The other day Rebecca handed me a piece of board and told me to get creative.
Yesterday I handed it back to her:
Word to the wise: the vinyl backing glue ain’t the best for sticking tiles to tiles. I did have to use a bit of craft glue to keep the pieces on. Also, don’t get your pinkies in the way of the scalpel. Goes without saying, I know, but, you know… don’t.
The slate and marble tiles lend themselves nicely to a moody, Halloween kind of look, but nothing says you can’t get a little creative and apply daubs of paint here and there to bring it up. Eh, go on! Get down to the hardware store and pick up some lino!
Not only will it set the mood of the animation, if I do it right it will tie into the various scenes. The first question I asked was “what’s the mood?” Well, this animation is for the book, so the mood should reflect how the book reads.
Hmm. The Bullet is slow and sad, so that’s not quite right. Adaptation is paced and new age. Also not right. No, this needs to be light, in that it’s not a horror book, it’s a ghost book, so that means a little bit of creepiness, and it’s vintage, a tad ye olde world.
“Danse Macabre” sprung to mind. Remember that? Ah, yes. And that brought me back to when I was practicing scales on the piano, and there were the majors and the minors, and then there were some of the ‘advanced’ ones that I (vaguely) remember. The octotonic (I admit, I had to go rifling through google for that one) scales had that sort of ‘unclean’ feel about them.
Before you open up a can of music-theory-whoop-ass on my posterior, just remember that I’m a writer, not a musician. Actually, add to that pile ‘producer’, ‘animator’, ‘sound engineer’, ‘post-producer’… Anyway, if you can bear with, I went out onto the organ in the garage – hello old friend – and fiddled about with scales, noting some of the chords that sounded about right.
The Bullet score came from a tune I had stuck in my head for years. The Adaptation ditty was inspired from a mix of “Ship To Shore” and some old piano exercises. For Grosvenor Lane Ghost, I’m going with something altogether different.
One big lesson from the previous projects was to start with the tune and leave the bass and beats and accompaniments for later. Secondly, choosing the primary instrument, while easily changed at any point using Anvil Studio, is best done early: While plotting music, if it doesn’t sound right, it could be because rather than a Honky Tonk piano, one needs a Flute.
So there’s me, sitting at work, trying to get raster images to print to thermal Epson docket printers with wonky Escpos (ask me about it sometime 🙂 ) while tumbling through random tunes in my head. No good. There’s me on the bike ride home, skipping between cars and ducking underneath trucks while pounding out ditties through my brain. No good. There’s me sitting at home, slurping on a coffee, letting my fingers practice Phrenology, forcing a brass band to make music inside my skull. No good.
It doesn’t matter how hard you squeeze the toothpaste tube, nothing will come out until you take the top off. Fine, not totally true. Squeeze it too hard and you have paste across the roof, but you get my drift. I needed to chill. And for that, I turned to a dusty bottle of Hennessy and a creaky desk chair.
K. I’m chillin’. Anything yet?
No. Mmm. No. Actually, yes. A quaff and a sit down does wonders. Tunes start to develop. Patterns. Memories.
Zig-a-zig-zig. What was that? Zig-a-zig-zig? The Spice Girls? Hmm, no. A violin? Ah. Zig-a-zig. A fiddle. Good. Fiddles are cool. What’s that? Well, that’s nice, too. A guitar. Hmm, a guitar and a fiddle. Not strummy, more folksy, more plunk-a-plink-plink.
And so, I state with honesty, I started writing the music of Grosvenor Lane Ghost with zig-a-zig and plunk-a-plink.
I think that’s the beauty of Midi – it’s like sketching or scribbling. You can start anywhere. You can work at it and refine it down, a bit at a time, cut out the bits you don’t like, add more twiddle-dee-woo or change tappa-ta-ta-tap to doomfa-doomfa with a few mouse clicks and see how it sounds.
I’ve got six tracks, now, with a lead in using a celesta and a nylon string guitar (plink-a-plink). The melody is with a flute, harmony with a cello (zig-a-zig) and a timpani and xylophone making up the bass and beat. Too much? Probably. But, going back to how Midi works, if it is, I can always mute a track and see how it sounds, or mix up the instruments, swap the cello to a fiddle, or a harmonica, or adjust the volume, or, perhaps, just hit the save button, finish the cognac and hit the hay.
Don’t want to overwork it. Don’t want to lose my chill.
Still with the creepy, Halloween theme, we have the Swamp-Beast Egg.
It was going to be Cthulu, but everyone knows that Cthulu has tentacles. If you want to get all Lovecraftian, it could possibly be a Deep-One Egg. I’ve also heard it being called a Dragon-Egg. Whatever.
Find a fat, rounded egg, so that Swampy looks like he’s had a healthy fish diet. Get boggly eyes (makes everything cuter) and some impasto medium.
Undercoat as described earlier, let it dry and then paint in a solid green. If you’re after a light-hearted beast, go for a bright, vivid green. A dark green will be decidedly moodier. As for his tummy, settle for a muddy mustard of river-bed brown. Two solid coats of that and let Swampy dry.
Get some white paint and mix it into some impasto. Using a slim paintbrush, scoop and roll it onto the egg about midway to form the teeth. Think goofy, clumsy canines jutting upwards.
Clean your brush out, let it dry, then mix red with the impasto. Scoop and roll a thick slab to form the lower lip, draping it across the teeth. Build it up and sculpt it with a knife or spatula if you need to.
As always, just ask for diagrams if you need them.
While you’ve got a blob of red impasto sitting there doing nothing, dip your paintbrush in and tease to form spikes on the back. Continue all the way down the back. If the spikes fall over, tease them back up again. They’ll hold when they’re dry.
Let it dry, then mix some green in the impasto and build the lower portion of the mouth, and some eyebrows above where the eye will be. Thick, heavy eyebrows give an impression of brutishness, so be moderate if you want a goofy, rather than ugly or scary egg.
Stick on the eyes and let it dry: big and close for cute, small and wide for piggy.
When it’s all dry, pick up a fine brush, mix a different shade of green and make a succession of ‘scales’, little U shapes in rows, all the way around. This is the most time consuming part, so make sure you’ve got a coffee handy, especially if you’re doing a batch. You are doing this in batches, right? Everyone is going to want one!
Alright, so keep going around and around, making little U’s, alternative the position on each row. You can afford to get thicker at the back, where his scales would be larger, but as you near his face, scatter the scales and make them finer and smaller.
Mix some lighter tummy colour, and, using a fine brush, make horizontal lines.
Let it dry. Get some shiny gloss (he’s a swamp beast, he’s wet) and slather it all over him, going for at least two coats. I’m yet to find a proper egg cup for him, but that’s ok: He’s one of those eggs that likes to be picked up and held.
Keeping with the spooky, Halloween feel, but a whole lot less creepy, is the Mummy egg. Rather than polarizing, everyone, young and old, seems to like this one.
There’s not a lot to prepare for this one. You’ll need some boggly eyes, some muslin or rough cotton cloth, some coffee and paint.
Cut you cloth into long strips. Get your coffee – instant, espresso, percolated, turkish, doesn’t matter so long as you haven’t added milk. What? You added milk? *Sigh* Drink that, then make another, and this time don’t add milk. Black Tea also works.
Soak your cloth in the brew for a few minutes to let it penetrate. Now rinse and squeeze it out. You should have soggy, bashed up, ‘aged’ cloth.
Paint your eggs a mustard yellow then, with a sponge, a rough brush or even some tissue, scrape on some green, grey or brown in blotches. Your Mummy has spent a lot of time in a sarcophagus!
Don’t bother glossing it up: matte texture is fine. It’ll help with the wrapping as well.
Stick your eyes on just above centre.
Using craft glue, attach the start of the piece of cloth to the base of the egg.
Wrap haphazardly. Don’t be shy going in all different directions. If your cloth is too thin, fold it over in half.
Daub glue on to hold it in places, especially since eggs don’t like to be wrapped up.
Finish off leaving a trailing bit of bandage.
Find a proper egg cup to stick it in. I found the ones in the picture from Home – a Maxwell and Williams creation.
For extra points, instead of an egg cup, try making a paper-mache sarcophagus!
This is a polarizing one: You either love it or you hate it.
You know how putting boggly-eyes on things makes them cuter? Well, a big, disembodied boggly-eye ain’t that cute. In this series, I did a couple of ‘body parts’, like a heart, a stomach and a brain, but I’ve given them away. My favourite was the eyeball, anyway.
I just remember that Halloween is around the corner, so I’ve bumped this post up to now.
Choose an egg than is not so eggcentric: you want a less of difference between the size of the base and the top. Also, knock off any lumps or bumps with sandpaper or a box cutter.
Undercoat as usual, make it smooth, then coat it over with a good, strong white paint. Texturize a little with foam if you like.
Go look at a real eye. It helps. See the size of the iris (the coloured bit)? It’s not very big in the grand scheme of things. Only one and a half centimetres or half an inch or so. Make it too big, and the eyeball will look comical. My first few attempts, my irises were far too large. Keep it small.
Get a circle, piece of rubber, foam, whatever, that matches the size of the iris and use this as a stencil on the egg at the very top. Next, get a stencil or a sticky dot that is smaller than the iris. Use a pencil to trace it.
If you’ve made a small secondary hole, then the pupil, being black, will happily hide it.
Decide on the colour of your iris: I chose brown because I used my wife’s eyes as a model. Paint lightly with black around the outside of the iris, stroking toward the centre. Then get your coloured paint and paint over these, blended in toward the centre. Finally, using some white paint, add some radiating flecks. Your iris is done.
Now, fill in the pupil. Two coats of black at least to hide any white or colour underneath.
If you need diagrams, let me know.
The blood and gore
The back of the eyeball is where you can let loose. Using impasto medium, get some red, white, blue and pink paint and build up ‘muscles’ on the side, about halfway up the eyeball.
Use the impasto to get lines and icky textures in there, with lines of red and pink and even mustard if you like.
Toward the base, build up the goo into a peak to form the optic nerve. Let this dry.
Pro Tip: when painting arteries and veins, mix in a little white paint into the blue or the red. If you don’t, putting blue against a red background will result in a ‘black’ vein which, while more accurate, isn’t as visually appealing. The same goes for arteries. Adding a little white paint brings up the vivid red.
Using a wire or a fine brush, mix the ‘vein’ paint in with a little impasto to give it body, then dribble or drag over the eye from the base up to create your blood vessels.
When you’re satisfied, gloss it over with high gloss. Many coats. The more coats the better.
Apparently there’s some kind of gloss that gives a ‘wet feel’. I haven’t found it yet, but it sounds like something that would take this to the next level.
Find a shallow egg cup, darker if you can, that shows off a bit of the muscular features and the veins.