Tag Archives: Brian Wolfe

Vacuum formed turkey

A Disappearing Turkey

To all of my American readers, I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving this week! Brian Wolfe from Costume Armour sent me some photographs of a trick turkey they recently created, which seems apropos to the holiday.

For this trick, a waiter needed to walk in with a food cart. He lifts the lid off of a covered tray revealing a delicious roast turkey. He replaces the lid, and the next time the lid is removed, the turkey is gone. Instead, an actor’s head is on the tray, and the actor begins to speak.

This is the drawing he shared with me:

Drawing for a turkey trick
Drawing for a turkey trick

They needed a giant, oversized turkey with enough room inside to fit a head; it also needed to be light enough that it could be lifted along with the tray (you will see why in a minute). They had a rubber turkey in stock, but it was too small and heavy. So they decided to vacuum form a new one. They carved the turkey in foam, made a two-piece mold, and vacuum formed it in 0.04″ Kydex plastic.

Vacuum formed turkey halves
Vacuum formed turkey halves

They cut out the pieces, glued them together, and painted them. Next, they cut a large hole in the bottom:

Hole in the bottom of the turkey
Hole in the bottom of the turkey

The tray was also vacuum formed, this time in a heavy 0.093″ Kydex plastic with a metallic finish. The bottom was formed over a wooden mold, while the lid used a plaster mold. They also added some artificial lettuce which was bought.

Vacuum formed turkey
Vacuum formed turkey

A brass drawer pull completed the look to the lid. The small black rectangle next to it in the photograph below is a small toggle switch:

Tray Cover
Tray Cover

When the waiter flips this switch, a small battery-powered electromagnet turns on (shown in the next photograph). The turkey had a small piece of flat steel hidden on top which is grabbed by this magnet. So when the magnet is on and the tray lid is lifted, the turkey travels along with it, hidden from the audience’s view.

Battery and magnet
Battery and magnet

The diagram below illustrates how the whole trick was set up. I’ve seen this same basic principle carried out in a number of different ways, but the combination of the hollow turkey and electromagnet makes this execution especially elegant; you can control whether the turkey or head is visible simply by the flick of a switch. The actor underneath does not have to do anything.

Turkey trick diagram
Turkey trick diagram

Hope you enjoyed this! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Knight of the Mirrors from "Man of La Mancha"

Costume Armour

This past weekend I made a trip up to Cornwall, NY, to visit Costume Armour. Brian Wolfe, the general manager, happily showed me around the shop, storage areas and all the pieces they have on display. Costume Armour was founded over 50 years ago by Peter and Katherine Feller, and later purchased by theatrical sculptor Nino Novellino in 1976, and has produced pieces for nearly every Broadway show since then.

Knight of the Mirrors from "Man of La Mancha"
Knight of the Mirrors from "Man of La Mancha"

The piece that kind of began Costume Armour is the armor from the original Broadway production of The Man of La Mancha. Before then, armor was either leather, felt or heavy metal. They solved many problems by vacuum forming a suit of armor from newly sculpted molds based off of historical research. Though the suit itself predates the company, Novellino made it while working with Peter Feller on the vacuum forming machines built by Feller to construct the Vatican pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair. Costume Armour still has those machines, and they are part of what makes their company extraordinary. The vacuum tank is over 1000 gallons, and they can produce pieces from sheets of plastic as large as 52″ by 12′-0″.

Helmets
Helmets

The shop was in the midst of a big order for the Disney Jedi Training Academy, Star Wars Weekends and Celebration, which they have been doing since 2004.

Celastic
Celastic

I was interested to learn that the shop still uses Celastic quite a bit for many of their sculptures. The original brand-named Celastic has long ceased being manufactured, though they did have a few rolls stock-piled for those extra-special projects (pictured above). The modern equivalents are a bit thicker, but act the same; the cloth is saturated with acetone, than draped or molded over a form or sculpture, and when the acetone evaporates, you are left with a rigid and rock hard surface. Brian explained that it is unrivaled for making realistically-sculpted drapes and clothes on statues.

So I stand corrected on my earlier article on Celastic, in which I claimed that it is rarely used and that there are less toxic alternatives that can do the same thing. Of course, using it requires the proper safeguards for dealing with large buckets of acetone, but working with most materials in the props shop requires understanding and protecting yourself against any potential hazards and toxins.

Jesus and C-3PO
Jesus and C-3PO

While I saw something cool around every corner, I thought I would point out the above picture. They cast a head based off of a scan and model of the Shroud of Turin, so what you have here is what many believe to be the real head of Jesus. He is, of course, on a shelf next to a C-3PO mask.

See you later!
See you later!

The statue pictured above was produced was was sculpted in foam, molded in silicone and cast in fiberglass . Though larger than me, I could easily pick it up off the ground; most of the weight, in fact, came from the plywood base, and not the statue itself.

Novellino was featured in the American Theatre Wing’s In the Wings series; watch the video to learn more about the company and to see the vacuum forming machines in action.