Monday, December 29, 2008

A Brief Pause

No, really, it's just a brief break so I can try and improve my terrible photos.

My lack of photographic ability isn't anything new, but it's really starting to bug me. Since the whole "From the Mountains of Madness" project is going to be photo heavy I've decided to start taking steps to improve my shots, starting with the construction of a PVC-tube light tent like the one described by Bill Huber over here. I picked up the parts tonight and I should have it finished tomorrow.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

From the Mountains of Madness: Part Two

The first part of the "From the Mountains of Madness" log dealt with choosing a case to hold all the items that will be part of the project. Now we'll start filling it up, beginning with the physical samples collected by the Miskatonic expedition during the course of "At the Mountains of Madness".

Lovecraft's story provides us with a pretty broad list of items to choose from. The first type of specimens mentioned in the story are rock samples brought up by Pabodie's drilling rig and the subsequent blasting efforts. The second group consists of fossils recovered in the same way, both incidental finds from the initial borings and the treasure trove discovered when the Elder Thing cavern was exposed. After that come the star stones and, possibly, biological samples from the Elder Things themselves. The text implies that they were destroyed during the Elder Thing attack, but I don't think it's too much of a stretch to assume that some of them survived.

Now that I have a list of what kind of samples the case would contain I can start gathering them together and getting them ready for presentation. I'll focus on the individual specimens later, but for now I'm going to concentrate on producing the containers that will be holding them. I'll start with a simple sample bag, the kind of thing you would use in the field to hold a small specimen.

The base for the sample bag is a muslin sack like the ones you find in health food stores and craft shops. I've used them in the past for everything from evidence bags to ju ju pouches, but in this case I'll be customizing them with a Miskatonic University seal applied using a rubber stamp. If you don't happen to have a stamp you can still add the seal to your own bags. Just download the seal over here, mirror the image, print it out on a laser printer or copier that uses toner, and then transfer the image from the paper to the bag using a hot iron.

Here's what you'll end up with:

Age with a little tea stain, add a grease-pencilled ID number, and you're good to go.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Coraline Boxes

The makers of the upcoming stop motion animated film "Coraline" have launched an intriguing viral marketing campaign. Fifty bloggers have been sent one-of-a-kind mystery boxes featuring photos, artifacts, and actual props from the film. Obviously, it's an effort to create buzz about the movie, but the artistry behind the hand-crafted boxes is simply amazing. Metafilter has a master list of all the discovered boxes over here, but box number eight is my personal favorite:

You'll find the full reveal of #8 at knittyBlog.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

From the Mountains of Madness: Part One

Now that Christmas has passed I can start to show some of the work that's going into the "From the Mountains of Madness" project. Why the delay? Because the first iteration was a Christmas gift for a reader of this blog and I agreed not to spoil the surprise.

The concept behind this project is that it represents the materials collected by William Dyer in support of his written account of what actually happened during the Miskatonic University Antarctic expedition of 1930. That record, the story we know as "At the Mountains of Madness", details a number of specific items that I'll be trying to recreate. I'll also be drawing on the history of Arctic and Antarctic exploration during the time period of the story to help "fill in the gaps" and make the project as realistic as possible.

Part of the reason I'm documenting this project is so you can create your own version if you're so inclined. With that in mind I'd like to state up front that there are times when I'm going to choose practicality over authenticity. Whenever possible I'll use real period items, but I'll also settle for "good enough" when a particular item I might want to use is simply too expensive. After all, many of these items are antiques that are sought after by collectors. If you have the cash to buy the real thing, great. If not, I'll try and offer you some cheaper options.

Let's start off with what will likely be the largest expense of the project- the case that holds everything. A lot of projects similar to this one, like the plethora of vampire hunting cases I've talked about in the past, fall back on using modified silverware or instrument cases constructed of solid wood. They have the advantage of being relatively cheap and usually come with a pre-existing patina and the natural weathering that comes with age. Unfortunately, they also lack the basic construction details of something that was intended for hard use under adverse conditions.

Compare one of those modified cases with a period travel trunk and you'll see what I mean. The trunk has reinforced metal corners, protective banding, sturdy locks, hefty carrying handles, and in general is designed to survive being knocked about. The modified case? At best it might have some cheap hinges and an ineffective lock that will spring open the first time it's jostled. It's just not realistic.

With that in mind I've decided that the FTMOM expedition case will actual expedition case. Specifically, one of the custom made cases from the Fibre Products Manufacturing Company of New York, the company that provided gear cases for several of Admiral Byrd's Antarctic expeditions. Here's the case I'll be using:

Why this particular case? Because this one is identical in construction to the one's used in Antarctica. The company manufactured two separate lines of cases throughout it's history. The first was made of rubberized fibreboard and was designed for budget users like salesmen. The second was formed from composite coated steel and served the high-end of the market. Both lines used exactly the same patterns and rivetted construction, differing only in the material used to form the shells and the quality of the hardware. Compare a Fibre Products Manufacturing case from the 30's with one from the 90's and you'll find they're identical.

Which is important, since I'm pretty sure this case was manufactured in the mid-60's because of the address on the label.

Here's a closeup:

Based on ads from camera magazines and old copies of the phone book the company didn't move to 601 W. 26th Street until 1962, but it also changed it's labels to read just "New York, NY" in 1965. Before that they were located at 30 W. 13th Street from 1932-1942, on 31st Street from 1927-1932, and at several different locations in the city from 1921 to 1932. That means the case was produced after 1962, but before 1965 when the company switched to a generic address label.

What's that you say? How could I possible use a case from the 60's if I'm striving for realism? Settling on this particular case is a perfect example of balancing the practicality and authenticity facets of the project I mentioned earlier. It's not an authentic Fibre Products Manufacturing case from the late 20's, but it's structurally identical, manufactured by the same company, and, perhaps most importantly, it looks like a 1920's case would. The natural rust, grime, and wear and tear is absolutely perfect. As a bonus, except for surface wear it's in amazingly good condition, including a functioning(!) lock with key.

Here are a few more shots of the case. I'm not sure what caused the color shift here, since my backdrop is deep red, but it's probably my terrible photography.

Next up, we start filling up the case with goodies.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Yithmas Shopping

Cpt. Machine, a denizen of both Youtube and Yog-Sothoth, has put together two short videos discussing some of the goodies he received for Yithmas. The reason I found it particularly interesting is because a bunch of my first edition Miskatonic Antarctic expedition patches are part of his booty. You can find that bit at the end of Part II, but the whole video is well worth watching.

Part I:

Part II:

Monday, December 22, 2008


Yes, I know I've totally been slacking off.

The combination of the usual holiday madness with the scramble to get my first commission finished is ultimately to blame. On Wednesday I'll be able to explain things a little bit more.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Killing Time

Hey, another day without any new content! Huzzah!

Believe me, this is killing me just as much as it's probably killing you. The real problem is that I seriously underestimated how much work the "From the Mountains of Madness" project would require. In theory it seemed pretty easy- a collection of prop documents and period items themed around H. P. Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness". I'm not the first person to tackle the idea, since Chaosium's "Beyond the Mountains of Madness" and it's associated handouts did it first, but I wanted to go totally over the top with it. And boy, did I.

Part of the problem is that I don't want to do a half-assed job of it. That, combined with my anal retentive streak, means I've been doing hours of research into things I never even thought of when I first conceived the idea. Like what year a particular brand of tinned aspirin became available. Or what kind of label Necco wafers had in 1929. Or the differences between domestic and imported binoculars in the 1920's.

Here are just a few of the items I'm waiting to arrive in the mail:

- a selection of fossils consistent with the ones found in the ATMOM underground chamber. They're not only going to be real, but I'm trying to get multiple specimens from the same strata so they're similar in quality and composition.

- two period equipment cases from the Fibre Products Manufacturing Company of West 26th Street, New York. As with so many other things, I picked these because they're what the Byrd expedition used.

- Dozens of specimen boxes and bags to hold various biological and geological samples. Once they arrive they'll all have to be labeled and aged.

- a selection of core samples consistent with the rock types found in Antarctica.

- a handful of period medicine and sundries tins.

All this is in addition to the stuff I already have in hand. It's damnably frustrating waiting for it to all come together, but I think it will all be worth it in the end.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Treasure Trove Of Mad Science

In cooperation with Hearst, Google Books has posted 106 years of "Popular Mechanics" back issues. If you're running any kind of pulp game, including "Call of Cthulhu", this is a goldmine of material just waiting to be mined. The inspirational power of decades of "cutting edge" technology from the early part of this century is simply amazing. Airships! Land leviathans! Steam juggernauts! Spaceships!

Update: It's even better than I thought. They also added the entire run of "Popular Science" going back to 1870.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Whale of a Tale

I'm waiting for a bunch of packages to arrive from across the country for my next project, so I hope to have something interesting to post tomorrow. In the meantime, I've discovered that quite a few of the "At the Mountains of Madness" patches and decals I sold went to people that have little or no interest in the story or H. P. Lovecraft. What they really wanted was swag featuring the plane in the story- the Dornier Wal seaplane.

It turns out they're classic aviation buffs, many of them from Eastern Europe, that collect Wal memorabilia. Outside of a few model kits my little props are some of the only merchandise featuring the Wal. I'm hoping I can trade some of my stuff for photographs and documentation for the plane that isn't generally available in the west.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Boston Docks Pass

This is basically a "filler" prop for the "At the Mountains of Madness" project I'm working on. Click through for the full size version, print it out on light cardboard and you're good to go.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Little Steps

I know it doesn't look it, but it's been a busy week.

The patch and photo set sales have been going well despite an absolutely terrifying total disappearance of orders on Tuesday and Wednesday. Luckily, that was just a glitch with how I configured my PayPal cart. At the current rate I'll hit the sellout point over the weekend and mail out my final packages for the year on Monday. I'll still have some available, but I won't be taking any more general orders until I have a few days off to handle the shipping duties.

I also received my first commission! That's probably not very exciting news to any of you that are artists for a living, but to me it's a big deal. If nothing else it means I'll have some cool pictures to post over the next two weeks.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"At the Mountains of Madness" Prop Photo Set

The Miskatonic University Antarctic expedition of 1930 is one of the most enigmatic chapters in history. It was a collection of firsts- the first Antarctic expedition to use heavy air support, the first to use drilling gear to penetrate the ice, and the first to widely range across the interior of the continent. Despite it's record of achievements it's more often remembered today for the multiple fatalities that brought it to an end. More intriguingly, the circumstances surrounding those deaths have puzzled researchers for years because significant amounts of documentary evidence about what happened, including journals, reports, and photographs, have been locked away for close to a century.

Until now.

This is a collection of prop photos recreating events, people, and places from H. P. Lovecraft's classic story "At the Mountains of Madness". The thirteen 4" by 6" black and white photos in the set were produced as handouts for use during a "Call of Cthulhu" RPG session and were created using retouched historical pictures, original art, and studio photography with actual props.

(Click on photo to see full size)

Going clockwise from the 12 o'clock position the photos depict:

1. A picture taken from the aft camera mount of one of the expedition's Dornier Wal aircraft of low mountains.

2. Shot taken from the forward camera mount on a Wal of another aircraft flying in formation.

3. The young Mr. Danforth posing in front of a plane.

4. One of the expedition's teams of sled dogs transporting supplies.

5. Prof. Lake and an assistant taking solar fixes. The close proximity of the pole made regular solar and celestial readings a necessity for navigation.

6. One of the "Elder Things" outside the mouth of the underground chamber where it was discovered.

7. In the center, technicians check the engine of one of the expedition's Dornier Wal aircraft.

Again, starting from the 12 o'clock position:

1. A Wal undergoing tests in the open water off the Ross ice shelf.

2. An "Elder Thing" eye stalk being examined during Prof. Lake's dissection attempt.

3. Sled dogs pulling a sledge containing part of Pabodie's portable drilling rig. Portable, in this case, being relative.

4. Supplies being offloaded from the "Arkham" at the edge of the ice shelf.

5. A shot taken from one of the Wal camera mounts of the strangely regular shapes or structures seen clinging to some of the peaks in the Antarctic interior.

6. Center, Prof. William Dyer relaxing on deck during the journey south.

The photos are provided in pristine condition and were intentionally printed on photo paper lacking a watermark or any other printing that would identify them as modern. They can be used as-is as props or as part of a collection of "At the Mountains of Madness" memorabilia, but directions for realistically aging the prints are available here on the blog.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Miskatonic University Seal, Redux

I finally got around to re-doing my Miskatonic University seal. You can still find the original over here, but these new versions won't have any of the pixellation that one was prone to at larger sizes. Why did I make my own when there are so many other versions out there? Because most of the other seals incorporate elements that further the jokey "wink, wink...Medieval Metaphysics" vibe that I can only take in small doses. More importantly, they weren't freely available for use. These are, as long as you follow the Creative Commons license down at the bottom of the page.

Just click on the picture to get the full-sized version.

Large, 300 DPI

Medium, 150 DPI

Small, 72 DPI

Monday, December 1, 2008

Da Bidness

I want to thank everyone that's ordered items over the past couple of days. The "Secret Master" sale on Black Friday was a huge success and I think everyone that took advantage of it is really going to like their stuff. Between those sales and yesterday's patch orders I had over 60 packages to mail out this morning. If I can keep that sales tempo up I should be able to sell out of the new patches by next week.

In no particular order, here are a couple of things I've learned over the past couple of days:

- Chipboard mailers suck. I've been using gloss-finish white CD mailers for my patch orders with great success, but I decided to use brown chipboard mailers for the photo sets in order to save money. That was a big mistake. They're heavier, they're subject to casual water damage from rain and snow, and the thickness of the cardboard means they don't qualify for letter rates if more than a few sheets of paper are inside. If I have any left after this week I'm just going to toss them on Ebay and order gloss finish cardboard mailers as replacements.

- When an ordering clerk says "Oh yeah, these chipboard mailers can hold an 8 1/2" by 11" sheet of paper folded in half," he's lying. I went to pack up all the "Secret Master" packages at 3 o'clock this morning only to discover that I had to fold the Pabodie plans in quarters to get them inside the mailer. Have I mentioned how much I hate chipboard mailers?

- I'm genuinely surprised how much of my business comes from outside the United States. I expected a domestic/international ratio of, at best, 70/30, but it's actually roughly 50/50. Almost all my international buyers are European, and most of them hail from France and the United Kingdom.

I've Been Moto-ized!

Scott writes:

Since you've expressed an interest in seeing how the work you've released under the Creative Commons license is used, here's a quick shot of my phone (one of the ubiquitous RAZRs) with the flip opened. I had to modify the artwork a little to maximize readability on the tiny screen...

He also included these shots in a follow-up email:

I think that's just insanely cool.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Miskatonic University Antarctic Expedition Patches

In 1930 an expedition from Miskatonic University arrived in the Antarctic. Shortly thereafter a remote survey camp began exploring a newly discovered chain of mountains and radioed back the details of an incredible discovery.

Hours later, every man in the camp was dead.

The controversy over what happened to the poor souls in that isolated outpost still rages today. Where they killed by a freakishly powerful storm, as the official inquiry ruled? Or were they the victims of a mass, homicidal rage induced by tainted food, as some have suggested? And what of the mysterious discovery they claimed to have made shortly before radio contact was lost?

Those questions may never be answered, but now you can own a small piece of that ill-fated expedition's history: the famed "Wings Over Antarctica" Miskatonic University Expedition Patch.

This is a limited-run fan project based on H. P. Lovecraft's classic horror story "At the Mountains of Madness". Based on feedback from the first run of patches the design was tweaked to bring it more in-line with what a period patch would actually look like, including the use of a contemporary font. The deco-influenced logo features a stylized depiction of Antarctica surmounted by the Dornier Wal amphibious aircraft that was flown to the Mountains of Madness...and beyond.

Each 4" (10cm) patch is embroidered on a tough cotton twill backing that will last for years of use, and the heat-sensitive adhesive makes it easy to iron it on to the garment of your choice.

With each patch purchase you'll also receive a 3" vinyl decal featuring the expedition logo, perfect for customizing your gear.

Your order will be sent out in a protective mailer within, at most, 24 hours of your purchase via First Class mail. You'll receive email confirmation that your package was shipped within minutes of it's posting. U.S. orders should arrive within five business days, while international orders will likely take longer.

If you're purchasing multiple patches you'll find there is a discount on every patch after the first. If you would like to order more than three patches even more significant discounts are available. If you have any questions, or encounter any problems, please don't hesitate to email me at

Update: Sold out as of 4/24/2009. Thanks to everyone that ordered.

You might also be interested in the "At the Mountains of Madness" Prop Photo Set.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Curious Goods?

A kind emailer sent me a message pointing out that the "Curious Goods" site seems to be down. Hopefully it's only a temporary glitch.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Miskatonic Research Kit On Ebay

In case you missed it, there's a Lovecraftian Miskatonic Research Kit up on Ebay. From the description:

For your consideration, found from the personal archives of the macabre, a weathered old box, contained within are some bizarre and somewhat mind boggling objects. Eerie smells assault your senses almost immediately, an acrid smokey odour woven with a mould from some ancient world. This dusty fabric covered box contains:

A statue of a bizarre toad/bat monster with a tag labeled 'Tsathoggua Cultist idol'
a jar with an unknown specimen from the Nameless city
a jar with lindworm teeth from Klagenfurt, Austria
a jar with werewolf potion from Glasgow, Scotland
a jar with soot from Bromwich, England
a jar with vegetable lamb from Central Asia
The Box's Dimensions are 10 3/4"x 7 3/4" x 8 3/4"

Here are some of the pictures from the auction:

This particular kit is from "Ickyfish", a seller who has offered items I've enjoyed in the past. Some of the features I like about this piece are the excellent design and aging on the bottle labels, the velvet lining inside the case, and the sculpting and overall quality of the "thing in a bottle". I think the asking price is a little high, but I'm from the "start low and see where it goes" school of Ebay auctions.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Elder Thing Photo

I finally had a chance to shoot the Elder Thing dissection scene today. Here's the final shot:

I'm particularly proud of the loathsome ichor leaking from the slowly thawing eye stalk. I whipped it together from some cornstarch, water, and instant tea. Yes, that's right- it's basically lumpy gravy.

We're on the cutting edge of special effects here at Manse Propnomicon. Heh.

Update: Based on feedback I re-shot a couple of different views focusing on the "gooey" bits of the prop:

Of the three black and white pictures I'm leaning towards the third one directly above, but I'm open to suggestions. Here's what the setup looked like while I was shooting it. Just click through to see the large version in "Gore-o-vision":

Ooey, gooey goodness. Heh.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Modern FBI Documents

If you're running a Delta Green game and need some modern paperwork from the FBI you should pay a visit to Prop Docs,a company that specializes in manufacturing documents for motion pictures and television. They've posted some examples of their work on their webpage that cover nearly every imaginable bit of paperwork you might need. The PDF's aren't intended for use as-is (since making documents is, you know, how the company makes a living), but they're valuable references none the less.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Wonderland Expedition Kit

I found an email in my inbox this morning drawing my attention to the amazingly well-done Wonderland Expedition Kit, a whimsical "Alice in Wonderland" flavored take on the gaffe-style vampire hunting kits I mentioned last week. What makes it all the more delightful is that it was created out of love:

My lovely girlfriend's birthday is on Sunday, and since she's so fantastic, I wanted to make her something very special. She's a big fan of Alice in Wonderland, and we were awe-struck by the incredibly well-crafted and detailed creations of AlexCF, so I combined the two.

"Artifacts, Specimen, and Ephemera salvaged from the Wonderlands"

When Alice fell through the rabbit hole, she tore a rift between our two universes. Through this open rift, "nonsense" began leaking out of Wonderland. With a decreasing amount of nonsense, Wonderland became a more logical place, and since vanishing cats and singing flowers cannot exist in a logical universe, Wonderland began to die.

Professor Jonathan Lake, of Miskatonic University, traveled to Wonderland in attempt to catalog and archive the remaining flora and fauna so that Wonderland would not disappear into the forgotten depths of history. This is his collection of specimens, artifacts, and ephemera salvaged from the Wonderlands.

Even better, I was immensely pleased to discover I had a small, small part in it's creation:

That's my Miskatonic University seal in the background! How cool is that? The kind emailer thought I might be upset that someone used it, but my reaction was quite the opposite. I'm overjoyed that the artist made it a part of his amazing project. That's the whole intent behind making everything here available under the Creative Commons license- it's yours for the taking. If you like it, use it. Just spread da love by following the share alike rule.

Speaking of which, I should have an improved version of the Miskatonic seal up sometime next week. The original version was bashed together in Paint Shop Pro, but now that I'm using Adobe Illustrator I'm redoing it to get rid of the pixellation when you blow it up.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Elder Thing Dissection Photo

I can finally show a preview of the project I've been working on for the last week.

This is a rough take of a photo I'm going to be adding to the ATMOM set once everything is finished. I've been using a lot of retouching techniques for the other shots, but for this one I decided I wanted to physically reproduce a conjectural picture of Lake's Elder Thing dissection. Although I'd ultimately like to tackle creating a full-scale ET down the road this particular project required a relatively small piece of the creature's anatomy. After taking the size limitations of a table-top dissection scene into consideration I decided that one of the five eye stalks would be ideal.

Constructing the stalk was pretty straight forward. The foundation of the body was a fast-food drink cup while the eyeball started life as a black plastic christmas ball. After cutting away the bottom of the cup and dropping the ball into the resulting hole I used a layer of paper mache to provide the grooved, worm-skin texture of the stalk. While that was drying I drilled out the eyeball and added an iris made out of an eye from a teddy bear. Once the paper mache "skin" was dry I stuffed the stalk with aluminum foil and gave everything a basic coat of paint before applying multiple layers of colored liquid latex to provide some depth to the skin and create the fleshy bits at the base of the stalk.

This shot gives a better view of the results if you ignore the ridiculous dayglo color scheme. I just used whatever colors were handy since the final image will be in black and white . Click to view the full sized version.

I still need to add the final weathering to the stalk, but I'm pretty happy with the results so far. A light wash of dark-colored ink followed by some drybrushing will help bring out the texture, while a few more gooey bits on the damaged end will make it look more like torn and crushed tissue. Once that's done I'll get the other props needed for the shot together, like a dissection tray and some more scientific gear.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More Period Antarctica Maps

If you're running Chaosium's "Beyond the Mountains of Madness" adventure, or you're just a fan of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" you'll find a goldmine of old maps of Antarctica at Hipkiss' scans of old Antarctica maps. They haven't been cleaned up at all, but they would make fabulous background props for anyone planning an expedition.

More Miskatonic Swag

There's good news and there's bad news on the swag front.

The good news is that my order from Zazzle arrived and I was pleasantly surprised by the product quality. I've heard some horror stories about items produced by the early on-demand shops, but the resolution, fit, and finish of the Zazzle items I ordered was top notch, with one exception. The logo itself.

That's the bad news. It's entirely my fault and it's something that I've already corrected. To give you an idea of what was wrong here's a look at the black T-Shirt they sent:

Gah! The black areas of the Dornier Wal just disappears into the deep blue of the logo background and the spars of the plane are far too thin. Here's the same picture with the brightness cranked up:

While the logo I used look fine both here and in the Zazzle preview it looks totally different in print. Why? Because I didn't take into account the difference between how things look on a computer monitor and how they look in print or, more properly, the difference between additive and subtractive color. In print the deep blue of the logo background and the black of the Wal graphic blend into one big field of darkness, while the narrow white lines of the spars get swallowed up by the same effect. It's more pronounced in these pictures because the flash is only a foot or so away from the shirt, but it still looked horrible.

Luckily, it's something I could fix once I was aware of it. I've uploaded a new logo that both lightens the background and thickens the spar lines so that the logo design will look as good in print as it does on the screen.

In every other respect all the Zazzle merchandise was great. The resolution of the printing on the button, magnet, and coffee mug was excellent, but on the T-shirt I would only characterize it as good. Again, this turned out to be a problem on my end. Here's a closeup of the T-shirt image so you can get a feel for the resolution there:

You can see some speckling in the deep blue area caused by the ink not fully covering the image backing. Keep in mind that this was a 3XL shirt for my 6' 6" teenage son and the logo has been blown up to about 14" across. Once I saw that there was some degradation at that size I replaced the old logo image with a new one roughly 20 percent larger, pixel-wise, and shrank the proportions of the logo on the shirt about 10 percent. That should prevent any more bleed through in the future.

I also wanted to mention how happy I was with the overall quality of the materials used. I absolutely hate thin, flimsy T-shirts, so I was ecstatic at the feel of the 6.1 ounce cotton used in the Zazzle shirt. It has a nice heft, and my son gave it a thumbs up for comfort.

With all that said, I've deleted everything that used the old version of the logo from Zazzle and replaced it with swag using the larger, print-friendly version. If you'd like to order any of the items available, including T-Shirts, Mugs, Buttons, and Magnets, just head over here. I'm not expecting a horde of buyers, but there were enough expressions of interest that I wanted to make the tchotchkes available to anyone that wanted them. I've also left the customization options open so you can modify colors and sizes to your own specifications.

Update: If the Steve from Mansfield, United Kingdom that ordered a T-Shirt before I changed the logo is reading this, please contact me. I want to make sure you're happy with it, and if you're not I'll see that it's replaced. I take customer satisfaction very seriously.

Monday, November 17, 2008

More Vampire Hunting Kits

Following up on Friday's post about last week's vampire hunting kit auction, here's an entire gallery of kits collected from across the internet.

The owner of the site has some interesting information about the "Prof. Blomberg" style kits, including the results of some actual scientific testing performed on one that found it's way into a museum. Not surprisingly, it was determined to be a very convincing fake created using period materials. Personally, I find these kind of kits even more interesting because of the artistry, creativity, and craftsmanship that goes into their creation. Their authenticity is, at best, secondary to that.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"At the Mountains of Madness" Short Film

Someone in Italy, I think, has put together a pretty impressive animated version of "At the Mountains of Madness", or "Le Montagne Della Follia". You can check out the trailer, and the short, over here.

I can't understand a word of it, but I like it. Has anyone else heard of it? I'd love to learn more about who was behind it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Make It Cheap, Make It Awesome

One of the most overlooked materials in propmaking is paper mache, that humble mix of torn paper and paste that most people forgot about after grade school. That's a shame, since it's both incredibly cheap and fantastically versatile. I have a paper mache project drying on my workbench that I'll be able to show off in a few days, which is one of the reasons I dug up a few resources I thought you would be interested in. The first is an in-depth tutorial for making a paper mache puppet mask by Mary Robinette Kowal:

Papier-mache is one of the oldest forms for creating puppets and so a lot of people think that there must be something better out there. Actually, there are very few contenders. Done well, papier-mache is light, strong, fast, and non-toxic. I know, we’ve all had the experience of the lumpy paste, and corners that stick up and a thing that requires years of sanding to even resemble smooth. It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll show you a technique that will only need three layers and can be danced on.

The second is from the same series of posts involving the creation of puppets for a production of "MacBeth". This one covers the building of a gigantic pair of arms with hands:

To catch you up on what I spent the last several weeks building, I’m going to be posting some photos that I took during the build.

The wood witch needed hands capable of picking things up. Fortunately, you can find such a thing in your local neighborhood hardware store. This trick won’t work for a lot of puppets, but the wood witch was the perfect size for using grabber arms.

The usefulness of these techniques for conventional pen-and-paper gaming may be a bit questionable, but I know the LARP crowd could definitely benefit from them. It's hard to justify the rather sad "guy wearing a tie-dyed sheet" approach to the Big Bad in a live-action scenario when the creative use of paper mache and a little creativity could produce something far more memorable.

Friday, November 14, 2008

1809 Vampire Hunting Kit

Last week an estate auction in Texas saw an "1809 Vampire Hunting Kit" sell for close to $15,000 dollars. I mention it here because the kit and it's contents are an incredible example of propmaking from the past. The vast majority of these items put up for sale were created in the last two decades, but there is some evidence that travellers to Eastern Europe were buying "real" kits designed for the tourist trade shortly after the publication of Bram Stoker's "Dracula". You can see more pictures of the craftsmanship involved in this one over here, but I've mirrored the pictures in case the link goes down.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Aging Photos

Now that I've had some time to think about it I wanted to write a little bit about the process of physically aging photos. If you've ever Googled the subject you're probably aware that there aren't many resources available. Because of that lack of information I was flying blind with my own efforts, other than the knowledge that most of the techniques used to age paper were probably just as useful for photos. Here are some quick thoughts on what worked and what didn't.

Edge wear- I went over all the edges of the photos with fine sandpaper, paying particular attention to the corners. The result not only appeared worn and shabby, but felt that way as well. I can't overstate how important that is- for props that you're actually going to be handling the texture of the object, the way it feels in your hand, is a big part of it's immersiveness. The appearance of the worn edges was considerably enhanced after I applied a staining solution to the whole photo.

Surface wear- I lightly sanded both the front and back of the photo with fine sandpaper. I wasn't happy with how this turned out, since it looked like...well...someone had gone over the photo with sandpaper. The wear patterns and scratches seemed unnatural. I think the key here is to use a very fine abrasive like steel wool.

Baking- After rinsing off the sanding residue from the prints with water I placed them on a cookie sheet in the oven to dry them out. The heat was set for the lowest setting, around 150 degrees Fahrenheit, and the door was left open a few inches to keep the heat from building up. The result was a very convincing curling of the edges identical to what you find in old photos and a pleasantly aged "crinkly" feel to the paper.

Age staining- I applied a weak tea solution to the entire print. The stain colored the back of the photos quite nicely, and produced a convincing darker stain along the edges, but it just wouldn't stick to the front of the prints. I think I can solve that problem by either using the aforementioned steel wool treatment or spraying a layer of matte varnish on the print before trying to stain it. I'll try both tonight and see how it works out.

Update: The steel wool did the trick. The emulsion still acts as a barrier to keep the paper backing from absorbing the stain, but there's enough "tooth" to it now that the color can get into the fine crevices and produce a nice tint. The prints probably still need a coat of matte spray to make the effect permanent.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"At the Mountains of Madness" Photo Set

I finally finished aging the "At the Mountains of Madness" photos tonight. I apologize ahead of time for the poor photography, but it was a bear trying to avoid excessive glare from the glossy surface of the prints.

Clockwise from upper left we have workers adjusting the engine of one of the expedition's Dornier-Wal aircraft (retouched historical photo, I added a "Miskatonic Expedition" stencil to the crates in the picture), Wal undergoing testing on the water (historical photo), crews unloading the good ship "Arkham" (historical photo), dog team crossing the ice (historical photo), shot from one of the Wal camera mounts of the "strangely regular cubic structures" clinging to a mountainside (pure Photoshop), one of Lake's fossilized Elder Things posed outside the excavation entrance (pure Photoshop), and a through-the-window shot from one of the planes showing a second Wal flying in formation (historical photo).

Again, clockwise from upper left we have a relaxed shot of Prof. Dyer on the Arkham (historical photo), an aft shot from one of the Wal's looking down on some low mountains (historical photo), dog team transporting part of the drilling rig (historical photo), Frank Pabodie and an assistant taking a solar fix (historical photo), and the young Mr. Danforth posing with one of the aircraft (historical photo).

Close-up of the Elder Thing photo. This came out really well once it had undergone a little aging and distressing.

A section of the Elder Thing city nestled between two towering peaks.

Close-up of the first Dornier photo. The crate sitting on the sponson has the "Miskatonic" stencil. It's subtle, but I thought it was a nice touch.

Update: It looks like I'll have an independent review of the photo set by the end of the week. If my guinea likes 'em I'll be offering them up for sale.