Thank you to everyone who suggested a title for my latest piece. I decided to go with Deep Sea Tango. Jo Neufeld came up with that one, thanks Jo. I had already had an idea for the beginning of the video and the tango idea fell right into place. I hope you enjoy the video. Please check it out here.
Here it is, already half of 2016 over and I'm just finishing my first automaton of the year. It's been a busy family year and I haven't had much free time to design and build. The danger in allowing time to pass between projects is letting other interests occupy my attention. I'm a single focus person and having several things going on just doesn't agree with me.
As the title states, I need your help. Please read through the article, check out the photos and you'll come to it at the end.
Before sharing any photos I want to explain a bit of the background of this piece. Back in August of 2013 I finished a piece called "When Goldfish Crackers Go Bad."
Instead of a school of goldfish chasing the scuba diver I originally planned on a single, large goldfish. I first made a test piece out of foam. I wanted it to have a hinged mouth and it would snap at the diver.
I thought I could carve and shape the foam but decided to go ahead and build one out of wood. It turned out very heavy even though it was hollow. It measured about 12"X15". I wasn't happy with the movement and that's when I decided to go with a school of smaller goldfish crackers.
Sometime later I was watching a show on Animal Planet called "River Monsters." It's about a guy who catches some very large and strange fish in rivers across the globe. He caught this one fish called a vampire fish that had these huge teeth that fit into cavites in its skull. I thought maybe that would look good on my big goldfish so I retrofitted the goldfish with big teeth.
It turned out pretty good. I thought maybe I would make another scuba diver to go with it, possibly a female diver. I was still concerned about the weight and how much torque it would need to move the fish. You'll notice I added a spring to help with the movement.
Well like several ideas that I have had, this one got put up on a shelf in my workshop in the garage. Every so often I would pull it down and play with it. I even tried cutting out a female body to carve but I never got excited enough to pursue it. This year I pulled it down and decided it was time. I decided to drop the whole goldfish cracker idea and go with a different kind of fish. I picked the angler/lantern fish.
It's a pretty ugly fish but it lends itself to a caricature without much effort. Plus, this fish let's me add a LED light and that's always a fun surprise. Around the beginning of June I drew up a sketch of the fish and made it a bit smaller than the goldfish. I was still toying with the idea of a scuba diver but I wanted that to be smaller than the fish plus I wanted it to move back and forth like the fish. That sounded complicated and difficult. I decided to drop the scuba diver and make the victim another fish. Fish have been animated by artists a lot so I did a search to see what was out there and what kind of inspiration and ideas I might find. I came across a video by an automata artist, Keith Newstead, a favorite of mine entitled "Moving House." You can view it here. He does great work both with the mechanics and the finish. I really was impressed by the movement of the clown fish and how it would reverse its directions. I wanted to do something similar with mine.
I cut out the parts for my fish. It is laminated out of 6 layers of 3/4" pine. I screwed the layers together and shaped the body. Then I took the pieces apart so I could hollow out the interior. Along the way I thought about what else I could animate on the fish besides its jaw. I decided to attach the pectoral fins to the jaw pivot axle and connect the eyeballs to the axle as well. Then I ran a pushrod from the eyeball axle back to the tail fin and that moves too.
With the angler fish 80% completed I started thinking about how to move him and the victim. I experimented with a skewed parallelogram to get a disproportionate movement for quite some time. What I wanted was the victim to be close on one side but further away on the other side as it escapes. After getting that somewhat figured out it was time to figure out how big to make the case. That was a challenge too. I can usually go to my computer at this point and draw up some rough figures and place the gears and mechanics where they need to be and basically draw a box around it. This time I couldn't get a good representation of the movement onto the computer. So I ended up making a crude container and fit the mechanics in that. From there I refined that into a "closer to the final product" model." From there I was able to design the final case.
Once I had the case built I felt like I could add another element to the story. On the "When Goldfish Crackers Go Bad" I had a crab watching the scene. This time I decided to add an oyster. I really wanted an oyster with a scalloped edge rather than a simpler clam shell. It took me a few days to figure out how to do that. It was quite the challenge but turned out well.
Now it was time to turn my attention to the victim. I looked at several species but settled on a yellow tang shaped body with the colorings of a butterfly fish.
Next I had to come up with a way to have it reverse direction. On Keith's piece the clown fish pivot point was forward of the center and when the fish reaches the end of its arc, the reversing direction causes the fish's larger mass (the back portion of the body and tail) to swing around. Below there was a double wavy wire system that would keep it headed in the right direction until it reached the end. It is a pretty slick mechanism and the wiggle is great. I took a different, somewhat simpler approach. I used a restricting friction wheel mechanic similar to the ones used in "The Kissers" and "Puppy Love." There were several bumps in the road along the way but it is working consistently now and adds to the effect. The angler fish doesn't reverse, he just swims backwards into his hiding spot!
I knew from the start I wanted to have a light that actually lit on my angler fish. I've done this before with "Jitters" and "Epiphany." Both of these use a battery and some sort of switch to turn the light on and off. This time I thought about making some sort of dynamo that would power the LED as you turned. That way the light would light when cranked and there would be no worry of a dead battery. I didn't have much luck. I found several sites that said you could use a small electric motor as a dynamo by spinning the motor's shaft and connecting the LED to the wire leads that usually supply power to the motor. The problem is that the motor has to turn really fast and it would require a big gear ratio to get the correct speed. So I went back to using a battery. I made a switch and cam that would make the light blink. I had an old LED candle that I scavenged the bulb and plastic "flame" housing. I ran the wires along a length of bendable wire and covered the whole thing with hot glue.
There was one last element I needed and that was a backdrop. I knew I wanted some sort of seaweed background. I thought I could make it out of craft foam. I had success with that with my "Bugs and Blooms." I did make some tall grassy looking seaweed but it ended up being too wide. The angler is wide and I didn't leave enough room. I went to Hobby Lobby and wandered around their floral section and found some really nice looking fern-like pieces that I thought would be perfect. There are 3 of these in the back and they are suspended over a rail system. They have weighted bottoms so that they can move if bumped or from a breeze. There is one in front but that is stationary.
Now it was time to paint. I had no problem butterfly fish, coral and the oyster. The angler fish was a bear. I started out painting it green. I added stripes and it looked ok but I thought a different shade of green would be better. So I painted it again and added stripes. Now it looked like a watermelon. Next I tried brown. Bad choice. I thought back to when I was a kid and the ugliest fish we caught was called a bullhead, a greey catfishy fish. So I painted it a dark grey. Too dark. Next came a lighter grey but I didn't want it all solid so I went two tone with a purple. I like the cartoony look.
I decided to carve a swirling water design into the front of the case and give the case a blue color wash. The case is finger jointed and rods run part way down from the top to lock it in place. It's important to be able to take the piece apart so you can work on it.
The final piece was the crank. I really wanted to make a fish skeleton as the crank. I made one attempt out of wood but it broke. I thought about going a metal route but decided not to. Maybe someday I'll venture into metal land. I thought about several options and settled on a sea turtle. I drew one up on a Sunday night before bed and on Monday I cut, assembled, painted and attached it! I like it a lot. The legs are pivoted so that they move as it swims around in its circle.
So it is 99% done. Just a couple minor things, like little feet on the bottom to raise it up a bit. Here are a few more pictures of the piece.
You can check out a small video here to see it in action.
What I don't really have is a good title and would love to hear some suggestions from you. My first thought was "The One That Got Away." A second idea is "Beauty and the Beast." I'll wait for a few days to see if there is any response. I'm putting together a bigger video and will release it when I have a title.
Thanks for sticking through to the end of this lengthy blog entry. I hope you enjoy this piece. I've used the word challenge a lot but this one really did challenge me in several areas. I look forward to hearing from you.