This is my least favorite part of the process. It is the very definition of the word tedious. It’s so dull, I don’t even want to write a post about it, but here I go.
Because the dog is supposed to be a springer spaniel, it calls for two colors of fur, each of which comes in different lengths and textures. After looking for the right material, I finally settled on goat fur for the white and human hair wig for the black. The hair comes in packages like this and has a wave to it.
Each section looks like this when unpacked and is about three feet long.
You can see how I have to place each line of brown fur. I’ll admit that I started out sewing this on, which is the right way, and after awhile realized that a) it would take me forever and b) the dog wasn’t going to do enough movement on stage for me to worry about stability. So I glued the rest of it.
Here she is with most of the brown fur installed.
The white fur went faster, since it was basically goat hide and so I could do it in large pieces.
This is the dog with untrimmed fur.
Here’s where I’ve begun trimming and all that fur on the floor is what I’ve cut off. The biggest challenge here is to make it look like it’s naturally short, rather than trimmed. You know the difference, right? I mean, when you see a short haired dog you can tell when it’s naturally that way versus one that’s obviously been to the groomers. The way I do that is by using a straight razor instead of sheers. It lets me trim the fur with a little less regularity and gives it a more natural look.
And here she is with ears and mostly trimmed. After I took this, I went back and trimmed her legs to create the fetlocked appearance of a springer spaniel, but you get the idea.
I have come to the conclusion that I will never, ever finish putting all the hair on this dog. It’s 2:30 a.m. I have to go back tomorrow to put more on. I’ll show you photos later, if I don’t go insane first.
I use quarter inch “crap” foam to put muscle on her skull. We call it crap foam to distinguish it from reticulated foam, which is strong and durable. Crap foam tears easily, oxidizes quickly, but is very lightweight and cheap. It’s also fairly stretchy. Lady doesn’t need a long life-span, and the stretchy property is a useful one. So is the dirt-cheap aspect.
The “muscle” I’m installing helps keep the jaw attached to the head. The layers of it provide more realistic motion than large sculpted pieces would.
Once the jaw is in place, I install the eyes. I only did it in this order because I was worried about dropping glue on the eyes. Later I had to put tape over them to do some painting, so that was a silly concern.
Remember those plywood legs? I used polyethylene planks to round them out to make “bones” and muscles. It’s the same stuff as I used on her spine.
And here’s what she looks like trimmed and muscled.
I used spandex to make a sort of pajama suit of skin for her.
With the skin in place, I paint it dark brown in all the places she’ll get brown fur. You’ll notice that the skin is not covering her whole body, and is mostly in the areas where the brown fur goes. That’s because in order to get the right color and texture for the fur, I had to go with human hair extensions. I need the skin in order to attach that. Her white fur will be a goat hide, and I’ll be able to use the natural leather backing.
First of all, you should know that I did not pick up the shotguns today. There’s some additional paperwork that I needed, so hopefully that will be taken care of tomorrow. Meanwhile, here’s some of the dog activity. I’m actually farther along than this but I forgot to take pictures.
What you are looking at here is the bottom of the dog’s skull, minus the lower jaw. I’ve run a steel cable in through the hole where the spinal cord goes. Convienently, there are holes from the brain case down into the upper palette which I threaded the cable through and the looped it back to attach it to itself. This will hold the whole thing securely together but also allow flexible movement.
Since this really just has to flop in the way a real dog would, I don’t have to worry too much about getting the balance right for manipulation. I’m doing ultra simple construction for the legs. These are just flat pieces of airplane ply held together by cotter pins. I’ll put stops on them to keep them from hyper-extending and also use the foam itself as a sort of muscle to control their direction of movement.
At the hip, I have a rudimentary pelvis and have attached the legs to the hips with tieline.Â They hang nicely but I totally forgot to take a photo.
Part of why I’m being bad with photos is because I’ve already built one wounded dog, so I’m figuring this isn’t covering any new ground for you.Â On the other hand, I am building the legs differently this time.Â PLUS the covering of this dog will be such a pain that I will document it in full.
Since we have some new readers, let me catch you up a bit. When my bio says that I’m a professional puppeteer, it really means it. So after feeling like a rock star this weekend, I’ve come back to the grind of daily routine, which happens to include building a springer spaniel.
To do that, I use an actual dog skull in order to make sure that I’ve got the dentition right. This one arrived the day before LaunchPad, so I kind of opened the box, went, “Yep, skull” and ignored it.
I pulled it out of the box today, along with the pair of eyeballs that arrived while I was gone. As before, the skull is a beautiful thing and striking in how different it is from the last dog skull. Spaniels have a much more pronounced forehead.
Now… do you see that oblong dark spot in the jaw? That would be a dried dermestid beetle. It’s wedged in a small hole in the bone. There are very few things that wig me out, but maggoty things fall into that category. Now, granted, this is a beetle and has a hard shell. It’s only the shape that is at all maggoty and yet… The notion of trying to pick it out makes my skin feel like a bajillion beetles are going to scuttle across me. Part of me wonders if I can get way with just encasing it in foam and pretending it doesn’t exist, except then, of course, the darn thing would fall out at an unexpected moment.
For a new show at Rattlestick Theater, I’m building a wounded springer spaniel. To start, I drew out a scale drawing of the dog for a pattern, which I then traced onto ethafoam. The piece here is Lady’s spine from the base of her neck to the tip of her tail. I build the curvature that I want into the shape of the foam so that it wants to return to this as its natural position.
One of the beautiful things about ethafoam is that you can heat weld it. The Puppet Kitchen, where I was working, has a ventilation hood so that I can work with relative safety while doing this. I also wear a respirator because heat welding basically involves melting foam together. It releases all kinds of nasties.
This might be one of the reasons that I try so hard to be environmentally conscious in the rest of my life, because my job is so frequently not nice to the planet.
But heat welding is really cool and makes for strong lightweight puppets.
With the other rib pieces cut and welded on, Lady begins to take shape. One of my major challenges with this project is that she has to breathe. The way the action is described in the script, getting a puppeteer to her will be challenging to say the least.
She’s carried onstage and then set down on the ground..
Remote control is not a real option because of the vast number of cabs in NYC but more specifically because we’re down the street from a hospital. The amount of interfering signals floating through the ether would send any r/c puppet into seizures.
Trailing cables… not so pretty. What we’ll probably wind up doing is having the actor carrying her in do some minimal puppetry and then try to get a puppeteer under the ground to keep her alive. This is a good example of one of the reasons why the puppet designer often wants to have input into the set design. We sometimes need the designer to build in places to hide the performer.
I’m only home for fifteen days this month. Yesterday was the only full day that Rob and I will have together until August 11th. He’s leaving to go to Canaan for a film shoot today and returns the 17th, the day that I leave for Readercon. We might overlap that day, but likely not.
I return from Readercon on the 20th, which is the day Rob leaves to go to the IPNC. We won’t overlap that day.
He returns from IPNC on the 30th, which is the day I leave for Launchpad. We might be able to see each other at the airport. I’m not kidding.
Launchpad and Worldcon are back to back and I return on August 11th.
All of which is leading me to think that I should go up to Canaan with Rob today and spend the night. BUT, I have twelve days left this month in which to build a realistic wounded dog puppet ((This is a side effect of having a dead dog in one’s portfolio)) On the other hand, I haven’t received the petty cash to purchase supplies yet and if I don’t do that today, then it will be Monday before I can work. Ten days to build a dog. Doable, but only just.
Okay. You people asked for it. Here are photos of the dead dog I built. This is the initial blood look, working with the idea that the dog has been hit by a car recently. Most animals killed by cars die from broken necks or internal bleeding. There’s very little visible damage.
We needed gore.
Lots and lots of blood. As I mentioned, I did some surgery to the dog and then, right before it goes onstage, they dump stageblood on it so that we get some dripping action. Next up, in small form, are two shots of the damage that might have occurred with multiple car hits. Note the missing leg.
I finished the dog today. Finally. The consensus was that it needed to be gorier, but since I hadn’t built it that way, there were limits to what I could do without rebuilding. For instance, exposed bone wasn’t an option… wait a minute. There’s a real skull in there.
So, I dislocated the jaw and ripped part of her face. I also amputated a leg, and put a blood-soaked sponge in its place. Plus lots and lots and lots of blood. She drips when she comes out of the box now and everyone seems happy.
Today started with me sleeping through my alarm, though waking up in enough time to make the 8:15 train to Saratoga if I hurried. I ran out the door, struggling along with pounds of Shimmer magazines in my backpack, and came down to the steps of the subway station just as the train I needed was arriving. Whew.
And then, in a bonus stroke, when we got to 96th street, the express train magically appeared across the track. I hopped over and started breathing a little easier. I even got a seat.
Then the train stopped in the tunnel.
It crawled forward finally arriving at NY Penn Station at 8:07. Gah! I ran into the building, sweat pouring down under my coat, knowing that I wasn’t going to make it, but having to try. After all, Amtrak had sent an announcement to expect delays. Maybe it was late pulling in to Penn. Sure enough, I checked the board and it was still there. I grabbed my ticket, no line, and turned to the gate.
Which I couldn’t find. Oh, sure… there was a track 5 E, but it was only accessible by an escalator, which was going up. I needed to go down. A station attendant saw me and another man run to 5 E and look panicked. He shouted, “The stairwell behind you. Run! It might still be there.”
I ran. Top of the stairs. Glory be! The train was still there.
At the first landing, the doors shut. Halfway past that, the train pulled forward. I stopped and dropped my bag. The other man did the same thing. Almost in unison, we cursed.
I turned around, lugged my bag upstairs to exchange my ticket for the afternoon train.
That done, I walked back to the red line to go home. A line from the platform wound down into the main terminal. It wasn’t moving and from where I stood, I could see the crowd at the top, filling the platform. Someone said, “Train’s not running.”
“Any of them?”
“Not on this line. An ‘incident’.”
Groaning, I walked back to the other end of the station to take the C train home. As I waited, I watched six E trains come by and a couple of A’s but no C. Finally, an announcement said that they were running “slower than usual due to an earlier incident.”
What’s with all the incidents? After waiting for forty-five minutes, a C finally came, just as I was about to give up.
I got home about 10:30 and collapsed in bed.
Half an hour later, the phone rang. The production had run into a problem and wanted to know what they should do. With a sense of grim irony, I said, “Fortunately, I missed my train this morning. I’m still in town.”
So, I skipped the afternoon train, fixed the intestines and the dead dog and will go to World Fantasy tomorrow. Somewhere in all of this, I’m planning on sleeping more than half an hour.
I started by taking a drawing of a dog’s skeleton and enlarging it to fit the skull that I had. I simplified the basic shapes to come up with the pattern for the dog.
Next I carved a spine of polyethalene, which is a very light and firm foam.
Notice how I made the ribs as discs rather than as struts. This approximates the shape of the dog’s ribcage and offers flexibility, with relative ease.
I added airplane cable for strength and to join the head to the spine to the pelvis. The cable passes in through the actual spinal cord opening, loops through two holes, which must be for blood vessels or nerves and then is ziptied to the foam spine.
The pelvis and legs are made out of wood, much as I would with a standard puppet, but without the need to have crisp movement. This puppet needs to flop.
You can see that I used a simplified pattern that mimics how muscles attach to the body.
And here I am with the completed skeleton of the dead dog. It flops well.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]