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.


william larsen said...

this case is what prompted my earlier comment.your props are great.i was thinking in a space time point of view.shouldn't something depicting something of the past be new?i mean in a movie of the past things would be new (old things).the worst thing to do to an artifact is restore it,ruining it's original condition.i have several cases made by fiber products.some are stamped BELL SYSTEM.i collect telephone items,but value all the cases because they represent a style and quality we don't see today.please don't be offended by my comments.bill

Unknown said...

The color shift in the photo was your camera doing "auto white balance". It tries to compensate for different lighting, but when the image is not the usual mix of colors it does a bad job.

If your camera can, try setting the manual white balance (it is easy, just have a white piece of paper and you push a button when pointed at that). Or include a white card/paper on the edge of the picture and use photoshop/gimp to use that as the reference white, then crop out the card when done.