Prop Links of November

The Master of Paper Props – Great Big Story visits Ross MacDonald’s shop to see how he makes paper props for movies and television shows. This video delves into his process and into the power of paper props in general. If you haven’t seen Ross’ work before, this blog has covered him many times over the past nine years.

Want my job? with Khadija Raza, set and costume designer – Khadija talks with Voice about her job as a theatre designer in anticipation of TheatreCraft, the UK’s largest theatrical careers event for 16-30 year-olds.

Shrinking the world: why we can’t resist model villages – Simon Garfield ponders why we are drawn to miniature urban landscapes and why model builders feel compelled to create them. Along the way, he treats us to many photographs of some of the world’s finest examples of miniatures and model towns.

Original Big Bird, Caroll Spinney, Leaves ‘Sesame Street’ After Nearly 50 Years – In case you missed the news a few weeks ago, Caroll Spinney is retiring from Sesame Street after its 50th Anniversary special. Spinney has played both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since the show’s inception, making him one of the last original cast members to leave the show. The New York Times has this fantastic retrospective of his career.

Mortal Artists – The Craftsmen | Episode 3 – The upcoming Mortal Engines film features massive mobile cities that prowl a post-apocalyptic landscape. This video looks at all the prop builders who constructed the imaginative weapons and devices that make up this world.

Prop Links from the Hurricane

Inside the One-ton, History-making King Kong Broadway Musical – Where does a 2000 pound gorilla puppet sit? Wherever he wants! Find out all the technical wizardry that went into creating one of the largest and most expressive puppets to ever grace Broadway.

Exclusive: Head Prop Maker Pierre Bohanna Talks ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald’ – The latest film in the wizard world of Harry Potter is coming out soon, so The Knockturnal sat down with the head prop maker, Pierre Bohanna. Pierre has worked on all the previous Harry Potter films as well, so this is old hat to him. Old sorting hat, that is!

Secrets of the Solo: a Star Wars Story Creature Shop – Despite its unimpressive cinema run, Solo was actually one of the most expensive Star Wars films made, and was packed to the gills with practical creature effects. Puppeteer Brian Herring talks about how they brought all those crazy aliens to life.

Need a giant glacier? An Eiffel Tower? Tampa prop master Tandova Ecenia is selling them off after 38 years – Tandova has been supplying the Tampa area of Florida with props for nearly four decades. Take a peek into her storage facility before it is all sold off and scattered to the wind.

Players Pen: Setting a scene on stage is as much about the props as it is about the actors – Take a look at how props designer Wendy Huber and prop shop manager Kristen Nuh brought the nerdy world of Salvage to life on this Green Bay stage.

Art Deco Sconces

We recently opened “And Then There Were None” at Triad Stage in Greensboro, NC. Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery takes place in 1930’s England in a sleek, unique seaside home. Robin Vest’s scenic design gave us a sparse, Art Deco-inspired interior populated with a few trappings of a world traveler.

Flanking the fireplace were two tube sconces. Finding an appropriate vintage pair was proving to be too expensive, so I decided to make them.

Turning the End Caps
Turning the End Caps

I turned the top and bottom caps out of poplar on my lathe. I think this was the first project I personally used the shop’s lathe for, even though I purchased it last year.

I bought some plastic mailing tubes for the lamp shades. Glass tubes were pricey and difficult to find in the right size. I measured their inner and outer diameter and turned the end caps so the tubes would slide onto them snugly.

Cutting lamp parts for the arms
Cutting lamp parts for the arms

I needed some curved metal arms to hold the end caps, and they needed to be hollow so I could feed the wires through. I had some spare chandelier arms in my bin of lamp parts which I cut to size. It was a lot easier than attempting to bend a metal tube without kinking it.

Unpainted assembly
Unpainted assembly

Above is all the pieces mostly assembled. I drilled holes in the end caps to feed the metal arms in, and used epoxy clay to secure them. I cut a disc out of poplar for the wall plate and drilled two more holes to hold the metal arms. The bottom arm was epoxied in place, but the top arm was only bolted to the plate. I wanted to be able to disassemble the sconce in case I needed access to the interior of the tube.

I added a decorative disc of metal to the wall plates that also came from my lamp parts bin, which you can see in subsequent photos.

Base coat
Base coat

With all the pieces fitting together as they should, and sanded smooth, I took them apart and painted them. I used a variety of spray cans. First was a sandable primer, followed by two coats of gloss black, than two very light coats of chrome, finished off with an extremely light dusting of the gloss black again. I only waited about half an hour between coats, so the whole process was finished in a morning. If you wait too long between coats, the paint may develop that dreaded “orange peel” appearance.

Adding the LED tape
Adding the LED tape

Because the tubes were plastic, I could not use any incandescent or halogen bulbs. The heat would build up and melt everything. I bought some warm white LED tape and mounted it to a small stick of wood to hold it straight against the back of the tube. The wires ran through the arms and out the back to a transformer and DMX controller, where it could hook up to the theater’s light board.

I cut a piece of thick vellum to line the inside of the tube and provide some diffusion.

Finished sconces
Finished sconces

Here they are, fully assembled and ready to go. Even though these LEDs were the warmest white I could find, they were much cooler than every other practical light fixture on stage when we got in the space. I opened the tubes and added a piece of orange gel from my lighting designer to warm them up.

Sconces on stage
Sconces on stage

Here they are on stage. While they are very similar to modern tube sconces, they have just enough subtle period detail to help create the world on stage.

Lit sconces
Lit sconces

These sconces are so lit.

These Props Links Will Blow You Away

It’s the middle of a hurricane here in North Carolina, as well as Opening Night for my first show of the season, but I still found some great stories and videos on props that you can check out:

Broadway’s Biggest Debut: King Kong – Ugh, this puppet is so amazing. It is controlled by 14 puppeteers and it contains a ton of animatronics as well. Be sure to see some of the videos of Kong in motion.

TAIT Take Over – Karla Ramsey – Scenic artists at TAIT Towers create the proscenium arch for the Elton John concert. It is a combination of foam carving and clay sculpting, with everything molded and cast for the final piece. A few of my friends and colleagues spent the summer up here working on this, and the results are spectacular.

Cosplay Shines At DragonCon – Make Magazine has a great round-up of cosplay photographs from the recent DragonCon in Atlanta, GA. Yes, there is a whole convention just for dragons.

Modeling and 3D-Printing Wonder Woman’s Tiara for Cosplay! – Darrell Maloney made this video to show us how he modeled a digital version of Wonder Woman’s tiara from the recent film. He then 3D printed it, and shows us how he finished and painted it as well.

Submit Your Role Call-ers! – American Theatre Magazine has a regular segment where they highlight theatre workers that more people should know about. This December, they will be profiling twenty folks that should be known outside their discipline. You can nominate people you think they should highlight; let’s see some props people up in there!

Late Weekend Prop Links

How Sharp Objects Made Amma’s Creepy Dollhouse – Don’t read this if you haven’t watched the show yet, since it contains major spoilers for the season finale. But the exquisite detail (and six-figure budget) that went into this dollhouse is stunning, and really shows off the craftsmanship that the props team is capable of.

Cinefex Vault #14 – Troy – Remember that movie, Troy? Wolfgang Petersen’s epic tale of Ancient Greece was filled with extremely accurate period detail, so when they needed boats, they built real boats. Marine coordinator Mike Turk’s business has been building ships in London since 1710 and supplying boats for film since 1938.

The Chair Maker: Lawrence Neal – Lawrence Neal is a fifth-generation chair maker. Watch him work his magic in this stunning short video.

When Damage Is Done – American Theatre recently covered the spate of harassment stories which have unfolded in several theaters over the past year. From Long Wharf, to the Guthrie, to the Alley, these otherwise-renowned institutions represent just the tip of the iceberg of bullying, harassment, and sexism that has long been brushed off in our industry.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies