With the holiday season upon us, I thought it would be fun to once again see how Macy’s makes their world-famous window displays. CNN Money goes inside the workshop this year to see how a team of artists and craftspeople make these complicated and beautiful environments.
Earlier this week, I headed down past Raleigh to tour the amazing film prop collection of Wesley Cannon. I first read about him in an article in the Raleigh News Observer; I realized it was only a few hours away, so I couldn’t pass up a chance to see some well-known props right in my own backyard. Wesley has been collecting props, costumes and puppets/animatronics for about a dozen years. In that time he has amassed a truly remarkable assortment of well-known (and some not-so-well-known) objects and items. In fact, some of his better pieces are currently on loan to several museums around the world.
Besides what I have pictured here, he had a Mandrake root and several wands from the Harry Potter films, two pods from the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, many costumes from Silent Hill, even more costumes and props from Thirteen Ghosts, Wolverine’s claws, Samuel Jackson’s lightsaber from Star Wars, one of Jason’s masks from Friday the 13th, one of Freddy Krueger’s sweaters from A Nightmare on Elm Street, a monster from Feast, Jennifer Lopez’s costume from The Cell, a goblin sword from Labyrinth, lots of figures from The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, and so many other pieces from films that would take too long to list here.
Wesley has a bunch of mannequin displays of characters from several films. What is truly amazing about these is that they combine the latex prosthetics and makeup appliances, the costumes, and some of the hand props. These elements are not just made by different people, but in many cases by completely different shops and companies, so after the film, they often scatter back to their points of origin. It makes it especially remarkable that Wesley was able to track down and reassemble so many disparate parts back into what they looked like on film.
The room itself was customized by Tom Spina Designs; they also repaired and refurbished some of the older props which had fallen into disrepair. You can see a lot of photographs of the displays they created as well as some process shots of them working on the room.
There is an episode of Hollywood Treasure in which they visit Wesley’s collection on YouTube (for now). Wesley also runs a company called Hollywood History in which he sells movie props, costumes and other memorabilia. He was interviewed about his company by Dan Benton of the Prop Blog a few years ago.
New York City retail stores are known for the grand and highly imaginative window displays they unveil every Christmas season. I spent my first two autumns in New York City working on some of them. I did not work on them this year, though some colleagues of mine did. One of my former coworkers shot the following videos. You can find more videos searching on YouTube, but what makes these great is that they start off in the workshop showing the constructing phase, and moves to the inside of the windows showing the assembly before showing the final result.
First up is perhaps the lynchpin of NYC Christmas windows: Macy’s.
Macy’s is certainly the most well-known of the annual Christmas windows in New York City, but Saks Fifth Avenue does a good show as well.
Finally, we have the Lord & Taylor windows.
Last night finally brought us to the opening of Tony Kushner’s new play, The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures, which we’ve been in previews for since March (and rehearsals since February!). I was the assistant props master on the show. There’s been quite a stir with Mr. Kushner this past week as well; first, he was set to receive an honorary degree from John Jay College, but then the board of trustees of CUNY voted to deny it; Mr. Kushner wrote an eloquent and biting response asking for their apology; finally, Ben Brantley of the New York Times wrote an editorial on the matter and opened it up to reader’s comments. Last night’s opening even saw some protesters show up in support of Tony Kushner.
It’s a fascinating (and important) story if you are involved with theatre. But if you read this blog just for the props, don’t worry, I have some links for you to finish off the week:
- Here is an absolutely fantastic inside look at the Office of Exhibits Central for the Smithsonian Institute, which fabricates the displays and exhibits for their various museums. Besides more traditional materials and methods like mold-making and fiberglass, they have also made a huge push into new technologies like 3D scanners and printers, CNC routers, fabric printers and more.
- No Tech Magazine has posted the table of contents from an 1837 book titled The Panorama of Professions and Trades. It proposes to show all 87 types of jobs in existence (I think there were far more than that, even at that time, but I digress). What is interesting is how many of these trades remain essential skills for the well-rounded props artisan.
- Jean Burch has posted a list of project management skills over on her Technical Direction Tidbits blog. I fell a Props Director is similar to a Project Manager in many respects, and this list shares many of the skills which a props director also needs.
- Do you like pencils? Here’s a whole page dedicated to pencils. You can peruse hundreds of photographs of different pencils while learning their history, as well as view some classic pencil advertisements.