Film Challenge – Lead Time

Another short film created under ludicrous conditions by the Tortoisebutler crew. This time I contributed props (including the robot’s bite-down charging plug) and the heads up display that shows us the world from our diminutive robot’s point of view.

The biggest part of the build, though, was the creation of the beast itself: to transform our fantastically physical actor Jinny into a threatening, alien creature that would spring from the darkness and attack our hapless protagonist.

“Let’s do a simple film challenge this year” they said, “Let’s make something simple, light on the FX”… so we wrote a script with a monster. Oh, and we needed to build it in a few hours, using only what we’d brought with us.

Magda’s fantastic body (and head!) stocking gave us a perfect starting point for the transformation, dehumanising Jinny and forming n overlay to attach things to our poor actor.

Given the pale colour of the body stocking, we sketched a sinewy, insectile, carapaced creature that would almost glow in the dark. It needed to be a clear threat, so we armed it with six scything claws, a weird pointy mandible, and spines on head, elbows, and anywhere else that felt like a good idea.

Most of this was accomplished with thermoplastic pierced through the bodystocking or attached to it with double-sided sticky tape. Thermoplastic is my go-to material for creating structural elements on the fly. With some hot water it’s sculptable, it’s springy enough to be safe and tough enough to stand up to rough treatment.

Once our beast was assembled it looked a bit blank, without much secondary movement for our super slo-mo camera. Materials Magda came up trumps again though, with some fantastic long-haired fabric I’ve not seen the like of before. Hooking it through the stocking around the spines gave us a really disturbing ‘hairy insect’ effect and great flowing motion.

The finishing touch was to mix fistfuls of black and red acrylic paints with hair gel, and plaster the hair up into a stiff mane. Strategically applied paint dirtied up our monster even more, and encrusted the claws with ‘gore’ from the struggles of past victims. The pale theme made it stand out starkly, especially when light glowed through the thermoplastic weapons.

Jinny endured so much being our human mannequin in a freezing hall, but I love the hideous and unusual monstrosity we created.

Magda shared a couple of awesome picture sets from the filming here and here, and you can read another crew member’s blog post here.

Photo Credit – TortoiseButler

Deep sea mermaid – version 2

This is an upgrade of my deep sea mermaid costume which I put together for a victoriana-inspired costumed club night a few years ago.
This version takes the original concept, but instead of the boiling hot corset, floor-length fishtail skirt with petticoat, and knee-high New Rock boots combo, I put together a matching outfit that was a bit more comfortable and cool.
I also went for a scarier tone, combining the anglerfish style glowing lure with thin thermoplastic teeth and boldly creepy face-paint – more suitable for a dark and noisy environment, and way more fun to wear. This is definitely a costume I’ll continue to develop, as my prop-making skills evolve. I will probably remake the glowing jellyfish umbrella some time too, because that was beyond awesome and I really miss it.

BBC Props – Flower of Life

A recent short-notice commission from BBC R&D Production labs – props for a sci-fi short, intended to showcase new technology. The props are a set of broken McGuffins, a light-up palm reading device and a mysterious button, themed around a ‘tree of life’ and ‘flower of life’ design. I haven’t seen the film yet, but they were pretty excited – the writer wanted to take the McGuffins home!

Credits Sequence – Message from Mumbai

For this year’s film challenge, our entry depicts the last contact between two sisters, about to be separated for 30 years as a rogue exoplanet diverts one’s home planet’s orbital trajectory.  Say that five times fast.

In a film challenge, I usually have 20 seconds to cram the credits into, tacked on the end of our 3-5 minute film.  With actors, a team of about 10 and lots people to thank, it’s tricky to fit everything in and make it readable.  I had to drop dramatic impact and the loneliness of space for a dense but elegant arrangement, but I’m pretty pleased with the result. If I’d had more time, I would animate the planets along their orbital paths, and give each ‘page’ solo time on screen, as well as using a better blur which moves across the screen, rather than streaming everything upwards.

Film challenge – Message from Mumbai

Tortoisebutler’s entry into this year’s Sci-Fi London 48 hour film-making challenge.

The given mandatory criteria:
Title – Message from Mumbai
Prop – A handful of ball bearings is passed from one character’s hand to another
Line of dialogue – “These things come full circle. Why do you think it’s called a revolution?”

We shot up in Manchester this year, camping out on an empty floor of a converted cotton mill – oodles of space, not much in the way of power sockets or chairs, but it was a fantastic weekend and great to work with the team again.

The film stepped away from our usual time travel and action staples, working instead with a single location, a ‘talking heads’ focus, and working to build a world and a mood. I’m too close to it to assess it clearly, but although watching it felt slow and un-dramatic, I think that the feelings of love, loss and hope we were looking for came across, without resorting to manufactured conflict or blame. The actresses did a beautiful job of conveying brittle, forced cheerfulness over a crushing inevitability.

I helped out on the writing for the first time, including creating more ‘Science Bits’ at the start to help it make sense, although it was too late to tweak the rest to match, alas… I learned a lot, and it’s conquered a lot of my long-seated ‘I can’t come up with stories’ blind spot.  The experience also made me more aware of how much a story turns into a graphic novel in my head, so next time I’d like to add storyboards, if I can!

I also aided Ms Costume and did the credits sequence, which I love so much I’m going to do a separate post on them.

Oh, and one of our actresses turned out to be an operatically trained singer, so I wrote some lyrics to match our composer’s original score (in about two minutes flat). Alas we only had time to record three lines (hold on ’till the credits to hear it!) but there’s talk of turning it into a proper song!

One day, one day…

PS. Hammocks are absolutely fantastic, I’m absolutely taking one next time!

Creature eyes

Eyes for stuffed creatures, in the absence of useful supply shops: resin domes, metallic and black varnishes, and thermoplastic settings. The edges incorporate small holes for sewing the eye to a backing, rather than the more traditional post fixing, due to the size of the eyes. Astonishingly bright and life-like in person, and look great from a range of angles.

Mixed media creature

Hand-puppet antlered beast, combining soft and sculpted elements into creature construction.

The eyes are made from lenses salvaged from DVD drives, with backs delicately painted with metallic orange varnishes, then embedded into oven-hardening clay. The ears and antlers are attached separately through the fur.

Deep Sea Mermaid Costume

A ‘Deep Sea Mermaid’ costume for a 20,000 leagues under the sea party. Hand-made high waisted fishtail dress with petticoats and glowing lateral lines and frills around the ‘tail’, head-dress with spines from behind ear and top of head, with glowing anglerfish style lure. Not pictured: a glowing jellyfish companion (umbrella). Much to my chagrin, we didn’t get photos of that, which is a pity as moved, flowed and pulsed beautifully, and really made the outfit.