Saturday, 21 January 2012

Sandalphon: development and symbolism

Photo, concept, styling, make up, frame design: GothicNarcissus
Manipulation: GothicNarcissus and LunarShore
Model, hair: Dirk Alexander
Additional resources: Amptone-Stock (textures), DeviousRose (sparkle texture), Mithos-2000 (wings).
Special thanks to Kira Novak for helping me with the Hebrew lettering.
The first thing I want to say about this work is that I want to dedicate it to a very dear friend of mine, Soy Mallika, for her endless support to my Infernal Lords series, for helping me take a clear decision about this particular character and, more generally, for reminding me I have to stand for what I want and is worth to me.

The second is that this has been the most difficult Infernal Lord so far, both in conception and realisation, and it’s been constantly troubled throughout its development.
I will say it straightaway: Sandalphon is by no means listed as Demon by any source. He’s a very important Archngel in both Jewish and Christian traditions and there is basically no instance of him being a Fallen Angel. The only account of him being somewhat of an evil creature is a plot twist in Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary (woops, spoiler!) and that’s it. So, apart from Yuki-Sensei’s work being so influential on mine, why did I decide to include such a potentially controversial character to the bunch despite the fact that I always wanted to stick the most I could to the “official” sources and not to depend on Angel Sanctuary too much? Why did I take even more freedom than I did for Barbelo, which I already considered a risky move, this time?
The answer is very complex and multiple factors contributed to my final decision. The first is most obviously Kaori Yuki’s rendition of the character, which is simply brilliant: childishly cruel, totally manipulative, with a sort of inferiority complex towards his twin brother Metatron, and most certainly a miserable victim of God’s schemes, it’s a creepy character that gets his fair share of attention; I was also fascinated by his nature of “Nightmare Eater”, which was something I wanted to include in some character of project.
A very badass Sandalphon grabbing Sara from Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary
Sandalphon from Kaori Yuki’s Angel Sanctuary.
The “official” chartacter I discovered thanks to Kaori Yuki’s was interesting on his own and I particularly loved the fact that he’s openly depicted as having a twin brother, the aforementioned Metatron, even in the kabbalistic sources; this made him somewhat closer to humanity in my eyes, together with the fact that he’s linked to Malkhut, the lowest sephira of the Tree of Life, and carries on many duties in the Material World. He even goes as far as inhabiting (basically possessing) mortals and being summoned in a rather demonic kind of way. So, all in all, he’s an easy character to bring on the verge of his fall.
Moreover, on the one hand Soy Mallika did some further researches for me and found no interesting alternative for a “dream eater” kind of Demon, and on the othershe reminded me that, as I’m not a believer anyways, all of my characters differ from their “official” counterparts, so what’s the point in worrying at all? And since she said she would love to see Sandalphon in a Grimoire or among the Fallen ones, I was glad to fully accept the challenge and give her this “gift”.
Finally, a general plot for a possible Infernal Lords-related novel is starting to take shape, and a character like Sandalphon would be a very useful one, so why not? And there I was, ready to shoot.

Even after I finally overcame doubts and conceptual issues, the story of this Infernal Lord kept being plagued by mishappenings, difficulties and random troubles. First of all, when I accidentally dropped my external hard drive, some of my files got damaged and the PSD with the background for Sandalphon, which I did long before taking the photo, was one of them (actually, the only IL-related file that did not open). I did export the full-resolution jpg image before, but I eventually noticed that the names of the Sephiroth were spelled backwards, so I had to do it all over again, eventually to a much better result. Aftermaths, I found the perfect model in Dirk Alexander: with his blond, flowing hair, he really had something of a badass angel, which was what I was looking for. Unfortunately, it took us many months and several attempts to finally arrange a meeting (coincidentally, quite similarly to Abaddon we first talked about it in July and eventually shot in early December), so the shooting was delayed twice before we actually did it. The shooting itself went quite fine and dandy, after some time for the make up it only took a couple of test-shoots and two or three actual attempts to finally get what I wanted. And then, postproduction started and further problems rose.
I have been very ambitious with this work: the colourful yet abstract background made it rather difficult to effectively blend the model in, the white wings worsened the problem, and the bright Malkhut orb floating among his hands made the lighting quite tricky to achieve. I started the postproduction straightaway while at LunarShore’s house, and this time he did physically help me manipulate the image with his tablet, in particular for the whole light and shadows ordeal (so part of the credits go to him). With the lights set right, I thought most of the work was done, but no, just no, because the blending was painfully difficult. I kept working on the manipulation for the next month and a half and was never totally satisfied. During this time I had to change the wings twice because they looked super-fake, tried different combinations of lights and shadows to blend the model with the background before settling for a slight halo, and changed about a million textures to see what would make the image work as a whole. To no avail, the work still lacked cohesion and depth.
Again, it was LunarShore who saved me by suggesting that, rather than a neutral texture, I added something either hazy or sparkly. I found a texture that worked in both ways, and finally, after ages, the image started working, I got what I wanted and was kind of satisfied with the result. Seriously, I do think DeviousRose’s Ice Galaxy texture is what saved the whole work – which, by the way, is a monstrous 410 MB PSD file which kills my computer every time I try to open it, compared to the average 110-or-so MB of the other works. And gosh, only Legion took me longer from the shooting to the publication, and only because I had to gather more faces for the spirits.

So, now that I’m finally done (and have ranted about how difficult it was to complete it), let’s talk about the symbolism. As in the continuity of my project Sandalphon’s position is unique, this work is in many aspects an “odd one out” in the project. First of all, a particular emphasis is put on the background (which doesn’t show that much in the final work, but you can see it by clicking on the preview on the right), in which I built the scheme of the Tree of Life except for the lowest Sephira. Indeed, even though I got inspiration for the pose from the idea of Sandalphon collecting the prayers into orbs of light, what he’s holding in the image is actually a physical manifestation of Malkhut, which is how it is in the picture. I was really glad to use Hebrew characters (which simply spell the names of the Sephiroth) as I particularly like them and find them mysterious and elegant (yes, I know that sounds stupid), and had fun with the whole copy-paste process, which proved to be a bit difficult because Photoshop screwed the right-to-left direction and I had to manually compose the words.
Of course, much like Absinthion, Sandalphon has pure-white wings and lacks a Seal, as he’s not a Fallen Angel yet (he’s not even an undercover agent, he’s just… confused, if you will).
Also, this work is unique because, despite its theme colour being fandango, the background itself had two dominant colours and the work as a whole tends more to a bluish hue which, in turn, gives it a more heavenly feeling. Anything but heavenly is the theme song, Lullaby by Leandra, which is more connected to the ambiguous, dream-eating nature of the character.
On a side note, I mentioned a more concrete possibility of a written work inspired by this project. Although I sort of have a long-term plot and I’ve even tried to write down a prologue and a chapter, I can’t really say I’m moving in that direction yet. The details of the plot are still unclear, so it’s something I’m saving for the future. Perhaps after the graphical project is done. Oh, and by the way, this is the twentieth entry out of thirty, so two thirds of the Infernal Lords project are officially done! While waiting for the next work, enjoy a couple of test shoots that turned out particularly nice.

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