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.

Brollies and vikings and dragons, Oh My…

I’ve fallen in with a bad crowd – light entertainers! I’m helping out a little with props for their party in the woods at the weekend, with a viking theme!

I’ve aided with some figureheads for ‘viking longtents’, will be cranking out some banners later, and have been working today on a dragon costume. My housemates were chucking out some old skate helmets, so I’ve taken the hard foam core, added some umbrella-ribs and wire, stuck it all together with gallons of hot glue, then bridged the frame panels of craft foam to flesh it out. I added on a lightweight plastic tablecloth for the body, and I’ve just papier mâché’d over it, using a mixture of water, pva and acrylic paints to add a bit of a tint. I can’t wait to see how it looks when it’s dry!

The notion is to fix a powerful torch under the lower jaw, then chase people around the woods – if you’re illuminated, you’re scorched out of the game! I might have to counterweight the back of the helm to keep it stable, but for now, enjoy some dragon building pics :D

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.

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.

Wireframe Top Hat

Four hours from an odd idea to something completely worthwhile: a wireframe top hat with crank-rod which drives the motion of flags at the end of long rods, held in position by a wire network on the top of the hat. Wire, tube, blowtorch, solder, pliers and snips. Very simple, straightforward and oh, so satisfying. A source of much glee.

Crosses – Prop gun

One of the most fun and challenging aspects of doing a 48-hour film challenge is McGyvering whatever unpredictable props the script demands from the kit we brought along – there’s no time for sourcing things from elsewhere.

In this case, our gritty time-travel buddy cop movie needed a very menacing sci-fi gun. What we had was a bright orange and yellow Nerf gun (image from google search). Some work with sandpaper, a knife, paint and metallic powders later, I’d transformed it into this threatening little piece.

Crosses – Short film from TortoiseButler

Shoulder puppet – Beauregard

For some reason, the idea of a pirate with a pet sea slug seemed dreadfully amusing. Of course it would perch as a parrot might, be brightly coloured, and wave vaguely around in response to passers-by.

This translucent and delightfully frilly nudibranch has trembling antennae and can rear its body up from the wearer’s shoulder – see the video.

Starting with a length of aquarium tubing, I hammered half-toothpicks halfway through the tube to anchor thermoplastic vertibrae. These brace the articulating wire cable, so that it can pass from the head, down the length of the body, and rejoin the base tube at the tail end, which carries it down to a discrete handle. Sandwiching foam sheets around the tube made a base for the body, floaty gauze fabric fleshed it out, and guitar-string wires make satisfyingly twangy antennae.

The whole thing can be mounted on the shoulder with a thermoplastic bracket over or under clothes, and the handle’s surprisingly comfortable and easy to use.

I love thermoplastic.

Ram’s horns

I hope to find the making-of photos for these some day (and confirm creation date), but this is a lightweight pair of ridged, textured ram’s-style horns, mounted on a broad headband. Suitable for costumes including demons, tieflings, aliens, monsters, sheep (presumably), puck, satyrs, and Tim the Enchanter.

These started life as a cardboard box (or three), which was cut (with scissors) into 2 sets of 45 circles, each 0.5mm different in radius. Then I used the pair of compasses (spikes both ends) to pierce the centre and an extra hole, and created similarly pierced small squares to act as spacers.

Each of these sets was then threaded onto a doubled-over piece of wire, starting with the smallest and with cardboard spacers between. Once I was happy with the conical structure produced, I twisted them into matching spirals, attached them to big bits of card, and set to work with plaster-of-paris impregnated fabric – mod rock, I think it’s called? This stretched nicely over the splayed ridges of the cardboard (although the excess water did imperil the structural integrity of the ridges), and smooshed down into the grooves. Once two layers of that had set hard, I added another layer of plaster to conceal the fabric texture. Some tea to dull the brilliance, twisting the wire into the latticework of a broad plastic hair-band, and I had a truly epic pair of horns to wear around the place.

It’s surprisingly easy to style my hair to conceal the band, and they look very solidly rooted.

I’ve been using these at least a couple of times a year since I made them, and they’re comfortable and light enough to wear all night, although people will want a go with them :P They’ve borne up pretty well, but the plaster is flaking and the headband starting go give up.

Photo is a hungover ‘steampunk alien’ me, with ‘space nazi’ Scary.

Butterfly System

Film-making collective TortoiseButler’s entry into the 2011 London Science Fiction Festival 48 Hour Film Challenge.

The premis: given a title, line of dialogue and prop, go forth and brainstorm, write, script, storyboard, shot-plan, setup, shoot, edit, sound-design and… well, /everything/ a film up to 5 minutes long, within 48 hours.

As usual we were incredibly ambitious and tried to cover a huge amount of complex plot and world-building, but in this case while the outcome was stunningly beautiful, only one person has been able to ‘read’ the story from it that we were trying to convey.

My contributions included scouting the location (equipped with wellies, boilersuit and head-torch, I got to climb around in and UNDER the Kew Bridge Steam Museum), brainstorming, helping conceive the plot, and then props, costumes, sfx-makeup (detailed tattoos you mostly can’t see), set design, and learned to do digital SFX overnight.