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

Time tracking tool

I prefer to theorise with at least a little data, so here’s a tool I’ve created to track my time and work out how to add structure to my work-from-home life.

In contrast to some of those around me (*cough*coffeeaddicts*cough*) I’m a ‘morning’ person, in that if left to my own devices and with enough sleep, I will go PING! approximately 9 hours after I go to bed, with a desire to do ALL THE THINGS. However my days then vary between getting derailed by breaks, getting so into something I forget to stop and burn out, or grinding along indefinitely, never hitting ‘flow’, but never truly relaxing either.

I’ve also noticed that some tasks are harder than others at different times of day – I’m great at assembly first thing, but struggle to plan or perform language tasks. I can write fairly well during the day, but planning’s best done last thing.

I’d like to work out when to schedule tasks, breaks, exercise, food, recreation and so on, to get the most out of myself, outside an externally imposed 9-5 and the rhythms of an office. When you work from home it makes sense to go to the shops when they’re quiet, or do the washing while the machine’s free, but that can throw everything else off if you don’t compensate.

Inspired by this post on Productive Flourishing about heat-mapping your day, I decided to eschew vague anecdata and collect some actual information. Am I useful or useless, do I need fuel or to relax, will I get derailed for the day or is it OK to mix it up with chores?

The guy who devised the circular heatmap has lots to say about defining what qualifies as a ‘productive’ state, which I found a bit confusing, so I’m not sure how I’ll define what I’m tracking, but I hope to figure it out as I go along. I might include additional info such as drawing stars to mark good ideas appearing, for example.

I was also inspired by the mood tracker provided by to create an extra track where things such as mood, tummyaches or other anything else could be recorded.

I love the idea of a circular map, so I think I’m more likely to use it than a histogram or other format, but I didn’t want to waste a whole sheet of paper for each day as laid out in the original pdf (it felt a bit like something from primary school!) so I’ve combined my design with a cute little booklet-making technique my friend shared the other day.

The result is a nifty little booklet which lets you note the day in the centre of the circle, record two streams of informtion around the 24 hour clock face, and keep a key on the front cover to help interpret your records. One you’ve got enough information, you can use the space on the back page to create a generalised picture of the way your state fluctuates, to use when planning out your day. That’s the plan, anyway!

Without further ado, download this:
Heatmapping your day, A4 pdf booklet

To make this:

Adding a staple in the middle of the central pages will help it hold together nicely.

Happy mapping!

A shoal of pickle dragons

Made from milk bottle plastic with a hole-punch and scissors, these simple little pickle dragons keep my parts from being muddled while they’re in the cleaning pickle solution overnight.  You can’t use wire as it may contaminate the pickle, and string will get all soggy, so these easy-to-grab plastic creatures seem the best solution.  The labels will help me reunite them with their respective fossils afterwards, too!  I’m looking forward to setting all these ammonites – including a new cufflink design.

I wonder if they’d make good packaging…

Ram’s horns – construction

A commission for a pair of my Ram’s Horns was the perfect excuse for me to document their construction process.

This time around, to save me some labour, the lovely SamLR used the python library ‘dfx writer’ to generate 50-odd circles ranging from 7mm to 32mm in radius, in steps of +.5mm radius. Each one is numbered, and has two holes in for the wires to go in. The circles for one horn fit on two sheets of A4. A little spray glue later, and we had a few fun hours cutting little circles out of cardboard with scissors and stabbing through the holes with the spikes of a pair of dividers.

We then threaded the circles onto folded wires, separated by two cardboard spacers in each gap. Another time I’d like to make ’em all on a laser cutter – that would approximately halve the construction time.

Once the cone is constructed, I bent the wire in opposite directions to form the horns’ spirals.

Plaster of paris fabric strips are really easy to use – cut to size, dip in water, slide it between through two fingers to squeeze off the excess water, then drape over the form, overlapping and building the surface. By placing the fabric strips diagonally – what you’d call ‘on the bias’ when cutting fabric – the fabric distorts to suit the form. I pushed the fabric between the circles to shape the distinctive ridges.

Once the plaster was dry, the texture of the fabric was still very visible. I mixed up a loose slurry of plaster and water – far runnier than you’d expect – and laboriously re-surfaced the horns, touching up the shaping where necessary. As I worked the plaster in my tub gradually got thicker, and I was able to use globs of it to improve the shape of the ends of the horns, covering up the stubby ends.

I painted the plaster horns with acrylic paints – yellowey undercoat and dark brown on the outside. A little tricky to paint without lifting the plaster surface, but otherwise not too bad. Then it was mounting – a plastic hairband from Claire’s Accessories, trimming the wire to suit and planting it back into the body of the horns.

Ta-dah! On their way to one hopefully happy customer.

Quick costume ears – how to tutorial

If you’re in a hallowe’en hurry, you can’t get much quicker than this for costume ears, or much boingier!

– fairly stiff and wide hair band
– 8 large, wide cable ties
– stickytape
– reasonably strong scissors, wire cutters or otherwise to cut the cable ties
– hot glue gun with glue
– fabric scraps – I used cheap stretch velvet that shed everywhere

– Decide where the inner edge of your ear will be – I think mine were about an inch apart. Wrap the cable tie around the hairband and pull it tight, so that the ‘tail’ springs up at the back and points towards the ceiling.
– Add more cable ties the same way around! I used two close to the first to make it stiff and straight on the inside edge, then another one out to the side to fill out the shape – it’ll look like rays spreading outwards.
– Tape the innermost two cable ties together near their ends to make a stiff inner edge.
– Take the next tie to the first two, slightly further down – this will make it bend slightly, starting the cupped shape of the ear.
– Bend the fourth and tape it to the others further down still – adjust the point and angle at which it meets the other cable ties to determine the shape of your ear.
– Add loads of tape to make sure the ends are secure, then trim off the longer cable ties.
– Cover the backs of the cable ties with hot glue and lay your fabric over them, then turn it over again, add more glue and lay the fabric on top. Even though my fabric was very stretchy I had to do lots of weird squidging to get it to fit together, your mileage may vary. You could also sandwich the cable ties between two layers of felt, but you might have to do more trimming and overlapping to get it to play nicely.
– Trim off the remaining fabric.
– Put on your new ears and enjoy the way they sway as you move!

I hope you enjoy, does this make sense or would people like me to add more photos?

Thermoplastic tools

A custom doming block and bench peg for metalworking, made from thermoplastic.

The failure due to metal fatigue of the jaws of my ball vice may have been very disappointing, but dismantling the device revealed an opportunity to create my own components to mount on the remaining shaft. In this case, a domed bench-peg to support the underside of curved sheets of metal without distortion while I saw out intricate details.

Tutorial – Embossing paper with thermoplastic

I decided to sit down and figure out how to make an embossing set-up at home. I used my favourite material – a thermoplastic called ‘polymorph’ or ‘friendly plastic’ – something that’s as springy and tough as nylon, but melts at 60 degrees C, in hot water from a kettle.

Previously I’ve followed tutorials for embossing paper using a cardboard stencil and rubbing the back with a rounded tool, as per this tutorial, but it’s fiddly, time consuming and inconsistent. I’ve seen franking machines that use positive and negative aluminium dies, and thought I’d give it a go using things I had laying around. I’ve devised something that gives lovely results, simply, and is very easy to use – just slip the paper into the hinged die, and squeeze.

To test the theory first, I used a cut-out piece of copper sheet as a template and thermoplastic as my die-making material.

Here’s a step-by step breakdown of the process of making a more involved die, suitable for making business cards. I was inspired by one of the images from my book ‘Duckie and Chickie Afloat’. For later versions, I’d like to add registration to site the paper accurately, and also explore multi-level or carved positives to give more intricate embossing.

Stop Motion References

This post is a bit of a grab-bag/info dump – I’m rather a stop-motion nerd, and quite a few people have asked me for references for stop-motions etc., so here’s a list of things I use as inspiration or when explaining to people the kind of things that are possible by combining still frames into a video, however those stills were created. It’s by no means comprehensive, but it’s a nice start.

Just moving things about (with/without actors):
Her Morning Elegance (Again!)

and Behind the Scenes:

The Deep (I love, love, love this, especially the calliper jellyfish
and pincer cleaner-wrasse!):

Western Spaghetti by PES (this guy… just blows my mind):

Game Over by PES (I should probably stop here, just check out their channel):

Post it lovers _ Eyecow smokers (post-it notes and, later, actors):

Food about You (Sciencey elements, nicely surreal approach to
something mundane):

OK Go’s End Love (actors in scene):

Creative, Inc. (Lighthearted manifestation of concepts, very do-able):

Photos of actors as elements in stop-motion:
Pig and Wolf (interesting combination of two kinds of motion):

The Pen Story (Similar piece, though with less of a story):

Olympus PEN advert (HUGE images in a scene, same guy as pig and wolf):

and making of (loads of useful info):

Des pop et des up:

Animated static papercraft
A map comes to life

Soulgraphix (brilliant, hugely complex series of paper-craft):

How to spend 3 ½ months on 25 seconds of stop-motion

Animation similar-element papercraft:
Dot by Ardman Animations (microscopic!):

paper horse stop motion animation test

Rex the dog – bubbilicious

Other techniques:
Knit natural gas commercial (illustrates the usefulness of shooting things in reverse! This was done by unravelling and snipping off the threads for each frame.)

(blue-screen to make things float above a background):

Tree box

After mentioning part of a plot kicking around my head involving a tree in a closet, Alia requested a little cupboard with a tree in it for her birthday. I found this little key cupboard in TKMaxx, and have finally got around to assembling it.
Perhaps 4 hours, lots of scratches and some happy later, here is a cupboard with a tree in it, for hanging earrings and other jewellery on.