Friday Links

This video is the coolest thing I’ve seen all week: Legacy Effects builds the Apatosaurus from Jurassic World. The film required a highly detailed animatronic head and neck of this dinosaur for a key scene. The video goes into great detail of how it was done. Check out the massive mixers they have running all at once for their foam rubber, not to mention the giant injectors they use to fill their molds. It’s an amazing inside look at the work they do.

Marty Marfin had an interesting challenge: how to mold and cast a spherical shape with a hollow interior. Find out how he did it in this comprehensive tutorial.

Over at Instructables, WardWorks has a fun guide to building a ghost trap from Ghostbusters. I’ve kind of always wanted one of these since I was a kid.

Finally, check out this plethora of images from the construction of a model of the Galileo Shuttlecraft from the original Star Trek television show. They take you from the blueprints all the way through the final painted piece.

Not all Acrylics are the Same

I was recently weathering a prop I’m working on. To get some grime and age on it, I decided to thin some black acrylic paint down with denatured alcohol to make a wash. I had two types of black acrylic paint laying around: Sargent and Liquitex.

They are both pretty cheap, share the same pigments, have similar consistencies, and dry to the same color. So they should be exactly the same, right?

Comparing acrylics
Comparing acrylics

As you can see in the photo above, the Liquitex immediately clumped up when I began to mix it with alcohol; it turned to little globs and flakes that refused to blend in with the rest of the liquid. The Sargent on the other hand blended easily into the alcohol, making a silky smooth wash that was ready to distress my prop.

Now don’t get me wrong, I use the Liquitex paints all the time; it’s great to have a range of colors ready to go to touch up a prop or add a spot of color. But it’s obviously not made to be thinned. Some paints are better at being thinned, some mix better with other colors, some have purer pigments. Paints have a whole bunch of ingredients in them that make them act differently than each other, even within the broad categories of “acrylic” or “oil” or “lacquer”.

This is why your scenic artist favors scenic paints for certain tasks over hardware store paint. Sure, you can get some similar colors, but when it comes to mixing colors, making glazes, or just thinning them down, the cheaper hardware store paint often turns to crud.

Friday Link-o-Rama

My shows have all opened for the season, but plenty of other people are still doing cool props stuff around the Internet. Let’s check them out:

Tested has teamed up with Punished Props and Smooth-On to document the construction of a replica alien assault rifle from the film District 9. Part 1 is up now, showing how Bill drew out the design and cut all the layers from MDF and styrene.

The most incredible parts of Carnegie Hall are offstage. As a theatre person, I’m more interested in the backstage and behind-the-scenes parts anyway, but Carnegie Hall has some especially interesting and historical details going on under the hood. Atlas Obscura takes us on an illuminating tour deep into the depths of this famous performance hall.

Dug North continues his 16-part series of automata tips with this article on cams and cam followers. A cam can give some pretty intricate movement to a prop just from a single spinning shaft.

We’re going back to Tested with this great article on creating the practical creatures from Gremlins. Videos and photographs show how Chris Walas and Joe Dante made dozens of ground-breaking animatronic puppets on a shoestring budget to bring the story to life.

Finally, Popular Woodworking tests out some methods for removing rust from steel using only lemon juice and vinegar. It’s a nice little technique to keep your tools in tip top shape, or when you need to spruce up that antique you just bought for a show.

Behind the Scenes part 5, 1890

The following comes from an 1890 news article in the San Francisco Morning Call. You can also check out the first partthe second part, the third part, and the fourth part:

A pair of wooden squares covered with sand-paper and rubbed together announces the coming of the engine in “Across the Continent.” A wish of wires did similar service for the locomotive in the “Main Line.” Cheerful, indeed, looked the fire on the hearth in the kitchen of Hazel Kirke’s home when she quitted it for the castle of Arthur Carringford. Gas jets and colored glass caused the illusion.

To be kicked downstairs should be severe punishment; it seems doubly so when done on the stage, for the crash, a machine with a lot of loose shingles working on a cog makes the commotion all the greater. Once in a while a gentleman is fired through a paper window, and in his descent apparently knocks into smithereens a skylight.

A demijohn wicker cover intact, holding broken glass, dropped as the actor takes flight, consummates the disaster to the ignominious character.

A steam pipe, or, when not convenient, slacked lime, will cause a semblance of dust or smoke in earthquakes or explosions.

A poorly equipped theater it is indeed that has not around a genius who can bark like a dog or crow after the manner of a cock…

Realistic properties are steadily encroaching on the art of the property-man. A cage of lions in “Theodora,” horses in “A Run of Luck,” “Jalma,” “Kerry Gow” and dozens of other plays; tanks of real water in which boat-races are carried on and heroines are half-drowned and dived after by brave heroes, etc., etc.

Probably the best piece of stage realism ever put on the stage was the cascade of real water, leaping from a height of fifty feet into the ravine below, seen in the recent production of “The Silver Falls” at the Boston Theater. Tons upon tons of water were utilized in this scene, and the great wonder of this exhibition of stage realism was what became of the water after it had dashed into the rocky ravine.

It was a simple matter. A huge tank was built under the stage, which, when filled to overflowing, was drained into the sewer.

All these realistic effects and such as were seen in “The Soudan” are but forerunners of an era that will leave nothing “faked” but the scenery.

Originally published in The Morning Call, San Francisco, December 25, 1890, pg 19.

Friday’s Reading List

How did they build all those vehicles in Mad Max: Fury Road? Credits has an article on the whole devilish process. They talk with production designer Colin Gibson and show off some of the CAD drawings they used to weld two Cadillacs together and build custom suspension and frames, among other things.

What’s it like to audition for a Jim Henson puppet workshop? Mary Robinette Kowal participated in one and shared her experience. She made it to round 2; we’ll see in a few weeks how she does in the next part.

You may have run across the cheap version of silicone mold-making, where you mix corn starch with hardware store silicone caulk. Make Your Mark has a quick little video showing how it’s done. Whether or not you already know about this technique, this is a great tutorial for it.

Frank Ippolito and Tested show us how to make a realistic horror skull prop. This half-hour video goes in-depth through all the steps and really digs deep into a number of techniques. The painting portion is especially helpful.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies