Studio Stuff: Creature Skulls

 Creature Skulls. In starting a new creature, what kind of creature skull I start with depends on the prop design specs. Is it permanent, or is is single use?  Indoor, or outdoor? The answers dictate the build.  Sometimes the  skull or “face base” is just a wad of paper or plastic, and I build out from there with various mediums, clay, foam, etc. For realistic props, I like best just to sculpt the skull either in epoxy putty or clay.  If any kind of lights or mechanisms are to be installed, a hollow “skull” is needed.


Upper part of Aracni-ape skull.

The Quick and Dirty Prop.

For quick, “B” roll creature prop skulls, a wad of paper, a milk jug, anything goes. I liken cheap, one season props to B roll film footage–necessary, but not quality-critical.  The B roll props are meant to be viewed from 30 feet or more, usually in dim light, and not intended to pass as a real creature in close-up inspection.


Example of a “B” prop meant to be seen at 30′ or more in dim light.

The B prop will be posed above and behind a bush or headstone, the silhouette doing most of the work to convince the viewer they are looking at a “real” skull or monster. The shadows are our friends.

The Aracni-ape below is not a B roll prop.

The lower teeth were sculpted with the jaw. The upper teeth are epoxy putty installed separately.

Aracni-ape dental study. By Dark Oak Creations.

The jaw bone below is sculpted in Monster Clay over a wire and sheet  plastic armature. This is not a true attempt to sculpt an accurate skull, but a rough form on which to build out and refine with another medium. Since Aracni-apes are an alien species, I indulged myself with the dental structure. I wanted many sharp teeth for the creature but within the realm of the familiar.


Acracni-ape lower jaw

This lower jaw I sculpted separately to facilitate sculpting and treating the inside of the upper mouth.  I added the teeth (epoxy putty) to the upper jaw later after I had assembled  the head, installed the tongue, and painted the inside of the mouth.

The photo above shows the lower jaw molded in RTV.  I used InstaMorph to form the mother mold.


A versatile material no prop shop should be without.

Not getting paid for the plug, but I’ve used InstaMorph for many things, from small mother molds to fabricating a lost camera-to-tripod adapter. One of the best benefits of this stuff is that it is reusable. Just melt it in hot water and reshape it to form.


Finding Pumpkinrot.

The corruptions of my youth, comic books, Creepy’s and Vampirella’s, horror and science fiction movies and books, I learned were not the inspirations of true artistic effort. My high school art teacher made that plain. For years after, I had an “on again off again” relationship with my artistic path, painting and sculpting more conventional themes.

Breaking out.

However, a few years ago I found a blog while satisfying my childish infatuation with Halloween.  An artist called Pumpkinrot was sculpting and constructing intense, macabre scarecrows and other Halloween props in such a fearsome, natural, organic style that the creations seemed alive, or at least to have once lived. As so many others have been, I was captivated by his work.


“Roots” by Pumpkinrot.

Above: The photo is from his blog and reflects his unique theatrical flare. Fantastic, huh?

These are supposed to be Halloween “props,” but I know fine art when I see it. I made two “props” for my own Halloween Night after his style and felt energized by the experience. The shackles of the Gallery  People rotted and fell from my mind.

Steps Scarecrow

Smilin’ Jack.  Just a jack-o-lantern head on a stick.

This simple jack’o lantern prop changed my artistic mindset.  It was a fast, fun build, and had the same effect on me as one of those exercises writer’s use to break writer’s block. It is fun to make monsters. I knew that as a kid; I’m not sure how I let convention stifle that.


Smilin’ Jack lit up!


The photos below show the next prop I made in ‘Rot style, a corpse-on-a-stick.


Hybrid Corpse in Progress

Anyway, if you like this stuff, you must check out Pumpkinrot.  He is a true master. His photo sets and videos are intense and remarkable, his work featured in two movies (Mr. Jones and Krampus) and record covers. Thank you, Pumpkinrot!

I will leave you with one more of his . . .


Pumpkinrot’s iconic Pumpkin Sentinels.

Christmas Gift Horror.

Amid the Christmas morning carnage a gift surfaced that warmed the toes of my soul.  My daughter gave me a book that will wrap me in hours of inspiration and obsession.  “The Art of Horror,” an illustrated history edited by Stephen Jones, is a work of art in itself.


The cover alone hooked me.  Inside, artworks of horror and themes monstrous fill the pages.  For a horror fan of word, film, and art, this book is a discovery of the best kind. It is a welcome addition to my studio bookshelf.


As you can see from the Contents Page, the effort is comprehensive.  It runs from grade B horror flick posters to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu and is chocked full of classic as well as little-known horror art.


This is good stuff.  I would show more but now I’m sidetracked and want to read the book.