Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dem Bones

Bryony Tidball brings us this fossilized dragon. Yet another example of how the real history of our planet is being hidden from view.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wings Over Antarctica, Part Trois

I had originally planned to show the new Miskatonic Antarctic expedition logo tomorrow, but things went better than expected and I was able to finish the roughs early. These are still subject to change, but they're pretty close to being ready. Other than replacing the Dornier Wal with the Dornier Merkur II the changes are relatively minor.

First off, the black and white line art. This would be used for documents, letterheads, envelopes, and such. If it goes over well I'll do a version with slightly heavier line widths and a little grain for a print reproduction.

Next, the color version of the logo. This will be used for small items like the patches and pins. The outer ring has been changed from light grey to Miskatonic red. It's a good tie-in to the University logo and makes the whole design a lot snappier.

Here's a variant of the color logo with more of an Art Deco feel. It takes advantage of countershading to provide dimensionality and uses more muted colors. This is what I'd like to use for larger reproductions like T-shirts.

I still need to work out a stencil version, but these should cover most uses. As always, your thoughts are appreciated.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bottled Wyvern

"JaciJ" brings us this example of a preserved wyvern fetus. It's a good example of how viewing angle can have a huge effect on how a preserved specimen looks.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wings Over Antarctica, Part Deux

Yesterday I wrote about the history of the Miskatonic University Antarctic expedition logo. Today I want to discuss why the second version of that design used the Dornier Do-J "Wal" as the expedition aircraft, and what ultimately made me change my mind about that identification. If you're not into historical research, or are easily bored, I'd suggest skipping to the end.

The text of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" provides few hard details about what model of aircraft was flown by Dyer's party. That's understandable given that he was more concerned with crafting a thrilling weird tale than a treatise on aviation. Complicating things is the fact that the information he does share is somewhat confusing. Again, that's not unexpected. Lovecraft was a master at incorporating historic and scientific details that would give his stories a sense of believability, but he never let the real world get in the way of the story. Surprisingly, the vague details in the story point to a single specific aircraft. Here is what he tells us:

"Four large Dornier aƫroplanes, designed especially for the tremendous altitude flying necessary on the antarctic plateau and with added fuel-warming and quick-starting devices worked out by Pabodie, could transport our entire expedition from a base at the edge of the great ice barrier to various suitable inland points, and from these points a sufficient quota of dogs would serve us."

"Later, when not using all the other planes for moving apparatus, we would employ one or two in a shuttle transportation service between this cache and another permanent base on the great plateau from 600 to 700 miles southward, beyond Beardmore Glacier."

"Danforth and I, studying the notes made by Pabodie in his afternoon flight and checking up with a sextant, had calculated that the lowest available pass in the range lay somewhat to the right of us, within sight of camp, and about 23,000 or 24,000 feet above sea-level."

"We were now, after a slow ascent, at a height of 23,570 feet according to the aneroid; and had left the region of clinging snow definitely below us."

"It did not seem necessary to protect the plane with a snow banking for so brief a time and in so comfortable an absence of high winds at this level; hence we merely saw that the landing skis were safely lodged, and that the vital parts of the mechanism were guarded against the cold."

"At a very high level there must have been great disturbance, since the ice-dust clouds of the zenith were doing all sorts of fantastic things; but at 24,000 feet, the height we needed for the pass, we found navigation quite practicable."

Put that all together and you have the Dyer expedition's airplane - a Dornier model available in late 1929 to early 1930 with a flight range of at least 800 miles and a maximum flight ceiling at or above 24,000 feet. Oh, and it has to have landing skis. There's a good deal of wiggle room about the plane's flight characteristics based on the conjectural modifications carried out by Dornier and Frank Pabodie, but the presence of landing skis narrows it down to only one plane: the Dornier Do-B, most likely the "Merkur II" variant.

All of the other general aviation Dorniers at the time were flying boats that wouldn't need skis to touch down on ice and snow. In fact, the addition of skis to the aircraft, most likely attached to the wingtips, would have been downright dangerous. A block of ice or dip in the terrain could have catastrophically ripped apart the wing.

That leads to an obvious question. Why did I insist that the expedition used the Dornier Do-J "Wal" up until now, when Lovecraft's mention of landing skis conclusively identified the aircraft?

The answer is that I deferred to the expertise of some of the best Lovecraft scholars in the world. The identification of the Wal as the Dyer party's aircraft appears in S.T. Joshi's The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft and again in The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories , credited to Jason C. Eckhardt. From the former:

"More exactly, as Jason C. Eckhardt ("Behind the Mountains of Madness: Lovecraft and the Antarctic in 1930," Lovecraft Studies No. 14 [Spring 1987]:31-38) points out, Dornier Do-J "Wal" airplanes, a twin-engine, single-wing flying boat used primarily for passenger service."

"The Dornier-Wal planes were capable of carrying 7000 pounds of cargo. Eckhardt, basing his calculations on those supplied by Byrd, has conjectured that the total cargo of the Miskatonic Expedition may have come to about 21,000 pounds (12 men = 2400 lbs.; 36 dogs [80 lbs each] = 2880 lbs.; human food = 2160 lbs.; dog food = 3888 lbs.; gasoline = 9000 lbs.; miscellaneous cargo = 1300 lbs.), well within the capacity of the four planes."

That's the citation I relied on. Eckhardt's scholarship makes perfect sense, and is an example of the kind of historical research I delight in, but it ignores the presence of landing skis on the aircraft. I want to make clear that I'm not pointing a finger of blame at either Eckhardt or Joshi, who I have an immense amount of respect for. I just think the seemingly trivial issue of the skis has more importance than they do.

What complicates matters even further is that I think Lovecraft intended the planes to be Wals. We know that Roald Amundsen's expeditions to both the North and South polar areas were among his inspirations for "At the Mountains of Madness". The Wal seems perfect for polar exploration, as Amundsen demonstrated during his historic attempt at reaching the North Pole in 1925. The tough aluminum hull was ideal for operations on ice or water, the dual engines provided a comforting measure of redundancy in case of trouble, and the sheer carrying capacity of the plane allowed for extended operations.

More intriguingly, the Wal's long distance flying characteristics were front page news in the months leading up to Lovecraft writing ATMOM. He penned the tale in February and March of 1931. On August 26th, 1930 Wolfgang von Gronau and his crew completed an epic flight across the Atlantic and landed in the Hudson at New York City. His plane was one of the pair used by Amundsen on his expedition, refurbished and repaired since it's previous adventure. For the rest of the year von Gonau made regular appearances in the news as he and his crew were feted at events across the United States and Europe.

Given all that I don't think it's too much of a stretch that the gleaming silver hull of the Wal was what Lovecraft pictured in his mind as the story of the Dyer expedition flowed out of his pen. It's a distinctive, beautiful plane with a sterling record of exploration and long distance flight that's perfect for the needs of the story.

Then Lovecraft adds landing skis and...poof...reality replaces the Wal with the Merkur II.

Later this week I'll go over a few of the modifications the stock Merkur II would need to bring it in line with Lovecraft's story. Ironically, most of them are the same ones our old friend Herr von Gronau was secretly carrying out on a brand new version of the Wal at the same time ATMOM was being written. Following that I'll have the new logo for the Miskatonic Antarctic expedition featuring the Merkur II.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Wings Over Antarctica

The history of this blog is intimately tied to my love for H.P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness". Most of the early material was based on a desire to bring that story to life, ultimately culminating in the "Dyer Materials" prop set. Along the way I produced my first product in September of 2008, the original "Wings Over Antarctica" expedition patch.

Saying it was a quick and dirty effort would be kind. The rather generic plane based on the DC-3 is a glaring anachronism and the layout is what you would expect from an amateur just getting familiar with Adobe Illustrator. On the bright side, the outline of Antarctica is consistent with what was known in the late 20s.

A few months later the second version of the "Wings Over Antarctica" design debuted.

This was a definite improvement. The font was a weighted version of Futura released in 1927. The generic DC-3 knockoff was replaced by the Dornier Do-J "Wal" flying boat based on a reference in S.T. Joshi's extensively footnoted version of "At the Mountains of Madness" in "The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft". It's a visually interesting aircraft and it's reinforced hull could easily handle landing on water, ice, or snow.

All in all, the second iteration was a pretty well designed and historically accurate effort.

Except it wasn't.

As much as I like it there are two problems with the second version of the patch, and the design as a whole. The first is the lack of separation between the black outline of the Dornier Wal and the dark blue background of the design. On a computer screen it looks fine. In real life it's muddy.

The actual patch shouldn't have come out nearly as well as it did, but I was saved by a quirk of the manufacturing process. An embroidered patch isn't just a flat representation of the original artwork, but a three dimensional reproduction. The threads used to recreate the design are physically raised from the backing cloth and have a perceivable texture caused by the orientation of the threads. More importantly, the threads get polished as they move through the high speed sewing machine. Because of that they're reflective and produce highlights along the edges of the raised design elements. That effect saved the patch.

The second problem with the design is the primary reason I'm writing this.

Put simply, there's no possible way the Dornier Wal was the plane used by the Miskatonic Antarctic expedition.

More about that tomorrow.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Dragon Tooth Scrimshaw

Caerban brings us this example of scrimshaw inscribed on a dragon's tooth. If you thought harpooning whales was hard...

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Green Edition.

Marc and David Green bring us this faux ivory Cthulhu amulet. The graining effect is really outstanding.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Best of Both Worlds

Vintage flashlights can add an immense amount of immersiveness to live action games as well as being cool little props in and of themselves. Unfortunately, examples from Ebay or your local antique shop can be a bit fiddly to get working. Not to mention their frustrating ability to burn through bulbs and batteries.

A thread over at Club Obi-Wan (registration required) points to this useful alternative: a vintage-style flashlight fitted with modern LED guts from Restoration Hardware. There are three different models, ranging from the conveniently small 2 cell handheld to the large "can be used as a bludgeon" 3-cell monster. Prices range from $18 - $29, which seems reasonable for such a niche product.

The smallest model also happens to be a screen-used movie prop. The linked thread identifies it as the flashlight used by Indiana Jones in the temple exploration scenes of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull". High resolution screen captures from the film show that it was just redressed it with a minor paint job to the grip area.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Rot

Brendon Lenzi brings us this multi-legged preserved specimen. The body was sculpted from polymer clay and then coated in rubber cement to create the decaying skin.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bottled Beastie

Another preserved worm that just happens to be available on Ebay. With the crass commercialism out of the way...

I think I may have figured out why the epoxy resin teeth on some worms pick up the dye used to color the water. Before I close up a jar I add a few grains of potassium metabisulfite to sterilize the contents and prevent bacterial growth. I believe the worms prone to absorbing the dye were closed up too soon, before the sulfur dioxide produced by the metabisulfite has a chance to dissipate into the air. Why does that matter? Because it's the same reaction exploited by the textile industry, where potassium metabisulfite is used to...surprise, set dyes.

This is actually a handy thing to know, for two reasons. One, you can prevent dye from staining your critters by allowing the solution to air out before sealing the bottle. Two, you can use potassium metabisulfite to help dye epoxy resin.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Creature on the Slab

Professional special effects and design artist Jordu Schell brings us this amazing creature maquette. Click through the link and you can see better views of the altar stone it's resting on. Not to mention the kind of gallery that makes me gnash my teeth in frustration at my own feeble skills.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Making Foam Armor

Over the last two years there has been an explosion of projects using EVA foam pads to create armor. It's a cheap, readily available material that's easy to work with and a skilled artist can create a finished product with an unbelievably high level of finish. This tutorial from Allen Hopps is a good introduction to some of the basic techniques, while some truly incredible work is on display at the Bioweapons blog.

I think this could be the solution to one of the biggest problems with live action games- creature creation. Making Lovecraftian beasties is hard. Some mind-blowingly great costumes are out there, but to a great extent they've relied on expensive molding and casting supplies. With EVA foam a simple heat gun and a variety pack of disposable razor knives can be used to create some epic creatures. After all, segmented armor is just another way of describing a Mi-Go's exoskeleton.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Elder Signs

When you're fighting the Mythos it's always a good idea to have an Elder Sign handy. Thankfully, Alv Rehnberg is ready to help with both the Lovecraft and Derleth versions.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Banners of Night

Talon Abraxas brings us this interesting iconic artifact. The rich textures play off nicely against the angular form of a traditional religious item.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Scarabs of Nyarlathotep

From artist Offero Jones, a collection of Egyptian scarabs bearing the glyph of Nyarlathotep. I love props like this that add a subtle Mythos touch to real historical artifacts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Russian Specimen

From Gleb Trzhemetskogo comes this intriguing preserved specimen. My apologies to the artist if his name is badly mangled. This is the first Russian site I've linked to, and I wish Google Translate did a better job of rendering the text. Then again, getting the gist of another tongue with the click of a button is still pretty amazing.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Congo Specimen

Another specimen from the Miskatonic University collection, this time from the 1927 expedition to the Congo. As usual, things didn't end well.

The glowing fluid is a by product of illuminating the interior of the jar with reflected light. The tabletop is lit by shop lights on both sides. Light passes into the jar and gets bounced off a circle of white paper sitting under the jar and a rectangle behind it. I stumbled across the idea trying to get decent shots of specimens floating in fluid.

If you like it, the specimen is currently on Ebay .

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fossil Dragon

Some day the narrow minded keepers of paleontology will finally admit the history of our planet is far different than the mundane orthodoxy they endorse. Current theory simply can't account for things like this fossil dragon excavated by Josh Hughes.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mistaken Identity

I've written before about why I use the Propnomicon nom de plume. I have a distinctive, if not unique, birth name and like my privacy. It isn't particularly difficult to discover my real name, but using a moniker provides a useful measure of anonymity.

Useful until now, at least.

Unfortunately, a gentleman by the name of Rick Olney happens to live in the same small upstate New York town where I do. Over the years he's managed to gain a truly amazing reputation in the world of comics. And by "amazing" I mean "horrific". Now he's taken his shenanigans to the next level. I won't go over the entire story here, but the short version is that he appears to have made off with a limited run of Indiana Jones World Maps that were the property of Lucasfilm. Bleeding Cool has a good summary of the whole bizarre affair here, here, here, and here. You can learn more about Mr. Olney's long history of dubious activities via Google.

I thought it was a bit odd when I started getting multiple emails asking about my interest in Indiana Jones props earlier this week. It wasn't until Thursday that someone was nice enough to explain what was going on. It appears some amateur sleuths connected the fact that I live in the same village as Mr. Olney (and have a street address just a short walk away from his) with my occasional posts about Indiana Jones collectibles and...tada! I was actually him.

Just for the record, I'm not Rick Olney. Anyone who has done business with me is aware of that, and equally cognizant that my reputation is absolutely impeccable.

What makes the situation particularly painful is that I had the same horrified reaction as everyone else when I discovered what was going on. If the allegations against Mr. Olney are true he's done much more than bamboozled Lucasfilm. He's used his status as a military veteran to exploit other veterans. I believe that will have some local repercussions he wasn't expecting.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Necronomicon, Ratter Edition

Peter Ratter brings us this video tour of his handcrafted Necronomicon . There are some great visualizations on display.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Unquiet Dead

Great minds, and all that. Anthony Souza brings us a grave marker for the surprisingly popular Joseph Curwen, along with a tribute to Arthur Machen. I find the idea of sequentially dated tombstones for Curwen scattered across the United States, and the world, incredibly amusing.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Not Quite Final Resting Place of Joseph Curwen

Part of Jeff Devine's Halloween display was this tombstone for Joseph Curwen from Lovecraft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward". Not surprisingly, there wasn't actually a body under the marker. Heh.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Lords of the Air

Few things are pulpier than than an airship. You get all the tropes of ocean going vessels in the classic era with the added benefit of flying far above the earth below. The Airship Heritage Trust website features a detailed look at the cruise ships and destroyers of the sky, including blueprints, flight logs, and in depth looks at what life aboard an airship was like.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


"Zelemihr" brings us this collection of specimens from a secret Miskatonic expedition to the Antarctic in the late 1800s.

Of the three I actually like the empty test tube the most. It's a simpler prop in a technical sense, but it adds something to the story established by the other two. That's not a trivial accomplishment.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Catch of the Day

Phil Bolton brings us a curious bit of aquatic detritus. This is why every fishing boat should have a shotgun. You won't be able to stop the Deep Ones from boarding your ship, but you can make sure you don't fall into their clutches.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Mellies Edition.

The gifted Florian Mellies brings us this fantastic Cthulhu idol. There's so much to like here, from the mix of textures to the truly alien feel of the sculpt. Mr. Mellies consistently creates some of the best Lovecraftian props in the hobby.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Tramp Steamer Plans

Jason Rippetoe sent over a link to this fansite focusing on the pulp adventures of Louis L’Amour. Among the features is a set of vintage-era tramp steamer plans. Few things have more adventure potential than a cargo ship chugging from one exotic port to another.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Most Wonderful Day of the Year

I dearly love Halloween, but I love the day after Halloween even more. Don't forget to take advantage of the sales and stock up on raw materials for the long, cold winter ahead.

Egyptian Mummy Head

From the burning sands of Egypt, and the hands of David Pirkle, comes this well done Egyptian mummy head. Sadly, it appears something has been snacking on the right side of this particular specimen's face.