For this project I teamed up again with the incredibly talented SFX and Make-up artist Julia Sánchez Merino to work on her dissertation at the London College of Fashion. The project is called Hop-Frog and illustrates a poem by the same name from Edgar Allan Poe narrating the story of a mistreated court jester who gets his revenge from his bullying master the King and his knights by organising a costume party where they all end up being burned alive.
The work aims to create a short storyboard that could be used as a pitch for a Netflix-like show, with a format consisting of a few final images and video documenting the behind-the-scenes process. We thus decided to focus the visuals around Hop-Frog the jester, and also make the narrator of the story, Poe himself, a part of the visuals. The other characters would not be shown, or would simply be hinted at, and this would allow us to fit all the shooting in a single studio day.
Once we had the characters defined, Julia set off to work on the design of the prosthetics, wardrobe and make-up. This is an incredibly involved process, and the design ranges from the biomechanics of the movement and the possible medical conditions which could yield such deformities, to the very construction and texturing of the various casts and silicone prosthetics, which would take more than 3 hours to piece together and apply on the day of the shooting. Even the deceivingly much simpler Poe character has significant work in ageing the model and creating the facial hair.
I like to think that I prepare for my photo sessions as much as possible, but for this one specially so given the amount of footage and preparation we had to squeeze in the day. We ended up working with a tight planning that would break down what each of the 5 of us in set was meant to be working on in chunks of half an hour. We almost managed to stick to it, and I could not have done it without such an incredible team by my side.
Here’s the final images from the story: the narrator is first introduced first in an anonymous way. Next we see Hop Frog and the King in a couple of scenes where the king asks for advice on what would be a good entertainment, and Hop Frog offers a costume party and a Gorilla costume to the King. Jump to the next scene and we no longer see the King, but Hop-Frog engulfed in flames. The last two frames come back to the narrator, Edgar Allan Poe, which is finally presented and linked to the story as the other side of Hop-Frog.
Additional complexities of the shoot were poised by the fact that Poe and Hop Frog are deliberately played by the same model, since they’re meant to be the same persona. From the photographic standpoint this meant that we had to produce double-takes, shooting all the images involving one character in the morning and the other one in the evening to create the final image.
The fire shot was also created digitally for obvious health and safety reasons, by lighting the character and set with a set of orange lights, adding a smoke machine on set, and later enhancing the image with flying sparks in post-production.
The process of capturing the behind this project is just as important as the finished result, and thus we planned documenting the creation of both characters as well as as much B-Roll as possible. Much of the recording was assisted by Raquel Acosta, who lent me a hand whilst I was running around the studio setting up the main shots. Here’s the final footage showing Julia and Anna working in prosthetics, make-up and hair.
This project was a lot of work of both preparation and execution, but I’m really happy with the outcome. This was an opportunity for me to widen the scope of my productions and embark in a larger project which would also involve video. All the planning and preparation proved necessary and did pay off, and having such a professional and dedicated team really made things flow.
SFX and Make-up: Julia Sánchez Merino
Hair and additional Make-up: Anna María Rivera
Photography, Video, Editing: Jose Esteve
Model: Javier Ruiz Ramos
Additional Video: Raquel Acosta
Shot at Simulacra Studios in London.