Elephant Puppet Heads

Last week I showed you the Lion Puppets I made for Triad Stage’s Beautiful Star. Today you can see how the Elephant Puppets were done.

The idea was similar; they were designed to look like a giant papier-mache head with a flowing fabric body made of silk.

Stack of foam
Stack of foam

I made this one from a stack of insulation foam sheets. I cut their outlines and did some beveling with the hot wire cutter before attaching them together. This helped establish the proportions and maintain some symmetry.

Someone in the shop told me that Spray 77 would work well to stick them together. I thought it would eat into the foam, but I was surprised when I tried it. It attacked the foam a little bit, but it made a pretty strong bond.

Shaping with a rasp
Shaping with a rasp

I began shaping the foam with a mix of snap-blade knives and surform tools. I also tried out one of my newer purchases, a saw file rasp. It is made up of a bunch of criss-crossing saw blades, making it very aggressive in removing material. It is completely open, though, so all the foam passes right through rather than clogging it up. Very nice.

Carved elephant head
Carved elephant head

The finished foam piece may look a little funny, but that is because it doesn’t have a trunk or tusks. The trunk was going to be a piece of silk which the actors can manipulate, and the tusks would be separate pieces of Wonderflex. This piece of foam was now ready to use to make Wonderflex shells for the head.

Wonderflex head
Wonderflex head

I covered the foam piece in aluminum foil so the Wonderflex would not stick to the foam. I’ve tried other methods, like coating the foam in plaster or using Vaseline as a mold release, but the aluminum foil is so much faster and easier. The Wonderflex does not pick up enough detail for the texture of the aluminum foil to show, and it peels off the back of the Wonderflex piece pretty easily.

Painted with tusks
Painted with tusks

I had a set of bull horns in stock which I used as a form to make the tusks out of Wonderflex.

Elephant puppet. Photo by Lisa Bledsoe.
Elephant puppet. Photo by Lisa Bledsoe.

My assistant Lisa made the ears, trunks, and legs out of China silk. During the performance, the elephants flew down on a line from the catwalks and hung there. The actors could grab a stick that was attached to their trunk to make the trunk dance around.

Snow Day Links

Did you see my AMA this week on Reddit? A lot of good questions were asked, and I hope I gave decent answers to all of them.

I’m not the only one starting to use fun foam for everything. Propnomicon has this great video from Evil Ted on heat forming foam for various effects. He shows you not only how to shape and bend it, but also how to add indented details.

This is from a year ago, but the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art has a video showing the inside of their prop department where Deryk Cropper teaches the next generation of UK prop builders.

How many Millennium Falcons have there been? Cinefex looks at the history of Star Wars and talks about all the various physical models of this iconic spaceship, from tiny coin-sized miniatures up to full-size set pieces. It’s a little sad to hear that the full-size version created for the original trilogy was burned at the end of filming.

Ed Lebetkin’s antique tool shop in Pittsboro supplied all the period-appropriate tools for the new film The Revenant. The shop is right above Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s Shop and is just down the road from me. I got to visit the place a few years ago and wrote about it on this very blog. The last photograph and paragraph talk about Lebetkin’s shop.

Props a’Plenty

Hi everyone. I am doing a Reddit AMA this Monday on the Tech Theatre subreddit. So head on over and ask me anything you want about working in props or writing books and such. You’ll be able to post questions all day, and then from 7-9pm (EST) I’ll actually be answering them.

The BBC shows us how the Old Vic used to make thunder back in the eighteenth century. It’s very good, isn’t it?

NY1 heads north of New York City to see how Hudson Scenic Studio builds sets for Broadway. I went up there a few years back, and it really is an impressive facility.

Everybody’s talking about that bread in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; it turns out, it wasn’t CGI. In a new video, Neal Scanlan reveals how they made the trick work. They don’t have any behind-the-scenes video of the setup, but he gives a good enough description that you may be able to make one yourself.

Property Plot from 1893

I came across an article titled “How a Play is Produced” in the 1893 collection of Popular Monthly magazines. It has some wonderful illustrations and useful information that I might post at some point in the future, but I first wanted to share a few of the prop-related items from the article.

First up is a facsimile of a property plot sent out to theaters from a traveling production of Blue Jeans.

Property Plot, 1892
Property Plot, 1892

The article also has a fine description of the props master at the time (almost exclusively men at this time):

The “property” man is another important individual, and has several assistants. His work consists in taking charge of and providing all the movable articles used in the play, such as furniture, carpets, clocks, costumes, guns, umbrellas, books, newspapers, plates, glasses and eatables. These last are usually of the customary property quality, i.e., papier-maché, and the “property man” is the culinary artist who manufactures them. It is no uncommon thing, on inquiring for the “property man” in a theatre, to be told that he is upstairs “making a chicken.”

Finally, we have this wonderful illustration of a property room:

A property room, 1893
A property room, 1893

Source: Hornblow, Arthur. “How a Play Is Produced.” Popular Monthly 1893: 614-22. Google Books. Web. 6 Jan. 2016.

Welcome, Links of 2016

The New York Times’ Vocations column interviewed James Blumenfeld, the props master at the Met Opera. He runs a staff of 35(!) and has been there since 1983.

The Algoma Mop Manufacturers were pressed into service to make the 500 mops needed for David O. Russell’s latest film, Joy. They had one of the few machines needed to recreate the Miracle Mops from the 1990s that figure so prominently in the film.

And since we’re talking about Joy, how about this article on creating the vintage singles’ ads from the movie? Ross MacDonald also made the children’s book that appears in the film.

Sticking with Ross, he has a whole lot of information on his latest props; he made tons of vintage packaging and paper props for The Hateful Eight, Tarantino’s latest film. He also designed the vintage packaging for Red Apple Tobacco, Tarantino’s signature brand that appears in all of his films. You can read more about that in my interview with him last year.

The Rosco Blog shows how Techland Houston made a foam model of the Starship Enterprise. Just in time for The Force Awakens!

Fox 12 in Portland catches up with Portland prop master Greg McMickle. McMickle is currently the props master for The Librarians, but his work has also been seen in the Twilight franchise, Wild, and Twin Peaks.

 

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies