Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Curwen Legacy

The talented Jason McKittrick brings us this portrait of Joseph Curwen from Lovecraft's "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward". There's so much to like about this. The work is an actual oil painting, not a textured print, and the custom plaque is a wonderful touch.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Aetheric Compass

Traveling through non-Euclidean space can be dangerously disorienting. Thankfully, Eric Elliot has provided us with this handy aetheric compass to assist in mapping traversals.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Clarke Edition.

Andy Clarke brings us this this unusual Cthulhu idol. It's a very different take from most depictions, most notably the lack of tentacles. What makes it even more impressive, at least in my eyes, is the fact it was crafted from paper mache, toothpicks, and hot glue. Browse through the rest of his gallery and you'll see some really inventive props created just for the hell of it, including a neat little "haunted boardgame".

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

1930 Telegram

From "combomphotos" on Flickr, some high resolution scans of a blank telegram from 1930. The set includes both the front and back.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Stop Motion Nightgaunt

In an alternate universe not too far from our own, George Pal's 1978 production of "The Call of Cthulhu" is still hailed as a classic. After his attempted production of "Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze" fell apart because of rights problems with the estate of Lester Dent, Pal was searching for a possible franchise. Following up on a suggestion from writer Phillip Jose Farmer, who had drafted one of the Doc Savage screenplays, he discovered the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

It was a classic example of the right story at the right time. Pal was still bitter about the studio's effort to "camp up" his Doc Savage film and decided "The Call of Cthulhu" would be a serious drama. Suprisingly, the studio agreed, thanks in no small part to the box office success of period efforts like "Chinatown" and "The Sting". Michael Rennie, David Suchet, and Michael York were signed to star, but it was veteran character actor George Coulouris who would garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting actor in the role of "Old Castro".

Despite it's relatively modest budget the film boasted incredible animated sequences produced by Ray Harryhausen and Gregory Jein. For over a year after principal photography ended the pair slaved away in a small studio bringing "Cthulhu" to life using a new filming technique. In traditional stop motion animation the puppets are moved a fraction of an inch each time a frame of film is clicked off. When projected at normal speed those individual frames blend together to produce the illusion of a living creature, but the results can be jerky and look artificial. Harryhausen and Jein used small rods to actually move the puppet while the film was being exposed, producing a far smoother and more realistic blurring effect. The puppet footage was then combined with additional rotoscoped effects and the live action plates in one of the new, high registration optical printers developed for Star Wars. The result was an epic sequence that helped redefine the capabilities of stop motion animation.

That exercise in alt history is my hopefully entertaining way of introducing this old school animation puppet of a nightgaunt from Richard Svensson. It has a very Harryhausen-esque feel, and I mean that as a high compliment. You can see it in action over here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Dragon Age

Among other things, Greg Aronowitz of BarnYard FX was the production designer for the "Dragon Age: Redemption" web videos starring Felicia Day. He's blogged a detailed look at the creation of the props and set pieces for the series. Even with a relatively small budget he was able to create some impressive props.

If you have time I'd suggest browsing through the entire blog. There's an incredible level of talent on display. One of the things I really like is his dedication to avoiding the "generic fantasy" look of most low-budget productions. The lore of the game helps with some of that, but he designed a goodly number of custom-made props that really shine.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Dragon Embryo

"Magna est veritas" brings us this well preserved dragon embryo. Made from polymer clay over an aluminum foil armature. The flaking skin effect is produced by a layer of liquid latex.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Demon Pig

Jonas Laberg wanted to surprise some young girls with a special holiday treat made from sweet, delicious marzipan. The result is an evil demon pig so disturbing he decided it was best to surprise them with something else. Click through on the link for a full gallery of the pig's creation.

I bring this to you in the spirit of the Christmas, and because I can't be the only one thinking it would make an awesome gift. It's amazing how lifelike the marzipan looks. Sweet Jebus, can you imagine how cool it would be to sculpt up some Lovecraftian-style specimens from this stuff for Halloween?

Via Boing Boing.

Update: I'm warning you now that this link is totally over the top, but it ably demonstrates the horrific possibilities of marzipan. Go forward at your own peril.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Necromancer's Amulet

Mark and David Green bring us this nicely done necromancer's amulet.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bottled Beasts

From "das Zny", his first bottled specimens.

I think the contamination problem is coming from the cloth identification tag. As he points out, bacterial growth inside a specimen intended for show isn't necessarily a bad thing. Creatures made from polymer clay will shrug it off, but any acrylic paints applied to the creature will eventually be destroyed.

The best way to prevent contamination is to give the jar and anything going inside a good washing with hot soapy water. Follow that up by adding a few grains of sodium metabisulfite to the preservative fluid and you'll have a sterile environment that won't support any unwanted growth. It's safe, easy to use, and you can pick it up on Amazon for pocket change. A one pound supply will be enough for a lifetime's worth of bottled specimen props.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Curious Case of the Manufactured Manuscripts

An interesting look at the history of created books. The author has an intriguing theory that the Voynich Manuscript may be a historical example of the kind of prop tomes frequently discussed here.

Via Eric Hart's Prop Agenda.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hospital and Asylum Restraints of the 1920s

Last week I was lucky enough to score a near mint condition copy of a hospital and doctor's supply catalog from 1922. Reading through it over the weekend I was struck by how sophisticated the technology actually was. With the exception of modern electronics and automation I expect a doctor from nearly a century ago would recognize everything in a modern hospital or clinic. Dressings, surgical tools, examination's all the same, at least to the untrained eye of a layman.

Here's a page of patient restraints, including prices. There's no doubt gear like this could be cruelly misused, but the devices seem genuinely humane. The restraint sheet is a far cry from the infamous "Utica Crib" that was used at the New York State Lunatic Asylum just down the road from my home. Click through for the high resolution version.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Slime

Allen Hopps of Stiltbeast Studios is an incredibly creative guy. One of the things I like about him the most is that he's able to see the prop possibilities behind the simplest of materials. In this video he demonstrates how simple school glue and borax produces a polymerized goo that can be used to create everything from slime and ectoplasm to zombie makeup and icicles. It's so cheap to make that you can whip up a gallon for less than the price of lunch at a fast food joint.

I made some small batches of this stuff years ago as a kitchen science project with the kids, but it never clicked just how useful it could be.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Angell Box

"Much of the material which I correlated will be later published by the American Archaeological Society, but there was one box which I found exceedingly puzzling, and which I felt much averse from shewing to other eyes. It had been locked, and I did not find the key till it occurred to me to examine the personal ring which the professor carried always in his pocket. Then indeed I succeeded in opening it, but when I did so seemed only to be confronted by a greater and more closely locked barrier. For what could be the meaning of the queer clay bas-relief and the disjointed jottings, ramblings, and cuttings which I found? Had my uncle, in his latter years, become credulous of the most superficial impostures?"

Jason McKittrick brings us this recreation of the late Prof. Angell's mysterious box from "The Call of Cthulhu". This is one of those projects that successfully uses a collection of props to tell a story. Each little bit, from a journal entry to a notation on a photograph, helps build up the narrative. That kind of narrative by accretion requires both quality and quantity to have an impact. I can just imagine the hours of work that went into pulling this off.

This shot illustrates one of the difficulties in putting together a set like this. You not only have to create items like the bas-relief and idol that are included with it, but all of the supplementary props pictured in the photographs. It's a huge effort, whether you do it physically or via Photoshop.

You can see more pictures of the complete set in it's listing on Ebay. Given the time it took to put it together I expect it will go for a goodly sum.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Travelling Spellbook

Russian leathercrafter "Shattan" brings us this beautiful spellbook. It's a personal bias, but I bet it would be spectacular after an aging treatment. Wear and tear along the edges, accumulated grime in the crevices, flakes of the gilding worn off...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Oracle

K.M. Kotulak brings us this intriguing amulet. I believe it's polymer clay with a glass taxidermy eye.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


David Gagne over at Dark Artifacts brings us this tutorial on upgrading a prop skull with new acrylic teeth. I believe the base skull is one of the Bucky-style 3rd class medical models from the Anatomical Chart Company.

"Acrylic teeth, the kind used to make dentures, come in little plastic trays, separating the top, bottom, front and back teeth. Very pratical; you don't have to guess which tooth goes where (although mouth anatomy is fairly simple).

I bought mine on ebay; it cost about 20$ including shipping from china, and I have 6 complete sets of teeth."

I never would have thought to source choppers like this. In hindsight it's obvious the ones used for dentures had to come from somewhere. It just never occured to me that full sets of human teeth were so cheap and easy to get.

These would be ideal for all kinds of gaffs and faux specimens. In the past commenters have mentioned how creepy it is to see a non-humanoid creature with human teeth. You could create some very disturbing dentition with a full set or mix and match incisors, molars, and canines for a more inhuman look.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Not of This Earth

Professional gaff artist Takeshi Yamada brings us this alien skull.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Down to the Depths

The talented Rev. Marx brings us the third installment of his prop diving helmet build. It's particularly impressive because he's using such humble materials to craft it.

"I knew I would need some ventilation, so I searched around the shop for a suitable vent cover. I looked all through my plastic parts bin and found nothing useful. I tried out a couple of plastic bottle caps, but couldn't find anything that looked right. Then, I noticed something that had been sitting on my worktable the whole time. I had always intended on adding some of those cheap l.e.d. touch lights to the front breast plate to serve as headlights. I had one torn apart to get ready to paint the casing when I noticed that the casing itself would make a good vent cover. I cut out a small piece of chromed wire mesh from a drawer divider (used for separating silverware in a kitchen drawer) and fixed it with hot glue to the inside of the plastic casing."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Necronomicon, Petrie Edition

Brandon Petrie brings us this nicely done Necronomicon. The stylized geometric motifs are a nice callback to traditional Islamic bookmaking.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Necropolis Edition.

Angela Rose from Necropolis Studios brings us this clay Cthulhu idol. Sadly, it appears to no longer be in production. Copies should be available before the end of the month.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Trust No One

Another wonderful Lovecraftian tableau from Florian Mellies. This one is set in the 1950s, a woefully underused time frame in the Mythos.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Real Adventure Journal

Jason Rippetoe sent over this real-life example of an adventurer's journal. From 1868, the notes and ephemera of Charles Shepherd's journey through Tsarist Russia.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Miskatonic Merkur

Marcos Saintout sent over this cool little mockup of a Merkur II with Miskatonic expedition markings.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wings Over Antarctica: The Waffling

Based on feedback from the comments and some emails I'm having second thoughts about revising the Miskatonic Antarctic patch.

As I said before, I'm pretty sure Lovecraft meant the aircraft used by the Dyer expedition to be the Dornier Do-J "Wal". On the other hand, the specific mention of securing the landing skis almost certainly identifies the plane as the Dornier Do-B "Merkur II".

From a realism standpoint I think the scale tips in the Merkur's favor. The story specifies that the plane has a range of at least 800 miles and a ceiling of 24,000 feet. The Do-B can hit those targets with relatively minor modifications, like swapping out the BMW VI engine for a BMW VII with a supercharger.

Ironically, the BMW VII is the same engine Wolfgang von Gronau used on the modified Dornier Wal he flew around the world shortly after Lovecraft wrote the story. With a pair of them the plane easily had a range of 1000 miles, but it's service ceiling was only 11,500 feet. The problem with climbing higher was the Wal's tremendous weight. Even with superchargers the engines didn't have the performance to hit the 24,000 ceiling "At the Mountains of Madness" demands.

Frankly, I don't think Lovecraft cared a whit about the flight ceiling issue, but getting the Wal to meet the criteria he sets out would take some major work. The story contains several mentions that the plane was lightened for Dyer and Danforth's final flight, but I can't see the aircraft's performance more than doubling just by stripping the interior. Beyond that we could speculate the expedition aircraft were already considerably lighter than the stock Wal. The easiest approach would be to cut the plane's weight by replacing some of the steel frame with aluminum. That's still a pretty radical move, but given Pabodie's canon expertise in lightweight aluminum frame construction it's not beyond the bounds of belief.

Ultimately, what plane was used seems to come down to taste. Rely on logic and historical accuracy and it's the Merkur II. Trust in Lovecraft's original intent and it's probably the Wal. I can see equally valid reasons for embracing either.

So what do you think? I've already invested a considerable amount of time developing prop photographs and imagery using the Wal. I'm willing to put the same effort into redoing all of it with the Merkur II.

Update: I want to thank everyone who has weighed in, both in the comments and via email. Even the ones pointing out that I'm being a bit obsessive. Heh. I'm in no rush to make a final decision and ultimately it only really matters for the next run of swag. That won't be happening until after the first of the year, so there's plenty of time to fiddle with things.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Spawn of Cthulhu

The incredibly talented Simon Lee brings us the spawn of Cthulhu. He has a real gift for capturing the look of tortured flesh, and I mean that as a high compliment. His technique is very reminiscent of Berni Wrightson's best work.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


The Miskatonic University pennant makes a cameo appearance in this article on custom headlamps by Amanda Kooser.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Stop! A Head.

The invaluable CoastConFan posted a link to these goatskin shrunken heads in the comments for yesterday's post. As he pointed out, for less than $20 bucks these would make an ideal base for crafting your own tsantsa. They're a bit goofy as is, but could be turned into real showpieces with a little bit of remolding and some patination.

(My apologies for the horrible joke in the title, but it's one near and dear to my heart. One of the reasons I went into broadcasting is because of the "Stop! A Head." bit by Steve Dahl and Garry Meier. It originally happened in the summer of 1981 when I happened to be visiting relatives in the Chicago area, and to this day it's one of the funniest and most horrific things I've ever heard on radio.

A nasty car accident in the city resulted in a gruesome decapitation death during rush hour. Making the whole thing even more terrible was the fact that rescue workers couldn't find the victim's head. As soon as the news broke Dahl and Meier speculated about where the missing head might be, and eventually launched a scavenger hunt with prizes to locate it.

Years later I learned the bit was a set-up, but to this day I'm in awe at the sheer hilarious perversity of it.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Trophy

From Kumo-No-Kuchi, a classic-style shrunken head. I'm a sucker for tableau displays filled with adventuring gear.