The term Osteodontokeratic (ODK) was coined by Raymond Dart (1893-1988), an Australian anatomist and anthropologist, best known for his involvement in the 1924 discovery of the first fossil ever found of Australopithecus africanus. During his field research in South Africa, he theorized that pre-stone age humans, more specifically Australopithecines, may have utilized a tool tradition referred in part as the osteodontokeratic tool culture; a culture based upon tools made of bone, teeth, and horn.
The idea to mash-up this ODK concept with modern day tools was too exciting for me to pass up. Within fifteen minutes I had sketched up a set of variations on how a common hammer would look if grown from materials derived from human anatomy. The first of these versions still looked like a standard hammer with rigid 90∘ angles. I soon realized that the whole idea called for something more organic. In the next set of sketches, I left out any and all straight lines.
After the sketches narrowed down the design, I started testing different sculpting materials to render the final product. I was experimenting heavily with polymer clays. I had constructed several toy concepts using Sculpey and was satisfied with working with the product throughout the entire process, from sculpting, to baking, to assembling the pieces, and finally painting the final builds. However, I wasn’t sure if I could simulate skin and horn with the polymer medium.
Allow me to rewind the clock a bit to provide some personal history.
When I was growing up, I LOVED science fiction movies and television shows. I was enthralled by the craftwork that went into creating the special effects. This was long before computers became the industry standard. Miniature photography of model sets and props, stop motion animation, foam latex and gelatin prosthetics, I wanted to learn and master them all.
One of my fondest memories from childhood was my family’s annual trip to Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, CA. This was before the park started using Warner Bros. licensed characters. Instead, the mascots were a group of fur covered trolls named Bleep, Bloop, and Troll King plus a random Wizard (I can’t recall the wizard having a name). Sure, I loved the roller coasters. But, there used to be a store toward the back side of the park that was truly magical. The store sold these FX makeup kits produced by Imagineering. The kits contained amazing foam latex prosthetics that could be cut down to fit the wearer. Also included was a small makeup palette, an adhesive, a container of fake skin that looked like wax and cotton, and the best part, lots of fake blood.
One such Imagineering kit my parents bought me included a prosthetic thumb with the tip severed off. (by the way, it is thoroughly appropriate to blame my parents for all of this) So, one day, proud of what I could do with the makeup kit, I prepared the thumb to share with the kids at school. I hid it in my Star Wars Thermos lunch pail, and when the day’s first recess started, I quickly glued it on over my thumb and blended in the seams. With the utmost eagerness to impress, I began showing it off to my friends on the playground. Well, that didn’t go over as well as I had imagined it would while getting ready for school that morning. However, the praise from those willing enough to closely examine my handiwork gave me the confidence to continue with FX makeup as a hobby, and eventually a career.
I would watch every special on TV about movie special effects. Mom bought me a brick of plasticine modeling clay and I began sculpting prosthetics for my Halloween costumes. I “mastered” a technique using plaster molds with liquid latex. The latex was an industrial grade liquid rubber purchased at the local hardware store. It was intended to be used for the backing on rugs. So sure, why not on my face?
One TV special specifically covered monster makeup effects. It was during this show that I learned about alginate, a compound used by dentist to make near perfect dental impressions. That goop the dental assistant puts in your mouth that tastes like bubble gum or mint; that’s alginate. The makeup artists used it to make accurate and detailed molds of an actor’s head and body. Finally, something beneficial to come from having to wear braces. During my next small talk session with the orthodontist adjusting the hardware in my mouth, I asked about alginate. He told me how it worked and as a bonus, sold a pound to my mom for me to use! I’m withholding his name for obvious reasons.
I’ll skip ahead now, and happily report that I’ve been producing makeup effects as a freelance artist for most of my adult life.
Which brings us back to figuring out how to make the ODK hammer look real. I thought about using gelatin to simulate the skin. Gelatin doesn’t last very long though. It looks amazing and is reusable, but it breaks down quickly after being exposed to heat and moisture. I wanted the ODK hammer to be a lasting art piece. I ran a few test in using molds to produce a foam latex skin, but again, it would be vulnerable to damage if not stored in a sealed display case. Foam latex can look fantastic on camera. In person and up close, on the other hand, it can easily look flat and merely painted. I eventually decided to give the polymer clay a try.
The first hammer was a solid piece made entirely from a brick of white Sculpey. After the baking process, I used Kryolan theater makeup to set the color. It looked fine, but it didn’t have any inherent translucent quality. Even though I had built up the layers of the makeup to simulate the effect of translucency, it just wasn’t working. I knew I could come up with a better solution.
More research was conducted. This time I searched the outer-webs for possible answers. And low and behold, I found a blog entry from an artist named Andrew Scott who at the time was making trilobite sculptures out of what he referred to as PVC gel. His sculptures looked amazing and some of them had that translucent quality I was looking for. PVC gel? I need to try this medium. Who makes this gel? Where do I buy it? I couldn’t find any reference to PVC gel beyond Scott’s blog. Then, after scrutinizing over his blog for more clues, the mystery was solved. In a production photo illustrating his process, a box of Super Sculpey is sitting on his table. SCULPEY! The very same product I was using, except the version of Sculpey he was using was already translucent, not solid white. Admittedly, the fact that a box of Sculpey is in a picture next to a sculpture doesn’t mean the sculpture is actually made out of Sculpey. But I had already loved working with Sculpey, so why not try a different version of their product and see how would it turn out.
Every hammer since then has been crafted using Super Sculpey as the final layer of detail.
In our next episode of The Chronicles of The ODK Hammer, we’ll briefly walk through the building process of an ODK Hammer; with pictures! Plus, I’ll show more detailed images of the three different versions of the sculptures.