Making the Death of Rats

Published : 20/04/2017 11:33:45

OUR LATEST PIECE IS SOMETHING TO MAKE YOU GO 'EEK!'

Our new figurine is an exclusive recreation of Terry Pratchett's diminutive usher of souls, ready to stand sentry on your shelves and safeguard your book collection!

Since the publication of Reaper Man in 1991, The Death of Rats has become one of Terry Pratchett's most endearing and recurrent characters. We've wanted to recreate the Grim Squeaker for some time, so at long last we once again enlisted the talents of Rich Kingston of Young Rascal design in Glastonbury to bring this soul-reaping rodent to life!

The Beginning of the End (of rodents)

Our aim was to produce a characterful Death of Rats who would also sit in harmony with our growing collection of Discworld figurines. The first challenge of course, was giving personality to a skeletal rat in a robe. Statuesque and proud could be achievable, but adding that idiosyncratic streak (or should that be 'SQUEAK') of mischief and a crucial cheeky glint in the eye of a skull with mere holes... bit of a challenge.

Even though the Death of Rats expresses himself simply with squeaks (and a little interpretive help from Death), his humorous actions and intentions are detailed in Terry's sublime narrative. Armed therefore with a collection of Terry Pratchett quotes that convey character, Rich worked to a detailed brief laid down by Emporium designer Ian to produce a mirth-some and full representation of Death's pint-sized companion.

"The Death of Rats nibbled a bit of the pork pie because when you are the personification of the death of small rodents you have to behave in certain ways. He also piddled on one of the turnips for the same reason, although only metaphorically, because when you are a small skeleton in a black robe there also some things you technically cannot do."

Terry Pratchett, Hogfather.

The Grim Squeaker began as a rough maquette to establish his pose and 'muck about with', sculpted in soft French wax and modelled on an armature of wire and sticks with rudimentary details such as a cardboard scythe.

Maquettes suffer extensively from fingermarks and damage from limbs being twisted about, textures rehearsed, and expressions pinched and plucked - all the problems are refined with the first draft as technique, pose and form are established and perfected (the less mucking about with the final draft the better!).

The pose we plumped for is suggestive of anticipation, perhaps for a family pet or house mouse to end, or looking out from a bookshelf for an opportunity for adventure. The main alteration from the final version is that maquette features the scythe held in one hand, whereas he holds it in both for the final version.

- A page from the briefing document, the skull in progress, and the finished maquette with a sapient pearwood friend (and rogue leg)!

A Word From The Sculptor...

"Always start with the head ...

A lifeless lump of wax was rammed onto the end of a chopstick (perfect for placing in an empty bottle of Nanny Ogg's Scumble so as not to get too many fingerprints around the eye cavities) was smudged, smeared, carved and nudged into another lifeless lump of wax... a skull.

But what of his body?

That delicate skeletal figure, subtly showing through his cowl?

Hmm. *raps fingers on desk*.

A few twists of garden wire accompanied by strange taxidermied images of a real rats for reference and his person was set for dressing! I really enjoyed this part. The carving of the folds and flows with the age-old tools that Bernard had gifted me, gave the appearance of something that was about to "twitch". Add the distinctive caudal vertebrae, shoulder blades, a pair of clutching hands, and ...  the latest creation was alive, sorry, dead?"

- Venus De Milo style mid-sculpt, finger bone detailing, and a close-up with the finished wax!

Casting Magic

 It's always a difficult task, bidding farewell to a wax baby, fated to meet its demise so that perfect clones can emerge from their moulds ready to be owned by a loving new owner. However once tools were downed, both sculptor and Grim Squeaker stoically journeyed to our casting house in Bridgewater (our Death of Rats is 100% made locally in Somerset!) where Robert Carter and his expert team would create the finished articles.

Rubber is poured over the wax, which is then fatally cut out of the resulting mould (not an issue for a Death character we suppose), which is purged with fresh wax to remove all trace of dirt. From there 'master' sculptures are created which become the base for further moulds for greater production.

Admittedly, the scythe was a bit of a bugger. Casting such a thin long object is riddled with challenges - the resin is difficult to pour and can harden too quickly in the mould, and it's also quite fragile. They say a reaper is only as good as his tools however, so each scythe is hand cast with individually crafted armatures inside for strength (and reaping duty durability), so they all turned out strong and pointy in the end!

- The maquette, the final wax about to go under rubber at our casting house, and the finished figurine!

And so, there emerged a series of Discworld figurines in a beautiful bronze finish, similar to our Great A'Tuin but with a darker patina for a 'gothic' feel and to contrast between bones and robe. As with A'Tuin, we have added a touch of colour detailing, giving the scythe a silver wash. Our precious metal effect pieces are produced with bronze-filled resin, with a rich coating of powdered bronze around the mould. Once cured, each piece is polished and hand-embellished and patinated to achieve our signature finish. All the beautiful real bronze within each piece also gives a lovely weighty feel.

We hope you enjoy this eek-some addition to our official range of merchandise from Terry Pratchett's Discworld!

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