Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: The Year In Review

2010 has been a very good year for Propnomicon.

As the blog enters it's fourth year I wanted to thank you for making it a success on a variety of levels. First off, readership has been steadily climbing throughout the year. I was overjoyed last December when the site had just under 15K visitors for the month and was averaging around 500 unique visitors a day. As the Sitemeter traffic graph demonstrates, those numbers have nearly doubled for this month.

I'm well aware that in the big picture these are modest numbers, akin to a single post on a mainstream celebrity or tech news website, but for a tiny little niche like mine they're phenomenal. Particularly when compared to where they were back in 2009. One a good day the blog now receives the same number of visitors it had for the entire month of December in 2008.

Here's a look at the most popular posts for the year according to Google metrics. I didn't turn on these stats until July of this year, but the relative traffic amounts generated by various subjects should be a valid indicator of interest.

Compare that list with the traffic graphs and the huge traffic spike in November 2010 becomes more understandable. It's almost all thanks to a post on paper aging that was linked to by Make Magazine. I'm not complaining mind you, but it's strange that a subject like that would generate so much interest.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Dragon's Path

Oh, Jason McKittrick, how well you know my weaknesses. A narrative mystery told through prop documents? I don't know where you're going with it, but I like where it starts.

Ever since I discovered the awesome Dennis Wheatley mysteries I've been wondering why no one seemed to be doing a modern take on that prop-driven narrative approach. A few alternate reality games have come close, but they almost invariably dissolve into a morass of puzzle-wankery that makes no logical sense.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Miskatonic University Update

Today is the final day of the Miskatonic University project pledge drive on Kickstarter.

As you can see over there on the right it's been wildly successful, significantly exceeding the original fund raising target. By the time things end tonight at 11:30 I expect there will be over 100 donors. That marks an increase of over fifty percent from the sponsorship levels of the Arkham Sanitarium project.

The actual transfer of funds from Kickstarter to Amazon and then to me can take up to two weeks, but on Monday I'm going to start placing orders for some of the prop items. Ideally, that will avoid some of the delays encountered in the Arkham project. It also means I need an accurate count of how many items to order as soon as possible. If you aren't able to pledge through Kickstarter for whatever reason, but still want to participate, just click on the "View my complete profile" link to reach me via email.

Again, my sincere thanks to everyone that has already pledged.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Azash Edition

Artist "Azash" brings us this carved Cthulhu idol made from a piece of dense driftwood. The oiled finish really brings out the colors of the unidentified wood.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Curious Case of Ernst Blomberg

If you're at all interested in vampire killing kits you need to set aside an hour or two and pay a visit to Spookyland's comprehensive coverage. There's a fascinating amount of history and tradition attached to their manufacture, epitomized by the seemingly deathless Ernst Blomberg's ability to crank them out for well over a century...and counting. Some say Herr Blomberg's longevity is ample evidence that the kits are entertaining frauds, but I prefer to think his name is part of the ritual that makes the kits effective.

And, like so many stars of the silver screen, even if they're fake, they're still gorgeous.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Book of Skulls

Artist David Scherer brings us this ancient grimoire. The aging treatment on the latex cover is quite nice.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

From 1922, a painting of students sledding on Hangman's Hill west of Arkham. The view faces north, with the Miskatonic River in the background.

The illustration, taken from the University of Wisconsin's 1922 yearbook, actually shows students sledding on the hill at Picnic Point above Lake Mendota. Based on Lovecraft's original map of Arkham, and a bit of admitted squinting, the view is consistent with a picture from just north of the "Wooded Graveyard" on the hill. Aylesbury St. and River St. would be just below the line of trees, while the Aylesbury St. Bridge is a few degrees to the right.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Miskatonic University Update

Thanks to your generosity the full-sized Miskatonic University pennant is now funded.

Here's the original I'm basing it on- a Harvard pennant from the early 20's.

The repro pennants will be very close to this one in construction, with white printing on a red felt banner. The body will have a white felt strip sewn on the edge so you can mount it on a dowel and hoist it at your favorite sporting event, if you're so inclined.

The font used is a custom Tuscan that I haven't been able to find a freeware equivalent for. Reproducing it by hand is a possibility, but the "IFC Insane Rodeo" font by Anton Krylov is very similar to the original. Close enough that I'm in the process of getting a commercial license so I can use it for the project. It's not a perfect match, but it captures the stylized look of the original without edging too far into the circus or western look.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Miskatonic University Update

The Miskatonic University project has crossed the $2250 threshold, so the package will now include a 12" by 30" Miskatonic sports pennant. I'll post the mockup for the pennant in the next few days.

The Strickfaden Legacy

Kenneth Strickfaden is one of the most influential film designers of the 20th century, despite being relatively unknown. His work creating the laboratory set for the original Universal "Frankenstein" continues to influence prop design even today. This series of photographs from an auction of Forrest J. Ackerman's film memorabilia in 2003 includes shots of Strickfaden's amazing prop work.

Variable Traveling Arc for Young Frankenstein...Elaborate traveling arc with an interior plastic tube surrounded by tiered circular rings. Three vertical metal rods are topped with wooden insulators and brass balls. The unit rests on a transformer base, which is a square wooden box with six turned wooden insulators on top. Appeared in its current form in "Young Frankenstein". Pieces of the Traveling Arc were used in different configurations in various films dating back to the 1930's. A key piece in Strickfaden's traveling science shows.

Nebularium...A quintessential piece of laboratory equipment from 'Frankenstein", Universal, 1931. Also appears prominently in "The Mask of Fu Manchu" (1932), and "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935). The concave mirror of the nebularium could also be used to create dramatic shadow effects. A light bounced off the curved mirror and past an actor would throw a greatly magnified shadow on any surface. The shadow images of the Frankenstein monster in the Universal series were virtually always created with the use of the Nebularium. The Nebularium is comprised of a concave mirrored reflector with a T-configuration of wooden and metal insulators, and a 14 inch insulator with a 5 inch brass ball on top. Mounts on a heavy black base with two 5 inch turned wooden insulators.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Discovery of Earth Shattering Importance

I think I may have made a major breakthrough in the field of "Thing in a Bottle" technology. It's downright embarrassing how little discoveries like this make me giddy. Heh.

One of the reasons I don't make solid polymer clay or resin creatures is that they'll eventually break after repeatedly hitting the glass inside a bottle. I've tried to address that problem with a few experiments using a viscous cationic polymer suspension. Or, as it's more commonly known, "cheap hair gel from the dollar store". Sadly, hair gel is filled with characteristic air bubbles, so every specimen looked like a gruesome monstrosity suspended gel. Ugh.

One of the approaches I tried to get rid of the bubbles while maintaining the semi-solid consistency of the material was boiling it in a microwave. That kind of worked, producing a gel with thousands of very tiny bubbles. Still unsightly, but better than before.

This week I stumbled across the secret of removing all the bubbles from the gel- boiling it twice. Just put about a cup of the stuff inside a pyrex measuring cup or bowl that can hold at least three cups, bring it to a boil in the microwave, then stir in two drops of dish detergent and let it cool overnight. The next day, boil it again, add food coloring to tint, skim the film of bubbles off the surface, pour the gel into your container while it's still warm, and let it cool to room temperature.

Tada! You get an optically clear suspension. The creature I was using for the experiment doesn't have a paint job, but you can see it floating serenely in the jar.

I still want to fiddle around with the technique to make sure temperature or pressure changes don't cause problems, but I'm very optimistic about how useful this will be.

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Hellric Edition

I quite like this customized Cthulhu Tyrant miniature commissioned by Hellric and sculpted by Mr. Bocks. I don't normally go for dynamic anthropomorphic depictions, but the over-the-top Games Workshop aesthetic does have a certain charm. Considering it could fit in the palm of your hand the level of detail is quite impressive.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Alexandria, 1921

From 1921, stevedores at the port of Alexandria load bales of fine Egyptian cotton for shipment around the world. It wasn't unknown for fine antiquities and artifacts to leave the country hidden inside a bale, cushioned from damage and hidden from official eyes.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Miskatonic University Project Update

The Miskatonic University Project is close to leveling up.

Thanks to your generousity there's almost enough money pledged to cover the printing of a vintage-style felt sports pennant. Here's a very rough mockup.

Why red and white instead of the oft repeated purple and black? Two reasons, aside from taste. One, there's no visual contrast between purple and black. Two, given that Lovecraft based Miskatonic on Brown University, and that their colors are red, white, and brown, it seems appropriate to use the red and white while leaving them their namesake color.

I'll be revising the rough mockup above to imitate an actual Harvard sports pennant from the early 1920s. I already know the weight of the Miskatonic seal needs to be increased and I'm going to try and replicate the stylized font. I'll post updated pictures as the work progresses.

Currently there's almost enough money to pay for a 9" by 24" pennant. I had originally thought $400 above the original goal of $1700 would be enough to pay for the 12" by 30" version, but I failed to account for shipping and the setup fee for the printing. The actual threshold for the larger version is around $550 above the original goal- $2250. If the fund drive hits that number I'll upgrade the order to the larger size.

The pennant itself will be red felt with the Miskatonic seal and name screenprinted in white and a sewn white felt border. Unfortunately, at least from the standpoint of authenticity, the felt used is made with artificial fibers. I did price out genuine vintage-style wool felt pennants, but they would have doubled the cost of the entire project. Based on that fact I think artificial felt is an acceptable compromise.

Crass Commercialism

I currently have a bottled specimen prop that you may enjoy up on Ebay.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Egypt, 1922

A Bedouin cameleer relaxes with tea and a pipe of kief in the trackless desert west of Cairo.

Another prop photo for the "Masks of Nyarlathotep" project. The picture was actually taken just south of El Wad in Algeria, so the "west of Cairo" description is technically accurate. The original caption characterizes kief as "the desert man's opiate", so I was a bit surprised to learn it's actually derived from cannabis.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Miskatonic University Update

Early this morning the Miskatonic University project passed it's fundraising goal. I can't thank everyone enough for making that happen. I was originally worried that the fund drive wasn't long enough, and I'm happy to see that fear was baseless.

The Fungi From Yuggoth, Part Two

Here are the construction details of the flying Mi-Go created by Mark Jones. It's a clever, inexpensive method for creating large-scale props using expanding foam over a PVC armature. I'll turn things over to Mr. Jones:

Body: The body parts are made from Expanding Foam used in packing. I traced a shape of the body part onto cardboard, laid a 3'x4' piece of plastic over it. Traced the shape with hot glue, and put another sheet onto that. Thus, I have a plastic, semi-balloon-like mold. I sprayed the foam in and it expands to fill the shape I outlined. I did this for 3 upper body parts, and 3 abdomen parts. I sort of based the shape on wasp bodies.

The fast foam from work is very fragile. You can press your fingers into it very easily. Great Stuff foam insulation from Home Depot is stronger when it dries. I coated all the body parts with a layer of Great stuff and smeared it around. This gave a nice lumpy surface, and a harder protective outside. I've used this technique on many projects.

I used 1/2" cpvc pipe for the basis of the rest of the skeleton. The upper body has a rectangle shape aligned vertically to the body. The top bar is the attachment for the wings, the bottom bar is the attachment for the legs, the front for the head, and the back is for the tail.

I attached two tubes to each side of the upper skeleton. These are where the wings would set into. (more on wings later). From the front bar of the rectangle, there was a T fitting. I drilled a 1/2" hole in the juncture, so I could slide it onto the vertical front bar. Thus I had one fitting facing forward (for the neck) and two going left-right (for the arms).

I have a hot-wire foam cutter I made and sliced the upper body and tail vertically from front to back. I then carved out the shape of the space where the plastic pipes would fit inside. I used Great stuff as "glue" to put it back together with the appropriate parts stick out.

I wanted the legs to be springy and tried 3 or 4 designs before I found a simple solution. The leg sections are the same pvc pipe. each section is cut at an angle for the bend of the legs. Two holes are drilled and the top of each joint. Two sections are attached at the joints with two small tie-wraps. There is 1" piece of pipe with a 45 degree connector on each side. This is the leg "hub" for each pair of
legs. 3 sections make up each leg. The claw is a salad fork. You can find them cheap at Party City stores. Each section has a 3-foot piece of bungee cord running through it, to the hub, and through to the next section. The cord is pinned at the end of each leg. This gives the sections the bounce and the tie wraps keep them bending just one directions.

The wings are made up of three rods of 1/4" Plexiglas and iridescent cellophane wrapping. Rods were bought from a plastics supply company I frequent. The wrapping was from Party City, and it took two rolls, counting trial and error. The rods were cut into 3-foot lengths. A heat gun was used to put a curve into each rod. A bend 6 inches from the end was put a one end, to act as the mounting point. 3 rods were taped together at this straight mounting end, and fit into the vertical tubes in the back of the migo body. The three rods were kept spread apart by a springy piece of wire from an old Car window shade. Small loops were bent into the ends of the wire, and it was tie-wrapped to the wing-rods. With the shape in place, the cellophane was cut into strips, crumpled up, smoothed out and hot glued to the wing rods. This gave a torn, ragged, ethereal look to the wings.

This part I was never happy with the results. I did a lot of trial and error and finally settled on this design. They looked a bit better in real life than in the pictures. I started with a foam ball shape about 6"x4" in rough shape. I had found some LED lights, battery opperated, each one color changing. I embedded the lights randomly around the foam core, and hot glued them into place. I crumpled a ball of cellophane and glued it over each light to diffuse it (this did not work as well as I would have liked.) I then covered the whole head with bubble wrap to simulate the "brain-like" nature of the Migo head.

The antenna came out well. I took pipe cleaners, smeared the Great Stuff foam on them and allowed to dry. These were painted with red fluorescent paint. I stripped about 1 inch of the end, applied hot glue and stuck it through the bubble wrap into the core foam. Those came out well. The "neck" part of the skeleton was an 6" pointed piece of pvc, so I just stuck the head on. The batter pack (4 AA batteries) was embedded into a slot cut in the upper back of the body section. Since the migo were hanging in the air, and it was dark, it could not be seen.

All of the parts except the wing were painted with Krylon Ultra Flat black paint. I used Wildfire fluorescent yellow in a type of highlighting technique to paint the lines on the body. I kept the brush kind of flat, and drug it over the lumps the foam made. This produced a nice effect.

Each of the migo had three attachment points for lines to hang them on. One at each shoulder and one just before the tail section. Wire then ran to a large, bamboo pole with a cross piece. This allowed my minions to dangle them off the roof during the presentation.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Fungi From Yuggoth

This is what Halloween should be like.

Mark Jones was kind enough to send over some pictures and background material from the Lovecraftian presentation he created for his Halloween get together. It not only featured a Mi-Go brain cylinder, but an entire swarm of the Fungi flying overhead.

I host a big Halloween party every year, and in the last few, there has been a more theatrical presentation in addition to the decorations I usually do. This year, it was based around the Migo and the Brain Cylinder...

The Migo were painted flat black, with UV paint on them to give an interesting look to them. They were lit by 4'foot black lights, three units, set on the roof of the porch. The 3 migo were suspended like marionette puppets from long pole by my minions.

You'll find the narration and presentation notes for "An Investigation Concerning A Brass Cylinder" over here on Google Docs. Here are a few snapshots of the airborne Mi-Go under blacklight illumination:

Tomorrow I'll have some pictures of the marionettes under construction along with the very clever techniques used to bring them to life. My sincere thanks to Mr. Jones for sharing his work.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Into the Void

I've received a couple of emails about "Secret Master" packages destined for Europe not arriving. I normally give any package crossing the Atlantic two weeks to arrive, but it appears there may be a delay because of the holiday rush. If your parcel hasn't appeared by this weekend just drop me a line.

Although shipping time is obviously out of my control I take customer satisfaction extremely seriously. Any packages that go wandering into the void will be replaced at no charge, and I apologize for the difficulties.

Dave Lowe's Sankara Stone

The amazingly talented Dave Lowe decided to bang out a recreation of a Sankara Stone during a marathon showing of the original Indiana Jones trilogy. By the time the credits rolled on "The Last Crusade" the project was done.

Well, almost done. He did go back and tweak things to make a more faithful reproduction.

There are three things to take away from his experience.

One, the foam and filler technique he used can be adapted to all kinds of projects. It doesn't take much imagination to see how it could be used for everything from stone tablets to ancient idols. Zanthu tablets, anyone?

Two, a nice prop doesn't have to take a lot of time. Mr. Lowe has the advantage of being a professional propmaker with oodles of talent, but the Sankara project demonstrates the single most important factor in making anything- motivation. He decided to do it and then did it. By his own admission the results weren't perfect, but when he was done he had a pretty cool prop. Which brings us to...

Three, there's always room for improvement. When he wasn't altogether pleased with the first iteration of the Sankara Stone Mr. Lowe went back and did it again. The result was a better, more accurate prop. Not happy with how something came out? Just do it over.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Miskatonic Steam and Gas Lab

From 1926, a view from the upper deck of the Miskatonic University Steam and Gas Lab. It was here that the lightweight drilling apparatus used by the Miskatonic Antarctic expedition of 1930 was developed by Professor Frank Pabodie.

This is one of those corners of Miskatonic that never gets mentioned directly in Lovecraft's stories, but surely existed. The engineering department of an Ivy League level school would have been filled with state of the art technology and a non-trivial amount of manufacturing equipment. Given Lovecraft's own predilections it's not surprising that his protagonists, not to mention those of his successors, seem to be overwhelmingly composed of librarians and historians. It does seem unusual that the considerable engineering talent at the school, capable of producing innovations like Pabodie's portable drill and the Tillinghast Illuminator, get such short shrift.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Miskatonic University Prop Project

The Miskatonic University Prop Project is now live on Kickstarter. The package is almost identical to the Arkham Sanitarium package: an embroidered patch suitable for a bookbag or jacket, a full color cloisonne lapel pin, two vintage-style postcards, and a set of three field notebooks. The biggest difference between the two projects is that this one includes three of the journals instead of just one.

The pledge reward amount is still $25 (although I do ask for $28 from international donors to cover the increased postage) but the overall project goal has been raised to $1700. The extra $400 is to cover the printing costs for the additional notebooks as well as the increased postage charges. If I'm very lucky and the amount raised hits $2100 there's one item I definitely want to add to the package- a 12" by 30" Miskatonic felt pennant.

The planned schedule for the project is as follows:

12/13-12/29 Pledge Drive

12/30-1/13 Payment clearance through Amazon

1/14-2/28 Production

I expect that production won't take that long, but I'm not taking any chances with low balling the time after the Arkham Sanitarium experience. Better to be pleasantly surprised that things are done early than disappointed when they're running late.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Loose Meat

Home canning is a traditional bit of Americana, but artist EyeconFX demonstrates that it can have a sinister side. This might explain why the righteous gleam in the eye of locavore advocates has always made me a bit uncomfortable.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Dwale of Avagddu

Owning a mouldering tome of forbidden knowledge is a common aspiration for Lovecraft fans. Whether it's the infamous Necronomicon or more obscure texts like the Book of Eibon, a well made tome is the "holy grail" of Mythos props. The problem is that there's a notable lack of eldritch grimoires commercially available, forcing aficionados to contemplate crafting their own from scratch. It's hard to appreciate just how much work is involved in a project like that until you try and do it yourself.

One such project is "The Dwale of Avagddu", a well-crafted tome created by occultist and Lovecraft geek Ian Corrigan. He was kind enough to send over some photographs of his work and provide a little bit of background.

"This book was made based on the inspiration of the old Propping Up the Mythos site, and is several years old now. It's played in a couple of LARPs, but mainly just graces my Lovecraft shelf at home."

"The Dwale of Avagddu is an obscure tome that seems to combine British mythic lore with some much more unusual symbols and ideas. It opens with an otherwise unknown prequel to the famous tale of Ceridwen and Avagddu, but then proceeds to describe the strange beliefs and work of a cult of sorcerers who worship Those Beneath the Mound."

You can see more of Mr. Corrigan's Lovecraftian reviews and ephemera along with various Pagan stuff at his blog "Into the Mound".