How to Beholder

Behold! Gerald!

Concept art for the classic monster of fantasy myth.

Recently I helped to construct a beholder for Alliance South Michigan. The goal was to get the flying eyeball up in the air to a certain degree. More than that as this was our second “backpack puppet” monster I wanted to focus on making the monster modular for easy access and reusing constructed works for more projects going forward.

First we got a design document going of what we were looking to try and do.

The idea was a pilot in all black straps into a column also in all black to have an illuminated beholder appear to “fly” over the heads of the players.  Originally the height would have checked in at over 12ft in the air. After motion testing the weight of the skeleton the frame was reinforced and dropped by about 2+ ft getting it to roughly 10ft high. This kept it in range of melee weapons… but really difficult to engage. Only the beholder itself was a viable target. The column and pilot could not be attacked. Even then an in-game effect punished melee strikes. Thus melee fighters were regulated to striking out only with their very best skills and/or protecting the ranged attacks coming from the rest of the players from the beholder foot soldiers.

This was testing motion (yes I know its dark but I work at night in my spare time) with a very basic rig at 12 ft. Even with the counterweight we added it was not viable at this height to fly and still move quickly at all. Not without significant risk at snapping the frame. Stronger materials could be swapped out but the weight of them would likely cause the same issue of barely being able to move let alone puppet the monster around.

A skeleton was rigged of Schedule PVC and PEX piping. The backpack, the column, and the beholder body were all seperate modular parts to the whole.

(Judge not the messy workshop, it gets like that every time a project comes up)

After the skeleton was tested it was hosed down with adhesive and wrapped in a cheap black cotton/polyester blend matte fabric.

After that the main eyeball was sculpted out of individual pieces of opencell foam, painted, and glued in place. This served as a color pallet, size, and all around reference for what we were going for.

Foam is glued to the underskin of the body to build up bone and muscle. Getting less and less of the sphere shape gives it more character. At “rib” intersections the eyestalks are attached by drilling holes in pipe and loosely connecting them in over sized short bits of pvc. This would limit their range of motion but allow them to flop all over when the pilot moves the head making them look “tenticlur” which is a word I just made up.

Everything but the eye gets sprayed in adhesive and a second layer of black cloth is applied to give Gerald his full skinned look. The foam and trunks of the eye stalks now look natural and add to the over all appeal. Then the whole thing gets painted.

Geralds skin is already pitch black. So we individually paint and glue on his winning smile. Because it is over black we already have a black interior look to his mouth. The rest of his skin is a deep, bold red. This gets sprayed lightly with flecks of grey and gold. The deepest contours of his face and body get a black spray to give it depth and texture. Later multicolored led lights are added to the eyestalks and under the ridge over his main eye on both sides.

Since the fight took place at night I don’t have any shots of Gerald in action. Here he is post fight during the Sunday clean up at camp with his eyestalks semi tucked in. The fight was a sight to behold (pun intended). A random fighter might take a shot to get at the beholder but really it was a flurry of arrows and spells flying at it like hail. Its so rare to see a cast centric fight on this level… and man did they ever respond to it.

Combined with the bright lights whipping all over the place into peoples eyes it was literally dazzling the crowd. Not in a dangerous way out of game but in a scary way in game. Even the lamps we placed on the field pointing up at the monster to give a clear target didn’t remove it’s presence.

Now that gerald was proven successful and we have modular parts to use on other creatures I am looking forward to expanding on these types of sort-of-flying creatures.



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