Another Fine Set of Links

Puppets are still very much a thing, according to this American Theatre article. Scott Cummings checks in on some of the companies, festivals, and books dealing with puppetry in a contemporary context.

The costume shop at PlayMakers Rep is working on the enviable task of recreating costumes for the Museum of Science Fiction. Rachel Pollock takes us through the steps of making Neo’s costume from The Matrix.

Popular Woodworking magazine brings us this awesome process for faking antique wood. It uses just paint, lacquer and a heat gun. No crazy chemicals or stains needed!

Propnomicon shows us some great primary research on “Things in a Jar”. If you’ve ever made preserved specimens, Britta Miller works at a museum specimen collection, and has kindly shared all kinds of visual and technical details about the actual jarring and labeling of things in jars.

Finally, Make Magazine shares top tips from 17 amazing makers. I wanted to point out one quote that many of us props people can relate to:

“He was giving the interviewer a tour of his shop, showing the towering shelves of carefully-sorted industrial junk. He said something like, ‘Properly sorted, this is a parts library and a useful tool. Unsorted, and it’s a pile of junk and a curse.'”

Wax Paper Transfer to Wood

Triad Stage just closed a production of Fences which I prop mastered. One of the set dressing items was a wooden plaque with a prayer written on it. I tried out a technique I saw where you print onto wax paper and transfer that to wood. It worked well, so I experimented with it some more, making this video in the process.

I wanted a crate to haul around the props I bring to Maker Faires, so I designed an old-timey crate label for it.

Wax paper transfer
Wax paper transfer

As you can see in the video, the process is very simple. Cut a piece of wax paper. Attach it to regular printer paper. Get an image on your computer and mirror it so it prints out in reverse. Send your wax paper through your inkjet printer. Lay it on your piece of wood and burnish the back of the paper so you rub all the ink off. Be careful not to move the wax paper around once it is on the wood.

In the picture above, you can see a few spots along the edges where the ink sort of blotted up and didn’t transfer as well. The wax paper wants to curl as it goes through the printer, and the ink will not sit right if it is too far or too close from the print head. The first time I tried this, I sent just the wax paper through, and most of the image ended up blotted. Attaching the wax paper to a piece of regular paper helps keep that from happening. The next time I do this, I may try using spray adhesive to attach the wax paper to regular paper, or just use an image that does not go so far to the edges of the page (the edges are where you get the most curling).

Four Hot Prop Links

What’s the difference between Worbla and Wonderflex? Kamui Cosplay puts these low-melting thermoplastics through the ringer to find out how they differ. She also looks at lesser-known brands like Thibra and Cosplayflex.

BBC asks ten questions of Craig Williams, props master on Orphan Black. Find out what his favorite prop is and whether the crew plays pranks on each other. Oh, there’s a bit more useful information here too.

Ward Works builds a vacuum former and presents the whole step-by-step process with photographs. The whole thing was done for under $600, though you can save money if you have a lot of scrap around the shop.

Make has 11 hot glue tips, tricks and hacks. Most of these go outside the realm of normal hot glue usage. I especially like the one of using hot glue to glue your hot glue into your hot glue gun.

Death of a Mask Maker

Last Saturday, we found out that Donato Sartori passed away. His father, Amleto Sartori, was responsible for reintroducing the art of leather mask making for Commedia dell’arte after World War II. Commedia was outlawed by Napoleon in 1797, and its craft traditions were lost until Amleto reverse-engineered them and shared them with the world. Donato continued his work; most of what we know about the use of masks in Commedia come from these two.

Here we have a video from 1955 showing Amleto at work. It is unfortunately in Italian and only a minute long, but it gives a good overview of his process for creating a mask out of leather.

Here we have a much longer video showing Donato and his workshop from just a few years ago. Again, it is in Italian, but you get to see many steps of the mask-making process, as well as a glimpse inside the studio that both Donato and Amleto worked from.

I got to visit that studio in 2012 when my wife was taking their mask-making workshop. It is difficult to convey just how influential the Sartoris were in the world of modern theatrical masks. We do not have much of a mask tradition here in the US, but it is very popular in Europe and Asia. My wife once bought a Balinese mask, and she told the mask-maker that it reminded her of Commedia masks. It turns out he had met Donato a few times and they shared techniques with each other.

RIP Donato Sartori (1939-2016)

Stories to End the Week

This Saturday (April 23rd) is the Burlington Mini Maker Faire. I’ll have a booth there, so if you live in the area, come say hi. There will also be real moon rocks on display, which are slightly smaller than theatrical moon rocks.

Hollywood Reporter takes a peek inside Newel Antiques, one of NYC’s largest prop rental houses for antique furniture and dressing. They have an exquisite collection, and have been outfitting TV, film, and theater with valuable pieces since 1939. Incidentally, this is the second article this month talking about how props is enjoying a boom because of all the content being created by Netflix, Hulu, and the like.

Sculptural Arts Coating celebrates 25 years in the business. John and Lisa Saari have been making Sculpt-or-Coat, Artist’s Choice paints, and Plastic Varnish right here in Greensboro since the early 90s.

Caroline Framke spends five months on the set of The Americans to see how a TV episode is made. She sees everything from the first table read, to dressing the set, to editing the final cut. This article is very in-depth and fascinating to read. talks with Adam Savage about Star Wars. Though we know him from Mythbusters and Tested, Savage was also a model maker on Star Wars Episodes I and II. He talks about his time at ILM building models as well as his love of these movies in general.

Finally, Make has four cheap tricks for drilling straight holes. Nobody likes a crooked screw.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies