End of Week Prop Links

First up, Rolling Stone checks out the ghost fighting equipment in that new Ghostbusters movie everyone is raving about. Props master Kirk Corwin shows us all the proton packs, traps, and other sundry items used throughout the film.

Rosco shows off how to make a statue of David out of foam and FoamCoat. Though the emphasis is on the FoamCoat, the real interesting part is how they were able to export a 3D model of the statue to a CNC machine and build the sculpture out of many layers of regular insulation foam.

Back to Ghostbusters, Rick Lazzarini shows how his shop built an animatronic “Slimer” to use as a stand-in for the CGI effects in the film.

Back to foam carving, Make Magazine has some quick tips for sculpting Styrofoam. Though short and fairly basic, they have a few tips that you may not have tried yet.

Finally, Popular Woodworking dispels six myths about wood finishing. They aren’t fun myths about unicorns and bridge trolls, but myths about stains and grains.

Seeing the Elephant, 1893

Last spring, I posted an article about the life-sized elephant prop in the 1891 musical, “Wang”. Here is another article about that elephant. I originally credited the construction of the beast to Edward Siedle; his obituary states he built it around 1900. This article credits the invention of the elephant to Woolson Morse, so perhaps Siedle’s elephant was built for the 1904 revival. Sorry the images are such low quality; perhaps someone out there can get better scans from the originals for me.

Not Barnum’s, But the Great Mechanical Wonder.

Few theatre-goers have any intelligent conception of the mechanism of some of the “animals” that are in the cast of a modern spectacular drama or comic opera. A long time ago when the heifer was part and parcel of “Evangeline,” it caused an infinite amount of merriment, but few ever stopped to think how it was done. Although its construction was simple enough, the effect was wonderfully amusing.

Framework of the Elephant
Framework of the Elephant

A representative of this paper met with Manager John W. McKinney at the Wieting opera house, and through his courtesy was enabled to critically examine the working model of the monster mechanical elephant in “Wang.” DeWolf Hopper’s delightful comic opera, which will be presented for the first time in this city on next Thursday evening at the Wieting opera house.

“The elephant,” said Mr. McKinney in explanation, “is a much more complicated creature than any other mechanical property ever used upon the stage, and while it amuses the play-goer, its mechanism is one of study, and the men who do the elephant act are not enjoying themselves as much as the people who are in front. With those men playing elephant is hard work, especially as the elephant is constructed on scientific principles, and in order to make it work properly several consultations were held with the editor of The Scientific American, as well as with several prominent bridge engineers and architects.

“The body of the Hopper elephant is built upon the cantilever principle and by the law of mechanics its weight, as well as the weight of its’ rider, is thrown downward and squarely distributed to the eight points of union as indicated in the above picture.

Diagram of the Elephant's Head
Diagram of the Elephant’s Head

A. Wheels for the eyes.
B. Wheels for the trunk.
C. Cord for drawing trunk inward.
D. Cord for drawing trunk outward.
E. Leather thongs for operating wheels.
F. Hook from which head is suspended.

The two men “who make the elephant” fore legs and hind legs, have something else to do besides stamp about the stage. They are joined together by a yoke which fastens the neck, shoulders and arms of each man, and this yoke serves as a communication between the two men. When the front legs want to make a movement this yoke prompts the hind legs as to their action. If the front legs want to advance that movement naturally draws the hind legs. By the mechanical construction of the “beast” the rider is enabled to shift his position on the back of the elephant at will. If this law were violated or not adhered to, the elephant’s equilibrium would be upset.

The Elephant's Legs
The Elephant’s Legs

The legs of the elephant are made of gutta percha and are worn precisely as trousers, and are held in position by heavy suspenders. The soles of the feet are made of heavy India rubber. The head rests upon a socket, which gives it an elephantine undulation. And in this head is a clockwork system of pulleys and wheels used by the man who plays the front legs. By this system he manipulates the trunk, tusks, eyes and ears. When the tender wants to curl the trunk inwards he inclines his head forward, grasps a tag at the end of a thong which is fastened to the trunk and by a movement of his head sets in motion a large wheel which turns so as to draw the thong tight, thus giving the desired result.

Woolson Morse, the young man who composed the music of “Wang,” is the inventor of this wonderful piece of stage mechanism, the excellence and fine adjustment of which is so apparent to the spectator who by the above description of the interior can tell “just how the wheels go round” when he witnesses “Wang.”

“Seeing the Elephant.” The Evening Herald [Syracuse] 9 Jan. 1893: 4. Fulton History. Web. 12 July 2016. <http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html>.

Prop-tastic Friday

Meet Jim – Our Props Director – The Milwaukee Rep Tumblr has a conversation with Jim Guy, their props director. Jim is also the President of S*P*A*M and knows 97% of the props masters in the US.

The Day They Nuked Buffalo – Propnomicon brings us this interesting historical tidbit. In 1952, the State Civil Defense Commission had the Buffalo News print a newspaper as if a nuclear bomb had been detonated over the city. It was “the only prop newspaper ever officially sanctioned by the US government.”

Check Out This Amazing Ghostbusters Proton Pack – The new Ghostbusters movie opens this weekend, and Make Magazine brings us this great Arduino-powered proton pack. It’s from the original film; maybe in the coming weeks, we’ll see more builds of the new equipment.

Punished Props’ Foam Viking Axe Build – Tested shows us how Bill Doran built a viking axe out of flexible foam in this video.

How to Build a Foam Cosplay Helmet – Also from Tested, Evil Ted shows us how to make a helmet out of flexible foam. Basically, you can build an entire suit of armor and weapons out of your floor mats.

More Props Links for You

So this is from way back in January, but I somehow missed it. The “in 1 Podcast” talked with Kathy Fabian about her life as a Broadway props master. It’s two and a half hours of fascinating conversation about what it takes to prop a show in New York City and getting a production up and running on the Great White Way.

The Prop Solve makes this cool Dr. Strangelove Survival Pack which doubles as a camera carrying case. I don’t run across too many soft goods props projects, so it’s wonderful to see so many photos of her process from start to finish.

Maine State Music Theatre posted this quick little time lapse video showing their prop department live casting the face of an actor for their upcoming production of Evita. It looks like they’re using one of those new body-safe silicone rubbers, which I haven’t really seen in action before.

Frank Ippolito shares his process of building historical fantasy costume armor for the upcoming E3 convention. It sounds like a costume project, but it involves a lot of crafts and materials we use in props.

Finally, Cinefex takes a peek into the model-making shop behind Team America: World Police. Don’t worry, there aren’t any pictures of rude puppets here; just great photos of miniature buildings and vehicles.

Props Errata

How to Slush Cast a Prop Helmet – Tested visits Frank Ippolito to learn how to slush cast the Rocketeer helmet, which is perhaps the greatest helmet in cinematic history.

‘She Loves Me:’ David Rockwell Serves Up Old World Flavor with Modern Flair – She Loves Me snagged the Tony for Best Set Design of a Musical, preventing Hamilton from a clean sweep. Find out all the details and dressing that go into this amazing set for a show with horrible music.

New York Spectacular Statue: New York Public Library Lions – Matt Acheson tells us how he brought the NYPL lions to life (in puppet form) for The Rockettes latest show.

Make Edible Paper in 3 Easy Steps – I haven’t tried this recipe yet, but edible paper is one of those prop things that come up from time to time. Sure, you can buy it, but if you need a custom color or size, this may be the way to go.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies