Saturday, June 30, 2012

Vampire Killing Kit Tutorial

Given our recent discussions on the subject I was extremely pleased to find these videos. From "MovieBuff290" on YouTube comes this amazingly useful tutorial on creating a vampire killing kit. He goes over every step from the construction of the case to acquiring the various items that fill it. The only detail I don't like, and this is a minor quibble, is the use of twine for the handgrips on the stakes and mallet. Don't let that detract from the rest of the project. It's not only a great prop, but I'm sure these videos will inspire more than a few people to tackle making their own kits.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Anomaly

Marc Green brings us this curious specimen from the estate of Dr. Edmund Gray. Considering the small size of the figure the fine detail work on the teeth and toes is quite impressive.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Vampire Slaying Kit Followup

Andrew James sent over word that the vampire slaying kit mentioned earlier this month sold for £7,500 ($11,660). Here's the part I was really happy to see:

The Royal Armouries said it expected the box would prove a major attraction when it went on display at the Clarence Dock museum later this year.

The box and its contents all date from the 19th Century but are likely to have been put together in the 20th Century.

It is thought it was produced to capitalise on the popularity of Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula and the Hammer Horror Movies.

Acknowledging that vampire hunting kits are modern creations is something every reputable dealer should do.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Hillergren Edition.

After yesterday's Cthulhu statue I thought this one would be an interesting contrast. Tomas Hillergren embraces the anthropomorphic tradition and brings us this dynamic maquette.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Zimmerman Edition.

Brandon Zimmerman brings us the the Esquimaux idol from "The Call of Cthulhu". It's a definite break from the traditional anthropomorphic depictions.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Garage Sale

And I mean "garage sale" quite literally. I've been cleaning out the garage and discovered a bunch of prop items from old projects.

First up, we have the leftovers from the Miskatonic University project. This includes the full size (30") Miskatonic sports pennant, three of the Miskatonic Field Journals, and a selection of postcards. As usual, I'll throw in some extra stuff. I'm a big believer in lagniappe.

One caveat- the pennants were originally creased during shipping, so I'll be sending them flat packed in an oversized mailer. They'll have to be ironed or wetted and dried flat when they arrive..

The price for this set is $20 in the US, $25 internationally. I only have a handful available, so when they're gone they're gone.

Update: And...they're gone. My thanks to everyone that bought one.

I also have "The Black Heart of Nephren-Ka".  Well, that's what I've been calling it while it sat on my shelf.  It was originally done as a commission for someone that wanted a mummified troll heart similar to the vampire heart I did.  Sadly, after I finished it they decided that they wanted it in a green/black color scheme instead of the normal reddish tint.  Trolls having green blood and all that.  The green version came out just fine, but I was left with the original. 

Like the earlier vampire example this is an extremely realistic depiction of a mummified heart.   The biggest difference is that this is sized for a troll that stood around 9' to 12' feet tall.  It's roughly 150% larger than a normal human heart, measuring approximately 8" high and 6" across.  The severed remains of the various veins and arteries are present and you can actually use a flashlight to peer inside if you're so inclined.  Click on the pictures below for the large version.  That should give you a good idea of the level of detail.

This wasn't intended to be just a display piece.  Although the finish looks unbelievably nasty, with clotted blood and grime, that's just a harmless surface coating of tinted wax.  It feels like an old piece of beef jerky, and if you give it a rap with your knuckles you'll hear a satisfying wooden "thunk".

The mummified heart will require a periodic buffing with furniture wax if you live in a hot climate or handle it for extended periods of time.   Just for the sake of safety I should mention that it should never be exposed to an open flame.  Because of the wax coating and the materials it's made of it will merrily burn until there is nothing left but ash. 

The mummified heart is $100 including shipping inside the US. Unfortunately, because of the aforementioned flammability it can't be shipped internationally.

Update: And it's gone. I guess I'm...(pause, puts on sunglasses)...heartless. YEEEAAAAAAHHHHH!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Quick and Dirty Air Drying Clay

I have been gifted with a significant other who is amazingly crafty. I knew things were going smoothly when our first dinner date ended with her inviting me into her home. Once inside we proceeded to spend the next several hours using salt, vinegar, bleach, a heat gun, and a blow torch to apply various aging treatments to decorative copper foiling.

That incident pretty much defined our creative relationship. To her that copper foiling was a nifty embellishment for ornate scrapbooking projects and handmade cards. To me it was ideal for making decorative accoutrements for the cover of an eldritch tome. She uses our stock of polymer clay to make cute little bunnies and faux stone beads, while I use the stuff for Cthulhu idols and Elder Sign tokens.

While I was working on the retro gaff project she pointed out a material that would have saved me a huge amount of time- homemade air drying clay. I've fooled around with the store bought version in the past, but wasn't all that crazy about it because it was relatively expensive. Whipping up a batch of the DIY version is dirt cheap, and the result is a very fine grained material that can take an amazing amount of fine detail.

This tutorial from "CraftyGamer" on YouTube provides step by step instructions for cooking up a batch. It opens up a lot of prop possibilities because it's so inexpensive and easy to work with.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Pith Helmets, Sun Helmets, and Sola Topees

CoastConFan has a great post about a classic piece of adventurer's kit- the pith helmet (and its relatives). The writeup includes links to some fantastic resources.

The pith helmet holds a special place in the imagination; just put one on and you are transported to a world of high adventure in obscure and dangerous places. The strong association of this piece of vintage headgear is so powerful that it has become a shorthand iconic image of the adventurer, explorer or colonial military soldier.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Coffer of Captain Obed Marsh

The talented Jason McKittrick brings us The Coffer of Captain Obed Marsh, another one of his wonderful Lovecraftian prop sets. There's a lot to like here. Of all the elements it's the fragment of the Ponape Scriptures that catches my attention. The white-on-black printing isn't an obvious choice, but it really works. The heavily textured leaves are made from real palm leaf paper.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Order of Alia

Benjamin Castro brings us this tome from the Order of Alia. The craftsmanship is just outstanding. The hand bound cover is natural leather with custom made metal clasps and adornments.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Shaping of Cthulhu, Part Deux

Back in March Dave Kirkby started the long process of sculpting a custom statue of Cthulhu. The sculpt is now done and he's moving on to the final finishing.

For one brief period he had ears but they looked stupid so they went. The shape of the ridge around the head also got changed and I wanted a more bulbous look at the bottom of the back of his skull. The final big part was adding the wings which had been giving me the fear due to the size of the back but in the end I found them pretty easy to do. Once the wings got added it was just a case of adding the final details such as text on the base, some wrinkles, the ridges along the tentacles around the face, cleaning up the claws on the feet, filling deep holes that would be hard to cast plus a few other folds here and there.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Vintage Radio Signals Report

This would be an ideal piece of evidence for any story involving an oceangoing vessel.   As messages were transmitted or received the radio operator would fill out the sheet and then place it in the master communications log.  Those little snippets of information can build up an entire narrative, as anyone who has browsed the transmissions from the night the Titanic sank can attest.

Just click on the picture below to get the JPG. You'll find a PDF with typewritten form fields and trimming guides over here. Ideally you would want to print it off using a colored vellum. Reports from a logbook would have two holes punched in the upper center area for the radio room binder.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Embryo

Joe Slatter, a gifted amateur filmmaker from the UK, brings us this corrupted "embryo". I would strongly suggest clicking over to his page for the project. He not only has videos of the finished creature, but a gallery of in progress shots of the sculpt and video of the casting process.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Leather Mask Making

"PaganArtGuy" explains the mysteries of making a leather mask. His four part tutorial includes a lot of small details I haven't seen mentioned in other guides, like using white glue to set up the leather.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Giant Tentacles

One of the difficulties with Lovecraftian live action games is that Mythos creatures don't translate well to a reasonable scale. Outside of generic cultists the easiest to recreate are the humanoids like ghouls and byakhee. Beyond that, with few exceptions, the usual approach involves dim light, dyed bedsheets, and an attempt at a few waving tentacles.

That last feature might be getting some help from this project by Andrew Long. He's constructed some massive prop tentacles for an upcoming video.  The work in progress shots look impressive even without the final surface finish. Even better, a tutorial is reportedly on the way.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cthulhu Pendant

This Cthulhu pendant comes to us from British artist Stuart Williams. It's cast in black epoxy clay from his original master.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Making Embossed Cover Designs

Historically, the vast majority of hand bound books featured plain, unadorned covers. Ornate designs were something reserved for truly special works where the considerable cost of decorative styling reflected the owner's appreciation for the contents. It was a way of saying "This book is special and precious."

Decades of artistic depictions of fantasy grimoires and tomes have reinforced the idea that their covers should reflect the unique nature of the contents. After all, what could be more precious than a book filled with the mystical secrets of the universe? The prototypical book of dark knowledge is decorated with arcane symbols and eldritch figures that set it apart from more mundane works.

Anyone interested in crafting such a tome will find this tutorial from Karleigh Jae invaluable. The two part video shows her technique for creating embossed designs on a leather cover. It's aimed at users with some moderate bookbinding experience, but even a novice will find her directions easy to understand.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Altar of the Crystal Skull

Artist Anders Lerche brings us this Indiana Jones inspired altar stone. An internal light source illuminates the crystal skull from below.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Cosmic Cube

"ShinobiHime302" brings us this quick and easy tutorial for recreating the Cosmic Cube from "The Avengers".

This is one of those basic ideas that can be developed in all kinds of cool ways. Craft and dollar stores are filled with all kinds of interesting clear plastic objects that would make amazing props when they're internally illuminated. One of my go-to items for detailing alien technology and occult artifacts are the cheap little 3-D puzzles in the discount toy section. The clear ones are ready made for a project like this. The puzzles made from opaque plastic each yield up to a dozen precision molded geometric shapes that are ideal for recreating something like the cubes from "Super 8" or the internal workings of a Hellraiser puzzle. That's how I put together this alien artifact for a friend's Halloween party in about two hours.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Vampire Slaying Kit Up for Auction

Andrew James was kind enough to send me this article from the Daily Mail about an "authentic" vampire slaying kit going up for auction.

They say you can never be too prepared... but even for the most superstitious person this may be overkill.

A 19th century Vampire slaying kit, which includes a wooden mallet and four oak stakes, glass vials of holy water and garlic paste is expected to fetch up £2,000 when auctioned later this month.

The macabre artefact also has a percussion cap pistol - invented in the 1830 - and a steel bullet mold, all carefully crafted to offer the best protection against any creatures of the night.

Here's an excellent photograph of the kit and it's contents.

The case contains 1) a rosary 2) crucifix 3) a handwritten psalm (Luke 20:27) 4) a pistol 5) four oak stakes 6) a bottle of consecrated earth 7) a common prayer book 8) a wooden mallet 9) silver bullet mold 10) a cloth 11) two glass bottles containing garlic paste and holy water.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to track down a tea chest, a Victorian crucifix, a wooden mallet, and some vintage apothecary bottles on Ebay. Sadly, I'll have to go to a gun trading site to get a percussion cap pistol. A man's gotta eat. Heh.

Update: The website for Tennants Auctioneers describes the upcoming auction thus:

This thrilling sale has already attracted media attention due to the eclectic mix of exceptionally rare and wonderful lots that will be included. One piece in particular, (drawing attention from both the UK and America) is an unusual 19th century vampire slaying kit, which almost complete and in good condition, can be dated to after Bram Stoker wrote the famous Dracula novel, which popularised the vampire character and possibly started the trend of vampire slaying kits. The mahogany casket, complete with percussion cap pistol, steel bullet mould, mallet and stakes, Rosary beads, glass bottles, prayer book dated 1857 and crucifix, which was found in the cellar of the vendors deceased uncle, is in good condition and expected to make £1500-2000. It will certainly be exciting to see where the casket ends up; perhaps with many scenes of Bram Stokers novel being set in the Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby, the vampire slaying kit might only make a short journey after the sale. With live internet bidding on the day however, and already genuine international interest, it could end up overseas!.

I know I'm taking this far too seriously, but I think authenticity actually matters when you start talking about a fake being sold for £2,000 ($3100). Yes, the individual items in this kit almost certainly date back to the appropriate time period. As I jokingly pointed out above, obtaining them individually and then assembling a kit is relatively easy.

One simple test as to the actual age of the case would be to shine a pocket long wave UV light on it's contents. I can almost guarantee the labels on the bottles and the psalm pasted to the cover would glow a bright bluish white. Authentic paper and parchment from before the 1930's glows a faint yellow or off white color. The creator may have taken the time to use a natural fiber velvet for the lining, but not many source the paper and inks for labels.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Classic Era Laboratory

CoastConFan has a great look at an authentic investigative laboratory from the 1920s. It belonged to Harry Price, a real paranormal investigator that practically walked out of the pages of a pulp magazine.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Darkness Rising

Luthien Thye brings us this wonderful tome. One detail I'm particularly impressed by is the central embossment formed from two found jewelry stampings, one over the other.  As a trip to Etsy will demonstrate that approach usually looks atrocious, but Ms. Thye was able to pull it off by unifying to two with red detailing and a weathering wash.

Inspired by the concept of the Sinsar Dubh in Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series, “Darkness Rising” is a Book of Shadows, of sinister nature. The central motif was derived from a pair of wings which the “King” in the book was said to have possessed. The wings were then stylized and made into the motif you see, and then hand-sculpted with clay to achieve a 3D effect. 2 pieces of beautifully ornate filigrees are added to complete the central motif. The metal gates on top and below the central motif are a combination of patina-ed brass and rusted galvanized zinc, assembled to symbolize the “Jaws of Death”.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Hermitage Fairy

Swedish artist Jacob Petersson brings us this wonderful mummified fairy.  What sets this apart from similar projects is the incredible level of detail, from the redcap's clothing and weapons to the archaic display case. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Horror in Clay

The talented Jason McKittrick brings us his version of the clay tablet from Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu". The bas-relief is one of the most iconic items from the old gentleman's entire body of work, followed closely by the statuette that appears later in the story.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Tome

"Copper Centipede" brings us this nicely done tome.  The cover treatment is paper mache with a drybrushed finish.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"At the Mountains of Madness" Project Update

 Work on the "At the Mountains of Madness" project continues.

Last week I mentioned a few problems I'd encountered.  Thanks to your suggestions two out of the three issues are close to being resolved.  I've found two boxes that appear to be ideal for the deluxe sets and should be getting samples by next week.  The difficulty with finding unbranded photographs is still a bit iffy, but I think I'm close to finishing that up as well.  As of yet I still haven't found a professional printer that can handle printing the sketches on textured art paper.

Over the last week most of my time has been spent doing research.  I've steadily amassed quite a collection of books on the history of Antarctic and polar expeditions.  One of the most useful has been Polar Exploration: The Heroic Exploits of the World's Greatest Polar Explorers from the Royal Geographic Society. It's a coffee table book offering a broad overview of the subject written by scholar Beau Riffenburgh.  What sets it apart from other popular history books are the included documents.  It's absolutely chock full of removable sketches, notebooks, diaries, letters, and other ephemera drawn from the experiences of polar explorers stretching back to the mid 18th century. 

If you're considering running Chaosium's classic "Beyond the Mountains of Madness" adventure I would highly recommend this book.  For gamemasters and players alike it's a great introduction to the history of polar exploration that conveniently runs right up to 1929, the year before the original Miskatonic Antarctic expedition.  It's not an in-depth read, but the heavily illustrated text and included documents are an ideal way to get into the spirit of the expedition.  Players will get a real feel for the kind of challenges they'll be facing on the ice, including the horrific consequences when something goes wrong.  The real history of exploring the ends of the earth is filled with enough disease, starvation, death, and cannibalism to give anyone pause.

Anyone looking to embrace a prop-heavy version of BTMOM will find the included ephemera a fountain of inspiration.  A good example of the book's reproduction documents is this letter from Ernest Shackleton to J. Scott Keltie, Secretary of the Royal Geographic Society.  Shackleton mentions his expedition has gained the backing of the War Office to such an extent that he can requisition Army personnel.  He also expects the Admiralty to approve an equal level of access.

From a propmaking perspective the letter includes two interesting details.  The first is the letterhead itself.  It's an ideal historical reference for anyone, like me, looking to reproduce an authentic looking piece of Antarctic expedition ephemera.

The second is one of those great little details that a century of time has obliterated from the modern consciousness- the importance of the telegraph. The letterhead not only includes the expedition's dedicated address for telegrams, but what codebooks messages should use.  And what do you know, both of those books are available for free.  Google books has a copy of the ABC Telegraphic Code, Fifth Edition, while the Internet Archive stores Bentley's Complete Phrase Code.

For gamers this is a great opportunity to add some real interactivity and immersiveness into an adventure.  By the classic era of the Mythos the telephone was well on its way to replacing the telegraph as a means of communication, but telegrams were still used for a large proportion of long distance message traffic.  Having players decrypt a message using a code book is the kind of entertaining mini-game that reinforces the principles of investigation and provides an intellectually engaging experience.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Mummified Pygmy Warrior Head

Kevin Gerrone brings us this well done tsanta gaff. The headdress is a nice touch. Even the best shrunken heads can have issues reproducing the look of human hair. The contrasting textures and colors of the headdress is a clever way to ameliorate that while adding a great deal of visual interest.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Human Touch

One of the perennial topics here at Propnomicon is the difficulty of making fonts look handwritten. For short segments of text it's not a major issue, but reproducing the appearance of natural writing when you're dealing with large blocks of material is extremely difficult. Dean Engelhardt at the Cthulhu Reborn blog has an excellent post up looking at some techniques for adding the human touch.

Now, that’s a great font … and even straight out-of-the-box it looks pretty reasonable as a simulation of human handwriting. But … if you look closer, you’ll notice a few things. The capital I character repeated in both lines looks exactly the same in both renditions. The lower-case T is also conspicuously identical in angle and weight in each of the half-dozen places it appears. And the baseline is dead-straight, much moreso than a real person would create. Now, none of these are failings of the font itself (most fonts only include one version of the upper-case I glyph for example), and for short passages of faux-handwritten text they are probably fine. But when you’re putting together long passages using a font like this, the repetition and regularity of the font definitely diminishes the overall illusion of the text having been written by hand.

The focus of the article is on Adobe Illustrator, but his detailed explanation of the basic principles of incremented randomization should be applicable to any digital art program. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.  His insights will be useful to anyone crafting handwritten paper props.