Friday, July 31, 2009

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Charles Marsh Edition

This Cthulhu bust was sculpted by artist Charles Marsh . I like how his depiction avoids the "man with an octupus pulled over his head" syndrome while still capturing the essence of Lovecraft's description.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Necronomicon: Sullivan Edition

I've said before that Tom Sullivan is probably the most influential Mythos artist in history thanks to his work creating the "Evil Dead" Necronomicon. Artwork based on his designs has been floating around the net for a few years, but I think this outtake from the movie is the first time every one of his pages has been on display .

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Murder, Most Excellent

I'm in love.

Yesterday my copy of Dennis Wheatley and J. G. Links' "Murder Off Miami" arrived. I'd discovered their "Crime Dossier" murder mysteries thanks to an email from a Cthulhu aficionado that thought I'd enjoy them, and boy were they right. If this one is any indication of what the rest are like I'm going to have the entire collection by the end of the month.

The one thing I don't like about my reprint copy is that it only has pictures of the props that were included in the original issue. The photographs are nice, but in terms of immersion they can't compare to the impact of physical reproductions. The "Crime Dossier" name is certainly apt, since the entire book is exactly that- a complete dossier of all the information gathered during an investigation into the death of financier Bolitho Blane aboard the luxury yacht "Golden Gull". Here are the documents that set things up in the first few pages:

The ship-to-shore telegram informing police of the death.

The dispatch memo sending you to investigate. The release version had an actual memo folded up inside the dossier, but this is just a photograph of the original prop.

What follows are pages of typewritten interviews with the people on board the yacht at the time of the "suicide". Not surprisingly, the hunt for a killer begins after clues at the crime scene demonstrate Mr. Blane was murdered, and you're along for the ride. Interspersed with the transciptions of the interviews are everything you'd expect to find in a police file. Pictures of the suspects:

Police intelligence files:

And pictures of the physical evidence that, in the original issue, was actually included in the dossier:

All of which are vitally important to determining who the actual killer is. After digesting all of the interviews, transcripts, photos, and clues you have enough information to finger the murderer. That's when you can open a sealed envelope containing the final solution in the form of one last internal police memo.

It's a brilliant concept made all the more notable by the fact that it's over 70 years old. It's hard not to see Wheatley's crime dossier concept as a direct ancestor of the modern ARG, or Alternate Reality Game, as well as the current approach to "Call of Cthulhu" gaming. There was some cross-fertilization with the mystery and puzzler genre between then and now, but the legacy of creating a believable, highly detailed fictional world with props and in-game documentation is clear to see. More importantly, at least from the perspective of what this blog is all about, it's a template for creating live-action and tabletop CoC adventures that take immersion to the next level. A place where props aren't just world-building devices, but important clues in and of themselves.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

This Week's Crass Commercialism

I have a few more of the leftover Miskatonic University expedition items up on Ebay this week. Hopefully by this weekend I'll also have a number of items with the Miskatonic University Australian expedition logo available through Zazzle.

"Young Van Helsing" Props

When most people think of movie props they think of iconic items like the Grail Diary from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" or the ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz". And why not? They're an important part of blockbuster films that have been seen by millions of people.

But just as many beautifully made works are to be found in small, low budget films. In Big Hollywood terms these props might be trifles created on a meager budget, but the artists making them oftentimes make up for the lack of time and materials with sheer creativity. A good example would be "Adventures of Young Van Helsing: The Quest for the Lost Scepter", a direct-to-video feature released to capitalize on the hype for the big budget Hugh Jackman "Van Helsing". By all reports it's a less than stellar film, to put it kindly, but artist Matt Jackson created some great props for it:

You can find more of Mr. Jackson's work, primarily sculpture, at his website .

Monday, July 27, 2009

San Diego Comic Con Props

The 2009 San Diego Comic Con, which has turned into more of a movie and television promotional event over the years, wrapped up on Sunday. If you didn't attend you can still see the sights, in particular the plethora of movie props on display, thanks to the massive library of photographs
posted by The Motion Picture Prop Company on Facebook . The sheer variety of props is enough to geek out for hours, but for our purposes there are only a few occult-related items on display:

This is a selection of objects from the upcoming film "Legion", which looks like a variation on the awesome B-movie "The Prophecy" that starred Christopher Walken. The angelic armor and knife look nice, but there's something familiar about that "exploding sphere" weapon....

It's a thermal detonator, just like the one in used by the disguised Princess Leia in "Return of the Jedi". Heh.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Mythos Works Of Andrea Bonazzi

I only just found out that a single artist is responsible for a number of Mythos works, ranging from photoshopped pictures to carved stone tablets, that I've been intrigued by for years. That artist is Andrea Bonazzi, and his website is filled with some of the finest examples of Lovecraftian art to be found anywhere.

I have a fondness for faux occult tablets like this, but there's much, much more at his website.

Update: The talented Mr. Bonazzi is most assuredly a he, contrary to my earlier assumption.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Passport And Postmark Stamps

Susan Libertiny has a great set of passport stamps and postmarks converted into Photoshop brushes at . Here's a sampling of how they look:

Not only are they handy for creating documents, but they're available for free under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Elder Signs...And A Mythos Machine

This Elder Sign by Mark Jones is a marvel of craftsmanship. It was made from carved and polished soapstone, with real silver inlay, and it's just one example of the many he's created .

It's a good thing he has those stones on hand, since his dabbling with forces beyond his comprehension has had some terrible side effects on his computer .

You'll find a detailed build log for his custom case at the link.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gag Miskatonic ID Card

Diane N. Tran created this joke Miskatonic University student ID card using my Miskatonic University seal.

From browsing around her gallery I think there's a chance she might be the one to tackle the long-awaited crossover between Disney's brilliantly pulpy "TaleSpin" cartoon series and "The Call of Cthulhu".

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Miskatonic Antarctic Lapel Pin Die Proof

I just approved the final die proof for the Miskatonic Antarctic expedition pin.

Now that they're going into production I should have the finished product within three weeks.

The Dennis Wheatley Mystery Files

Authentic looking telegrams holding vital clues. Newspaper clippings that provide important background information. Official looking documents containing hidden parts of the story. Physical evidence of what's really going on...and who's responsible.

A prop-heavy "Call of Cthulhu" adventure? No, it's a murder mystery from 1936.

A kind emailer dropped me a line over the weekend recommending that I check out the "crime dossiers" produced by Dennis Wheatley and J. G. Links. After reading this description of the concept from a Dennis Wheatley fan site I was hooked:

"What makes the crime dossiers so unique was that they presented the reader with all the evidence that an investigating team of detectives might gather and then ask him to solve the crime. To this end, a variety of physical clues and reports were housed together in a cardboard folder, which if worked through methodically as any detective might, would yield the correct solution to the problem. Having used deduction to arrive at a prime suspect, the reader could then check his findings with the actual solution to the mystery that was concealed within a sealed section towards the rear of the folder.

The physical clues in all four of the dossiers included both real items such as cigarette ends, curls of hair, bloodstained material, 'poison' pills, scene of crime photographs etc. and clever facsimiles of spoof cablegrams, reports, interviews with suspects, handwritten letters and newspaper cuttings. The very complex mysteries presented, required the reader to be a fully engaged and active participant in the investigation rather than merely absorbing a story in a largely passive way as with most detective fiction. There is no narrative as such, the reader provides that himself, by assimilating the facts and assessing the evidence surrounding the case. The result is therefore a curious cross between a work of fiction to be read and a game to be played."

That last line isn't just a description of what the crime files were, but good metric for a successful CoC game, either tabletop or live-action. What I find particularly interesting is that this concept dates back at least to Lovecraft's own lifetime and that it's been more or less used continuously ever since. The first of the Wheatley crime dossiers, "Murder Off Miami", was originally published in 1936, but reproduction and followup editions, including a translation into computer game format, are as recent as the 1990's.

I've ordered one of the repro editions off Amazon (where you can pick them up for a song) and I have a feeling that I'll soon be collecting more examples of this kind of prop-driven storytelling. Thanks to the success of the Wheatley dossiers a number of imitators launched copycat projects and the aforementioned fan page has information on similar items based on the Sherlock Holmes stories.

As an aside, gamers in general may find Dennis Wheatley's other works of unusual interest. He was an avid wargamer that created two published boardgames, "Invasion" and "Blockade", as well as one of the first authors to blend the worlds of espionage and the occult in his novels.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Finished Defender Helmet

Tom Banwell's long-running Defender helmet project is finally done . Watching it's construction unfold over the last few weeks has been a fascinating process.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Slightly Mordant

Thanks to Mik at Slightly Mordant for adding me to his blogroll. And be sure to ask if the sheets still glow. Heh.

Spirit Compass Prop

This is a "spirit compass" I've had for years. Whenever I need a prop for a spiritualist character, or a plot point requires discovering a physical location, this is what I trot out.

I believe I bought it at the Madison-Bouckville Antique Show in upstate New York back in the early 90's. I have no idea what it's origins are other than the fact that it was made in Switzerland, is constructed from machined brass, and bears a resemblance to some nautical devices used to plot courses visually. At a guess, it's a faux-maritime decorating item from the 70's. The first time I saw it I immediately thought of the witch compass from the horror film "Warlock".

Presentation wise it could use some help. It's mildly impressive now, but if I banged together a velvet lined case, added some greeblies to sex it up a bit, and worked up some faux-documentation it would be a real killer.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

For The Discerning Mad Scientist

Gravitymagnet specializes in providing the finest in fiendish scientific devices . Stop by at their website and you'll find a selection of wonderful retro-style props and apparatus.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Kevin Gardiner Edition

Last week I posted about a Cthulhu Idol I stumbled across at a garage kit modeling site. I still haven't been able to contact Kevin Gardiner, the creator of that figure, but a helpful emailer pointed me towards a gallery of his work on Flickr . He's sculpted at least one other statuette in addition to the one I posted about earlier:

And he appears to be nearing completion on another one:

Friday, July 17, 2009

Occult Seal Clipart

Just the thing when you need a quick and dirty occult image to slap on a scroll. Click through for the full sized version.

Cased Vampire Killing Kit

From artist Dominic McGill comes this well done vampire killing kit .

Ironically, this kind of project is one of the few instances where artists are likely to make more money by not taking credit for their work.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Prop Alchemy Tome

Artist Naamah Darling created this prop alchemy tome . Click through to check out the rest of her rather extensive magical item collection within the "Miscellanea" photo set.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lucian the Seeker: The Props

"Lucian the Seeker" is an ongoing webnovel written by Thorsten Becker, but it's also much more than that. As part of his worldbuilding efforts he's assembled a collection of props that truly boggle the mind.

This is the kind of project that seems tailor-made for my interests. The mix of antique and custom items is both logical and consistent.

How well thought out? Every single one of these items has a specific purpose. They're all described in detail, both in terms of their fictional use and real-world origins, over here .

These props produce the kind of immersiveness and sensory engagement that I want to produce with my own work. Places like the Disney theme parks, Universal Studios, and Vegas hotels are masters of the "objects as story" approach at the macro-scale. They've taken theming and the artful use of the environmental tableaux to whole new levels, helping to make the simple act of waiting in line an entertainment experience in itself. Trying to reproduce that experience at the micro-scale, with each individual item helping to tell a story and the collection as a whole magnifying the effect, is something every "Call of Cthulhu" game should embrace.

Miskatonic Antarctic Expedition Lapel Pin Proof

After the success of the Australian Miskatonic expedition lapel pin it would be silly not to produce one for the Antarctic expedition. This is the pattern for the die stamp that will strike the brass blank. White areas will be raised and polished metal while the black areas will be have a dark textured finish.

For comparison, here's how the Australian pin looked when it was struck.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This Week's Crass Commercialism

I have a few more of the leftover Miskatonic University expedition items up on Ebay this week.

The Disc

"bargo0" has posted a nicely done modern "Call of Cthulhu" prop disc to Flickr. I'd love to know what kind of files are burned on that CD.

He Watches Over Us From Above

Check out this stained glass window insert featuring H. P. Lovecraft at Spectral Creations. There are a plethora of artisan crafted Lovecraftian items in most mediums, but I think this is only the second stained glass piece I've ever seen.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lili's Lair

Two great folks that I happen to game with have just launched Lili's Lair , a blog of mainstream horror and the supernatural. Congratulations on the birth of their bouncing baby blog!

Where's My Cthulhu!

I am an uncomplicated man. It doesn't take much to make me happy.

Which is why it's driving me crazy that Amazon has once again delayed my Bag of Cthulhu order. They've been on sale from various online outlets and on Ebay for two weeks, but for some reason Amazon hasn't received it's shipment yet. Yeah, I know I could just spring the $14.95 and order it somewhere else, but the Amazon price of $10 is just too good a deal to pass up. And seeing pictures like this one from Gamethyme on Flickr is just fueling my lust.

I don't have the slightest amount of interest in the "Call of Cthulhu" card game. From all reports it's very well made and has awesome art, but CCG's just aren't my thing. These tokens, however, are a whole different story. My big idea was using the 24 smaller idols as ornaments on a desktop Cthulhu Christmas tree, while the larger ones would look perfect with my 1/6th Indiana Jones. I even bought the hardware to turn one into a keychain fob!

And now I just wait...and wait....hoping today will be the day they finally get shipped. Yes, I know it's juvenile to get upset because my base consumer impulses are being thwarted by fate, but I've been planning what I'm going to do with them for weeks now. I just want my Cthulhus.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Vintage Wooden Space Helmet

One of the items currently available from the Blackman Cruz collection is this amazing Italian wooden space helmet prop from the 1930's .

Presumably they've had it authenticated, but I'm having a hard time imagining the circumstances of it's creation. Was it a background prop? A design study? The best theory I can come up with is that it was a master for a mold of some kind, hence the split down the middle. If it is authentic it bears an amazing resemblance to some of the pre-production designs Ralph McQuarrie did for "Star Wars".

Whatever it's origin I'd love to have it for my own, though I suspect the price is a bit out of my reach.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Clockwork Cthulhu

An arcane Mi-Go device? A dangerous ritual artifact? Artist Peri Charlifu created this ceramic "Clockwork Cthulhu" piece that blends organic and mechanical forms.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Sweet Fancy Moses

I've just had one of the most bizarre experiences of my life.

Up until a few minutes ago the post directly before this one was entitled "Tentacle ****", with the asterisks standing in for a common four letter word (that starts with a "p" and rhymes with "corn") used to describe sexual entertainment. I have nothing against **** in general, but my use of the phrase "Tentacle ****" was just a little joke. Perhaps not the cleverest of witticisms, but I found it amusing.

Except search engines aren't very good at recognizing jokes. They take everything literally. So if someone ends up searching for a particular combination of words, say along the lines of "tentacle" and "****" and "pictures" and such, they might end up getting linked to a site that actually has very little to do with those terms. Like this one.

Which leads me to one "Tentacle ****" fan who thought I was a fellow-traveler on that particular car of the Fetish Express. And that when I said my prop tentacles were for "jazzing up some photos"....well, lets just say he misunderstood my meaning. Broadly speaking, yes, it can probably be said that I sell photos of models with tentacles, but certainly not in the sense he meant. Besides, if you're going to do *that* with a tentacle you probably want one made out of silicone, not latex.

I'm tagging this one under "Physical Props". Just not quite, you know, that physical.

Tentacles: The Suckering!

Following up on the original tentacle project, I wanted to try making one with "suckers" running along it's length. To make the sucker rings I used 1/2" cabone rings applied while one of the sealing layers of latex was still wet. After that layer dried, effectively serving to glue the rings to the body of the tentacle, I applied another layer of latex to lock them on and then did the final paint job. Here's the result:

I like it, but I don't think I can really recommend this particular approach. While the rings themselves are pretty cheap, $2 for about fifty, applying them took forever. I think it would be considerably faster to use hot glue to attach the rings before applying any latex. Then again, just making the rings from a bead of hot glue would be a lot easier and allow for a more natural variation in the sucker sizes.

A close-up of the final result. BTW, does anyone where the name "cabone rings" comes from? From Googling I can see that they're a common craft item used in fiber projects, but I couldn't find any information on why they were invented or what they're named after.

Poseable tentacle goodness!

Ironically, while I was working on these suckers, Tom Banwell was making some of his own. There's a lot to like about his method, which uses liquid latex cast in a disposable clay mold to produce a very organic, free flowing batch of sucker rings.

Carved Cthulhu Knife

Doesn't this wonderfully primitive carved Cthulhu knife and and pendant set look fantastic? I imagine Inspector Legrasse of "The Call of Cthulhu" would be all too familiar with blasphemous items of this nature.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Defender

Tom Banwell's ongoing "Defender" helmet project is nearing completion . It's not only beautiful to look at, but his posts detailing it's construction are an education in creative materials use and craftsmanship.

I'm a big believer in the DIY ethos of sharing information and techniques, as opposed to the tendency some artists have of keeping things "secret". Mr. Banwell's efforts to show even the smallest details of his works are both a credit to his artistry and a valuable resource. I know I'm never going to create a mask at his level, but from his pointers and commentary I've picked up enough confidence to start planning my first foray into resin casting.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Tome of the Nephilim

I really like the use of materials in this Tome of the Nephilim by artist "sive". The detail work in the book's copper hasp is quite impressive.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Paging Mr. Kathooloo, Mr. Kathooloo To The White Courtesy Phone

My thanks to the nice folks at Calls for Cthulhu for linking to my humble efforts. Be sure to stop by and check out their videos, including the infamous "Cthulhu Porn" clip.

Mind blasting horror, indeed. Heh.

Making A Tentacle

The humble tentacle is arguably the most iconic of Mythos images, trumping even the mighty Necronomicon. Rightly or wrongly (keeping in mind that actual tentacles are few and far between in Lovecraft's works) it has become symbolic of the entire genre of cosmic horror. Now, at long last, I've made my first prop tentacle.

The impetus behind this particular project was twofold. First and foremost, I wanted a background prop to jazz up some pictures. Second, I wanted to experiment with the plastic wrap construction technique. That particular method came up most recently in the post about prop intestines, but it's also been used to create a cheap, but very effective zombie makeup. GammaBlog's intestines are what started me thinking that it would be just the thing for creating an effective tentacle prop.

Here are the materials:

Going from left to right we have 1 bottle of liquid latex carpet adhesive, 1 roll of plastic cling wrap, 1 card of floral wire, 1 bag of polyester fiberfill, 1 roll of floral tape, and three bottles of craft acrylic paint. I chose "Ivy Green", "Kelly Green", and "School Bus Yellow", but any three color spectrum from light to dark will do. The final tab should be less than $10 and you'll have enough material to create dozens of tentacles.

First off, we need to make the flexible wire core that will give the tentacle limited posability. Cut off a length of floral wire four times as long as you want your finished tentacle to be. Fold it in half and then fold the resulting double strand in half to produce a loose, four strand bundle of wire. Run a stick or bamboo skewer through the end of the bundle with two loops and hold that in one hand. Grab the other end with a pair of pliers. Now twist. And twist. And twist. Eventually the four strands will twist together into one, single braided wire, like this:

Now wrap the braided wire with a layer of floral tape to keep the fibers from the next step from binding up between the wire strands:

Now we'll form the tapering body of the tentacle. Grab a handful of the fiberfill material out of the bag and form it into a rough triangle shape the same length as your wire core. Your finished tentacle will be an elongated cone shape, so make sure the layer of fiberfill is relatively even. Place your wire core on top of the fiberfill. Grab another handful of fibers and form another triangle shape identical to the first and place that on top of the wire. By now you should have a sandwich- a layer a fibers, the wire core, and another layer of fibers.

Pull off a sheet of the plastic food wrap from a foot to two feet in length from the roll. Now carefully start wrapping it around the wire and fiberfill using gentle pressure to form the shape of the tentacle. Keep adding plastic wrap, covering the entire body of the tentacle to form the "skin" of the finished tentacle. Once you've covered the entire tentacle and have the basic shape defined you can add more of the plastic film, wrapping it tighter and tighter until you have a soft but flexible shape that looks something like this:

Set the tentacle aside and grab the liquid latex and the bottle of your darkest paint color. Mix about half a cup of the latex with a teaspoon of the paint in a disposable container, preferably something like a yogurt cup with a reusable lid. Once the paint and latex are thoroughly mixed use a cheap foam brush to start coating the tentacle with the mixture. Start at the tip and work your way about halfway down, taking care to coat any loose bits of plastic film so they'll adhere to the main body. The latex will bind the layers of plastic wrap together, giving you a solid "skin" for your prop as well as providing the base coat of color.

This is probably the most time-consuming part of the construction. You'll have to work in sections, alternating between the half of tentacle at the tip end and the half at the base end, setting the tentacle in a bottle or vase between applications so the latex can dry.

Just a reminder- it's called latex adhesive for a reason. Use a table-top or your kitchen counter as your work area, because if the latex dribbles into a carpet or any kind of fabric YOU WILL NEVER, EVER GET IT OUT.

This is what it will look like once you have the first layer of latex applied:

Isn't that beautiful? The crinkled up plastic wrap gives the skin a wonderfully gnarled organic texture.

Alright, we're in the home stretch now. Once you have the tentacle coated with latex you keep applying layers until the skin is fully built up. Coat, let dry, and coat again. Each layer of latex is surprisingly thin, so it took three coats before I thought the skin was sufficiently strong enough for the final paint job.

Remember how I said you'll need three colors of paint? Here's where the other two come in. You've already applied your darkest color mixed in with the latex- it's your "shadow" color, the base of the shadow-midrange-highlight triumvirate. Now you'll apply your midrange color using a piece of sponge or bundled up paper towel. Squeeze out a dollop of paint onto a plate or some scrap paper, dip your applicator in it, daub off any excess paint using a rag or paper towel, and gently sponge on the paint. Again, you'll probably have to work in stages to give the paint time to dry. You want to cover the whole body of the tentacle without getting paint into the crevices. That's where the darker shadow color will be, giving your skin texture depth. Once the midrange paint is dry apply the final highlight color by drybrushing it across the raised areas of the skin with a cheap brush. The result?

Notice how the three colors give depth to the skin texture? Click through to see the high rez JPG where the effect is even more noticable.

There you have it. A cheap, relatively simple way to make tentacles. Thanks to the plastic film construction technique the results are surprisingly good.

Keep in mind that this was a first-time effort. With some practice and a few refinements I think this technique can produce tentacles that aren't just good, but downright fantastic. You could add suckers to the underside of the tentacle using hot glue or plastic rings from the craft store. Or produce more paddle-shaped tentacles, ala the squid-like ones in "The Mist", by using a sheet of cheap craft foam to form the shape. Since all the materials are effectively waterproof it's even suitable for preserved specimens floating around in a jar.

Why, I could even see someone using a variation of this approach to create a large-scale Elder Thing...