Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Juvenile Sea Sprite

"The Styles" brings us this rare juvenile sea sprite. The translucence and subtle shading of the skin is amazing. This is the undeveloped form of the adult creature from last year.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Dagger of Algiz

Clayton brings us the Algiz dagger, made from carved and polished antler.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Sea Bishop

Giulio Artioli brings us this curious specimen of a "sea bishop", one of the classic cryptids. Browse through the rest of his gallery and you'll find some other interesting items suitable for a cabinet of curiosities or sideshow attraction.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Vintage-Style Laboratory Equipment

"i-Zombie" brings us this wonderful accessory for a vintage mad scientists laboratory. It's based on a similar piece from the craftsmen at Stelter Creative, which was itself inspired by the pioneering prop design work of Kenneth Strickfaden.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Book of the D'ni

"Ravingspawn" brings us this exellent reproduction of the master linking book from the "Myst" series of interactive adventures. Browse through their gallery for an incredible selection of props from the games.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Mountains of Madness Project

"In spite of all the prevailing horrors, we were left with enough sheer scientific zeal and adventurousness to wonder about the unknown realm beyond those mysterious mountains. As our guarded messages stated, we rested at midnight after our day of terror and bafflement - but not without a tentative plan for one or more range-crossing altitude flights in a lightened plane with aerial camera and geologist’s outfit, beginning the following morning. It was decided that Danforth and I try it first, and we awaked at 7 A.M. intending an early flight; however, heavy winds - mentioned in our brief, bulletin to the outside world - delayed our start till nearly nine o’clock."

- H.P. Lovecraft, "At the Mountains of Madness"

On January 26, 1931 Prof. William Dyer and graduate student Paul Danforth set out on the aerial journey that would culminate with the discovery of an ancient city high atop the Antarctic plateau.

What was found in that city is at the heart of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness", and one of the primary motivations for the creation of Propnomicon. For years I've been working on the my personal collection of items based on the story, a process documented in the "From the Mountains of Madness" posts. Now I'd like to build on that process.

In a few weeks I'm going to start another Kickstarter drive to fund the "At the Mountains of Madness" prop set. In many respects it will be similar to the earlier Arkham Sanitarium and Miskatonic University efforts, but kicked up a notch. As before, the emphasis will be on items that can't be easily reproduced at home. It doesn't make sense to do a run of prop documents that can be just as easily released as PDFs and printed at your convenience.

At this point I'm aiming to have a basic package that includes the period map of Antarctica I first posted back in 2009, a schematic of the modified Dornier Do-J Wals used by the expedition, an art deco travel-style poster for the departure ceremony in Boston, an expedition equipment sticker, and a postcard for the stop in Hobart, Tasmania. The target for that is around $12-$15 plus shipping.

The next tier will include new versions of the expedition patch, the small fieldbooks, and a cloisonne lapel pin. Since so many of you already have the old versions I wanted to avoid forcing you to buy the new ones just to get the other stuff. The target for that is roughly $20-$25 plus shipping.

I have a few ideas for items to include in a deluxe tier beyond that, but I want to firm up the details of the basic packages first.

One question that may have occurred to you is why I'm announcing the project before I actually launch it. You can credit that to my well documented paranoia. It's inevitable in any human endeavor that there will be delays and things will go wrong. To the greatest extent possible I try to avoid those issues by having all the design work done before I ask anyone for money. If everything is ready to go into production the instant the project gets funded there are far fewer chances for something to go wrong.

As always, your thoughts are appreciated. Particularly if you have any suggestions for cool stuff I haven't thought of. The only restriction on additional items is that they should be able to fit inside a 25" long, 3" diameter mailing tube.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cheap and Easy Mold Making

"Matrix" brings us this tutorial on low budget mold making using silicone caulk. This is ideal for projects when you just want to quickly run off a few copies. Is the mold as detailed as one made with low viscosity casting silicone? Of course not. But most hobby propmaking doesn't really need that level of quality, particularly for the intentionally primitive artifacts we've been discussing recently.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Sigil of Akatosh

With well over five million copies sold it's safe to say that "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim" is a huge success. The game has a great blend of action and storytelling depth, not to mention some wonderful design work. Allan Harwood brings us an example translated from digital to physical form: the Sigil of Akatosh.

"My first step was figuring out a size I wanted to work with. After scaling the above image, and doing some quick sketches and measurements, I settled on 2.75″ for each side of the diamond shape. I then cut out a rough rectangle in thick white styrene board (I don’t remember the thickness, as the sheet was bought months ago), then penciled down the layout after figuring out the angles of each side. After that, I did some experimentation on the thickness of a boarder, as I wanted this to look like an amulet, or some form of badge of office or worship. I then cut those sides out in styrene, then super glued them to the diamond."

The finished Sigil is over here.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Curwen Chest

Joseph Curwen from "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" is arguably Lovecraft's best character, not to mention one of the few genuine villains in the Mythos. That's one of the reasons I was so happy to see this collection of items from his estate, created by the talented Jason McKittrick. He provided a preview of the included oil painting back in December, but now the entire project is finished.

The complete set including the portrait mentioned earlier and Curwen's collection of occult items.

The chest filled with the necromancer's accursed talismans and samples of his handiwork.

The Key of Yog-Sothoth. The engraving on the obelisk is very well done.

The Eye of Yog-Sothoth. It's a nice touch that the stone and obelisk are made from the same kind of stone and have matching engraving.

I'm not sure if Yog-Sothoth would have been happy about Curwen two-timing him with Cthulhu. None the less, it's a great idol, particularly in light of our recent conversations about the allure of truly primitive sculpts.

One of the unfortunate products of Curwen's experimentation. The gnarly wax seals remind me of a recent email conversation with a hobby candlemaker. Modern waxes made with stearin produce a very smooth, flowing seal because they're at a higher temperature when dipped or brushed on. Vintage wax mixed with tallow produces a far rougher effect, having more drips and voids because the wax melts, and hardens, at a much lower temperature.

The Curwen collection is currently for sale on Ebay. Considering the amount of work involved in creating it I expect bidding will be brisk.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Along Came A Spider

This gigantic animated spider is simply amazing. I'm guesstimating it's around 10 feet high and the legs are 30 feet in diameter at full extension. After viewing the video a few times I think I have a good idea of how the mechanism works, but I hope the creator eventually posts some details.

One of the perennial problems of live action games is the difficulty of creating large-scale creatures. This approach looks like a potential answer to the problem. Fighting orcs and robed cultists is fun, but there's something about a massive beast bearing down on you that really triggers the adrenaline.

Update: Kieran Manners was kind enough to provide a link to the website of the artist who created the spider, Tim Davies.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

[gibbering] Insane Handwriting [/gibbering]

How do you recreate the look of a madman's handwriting? It's a not unfamiliar subject here at Propnomicon, and this discussion thread covers how to do it using the open source LaTeX typesetting program. It's a bit involved, but being able to script the randomization function goes a lot faster than doing it by hand.

Via Boing Boing.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Museum of Fantastic Specimens

This is a bit of a strange post, because I'm going to rely on a referring site before the primary site. I stumbled across the Museum of Fantastic Specimens via a Google search, but my total inability to read Japanese made navigating it a nightmare. Thankfully, I was able to backtrack to a post on the Pink Tentacle site that includes an extremely helpful guide to the Museum's collection.

"Each specimen has a clickable thumbnail that links to additional photos and historical and background information (in Japanese). The basement contains a bookshop and a cafeteria serving dishes prepared with some of the beasts featured in the museum (such as umiushi sashimi, served fresh from the tank and wriggling on your plate, with a balsamic vinegar sauce).

All of the creatures showcased in the museum are sculpted from paper, modeling paste and bamboo and are completely imaginary, claims Emoto -- perhaps a disappointment for hunters of the legendary tsuchinoko in search of an actual specimen, but an amazing collection of critters nonetheless."
These are some of the best sideshow-style gaffs I've ever seen, so the revelation that they're essentially paper mache came as a real surprise. The level of detail is simply amazing.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Hummel Edition.

Felix M. Hummel brings us this blasted clay Cthulhu idol. I love the worn, flame scarred finish and its implied backstory. This kind of approach isn't to everyone's taste, but in some ways I prefer it to the more ornate and self-consciously artistic depictions. The figure has a very earthy, authentic feel.

I don't mean to imply any disrespect for Mr. Hummel's work, but a rough, textured treatment like the one used here is a great way to save a sculpt that otherwise wouldn't shine on it's own. Sculpting a figure isn't easy, and anyone who has tried doing it probably has an ample supply of less-than-stellar efforts produced during the learning process. Instead of rejecting them or hiding them away, why not embrace the fact that they're primitive attempts at capturing a more idealized version?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Innsmouth Submarine

The climax of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" features a massive raid on the seaside town by FBI agents and Federal troops. The attack includes a naval component, including a submarine that fires multiple torpedoes at the Deep One city off the coast. As I've mentioned before, the dates given in the story almost certainly identify that submarine as the S-8 (SS-113).

Jason Seaman was kind enough to send over a link to a fantastic repository of pictures of the S-8 at the NavSource naval historical site. I've browsed the page in the past, but it appears they've added a lot of new material including photographs and a schematic diagram.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Preserved Creature

"Copper Centipede" brings us this dessicated specimen under glass . For something made from pipe cleaners and paper mache it's pretty damn impressive.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Fury Gun

Theatrical prop artist "Brian" brings us this intimidating pulp-style Fury Gun. The twin barrel grenade launcher is mostly metal, and features functioning mechanisms for the chamber break, trigger, and loading slide.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lord of the Wind

"ARNeumann" brings us this custom sculpt of the Assyrian demon Pazuzu, made famous by William Peter Blatty's "The Exorcist". At 14" in height it's an impressive beast.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fresh Meat

Paging Anthony Bourdain! Trevor Yopp brings us the catch of the day.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mummified Fairy

Tóbal brings us the remains of one of the infamous Cottingly fairies. Knowing how nasty the little monsters are I can't bring myself to shed a tear over a display like this. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if fairies have entire galleries of mummified humans on display.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! UndertakingFX Edition.

UndertakingFX has this nifty little Cthulhu idol available on Etsy. I'm normally loathe to link to Etsy, it being the master hive from whence the Cute-thulhu infestation emanates, but I really like the quality of the sculpt. It captures the look of a primitive soapstone carving, with a definite "Venus of Willendorf" vibe.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Here's the last version of the "Wings Over Antarctica" logo for the Miskatonic Antarctic expedition I did.

And here is the masterful design work of "The Horned One" currently featured on 54 products from CafePress.

What annoys me about this isn't so much the transparent hijacking of my design, but just how shoddy it is. It's vapid imitation without even a hint of appreciation for the source material, either mine or Lovecraft's.

There are very good reasons why the elements of the original are the way they are. The outline of Antarctica, for instance, is relatively devoid of details because it only shows what what was known in 1930. The extent of the continent under the ice wasn't mapped in detail until well into the 1950s. "The Horned One" just dropped in the modern outline, presumably because it was easy. The aircraft in the knockoff is a Dornier Do-24, a seaplane that didn't exist until 1937. Six years after the remains of the Dyer expedition left Antarctica.

To be honest, I didn't think something like this was possible. After all, I give everything away. For free. Want a hat with the expedition logo on it? Help yourself to the graphic and make one.

That's the whole point of the Creative Commons license I use. The only limitation I put on everything, and I think it's a reasonable one, is that you don't sell copies. I'm pretty loose on even that small restriction. I've never turned down a commercial use request as long as it's incidental to the overall craftsmanship of the project. Outside of that Propnomicon is a free, all-you-can-eat buffet where the food never runs out.

I know I'm probably over-reacting. It's not like I'm somehow being deprived of piles of money. But why would you rip off something the original creator gives away for free?

Wings Over Antarctica Print Logo

The black and white print version of the Miskatonic Antarctic expedition logo. Just click to view the full sized graphic. This one is pristine, but you may want to fade it out a bit and add some noise if you're using it for any kind of documents.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Wal In Action

"The Flugzeuge" brings us this classic newsreel footage of Dornier Do-J Wals contracted for postal service taking part in landing and recovery operations in the Atlantic. There are a few glimpses of the plane's suprisingly roomy interior, including the radio station. The enclosed cockpit on this model would be ideal for the Wals used by the Miskatonic expedition in Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness".

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cthulhu Amulet

Russian artist Shivha brings us this exotic Cthulhu amulet carved from goat horn and mammoth tusk. It has a wonderfully primitive look, and I love the clean lines of the design.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Wings Over Antarctica: The Backtracking

After weighing all the feedback I've decided to stick with using the Dornier Do-J "Wal" as the Dyer expedition aircraft.

There's certainly a case to be made for the Merkur, but in the end I found myself agreeing with those that sided with the Wal. Frankly, it just looks better. The Merkur is a fine little aircraft, but it suffers from looking like all the other single-engined planes of the classic era. The Wal is nothing if not distinctive.

Here's the basic color logo I'll be using for the next run of swag. There are some relatively trivial composition and scale changes, but the biggest difference will be in the background colors. The dark blue of the original design will be lightened a few shades to provide more contrast with the plane in the embroidered versions. The dark grey of the outer text ring is now the same red as the Miskatonic University logo, giving the overall design a bit more pop.

I'll finish up the black and white version, and a stencil template for marking gear and equipment crates, over the next few days.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Innsmouth Look

The gifted Casey Love brings us this amazing bust of the bus driver from Lovecraft's "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". He really captures the look of the Innsmouth taint.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Grimoire

Sibyll Kingsley brings us this leather bound grimoire. The binding looks fantastic, but I'm not too crazy about the jute twine. On the other hand, she gets credit for being a fan of the greatest rock band of all time.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Hay Edition.

Gideon Hay of Vancouver Makeup Effects brings us this very unusual Cthulhu statue.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Steampunk Diving Helmet

Rev. Marx brings us the fourth installment of his build log for a steampunk diving helmet. The results look quite nice.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Telegraph and Telegram Codes

The invaluable Raven provided links to a treasure trove of telegraph code books in the comments to last week's scans of a vintage telegram.

The Telegraphic and Signal Codes Directory by John McVey links to scans and transcripts of over a hundred different code books dating back to 1845. The majority were intended to save the user money by keeping their messages as short as possible, back when every word was an extra charge for the sender. A few were genuine ciphers designed to keep information private. That's no small matter in an era when the very nature of the transmission meant multiple people read the text of a message.

Some of the more interesting codes were designed to serve niche interests with a specialized vocabulary. Like the "Police Telegraph Code of England for 1893", with its shorthand for listing the offenses and description of a criminal suspect.

This might all seem rather dry and academic, but it's an incredible resource for adding verisimilitude to a narrative with period props. A coded telegram just screams "clue", especially if it's found on a dead body or at the scene of a crime. When the players discover a copy of the book it was encoded with (helpfully printed out ahead of time) you'll not only move the plot along, but give them a genuine sense of accomplishment for doing some real detective work. How cool is that?

As an example, the police codes mentioned above would be ideal for official messages regarding the bloodthirsty serial killer that was stalking England in 1893.