Love, Death and Robots: “Shape-Shifters” Flash Review

Mar. 18, 2019

Love, Death and Robots: “Shape-Shifters” Flash Review featured image

A werewolf concludes its transformation by tearing off its human face (image: Netflix)

I looked up next to nothing about the rest of Love, Death & Robots, an animated anthology series that just premiered on Netflix. However, I saw there was at least one episode that involved werewolves, and the short films can be watched in any order, so I leapt right for Episode 10: Shape-Shifters.

Animated via photorealistic motion-capture (which didn’t fall into the uncanny valley, in my opinion), the episode follows two US Marine werewolves at a firebase in Afghanistan. The main character and his friend are the point man and rearguard for patrols, and the opening scene shows why. Unfortunately, they face prejudice from their fellow Marines despite being highly qualified to carry out their mission and serve their country, too. Their commanding officer seems to have more faith in them, but only if the weather is fair.

Without trying to spoil too much, the story intensifies quickly and delivers on its horror and war drama promise. We’re shown the aftermath of a battle at an outpost and left to imagine the terror of how it happened based on what’s left. The Marines aren’t the only side with werewolves.

Not so much a spoiler as a quick note on what these werewolves look like. Lupine heads and bodies, big claws, big teeth, bipedal and quadrupedal movement, with very, very short tails. Transformations seem to be controllable and involve ripping skin. If you like your werewolves to lean more towards horror and snarling, I think you’ll dig their design.

In closing, the episode is quick, tight, delivers on the setup, provides visceral action, and had characters I could enjoy watching more of. It also offers a few ideas to think about and different audiences could read into the underlying themes in different ways. My one slightly negative feeling comes from a sneaking suspicion that I’ve heard this story before. Of course, that could just be because I’ve read other short werewolf stories online, so viewers new to the material may find it all fresh. (Check out QuebecoisWolf’s story “Secrets” if you want more in this vein.) Still, the result is solid. It feels like the crew behind this short put a great deal of effort into their work and I think it shows. Individual mileage with certain elements may vary, but this episode accomplished its mission for this werewolf fan.

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Full Moon Features: Wolfen (1981)

Feb. 18, 2019

Released in the midst of the 1981 werewolf movie boom that yielded Full Moon High, The Howling, and An American Werewolf in London in quick succession, Wolfen is often lumped in with them in spite of the fact that its supernatural wolf creatures are emphatically not shapeshifters. The first of three Whitley Strieber books adapted for the screen (the other two being the modern-day vampire tale The Hunger in 1983 and the alien abduction trip Communion in 1989), Wolfen was co-written and directed by Michael Wadleigh, then most famous for making the documentary Woodstock. Not the most obvious proving ground for a horror filmmaker, but his background does lend the film a sense of realism that it shares with such contemporary urban fare as Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45, Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City, and William Friedkin’s Cruising, to name a few.

With key scenes filmed in the shadow of the World Trade Center and in sight of the Statue of Liberty, Wolfen announces itself as a New York movie through and through. But just as Wadleigh was an unconventional choice for director, so too was his choice of leading man: British-born Albert Finney, who is nevertheless convincing as semi-retired police detective Dewey Wilson, who’s called in to investigate a puzzling triple homicide involving a super-rich real estate developer. (It’s never stated precisely why Dewey is on leave, but he’s told the reason his captain wants him on the case is because “It’s very weird and it’s very strange, just like you.”)

In the early going, Wadleigh keeps much of the gruesomeness off-screen. True, the developer’s Haitian bodyguard gets disarmed in the most literal fashion, but we’re spared the sight of his trophy wife’s head falling off when the police are taking in the crime scene the following morning. Later on, when a junkie picks the wrong spot to “get straight,” we actually get to see his throat torn out and heart unceremoniously dropped on the ground, but because Wadleigh is unable to reveal who or what is responsible for these acts, it’s impossible for them to register as anything other than quick shocks. In fact, the most effective jump scare in the film was manufactured in the editing room by zooming out from a blowup of Dewey looking out on what he doesn’t realize is the Wolfen’s hunting grounds. That can’t necessarily be attributed to Wadleigh, though, because he isn’t responsible for the final shape of the film, which was worked on by no fewer than four editors, some of whom came onto the project after he was unceremoniously kicked off it.

Supporting the late Finney is a uniformly great cast including Gregory Hines as a coroner who throws Dewey a curve by ruling out metal weapons and introducing him to eccentric zoologist Ferguson (Tom Noonan), who identifies the hairs found on the victims as being from the species canis lupus. Ferguson also makes the first connection between wolves and Native Americans, which leads Dewey to Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos), a militant high-steel worker who casually tells Dewey he can “shift with the best of them.” “Shift?” Dewey asks. “Shapeshift,” Eddie clarifies. “We do it for kicks.” In short order, Dewey watches as Eddie undergoes an esoteric ritual where he accepts a ceremonial necklace, goes to the beach to strip, makes paw prints in the sand with his knuckles, and howls at the moon. He doesn’t physically change, though, which surely disappointed anybody expecting a Rick Baker or Rob Bottin-style transformation. “It’s all in the head!” he shouts in Dewey’s face, leaving an impression on the hard-nosed cop nonetheless.

When Wadleigh finally gets around to showing the Wolfen, the big reveal is somewhat underwhelming since they’re played by ordinary wolves (albeit spookily lit ones). The other area where Wolfen comes up short is the domestic terrorism subplot that takes up too much time for something that turns out to be a red herring. Its only benefit is giving Dewey a foil in psychologist Rebecca Neff (Broadway actress Diane Venora making her screen debut), who’s working for the security company that dropped the ball at the beginning of the film. Even she turns out to be largely superfluous, though, disappearing for long stretches without really being missed. It’s possible Venora had a lot more scenes that got lost in the editorial shuffle, but at least she’s around for the climactic standoff between Dewey and the Wolfen, which made sure Hines and Noonan couldn’t say the same.


“What We Do in the Shadows” TV series trailer has werewolves, supermarket fires, psychic vampires & more

Feb. 6, 2019

“What We Do in the Shadows” TV series trailer has werewolves, supermarket fires, psychic vampires & more featured image

A still from the WWDITS season 1 trailer depicting one of two werewolves mentioned (image: What We Do in the Shadows | Season 1: Official Trailer)

The folks behind one of the only good movie about vampires (and a little movie about Ragnarok that you might have seen a few Thanksgivings ago) are back at it again.

Based on the feature film of the same name from Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, What We Do in the Shadows is a documentary-style look into the daily (or rather, nightly) lives of four vampires who’ve “lived” together for hundreds of years. In Staten Island.

I’m thrilled that Clement and Waititi have turned that “good vampire movie” franchise into a new TV series for FX. Like the movie it’s based on, the series focuses on the exploits of vampires, but they chucked in a little lycanthropy action for werewolf nerds like us. I really like the werewolf design, although the one depicted in the trailer (and shown in the feature image on this post) really needs to stop skipping leg day at the gym.

Take a look, y’all:

What We Do in the Shadows season 1 premieres March 27th on FX. Visit the official site or Twitter account for more media and info.

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Sculpting one of the many Immortal Masks werewolves

Feb. 1, 2019

Sculpting one of the many Immortal Masks werewolves featured image

Muzzle and cowl detail of Immortal's Werewolf silicone mask

In the world of werewolf fandom, this is a widely agreed-upon pair of facts:

  1. you can never have too many werewolf masks
  2. the good werewolf masks cost more than a new computer

To wit: California’s Immortal Masks sells not one, not three, but five silicone werewolf masks of varying anatomy, coverage, and style. Each one starts in the Chromebook price range, and as you add options like fur and custom paint, the cost quickly ascends to MacBook territory.

Anyway, all of this preamble is just to set up my sharing this throwback photo from the Immortal Masks Instagram account, showing Andrew Freeman in the middle of sculpting the Immortal werewolf mask. Andrew popped into the comments to credit fellow creature sculptor Charlie Hernandez with “a lot of the heavy lifting”.

Paying four figures for a werewolf mask is a wild luxury, but I’m the owner of a custom painted and furred Hellhound mask and sleeves, and as someone who cares very much about detail and quality, the scrimping and saving and credit card debt was worth it to me.

“Update On Werewolves” by Margaret Atwood

Jan. 24, 2019

“Update On Werewolves” by Margaret Atwood featured image

(image: Thomas Hawk)

This morning I noticed that one of the most popular posts on this site is, oddly, about a poem. That got me thinking about werewolves in verse, which sent me back to a poem by acclaimed writer, teacher and essayist Margaret Atwood, whose work you may have most recently seen adapted on Hulu.

Update On Werewolves
Margaret Atwood

In the old days, all werewolves were male.
They burst through their bluejean clothing
as well as their own split skins,
exposed themselves in parks,
howled at the moonshine.
Those things frat boys do.

Went too far with the pigtail yanking –
growled down into the pink and wriggling
females, who cried Wee wee
wee all the way to the bone.
Heck, it was only flirting,
plus a canid sense of fun:
See Jane run!

But now it’s different.
Now it’s a global threat.
Long-legged women sprint through ravines
in furry warmups, a pack of kinky
models in sado French Vogue getups
and airbrushed short-term memories,
bent on no-penalties rampage.

Look at their red-rimmed paws!
Look at their gnashing eyeballs!
Look at the backlit gauze
of their full-moon subversive haloes!
Hairy all over, this belle dame,
and it’s not a sweater.

O freedom, freedom and power!
they sing as they lope over bridges,
bums to the wind, ripping out throats
on footpaths, pissing off brokers.

Tomorrow they’ll be back
in their middle-management black
and Jimmy Choos
with hours they can’t account for
and first dates’ blood on the stairs.
They’ll make some calls: Goodbye.
It isn’t you. I can’t say why.
They’ll dream of sprouting tails
at sales meetings,
right in the audiovisuals.
They’ll have addictive hangovers
and ruined nails.

“Update On Werewolves” was first published in 2012 on Atwood’s Wattpad site, and has circulated since. I’m taking the liberty of reposting the whole poem here because I want some of its powerful, sneering, Jimmy-Choo-and-blood energy to permeate this site.

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Full Moon Features: November (2017)

Jan. 20, 2019

A recent film that may be off the radar for most werewolf aficionados is the Estonian-made November, an adaptation of the popular novel Rehepapp by Andrus Kivirähk. (Well, it’s popular in Estonia.) Written for the screen and directed by Rainer Sarnet, November contrasts its bleak, medieval landscapes (filmed in luminous black and white by cinematographer Mart Taniel) with the fantastical creatures its inhabitants come into contact with on a regular basis. The first, in fact, is a wolf that a young woman named Liina (Rea Lest) either turns into or merely has a deep psychological link with. (There’s sufficient evidence for either interpretation.) And she’s not the only one with such tendencies because later on a German baroness (Jette Loona Hermanis) found sleepwalking by her father is told she can’t help herself. “It’s your illness,” he says. “There’s a full moon tonight.” Perhaps she’s simply going out in search of her peasant counterpart.

At any rate, the two women are part of an unrequited love triangle since Liina believes she’s destined to marry the strapping young Hans (Jörgen Liik), about the only age-appropriate suitor for her in the village. (Liina’s father repeatedly tries to pawn her off on a much older man, an arrangement she forcefully shrugs off.) Meanwhile, once Hans catches sight of the baroness he’s instantly, hopelessly smitten, inspiring both him and Liina to resort to desperate remedies. While she goes to a witch to reclaim Hans and comes to believe her only option is to kill her rival, he meets the Devil at a crossroads and exchanges his soul for one for a snowman he has built that gives him advice (which, it turns out, is mostly unhelpful).

Far from being a figure of childlike whimsy, the snowman is but one of many beings in the film called kratts that are made out of farming equipment and imbued with life (or at the very least locomotion) so they can perform menials tasks for their masters. Unnervingly enough, the first one Sarnet shows us is three scythes fastened together with an animal skull at the center, and the first thing it does is steal its master’s cow and take flight, ferrying the bewildered animal through the air like a helicopter until both come crashing down. You know the saying idle hands do the Devil’s work? Well, idle kratts are pushy about asking for jobs (“A kratt needs to work” is their mantra), and if one’s master is slow to find things to occupy them, they’re liable to have their throat slit in the middle of the night.

In addition to witches, werewolves, kratts, and the Devil, November also features ghosts that come visit their families on All Souls’ Day. Instead of being formless spirits, though, they’re strangely corporeal, capable of eating, sleeping, and using saunas, all of which are prepared for them by their dutiful living kin. Even stranger, when the beasts (as Liina’s father calls them) enter a sauna, they become human-sized chickens, an amusing effect Sarnet accomplishes by placing regular-sized chickens in a model set. That kind of lo-fi approach to realizing the supernatural serves the film well, giving its most outlandish conceits a necessary grounding. By the time the plague arrives in town (first in the form of a beautiful woman before changing to a goat and a pig) and the proscribed remedy is for everyone to gather in a barn, take off their pants and wear them on their heads (because, as the village elder says, “The plague will think we have two asses and won’t dare to touch us”), it sounds downright reasonable.

Hyper-realistic 1/6th scale werewolf figurine by Imge Celepci

Jan. 18, 2019

Hyper-realistic 1/6th scale werewolf figurine by Imge Celepci featured image

Close-up of a werewolf figurine created by Imge Celepci (image: Imge Celepci Facebook Page)

Last year, sculptor and painter Imge Celepci (aka Rusty Blonde) was commissioned to create a 1/6th scale werewolf, and the result is incredible. Followers of her Instagram were able to watch her progress as she sculpted the head, hands and legs, hand-laid and punched the fur (it’s grey yarn!), and painted the display case. You can see a compilation video here:

And here’s a selection of photos showing the finished figurine, from the clawed hands to the digitigrade legs. These photos are also available on Imge’s Facebook page.

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Here are some photos of the 1/6 scale Werewolf figurine that I made ( sculpted from scratch, painted, added fur etc. ) It was a commission work so it is already sold. It is one of a kind and I don’t plan to make another one in the future…..🐺……Sipariş üzerine, sıfırdan yaptığım, 1/6 ölçekli Kurtadam figürü…#werewolf #lycan #lycanthrope #anamericanwerewolfinlondon #thehowling #horror #horroricons #horrorcollectibles #horrorcollection #horrorart #darkart #macabreart #gothicart #curiosities #horrormovies #80shorror #dracula #horrorflick #sfxmakeup #specialeffects #horrormakeup #halloweenart #darkartists #scaryart #creepyart #toyart #onesixthscale #rustyblondeart #imgecelepci

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If you’d like to commission Imge for a sculpture or painting, you can reach her through her Etsy shop or by email at [her first and last name] If  you’re hoping to get a quote on a werewolf like this, though, I’m sorry to say you’re probably out of luck. “This was a very challenging and time consuming piece,” she wrote in a comment on a Facebook photo of this werewolf, “and I do not plan to make another one in the future…”

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“Joe Dante’s The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film” & “The Complete History of the Howling”, reviewed

Jan. 18, 2019

Horror fans rightly consider The Howling one of the defining films of the werewolf genre. The practical transformation sequences put the most up to date CGI to shame – they’re visceral, organic and intense, and originated tropes that filmmakers still slavishly imitate. In fact, the design of the werewolves almost single-handedly redefined the look of the creature for the modern audience. Whereas the default werewolf used to be Jack Pierce’s Wolf Man, nowadays ask anyone what a werewolf looks like and you’ll get a description of Rob Bottin and his crew’s creation: a shaggy grey beast towering upright on doglike legs, with a muscular humanoid torso,  clawed hands, and a demonically snarling lupine head. But The Howling was more than just an FX spectacular, with solid performances, stylish direction, a distinct and unforgettable score, and quirky, memorable characters populating an unusually smart script. It also boasts the dubious honor of having spawned seven sequels that, while distinctly less competently made, often have their own offbeat charms.

Front and back cover art for “Joe Dante’s The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film”, via Facebook

“Joe Dante’s The Howling: Studies in the Horror Film” by Lee Gambin (Centipede Press) focuses entirely on the original movie. Each chapter takes a scene and recaps it, with relevant snippets of interviews with the cast and crew, and explores the deeper thematic elements. Compared the shallow hack ‘n slash plots of most lower tier werewolf movies, The Howling’s clever, complex script truly deserves this in-depth treatment. Some of the insider stories  – like the fate of the “rocket wolf” effects and the stop motion version of the fully transformed beasts – are known via DVD extras, but much of it is new and interesting even to hardcore fans.

More supplemental artwork by Richard Hescox

At a chunky 351 pages in a 6×9 format, it’s packed with tons of behind the scenes photographs and illustrations. The drawings by Richard Hescox that flash by almost too quick to see as Eddie Quist’s art in the film are a special treat, especially considering their powerful impact on the popular concept of werewolves. It’s also amusing to spot details such as the sketches of skulls in mid-shift labeled “Larry Talbot syndrome”. The only thing lacking is a table of contents, and perhaps an index to the interviews, which would make navigating the book a bit easier for those who haven’t memorized the plot.

Front and back cover art for “The Complete History of the Howling”

“The Complete History of the Howling” by Bryn Curt James Hammond (Miami Fox Publishing), by contrast, covers every single movie in the franchise. It runs 128 pages in 9×12 format, is also richly illustrated by stills and behind the scenes photos including full-page illustrations, and has text arranged in a two-column format that recalls magazines like Fangoria.

Currently film series are Serious Business, with studios competing to create merchandise-ready “universes” composed of interlocking high budget offerings, with varying degrees of success (compare the money-making juggernaut of the Marvel comics films to Universal’s stillborn “Dark Universe”). The Howling sequels were . . . not that. Right out of the gate, the second movie, Phillipe Mora’s “The Howling 2: Your Sister is a Werewolf” aka “Stirba: Werewolf Bitch” utterly fails as a horror movie but succeeds as a bizarro comedy. The third movie, by the same director, was even stranger, featuring were-thylacines complete with a marsupial birth scene. It’s easy to sneer at Mora’s attempt, but “The Complete History” describes working conditions that would tax any director, such as shooting with Czech film crews that didn’t speak English, being assigned an Assistant Director who was a KGB spy, and having to make do with secondhand monkey suits to serve for werewolves! In fact, the stories behind the sequels are far more entertaining than the movies themselves.

The rest of the series are a mangy collection of mutts including a low-budget reboot shot in South Africa, a murder mystery in which the actual werewolf appeared for about 5 seconds on screen, a romance set in a freak show which introduced vampires into the mythology, a whole-movie clip show padded with endless country music and line dancing scenes, and the most recent, another reboot that disappointingly attempted to appeal to the Twilight crowd. Werewolf fans, well aware that Sturgeon’s Law applies heavily to our favorite genre, have the choice to either turn their noses up at them or turn off their critical facilities, pop some popcorn and enjoy them for what they are. Hammond gives all The Howling sequels the same fair, detailed, lavishly-illustrated coverage, reminding us that even the most hilariously inept flick had at least a few passionate artists behind it.

Both books are perfect complements to each other’s strengths and must-haves for the library of werewolf enthusiasts. Gambin’s is an informative, meticulous exploration of the crafting of an enduring classic. Hammond’s book is an entertaining, open-minded and fascinating perspective on the low-budget shenanigans behind the wonderful weirdness of the obscure sequels. Hopefully we’ll see similar books in the future showcasing An American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps, and other outstanding lycanthro-pics!

Full Moon Features: The Beast and the Magic Sword (1983)

Dec. 21, 2018

The past couple years have seen a sharp uptick in the number of Paul Naschy films getting Blu-ray upgrades, along with some that had never even seen the light of day on DVD in the States. (Such was the case with 1975’s The Werewolf and the Yeti, a.k.a. Night of the Howling Beast, put out as part of Scream Factory’s The Paul Naschy Collection II set last year.) So it seems like it’s only a matter of time before a company like Mondo Macabro or Scream Factory does the same for the elusive The Beast and the Magic Sword.

Made in 1983, the Spanish/Japanese co-production was Naschy’s last hurrah as Waldemar Daninsky — at least for the next 13 years — and found him sending the cursed Polish count to feudal Japan in search of a cure for his condition. As usual, how he came by it is completely different from how he got cursed in any of the previous installments, but Naschy (who wrote and directed) dispenses with the particulars rather quickly, so I will, too.

Back in 10th-century Germany, one of Waldemar’s heavily bearded ancestors (also played by Naschy) defeated a fierce Magyar warrior (who was said to be the devil, a shapeshifter, and a vampire) in single combat and was allowed to marry the king’s youngest daughter. Unfortunately, this pissed off the warrior’s mistress, a witch who puts a very specific and easily avoidable curse on his family since it only affects the seventh-born son and only if they’re born during the first night of the full moon. “The Daninskys will be a race of murderers, hated and persecuted forever!” the witch cries, not taking into account that they could simply stop having children when they get to six.

Anyway, when we pick up in the action in the late 16th century, Waldemar and the love of his life, Kinga (Beatriz Escudero), are in Toledo, Spain, consulting with Jewish occult expert Salom Yehuda (Conrado San Martín) and his blind niece Esther (Violeta Cela) when the townspeople denounce the lot of them for practicing witchcraft. Even worse, some of the locals decide to save the Grand Inquisitor a trip, throw some makeshift hoods on, and descend upon Salom’s home, mortally wounding him before Waldemar (still in human form) can fight them off. It is at this point that Salom sends them on to Kyoto, making Waldemar Esther’s protector in the bargain.

Once the action shifts to Japan (about 23 minutes in), things pick up considerably, especially in the werewolf attack/transformation department. (There are eight of them, but the first one doesn’t really count since it’s entirely shot from Waldemar’s point of view.) Curiously enough, we meet Kian (Shigeru Amachi), the man Waldemar is trying to find, before he does, and it is Kian who tracks the weary werewolf back to his den. Instead of turning him in to the authorities, Kian agrees to help him find a cure, but his first formula, which uses the leaves of a certain Tibetan snow flower, fails to do the trick. In desperation, Waldemar goes to sorceress Satomi (Junko Asahina), who gives him a potion and locks him in a chamber where he transforms in the most low-tech way possible (in the wake of The Howling and American Werewolf, I guess Naschy decided he just couldn’t compete on that level) and does battle with a tiger named Shere Khan. (This is the image that’s on the poster, so I’m glad the film delivers on the promise of a werewolf in paw-to-paw combat with a tiger.)

As for Satomi, she threatens to do nasty things to Kinga and Esther and keeps Waldemar at bay with a silver katana (the magic sword of the title), which Kian later retrieves so he can be put out of his misery. However, it’s up to Kian’s sister Akane (Yôko Fuji) to do the deed because the killing stroke has to be delivered by somebody who loves Waldemar or else it won’t take. Not that I really believe it will. I’ve seen enough of these pictures (ten of the eleven that are extant) to know a dead Waldemar Daninsky is only a few keystrokes away from getting resurrected at will. It’s the nature of the beast.

HoOman Raad created this amazing werewolf model in two weeks

Nov. 23, 2018

HoOman Raad created this amazing werewolf model in two weeks featured image

Detail of HoOman Raad's Werewolf model (image: HoOman Raad, ArtStation)

Happy Wolfenoot / Friday! It’s been a busy week, so here, like a furry oasis for your eyes, is a very good werewolf image. The artist is HoOman Raad, a 3D character / creature artist from Iran, and the werewolf is a creation of pure mathematics, containing over 33,000 polygons, including 23,000 for the hair alone.

Animated turnaround of Werewolf model by HoOman Raad

Here is a Werewolf I did for Kunoichi studio.
it took around 2 weeks and I’ve done the Concept, Model, Texture and Material setup in UE4.
These images have captured from Unreal engine.
Hope you like them.

“Kunoichi studio”, near as I can tell, is Studio F.O.W – not a company whose products you should Google while you’re at work, if you know what I mean.

I try to avoid reposting full artwork these days, but I hope HoOman will forgive me for dropping this amazing animated GIF turnaround in here. I encourage you to click through to the ArtStation detail page, which has many more images, including a bloody variant, static turnaround images, and some hairless versions to show the sculpt off. HoOman also answers many questions in the comments, including the number one query: “how did you do the hair?” I’ll leave the discovery of the answer as an exercise for you, the reader.

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Lucan W