Monday, December 29, 2008

A Brief Pause

No, really, it's just a brief break so I can try and improve my terrible photos.

My lack of photographic ability isn't anything new, but it's really starting to bug me. Since the whole "From the Mountains of Madness" project is going to be photo heavy I've decided to start taking steps to improve my shots, starting with the construction of a PVC-tube light tent like the one described by Bill Huber over here. I picked up the parts tonight and I should have it finished tomorrow.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

From the Mountains of Madness: Part Two

The first part of the "From the Mountains of Madness" log dealt with choosing a case to hold all the items that will be part of the project. Now we'll start filling it up, beginning with the physical samples collected by the Miskatonic expedition during the course of "At the Mountains of Madness".

Lovecraft's story provides us with a pretty broad list of items to choose from. The first type of specimens mentioned in the story are rock samples brought up by Pabodie's drilling rig and the subsequent blasting efforts. The second group consists of fossils recovered in the same way, both incidental finds from the initial borings and the treasure trove discovered when the Elder Thing cavern was exposed. After that come the star stones and, possibly, biological samples from the Elder Things themselves. The text implies that they were destroyed during the Elder Thing attack, but I don't think it's too much of a stretch to assume that some of them survived.

Now that I have a list of what kind of samples the case would contain I can start gathering them together and getting them ready for presentation. I'll focus on the individual specimens later, but for now I'm going to concentrate on producing the containers that will be holding them. I'll start with a simple sample bag, the kind of thing you would use in the field to hold a small specimen.

The base for the sample bag is a muslin sack like the ones you find in health food stores and craft shops. I've used them in the past for everything from evidence bags to ju ju pouches, but in this case I'll be customizing them with a Miskatonic University seal applied using a rubber stamp. If you don't happen to have a stamp you can still add the seal to your own bags. Just download the seal over here, mirror the image, print it out on a laser printer or copier that uses toner, and then transfer the image from the paper to the bag using a hot iron.

Here's what you'll end up with:

Age with a little tea stain, add a grease-pencilled ID number, and you're good to go.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Coraline Boxes

The makers of the upcoming stop motion animated film "Coraline" have launched an intriguing viral marketing campaign. Fifty bloggers have been sent one-of-a-kind mystery boxes featuring photos, artifacts, and actual props from the film. Obviously, it's an effort to create buzz about the movie, but the artistry behind the hand-crafted boxes is simply amazing. Metafilter has a master list of all the discovered boxes over here, but box number eight is my personal favorite:

You'll find the full reveal of #8 at knittyBlog.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

From the Mountains of Madness: Part One

Now that Christmas has passed I can start to show some of the work that's going into the "From the Mountains of Madness" project. Why the delay? Because the first iteration was a Christmas gift for a reader of this blog and I agreed not to spoil the surprise.

The concept behind this project is that it represents the materials collected by William Dyer in support of his written account of what actually happened during the Miskatonic University Antarctic expedition of 1930. That record, the story we know as "At the Mountains of Madness", details a number of specific items that I'll be trying to recreate. I'll also be drawing on the history of Arctic and Antarctic exploration during the time period of the story to help "fill in the gaps" and make the project as realistic as possible.

Part of the reason I'm documenting this project is so you can create your own version if you're so inclined. With that in mind I'd like to state up front that there are times when I'm going to choose practicality over authenticity. Whenever possible I'll use real period items, but I'll also settle for "good enough" when a particular item I might want to use is simply too expensive. After all, many of these items are antiques that are sought after by collectors. If you have the cash to buy the real thing, great. If not, I'll try and offer you some cheaper options.

Let's start off with what will likely be the largest expense of the project- the case that holds everything. A lot of projects similar to this one, like the plethora of vampire hunting cases I've talked about in the past, fall back on using modified silverware or instrument cases constructed of solid wood. They have the advantage of being relatively cheap and usually come with a pre-existing patina and the natural weathering that comes with age. Unfortunately, they also lack the basic construction details of something that was intended for hard use under adverse conditions.

Compare one of those modified cases with a period travel trunk and you'll see what I mean. The trunk has reinforced metal corners, protective banding, sturdy locks, hefty carrying handles, and in general is designed to survive being knocked about. The modified case? At best it might have some cheap hinges and an ineffective lock that will spring open the first time it's jostled. It's just not realistic.

With that in mind I've decided that the FTMOM expedition case will actual expedition case. Specifically, one of the custom made cases from the Fibre Products Manufacturing Company of New York, the company that provided gear cases for several of Admiral Byrd's Antarctic expeditions. Here's the case I'll be using:

Why this particular case? Because this one is identical in construction to the one's used in Antarctica. The company manufactured two separate lines of cases throughout it's history. The first was made of rubberized fibreboard and was designed for budget users like salesmen. The second was formed from composite coated steel and served the high-end of the market. Both lines used exactly the same patterns and rivetted construction, differing only in the material used to form the shells and the quality of the hardware. Compare a Fibre Products Manufacturing case from the 30's with one from the 90's and you'll find they're identical.

Which is important, since I'm pretty sure this case was manufactured in the mid-60's because of the address on the label.

Here's a closeup:

Based on ads from camera magazines and old copies of the phone book the company didn't move to 601 W. 26th Street until 1962, but it also changed it's labels to read just "New York, NY" in 1965. Before that they were located at 30 W. 13th Street from 1932-1942, on 31st Street from 1927-1932, and at several different locations in the city from 1921 to 1932. That means the case was produced after 1962, but before 1965 when the company switched to a generic address label.

What's that you say? How could I possible use a case from the 60's if I'm striving for realism? Settling on this particular case is a perfect example of balancing the practicality and authenticity facets of the project I mentioned earlier. It's not an authentic Fibre Products Manufacturing case from the late 20's, but it's structurally identical, manufactured by the same company, and, perhaps most importantly, it looks like a 1920's case would. The natural rust, grime, and wear and tear is absolutely perfect. As a bonus, except for surface wear it's in amazingly good condition, including a functioning(!) lock with key.

Here are a few more shots of the case. I'm not sure what caused the color shift here, since my backdrop is deep red, but it's probably my terrible photography.

Next up, we start filling up the case with goodies.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Yithmas Shopping

Cpt. Machine, a denizen of both Youtube and Yog-Sothoth, has put together two short videos discussing some of the goodies he received for Yithmas. The reason I found it particularly interesting is because a bunch of my first edition Miskatonic Antarctic expedition patches are part of his booty. You can find that bit at the end of Part II, but the whole video is well worth watching.

Part I:

Part II:

Monday, December 22, 2008


Yes, I know I've totally been slacking off.

The combination of the usual holiday madness with the scramble to get my first commission finished is ultimately to blame. On Wednesday I'll be able to explain things a little bit more.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Killing Time

Hey, another day without any new content! Huzzah!

Believe me, this is killing me just as much as it's probably killing you. The real problem is that I seriously underestimated how much work the "From the Mountains of Madness" project would require. In theory it seemed pretty easy- a collection of prop documents and period items themed around H. P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness". I'm not the first person to tackle the idea, since Chaosium's "Beyond the Mountains of Madness" and it's associated handouts did it first, but I wanted to go totally over the top with it. And boy, did I.

Part of the problem is that I don't want to do a half-assed job of it. That, combined with my anal retentive streak, means I've been doing hours of research into things I never even thought of when I first conceived the idea. Like what year a particular brand of tinned aspirin became available. Or what kind of label Necco wafers had in 1929. Or the differences between domestic and imported binoculars in the 1920's.

Here are just a few of the items I'm waiting to arrive in the mail:

- a selection of fossils consistent with the ones found in the ATMOM underground chamber. They're not only going to be real, but I'm trying to get multiple specimens from the same strata so they're similar in quality and composition.

- two period equipment cases from the Fibre Products Manufacturing Company of West 26th Street, New York. As with so many other things, I picked these because they're what the Byrd expedition used.

- Dozens of specimen boxes and bags to hold various biological and geological samples. Once they arrive they'll all have to be labeled and aged.

- a selection of core samples consistent with the rock types found in Antarctica.

- a handful of period medicine and sundries tins.

All this is in addition to the stuff I already have in hand. It's damnably frustrating waiting for it to all come together, but I think it will all be worth it in the end.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Treasure Trove Of Mad Science

In cooperation with Hearst, Google Books has posted 106 years of "Popular Mechanics" back issues. If you're running any kind of pulp game, including "Call of Cthulhu", this is a goldmine of material just waiting to be mined. The inspirational power of decades of "cutting edge" technology from the early part of this century is simply amazing. Airships! Land leviathans! Steam juggernauts! Spaceships!

Update: It's even better than I thought. They also added the entire run of "Popular Science" going back to 1870.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Whale of a Tale

I'm waiting for a bunch of packages to arrive from across the country for my next project, so I hope to have something interesting to post tomorrow. In the meantime, I've discovered that quite a few of the "At the Mountains of Madness" patches and decals I sold went to people that have little or no interest in the story or H. P. Lovecraft. What they really wanted was swag featuring the plane in the story- the Dornier Wal seaplane.

It turns out they're classic aviation buffs, many of them from Eastern Europe, that collect Wal memorabilia. Outside of a few model kits my little props are some of the only merchandise featuring the Wal. I'm hoping I can trade some of my stuff for photographs and documentation for the plane that isn't generally available in the west.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Boston Docks Pass

This is basically a "filler" prop for the "At the Mountains of Madness" project I'm working on. Click through for the full size version, print it out on light cardboard and you're good to go.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Little Steps

I know it doesn't look it, but it's been a busy week.

The patch and photo set sales have been going well despite an absolutely terrifying total disappearance of orders on Tuesday and Wednesday. Luckily, that was just a glitch with how I configured my PayPal cart. At the current rate I'll hit the sellout point over the weekend and mail out my final packages for the year on Monday. I'll still have some available, but I won't be taking any more general orders until I have a few days off to handle the shipping duties.

I also received my first commission! That's probably not very exciting news to any of you that are artists for a living, but to me it's a big deal. If nothing else it means I'll have some cool pictures to post over the next two weeks.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"At the Mountains of Madness" Prop Photo Set

The Miskatonic University Antarctic expedition of 1930 is one of the most enigmatic chapters in history. It was a collection of firsts- the first Antarctic expedition to use heavy air support, the first to use drilling gear to penetrate the ice, and the first to widely range across the interior of the continent. Despite it's record of achievements it's more often remembered today for the multiple fatalities that brought it to an end. More intriguingly, the circumstances surrounding those deaths have puzzled researchers for years because significant amounts of documentary evidence about what happened, including journals, reports, and photographs, have been locked away for close to a century.

Until now.

This is a collection of prop photos recreating events, people, and places from H. P. Lovecraft's classic story "At the Mountains of Madness". The thirteen 4" by 6" black and white photos in the set were produced as handouts for use during a "Call of Cthulhu" RPG session and were created using retouched historical pictures, original art, and studio photography with actual props.

(Click on photo to see full size)

Going clockwise from the 12 o'clock position the photos depict:

1. A picture taken from the aft camera mount of one of the expedition's Dornier Wal aircraft of low mountains.

2. Shot taken from the forward camera mount on a Wal of another aircraft flying in formation.

3. The young Mr. Danforth posing in front of a plane.

4. One of the expedition's teams of sled dogs transporting supplies.

5. Prof. Lake and an assistant taking solar fixes. The close proximity of the pole made regular solar and celestial readings a necessity for navigation.

6. One of the "Elder Things" outside the mouth of the underground chamber where it was discovered.

7. In the center, technicians check the engine of one of the expedition's Dornier Wal aircraft.

Again, starting from the 12 o'clock position:

1. A Wal undergoing tests in the open water off the Ross ice shelf.

2. An "Elder Thing" eye stalk being examined during Prof. Lake's dissection attempt.

3. Sled dogs pulling a sledge containing part of Pabodie's portable drilling rig. Portable, in this case, being relative.

4. Supplies being offloaded from the "Arkham" at the edge of the ice shelf.

5. A shot taken from one of the Wal camera mounts of the strangely regular shapes or structures seen clinging to some of the peaks in the Antarctic interior.

6. Center, Prof. William Dyer relaxing on deck during the journey south.

The photos are provided in pristine condition and were intentionally printed on photo paper lacking a watermark or any other printing that would identify them as modern. They can be used as-is as props or as part of a collection of "At the Mountains of Madness" memorabilia, but directions for realistically aging the prints are available here on the blog.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Miskatonic University Seal, Redux

I finally got around to re-doing my Miskatonic University seal. You can still find the original over here, but these new versions won't have any of the pixellation that one was prone to at larger sizes. Why did I make my own when there are so many other versions out there? Because most of the other seals incorporate elements that further the jokey "wink, wink...Medieval Metaphysics" vibe that I can only take in small doses. More importantly, they weren't freely available for use. These are, as long as you follow the Creative Commons license down at the bottom of the page.

Just click on the picture to get the full-sized version.

Large, 300 DPI

Medium, 150 DPI

Small, 72 DPI

Monday, December 1, 2008

Da Bidness

I want to thank everyone that's ordered items over the past couple of days. The "Secret Master" sale on Black Friday was a huge success and I think everyone that took advantage of it is really going to like their stuff. Between those sales and yesterday's patch orders I had over 60 packages to mail out this morning. If I can keep that sales tempo up I should be able to sell out of the new patches by next week.

In no particular order, here are a couple of things I've learned over the past couple of days:

- Chipboard mailers suck. I've been using gloss-finish white CD mailers for my patch orders with great success, but I decided to use brown chipboard mailers for the photo sets in order to save money. That was a big mistake. They're heavier, they're subject to casual water damage from rain and snow, and the thickness of the cardboard means they don't qualify for letter rates if more than a few sheets of paper are inside. If I have any left after this week I'm just going to toss them on Ebay and order gloss finish cardboard mailers as replacements.

- When an ordering clerk says "Oh yeah, these chipboard mailers can hold an 8 1/2" by 11" sheet of paper folded in half," he's lying. I went to pack up all the "Secret Master" packages at 3 o'clock this morning only to discover that I had to fold the Pabodie plans in quarters to get them inside the mailer. Have I mentioned how much I hate chipboard mailers?

- I'm genuinely surprised how much of my business comes from outside the United States. I expected a domestic/international ratio of, at best, 70/30, but it's actually roughly 50/50. Almost all my international buyers are European, and most of them hail from France and the United Kingdom.

I've Been Moto-ized!

Scott writes:

Since you've expressed an interest in seeing how the work you've released under the Creative Commons license is used, here's a quick shot of my phone (one of the ubiquitous RAZRs) with the flip opened. I had to modify the artwork a little to maximize readability on the tiny screen...

He also included these shots in a follow-up email:

I think that's just insanely cool.