Tag Archives: decorative

Daenerys' chest of dragon eggs

Replica Chest from Game of Thrones

Usually, I am building props for a show or production I am working on. I rarely have time to work on my own projects. However, someone was interested to see if I could replicate a chest from the television show Game of Thrones. Now, I have nothing to do with the show itself, but it sounded like an interesting challenge to see if I could match something I could only see on screen. There wasn’t anything particularly tricky about this chest; it just had a lot of pieces and parts made of an assortment of materials, and some very time-consuming detail. For those who watch the show, this is the chest given to Daenerys in season one, which held her petrified dragon eggs.

I shot video of most of the build along the way and somehow edited several months of work into seven and a half minutes of video, giving an overview of the process.

If you are interested in more detail and photographs, read on!

Daenerys' chest of dragon eggs
Daenerys’ chest of dragon eggs

The first part was the box itself. I worked out a quick mock-up of the whole piece in SketchUp to figure out the sizes and proportions of all the parts. I decided to use ash on this because it is hard and strong like oak, but I really hate working with oak. The grain pattern of ash was also a better match to the real chest than oak. We have a great local hardwood store that I visited, and I was able to find boards wide enough that I could build every side (except the top) from a single width of wood. The bottom was a piece of oak plywood.

Wooden box
Wooden box

The chest has a number of areas covered in metal. I bought a sheet of 22 gauge steel and cut it up by hand with my airplane snips. I used my sheet metal bending brake on the corner pieces, while the rolled-over edges of the top pieces were bent by hand with sheet metal tools and pliers. Although I could have saved time by making these out of plastic and painting them to look like metal, the “roll over” parts would have ended up too fragile; on the very corners, you can see how thin the metal is, and any plastic that thin would flex whenever you touch it. The hasp on this chest also rests against a metal section, so it gives that solid metal-to-metal sound every time you open and close the lid.

Sheet metal layers
Sheet metal layers

The most time-intensive part was the applied decoration. I used styrene plastic for this because using actual brass would have been prohibitively expensive and time-consuming, and a cheaper metal would have required just as much paint to match the appearance that the added labor was not worth it. I began by going through all the scenes in the TV show where the chest appeared and pulling out as many clear screen shots as I could, and then manipulating them in Photoshop to get a straight-on view. I scaled them up to full-size, printed them out and cut the pieces into patterns to trace on the styrene. Some parts of the design needed to be extrapolated slightly because I never got a clear view, but because it was symmetrical, repetitive and followed a certain logic, I was pretty confidant with how well my version matched the original.

Patterns and reference
Patterns and reference

Nearly every element was made of at least two layers of styrene, so after cutting the several hundred pieces out, I began gluing them together using model airplane glue. I did not attach them to the box just yet, but I did lay them out to test fit everything.

Unpainted decoration
Unpainted decoration

With all the pieces ready, I began painting. They received a base coat of hammered silver spray paint, followed by a heavy dusting of hammered bronze spray paint. They would receive more paint later on, but at this point I began attaching them. Working on one side at a time, I first laid every piece out and used careful measurements to make sure everything was symmetrical and evenly-spaced. I then traced every single piece in place and labeled them by number before taking them off. I did some tests and found contact cement gave the strongest bond, though that meant I had to apply it to both the plastic piece and the box, and I could not apply it to the parts of the box where the wood was visible, so I had to carefully paint it within the traced outlines I had made. Luckily, the contact cement bonds almost instantly, so I could begin working on another side after one was completed.

Spray painted pieces
Spray painted pieces

The inside of the chest was leather, though I went with a slightly-more processed version which was already finished and could fit through my sewing machine. I stitched all the pieces together first, and then attached them in as a single unit. I used a bit of spray adhesive to keep them from shifting around, but they are mostly held in place with the visible upholstery tacks. I pre-drilled holes for the tacks so I could make sure the spacing was even, and also because the ash was too hard to just hammer the tacks straight in.

Leather interior
Leather interior

I found hinges online that were so close to the ones on the real chest that I wouldn’t be surprised if the prop makers bought theirs from the same supplier. I could not source the hasp though, so I had to fabricate it from scratch. I started with a basic hardware store hasp and cut notches in the edges. The tip was cut from another decorative gate hinge. I cut a bar of steel to length and bent a curl in the edge, than plug welded the whole thing together from behind and ground the welds flush to the surface.

Pieces for the hasp
Pieces for the hasp

With all the pieces in place, all that was left was some painting and sealing. The top layers of all the decoration were sponged with a lighter brass color to set them off, and the whole chest was washed down with some dark browns and blacks to age and weather it. Finally, everything was coated in a clear satin Polycryclic.

Pristine and unsealed chest
Pristine and unsealed chest

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did!

A Grand Wedding Cake

A Grand Wedding Cake for Cloud 9

We just closed and struck Cloud 9 here at Elon University. I was the prop master on the show and built a lot of the pieces. One of the fun (and funny) props I constructed was a grand Victorian-era wedding cake. It was meant to be a bit over-the-top, with a grand appearance at the end of Act One when the hastily-arranged wedding occurs. Part of the visual humor came from the cake toppers; the scenic designer (Natalie Taylor Hart) wanted the groom to be a detailed representation of a man striding atop of a Royal Orb, while the bride would be a much smaller and crudely-made figurine stuck in the cake as an afterthought (the play, for those unfamiliar, deals with gender politics in various degrees).

Sculpting the Cake Topper
Sculpting the Cake Topper

To make a sculpted figurine of the groom, I started off with bending a wire armature into the pose I wanted. This also let me establish the proportions of the limbs. It wasn’t anything fancy; I cut up a wire hanger and held it in place with plumber’s putty. Plumber’s putty is a type of epoxy putty which is soft and shape-able when you first mix it together, and becomes rock hard after a few minutes. I liked it on this project because I could build up the sculpture bit by bit, allowing the parts to become hard as I worked on other things. I could return to the sculpture later and add more bits without worrying about smooshing the parts I already made. It also did not need to be fired or coated to finish it. The putty I used was left over from another show, so I did not have to spend any more money on a show with a tight budget.

In the last frame of the picture above, you can see I added some clothes. The putty is not very good for getting fine details; you can machine and carve it after it has hardened, but I wanted a quicker way to get some semi-realistic clothing texture on top. I took muslin and soaked it in glue and water, than manipulated it over top until it “draped” like a shirt and pants. After the glue dried, it retained its shape.

A Grand Wedding Cake
A Grand Wedding Cake

The rest of the cake was pretty straightforward. The bottom base is a strip of wiggle wood wrapped around plywood formers, while the top is a solid chunk of white bead foam coated in joint compound. I used painter’s caulk for the icing details. Normally you want to use acrylic caulk rather than silicone caulk, because silicone caulk does not take paint. However, I found some newer stuff which is a mix of acrylic and silicone; the acrylic makes it paint-able, while the silicone keeps it a bit flexible and lets it dry a lot faster. I bought a few decorative cake icing tips, and just attached them to the end of the caulk tube so it would come out all fancy.

Completed bench

Making a Cast Iron Park Bench

First, I wanted to mention that I have redone and updated my online portfolio; it was in desperate need of an overhaul, especially now that I am freelancing again. I went with a free site at CarbonMade.com, because the thought of designing and coding yet another portfolio site was making me tired just thinking about it. I’ve seen some other prop makers who use that site to show their work, and so far, it seems to be working well. Let me know what you think!

Now then, let’s take a look at a bench I made back in 2006 at the Santa Fe Opera. I basically had to build the whole thing from scratch in less than a week, so it’s a bit rough.

Research image
Research image

They wanted a cast iron park bench. The only real requirements were the size, so I had to find my own research image. I showed the above photograph to Randy Lutz, the prop master, and he agreed it was a good bench to duplicate.

Basic layout of sides
Basic layout of sides

I drew a full-scale layout of the side on a piece of paper and spray-glued it to a sheet of plywood. You’ll notice the decorative parts do not match the photograph exactly. What I decided to do was pull some decorative resin castings and carved wood pieces from stock—the opera has quite a good collection of these. I then arranged them to match the research as closely as possible. I traced them and cut away the extra plywood. You’ll see in a bit when I start gluing them on, it’ll all make sense.

Adding the back and seat
Adding the back and seat

I cut out and added some support runners on the insides of the two ends and began to attach the slats which would make up the back and the seat. It needed some extra support, so I ran a rod along the bottom; you can see it in the next photograph.

Adding applied details
Adding applied details

Now I began attaching the decorative resin bits. I also used some Ethafoam rod cut in half to make some curved half-round molding. I found a strip of upholstery fringe which added more texture.

Closeup of details
Closeup of details

Here’s a closeup showing some of the resin bits and Ethafoam, as well as some rosettes and even bits of yarn. If you look really close, you can even make out a bit of hot glue design work; though it’s practically invisible here, once the paint goes on, it will add just that extra little bit of texture that will make the whole thing seem like a single piece of cast iron from the audience.

Paint job
Paint job

The paint job is what really helped marry all the different materials together and bring the whole thing to life. The painter of this bench worked as one of the other props carpenters for the beginning of the summer, so none of us knew how good he was at scenic art until he did this bench.

Completed bench
Completed bench

So here it is, ready to go on stage. I even added some round bolt heads running down the middle so it looked like the slats were bolted to the legs. Overall, it was a fun piece for the short time frame I had to build it in.