The Crucible of Transmutationanecdotes about the creative process

Meet the Umblebums

Troll family in underground home greets their son arriving in a car made from a shoe

Introducing The Umblebums, who could have been one of television's weirdest families ever. I created this series of pictures to illustrate a potential stop-motion show for the now defunct Limelight Productions in 1991. Limelight then pitched the idea around Hollywood in an effort to find backing for the project. For me it was "spec work", as I made no money on it, under the agreement that I would direct the show if it was given the green light. The project never happened, leaving me to seriously examine if it was worth the trouble. At least I have some cool pictures to show, which have not been seen for 20 years!

I had animated numerous commercials for Limelight before they approached me about producing the Umblebums project. They actually did have some seed money, but it was way too little to animate a test sequence as they had hoped. And they should know, if anyone, how expensive and time consuming animation really is to produce. However, providing their entire budget funded the prototype animation puppets, I agreed to create a series of photographs for them gratis. They showed me some concept artwork by comic artist Brendan McCarthy for ideas and inspiration, but otherwise gave me a wide latitude of freedom to come up with some storytelling images for their presentation.

My initial task was to art direct the puppet construction, made by several artists willing to do me a BIG favor and work for far below their normal rates. Clay sculptures of the characters were created by effects wizard Thomas R. Dickens, who accomplished the task in record time. The sculptures were then delivered to the ingenious Steve Koch, who molded and cast them in foam rubber over a wire armature, and gave them a fabulous airbrush paint job. The final touch of clothing and hair was superbly done by Niki Matthews. Meanwhile, I created the Umblebum's underground home, the shoe-mobile, and final details such as Mr. Umblebum's mushroom "hair", in preparation for the shoot. When all the characters, the set, and props were ready, I lighted and photographed the pictures presented here, as well as some 3-D stereo versions.

The Umblebums, like countless unrealized show pitches in Hollywood, never came to fruition. Creative artists of all disciplines are bound to be confronted with the philosophical concept of working free for others, gambling on the hope of furthering their career. Certainly people in the early stages of their careers are more likely to try this than seasoned professionals. All I know is, personal projects aside, this was the last and only spec work I ever did.

Troll parents with collection of socks
Mrs. Umblebum shows off the latest addition to her sock collection.
Teenage troll hops out of car by a portable stereo
Junior heads for the boom box.
Teenage troll inserting cassette into stereo
Inserting a cassette.
Troll parents reacting to loud music
Parents react to the loud music.
Troll father yelling at son to turn down the music
"Turn down that noise!"
Teenage troll turning down the volume of a stereo
Junior turns down the stereo.
Stoned teenage troll
It appears that Junior is stoned!
Troll father lectures his son
Mr. Umblebum lectures his son.
Angry troll father
The ultimatum!
Teenage troll runs away from parents
Junior defiantly hops in the shoe-mobile and takes off.
Troll wife kisses her husband
Mrs. Umblebum kisses her hubby to calm him down.
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