Saturday, October 31, 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

...and All the Ships at Sea

If you think the cap on your smartphone data is annoying, imagine what it was like when you had to pay by the word.  In the days when the telegraph defined the state of the art in communications technology it wasn't unusual for customers to compress long messages using a single code word.  The secret was using a code book in the possession of both the sender and receiver.

There were dozens of different code books available during the classic era of the 20s and 30s.  Some were tailored to specific industries and featured codes that handled things like cargo financing terms or the different grades of kapok fibers.  Others were full blown encryption schemes using custom printed, single use pages for secure communications between a company and its agents abroad.

Eveline Houweling has been kind enough to transcribe her personal copy of "The Nautical Telegraph Code Book and Postal Guide for Officers in the Mercantile Marine and All Persons Travelling Abroad", subtitled "Tourists, Passengers, and Foreign Residents Will Find this Work Exceptionally Useful". It's a good example of a period code, dating back to 1920, designed to serve the needs of travelers and those abroad.  The book's sole purpose was to allow a single word to convey an entire sentence.  Need to purchase insurance?  Instead of spending a goodly sum writing "Please effect insurance against all risks for the sum of £--. Sending cash by next mail" in a telegram you simply consult the code book and send the word "Starless".

Using a code book for messages not only adds some verisimilitude to period communications, but provides a good deal of immersiveness as messages are decoded.  A telegram containing the words "Amplitude Doctor Padlock Skyward" means nothing without the book.  With it, the recipient learns that things are going very badly in the fight against the cult of the Black Wind.

Steampunk Diving Suit

This nifty steampunk diving suit comes to us from the Centurion Visual Media Studio.  You have to admire the craftsmanship that went into making this.  The only thing more praiseworthy is the willingness to actually wear it under a blazing sun. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Weapons of the Wasteland

Sander Propworx brings us this selection of post-apocalyptic weaponry.  Amazingly, these implements of destruction are all soft, flexible, and totally LARP-safe.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New Miskatonic Antarctic Expedition Photos Discovered

Is it possible a heretofore unknown stash of photographs from the ill-fated Miskatonic Antarctic Expedition exists? Marcos Saintout shares some intriguing news on the subject.
New update, today I just cached a new vibrant evidence regarding the 1930-1931 Antarctic expeditions with my cell phone in an office in the former "Club des Explorateurs" The picture was recovered by TAAF members in Buenos Aires 1947... Might be something to explore further considering the abundant and long exchanges between Miskatonic U and the Sorbonne...
In a way, this shouldn't come as any surprise.  Multiple researchers have said there's a surprising dearth of material from the expedition in the official archives at Miskatonic. 

Heart of Gaia

Glenn Moyer brings us the Heart of Gaia, a prop from a long-running "Werewolf: the Apocalypse" game. Dozens of other items are posted in his gallery.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Larp Light

This very cool LARP light comes  I stumbled across it in an Imgur album over here, but can't find any identifying information for the game it was used in.  From the costuming and faction branding I assume it was one of the high-end EuroLARPs.  Both TinEye and Google image search only link back to the original or reposts of same.

Anyone recognize where this is from?  Using welded chain stretched in an arc is a brilliant idea to make it look like the crystal is floating.

Update:  This piece is from the 2012 "Conquest of Mythodea" LARP event in Germany.  My thanks to the commenters who identified the source.

Mythos Ring

This hand made Mythos-themed ring comes to us from artist Ma Karo. It was commissioned by collector Zaven Grigoryan. The detail work is impressive.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Root of All Evil

Frater Orion brings us these Cthulhu coins cast in pewter.  When the stars are right this will be the only currency that counts.

Vintage Pharmacy Labels

This vintage pharmacy label sampler from 1874 features some beautiful period work.  It's filled with easily re-purposed art perfect for any kind of apothecary or medical props.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Making a Prop Phonograph

Rev. Marx returns to our pages after a long absence.  This time he brings us a detailed build log for a prop phonograph, going from this... this.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Vampire Killing Kit Auction

Jackson's auction house in Cedar Falls is offering up this vampire hunting kit on November 18th.

AN INTERESTING VAMPIRE KILLING KIT. Over 20 various weapons and related tools and accessories including stakes, carved mallet, black powder pistol, powder horn, spy glass, crucifixes and other items contained in a distressed fitted wooden case. Length 17.5 inches (42 cm), height 7.5 inches (19 cm), depth 11.75 inches (30 cm).

Estimate $800 – $1,200
Starting Bid $600

Notice what's missing from the item description? No claims of authoritative dating or provenance. They're to be commended for acting ethically and responsibly. Vampire killing kits are wonderful collectibles, but any assertions that they're "authentic" or have a documented date of manufacture are deceptive at best.

On a related note, "Antiques Roadshow" regular Ken Farmer is retiring from the auctions business. An interview in "Antiques and the Arts" includes this tidbit:

Q: Any interesting anecdotes from your Antiques Roadshow appearances?

A: One of the funniest things happened during my first or second season working in decorative arts, where a lady brought in a fitted mahogany case, describing it as a “vampire killing kit.” I had never seen one, so I went around to the various tables asking for opinions. She followed me around and ended up cussing a blue streak when one of the manuscript guys pointed out that the label on the box was laser-printed. We ended up not filming that segment.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Attack of the Mega Tentacles

Looking to add a bit of Mythos magic to your Halloween decorating?  Calebkraft has the answer- giant inflatable tentacles.

In conjunction with Make he's posted a tutorial on YouTube showing how to turn some cheap plastic drop clothes and a box fan into immense, wavering tentacles.  It's essentially a DIY version of the giant inflatable lawn decorations available at big box stores.  Given how inexpensive the technique is there's a lot of room for experimentation.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Have Spacesuit, Will Travel

The space suits used in film and television are one of my ongoing interests.  What's particularly striking about those costumes is how they get re-used and re-interpreted over the years.  Costumes like the heavy excursion suits in "Alien" are justifiably praised as examples of great design, and you can see how they influenced later efforts like "Outland" and "Event Horizon".  When you look back even further you see that it wasn't just design cues getting re-cycled.  In some cases costumes produced back in the 60s were getting re-used and re-purposed well into the 90s and early 2000s.

That's why I was so delighted to discover "Say; Hello Spaceman", an entire blog dedicated to the history of space suits in media. It's a gloriously nerdy niche focus that you can find yourself scrolling through for hours.  A good example of it's single-mindedness is the way it tracks appearances by particular designs.  The 1969 film "Journey to the Far Side of the Sun" was the first big-budget film from Thunderbird's creator Gerry Anderson.  It featured some well-done suits extrapolated from NASA's contemporary Mercury and Apollo designs.

The suits would then go on to be recycled in Anderson's own "UFO" television series...

Make multiple appearances in the BBC's "The Tomorrow People"...

And pop up in the comedy series "The Goodies"...

If you're looking to kill some time, stop by.

Harvest Season

Troy Chambers has been frolicking through the fields and fens collecting this harvest of mandrake roots

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Euclid's C-Finder

Folkenstal returns to our pages with this recreation of the Euclid's C-Finder targeting device from "Fallout: New Vegas".  The illuminated monitor is just perfect.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Archaeologist

Photographer Alex Alsina brings us this intriguing tableau.  I'm a sucker for prop displays like this.  The preserved specimens on the right are quite nice.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Intestinal Fortitude

Silicone has become the go-to casting material for effects work because of it's wonderful translucence.  These creepily realistic intestines come to us from Eternal Sleep, who created them by hand without using any molds. 

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Kelatow Edition.

Effects artist Lawrence Kelatow was kind enough to send over this Cthulhu idol cast in bronze.  You can do a lot with paint, but nothing looks more like metal than metal.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cthulhu Plaque

This nicely done Cthulhu plaque comes to us from artist Morgan Hughes.  The sculpt has some great texture work.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Yonaguni Venus

This curious carved jade figure is brought to us by the talented Gage Prentiss.   It's a testament to his ability that the figure is alluring and vile at the same time.

This Jade artifact was found by seismologists after the May 4th Earthquake of 1998, on Yonaguni Island in Japan. A previously unknown cave shrine was discovered on the south western coast of the island. Scientists surveying damage from the quake noticed a dark crack in a rock surface facing the sea. The crack was not in the stone, but in a large ceramic door which had been hand molded and fired in place to seal the cave entrance. Badly eroded , finger drawn, writing covered the seal, but could not be deciphered. Archaeologists were called, and the site investigated. The team discovered a small natural cave which dead ended into an alcove. The walls of the cave and alcove were covered with unspeakable, primitive, paintings of unnatural couplings between humans and sea monsters. The only artifacts to be found were the statuette known as the Yonaguni Venus, and the carved ammonite pedestal it rested on.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Desmos of Aegilia

I present to  you "The Desmos of Aegelia" from the restricted collection at Miskatonic University. The artifact consists of two curiously writhing and fluted fish-like creatures made of silver and gold. A similar item is mentioned in the Cthäat Aquadingen, which describes the ritual joining of the two figures into an intertwined whole as part of a summoning ritual for the archaic fish-god Dagon.

It's first documented appearance in history is at the Greek seaport of Aegelia in the Second Century BCE, where it was reportedly used to bring forth a bounty of fish never before seen.  While the fishermen of Aegelia prospered those from Marathon, just across the Bay of Styra, found their nets empty, leading to increasing strife between the two cities.  The conflict came to a bloody head with the revelation that Aegelia's good fortune was the result of dark rites involving the sacrifice of children.

Of course that's all glurge, but it's the kind of set-up that can make something like this really shine as part of a tabletop or live action game.   The "Desmos of Aegelia" is actually a cast metal puzzle from Hanayama called "Trout". They have an impressive line of small, beautifully designed mechanical puzzles that are ideal for re-purposing into artifacts and magic items.

Puzzles like this are a hugely overlooked game resource.  What makes them particularly neat is their natural immersiveness.  Fantasy is filled with characters reuniting the pieces of ancient artifacts for both good and ill, to the point that it's become a handy series of tropes (Dismantled MacGuffin, Set Bonus, Two Halves Make a Plot).  At the most basic level, each piece of the puzzle can serve as a plot token advancing the story.  Then the players have to physically reassemble the completed item.  While that can be a bit meta, relying on player skill instead of character skill, I've never run across a gamer that wouldn't find the process engaging.

One thing to be wary of is difficulty.  "Trout" is a Level 1 puzzle that's relatively easy for even a beginner to figure out.  The Hanayama scale goes up to 6.  At that point you're dealing with fiendishly complex puzzles that can stump even the most gifted.  To alleviate some of the potential frustration you may want to convert the puzzle's solution into an in-game document or hint.

Here are a few specific puzzles for prop use.  They're all around $10 in price, which is a bargain for anything precision cast in metal.

"Flag" is another easy puzzle that has the advantage of looking like a key or part of a larger mechanism.  You could create a matching "keyhole" by impressing the flanged end into polymer clay or epoxy putty.

"Equa" is a tough Level 5. On the bright side, its spherical, tri-lateral symmetry really does look like an alien artifact.

"H and H" is a beautifully polished two-piece puzzle of moderate difficulty.  Perfect for the "Two Halves Make a Plot" trope mentioned above.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Great Grimoire

Alex Libris returns with this massive hand bound tome.  The cover is tooled leather, including the carved pentacle embossment.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Behold the New Flesh

Mark Clancy is a professional makeup artist responsible for some stunning effects.  His Instagram account is filled with dozens of examples. It's beautiful work, but extremely disturbing if you're at all squeamish about realistic gore makeup.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Vega Edition.

Argentinian artist Rodrigo Vega brings his take on the traditional Cthulhu idol.  I really like his approach to the wings.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Hellbound Heart

I was surprised to wake up this morning to learn my auction for a "Mummified Human Heart Occult Artifact Gaff Prop" had been pulled for violating Ebay's policy against "trafficking in human body parts".  Here's where the trouble started...

One of the blackest of black magics is the binding of a human spirit.   In occult circles the abhorrent rituals required to place a soul under the control of a necromancer are rightly feared, both for their immediate and long term consequences.   More often than not the practitioner who dares to experiment with such matters finds their own spirit at risk.

From a private collection we present to you a talisman used for that very purpose, crafted from the heart of a suicide.  Traditionally, those who took their own lives were viewed as a spiritual risk to the community as a whole.  Their restless souls could trouble a town or village for years.  In most cases they were mere annoyances, but particularly bitter or angry ones could be terrifying, lashing out at anyone nearby and slowly growing more powerful over time.  Preventing such occurrences required burying the heart of a suicide at a crossroads.

Unfortunately, not everyone viewed a restless spirit as a liability.  For some they were a precious resource with significant magical power.

The heart used in this binding talisman shows the characteristic distortion of one placed inside a box while fresh.  The moist tissue molded to one corner of the container and then dried out, displaying a distinctive ridge.  At some point the heart was recovered from it's resting place at the intersection of two roads and the spirit ritually bound.  During the ceremony iron spikes were nailed into the desiccated flesh, allowing the necromancer to trap the soul within.  Only through service to it's new master could the victim gain some measure of freedom and avoid the torments of punishment.

The heart is pierced by 30 iron nails.  Traditionally, the ritual of binding used one nail for each year of the subject's life.  The tissue is desiccated, akin to dried beef jerky, and the surface shows signs of having been treated with a mixture of wax and essential oils during it's creation.  The faint odor of myrrh and camphor is present.  No definitive date of origin for the heart is available, but the cut iron nails are consistent with the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Inside the box is a small cloth pouch containing tools for the heart's ritual use. A binding amulet of carved agate confers control of the spirit and compels them to obey the owner's commands.  The harrowing blade, made of an unknown animal's tooth attached with molten pitch to a carved antler, is used to torment the recalcitrant spirit.  In extreme cases of rebellion it may be necessary to use one of the included iron nails, hammering it into the heart and inflicting severe distress on the bound soul, to force compliance.

The box is maple with a finish of dark red paint and shows considerable signs of wear.  It was used to hold the heart and associated implements when they were purchased by the current owner.  Given the known provenance of the artifact it's likely the box was added sometime in the 1920s or 30s as a convenient container.

A word of caution.  For those that believe in magical forces this is the very definition of black magic.  Enslaving a human soul is one of the most terrible practices available to the left hand path, and the spiritual consequences of asserting domination of the bound spirit are dire.  You do so at your own risk.

A bit overwrought, perhaps, but I thought the above was a pretty well done narrative for a high end prop.  Sadly, Ebay didn't share my opinion.  They were convinced I was trying to sell a real human heart of dubious origin.  That was a "WTF" moment, but the resulting conversation with Ebay's customer service was even more surreal.  Despite the prominent use of the words "gaff" and "prop" in the auction's title, and the following disclaimer...
This prop specimen was constructed using traditional sideshow gaff techniques, but to modern presentation standards.   The piece was designed to stand up to extremely close examination, as the close-up photographs demonstrate.  As a collector myself, one of my pet peeves are gaffs that are photographed in dim lighting or without detail shots of the creature's anatomy.  Sadly, many of them don't look nearly as well-made in regular viewing conditions.   That's why I try to provide as many brightly lit, high resolution pictures as possible. 

...I could not persuade Ebay that this wasn't an actual human heart and was threatened with complete bannination if I tried to re-list it.  I guess that's a compliment. 

Now for the post I originally intended to be using today:

After over a year of fiddling about, the Hellbound Heart project is finally finished.. 

Here's the final product all boxed up.  The conjectural history of the heart itself goes back quite a ways, but the presentation box only dates back to the 1920s.  That means I can use machine cut screws and excelsior as the packing medium.  I didn't like the look of the light colored excelsior in the vampire heart project so I aged this batch with some walnut gall ink. Realistically, wood wool inside a closed box doesn't darken, but this makes for a better presentation.

The box is a flea market find made of jointed maple. It was flame aged, re-painted in dark red milk paint, then waxed and dusted with colored grout.  I cannot praise Stacey Ransom enough for sharing the grout technique over at "Fake Believe".   It's an awesome material that allows you to create extremely realistic dust and grime.  Some light ochre grout produced the faded paint effect.  The dark buildup at the corners is black grout.  It's ideal for reproducing the look of finger wear, the mix of skin oils and dirt that builds up on locations frequently touched by human hands.

I aged the box hardware with vinegar and salt to add some pitting and corrosion.  A lot of metal weathering tutorials suggest dropping the hardware into a jar filled with that solution, which can take a while to get the job done.  Things go far faster if you lay your metal bits out on a couple of paper towels, wet them down with a water and vinegar solution, and then liberally sprinkle salt over the whole affair.  

There's one small touch on the box that I'm inordinately proud of- from the wear pattern you can tell the owner was left handed.  That's a small nod to one of the traditional descriptions of black magic as the "left hand path".

A view showing the seam between the right and left ventricle.  On the left side you can see some white stress cracks that formed as the prop shrank during drying.  Compare the current pictures with the originals from last year and you'll see I lightened up the finish a bit.  More accurately, I stripped off the entire finish and applied a new one.  To remove the original wax treatment I coated the whole thing with cornstarch, hit it with a heat gun, and then used a stiff brush to remove the resulting goo.

Why?  To get the smell right.

This isn't a "display only" prop. Since it's designed to be handled I wanted to take advantage of the one sense conventional props don't use- smell. The heart was washed down with a mixture of traditional preservatives including myrrh, cassia, balsam, and camphor. It's subtle, but whenever you open the box you get a scent somewhere between incense and mothballs.

The top of the heart.  You can just make out the stumps of the aorta, pulmonary trunk, and superior vena cava.

Obverse side, with the right and left atrium and remains of the blood vessels visible at the top.

You know how you get the texture of dried meat?  Cast texture stamps off of...dried meat.  Let us have a moment of silence for the Jack Link's Original Style beef jerky that was sacrificed for the cause.

Inside the box is a small cloth pouch containing tools for the heart's ritual use. The pouch was aged with diluted leather dye and wiped down with powdered grout.

The "binding amulet" confers control of the spirit and compels them to obey the owner's commands. It's carved agate and has a nice translucence. I used schmutz wax to bring out the details of the writing.

The "harrowing blade" is used to torment the recalcitrant spirit. It's the re-purposed scarification blade I made for the Viking mythos project. I'm still messing around with that, but the knife was a perfect match for what I wanted for this project.

The nails are the same ones used in the heart.  They went through the vinegar/salt aging treatment and rusted up quite nicely.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Tools of the Trade

I'll have the long-in-gestation mummified heart up tomorrow.  In the meantime, here are the ritual tools that are part of the set- a harrowing blade (antler and gar tooth), binding amulet (carved agate), and some additional iron nails.  You can right click and "Open Link in New Tab" to see the full sized picture.

Update:  Well, this is awkward.  I was planning on linking to the Ebay auction for the heart at the end of the "making of" post today (Monday).  Apparently, it looks realistic enough that the auction was pulled for "trafficking in human body parts" despite the rather lengthy description pointing out it was a prop.  Hopefully this will be resolved quickly.