De-evolution of The Creature

December 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

Hope you all had a great Halloween 2013… you can tell, I’m very late in getting this done (smiling). Just imagine yourself reading this the latter part of October. Thanks.

As we do around our house this time of year, we watch old horror movies. Not as many this year because we had our 3 year old granddaughter, Scarlett, with us and she’s not quite ready. But when she is, one of the first Hollywood movie monsters we’ll expose her to the classic Universal Pictures “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”. I already indoctrinated my nephew, Eric ‘Skippy’ Scroggins. He really liked it. And in appreciation, he bought me a giclee print of Bob Eggleton’s painting of The Creature while at a Godzilla Festival in Chicago a few years back. So, as yo can see, movie monsters are a pretty big deal in my family.

Detail of Bob Eggleton "Creature" giclee print

Detail of Bob Eggleton “Creature” giclee print

That’s why when I was offered an opportunity to bring The Creature to Little Rock as part of my work in the exhibit/display facet of my business, it was a surreal moment. See my Oxley Art Graphic Design blog “Uncle Gilbert comes to Little Rock” for a more in depth look at how that opportunity became quite an adventure. Checking that blog will also circumvent any ‘spoilers’ from this point on in this blog.

What was not expected in the early stages of acquiring the Creature statue for the Old State House Museum’s exhibit about Arkansas’ connection with Hollywood and the movies, “Lights! Camera! Arkansas!”, was that I would have to bring my fine art and my virtually unused (and unknown) ‘make over’ skills to bare before the Gill-man would have a chance to startle patrons at the exhibit.

When we opened up the long-awaited shipping crate, after hours on that cold wet blustery January evening in the delivery area in the lower part of the Old State House Museum’s Annex Building (BTW, I’ve seen similar scenes in horror films that didn’t end well… {giggle}), I was simultaneously delighted and concerned. I had requested images of the sculpture at various stages of completion and before shipping from the vendor. But, as mentioned in the previous blog, this particular California vendor (The Painted Rhino) seemed very reluctant to provide anything in the way customer service or comfort. I actually felt a huge sigh of relief that we finally got the piece. It was one of those cases where I couldn’t project myself into the future seeing it actually get delivered.

The Creature statue right out of the crate.

The Creature statue right out of the crate.

Very happy to see our purchased interpretation of The Creature emerge from the box with it’s custom paint job. The moss-green body, with strategically added dark green to black color to accentuate scales & body segments looked very good. The yellow belly scales. All were in keeping with my specifications of color and photo examples of other Creature color schemes I’d sent the vendor. The fiberglass body had obviously been paint gunned and airbrushed well. But my concern was there were details on the body that kind of begged for additional attention from a paint brush. A couple of areas that stood out were — the claws needed to be a lighter, more appropriate color… yellow with a touch of orange at the base as I’d seen with the Alfrey Creature (see “Gilbert” blog). The webbing on the ‘hands’ needed to be a bit darker to contrast with the fingers. And the edges of the ‘fins’ on the back and the appendages needed to have a lighter color, kind of a sea-foam green, to make them look a bit more ‘fish-like’.

BUT, by far, the work that needed to be more than just considered — it was imperative that it be done — was reworking the face! My first impression was not fearsome, man-fish from the Amazon. It was more like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” without the mask. Honestly, I really worked hard to hide my disappointment from Gail (the client) and Debbie (my wife). At the time, I knew there was something wrong with the way he looked, but the absolute points of ‘why’, I wasn’t sure. But I did mention to Gail that, as part of the contracted price, I would at least do something to make those blank looking, cartoon-like eyes look like the Creature’s. But how?

Creature vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle

Creature vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle

The first thing to do would be to figure out what we (me) needed do to bring our Creature closer to looking like The Creature. Then compare and contrast that with what I could do considering the parameters of the project and the nature of the piece itself.

The original Creature from the movie vs. the OSH Creature

The original Creature from the movie vs. the OSH Creature

Here’s a comparison of the face & head of The Creature from the original 1954 movie verses the custom-built one we got from The Painted Rhino. There are some pretty drastic physical differences on both side and front views. Since the body of the Creature is cast fiberglass, building up areas such as eyebrows, lips, etc. were not going to be easily accomplished or recommended. So in conjunction with budget issues, I decided that we’d try and stick to paint to alter the look of our statue instead of risking damage to it.

My plan was to use Liquitex And Golden acrylic paints, possibly lightly sanding any large services to be painted, and to seal the final alterations to the Creature with a new non toxic water sealer called Decoy-Coat*. The sealer is a very important step. Otherwise all the alterations could be worn off or just flake off given time. Speaking of handling the piece, I thought it might be a good idea to finish mounting the statue in the exhibit with the supplied rod (up the right leg) & base AND the custom adjustable brace our fabricator (Rick Hall) constructed to bolt to the wall, before I tackle the ‘make-over’. That’ll be cutting it pretty close as far as time.

While I was waiting,  I started doing a digital analysis of what areas needed to be altered to accomplish the goal. I gathered more images from the internet of the Creature that, as far as color goes, depict the standard ad campaign color scheme… remember, the Creature films were all black & white. That was when I found the newly ‘unearthed’ full color images from LIFE Magazine taken at the ‘lake’ on the Universal City back lot that show the monster’s true color scheme. Surprise! He actually DID have red lips! …along with a darker green body and no yellow belly scales. Oh well.

LIFE Magazine pictures on set of Creature from the Black Lagoon

LIFE Magazine pictures on set of Creature from the Black Lagoon

I also took some screen captures from the film that I have on Blu-ray disc to get reference for the iridescent quality of the Creature’s eye that I found SO appealing when I was a kid. They show a lot more reflectivity in the land creature’s eye than I remember.

Screen capture off Blu-ray of the Creature's eye(s)

Screen capture off Blu-ray of the Creature’s eye(s)

At some point during this time it dawned on me that what we were actually trying to do was kind of the opposite as what was described in my personal blog (“From The Train Room”) “The Evolution of the Creature from the Black Lagoon”. We were taking the ‘cartoon’ out of our Creature and trying to return him back to his savage, scary, awesome self that he was in the first film… a ‘de-evolution’ if you will.

Using Photoshop, I ‘supered’ images of the  original Creature on top of ours and proceeded to map out the differences. Mindful of the fact that I couldn’t change the ‘physical’ characteristics of our sculpture. But, I could ‘illustrate’ flat areas to de-emphasize the wrinkles on the nose that extended down the checks, make the lines above the brow less distinct and give him a chin. Add drawn shadows & hi lights to accentuate cheek bones and make his brow more defined. Another physical trait I needed to illustrate over was the top lip. This is where adding the red lips helps. By over painting (kind of like Gloria Swanson in “Sunset Boulevard”) I could change the configuration of the top lip to look more like the Creature’s.

The Photoshop ‘plan’ to alter the look of our Creature. (left) Publicity still of The Creature, (center) snap shot of our Creature, (right) photoshopped image of our Creature.

The Photoshop ‘plan’ to alter the look of our Creature. (left) Publicity still of The Creature, (center) snap shot of our Creature, (right) photoshopped image of our Creature.

Finally the day came — a week or so out from the exhibit opening — that I was able to get up to the exhibit hall at The Old State House and make the changes. It went off without a hitch. With all the pre-planning, the actual operation/make-over took less than 2 hours. First thing was to hit those claws with some golden yellow, and add a bit of orange to the base of them for a nice ‘Alfrey’ touch. I took a lighter version of the base green and applied it to the edges of the gills and his fins on his arms, legs & back to give him a bit more of a detailed look. And to accent his body segments and ‘belly plates’, I took brush added a bit of ‘shadow’ under each one. I left the face, the hardest part of the operation, to do last. That way I could break away from it once I got that done. It’s a way to keep me from coming back after doing the other parts of his body and over-working the face.

I worked the eye’s first. I decided not to make dark rings around the eye aperture. That was one part of the original costume I didn’t get, because it looked like a aberration that had something to do with the human occupant of the suit. I guess it brought attention to the eyes, but I thought just using illustrated ‘shadows’ would be better. I created the outline for the edge of my illustrated eye lids, as in the original. When it came to the area of the eye balls that would be illustrated as the eyes, I filled in the area with iridescent blue for the reflective quality I admired in the film. I opted not to make the whole eye reflective… pupils work to make a static statue have a gaze. I created cast illustrated shadows from the lids, painted in the pupils and stepped back. It looked considerable better. Was I done?

It didn’t look EXACTLY like the original costume, but given the conceptual facial structure that the sculptor came up with, I thought we’d come pretty close.

The only bad thing that happened was the sharp claws on the Creatures right hand caught the top of my head while I was working on it. You know a job has been well done when it draws a little blood.

The final reveal!

The final reveal!

So here’s the final look of the Creature from the  Old State House. What do you think?

I was back up to the museum the other day to fix one of the claws that a patron had broke off a few weeks earlier. It seems that the Creature is a big photo-op attraction and folks want to be photographed in his embrace, which with those sharp claws is a bit dangerous.

While there, I actually saw a couple of instances where people would come around the corner, see the Creature standing there, and jump back a bit.

One lady actually screamed out loud.

Mission accomplished.

Thought I'd wear my “Famous Monsters of Filmland” t-shirt when painting The Creature... out of respect.

Thought I’d wear my “Famous Monsters of Filmland” t-shirt when painting The Creature…
out of respect.

This was orignally suppose to be the third part of a three interconeccted blogs based on the Creature Project and Halloween 2013. If you missed the other two blogs about it, here are the links…

From my personal, geeky blog, “from the Train Room”: Evolution of the Creature from the Black Lagoon / Halloween 2013

And from Oxley Art Graphic Design’s blog: Uncle Gilbert comes to Little Rock

*Decoy-Coat Is a new environmentally-friendly, water seal product marketed to the duck decoy industry to prevent paint chipping and adds UV protection. It’s produced by Eco-Advance, a group that Rick Hall is part of. They have a whole line of environmentally friendly products perfect for all kinds outdoor applications… decks, wood, rock & brick work, etc.

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A light on inspiration…

October 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Dragonfly Light” 2012, Mixed media on canvas.

Acrylic, with multiple color interference and gels, plus luminescent white and ultraviolet pigments on 48″x 24″ canvas.

This project was a result of trying to find a subject to explore that inspired me, outside of my commercial art endeavors.

My mom, Charlotte Oxley, with my brother Doug in her lap and me with my snazzy cowboy outfit and hat. Circa… my early lizard hunting days.

Remembering as a kid, we’d hunt for lizards and salamanders as pets. My brother and I would frequent a marshy area on the other side of a wood behind my childhood home in Wakefield Village, part of the southwest suburbs of Little Rock, Arkansas. The area now is a community sports complex, but in the 60’s it was what we called the “gravel pit”, made up of that, dirt and small pine trees. It was pretty much ravaged by erosion and there were areas that water would pool in. In these ponds, me and my younger brother, would hunt for salamanders and other aquatic amphibians and reptiles (except snakes!). There always seemed to be an abundance of beautifully colored, iridescent dragonflies. I assume we tried to catch them but they where way too fast. So we’d have to be content with just observing them.

In the early 2000’s, my wife bought a beautiful Tiffany-style Dragonfly Lamp right before we moved into our new house. The previous homeowners had left some garden items that had dragonfly motifs. Before long we had even more dragonfly stained glass lamps and all sorts of items with the insect shape on them… I was being surrounded by dragonflies! Even though I’ve not attempted stained glass work, I started sketching thumbnail drawings of atypical dragonfly compositions. One of those thumbnails ended up as a stained glass panel detail in a photo-illustration giclee print I did of a home in Eureka Springs, Ark.

During that time, an old high school, Facebook friend and I had wrote about dragonfly symbolism – a symbol of the afterlife. She spoke of a connection between her and her late mother manifesting, during her mom’s funeral service, as a dragonfly perching on her hand and then her father’s hand. The discussion kind of rekindled the idea of a dragonfly as a possible art subject. So when I received a 2′ x 4′ canvas as a Christmas gift from my sister, I started playing around with the idea of a dragonfly composition again but as a painting.

This painting will hopefully be the first in a theme series I’m contemplating called “Wild Life – forms”. Fanciful images of creatures from our world that include mysterious patterns and exaggerated colors and textures that seem a bit more than ‘natural’.

“Dragonfly Light” is so named because throughout the whole composition I’ve explored ways of rendering different types of light. My original memories of that iridescent dragonfly are rendered with blue, green, gold & silver interference additives to the acrylic paint in the body and the wings. Then there’s how I rendered light passing through ‘transparent’ elements like the eye of the insect onto the bladed leaves of the water plant creating a light convergence on it. Light passing though the stylized patterned wings onto those same leaves. Even light passing through the colored, glass-like body of the dragonfly. Also reflected light, as on the underside of the leaves.

I’ve always been fascinated with the way that light works on, through and under water. The reflections on the surface of the “pond” in the background and how surface light gives way to light patterns on the submerged pond rocks in the mid ground.

“IT Came To Conquer The World!” looking dragonfly eyes!

In painting, drawing, etc., there’s always seems to be some point where there’s an indecision about which way to go. With this project it was how to render the dragonfly eyes. initially I did an exaggerated multi-faceted eye that looked too much like something out of an old sci-fi movie. I decided to move on to other areas and contemplate other approaches. And at the “last-minute” I had an epiphany of including a ‘fish-eye’ reflected image of myself as a young boy in the dragonfly’s eyes trying to get a better look at it. Bring this story full circle.

But the exploration of different types of light doesn’t end there. In my teen years I enjoyed working in florescent paint medium (or “black light” paint). In the past few years I’ve played around with the medium in a kind of “Peter Pan” homage to my youth. I had the idea to include some of these musings into this piece to not only heighten the brilliance of the color, but to also create an alternate view of the composition under ultraviolet light.

“DragonFly Light” as it appears under an ultraviolet (“black”) light.

So as you can see, I’ve thrown the spectrum “kitchen sink” at this project!