Thursday, 21 June 2012

Puppet making: magnetic jaws

For easy mouth replacement, I have decided to go magnet. Here is the painted head and mouth set, with the magnet set within the two part of the skull. The magnetic pull is very soft, which should make the mouth replacement routine almost effortless, with little risk of displacing the puppet in the process.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Puppet Making: handicraft

I was first trying to sculpt/mold the hands around the armature, but I always ended up with a shape too plump for bare-bone hands. I have changed strategy by using the insulating plastic of electric wires. It's a bit gross but that will do.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

GF's Rosetta Stone

I have the good fortune of spending a good part of my life in Cambodia. Khmer culture is reknown for its monuments, and in particular for the amazing stone bas-reliefs that ornate its countless  angkorian (and pre-angkorian) temples.

The mastery of stone carving has survived, and skilled artists are still sculpting elegant Budhas and generously breasted Apsaras.

You may recall Grim Fandango's famous "mural" that was gradually lighten up as the player progressed through the story. This mural, originally designed by Peter Chan, was imitating a stone carving containing  clues and pointers of the world and unfolding story of GF. It's an absolutely amazing piece of art. According to Tim Schafer :  
After Peter Chan created it, he dutifully handed the original over to LucasArts Marketing, where it probably got shoved into a closet and forgotten about. I’ve tried to get my hands on the original for years, but I think it’s just gone.  It might have even been thrown out when they moved to the Presidio. :( 
 (source: Double Fine(tm) forum here)

Sometime ago, a couple GF fan, elbiolin (LucasForum) and Laserschwert, laboriously managed to "restore" a high resolution rendering of this artwork from some pixelized screenshots...

Laseshewert's "restoration" of Peter Chan's mythical "mural" (CG, click for details!)

I downloaded his high res file, printed a poster, and went in a little carving shop located in a small street of Phnom Penh. When I unrolled my poster, I could tell on the face of the shop owner that this was the most unusual commission that he had ever received. He looked at me, puzzled, wondering what could possibly be my religion. Of course, a cultural chasm (not to mention the language barrier) did not help to explain the nature of my condition.

He asked for three months, but called me back after only four weeks. While on my way, I got myself prepared for a big disappointment. He could not have possibly completed this piece in just a month. I was not even sure that carving this piece was actually possible. There are so many layers of depth, so much details... this was plain silly!

I arrived at the shop, and Mr Choum Sophek was waiting for me. A plate of sandstone at its feet measuring 110cm large, 38cm high. With the help of two of its staff he turned the stone over to reveal its sculpted side and I went... speechless.

Mr Choum Sophek (& co) actual carving (sandstone, click for details!)
I am now the proud owner of this improbable artifact:
First conceived and drawn by Peter Chan somewhere San Francisco, lost in some bottomless IP vault at LucasArts, laboriously restored in its original splendor as a computer graphic by GF fans, and finally, 15 years later, carved into a 40kg piece of sandstone in Cambodia by the descendents of the Angkor Wat builders. What a fantastic journey! Peter Chan's masterpiece has finally reached its own Ninth Underworld... in my living room!

Oh by the way, I intend to use this carving for the Opening of the movie (panning through the details in extreme close-up, in stop-mo, but under natural light in order to get some natural flickers as a special "intemporal" effect)

Friday, 4 May 2012

Set building: More props

Door... almost done... just need to write "Manual Calavera" in reverse across the window

 Books... painted


Mexican band... work in progress (by the way this prop is not at 1/7th, too small, and just need for a close-up, so this prop is made at 1/1 scale...)

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Puppet making: Shoe shine

So... one of the first scene I will have to shoot is a close-up on Celso's shoes...

... and I thought I did a pretty good job with my first ever shoes sculpting attempt...

... until I got on Joshua Flynn's blog and saw this...

How humiliating... and stimulating... So I went back to my clay and managed to get to this...

By the way, the fact that I am sculpting shoes separately from the rest of the body hints that I am changing strategy... looking at Flynn's brothers amazing puppets (discovered thanks to a nice comment posted by Dead End), I really think I am going to give up with latex foam and try to do the puppet in fabrics instead... The above shoes would be used for making a hard mold and a RV silicon cast. looks easier than the foam latex way.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Set Building: for a fistful of props

I had still quite a few items on my prop list which needed to be addressed, somehow... and if possible cheap and fast.

For example, this pile of official DOD self-help books to unleash your inner salesmanship potential

How about that (rigged) vacuum tube messaging system,

I also need shoes for this close-up on Celso's shoe taping nervously as the "reaper" walks in...

And how about this annoying Mexican band press-paper... (err, one musician done, 3 to go)

All these props were made using Super Sculpey Firm, then baked. It's a reasonably cheap way to get done with smaller prop, rather than modelling in 3D and 3D printing.

I still need to model a couple of lamps, a couple of ashtrays, finish the mexican-band press paper, find a way to make a (partial) roof, create the city landscape behind the windows, build the door... and... I know... I really should get on with painting one of these days...

Sunday, 1 April 2012

MoldMaking: Crash test dummie

So, given my less than perfect attempt at scultping Manny's body, I am now completely relaxed in pursuing the whole process, calling it a "dry run", and carrying on making all possible mistakes along the way.

This week-end was about creating a plaster mold out of the "frankein-sculpt" I ended up doing. The hobby community seems to have settled on "Ultracal" as being the ultimate plaster for mold-making, but I had to settle to a locally available, fast setting, gypsum-plaster.

The pro's are also using a so-called "Wed-clay" in the process  (see tutorial here from stopmotionmagazine), but here again, I had to settle for some locally available natural water based clay.

Well, in the ambient 35 degree Celsius where I am living, both the clay and the plaster seemed to be drying faster than I wanted. The natural clay was rather messy to deal with, and I had trouble to level it to the divide line of my puppet. As a result I created a lot of undesirable undercuts : whereby the puppet ended up being sunken a little to much in one of the half mold, making it impossible to release without breaking.

Oh, and I also forgot to create "keys" (holes on one side, bumps on the other) to facilitate the placement of the two halves. The plaster turn out to be very soft... and I don't think this mold will resist more than one foam-latex baking.

Well, the result is very amateurish but I think it should be good enough to mess with the foam latex curing part... which seems to be the hardest craft to master in this type puppet making. I will most likely end up with a shapeless blob but I am picking up some ideas to do better on the second try :

1 - Will sculpt the master shape in Supersculpey, instead of air drying clay, then bake it to harden, and will send the shape to pistol lacquer painting (at a motorcycle repair shop), to get the smoothest surface possible

2 - Will use Kid grade synthetic clay (comes almost cheaper than natural one where I leave) in the mold making process, instead of trying with natural clay. I will just warm it a little in a rice cooker to make it very soft. Kid clay worked very well when I made silicon molding for the corners (see earlier post). It will be more forgiving for puppet molding as well... just need lots of it.

3 - I need to settle for a plaster than does not dry so quickly... and maybe ask the plaster shop if there is a way to mix it with more gypsum powder to improve its hardness.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Set Making: Manny's computer in the matter.

Here is another prop 3D-printed from a Google Sketchup rendition.
This is where 3D printing shine... those intricate little keys of the keyboard would have been almost very hard to render using any other modelling technique. If only 3D printing wasn't so expensive... this nice little prop did cost about 40 euros...

The 3D-print price are going down, but I guess that clay and talented traditional sculptors have still a bright future for their craft.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Puppet making: disaster in slow mo

This part of the project is NOT going well at all. Atually, puppet making seems to be my biggest drag at this point of the project.

I posted earlier about my first attempt to sculp a suit in Manny's clay. It looked great... when it was still wet!

The cracks appeared as the clay shrunk on the wire armature. So I made some repair with some putty epoxy, which is very hard to shape. Never mind, I thought, will just sandle everything back in shape, so I patched heavily over the cracks.

But the epoxy turns out to be much harder than the original clay, and sanding back 2 materials of very different hardness proves to be an impossible task.  So here am I... Actually, the picture does it a favor, it really looks worse in reality. So long for the smooth, doll-like, detailed sculpture that made me salivate in the tutorials I tried to emulate. If only I could... lacquer it to give it a smooth surface... or dip it in some sort of all-forgiving-and-viscous-elixir.

Well, since I will probably screw up my first plaster-mold-making attempt I might as well consider this as a crash-test-dummy candidate.

Now, I need to find some non-shrinking clay and some damn good sculpture 101 tutorial.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Prop making: Molding corners

Earlier in this blog, I posted my attempt to modeling the art-deco ceiling corners in Manny's office.

I sent the shape to my favorite 3D printer and received a scaled 3D print for that shape as shown below. I could have asked the print of 4 identical pieces and be done with it, but... 3D print is expensive, and this relatively simple geometrical shape was a good practice target to learn the craft of Silicon mold making.

I show below the original 3D print of the master shape. Then below a Silicon mold made of this shape. And last row the resin cast of 4 corners made in resin.

The result is good enough for a decorative prop of this kind. A little sanding, a little painting, and those four pieces should look OK in the set.

The whole process was made in a week-end, with locally available chemical products (RTV Silicon, Resin, and their respective hardener), and it was fun to do with my daughter. However the result would probably not be good enough for a more intricate design requiring a higher level of precision. I made all the beginner's mistakes, as usual, and I will probably do better next time. Which was the point of the whole exercise... I could have skipped this detail from the set with no much visible difference in the final movie. But this project is as much about learning techniques I am unfamiliar with as it is about the final product, the movie.

There are plenty of excellent tutorial around about this RTV Silicon mold making, so I will spare you with the details. However, always happy to answer any question, from layman to layman.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Mouth Sets fresh from 3D Print

I just received the Manny's head and mouth set from the 3D printer. This time the skull and the jaw fit perfectly... well, at least for 4 among 7 mouth pieces. I don't know exactly how I managed to mess with the dimensions of the 3 others, but these are being re-printed promptly.

I will soon be able to make a true, stop motion lips-sync test, just like the one I did virtually earlier.

On another front I am having the time of my life learning the ropes of silicon mold-making. Translate: disaster on first try.
But that's another story for another post, with some sticky pictures of the mess I ended up with.

I said a few month ago that I was expecting to start to shoot sometimes in march. Well... give me another 3 month, OK?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Breaking news: A blessing from the power that be

Tim Schafer, creator of Grim Fandango, has apparently stumbled upon this blog and blessed this project in a tweet. This is HUGE!

Thursday, 16 February 2012

While waiting

I have finally ordered my replacement mouth set to the 3D printer i.materialise, along with a few props and will post  the pictures as soon as the parcel reaches me.

On the puppet modelling front, I had to face some misfortune... the clay shrunk, and, combined with the rigidity of the armature, some cracks have appeared around the feets and hands. My sister, who is, unlike me, a sculptor artist, warned me about the risk. Well, nothing that some miliput epoxy can't fix, but for those of you who are tempted by the adventure, make sure that you are using a clay that has 0% contraction on drying. So long for departing from the recommendation from so many wiser puppet maker. I will post a picture of the damage before I fix it later on this post.

Now, after the recent post I made on the AdventureGamer Top 100, here is another wonderful post that I stumbled upon, this time from EuroGamer, as a restrospective on Grim Fandango aptly named "Dead can dance". This paper flesh out (no pun intended) some very interesting aspect of the GF story and gameplay which I had almost forgotten about. They are pulling also some of the best lines from the dialog to drill their point. A little gem to read. Kind of make me want to play the game again!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Puppet Making: Modelling Manny's suit in clay

I was a bit apprehensive about this... I am not a sculptor and that was a first (as almost everything since I started this project).
I started from a basic modelling armature sized after the animation armature, then used a british clay called NewClay. It's a nice clay to work with at the beginning... but it seems to be drying pretty fast and there are some parts, which I left without touching for too long, such as the shoes, which have become very uncooperative. Anyway, that will do. I still have the hands to finish, and then I will discover the joys of mold making in gypsum plaster...

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Set Building: Progress report

Here is a little update on the set building. This picture shows most of the props in place. Latest work was the application of the upper wall pattern in green, and some windows dress-up work.

This picture was taken without flash, with a single light from behind the camera. The trick is going to drop two incoming light on the carpet, as in the original game background. One square of light from the door, and another one from the window. No idea how to place the lights to do this effect. It is very hard to drop a shadow with nice hard edge...

Any photographer around to give me some advice on how to achieve this?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Animation test: Lip Sync test

Testing my new (still virtual) replacement mouth set on original audio... The Sync work was done under Dragonframe and the video was then built from still image using VirtualDub (a nice little free software).

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Puppet Making : Mouth replacement set (trial 2)

A few weeks ago, I have presented on this blog a mouth replacement set for Manny made by hand in Sculpey clay. But I was still not very happy with the outcome: the match between the lower jaw and the upper skull was approximate, leaving big gaps which will prove to be hard to conceal.

At the same time, I was intrigued by Celso's skull made by Chay in a 3D software that he recommended to me: zBrush.

Unlike a conventional 3D authoring software, zBrush lets you sculpt intuitively shapes without worrying about meshes of polygon : it's a bit like using some digital clay.

I decided to give a try on a trial version, starting from Tom Beg's original 3D model skull for Manny.

As you can see, I had a lot of fun with it. It took a little while to get through the beginner's learning curve, but once you get used to a few (among many) brushes it gets really intuitive.

The advantage of this method, would be to be able to make a very clean, precise, and consistent cut between the skull and the mouth set, and get the pieces sent to a 3D printer. The fit will be almost perfect, and the remaining contact line will be more easy to conceal in post-production.

Now it gets really tempting to have a set of upper skull (i.e. with different position of eyebrows), to de-multiply the possibilities facial expression. But I am getting ahead of myself... as my father always taught me: "le mieux est l'enemi du bien".

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Set Building: Details, details

Some time ago I have published a 3D model of those plaster patterns that are running on the top of the wall.

My initial thought were to get it 3D printed, then to create a mold to make as many plaster tiles as I need.

I have finally decided against this approach : too expensive, too time consuming. Got to cut corners here.

My 3D sketchup model will still be handy though. The flat sketchup model is exported here :

 Using V-Ray for sketchup (free trial edition), I manage to get a hi-res output of this tile

It still looks a little too nice and computer generated. So photoshop, throwing in a bit of burns, cracks, highlights, I ended up there :

Now repeat this tile 10 times and print on sticker paper (just as I did the walls), there we go. Quick and cheap. For the opposite wall, this same tile will be flipped so as to give the impression of that the light is coming from the same direction (the windows). I hope that, in the lens of the camera, this will be convincing enough.

Friday, 13 January 2012

I rest my case!

Working, but nothing to show.

So... here is a little breather...

VampireNaomi, moderator on GF's forum on Lucasforum, pointed me to an apparently popular site called AdventureGamer.

While discovering this erudite site on all things adventure-gamy, I stumbled upon their very recent definitive, TOP 100 all time adventure games, no question asked.

So, guess which game was ranked first? Ha!

Sorry to be gloating... it just feels like I have have some vested interest in the GF world now.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Puppet making: Iron man evolution

Left: Manny's clay modelling armature, Center: Manny's animation armature, Right: Celso's animation armature
Just finished Celso's animation armature this week-end.

So, how are we going to dress up Manny and Celso? I keep pondering on that one. And, for Manny in particular, I have a problem.

Animation puppets can be padded with foam, then dressed up with puppet clothes, but fabrics tend to be messy for stopmo animation : It does not stay in place and move from shot to shot.

Ideally those animation armature would be dressed in molded foam latex: a flexible foamy material with a realistic (non porous) skin, think stress-balls. But the process to get there is long and tedious :

  1. First a clay-modelling armature must built with the same dimensions as the animation armature. This is what you can see in the picture on the left.
  2. Then master shape of the puppet is molded and sculpted around the armature.
  3. Then a 2-part mold of the clay-sculpted "master" is made in plaster
  4. Only then the animation gets placed, somehow in the middle of the inverted body shape of the mold, and some scary 5-part cocktail of chemistry is poured into the mold. The whole thing is placed in a oven (but given the toxicity of the stuff, NOT your kitchen oven) and after some curing, fuming and foaming the puppets can be released from its mold and
  5. finishing, imperfection corrected (i.e. bubbles), painted.
I have never done anything like that before. And most of the recommended ingredient for this magic are not available where I live.

I take this opportunity to pay a tribute to  John Ikuma from John has made a serie of incredibly informative and well produced tutorial which make the whole process look almost easy. Most of what I know about the craft is coming from him. John, if you read this blog, a big THANK YOU! Your website and Youtube channel are best of breed.

So what's the problem about Manny?

Well... in the end of the movie, Manny undresses. He removes his reaper cloak to be revealed all his splendor in a business suit! That sequence is going to be very tricky. I need to make a black reaper cloak that can be undressed (that will have to be fabric, no choice) and have Manny inside wearing a suit (ideally in painted foam latex, but the process looks scary). And don't get me started on these pneumatic leg-extenders. How the hell am I going to build this?

Well I guess, time is on my side...

Friday, 6 January 2012

Set Building: OK Computer

Here comes my biggest prop so far... Manny's computer desk! The shape is not as intricate as my 3D model , but I had to be realistic... Some details will be added (buttons etc..), and some decoration will be added with printed stickers (the patterns on the left and right column of the screen).

But Manny and I are very happy to have extracted this fine piece of art-deco furniture from the game into the tangible side of the screen.