-Thee Weyrd Sisters: Haunted Trees

“Thee Weyrd Sisters” is a stop motion animated music video produced and animated by Jake Carlson for the Electronic, Psychedelic Rock Band, Westerner, based out of Los Angeles, California.  The band’s concept album entitled, “Unreal City”, is being transformed into a fully animated movie in which each song is being animated by an entirely different animator in a variety of mediums. Cooper Bombadil, aka Enigma Presley, is the lead singer of the band, and wrote the script for the entire film. A taste of the band’s musical genius can be found here: https://westerner.bandcamp.com/ and updates to the movie, or already finished music videos for the album, can be found on the band’s website here: www.westernerband.com.

It is truly a unique and exciting project to be a part of seeing as Jake has commissioned me to fabricate the music video’s Haunted Tree Puppets. On this page you can find the finished puppets and the detailed process I underwent in fabricating them from start to finish. The video itself takes place in a forest that calls for 36 animateable tree puppets, ranging from 12″-28″ inches tall. The process in fabricating them all began with original concept art by Roger Brunke.

Seeing as the look of the haunted tree characters was already established two-dimensionally by Roger’s designs, I began studying his information and the music video’s animatic that Jake provided me with to get an overall sense of how these characters would look and function in the third dimension as stop motion puppets.

Luckily Jake even managed to fabricate the first Haunted Tree Puppet, providing me with even more helpful reference for what he was shooting for. Although he already had an established look for the tree characters, Jake ran into a few issues animating his version of the trees due to the materials they were made out of. These materials being modeling clay melted and painted over bed foam and aluminum wire definitely gave the character mobility, however the weight of the clay was often too heavy to last during the animation process. He commissioned me to deliver a cast of trees that could stay on model with the look of the show yet be light weight, durable, and highly poseable with a full range of dialogue capability to meet their singing and dancing functions. With Roger’s designs and Jake’s foundation work, I visited the drawing board to see what I could come up with.

My preliminary sketches helped me visualize just how I was going to break down fabricating the Haunted Tree Puppets. I knew right off the bat that if the plan was to wind up with 36 individual trees then I was going to have to find a way to simplify a mold making process to crank these babies out. After speaking with Jake we both agreed to try and give the trees variation and make each one as unique as possible with their own personalities. By sketching out my ideas I arrived at a plan on how to do this, while still using the same parts from the same molds.

I also added these early sketches of a few initial ideas I had on going about making the mouths animate-able. After hearing about Jake’s struggle using modeling clay, I knew right from the get go that I wanted to avoid the medium completely and instead use a material that was lightweight, durable but also very flexible. I decided upon a 5 pound flexible cold foam because I knew it would be easy to work with, capable of accepting pigment and would yield the mobility needed for the final puppets. It also didn’t hurt that the material expands nearly 10 times it’s size, which meant I could get a lot of trees out of a small amount of relatively inexpensive material.

Once I had an idea in place for the puppet itself, I had to come up with an efficient mold case to cast the tree and it’s necessary parts in. After spending some time at the drawing board again I decided on the following design, which I could easily render in plaster, in this case, Ultracal 30, a particularly strong gypsum cement, very durable and great for picking up detail of objects being molded. I knew choosing this material would once again yield great quality as well as quantity and for a very low cost.

After Jake approved my ideas for fabricating the Haunted Tree Puppets we then discussed a list of materials needed to actually produce them. Seeing as the music video is low budget I knew that I needed to find an inexpensive but efficient way of producing these puppets for the project. Below is a list of the items that I pitched to Jake for an overall low cost of $200.

In order to stay on model with the style of the show, Jake provided me with an already sculpted, large-sized tree to dissect and modify so that it could become “mold-friendly”. What this means is that the cracks, eyes, and mouth that can be seen in the tree would have to be back filled with modeling clay so as not to allow “under-cuts” in the mold making process (i.e. any place for plaster to leak in to and get stuck in the clay). The tree’s branches and roots would also need to be removed and molded separately to allow for the necessary parts I plotted out in my preliminary sketches.

Jake decided on a range in tree sizes so as to provide dimension in the video’s composition. Large trees would be in the foreground of a shot, whereas small trees would then appear further away in the background of a shot and medium trees would provide a nice neutral, tying the entire forest together and giving it some depth. It’s important to mention that although the video would call for 36 individual trees, with my mold designs I would be able to get all the trees we needed out of just three tree trunk molds, three tree branch molds, three tree root molds and three tree mouth molds (36 trees with just 12 molds!). After Jake and I agreed on the sizes and number of trees needed, I began the tedious but very fun process of molding the large tree.



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