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  • Marián Pentek

The story of a woman who turned into a wasp (backstage blog)

Bodypainting - human wasp is sucking water melon

It’s been a few years since my wasp experiment but I still quite often get feedback from people who think this wasp was created entirely on a computer with some magical software similar to the one used in the Avatar movie.

It wasn’t.

It was actually proper intricate handiwork – painting the model, then the photoshoot, and only after that the post-production on my computer. And there are always those experts who think this kind of work can be done in half an hour. I got an e-mail from this simpler young lady who said she’d like photos just like these. That if I’m near her town, I should give her a call so we can give it a go. Uff. I’d have laughed, but she’d actually meant it. :) So I would like to clear a few things up and show you how this kind of photoshoot comes to be.

The idea, the sketch, the model – everything matters

Everything starts with an idea. Something like this can’t be created in 5 minutes or even an hour. You have to sketch everything out and have a plan. Try a few things out…

You also need to find the right model with the right proportions. A look like this doesn’t fit everyone.

A photoshoot like this requires a woman with the right curves and facial structure. I needed a woman with a specific, triangular type of face (sharp cheekbones and a pointy chin), so she’d be similar to a wasp. Simply said, when you’re doing this kind of body painting, you’re creating a new texture on a 3D live model, whose proportions are fixed and can’t be changed on a whim. Everything is done via the texture (painting).

Sketch of wasp woman

This is what the final sketches looked like, which we followed step by step.

The Model was all the way from Plzen

I knew about one suitable candidate. Vendula. I met her during a workshop once, so I knew she was very professional and patient. I pretty much tailored the photoshoot to her. Only she was all the way from Plzen in Czech Republic, which was quite a long travel for her. So when I checked the last train from Bratislava to Plzen, I realized we’d have 8 hours for the photoshoot, which might seem as a lot, but really isn’t.

6 hours of painting, 1 hour of shooting, 1/2 hour of cleaning up

Painting the whole body took us – 3 people - around 6 hours. My girlfriend and I were painting the wasp, applying the paint on skin with brushes, sponge and airbrush. The make-up artist did the eyes, eyelashes, braided Vendula’s hair and helped with whatever was needed. At this point, the model ‘just’ stood. I mean, try standing still for 6 hours. Easy-peasy, right? It’s not much fun, let me tell you. After we ‘finished’ painting (in reality, it wasn’t finished yet, but we really didn’t have time to mess around with it), we quickly set up the background, the lights and started shooting.

This was the most exciting part for me, the well-deserved cherry on top, which I was looking forward to for several weeks. Unfortunately, all we had was about one hour. Good thing Vendula was the right person in the right place. She understood what I needed from her and gave me one pose after another. She had a whole variety of them up her sleeve, or should I say… up her chitinous exoskeleton. :) She was so fast and proficient my camera could barely keep up. I would have loved to keep taking photos for at least one more hour, but sadly the time was running out.

Then came the cruel part of the day. The wasp walked into the shower and the results of 6 hours of our hard work was slowly washed down the drain, with the help of my girlfriend and a giant sponge for washing cars. My suffering lasted almost half an hour. And a few jealous people still think that I joined the wasp in the shower and enjoyed the washing process…

Bodypainting on human model in progress - early phase

After about an hour of painting, the main outlines were finished.

Bodypainting on human model in progress - ending phase

After 4 more hours, she started to actually resemble a wasp. :)

The unexpected twist in the end – getting to the train station

Vendula had less than half an hour to get on the train back home to Plzen; it was starting to look dire. We quickly helped her pack all her things and ran with her to catch a bus to the train station, since she didn’t know her way around Bratislava. In our haste, we forgot to check if we all had our tickets… the ticket inspectors took care of that for us, and they did so thoroughly. Bastards. Luckily, we had a ticket for our wasp, so at least they let her go past their fat bellies and slimy claws, and she was able to get to the station and hop on the train at the last second…

Is that not the end yet?

My work hardly ended there. What followed was hours of retouching, fixing the imperfections of the bodypaint and playing around with the post-production in Photoshop to achieve the best possible result. But I’ll talk about that some other time.

You can check out the difference between the photo before and after post-production here:

The photo BEFORE and AFTER retouching

The photo BEFORE and AFTER retouching

The photo BEFORE and AFTER retouching

The photo BEFORE and AFTER retouching

For this difficult but magical project, I want to thank the incredibly skilled people I collaborated with:

bodypainting: Andrea Borárošová

idea, bodypaint, photography, post-production: Marián Pentek

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