frames total].
I often will map out various sequences for the Very Short Films that will comprise the Halfland series. I use big poster boards and my hand written 1/2 pages of scenes I want to include the film. I draw horrible little sketches to start the camera angle thinking, and I use different colored pencils to indicate sound, transitions, characters featured, etc. I keep them modular by using tape so that I can re-arrange what happens when in what order.
The last time Christine! was over she skillfully walked through the pond sequence with me quick sketching what I was describing. Her questions were so keen that I was able to get the wheels in my head cranking enough to sort out what had to happen and how to possibly shoot it.
She set the template for how I can approach each sequence in the whole film.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013


How can this armature fit this oddly shaped puppet so completely perfectly?! My jaw dropped. Then I got to work. I wrapped the entire thing in Teflon tape (the plumbing kind) very thin and stretchy. Followed that with a total layer of white floral tape (stem wrap) also very thin WAXY and stretchy. Then I went over every joint with ultra thin and stretchy German sports wrap (by Mueller found at a sporting goods shop) and then back over all the bones with more floral tape to neaten it up and keep it close.
Then I whipped out the expensive 3M Health care foam adhesive bandaging, adheres well, is moldable and extremely elastic, and wrapped it over all the joints again to make them more durable yet still flexible. Lastly, I sewed black elastic sports wrap over the four limbs. I added Rana's hands and arms to the armature in preparation of further build out into the sculpt shape.

These six layers will hopefully protect the armature from getting gunked up with any materials I may pour into the cast paper "skin" of the character. And in the event an area of it need surgery, I can easily slice through these materials to get down to the bones for repairs.

I turned the feet in such as way as to imitate the attitude of goat hooves, which utterly worked with the exception of the tie down hole ending up at an angle. The finished and costumed puppet will be quite heavy and I'll be asking a lot of these two little holes at an angle. But to tell you the truth, I'll make it work. Rana sits a lot and her hooves don't need to show from under her long skirts much during her walks.

My friend and Halfland Hero, Dick Kaneshiro, generously gave me his handmade Tom Brierton-style 14" steel armature five years ago to use for this film. I knew it was a big-hearted thing he was doing, not only because these armatures are very costly, but also because this was something he made for himself and took a great deal of time/effort to make. I wasn't certain I could use it as I wouldn't have the ability to alter it's proportion to fit my pupps. But...

This week, when I actually took it down from its base and started moving it around, I found the most remarkable thing. It fit the Rana puppet as if it were made for her! How is this even possible??! I just reversed some of the directions of the dowel/swivel type joints to approximate a half old woman half goat situation and--BOOM. Rana. The waist and wrists are even ball and socket!

I thanked him once again profusely, and tried to pay him something for it now that I'm getting to use it. But he refused to take anything. Like I said, a Halfland Hero. THANK YOU AGAIN, DICK!

Let's Give Her a Hand

Here comes Rana's hands. With the addition of some schnazzy new finger tips, they are now a better scale and more articulate.
You know, trying to make these puppets correctly was really holding me back! And back. And back. And back. So, forget that. I'm doing it 100% wrongly and couldn't care less.

Took some Almaloy and made single wire crude fingers, secured them with 30 gauge wire, painted that with Aleene's Fray Stop which is like an elastic jelly, and then wrapped all of that up with white elastic cording thread.

I slit open the stubby fingers on the paper casts of her arms and added these new finger tips and trimmed them to length. Topped the tips and "bones" with air dry clay and began to fill in the joints and build up the flesh with more Fray Stop.

After the inner sides of both hands are built up, I can paper mache over the whole thing and unify it into a single form.
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