Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dracula's Legacy

Bram Stoker's "Dracula" is a propmaker's dream come true.

As the source text for much of the modern conception of vampires it holds a unique place in both popular culture and the history of horror. The myriad re-interpretations of the story by artists of every stripe demonstrates its powerful influence. The novel continues to shape the public consciousness well over a century after its 1897 publication, if only to serve as a counterpoint to the increasingly sympathetic portrayal of the undead that, not coincidentally, started in the 1960s and 70s.

What makes "Dracula" of particular interest to hobbyist propmakers, beyond it's historical importance, is that it's filled with mentions of specific items and documents that are relatively easy to reproduce. Stoker's epistolary approach includes dozens of excerpted letters and diary entries, not to mention cutting edge technologies like telegrams, recordable wax cylinders, and typewriters. Add in secondary documents inferred from the text, like maps, train tickets, legal contracts, and official paper, and you have an almost inexhaustible vein of material to mine.

Outside of the paper props the story's most iconic item is probably Dr. Abraham Van Helsing's vampire hunting kit. Despite claims that such kits were available before the publication of "Dracula" I remain unconvinced that such was the case. There doesn't seem to be any reference to their existence in period, a shocking oversight given the Victorian love of novelty and letter writing. To my knowledge not a single Blomberg-style kit purported to date before Stoker's story has ever been authenticated. Worse, those that have been examined have all been determined to be post-WW II forgeries. Individual items and the cases themselves may be dated to the mid-19th century or earlier, but the actual kits are, at best, an entertaining collection of disparate items assembled by talented artists.

Given that all the extant examples are to one degree or another based on Van Helsing's I was surprised to learn that no one seems to have reproduced the original. What makes that even more intriguing is that Stoker provided a relatively detailed description of what it contained, and even how it evolved as the character became aware of the nature of the problem confronting him.

Van Helsing first appears at the request of his old friend and student Dr. John Seward. Lucy Westenra has taken ill with a mysterious disease that baffles Seward, and Van Helsing is called in to diagnose what's slowly killing her. We don't discover any details of his kit here, but some of the contents of his doctor's bag mentioned in Chapter 10 will have an influence on the first version:

"When I described Lucy's symptoms, the same as before, but infinitely more marked, he looked very grave, but said nothing. He took with him a bag in which were many instruments and drugs, "the ghastly paraphernalia of our beneficial trade," as he once called, in one of his lectures, the equipment of a professor of the healing craft."

"Van Helsing took some things from his bag and laid them on a little table out of sight. Then he mixed a narcotic, and coming over to the bed, said cheerily, "Now, little miss, here is your medicine. Drink it off, like a good child."

"As he spoke, he was dipping into his bag, and producing the instruments of transfusion."

Sadly, Van Helsing's efforts are for naught and his patient eventually succumbs to Dracula's depredations. Despite Lucy's death he's still determined to "cure" her, since he now knows she was, and is, suffering from vampirism. Here's where we discover just what's inside the first iteration of his vampire hunting kit.

From Dracula, Chapter 15 :

"Then he fumbled in his bag, and taking out a matchbox and a piece of candle, proceeded to make a light."

"Another search in his bag, and he took out a turnscrew."

"He only said, "You shall see,"and again fumbling in his bag took out a tiny fret saw. Striking the turnscrew through the lead with a swift downward stab, which made me wince, he made a small hole, which was, however, big enough to admit the point of the saw."

Chapter 16:

"He then lit a dark lantern and pointed to a coffin."

"Van Helsing raised his lantern and drew the slide."

"As for Arthur, he seemed under a spell, moving his hands from his face, he opened wide his arms. She was leaping for them, when Van Helsing sprang forward and held between them his little golden crucifix."

"Van Helsing, instead of his little black bag, had with him a long leather one,something like a cricketing bag. It was manifestly of fair weight."

"First he took out a soldering iron and some plumbing solder, and then small oil lamp, which gave out, when lit in a corner of the tomb, gas which burned at a fierce heat with a blue flame, then his operating knives, which he placed to hand, and last a round wooden stake, some two and a half or three inches thick and about three feet long. One end of it was hardened by charring in the fire, and was sharpened to a fine point. With this stake came a heavy hammer, such as in households is used in the coal cellar for breaking the lumps."

"Van Helsing opened his missal and began to read, and Quincey and I followed as well as we could."

"The Professor and I sawed the top off the stake, leaving the point of it in the body. Then we cut off the head and filled the mouth with garlic. We soldered up the leaden coffin, screwed on the coffin lid, and gathering up our belongings, came away."

"He took his screwdriver and again took off the lid of the coffin."

"First he took from his bag a mass of what looked like thin, wafer-like biscuit, which was carefully rolled up in a white napkin. Next he took out a double handful of some whitish stuff, like dough or putty. He crumbled the wafer up fine and worked it into the mass between his hands. This he then took, and rolling it into thin strips, began to lay them into the crevices between the door and its setting in the tomb. I was somewhat puzzled at this, and being close, asked him what it was that he was doing. Arthur and Quincey drew near also, as they too were curious.

He answered, "I am closing the tomb so that the Un-Dead may not enter."

"And is that stuff you have there going to do it?"

"It Is."

"What is that which you are using?" This time the question was by Arthur. Van Helsing reverently lifted his hat as he answered.

"The Host. I brought it from Amsterdam. I have an Indulgence."

With all the references to Van Helsing's original kit brought together we can now start the process of reproducing it. As much as I'd like to put this together in a matter of days the realities of both time and budget mean finishing the project is going to be a lengthy process. In the next installment we'll work on finding period examples of the items in question and tackle the issue of using originals or reproductions.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Corrupted Fetus

This delightfully monstrous corrupted fetus prop is brought to us by artist "lefthandsh8k". The original sculpt was done for a film and then cast in latex. I'd love to see something like this done in silicone so it could be displayed in a fluid-filled specimen jar.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Vintage Microphones

Instructables user "markeike" brings us these nicely done depression-era microphone props. The writeup is a little sparse on details, but the materials list and an examination of the finished article should be enough to produce something similar.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

In the Field

More classic era adventuring gear, this time a selection of canvas tents taken from the 1922 "Jubilee" edition of the Montgomery Ward's mail order catalog. I like material like this because of the insight it provides into the technology of the time period. It also makes handy filler material when you're prepping prop newspaper and magazine pages.

As an aside, I use a tent almost identical to the one in the first ad when I'm camping because it's luxuriantly roomy and almost indestructible. Nylon is far lighter and more resistant to mildew, but it's also prone to UV damage from extended sun exposure. Canvas seems to shrug off the sun, and I think it has superior water resistance in all but the most saturated conditions. Not to mention I get to pretend I'm on an expedition while using it. Ten years ago I was into the whole sil-nylon tarp/titanium cookware/lightweight hiking thing, but now that my back has succumbed to the ravages of time I'm getting a real appreciation for vintage-style camping.

Just click through for the high resolution versions.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Sophia Walker brings us this bottled specimen of a segmented worm-thing. The paint job is a nice contrast to the murky green of the preservative fluid.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Sorry for the lack of updates today, but I've suffered a computer crash that may take a few days to clear up. I'll have access to another machine later today, so things should be back to normal tomorrow.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Dark Disciple

"Sharpener" brings us this hand tooled leather disciple's mask, complete with runic inscriptions.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

From the Depths

Artist Theo Junior brings us this curious aquatic artifact. What it hints at is far more terrible than what it shows.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Innsmouth Relic

Phil Bolton brings us this Innsmouth relic box. I wonder how many artifacts recovered during the raid were taken as souvenirs by the marines and agents involved. Perhaps it's for the best that certain unusual items are safely squirreled away in the attics of midwest homes, as far from the ocean as possible.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Comes the Kraken

I'm in the process of making a sideshow-style gaff of a "Kraken tentacle". The basic technique is identical to the one in the original "Making a Tentacle" tutorial, but veers off a bit from the "Tentacles: The Suckering" followup. This approach produces much more realistic suckers by using short lengths of aquarium tubing attached to the main body of the tentacle.

The materials I'm using are cheap and readily available- plastic cling wrap, latex carpet adhesive, floral wire, acrylic craft paint, aquarium tubing, and polyfill fiber stuffing. All together I think everything cost around $15, and that provides enough material to make quite a few tentacles. That's an important feature, at least to me, because I make up for my lack of artistic talent by taking advantage of iteration. Do something enough times, fixing the mistakes from earlier versions and improving your technique, and you'll eventually get great results.

If you haven't read the earlier tentacle tutorial here's a quick recap: the main body of the tentacle is formed from polyfill fiber rolled out in an elongated cone shape around a floral wire core. That in turn is wrapped in layers of cling wrap plastic to give it a firm body. The whole thing is then coated with layers of liquid latex colored with craft paint to provide a final surface texture.

This particular tentacle is a test run using lengths of aquarium tubing as suckers. The tubing was trimmed with a razor knife and then fixed to the body using liquid latex. The latex doesn't adhere to the tubing particularly well, but one of the wonders of liquid latex is that it bonds to itself magnificently. You can coat the tubing with a rough layer of latex, let it dry, and then take advantage of that mechanical bonding to attach the tubing. Once you apply a few more layers of latex the suckers aren't going anywhere.

Here's a look at the results. Just click on the picture to see the large version.

Since this was just a proof-of-concept test I didn't finish the ends of the tentacle and you can see the exposed cling wrap that forms the foundation for the skin. The suckers look pretty good, but I probably should have added another two or three sets to do a better job of filling in the body. You can see how the tubing sections start very short on the left and steadily increase in length as you move to the right down the length of the tentacle.

To the left you can also see the result of another technique I was testing. The small horns or scales were created using drops of liquid latex applied with the tip of a sharpened pencil. As you pull the pencil away the surface tension of the latex draws it to a point, creating the tooth-like spike. You can produce some amazingly detailed texture effects like this, effectively "painting" three-dimensional structures onto the skin.

Here's a closeup shot of the tentacle.

One of the things I love about this method is the gnarly organic texture of the skin. It naturally develops as you apply the latex with a sponge. With a dark glaze and some light drybrushing it would really pop, but even in this monochrome state it's pretty impressive.

With this test finished it's time to move on to the next iteration. I'll fix the problem with the sucker spacing by adding more sets, and try to give the tubing a more organic look. Using a heat gun to flare the ends and add a little irregularity to the perfectly round shape should help with that.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lights! Camera!

My version of the Miskatonic University seal is a very, very small part of the indy film "Intersect".

Far more impressive than my tiny contribution is the incredible "Event Chamber" set from the film.

I suspect the combination of visionary scientists at Miskatonic University and a blast-proof experimental chamber doesn't bode well for the ultimate fate of the characters.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Orifice

The gifted Keith Burruss brings us "The Nightmare of the Orifice In Black" . This massive piece measures two and a half feet in diameter.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Draco Clepta Parvum

Nashoba Hostina brings us this skeletal specimen of Draco Clepta Parvum, a notoriously pesky species of dragonkind.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Marx Necronomicon

Rev. Marx has posted the final installment of his Necronomicon build log. You'll find the first part here, and the second over here. If you're considering making a prop tome this is one of the best tutorials I've ever seen, and Rev. Marx deserves a great deal of credit for documenting the process in such exhaustive detail. I have no doubt that it's going to become one of the go-to resources for Lovecraftian prop makers.

What makes this work is the distressing. The ragged paper of the text block, the wear along the edges of the leather, and the corrosion on the hardware all combine to give a real sense of age.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Feed Me

Russian artist Santani brings us this toothy carnivorous plant. I do so love squicky beasts with excess dentition.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Chocolaty McKittrick Edition

The talented Jason McKittrick has turned out a giant Cthulhu chocolate bar. The sculpt is quite nice, and it's far more appetizing than some of his other offerings. For some reason I find the contrast between those horrific preserved specimens and this tasty Mythos treat incredibly amusing.

Friday, May 13, 2011


Blogger appears to be having some issues. Both yesterday's post on the leather Cthulhu mask and the one scheduled for this morning seem to have vanished. I'll write up duplicates if they don't reappear once the technical issues are resolved.

All better now.

Miskatonic University Bookplates

Jennifer Musser brings us these Miskatonic University bookplates. There are two separate PDF files, one with four large plates and one with eight smaller ones. They can be printed blank and filled out by hand or customized using the embedded fields in the PDF.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Leather Cthulhu Mask

Mimeflayer brings us this leather Cthulhu mask that would look great adorning a cultist. My one question, born of ignorance about the wet molding process for leather, is how it would stand up to regular use.

R'lyeh Calendar Stone

The alleged end of the Mayan calendar in December of 2012 has convinced a considerable number of people that something, perhaps the end of the world or a cataclysmic wave of earth changes, will happen at the end of next year. Given the inability of the Maya to foresee the collapse of their civilization, much less the effect a small group of Spaniards would have on their successor cultures, I'm somewhat doubtful as to any "prophecy" with Mayan roots. That kind of thing is just wackadoodle superstition.

Those of us that respect science and reason reject such fear mongering, since we know the apocalypse will only happen when dread Cthulhu arises from his eons long sleep in sunken R'lyeh. Undertaking FX has been kind enough to provide us with this R'lyeh calender stone so we can keep track of how much time we have left until the stars are right. It's a clever take on the Aztec calender stone and has some definite prop potential.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

For Those That Hunt the Night

The Green Dragon Workshop brings us this pristine Blomberg-style vampire killing kit. I think this is the first time I've seen a kit with a purpose-built case, and the craftsmanship of the hand jointed woodwork is impeccable. My one quibble, as usual, is the lack of restraints for the contents.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Gardiner Edition

Another wonderful Cthulhu idol from Kevin Gardiner. I believe he's produced at least four different idols that were released as resin garage kits, but I've never been able to dig up much information about him beyond that.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Black Hole

This evening I went to do my monthly clean out of the Gmail spam bin. Normally I just check off everything and hit "Delete All", but this time I scrolled through looking for any particularly entertaining pitches for Viagra or unclaimed bank accounts. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered the spam filter was also catching a pile of legitimate emails. Including at least one publisher looking for information to cut me a check.

I've gone through and answered all of the real emails I could find, but if you sent me a message before April 8th that I never responded to there's a good chance it was lost to the spam catcher and deleted.

I'm not quite sure what to do other than offering my apologies. Up until now I've been extremely happy with Gmail and never had much of a problem with emails going missing. Wait, strike that. It's more accurate to say that up until now I had no idea there might be a problem with Gmail spam binning legitimate emails. This could have been going on all along and I just never noticed it.

The Necronomicon, Rev. Marx Edition

Rev. Marx has posted the latest installment of his build log for a prop Necronomicon. You'll find the first part of the build over here .

This is a static prop, but the techniques used would be useful for anyone crafting a tome. Using a water bath to expand the thickness of the text block is a particularly clever idea.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Manticore Tooth

Artist Kristopher Maxwell brings us this well done manticore tooth. One thing I wanted to point out is how much the presentation elevates the whole piece. It's just a simple box with a label and some spanish moss, but it adds a whole new layer of verisimilitude to the central prop.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Curse of Futhark

After slaving away for hours you're finally ready to reveal your pièce de résistance- a beautiful eldritch scroll covered in arcane images and writing. You've lovingly tea stained the paper, deckled the edges by hand, and used a mixture of wax and powdered chalk to distress the entire piece. It's gorgeous.

And when you finally show it off the first thing you hear is "Hey, I love that font!"

A bit anti-climactic, eh? While the ease of desktop publishing makes creating paper props easier than ever it also means the average person has probably seen a popular font hundreds or thousands of times. That problem gets amplified in niche applications like propmaking. There's a good chance your intended audience is just as familiar as you are with the go-to fonts for fantasy props like Futhark, Quenya, and the ever popular Enochian. When it comes to Lovecraftian props you can add Cthulhu Runes and Lovecraft's Diary to the list of immersion-breakers.

Luckily, Blambot has some interesting free fonts available under a non-commercial license that haven't been overexposed. They're designed to be used as fantasy scripts by indy comic artists, which also just happens to give them the right look for propmaking. Browse around and you'll find some other cool resources as well.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Mother Hydra

Artist Robert Neumann brings us this wall hanging of Mother Hydra. The master was sculpted from plastilina and then cast in hydrostone.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Cthulhuminati is a website offering resin terrain items for wargaming. I haven't played a tabletop miniature game in years, but the "Living Icon of the Cthulhuminati" terrain marker, and the other pieces in the pipeline, would be ideal for repurposing into occult artifacts. With a nice paint job and a proper display case these could be amazing props.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Rev. Marx follows up the first part of his faux phonograph build from last week with another installment, this one recreating the distinctive horn of a vintage machine.

Monday, May 2, 2011


I love when Florian Mellies creates a new sculpture, since he always displays it using one of his fantastic tableaus. They're like cover illustrations for books that haven't been written yet. There's a clearer shot of his new Cthulhu idol at his website.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Black Book

Meliadhor brings us this handcrafted tome, featuring an embossed leather cover and German silver embellishments.