I finally got my first job in a film. I've been tasked with making a monster, and I keep messing up the head. Every sculpt I do ends up looking like a duck. I want a long, thin, sleek type of face kind of like a crocodile. What's the right way to go about this?

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A duck monster, that would be different... ok, maybe not right for this film.

The good thing about a crocodile type face (from a practical standpoint) is the mouth opening goes right back to where the jaw hinges, with no cheeks, so even if cast in a liquid latex it can open and close without distorting, it acts like a hinge.  I've made a hollow latex croc hand puppet that worked like that.

Even if it's not an actual croc, but maybe a dino or dragon or something with some croc-like features, I go about it by looking up images of crocodiles or the sort of thing I want to make, to get ideas about bone structure, pattern of scales, teeth, and other things I can use.  Maybe draw some sketches using those elements you think will look good together.  Then I sculpt it, keep changing it while it is a rough shape if possible, though sometimes that doesn't work - it isn't until  I start putting in detail that I suddenly see the head shape isn't right.  Then I have to smoosh away the details and adjust the shape.  But whatever, fiddle with it until I am happy.  If there is time I leave it overnight and have a fresh look at it the next day.  I might spot something that could be improved.  (Or not.  Sometimes I make the mould and cast it, and paint it, and only then see that it looks like crap, as I did with a horse.  Neck too thin, but somehow I couldn't see that in the clay.)

Sometimes it's a bit like that problem of trying not to think about something, that only makes you think about it some more.

When I am sculpting I try to concentrate on the essence of what I want it to be, the feel of what it might be like to be that creature, its emotions. That's what I want to capture. And when I get one feature that seems to work I can build on that to get the shape of the rest of it. I might do some quick preliminary sculpts in soft clay to get a general shape, where I can move the elements around easily to get some proportions.

When it is going well, I feel 'in the zone' and often it goes quickly towards a result that seems to speak of what I intend. I try not to analyse - let the creative mind do its work without being held back by the rational mind. Then I leave it for a day or so, and come back with fresh eyes. Then I can see all those bits that don't quite work or need building to e.g. make it even fiercer or sadder or more pitiful or whatever. Sometimes it just doesn't work at all, and I have to abandon it. Mostly I find I have a good base to start getting the really telling details done. If I don't, then I put it in a drawer for a few weeks, then have a look again to see if anything can be salvaged. (I like using Chavant hard, because it can stand being shoved in a drawer!)

I look at it from all angles, often from the top (for symmetricality) and the back and sides and especially from the POV of another puppet (as I don't want to offend them). Often a new idea to improve the sculpt comes to me overnight, and I can't wait to get started again. I spend time thinking about how to emphasise the characteristics I want to bring out - does a bigger or smaller brow work, a bigger nose, etc. For a monster, once there's something scary, I try to find what makes it more scary. If I add a bit here and it makes it less scary, then the answer is to take away some.

I prefer to look at pictures and reference some time before getting down to the actual sculpt, so I am not just copying, but if the inspiration is just not there, this can at least be a way of keeping going. I expect a lot of dragons will be looking like the one in Game of Thrones, so there's another pitfall. I would spend time deliberately changing details to avoid plagiarism.

I don't know if this helps. But rest assured, sometimes we all have days when all we end up with is ducks! Keep at it!

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