I have a new article up in this month’s issue of Stage Directions. I break down how we pulled off a fake knife-throwing trick for Triad Stage’s production of Wait Until Dark. Old pros know this trick, but it is always helpful to see a working model in action.
Fake ‘n Bake is back! Anna brings us a guest post by Ariel Lauryn on how to make a roast beef sandwich. There’s lots of pieces and parts that come together into a great prop which she built at one of my favorite puppet companies, The Puppet Kitchen.
Stagebitz has a great interview up with Gary of Twin FX. This UK-based effects and animatronics company has built everything from fire-breathing dragons to fifteen-foot-tall moving gorillas. What’s even more amazing is they build all of this for the stage, where it has to perform smoothly night after night, for years on end.
First Stage, a dynamite children’s theatre company in Milwaukee, is doing Shrek: The Musical. They show off how they make the ogre face, starting from taking a life-cast of the actor’s head, to sculpting and casting the prosthetic pieces he will wear.
It’s opening weekend here at the Santa Fe Opera! Two of our five operas open, the first tonight, the second tomorrow. It has been quite the hectic schedule, and we still have three more operas to open before July is out. Nonetheless, there is always time to read fun articles about props; here are a few that came out this week:
In “The Art of Animatronics: How Old School Movie Magic Compliments CGI“, Jim Nash looks at how practical effects are still being used despite the pervasiveness of computer-generated imagery. He points out how the technology that controls animatronics has gotten more sophisticated over the years, and how practical effects can sometimes be preferred for budgetary reasons. And the article has pictures of dinosaurs.
As if to reiterate the points in the previous article, the Stan Winston School blog has an article about the making of the Spinosaur for Jurassic Park III. Even with the advances in CGI since the first Jurassic Park movie, the third one still built a 12-ton, 1000-horsepower “puppet” version of the Spinosaur for many of the scenes. The iconic fight scene between the Spinosaur and the Tyrannosaurus Rex was mostly achieved by having several tons of robots crashing into each other. CGI simply enhanced it.
For a step back in time, Tested has a great article on the robot shark technology in Jaws. The mechanical shark in that film arguably ushered in the age of animatronic creature movies through the 80s and 90s. It’s a great look at how the shark was made, with some nice photographs as well (it looks like the shape of the shark was achieved with plywood!).
Chris Schwartz points us to a paper written by Matt Pelto on the difference between an artist, artisan and craftsperson (follow the link at the site to see the actual paper). It’s an appropriate question for props people, who may refer to themselves as artisans, builders, designers, artists, or many other descriptors. It is interesting to read the actual historical origin of some of these terms.
Janet Sellery runs a website dedicated to health and safety in the arts. She is based in Canada, so the workplace laws are specific to there, but the list of resources she provides is useful to everyone. I like her slogan, too: “Creative Risks without Safety Risks.”
You have only a little more than two weeks left to enter my Prop Building Guidebook Contest! Don’t wait until the last minute to enter. I also wanted to point out that a week from Monday (April 22nd), you can start voting for your favorite prop in the contest; tell your friends they can vote for your prop once per day until the contest ends on April 30th. In addition to winners in each of the individual categories, the prop with the most votes will win its own prize category, so vote early and vote often! And now, onto the links.
Here is a fantastic article about the guys at Spectral Motion, one of Hollywood’s finest creature shops. They’re responsible for most of the monsters in the Hellboy films, as well as for work in X-Men: Last Stand, Blade:Trinity, and this summer’s Pacific Rim. The article is replete with information about how they got started, what kind of work they do, and what inspires them. It is also heavily illustrated with photographs showing their workshop and the inner workings of some of their creatures. I especially love the following quote about why practical effects are still necessary in an era of digital mimicry:
“A lot of times people turn to digital solutions. That’s also good, if the application is correct. But, you know, a lot of directors that we talk to are of the mind that a practical effect is far better for exactly that reason–because the actor does have a co-actor to work with, to play off of, and to have feelings about.”
From the prop masters email list this week comes Click Americana, an ongoing collection of vintage photos and ephemera from all decades of American history. You can search for specific topics or just browse through by decade, from the 1820s to the 1980s. It has a whole section dedicated to recipes, too, great for when you need to provide period food.
It’s hard to believe Jurassic Park came out 20 years ago this June. I remember lining up with my dad and brother to see the very first showing in our area when it debuted. I think it was around noon (I don’t think we had midnight premieres in those days). Now, you can catch the film again, this time in 3D.
While many of us remember Jurassic Park as a watershed moment in digital special effects, it’s worth pointing out that the animatronics used in the film were groundbreaking as well. Stan Winston Studios built essentially a full-size Tyrannosaurus Rex puppet controlled with hydraulics, which was virtually unheard of at the time (and has rarely been attempted since).
The building-of videos for the T Rex below are pretty incredible to watch. In addition to the technical challenges they overcame, a couple of other things are worth pointing out. First, most of the drawings for the build were hand drafted, because CAD was still in its infancy. Crazy, right? And although they had the means to build the skeleton out of either aluminum or carbon fiber, they opted for steel because that allowed them to instantly repair it on set if it were to break. I was also amazed at how they had to rebuild their shop to accommodate this monster (both in tearing out the concrete floor, and in literally raising the roof).
So check out the three videos below. Each is only four to four and a half minutes long. You may just gain a new appreciation of the film.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies