Thursday, June 11, 2009

Notorious B.I.C.

The Notorious B.I.C. (Big Inflatable Cthulhu) was created in the summer of 2005 as a replacement for the retired BSP. As with its predecessor, it turned out nothing like the original concept. It began its life as a vintage olive drab nylon army surplus parachute that I purchased off of eBay. I had not seen a real parachute since I had been in kindergarten. I remembered them as being big, but I figured a lot of that was due to the fact that I was very small at the time. Not so. My mother and daughter and I took it out to a parking lot to open it up so I could get a visual idea of how much material I had to work with, and how the seams ran. Holy crap, this thing was HUGE! We couldn't even get it completely opened up, because the wind was starting to take hold of it, and it was easy to see that the three of us were going to have a problem keeping it under control if we got more than a slight breeze. It was nearly dragging us across the parking lot at the smallest gust.

My original design was along the same lines as what the BSP was supposed to have been (which should have been an omen). Actually, it would have looked a lot like my Cthulhu Snowman sculpture. I guess my imagination likes to get it's moneys worth out of a design idea. It was supposed to have a round body, topped by a round head with face tentacles. Then there would be arms and legs, hopefully with fingers and toes this time, attached to the side of the body. Over all, it would have looked a lot like those snowman blow up lawn decorations, but green, and Cthulhu. The body came together fine (which should have been another omen). Actually, the seams of the parachute worked to my advantage. I t was basically a big sphere. I held the seams together with safety pins and installed a large box fan at the rear seam to inflate it while I conceptualized the rest of the build. Once inflated, it filled up the entire basement of my mother's house floor to ceiling. It looked like a giant green pumpkin. I had left an opening at the top for airflow. This would allow air to fill the head segment.

Next I began work on the head. It would have also been basically a sphere, so it should have been easy to make, but there was a problem. Every time I through the next piece of material over the top of the body, expecting the air hole at the top to buoy it up so I could shape it, the whole thing deflated. At most, I figured, I was blocking the air hole, which should have made the thing inflate more. To block that hole should have increased the air pressure inside the body. But, every time, it deflated. I tried it over and over with the same result. This was going to be a problem. How was I going to attach a head and keep the whole thing inflated? After about two days of frustration, my mother made an off handed comment as she passed by to do the laundry. "Why don't you make that the head?", she said.

I'm not the kind of person who can roll with the punches easily. I am loath to revise my design once I figure out what I want. Physics be damned. But after another day of frustration, I had to concede defeat. The deflating problem was not going to go away. I started thinking of ways I could get away with not putting another section on top of this one. That brought me back to what my mother had said. I could put my face tentacles on the body, and make the whole sculpture into a giant Cthulhu head. Not what I originally wanted, but feasible.

Now, I had to add features to this giant green pumpkin, to sell it as a Cthulhu head. I used a marker to sketch out where I wanted things like the eyes and face tentacles to go. I had planned on using darts and pleats (and other improperly named sewing techniques) to create shape. In that vein, I created a sort of pocket that ran horizontally all across the front. This would become the eyebrow. I created it around a bent pool noodle, which would fill out the brow and give a menacing scowl to the eyes. I kept the pool noodle bent to the proper curve by running a piece of string through it's center and tying the ends together to create a bow (as in bow and arrow). The design was still very fluid, so I only safety pinned the brow in place until I got things finalized. I had saved the light up eyeballs from the BSP, and planned on reusing them for this project. All I needed to do was to create a little sculpted pocket for them to rest in.

The face tentacles were a little harder to create than I had expected (isn't everything?). I decided on four large tentacles (just like my snowman sculpture!) that would come straight out of the face at around floor level. Sewing them together was difficult just due to their size. It was very hard to see what I was doing and to keep everything lined up properly. It all just looked like a giant wad of fabric. The outer tentacles were supposed to be larger than the center ones, though they did come out a little larger than I would have liked. They almost look big enough to be arms. One little innovation I snuck in during the sewing stage, was to run a piece of mason line (string) down the length of each tentacle. I'll tell you what it is for shortly. To attach the tentacles, I decided to pin them to the inflated sphere, sew them in place, by hand, then cut holes in the sphere (from the inside) to allow the air to fill the tentacles. At least that part of the plan went off reasonably smoothly, though my hand sewing leaves a lot to be desired.

Once the tentacles were in place,the basic construction was finished, sort of. I did still have to test the eyes. More on that later. So far everything was held together with safety pins, except for the tentacles' seams were sewn and they were sewn to the face. Remember that I said I cut the holes to let air into the tentacles from the inside? the rear seam of the "pumpkin" was also held together with safety pins (lots of them). If I unfastened a few near the bottom, and entered quickly, I could get inside of the thing while it was inflated. AWWWESOOOMMME!!! I get excited by things like that. And remember those strings in the tentacles? Those are for making them move. Once inside, I could tug on those strings and make the tentacles move around. MOOORRRRE AWWWESOOOMMMME! You've got to love being able to mess with people from inside a giant Cthulhu head!

I wasn't sure what kind of fan I was going to use to keep the thing inflated, and I wanted to stay flexible, so I decided to use self stick velcro to seal the back seam. This would allow me to make the opening for the fan as large or small as necessary, and would also allow easy access in case anyone wanted to get inside to work the tentacles. The top and bottom of the sphere (and part of the seam) and the eyebrow pocket are actually still held together with safety pins. I had always intended to sew them up proper, but never got around to it. Hey, they work.

Once basic construction was completed, I deflated the sculpture and drug it out to the garage and re-inflated it for painting. I started with some flat black sprat paint to give it shape and definition. I made large black patches around the eyes to give the illusion of depth. I used florescent green spray paint to give it highlights and the same iridescent sheen that the BSP had under black light. I also used some air brush paint for more subtle details, but honestly, you can't really see them, especially in a dark room.

And now for the eye fiasco. Originally, I intended to have the self contained, battery powered illuminated plastic orbs that I had used on the BSP, sitting in a pocket like fold under the eyebrow. This is basically how they sat in the BSP. It didn't take long to see that plan wouldn't work. The eyes were far too heavy, and actually a little too small for the head. Since weight was the main problem, I decided to construct something to take up the weight. I spent several hours constructing an elaborate wooden stand to hold the eyes from the inside of the head. It was a plywood base, with a 2x4 post coming up from the middle, off of which swung two movable 1x2 arms with steel plates on their tips. I intended to put the stand inside the head, point the arms to where they eyes should be, and have the eyes attached from the outside of the fabric with magnets. A very complicated solution, that worked for crap. Unfortunately, I was out of time. I had to leave for Origins the next day. I would have to somehow fix it on the fly. I was beginning to have BSP flashbacks.

Once on site, I tried again to make the magnet pole-thingy work. It didn't. Even when I could keep it from falling over, it looked like total crap. It actually looked better with no eyes, just the dark sockets. So, that's how I left it for the first few hours. Then, in the midst of my disgust, I had a brain storm. At the moment I thought of it, I thought it was a stupid idea, and that it probably would look terrible, but what was I out to try. I grabbed a spare piece of florescent orange poster board from my supplies (I always come over prepared. Ask anyone). I cut out two large circles, cropped at the top, and with a big old cat's eye slit drawn on in black magic marker. It looked like it could have been made by a fourth grader. I tucked the top edge up under the eyebrow ridge, and secured them to the fabric with a little piece of doubled over duct tape. Holy shit! They looked awesome! And surprisingly, with the black light reflected off the florescent orange, they were about ten times brighter than the light up ones would have been. Even at a distance, with the room lights low, it looked like two very large glowing eyes peering out at you from the corner. I still use those same poster board eyes.

And thus, Notorious B.I.C. came to life. He was an instant sensation. People liked him even better than the BSP. Several people figured out that you can lay on the floor in front of it, with the tentacles over you, and it looks like you are being eaten. People love to have their pictures taken that way. I should charge for it :)


  1. You, sir, are insane. That's just all kinds of awesome.

  2. Wonderful! Horrifying in all sorts of ways, but wonderful! I'm seriously impressed.