Here’s a great clip from a “Making of” video on the original The Matrix from 1999. Did it really come out that long ago? The film uses a great blend of practical effects and CGI, and this clip focuses on one sequence in particular that uses a whole blend of techniques.
It is always fun when you inherit a props stock to go through and imagine what shows the props have previously appeared in, or to see how previous props people have solved problems. Every once in awhile, though, you see something that is so… “theatrical”, that you just have to stare at it for a bit:
If you are familiar with the “fast-good-cheap” triangle, this prop is firmly in the “fast and cheap” category. Despite its aesthetic shortcomings, it is actually a fairly clever solution. It uses materials and found objects that are common to most prop shops, and it is constructed in a manner that probably took less than an hour. It is also possible that on the right stage, under the right lighting and in the right context, this may have looked fine, and the time it would have taken to make this look better was better spent on other props.
Obviously, you would never put a prop like this in your portfolio, and it is not something you should aspire to. It can definitely use a second-pass of sanding and painting. The plywood could have been cut out more carefully, and the excess of glue oozing out everywhere is disturbing. But as I said above, without knowing the circumstances of when this was built, it may have been the least-bad option at the time. There are no judgments in props, only opportunities for improvement.
The following article comes from an 1896 article in The New York Times:
Edmund M. Holland Destroyed $5
In the first act of “A Social Highwayman,” at the Garrick Theatre, a game of poker is played. One of the players, William Norris, puts a fifty-dollar bill, stage money, on the table and makes an uncomplimentary remark about thieves just as Edmund M. Holland, who plays the part of a valet, is entering the room. Mr. Holland approaches the table when nobody is looking and steals the fifty-dollar bill.
The property man forgot to give the bill to Mr. Norris last Wednesday night and Mr. Norris did not discover that he had forgotton to ask for it until he was on the stage. Then there was great finessing to get a bill without letting the audience know anything was wrong.
Finally Mr. Norris slipped toward the wings and asked several employes of the theatre to let him have a bill. The stage carpenter was the only financier in the party, and he promptly handed to the actor a five-dollar bill, good money.
Mr. Holland has a habit of destroying the stage money after he makes his exit. The act is unconcious and due to nervousness.
After the performance Mr. Norris went to Mr. Holland’s dressing room and asked that the stage carpenter’s bill be returned to him.
“Oh, I tore that up,” remarked Mr. Holland, pointing to a lot of pieces on the floor.
Mr. Norris said a few terse words, looked ruefully at the small pieces of greenback, and went sadly away.
He gave the stage carpenter $5 and tried to keep the story quiet.
First published in The New York Times, February 9, 1896.
Welding is a great skill for a prop master or prop maker to have, though it can be a hard one to begin learning. The best way to learn is to have someone teach and guide you as you practice on your own. Whether that’s possible or not, it is also a good idea to watch some videos on welding to pick up background information and to get a different perspective on some of the techniques.
I discovered Kevin Caron’s videos on welding; he has dozens of videos covering all sorts of welding styles and techniques. His background is in metal art and fabrication, so the way he demonstrates welding is close to how a props artisan approaches welding. We rarely have to deal with all the technical information one might get with a traditional welding course, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed with all of that when you are just starting out and simply want to join a few pieces of steel together for a static prop.
We start off today with this look at making a mold of a Zoidberg mask. These techniques are way above my pay-grade, but it is interesting to see such expert work done on a mold. This is actually the 9th installment of an ongoing series dedicated to creating a mask of the eponymous Futurama character, so check out the other parts if you want to see how it was sculpted and designed.
Set designer Anna Louizos has grown tired of seeing set models, set decoration and props ending up in the dumpster after a show closes, so she has begun a website selling them off to collectors. Check out this news story on how she got started, then head on over to the web site itself. Collecting theatre memorabilia is not nearly as wide-spread as collecting movie memorabilia, but hopefully this site makes it more common.
This sounds like it could be a nightmare: your theatre company wants to use the scene/prop shop as a performing space for one of their shows. Check out this video as Paddy Duggin, a carpenter and prop maker at the State Theatre Company in Australia, explains how they did exactly that for an upcoming production of The Seagull.
And finally, we have the movies, where if you need a plane, you just build a plane. Find out why the production designer for Non-Stop needed to build a plane from scratch rather than re-purposing an existing one.