Friday, 5 October 2012

Foam latex build-up puppet plans

For my own personal tests with foam latex, with the aim of properly analysing the results, I will need something substantial to place under scrutiny in order to garner a strong understanding of the material and its properties. A hand, or even an arm, attached to an otherwise fashioned body will not suffice to demonstrate the capabilities of a material. To truly establish its pros and cons, it must be used to something of its full capacity. It has to be a whole puppet- and that means something seamless and organic, one flowing continuous piece of material.

For this module, I am placing more emphasis on the use and analysis of materials than on designing characters. To enable me more time to gain experience using foam latex (which is wholly new to me, and will undoubtedly feature a lot of trial and error), it makes sense to create tests based upon existing characters. J.R.R. Tolkein’s fictional creature Gollum is perfect. Despite initially appearing plain in design, he is actually very detailed, especially on the face and with scrawny bone and muscle definitions on his body. Recreated well, Gollum could be a spectacular stop motion puppet, in my opinion providing an excellent challenging-yet-attainable first induction to the uses of foam latex. The degree of detail added can vary depending on how comfortable or skillful I feel whilst making the puppet.

It seems apt that a traditional technique such as the build-up method, used primarily by Ray Harryhausen for classic movie monsters, should be applied to a character that is lifted from what are undeniably equally classic stories. Furthermore, Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of the Rings Trilogy’ movies (based upon Tolkein’s novels), regardless as to whether I adopt the films’ aesthetic design for Gollum or not, will provide an excellent source of video references for subsequent animation tests with the puppet.

Gollum, as seen in Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers’ [2002]:

The animated version of Gollum from ‘The Hobbit’ [1977], created by Rankin/Bass, and animated by Topcraft- a Japanese anime studio the precursor to Studio Ghibli:

Gollum from the animated ‘The Lord of the Rings’ [1978]:

The 1978 movie did not cover the entire trilogy. Comprising only The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, it was originally planned as ‘The Lord of the Rings: Part 1’ with a sequel to follow. The third book in Tolkein’s series, The Return of the King, was instead later adapted to animated form as a sequel to ‘The Hobbit’ [1977], and reverted to a similar art style. ‘The Return of the King’ [1980] depicted a frog-like Gollum based directly on his appearance in The Hobbit.

Gollum, seemingly inspired by the 1977 Hobbit movie interpretation, as seen in the 2003 ‘The Hobbit’ video game:

Lastly, Gollum as he will appear in Peter Jackson’s upcoming ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy:

With Gollum around sixty years younger in The Hobbit than in The Lord of the Rings, you can see he features a slightly younger appearance here, with smoother skin and brighter, more natural eyes.

Had ‘The Lord of the Rings’ been adapted into a live action feature film before the advent of CGI special effects, it is likely that a latex build-up puppet (quite possibly by Harryhausen himself) would have brought Gollum to life. This provides a fantastic opportunity to explore this traditional technique in an authentic manner and setting, faithful to Harryhausen’s classic works. To test the material properties of foam latex, the longevity of the puppet and to ensure that it is capable of performing to a unique character-based specification, I aim to recreate a short scene from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (quite possibly the iconic scene from the first film clip above) using the completed puppet, animating as accurately as possible to the source material to capture the true essence of the character.

Note: Considering Gollum’s knees and elbows are almost always bent, it would make sense to cast/build him up in a crouched, hunched position, as the wires will be less likely to break- they would otherwise be under constant stress from the latex trying to return the arms and legs to a straight position, which could do damage over time.

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