Video: Water Mist Fire Effect

I have a new book, The Prop Effects Guidebook, being published this February. It will show you how to do all sorts of magical effects, like the fire effect in the video below.

Water Mist Fire Effect video

I first saw this effect in a video from another theater (I forget which one, I’m dreadfully sorry). Our technical director at the time, Chris Simpson, recreated it and we’ve used it in several productions since then. It works best inside of a fireplace or another semi-enclosed area where you can hide all the equipment.

I will be releasing more companion videos to the book as we draw closer to the book’s release. You can watch all of them on YouTube.

The Prop Effects Guidebook is available for pre-order now at most major retailers. If you need a Christmas gift for that special props person, be sure to check out my first book, The Prop Building Guidebook: for Theatre, Film, and TV.

Video: Blood Bags

My next book, The Prop Effects Guidebook, is due out this coming February. Where The Prop Building Guidebook taught you how to construct the physical props, this new book will teach you how to do all the magic effects that a prop person is called on to provide.

I filmed a series of companion videos to the book which demonstrate the techniques and effects presented within its pages. I will be posting these videos to my blog over the next three months as we approach the book’s release date.

The first video is on blood bags, one of the essential tools for any play with a blood effect. I demonstrate how to make one using an impulse sealer.

Blood Bags

You can pre-order The Prop Effects Guidebook now at most major retailers. It will not be released in time for Christmas, but if you need a gift, The Prop Building Guidebook is sure to please the props person in your life.

Late Weekend Links

Hero Props: Graphic Design in Film & Television – The 99% Invisible Podcast sits down with Annie Atkins, a graphic designer who makes paper props and other signage for films.

Blood Test – The Many Shades of Bookshelves and Blood – Jay Duckworth talks about how he got the blood just right for one of the Public Theater’s latest productions.

The film props firm targeting the YouTube generation – BBC News sits down with Ryan Johnson, president of NewRuleFX. They make breakaway bottles, as well as foam frying pans, custom e-cigarettes, and other special effect props.

Weta Workshop: Behind the Scenes on Thor: Ragnarok – Weta Workshop made some super colorful weapons and armor for the latest Thor film. Check out some behind-the-scenes footage in this video. In another video, Tested visits Ironhead Studio to talk about making Hela’s magnificent headdress from the same film.

Probius the Protoss Probe – Prop Build Tutorials – Punished Props debuted a replica prop of the Protoss Probe at this year’s Blizzcon convention. Check out this series of videos detailing the build process as well as giving tutorials on many of the techniques used.

A Contingency for your Contingency Plan

When you are estimating the cost to build a prop, you often add a “contingency.” Take 15-25% of the anticipated cost and tack it on to the estimate. So if you predict that a prop will cost $100, a 15% contingency is $15, making your new estimate $115.  I recently heard a student ask whether a contingency should be applied to every item in your estimate, or to the estimate as a whole.

To help me think this through, I looked up the definition of contingency. It is a “provision for an unforeseen event or circumstance.”

When you are purchasing your materials, you probably want to buy a little extra. You may mess up a cut, you might measure something wrong, a section might be damaged, or you may have underestimated how much you will need in your original plan. Often, the cost of getting just a little bit more material later is greater than the cost of buying a little extra material at the beginning. Materials are often cheaper in bulk. If you buy them online, it is cheaper to pay shipping once rather than twice, and many material suppliers have minimum order requirements. Even if you can get things locally, the cost of multiple purchases can add up; sure, a single screw may only be 13 cents, but the half hour trip to the hardware store adds several dollars worth of time to its price.

So pad your material needs. When I buy hardware, I buy by the box to make sure I have enough. Sometimes you use more than you originally thought, sometimes you just drop a few screws and can’t find them. When I buy fabric, I round up to the nearest yard (or add a few yards if it is cheap enough). Especially when it is materials I know I can use for future projects, any extra will go onto my shelves and save money down the line.

Not every material or line item will be padded, of course. If your project requires a motor that costs $200, you’re not going to buy two of them, right? I mean, not unless you’re planning for a lengthy open-ended run and your company has the money.

I do not really think of material padding as part of your contingency, because it is not an “unforeseen event”. The contingency is added on top of everything at the end. It is for costs you could not have planned for or for costs that come up because of changing circumstances. “Oh, I need to buy degreaser to clean this steel.” “Oops, I need to buy rags to apply this stain.” “I’ve just been told I need to buy a drop cloth before painting this.” “This prop is heavier than I anticipated and will need handles.” “Now they want to put a light inside this magic wand.”

So pad the amount of materials as needed, than add a contingency to the top of everything. That’s what I find works for me.

Prop Stories to Keep You Busy

Ever wonder who dresses each and every set at The Rep? – Milwaukee Repertory Theater brings us this video of Jim Guy, their props director. He talks about what props are and takes us on a tour of the prop storage areas deep in the heart of the Rep. It’s pretty basic stuff, but it is always nice when a theater recognizes the people of the production department.

King’s Fine Woodworking builds Thor’s Hammer – This video shows the making of Mjolnir, Thor’s famed hammer from the Marvel movies, out of a giant block of silver maple, along with some walnut for the handle. It’s a cool twist to the standard replica prop build.

5 Things Wrong With the Arcade in ‘Stranger Things 2’ – GeekDad dives deep into the details of the set dressing for the 1980s arcade in the new season of Stranger Things. They lovingly point out where the decor deviates from history, but in most cases, they make a guess as to why the production department chose those changes.

Design Curves for Irregular Shapes – If you’ve never studied hand drafting, you may not know how to use a French curve (and some folks don’t even know that French curves exist). Chris Schwartz gives a quick tutorial for this tool that will help you draw smoother curves.

What are you looking for in a portfolio? – In this video, Laura Pates, Assistant Technical Director at Playmakers Rep, tells NCTC what kinds of things should go in a design/technical portfolio. Bonus points for being filmed in the lobby of Triad Stage, where I work!

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies