"Screamers" and Other Creatures!

As part of a unit on sculpture during the second trimester of the 2000-2001 school year, approximately fifty high school students embarked on a strange and wonderful journey into the realm of monster-making.

To help spark their imaginations, they watched the 1986 movie "Labyrinth", starring Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie. Directed by Jim Henson, produced by George Lucas, and with a script written by Monty Python's Terry Jones, the movie offers an incredible assortment of delightful creatures--most designed by Brian Froud. From the cute and cuddly to the downright ugly, this creative team of filmmakers brought a host of memorable characters to life.

As students had recently studied the work of M. C. Escher and had produced tessellations earlier in the year, they were quick to notice Escher's "Relativity" poster in "Sarah's" room at the beginning of the movie. They were later fascinated to see that a whole scene in "Labyrinth" was built around Escher's image!


While we didn't have the movie industry's ability to make our creatures out of materials used by professional model makers, puppeteers, costumers, and special effects coordinators, students referred to the popular book "The Simple Screamer" by Dan Reeder to learn various construction techniques that involved papier- and cloth-mache'. They could follow the instructions in Reeder's book to make a "Screamer," but they were also free to create a Labyrinth-like character, or any other imaginative creature of their choice. (It has come to my attention that Reeder's book is now VERY expensive to purchase. You might want to check your local library to see if it's available!)

They began their sculptures by making an armature of newspaper, assorted objects, and wire. We found that coat hanger wires (and lots and lots of masking tape!) were strong enough to support some of the large, gangling sculptural pieces, and we also used 17-gauge electric fence wire, as well as some of the thicker, yet soft aluminum wire that is found in electrical cable.

Sizes range from approximately 18 inches to nearly 6 feet in size, and students have grappled with a wide variety of issues concerning design, stability, and balance. As some creatures grew as large as their creators, wood and PVC pipe were incorporated into the armatures. The PVC pipe allows some of the larger sculptures to be developed in sections, making the prospect of moving them or taking them home far more feasible than a one-piece sculpture.


After the papier-mache', students use Reeder's cloth mache' technique to add strength and character to their creations, and they are also using Sculpey clay (as well as other objects) to create parts such as eyes and teeth. They also watched a short documentary on the making of Henson's other fantasy movie, "Dark Crystal". I'd highly recommend this to supplement any unit on creature-making, as it offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at professional artists, sculptors, model makers, puppeteers and more!



Click HERE
to see some of the finished creatures!

And visit "Labyrinth"--Revisited, which features new projects in 2005-2006!



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