Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cthulhu Reborn

Cthulhu is dead, long live Cthulhu!

Jason McKittrick has retired his original Legrasse Cthulhu idol to make room for a new sculpt.  His latest hews more closely to Lovecraft's original concept, including the multiple eyes from the Old Gent's infamous sketch.  The new figure is available starting today, which just happens to be Walpurgisnacht, from the Cryptocurium website.

Here's a shot of the new idol surrounded by some of Jason's previous works. The collage gives you a good feel for neo-Cthulhu's size.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Homestretch

The Mummified Fairy Kit and DVD Kickstarter from Dan Baines is in it's final hours, and tantalizingly close to hitting at least one more stretch goal.

Update: hits the £9,000 target with nine more hours to go.

Update:  And the Kickstarter ends well over the £9,000 goal.  Congratulations to Dan Baines on a very successful effort.

Cthulhuain Font

Clint Warlick was kind enough to point out the Cthulhuain font from artist Stapleton McTavish.  The TTF file can be downloaded from the link in the upper right hand corner of his DeviantArt page.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Tillinghast Legacy

Today we dip into the Tillinghast specimen well once again. 

One of the things I didn't like about the first iteration of this subject was the presentation.  The storage box was an off-the-shelf model from Hobby Lobby and, well, it looked exactly like what it was.  This time around I took the time to flame age a plain wood box.  That involved charring the surface with a blow torch and then using a wire brush to remove the burned wood, exposing and enhancing the grain.  That technique produces a great worn finish.

The specimen itself is considerably improved over the first one.  The head has a definite skeletal structure and there's developed musculature anchoring the mandibles.  The multiple eyes really bring the whole thing to life.  Or at least make the illusion of something that was once alive more effective.

The barbed stinger has a great organic look.  I was surprised how much it's appearance improved after I added a subtle S-curve to it's length.

The dorsal view gives you a better feel for the head structure.  The spine is visible under the skin, with multiple vertebrae stretching from the head back to the tail. 

The ventral view gives you a good look at the eight mandibles surrounding the mouth.  I also added two sets of motive vanes.  Having them run the entire length of the body is a callback to the look of segmented deep sea worms.   

Some closeup shots of the fore-body.  I like the rich color provided by the shellacked finish, but it's hard to photograph effectively because of all the highlights from the shiny surface.   I think the next time time around I'm going to try giving it a rub down with wax-based schmutz to dull the highlights and bring out more of the surface detail.

If you like the piece it just happens to be available on Ebay.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fus Ro Da!

The incredibly talented Lee Camara brings us these Skyrim pendants for the Nightingales and the College of Winterhold.  There's lots of other video game goodies in her gallery. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Vintage Apothecary Labels

Now this is marketing. The nice folks at World Label bring us a collection of vintage-style apothecary labels. The sheet is a customizable PDF file, so you can add text using any font on your computer. 

Here's an example of the labels in use.  They're obviously aimed at the Martha Stewart crowd, but would be equally at home adorning all sorts of prop specimens and preparations. 

This is another good example of how those of us with a darker bent can plunder the tools and techniques of home crafters.  Odds are that I'll never decorate my bathroom with faux-Parisian toilet water bottles, but the exact same approach will produce some cool period storage bottles for a vampire hunting kit. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Hartmann Edition.

Hungarian artist Christian Hartmann brings us a work-in-progress shot of an interesting Cthulhu idol.  I'm looking forward to seeing how the clay sculpt will look once it's fired.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Harlow Edition.

After five years Joel Harlow has finally completed his epic Cthulhu sculpt.  These aren't paintings or CGI, just slightly retouched photographs of the actual sculpt.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Crafting Crystals

The worlds of fantasy and science fiction are filled with all kinds of precious crystals.  The Sorcerer's/Philosopher's Stone of Harry Potter.  Star Trek's dilithium crystals.  Lovecraft's Shining Trapezohedron.  Tolkien's Arkenstone.  Traveller's zucchai crystals.*   

From a presentation standpoint crystals are awesome.  They're visually striking and immediately convey an impression of value and uniqueness.  They get attention, and the bigger they are the more appeal they have.

Unfortunately, the larger a crystal is the more it costs.  That applies to both the real and faux kind.  Want a real crystal ball bigger than three inches?  Get ready to pay through the nose.  Get the same thing in cast acrylic and your wallet won't be screaming quite so loudly, but you'll still be laying out some cash.

A cheaper alternative is to build your own prop crystals.  If you absolutely, positively need something huge you can invest in casting one from clear resin or having it machined from acrylic stock.  The most inexpensive option is building up larger crystals using "table scatter" gems, the cast acrylic decorations beloved by wedding and event planners, held together with hot glue.  They're readily available at big box stores in the craft section in a limited range of colors, but you'll find them in every color of the rainbow online.  

For this project I used these red acrylic gems from Amazon. A two pound bag is just $7, with free shipping if you're signed up for Amazon Prime.  That's the lowest price I could find from a domestic supplier, but you can order huge amounts of these things from Chinese suppliers.

Once you have the gems in hand you're almost ready to go.  Wash down the table scatter with some warm soapy water to remove any mold release.  While the gems are drying, get your glue gun warmed up.

 The actual assembly of the crystal is pretty straightforward.  Once the gems are totally dry, just start sticking them together with hot glue.  What's impossible to convey in words or pictures is that you'll be putting together a three dimensional puzzle.

Ideally, you want to build up the shape by fitting together the gems with limited gaps.  That's going to assure that the finished crystal has a high optical clarity, diffusing light throughout it's structure to duplicate the translucent appearance of a real crystal.  If there are any major voids don't be shy about filling them up with the molten glue.  I used a high-temperature glue gun.  That provided excellent adhesion to the acrylic, but had the drawback of requiring significant cool-down time for the glue to solidify.  The last thing you want to do is accidentally stick your finger into molten (370 degrees F) EVA plastic.  Ouch. 

Here's what I had after about an hour of work, including all those breaks for cooling. 

Not too shabby.  The fist sized crystal used up roughly half of the two pound bag.  As you can see, it has excellent light transmission qualities.  Those dark spots?  Reflections of the black velvet backdrop that's off camera.  They're getting bent around by the internal facets of the crystal mass.  Because of the high refractive index I think this is going to look stunning when it's underlit.  On that front, I've ordered a few puck lights to experiment with.

Another nice aspect of the assembled crystal is that it has a decent heft to it.  That's not important if you're just looking for a display piece, but it's a desirable feature in a prop that's going to be handled.  Package it up in a storage box and you're going to have a very cool plot token.

Here's a comparison shot of the finished crystal with a glass deck prism and a quarter for scale.  The acrylic transmits a lot more light, while the glass has more color depth. 

For roughly $5 in materials this is a great little prop.  The one change I'm going to make in the next iteration is to use a clear rubber ball as the core of the crystal.  The current version can take a goodly amount of abuse without damage, but adding some flexibility should make it even more survivable. 

*Ol' skool RPG callback, yo!  Sweet Jebus, I just realized I've been a citizen of the Imperium for close to 40 years now. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fairy Finale

The Kickstarter for the The Derbyshire Mummified Fairy Kit is heading into it's final week. The project has already met it's base funding goal and is tantalizingly close to hitting at least one more stretch goal that will add extra goodies to the kit materials. 

There are vanishingly few "How To" resources for gaff-making.  This effort will change that, and hopefully open the door to even more material down the road.

The Book of Shadows

I may be jaded, but the idea of a "Book of Shadows" just doesn't excite me.  But the "Livre des Ombres"?  Now that sounds cool.  This tome from Mille Cuirs demonstrates both excellent craftsmanship and the fantastic power of French to impress English speakers.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Feast Upon the Bones of Easter!

Just a reminder that the traditional clearance sale on Easter stuff is going on today.  It's a great time to stock up on plastic eggs of all sizes.   They're incredibly useful bits to have around for all sorts of prop projects.

Journey to the Dreamlands

I'm happy to welcome Director Huan Vu and the makers of "The Dreamlands" as our newest sponsors.  They're currently raising funds for the film's production on Indiegogo.  It's an effort I think is worthy of your support for three reasons.

First, it's the same production team that made "Die Farbe", released here in the US as "The Color Out of Space".  That film is one of the better Lovecraftian movies of the last few years.  More importantly, it demonstrated a level of professionalism and craftsmanship that's all too often lacking in low-budget Mythos films.  It's not perfect, but I think the filmmakers did a good job of playing up their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses during production. I think that bodes well for "The Dreamlands".

Second, they're doing something far too few crowdfunded projects do- telling you how the money is going to be spent.  Supporters deserve to know where their money is going. 

Third, they're offering props from the film as premiums at the upper pledge levels. For obvious reasons that's something I'm into, and I'm looking forward to showing some of the designs.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Eldritch Easter

Ah, the joys of Easter.  When the first bloom of spring turns our thoughts to the monstrous horrors that dwell behind the thin veil of reality.

Jason McKittrick is celebrating the occasion with two limited-run "Eldritch Easter" projects.   The first is a nifty little "From Beyond" prop collection.  It features one of the jellyfish monstrosities made visible by the Tillinghast Resonator along with notes recovered from the unfortunate aftermath.  The second is one of his excellent Cthulhu idols cast in glow-in-the-dark resin.

They're both available at the Cryptocurium website for today only.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Shaping Foam

Model maker David Neat brings us an excellent tutorial on making smooth shapes using foam.  His technique uses precise layout and simple sanding forms to produce some surprisingly complex shapes.

Styrofoam is one of the easiest materials to shape by normal means e.g. slicing with sharp knives or a hot-wire cutter, sawing with serrated blades, rasping with files, and smoothing with sandpaper. The real challenge lies in controlling the shape and especially, in this case, how one achieves concave forms. Here are the methods I’ve employed for a particular model piece which needed a ‘bowl-like’ form and very regular curves. I’ve used the standard blue styrofoam for this, in it’s most available thickness (2.5cm). There are other styrofoams, such as orange/pink or white, which are even finer and slightly denser.
 Via Eric Hart.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Trooper Edition.

PRTrooper brings us one of the distinctive Cthulhu idols used by the Black Brotherhood. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Terra Incognita, Part Deux

Last week's post about the Terra Incognita LARP in Sweden has drawn a goodly amount of interest.  Photographer Johannes Axner was kind enough to drop me a line pointing to a Flicker gallery of shots from the event that feature some outstanding characters, in every sense.  They're not only gorgeous photographs, but the wonderful setting and costumes make them ideal for re-purposing as handouts for tabletop games or prop accoutrements.     The photos are available under a Creative Commons license. 

Rust Never Sleeps

Bill Doran of Punished Props brings us a helpful tutorial on rusting props.  I'll warn you now that you could easily find yourself spending a few hours watching his excellent videos.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Tillinghast Specimen

An invisible swarm of creatures surrounds us at every moment.  These unseen organisms exist in an extra-dimensional space beyond our own, part of a vicious, ancient ecology.  Isolated incidents of dimensional crossover have occurred under rare natural conditions, but under normal circumstances our worlds never mix.

At least, that is, until Crawford Tillinghast's invention of the Tillinghast Illuminator.

This is a preserved example of the lifeforms that enter our reality when the barriers are down.     The creature is approximately 6" in length.  Six external mandibles composed of a substance similar to chitin surround the mouth, attached to the internal skeleton with a flexible joint.  Immediately behind the mouth are two grasping arms equipped with spearing points.  The dorsal surface is covered in protective spikes made of the same material as the mandibles.  Three motive vanes line each side of the body.

This was a fun little project.  I wanted something that blended the features of a deep sea fish with a "flying rod", the bizarre creatures that were a cryptozoological sensation a few years ago.  Sadly, they turned out to be an artifact of digital video recording rather than an undiscovered lifeform. 

I'm still trying to create modern gaffs with vintage techniques, so the body was constructed of bamboo and paper mache.  The vanes, mandibles, and graspers are natural materials, but I did cheat and use polymer clay for the back spikes.  I think I've figured out an organic replacement for that in the next iteration. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Case #298

Parasitologist Bobbi Pritt is the proprietor of "Creepy Dreadful Wonderful Parasites", a blog dedicated to identifying the plethora of creatures that live in or on another organism.  She recently dealt with a most unusual case, that of Ms. April Folley, who was the unfortunate host of this intimidating creature.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Give Till It Hurts

This is just a friendly reminder that I'm a charitable soul, but Propnomicon doesn't get involved in any political causes.   I'm more than happy to provide what humble help I can to support good works.  Politically driven projects don't count, no matter how noble the motivation.   This post from 2011 covers the reasons why quite well, so I'm reprinting it below.

I was recently approached by a reader to donate a few items to one of those "Art for Insert Cause Here" type events.* When I politely declined, since it was for a political cause I don't happen to support, I found myself being subjected to one of the most hateful, vituperative emails I've ever had the displeasure to read. What made it even more painful is that it was from someone I've corresponded with on a pretty regular basis in connection with propmaking and Lovecraft scholarship.

Things like that are why I never, ever bring up the subject of politics here.

I understand people are passionate about issues they care about. I'm very politically active and regularly contribute to causes and candidates I support. If you're so inclined you could probably dig up my history of donations, although I try to keep them all below the $200 Federal reporting threshold for privacy reasons. I love discussing politics, and there are a few regular readers with diametrically opposing views to mine that I've exchanged polite emails with on various subjects.

That said, I also think those kind of discussions don't have to be interjected into every single facet of life. There are a few websites I used to frequent on a daily basis that are now unreadable because they've become infested with true-believers. There is no shortage of sites devoted entirely to political discussion, but for reasons that escape me the most die-hard tribalists feel the need to not only slurp up the kool aid themselves, but relentlessly press anyone passing by to take a deep drink from the punchbowl.

There's an old tradition that gentlefolk refrain from discussing politics and religion in polite company. I think that's a pretty good rule to live by.**

*As an aside, what self-respecting political cause would want to have anything to do with my work? As entertaining as I, and by extension you, might find these things they're not exactly mainstream. Half rotted parasitic worms? Mummified body parts? Murderous cult fetishes? Sweet fancy Moses, I'm an attack ad just waiting to happen.

** At least until the end times. That's when I'll merrily try to convert you all to my cultish minions. If I'm lucky I'll be able to enjoy some some truly epic drunken debauchery featuring gallons of absinthe and dozens of scantily-clad goth chicks before the Dark Lord devours my soul. Oh, and I want to work an opium den in there somewhere. Come to think of it, I really just want to live like a pulp-era villain when the end of days rolls around. A sentimental traditionalist, that's me.

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Zimmerman Edition.

Brandon Zimmerman returns to our pages with this Olmec Cthulhu idol carved from jadeite.  His rough, twisted style really captures the corrupted feel of Mythos artifacts.

Uncovered in the mid 19th century in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, these strange idols, depicting the great god Cthulhu, are believed to be of Olmec origin. The Olmec were the first major civilization in Mexico and flourished from 1500 BCE to about 350 BCE. The idols are dated at approx. 400 BCE and are carved from a rare form of the mineral Jadeite.

To date scholars have not determined the cause of the extinction of the Olmec culture. Between 400 and 350 BCE, their population decreased at an alarming rate. According to some archaeologists, this drastic depopulation was probably the result of a cataclysmic environmental shift, manifested in the form of a massive earthquake or flood.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Quick and Dirty Wax Seals

 It's a bit disappointing that wax seals faded away from daily life as we entered the modern era.  Watermarks and impressed seals perform the same function, but there's something about a blob of wax carrying an official seal that instantly added gravitas to a document.  I think part of what makes them so cool is the ritualized way they're applied.  Lighting the candle, laying out the paper and weighting it down, melting the's almost ceremonial.

So what do you do if  you want a wax seal for a prop document, but don't have all the accoutrements at hand?  Liz Gubernatis provides a possible answer with this tutorial on using buttons to make expedient seals.  I'm inordinately amused that an article designed for high-achieving brides is applicable to making props.

"The flatter your button, the easier it is to get a good imprint in the wax. Rounded buttons will work, but may require more wax or a finessed impression technique to see the whole image. Raid your local button jar, garage sales, or thrift shops for buttons with fabulous imagery, or if you're looking for something specific, try local yarn and quilt shops for a wide selection of awesome finds."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

You Can Never Have Too Much Ammo

Nerfenstein brings us a tutorial on creating futuristic ammunition using off-the-shelf match holders.  I've seen the knockoff versions going ten for a dollar at outdoor shows.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Terra Incognita

Swedish LARP producer Petter Karlsson has a nice writeup of his Terra Incognita live action game at his website.   The full immersion event featured some incredible production values that go beyond the already high Euro-LARP standards.  That included disguising modern digital cameras as period units. You'll also find some interesting remarks on how characters are handled in Nordic-style games.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Mummified Fairy Kit and DVD Workshop

On Saturday I featured Dan Baines' project on Kickstarter.  I'm happy to announce that he's now an official Propnomicon sponsor.

The funding drive for "The Derbyshire Mummified Fairy OOAK Kit & DVD Workshop" has already met it's base goal.  Now it's looking to hit some very nice stretch goals.  In addition to the physical kit bits they include some cool variations on the basic mummified fae theme.

As I said before, this is something I'm very supportive of.  Mr. Baines has an impeccable record for delivering on his projects.  More importantly, he's documenting something that hasn't received nearly enough exposure, forcing hobbyists to essentially re-invent the entire process over and over.   To be honest, I have a personal interest in the project's success.  Not only do I want to see this video, but I'd like to see followups tackling other creatures and specimens. 

Amulet of Talos

Girlan Tesshue brings us this Amulet of Talos from Skyrim.  It's an interesting variation on the model used in the game.