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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Big Bird Announcement

I'm pleased to present the release of my newest offering, an Animatronic Raven you can build yourself!

Check out the details at ChickenProps.com. There's a full step-by-step how to video coming soon, but if you order by July 6, you'll lock in the discounted introductory price!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Practically Perfect

I was reminded recently of one of the first movie props I really coveted: the talking parrot umbrella from Mary Poppins. And when I started thinking about it, I realized it’s not all that complicated a piece (unless you get into the mechanics of making a talking version, which…maybe…). So why not have a go at it?

In my research, it became clear that there are several umbrellas used in the film. There’s certainly a talking one and a static one, but there are also variations in the pole, tassel, and paint job of the parrot.  These are most of the major differences I caught:

The standard hand prop

This darker paint job (see the white eye area is blue). I'm leaving this one as a maybe because it could just be one of the others repainted

The wide shot flying umbrella (no graduation in the pipe, different/offset canopy

This one in the rain with a border around the canopy

And the puppet version (which you can se here full length with the cables out the bottom!)

I came across an expired auction for what claims to be one of the originals. I’m not so sure that it is. The paint looks unlike anything seen in the film (both in style and color), the eye is painted (rather than an inserted doll’s eye), and the treatment of the handle with wrapped cord doesn’t match anything on screen that I could find. But that’s not to say it isn’t an original that’s been restored, or at the very least a casting of the original bird. What it did give me was a scale to work off of.

Disney has offered three versions of the movie umbrella. Two of the released Disney versions are derived from the original mold, and there are better pictures of these than of the prop in the movie. And while it looks like some detail was softened in the manufacturing process, these still provide a nice blueprint for where things line up on the sculpture. A defunct company called Icons produced a replica of the prop, as well, and someone on the RPF who has this one was kind enough to send me some photos.

Now the other component is, of course, the umbrella itself. I spent some time searching the web for a simple black umbrella to use as a base. It turned out to be rather difficult to find manual open umbrellas of the right size. Eventually, Target came through with one that nearly fit the bill, except the tip is all wood instead of wood and metal. I cut off the hook at the handle, and that looked about the right length for the wider part of the pole.

I started sculpting the bird over a pipe that’s close to the size of the handle, so I could slip it off and try it on the umbrella. This is a couple of short sessions in. I'll do a silicone mold of this and make the final piece in resin.

The next bit of problem solving is how to accommodate the eyes in the casting, and whether to make the lower beak separate for a possible animated version.  I set the project aside for a little while to mull things over.

When I next picked it up, I was working out the detail below the bird with my 3D printer, since I don't have a lathe. It's trickier than I expected to get the right proportions here. This is the third attempt, and it seemed pretty good.

After a few months abroad on a project I hope to be able to discuss sometime in the future, I finished up the sculpture the other day and threw it in some silicone!

The first cast came out pretty good. There were few problem areas I had to troubleshoot bubble-wise. The eyelids are molded separately so the eye can be inserted, then the lid glued on top.

I've got plans for a mechanical version that are starting to seem doable in my head, but it made sense to get it finished off as the static prop first so that
1) there's a starting point to work from for the animated version
2) I've got something complete to show for my time so far before embarking on that adventure.

I'll be able to cast up a hollow version to modify for movement down the road.

Because of the variations in paint on the real parrots, I had some decisions to make when it came to painting mine.  I played around on the piece a bit, and ended up following the basic color scheme of the talking version, as it gets the best close ups in the film.  I tried to approach it with a washy, watercolor-like thought process, as I thought that best matched the feel of the film's design principles, looking in particular at the matte paintings of a dreamy London cityscape, and the actual prop snowglobe.  Not too clean and polished, but not overly heavy handed, either.  A lovingly handmade piece.

Here's where I ended up!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Strange Mask Making Continues

I really got the mask making bug doing those retro monster mask repaints.  While I was working on the Frankenstein, an idea finally gelled that had been floating around for a few years now.  I had the sense that, with his strikingly textured face, Glenn Strange's incarnation of the Frankenstein Monster would lend itself beautifully to my wacky zombie corpsing technique

I had originally envisioned doing a full bust of the character, but, at 11:30pm on a Monday night, I realized it had to be a mask, so I pulled out some clay and got to work.

I used some Model Magic clay that I had kicking around on top of a reject casting of Sybil the Clairvoyant.  At this point I was imagining that I would leave everything attached to the hollow Sybil face as the structure for the mask, but I realized after I finished sculpting that it would be too heavy with the amount of clay required, so I slathered the sculpture in vaseline to release it from the subsequent layer of paper mache.  Had I known it would go this way, I would have used a non drying oil clay.  It would have released itself from the mache mask and been easier to work with.  Oh well.

I didn't worry about getting a perfect likeness, because my other source of inspiration, besides the movies themselves, is the fantastic Don Post "Calendar" Mask of the character, which has its own over the top exploration of the design, and only almost hits the exact likeness.

Two layers of newspaper and thinned school glue make up the shell of the mask itself.  It gives it structure, but isn't totally rigid, which is kind of nice in a mask.

Then two layers of "chicken mache."  The first one smooth for extra structure, the second with all the wrinkly goodness.  Check the tutorial linked at the top of the post to see how it's done.

And then we paint.  drybrushed pale green highlights and thinned down, washy purple shadows.  What color is he supposed to be? I don't know.  You can't forget the Glenn Strange mole, though!

From there I added hair, monster hardware, and an elastic strap.

And now I'll probably have to make some more.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Monster Masks Rewind

Target put out a line of Universal Monsters themed Halloween products this year, and what caught my eye was the cheesy vacuum formed plastic masks.  They had the bones of vintage Ben Cooper and Collegeville Halloween masks, but the paint job was lacking.

I picked up the Creature from the Black Lagoon to have a go at painting it up retro style.  This one had a really cool vintage counterpart with an almost identical sculpture from Collegeville, so I had a clear direction.  Here's the before and after.

It was pretty fun, and the Instagram kids seemed to dig it, too, so I sought out the others.  I found the Bride of Frankenstein next.  Turns out the vintage paint jobs on these were just about the same as the new one. Snooze.  So I pulled from some vampire lady designs, as well as the Frankenstein ones to come up with what hopefully comes across as wild yet pretty. It's certainly prettier than the factory paint job, so there's that.

I had to order the Frankenstein Monster, as it was all sold out locally.  This one is sculpted pretty boring compared to the old ones, but we  can save it in paint!

And here's the terrible trio!