Quantum Creations FX’s Fallout Pip-Boy Prop – Tested takes their video cameras to Monsterpalooza, where they chat with Christian Beckman, founder of Quantum Creation FX. He shows off a Pip-Boy prop they fabricated for a Fallout commercial, as well as a custom spacesuit they constructed specifically for the trade show.
Pro-tips for Painting Pretty Patinas – Angelique Powers brings us another article over at the Guild of Scenic Artists’ page, this time showing some cool techniques for faking patinas and verdigris on metallic surfaces.
Woodworking from the ‘Bone Age’ – Chris Schwartz unearths this great article on how archaeologists attempt to recreate ancient woodworking techniques using ancient tools to help them understand some of the artifacts they discover.
Making a Cardboard RPG – A prop builder named Blackfish made this cardboard rocket-propelled grenade that actually fires an exploding projectile. The video shows how it was done, and they have templates available as well.
A Word to the Wise on Resumes & Cover Letters – Jay Duckworth brings us some advice on writing resumes and cover letters from the Public Theater Props Department, which receives 100-200 resumes a year. Always remember to spelcheck before sending one out!
Why Mary Robinette Kowal Traded in Puppets for Science Fiction – Though largely know for her science fiction and fantasy novels, some of us knew Mary Robinette Kowal back when she was a puppeteer. This is a great little article on how and why she made the transition, and how her theatre background informs her writing.
Secret Cinema – A New Life Awaits You – Cinefex has an interesting article about London’s “Secret Cinema,” which brings an interactive element to watching films. Sets, props, and costumes combine with live performance to create an otherworldly street fair surrounding the screening of a movie. It seems like the kind of thing a prop builder would love to get involved with.
The following comes from a 1916 book and describes the evolution of furniture on the theatrical stage:
When the modern play calls for an interior this interior now takes on the semblance of an actual room. Apparently the “box set,” as it is called, the closed-in room with its walls and its ceiling, was first seen in England in 1841, when ‘London Assurance’ was produced; but very likely it had earlier made its appearance in Paris at the Gymnase. To supply a room with walls of a seeming solidity, with doors and with windows, appears natural enough to us, but it was a startling innovation fourscore years ago. When the ‘School for Scandal’ had been originally produced at Drury Lane in 1775, the library of Joseph Surface, where Lady Teazle hides behind the screen, was represented by a drop at the back, on which a window was painted, and by wings set starkly parallel to this back-drop and painted to represent columns. There were no doors; and Joseph and Charles, Sir Peter and Lady Teazle, walked on thru the openings between the wings, very much as tho they were passing thru the non-existent walls. To us, this would be shocking; but it was perfectly acceptable to English playgoers then; and to them it seemed natural, since they were familiar with no other way of getting into a room on the stage.
The invention of the box-set, of a room with walls and ceilings, doors and windows, led inevitably to the appropriate furnishing of this room with tangible tables and chairs. Even in the eighteenth century the stage had been very empty; it was adorned only with the furniture actually demanded by the action of the drama; and the rest of the furniture, bookcases and sideboards, chairs and tables, was frankly painted on the wings and on the back-drop by the side of the painted mantelpieces, the painted windows, and the painted doors. In the plays of the twentieth century characters sit down and change from seat to seat; but in the plays produced in England and in France before the first quarter of the nineteenth century all the actors stood all the time—or at least they were allowed to sit only under the stress of dramatic necessity—as in the fourth act of ‘Tartuffe,’ for instance. In all of Molière’s comedies there are scarcely half a dozen characters who have occasion to sit down; and this sitting-down is limited to three or four of his more than thirty pieces. Nowadays every effort is made to capture the external realities of life. Sardou was not more careful in composing his stage-settings in his fashion than was Ibsen in prescribing the scenic environment that he needed. The author’s minute descriptions of the scenes where the action of the ‘Doll’s House’ and of ‘Ghosts’ passes prove that Ibsen had visualized sharply the precise interior which was, in his mind, the only possible home for the creatures of his imagination. And Mr. Belasco has recently bestowed upon the winning personality of his ‘Peter Grimm’ the exact habitation to which that appealing creature would return in his desire to undo after death what in life he had rashly commanded.
I receive a number of inquiries every month from strangers who found my work and want me to build a prop. They range from churches who put on small performances, to magicians who want to make their show more exciting, to cosplayers who want a fake weapon. Sometimes, people just need some weird, custom item built that does not fit any other craft or discipline.
I can usually tell from their first email whether I want to do business with them. If you are looking to hire a prop maker, here are a few tips and tricks to make sure they respond back.
Tell me what you want.
I will occasionally find an email that simply says, “I may have a project for you. Give me a call.” In my world, a “project” can mean anything from making a fake thumb to carving a Mount Rushmore parade float. I need some sense of the scope and scale of the project at the beginning, as well the general topic. You do not need to have all the details worked out, just a brief description. If you need a chair shaped like a mushroom, great, let us talk more. If you need an 18th century ballroom gown, I have no idea how to make that, and it is a waste of both of our times to discuss anything else before you reveal what the project actually is.
You don’t need to have any knowledge about specific materials or construction methods. You just need to give me the circumstances: will it be used outside? Does it need to fit in your car? Will children handle it? How heavy can it be?
Know your budget.
If you have something very specific to build, then I can come up with a bid of what it will cost. But if you are open, then I can come up with a range of solutions to fit most any budget. I can do a $3000 severed head, I can do a $300 severed head, and I can do many other options in between. And on a side note…
It may cost more than you anticipate.
I find it much easier to deal with businesses and companies in the entertainment industry, because they are used to dealing with prop builders and fabrication shops, and know how much these things cost. When I quote them a price, it is in line with what they have spent on similar things in the past. When I deal with individuals outside the industry who have never hired a prop builder before, the costs can be shocking. They see a cheap plastic sword on Amazon for $39 and think a custom-fabricated version will cost the same.
If I am contacted by a stranger who is not local, it is not even worth my time to consider projects less than a couple hundred dollars. Once you subtract materials and supplies, I can barely cover the cost of babysitting to spend time in my shop. Why would I want to spend my nights working on someone else’s project when I could be playing with my kids?
Give me a deadline.
Prop builders are busy folks, and they cannot just drop everything to start work on your project. If you have a specific timeline to complete the project, it becomes easier for the prop builder to carve time into their schedule. The shorter your timeline, the more expensive the project will be. I can do almost anything for the right price.
Also, be realistic about your deadlines. If you live in Seattle and you contact me, a North Carolina prop builder, for something you need in a week, it won’t happen. First, it may take a day or two just to hash out the details over email and commit to the project. Second, it will take a few days just to ship it there. That leaves almost zero time for the project itself, which may require materials to be ordered and paint to dry, not to mention I am already working on multiple projects at any given time.
Do your research.
If you really want a prop built, you should be contacting more than one prop builder. It is far easier to work with someone locally who you could visit in person, or at least pick the prop up personally. Chances are, there is one nearby. Look up local theaters and see if they list the prop department on their website. Not all prop builders have their information online, so it may take a few emails asking around before you get a name and contact information.
When you do find a prop builder, make sure your project is in line with other projects they have done. A prop builder who makes rubber ducks can probably make a rubber goose for you. However, a prop builder who fabricates medieval armor may not have the tools or skills to make that same rubber goose.
The best way to find prop builders is by asking other prop builders. If you contact one who cannot build your prop, ask them if they know anyone else who might be interested. We love referring jobs to other props people we know.
What are your thoughts?
Do any other prop builders out there have advice for people contacting them? Let me know!
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies