Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Are you ready for the sheer epic awesomeness that is Halloween crafting?  I hope so, because I've got a good one this time.

Remember this?  Now you get to see what it became!
I have created a paper spider!  Not just some wee little thing either.  This sucker is close to the length of my leg.

Being a scientist, I like things to be realistic.  Which means I got to spend some time with Google image looking at various species of spiders.  My personal favorite is a scientific illustration of a spider.  Always helpful for getting anatomy correct.  The spiders I spent the most time looking at were the brown recluse, the American house spider, and a common grass spider.  I picked these because I've seen them in real life and, except for the recluse which is poisonous, I've played with them.  The grass spiders are neat, they carry their young on their backs.  This can be quite the problem when they get into your house though.  Anyway, back on track, the other reason for picking these 3 spiders to use for models is that they all have very different body shapes.  The brown recluse, also known as the fiddle back, has an almost fiddle shaped body.  The grass spider is one of the biggest non-tarantula spiders I've ever seen.  They're like wolf spiders with really long legs.  And big.  Oh man can they be big.  The American house spider is a cobwebber that is really common.  They're kinda small, but they have the same body shape as black widows and a number of orb weavers.  House spiders have the abdomen that is really big in proportion to the cephalothorax size.  Plus they're common enough for there to be a lot of images of them.

Construction of the main body was pretty simple.  As shown in the panels below, I scrunched some newspaper and tape off a section to be the abdomen.  Then I set to work on thecephalothorax region.  For ease of typing I'm going to be scientifically sloppy and refer to the cephalothorax simply as the thorax.  I made sure not to scrunch the thorax too much so it would have a good recluse-like shape. 

 After giving a full coating of duct tape, this is what my spider body looked like.  Not bad, eh?
 Right, now we need legs.  Part of what makes spider legs creepy is that they're really long but really spindly.    This looked to be a bit of a problem because long and spindly is really bad for support.  The strongest thing I could think to do was roll some newspaper into a really thin tube.  That way there would be a bunch of layers of the paper to give some support.  I started in a corner and rolled as tight a tube as I could.
This is a standard 2 page sheet of newsprint.  As you can see, it's about as long as my arm once you get it rolled up.
 After taping it so that it can't unwind, I started making joints.  They were pretty easy, all you do is bend the paper and tape it in place.

 Since spiders have two leg joints and a foot, that's what I went for.
 Next up is taping the leg to the body.  I couldn't get a good picture without crunching the leg so what you can't see in this one is that the leg is attached under the body and then bent upward and taped into place.
 Only 7 more legs to go!  I wasn't a big fan of the foot on my first leg, so I left it off the other legs.  It looked too much like a cricket or grasshopper leg and too little like a spider leg.  On the plus side it made me think of ways to make some insects as well.  I think I can see a way to make a grasshopper out of a 2-liter soda bottle.  But more on that later.  Once you see the next leg, you'll see it starting to look like a spider.
 Much better I feel.  Very delicate and realistic.  I didn't spend all that time looking at spiders for nothing!  What I did notice is that the tips of the legs were really delicate.  They looked like they would smash really easily so I decided to tape a little 'boot' on the end of each foot for stability (sorry about the blur, my camera doesn't like to focus on things it can't identify).
 This next photo is where I had to stop on the day I began construction.  I didn't have more paper of the right size to finish the legs much less the pedipalps.  It also gave me some time to come up with a viable solution for the eyes.
Once the new infusion of paper showed up I was able to finish up the legs.  Then I made the pedipalps.  Those are the little tiny arm-like mouth parts that spiders have.  Again with the rolled paper bent into shape and secured.  Securing this little guys was harder than I thought it would be.  I think it's because they're so small.

Once everything was attached, voila!  Spider!

 The legs are pretty fragile and will need to be adjusted again once I start covering it.  Just for a frame of reference, here's the spider with my "assistant" Calliope.  Mostly she assists by chewing on things.  This time though, she's great for demonstrating size.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Body Double Part 1: Torso Construction

I was looking at my skeletal arm and thinking about how to put it into a spiderweb sac when it occurred to me that there is no good way to make a spider victim with a head and two arms.  Spiders do not have teeth and would not have eaten the bones, nor do they eat prey that they haven't killed so it would be very unlikely that a spider would wrap part of a person.  Since bones from one person would decay at about the same rate there would be no reason for some of the bones to be gone.  The solution for this is pretty obvious.  I need to make a whole person.

In practice, this concept was a little bit more daunting and will likely take me several days of crafting to form.  The logical next step would be to make a second arm.  That, of course, is far too logical for me so naturally I started working on the torso.

Using the same webpage as for the arm, I looked at their instructions for making a torso.  I then decided that it had too many extra steps to get something that should be relatively simple so I set off into uncharted territory and started building on my own.  For a wonder it seems to have worked.

In my mind what you need to make a decent looking corpse is a skeletal framework that has been covered over to look emaciated, corpsed to have a decaying texture, and painted to look like something that has been dead a while.  I had good results from using rolled newspaper so that's the tack I took.

The first thing a body needs is a spine.  I took 4 sheets of newspaper, made 2 sections of 2 sheets, and then overlapped them to get a long enough tube to be a spine.

Next, I needed a sternum because that's what ribs connect to in the front.  I remembered a bit about making paper airplanes and figured that folding newspaper into a bone would be easier than layering and cutting or using cardboard which is annoying to cut.

To begin I had one "half page" of newspaper.  that I folded on its natural fold.  From there I folded it in half and opened it to make a median line that I could keep the sides symmetrical. What follows is a step by step run down on how I folded the sternum.

This is the first set of folds.  My middle finger is on the dividing line.  I did these folds about 1 inch away from that line and taped them down.
Next I folded the fold.  What you see is the edge established in the previous step folded to the same near center position as the first fold.
Then you fold the bottom section in so that you have straight edges again.

Here the top section is folded over to the center line and secured.
And again with a fold on the bottom for the same reasons as before.
It was a little too long so I folded the bottom edge up toward the top and taped it.
Here is the sternu on the right side when I was done.

After I had a sternum and a spine I started making ribs.  This is where you need mad paper rolling skills.  I only made 6 ribs, 3 for each side.  I know that isn't anatomically correct, but I'm awfully lazy and I think 6 will give me the definition I'm looking for.

Each roll was a single large newspaper page.  I started rolling on a corner and rolled the paper on a diagonal to get a nice long tube.  You'll need a wee bit of tape to secure the tube so it doesn't unravel.  I suggest making all your tubes at the same time.  Reason being that it is highly unlikely they will all turn out exactly the same. If you have all 6 tubes made to begin with you can pair them based on size and use the largest for the lowest ribs and so on.  I labeled mine with a pen (since I'll be covering them later) using 1 or 2, for the side, and a, b, and c for position.  1a and 2a were bottom pair, and so on.  Then you move to shaping.

This is how I shaped my ribs.  First, I squeezed my tube flat and lightly creased it.  Ribs aren't round so I didn't want these to be.  A gentle crease gives a bit of rib like definition without making it completely flat. The bent over bit you see on the top of the pic was for strength.  The downside of rolling a diagonal tube is that the ends tend to be flimsy since they don't have as much paper in them.  I picked that end to fold because it was the wider end.  Like I've said, rolling newspaper is amazingly tricky to do consistently.  For the rest its bend and tape.
Now, the cool thing here is that rolled newspaper doesn't bend at right angles.  In this case that was pretty lucky because ribs are curved but they also curve upward.  As you can see, the paper did exactly that.  Another thing I noticed is that, depending on which end you start on the ribs will curve up or down accordingly.    I wanted 3 to curve up and 3 to curve down for right and left sides.  The way I checked was by looking at the section I folded over.  When you rolled the paper it made a spiral following the edge of the paper.  If you match the orientation of the paper spiral to the first rib you do it will curve the same way.  If you change it so the spiral goes the opposite way, so will the curve.  Then all you have to do is 3 of each.

I figured it would be easiest to attach the ribs to the sternum first and then to the spine.  This part was tricky. It would have helped if I had 3 hands.  I started with the bottom ribs, because they were the largest, and taped them on one at a time.  The hard part comes from trying to hold the rib to the sternum and then getting it taped without compressing or bending the rib any more than you have already.  Somehow I manged though.
Doing the spine taping was a lot easier than I thought it would be after doing the sternum.  I used 6 large pieces of tape, one per rib, and held the spine and rib together while I taped each rib down.  Again I worked from largest to smallest.
It gave me a pretty convincing chest cavity.  When I cover it I may put balloons inside the ribs to maintain their shape.  I won't be able to take the balloons out afterward, but that won't matter since no one will be able to see them anyway.  Plus then I'll get to giggle about it having 'lungs'.  (-:

The ribs on the spine gave a nice bumpy vertebra-like look, so that was an unexpected plus.

I added a collar bone at this point so that I would have a reference for inserting arms later.  To do the collar bone I made another diagonal tube, marked the center, and bent it half way from the center on each side.  Then I taped it in place and used a bit of tape around the bones so that it will get the same feeling as a real shoulder (you know, the indented section that people go to town on when they give you a massage).

Once I had the torso assembled I tried the arm on for size.  If you think it looks a little awkward, you're right.  The rib cage came out to be something like 46 inches.  That's pretty sizable for just bones so I wound up cutting a few inches off each rib from the front (ventral) side where they connect to the sternum and then reconnecting them.  I did not manage to get a pic of that before I had to go work on something else though, so you'll get to see the true end product a bit later.

Next step for the body double will be the pelvic girdle and possibly a leg.  The foot may or may not happen, I've not quite worked out how to make them yet.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Behold! The Arm! part 1

The wait is over! The newspaper has arrived (so have my LED lights!)! Thanks to the work of several friends and my mom I now have enough material to start making things for real. The 'mystery project' from the other day is still paused because I needed to start working on a decoration that is going to hang in front of my front door for Halloween and the mystery one is an extra. Initially, I had wanted a spiderweb-wrapped mummy that shook and screamed. That is, until I actually saw the thing (see earlier post). I've designed something I think is far better. Select bones and cloth(to be like old rotted clothes) and spiderwebs. If it works right it should look like a desiccated spider victim. Since I normally web over my entryway pretty heavily it should fit right in.

 I used instructions from this website, it's one that I highlighted in an earlier post about snot rag maché. The instructions it gives are pretty simple. Making newspaper do what's in the instructions is surprisingly challenging.

 Above you see the first steps. Roll some paper into a tube the length(ish) of an arm and tape it in place. Make sure the paper is secure before cutting from one end toward the center. Remember, the humerus is longer than the radius and ulna. Then you have to make the cut portion into the radius and ulna.  That's where the first major challenge comes in.

I used between 4 and 6 sheets of newspaper and rolled that.  When I cut it, as you saw above, it took on a life of its own.  Apparently it wanted to be a squid.  Since I disagreed with that purpose, I had to make it do what I wanted.  

 The two images you see above are the first steps of what I did.  First I taped the end of one section.  The was mostly to hold it in place so I could tape the 'bone' the rest of the way.  Then I had to cut that first taping, re-position the bone end, and tape it down again.  It was making the second bone that was hard (shown below).  The paper had bent back and didn't really want to form a tube.  It took quite a bit of effort to tape the end of the second bone so that I could work with the rest of that section. If you look near the 'elbow' area you can see where the paper tried to tear.

 The end result was pretty impressive though.  You can see that the radius and ulna try to twist around each other which is what they do in the arm.
 For optimum arm definition, though, I needed the lower arm bones to be separate a bit.  Because the paper was so stiff I couldn't hold it in one hand and tape it with the other.  I had to stick something between the bones, in this case my cable remote, and then I was able to tape the ends together and get some space between the bones.  What I didn't get a picture of was the bending of the elbow.  That was easy, I gave it a slight bend, it was maybe 20 degrees up from flat, and taped it down.

 Any decent arm has fingers.  So that's what I started next.  I tightly rolled some newspaper and used my own extremely long and bony fingers as a model for how long the fingers should be

I quickly decided doing it one finger at a time was dumb.  So I rolled a longer and smaller tube, marked where the fingers should start and end with tape and then cut the taped section.  That kept it from unraveling.

If you use this method of finger making there is a section of the rolled piece that you shouldn't use.  The very ends of the rolled piece have the least amount of paper and are really weak.  You have to find where the paper is a little thicker for it to be nice and strong.
If you look you'll see that on each of the 5 fingers there is tape on both ends. That became my easy way of knowing where each finger would be on each roll of paper.  It took me a bit to get tubes of a size I liked, I made 4 tubes total but only used 3 of them for parts.

Here you see the hand assembly.  The instructions say to make one side flat and then use the other side for definition, depending on what will be visible.  Since this required tape in a specific way, I laid out what I thought I would need and built the hand on top of it.   
Once the fingers were in position, I started layering tape over the top which is the back of the hand.  To give it bone definition I attached the tape to the left side bottom tape and then slowly pressed the top tape down as I laid it over each finger bone. Getting in between the fingers was the tricky bit here.  It helped a little if I rolled the finger I was working on to the left as I was trying to tape down the other side and in between fingers.  Once I had all the fingers down I taped to the bottom of the finger bones and wrapped the tape on itself.
The amount of tape on the metacarpal area was clearly not enough but I wanted to be able to bend the fingers easily so I measured the hand with my hand and marked the knuckles with pieces of tape.

I told you before I used my hand as a model.  I did actually take pictures of my hand to refer to as I was bending fingers but then realized it was just as easy to hold my hand out and look.  As this is a spider victim I figured the hand should have an almost natural relaxed look.  I say almost natural because the body would have eventually been desiccated which tightens skin so the fingers would be curved more than what a living hand would be when relaxed.  At least, that's what I remember from the mummified frog I once found at an archery range.

This is the finger bending process.  I started with the little finger end joint and curved the finger around as per the instructions "bend the finger and then tape the bend tightly" which is actually more difficult that it sounds if you only have 2 hands of your own.  I worked from pinky to thumb and made sure to bend the finger on my marked knuckle joint as well.  That was tricky because the tape didn't really want to bend. Soon I had a delightful piece that actually looked like a hand.  Then I had to attach it to the arm.
One look at your own hand will tell you that, unless you make it that way, your hand isn't flat.  To get that natural look I overlapped the existing tape (which wasn't sticky because that's the tape to tape area below the hand) below the hand onto the end of the arm bones forming the wrist.  Then I formed the curvature of the hand by wrapping that section around the arm bones and taping it down.  Then you flip it over and do the same on the other side, taping to the contours of the palm side.
And voila!  One arm.  You can see that I wasn't quite finished yet.  The hand looks good but the fingers are really super long because the palm doesn't go all the way to the knuckles like it should.

Adding a little more tape to the front and back of the hand for the palm was really easy, but I did have to cut out a bit between the thumb and index finger so that it didn't look webbed.  And there you have it, one arm ready for fleshing!  That's part 2, as you might have guessed.