Monday, September 3, 2012

Bert and Ernie Take Dragon*Con / Beers with JumpKickPunch!

I've never been to Dragon*Con before this year.

There.  I admit it.  I've never been except for the appearance two days ago.

Why?  I'm not really sure, I guess it had something to do with a lack of friends in the area that were into this kind of thing, and the lack of a good costume. 

So this year, about 3 weeks before the con, I decided it was time.  My buddy Joe and I had been looking for an excuse to do a larger scale makeup, so after I suggested a "real life/old Bert and Ernie" we got to work.

  I'd like to also point out that I'm personally a huge Jim Henson fan.  I grew up with these characters, and still love Sesame Street.  What we did is take a familiar object and put it up on its head, completely apart from the actual version.  NO connection to the Bert and Ernie we all know and love, and we mean no disrespect to the memory of Jim Henson.

Now in FULL disclosure, and this is something we explained to everyone who wanted to talk to us about our makeups, the concept of a humanized Bert and Ernie was inspired by a silicone bust done by Spanish artist Nacho Diaz.  You can find that version on google, it's AMAZING, and still floors me.

The concept of humanized cartoon characters is nothing new however.  Kevin Kirkpatrick is another effects artist, who also went to the same school Joe and I attended I might add, who has done similar work on a much better level.  Check out his Beavis and Butthead, and prepare to have your mind blown, because this guy is hands down one of the most talented people I can name.  It's, well, disturbing.

And so in that spirit, we decided to do old Bert and Ernie.  Not necessarily bad or good, just old and showin' it.

 In order to produce prosthetics that will fit to one's own face, then the need arises for a dense replication of said visage.  In other words, you need a hard copy of your own noggin.

The best, and most accurate way to do this is to take a full-head life cast.  This is a copying of the entire head, made with a flexible material [Alginate or silicone] and then cast [made] in your chosen material.  It all really comes down to your budget, and what you intend to cast your prosthetics out of.  For us, we knew we were going with foam latex, so we went with a stone lifecast.  In addition, we made our molds out of the same material.  Why you ask?  Foam latex gives off moisture, and if that moisture doesn't have a way to vent, such as through the porous nature of Ultracal 30 stone or accurate vents, then you're left with huge voids where the moisture accumulated in the mold during baking.

So, a life cast.  This subject goes beyond the scope of this article, but I was left with a limited budget and time so I took a 3/4 lifecast and simply sculpted my head and neck/chest in order to copy that to stone.

One difference however, I added some bulk to the sides of my head, knowing that the Ernie form would require a lot of foam latex in that area.  Now ordinarily you would use alginate to copy this build up, but on a budget Joe and I simply used plaster bandages that were heavily saturated with water in order to capture as much detail as possible.  The technique worked, and we had not so bad lifecasts to work with.  Not the best, but we were on a strict budget. 

 Following the casting of the lifecast, we applied molten clay to the cast in order to give a sticking layer for the following bits and bobs of clay.  This is also where you would apply layers of a seperating agent, if your intention was to do a multi-piece prosthetic.  We were doing single cowls, so sculpt on!

In the beginning, all sculpts look like crap.  At least that's how it is for most people.  It's honestly the most fun part of a sculpture for me, because you get to be really active and intense with the clay, just trying to resonate an image and try out forms.  [I have no pics of Joe's sculpt in the beginning].

 I was really going for a solid mix between cartoon aesthetic and real world forms. 
After about a week, we arrived at this point.  The bottom picture may be earlier then the top, but it shows the comparison.  We were starting to get pretty excited at this point!  Nervous too, because Dragon*Con was fast approaching.
 Success with casting!  It's been about TWO years since I've worked with foam latex.  Most of my day to day is silicone work in the medical industry, so this was like hanging out with an old friend.  Albeit, an old stinky friend.

 We're uhhhh, professionals....  Seriously though, the pantyhose is used for structural support within the walls of the foam latex.  Otherwise you'd probably tear it trying to get it off the cast and onto your head.

Final casts!  YES!  One big negative was that neither of us clamped our molds in time, quite tight enough, before the gelling occurred.  The result was that our edges, or the lines where the sculpt ends and our skin begins, weren't a reflection of the hard work we put into our molds.  Still though, we soldiered on..
 Pre-painting complete!  The objective here is to make an opaque material, foam latex, look more like translucent flesh using lots of overtones.  Foam is pretty tough to do well, and I'm far from "being there."

These days most people use silicone [which I use in my day to day medical job], which looks GREAT, but doesn't breath so well.  Plus it tends to be very heavy and always expensive.  So a jump back to foam latex was a lot of fun and tested my painting. 

Had to try it on after pre-painting, sans wig.  The paint was a mixture of pros-aide and acrylic paint, and then washes of thinned down inks and other pigments applied on top.  Again, I only had pics of my own application here. Joe did a great job with his paint.

And here's the "Rubber" Ducky I made the night before, out of floral foam and casting resin.  Good enough for me!

After waking up at 4:30 to apply and leaving for Atlanta at 6.  Not really there at this hour, wishing I had some coffee.
 Here we are in line for our admission.  People are starting to notice us, others driving past are stopping for pictures.
 Time to formulate a plan.  Wait, it's Dragon*Con....your plan is invalid...
 Stan Lee!  And some dude about to HULK OUT!

 "THIS GUY!!!"  In retrospect, it may have actually been Z.G.  Isn't it a great time in history to be a chubby dude with a beard?
 The guy that took this picture was hammered, and tried to get a picture of his own but was shoved away by Predator after he tripped all over him.

 The costumes, by the way, were sewn by Joe's mom, who is an expert seamstress.  Thanks Joan!
We're roommates, I swear.
 We finally took the opportunity to survey the scene from atop the Pulse Bar.  It was like a flowing river of nerds.
 One of my personal heroes and sculpting inspirations, JORDU SCHELL called us over from across the room and shot the breeze with us for a minute and complimented our sculpture and execution.  He offered some critique, and then his team interviewed us.  I found out that they were with Truth, an anti-tobacco marketing agency.  Still trying to bridge that gap..

The pictures never got old, though it was LITERALLY about 3-5 about every 30 seconds.  The arts area was a reprieve, as you couldnt take pictures there.  It got close to annoying when we were trying to eat a hot dog, and things almost turned "Bad Santa" but in the end it was just SO cool that people got the idea, and got the costume, and just wanted to take a picture.  I'd like to think we piqued some imaginations, and that's honestly all I care about.

And finally, we met up with the boys from Jump Kick Punch, a podcast foray into all things cool. 

Seriously though, if you're into video games, movies, replica props, etc, check these fellas out.  They're really down to earth, concise/articulate and all hold pretty respectable positions within this culture that we all love so much.  They work VERY hard to produce their weekly episodes, and it shows.  Always full of relevant info regarding anything from gaming/shows/movies, and always with an oh so biting sense of wit.

One of their members won the overall costume contest for the entire event,  I personally loved getting to talk stop-motion with one of them, who also happens to be a senior animator on Archer.  Check em out at

A few beers later, through a straw of course, we said our goodbyes and ventured off. 

And that's it!  It was hot, sweaty, and if getting your picture taken steals a bit of your soul, then hook me up with a few soul shards.  Until next time...


  1. Awesome stuff there guys. I totally got the BAD SANTA thing as I had similar experience with my Dcon costume. This was also my first year. Keep rocking, you guys.

    -Malik Blount

  2. And... You're on Reddit!

    Amazing work I must say. Great job!