Introduction: Necronomicon Ex Mortis: the Book of the Dead!
" . . . and worst of all, the unmentionable Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, in Olaus Wormius’ forbidden Latin translation; a book which I had never seen, but of which I had heard monstrous things whispered."
-H. P. Lovecraft, The Festival
Bound in human flesh, and containing the very distilled essence of the madly gibbering void betwixt the unforgiving stars, I have crafted in my workshop (with the assistance of a French artist and a failed Republican presidential candidate), the Necronomicon Ex Mortis, the Book of the Dead!
Actually, it's another prop I made for a small theater that's putting on a production of Evil Dead: the Musical, the same folks I built a totally kickass blood spraying chainsaw arm for! I guess they must have liked the early pictures I sent of the saw, 'cause they also asked for a book.
Here's a video of me flipping through that pages, read on to learn all about how I built it, or skip ahead to read about the play it was used in!
Thanks so much to everyone who voted for me in the contest, my chainsaw is a finalist!
Step 1: The Inspiration
The Necronomicon was the invention of H.P. Lovecraft, a very prolific horror and weird fiction writer in the early decades of the last century. His influence on genre fiction literally cannot be overstated. If you aren't familiar with his work, I highly recommend reading up on him, and maybe diving into a short story or two--most of it is public domain, and if audio is more your style, there are some podcasts out there that produce audio versions of his work from time to time.
He often encouraged his friends, be they aspiring writers or big names themselves, to borrow freely from the collection of ideas he referred to as Yogsosothery (named after one of his ancient godlike aliens), which is now known as the Cthulhu Mythos (named after one of his other ancient alien deities). It was through this channel and that of his own stories that concepts such as Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, and the Great Old Ones, overwhelming cosmic horror, that which man was Not Meant to Know, and so much more seeped into popular culture in general and all things horror in particular.
This Necronomicon isn't strictly the one from Lovecraft's stories, but rather my interpretation of the one from Evil Dead 2. I wanted the exterior to have that ridged, bound in human flesh look. The inside was more difficult . . . but we'll come to that in the next step. Here's the intro from the movie:
Step 2: The Absolutely Amazing Art!
When it comes right down to it, I'm no good at drawing or painting. I can, given time and lots of patience, produce something recognizable, but it will never be mistaken for art.
I knew right away that would be the hardest part of this project. To be honest, I'd been toying with the idea of making something like this for a while, so I already had the cover pretty much finished in my head. Actually making pages that looked good, however . . . I wasn't even sure where to begin!
After a lot of thought, I resorted to asking my spare brain (google) if it knew where I could find some necronomicon-looking pages. I did a fair amount of digging through peoples' work that was either substandard, not quite what I was looking for, or more frustratingly, awesome but only two or three pages long.
Eventually, I found the website of Francois Launet, a professional artist and Lovecraft enthusiast. His work was EXACTLY what I had been looking for! However, it was so good, I almost didn't contact him. This guy was such a talented and professional artist, I almost felt like I'd be insulting him if I asked to use his art!
I dug around on the net some more, but just came up empty handed. After some more thought, I decided it couldn't hurt to ask. I mean, I wasn't asking him for his art so I could go and make a bunch of money on it, I just wanted to build something really cool for a non-profit theater.
To my surprise and delight, Francois, or Goomi, as he is known, got right back to me. He stipulated that I could only use his work for non-profit purposes (no problem there!), and promptly provided me with high resolution copies of the pages I requested!
I want to be absolutely clear: this prop owes about 95% of it's awesomeness to Goomi's amazing artwork and generosity!
Besides the art from Goomi, I also pulled some paper ageing ideas and other inspiration from http://propnomicon.blogspot.com/, they have some really awesome tutorials!
Step 3: Gather Materials
For this project you will need:
- 1/4" plywood
- A rubber mask
- Hot glue
- Various spray and brush paints
- Fancy, thick paper
- Needle and thread
- White glue
- A couple of small scraps of fabric
- Some clamps
- A couple of boards
- A Fork
- Aluminum foil
- An oven
Step 4: The Core of the Cover
The cover of the book, I decided, would be plywood. I needed something sturdy to stretch the rubber over, and I already had a bunch of 1/4" ply on hand.
I cut five pieces, one thin strip for the spine, two large pieces about the size of a piece of paper for the main covers, and two very thin strips to help the spine/cover interface flex better.
Once cleaned up, I hot glued some spare felt I had over the pieces to act as hinges. I should have used a sturdier fabric less prone to fraying (and less green!), but it worked out all right. I attached some both on the inside and the outside of the cover.
Step 5: Substrate Texture
Looking at pictures of the book used in the movies, it seemed to me that there was some sort of ribs or ridges underneath the "skin" the book was bound in, so before attaching the mask, I fired up the hot glue gun.
Starting from the center of where the face would be, I started drawing thick radial lines in hot glue. I continued these onto the back side of the book as well.
Step 6: The Face of Bob, Part One
Why, one may ask, did I have a rubber Halloween mask of failed 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole lying around? The answer is that it's a long and surprisingly dull story. I've had this thing for six or seven years, nearly throwing it out on several occasions. I always kept it though. My brother's story that a painted William Shatner mask was the original Mike Myers Halloween mask, combined with the empty eyed stare of Dole, made me sure I'd find some creepy use for it eventually!
I prepared the mask first by cutting it off around the right side (right from my perspective, which I will continue to use), lopping off the ear and taking the cut all the way up through some of the hair and continuing to the left side, but not cutting off the back entirely--it will be the back cover. To make the mask more flat, I then cut slits from the outside of the mask, moving in towards the face. I didn't cut in too far, I wanted to make sure the details of the face stayed intact.
As you start carving on the face, don't throw away parts you cut off, they will be required later!
Step 7: The Face of Bob, Part Two
Starting at the nose, I put a large daub of hot glue down and held it in place until it set. In a circle maybe 1-2 inches around the nose, I put down a layer of epoxy. I surrounded that with another circle of hot glue, followed by another circle of epoxy, on until I reached the edges of the front cover.
I didn't put any epoxy or glue over the spine, I figured it would need to flex. Starting from the spine edge of the back cover, I finished stretching the now quite chopped up mask over the book.
Step 8: The Face of Bob, Part Three
To finish stretching the mask, it's a simple matter of pulling each of the strips around to the inside of the book, hot gluing them in place, trimming the excess, and using epoxy to make it permanent.
After that, I took all the strips of excess rubber I carved off the mask and used them to fill in the gaps. I used nearly all of the rubber, and just barely covered the book!
Finally, feel around the cover. If there are any loose spots, just poke a hole in the mask there with an awl of knife, insert the tip of the hot glue gun, and squeeze some in. Once that cools, it will be sturdy and ready to paint.
Step 9: Painting the Book
The paint job was a four step process.
First, I covered the whole thing, inside and out, with a simple white acrylic primer. Next, I mixed up a fairly large batch of grayish brown paint, which I put a couple of coats on the inside and outside of the book.
Next up I made two more colors, one a darker, reddish brown, the other a very dark brown. I used them for detail--lots in the eyes, nose, and mouth, and just lightly around most of the outside cover to add some contrast. By this point, I wasn't happy with the shape of the mouth, so I used the brown paint to reshape it to more of a scowl, as somehow in the stretching process it almost looked like the book had a slight smile!
I didn't like how flat the finish was, so I hit the whole thing with some gloss enamel spray paint. It actually dissolved the acrylic a bit, which I was really worried about at first, but it ended up looking great!
If I'd had more time with the book (I had to give it to the stage director), I'd have hit the whole thing with some very fine grit sand paper. It went from being very dull before the gloss to being a bit too shiny afterwards.
At this point, the cover is done! Now it's time to move on to the pages.
Step 10: Get Them Printed!
Pretty much any copy/print center will be set up to help you out with this. I checked prices all over the place, and it turns out that for high quality color laser prints, you're going to pay about $0.50/side of page. I bought a heavy weight cover paper with a parchment finish for the 18 double sided pages I would be printing, so I ended up paying around $25 bucks for this step.
It's important to print whatever you're using for pages with a laser printer. Ageing the pages really has to be done after they've gone through the printer, and the best way I could find involved getting the sheets wet. Most ink jet printer inks are water soluble.
I spent a fair amount of time organizing the prints into an order that seemed to work best, and also cropping the pictures to the proper size. The images Goomi sent me were very clean and high resolution, and looked fantastic when printed!
Step 11: Ageing the Pages, Part One
The first part of ageing the pages is to soak them in warm water in a shallow pan. After a few minutes, even the thick paper I used was saturated and soft.
Using a fork, I scratched at the edges of the paper, making them look ragged and worn. I left one side of each page, the side that would be towards the spine, intact.
To add a sense that the book was old and used, I put creases, tears, and small holes in some of the pages. Do this while it's wet, but before the next step! While the page is wet any damage you do to it will be magnified as the fibers tear and fray.
A major plot point in both the movie and play is that several pages have been removed from the Necronomicon and must later be recovered. This is a good time to remove the pages. I wanted to make it look like they had come loose or been ripped out, so for three of the pages I folded and then tore them off near the spine edge. I kept those edges so I could later bind it into the to book.
Once each page has been scuffed and damaged, hang it up to dry--if it still has water in it, it won't absorb the tea as well.
Step 12: Ageing the Pages, Part Two
Once the damaged pages have dried, it's time to finish ageing them with tea and heat. Brew up some strong tea, or possibly some weak coffee. While you're doing this, lay some foil down on the racks in your oven and turn it on to low (about 250 F or 120 C). The foil is important, if you lay pages directly on the rack, you will get lines from the bars on your pages.
Lay a few pages in a cookie sheet and pour some of your strong, hot tea over them. Let them sit for a few and absorb the tea, then place each page in the oven. Check on them every few minutes and flip them when they start getting close. While I was drying one batch, I would start soaking another.
When all your pages are dry, they should look yellowed or browned with age, and crumpled and no longer flat. Any scuffs and folds you have made, as well as the edges, should have absorbed more tea than the surrounding areas to leave extra stains.
This method would work well for ageing paper for pretty much any project or prop, for a play, costume, or role playing game! Here's a demonstration of the texture of a page when it's done:
Step 13: Prep the Pages for Binding
Once all your pages are aged and dry, you're ready to bind them into a book. I found a lot of methods for doing this online, and if I'd looked into it BEFORE i started the process, I would have made the pages first and cut out the spine of my book a bit smaller to match them, and done this in a slightly different fashion.
However, this will work quite well, and requires less precision than some other methods.
First, I got a couple of large, flat, heavy boards and a couple of clamps. I carefully collated my pages as best I could, lining up the spine edges as neatly as possible. I clamped these down between the two boards, leaving about 1/2" out.
I thoroughly painted the exposed edge of the papers with plain white glue, making sure to stick the bristles of the paintbrush between the pages. When done, I clamped two small strips of wood over the pages, pressing them firmly together, and let it dry overnight.
Step 14: Binding With Thread
With a very small drill bit, I made a series of holes down the length of the spine side of the pages. When done, I started sewing them together with black thread. I could have made the sewing job more orderly and uniform, but I figured if I jumped all around it would like like it had been sewn by a madman . . . which was kind of the point!
Step 15: Adding the Pages to the Book
This is the step where a narrower spine would have come into play. The sheaf of pages is too thin to glue in along both edges, so I was only able to glue it along one side. It worked fine, but it wasn't quite what I had imagined.
I used epoxy for the glue which seemed to work out well. After placing the pages where I wanted them and laying down the epoxy, I closed the book and put a heavy weight on it overnight.
Once the epoxy cured, I painted the green felt a brown close to the color of the rest of the book, let it cure, and it was done!
Step 16: The Play
What can I say about the play? It was . . . simply amazing. It was the most fun I've ever had in a theater, by a long shot. By the end I was absolutely soaked in fake blood, and my cheeks hurt from smiling and laughing so much. Everyone involved in the play, from the director and background staff, to the actors and the live band were just great. It was a messy, ridiculous, bloody madhouse, and I loved it! A local brewery even produced a limited run "Dead by Dawn Red" ale that was delicious!
I cannot recommend this musical enough! Look around at Halloween time, there's a good chance someone in your area is putting this on!
One of my big concerns about the book, how shiny it was, was allayed when I saw the play. When they first discover the book, they blow a bunch of dust (actually ash) off the cover. This dust took down that shininess, and at the same time made the book look very old!
By the time I saw the play, the book had already developed a bunch of blood stains, particularly in the ripped out pages. They looked awesome!
Here are a few snippets of video I was able to snatch when I wasn't hiding the camera from the gouts of blood spraying everywhere:
Step 17: Final Thoughts
Thanks as always for dropping by! As this was part of the same project as my chainsaw arm, I had a real blast building this. I was amazed by how great the cover turned out, and how awesomely generous Goomi was with his art. Seriously, that guy deserves a thousand compliments on his art, my Necronomicon would never have turned out this well without his generosity!
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If build your own Necronomicon, or make aged paper props with this method, post some pictures or a link in the comments! I'll send you a digital patch and a three month pro membership!
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