Stage Directions magazine has a great feature on Faye Armon-Troncoso this month. In “The Actor’s Propmaster“, we get a look at how she got started, some of the show’s she has worked on, and what she has learned. I got to work with Faye a bit when I lived in New York City, including assisting her in the production of Merchant of Venice mentioned in the article.
I love this visit to the Fiberglass Animal Farm. FAST Corp in Wisconsin is responsible for most of the giant animals and other roadside attractions you see around the US. If you pass a giant ear of corn on the side of the road, it was probably made by them.
Just a reminder that there’s little more than 25 days left to enter the Prop Building Guidebook Contest! You can’t win if you don’t enter. I also wanted to ask a favor; if you have already bought your copy of the Prop Building Guidebook, head on over to the Amazon page (or to whichever store you bought it from) and leave a rating or a comment. I also have a Facebook page where you can tell me what you think. I’d love to hear what you like about the book, what you don’t, and how you’re using it. Now, onto the links!
David Katz has a website with a lot of information centered around his “Chemistry in a Toy Store“. It has some pretty fascinating articles about how common chemical toys work, such as Silly Putty, Slime, Shrinky Dinks, and the like. What is even more useful is if you scroll down, you will see Chemistry in the Toy Store Recipes; Katz shows how you can use common household ingredients to make things like slime, ooze, disappearing ink, various putties and more. Props people need these recipes all the time, and Katz is the chemist who originally came up with most of them.
Phil Obermarck is a sculptor who runs a blog, and he has an in-depth article about his experience using Jesmonite. Jesmonite is a gypsum-based acrylic resin that can be used with fiberglass. Unlike typical fiberglass resin (usually a polyester resin), Jesmonite is water-based and contains no solvents, which gets rid of a LOT of the health and safety hazards inherent in using fiberglass (though certainly not all of them). It unfortunately looks as though it is only available in the UK and Europe, though you can get comparable products in the US (Aqua-Resin being among the more popular).
Photographer Andrew Scrivani has an interesting article in the New York Times on how to choose props to improve food photography. While few of us may be propping a food photo, the ideas he shares are just as useful for anyone dressing a set or designing the props in a scene.
In Thurston James’ second book, he tackles the subject of molding and casting for prop makers in more detail. The Prop Builder’s Molding & Casting Handbook guides you through the most common materials and methods used in many prop shops. Because of its specific focus (and better organization), this book is far more successful than his previous Theatre Props Handbook, which, as I mentioned in my review, meandered through disparate topics with no way to quickly find information.
Though written in 1989, the methods described in this book still hold true today. Though the range of materials we can use today have grown dramatically, they remain improvements and new formulations to older materials whose predecessors can be found in this book.
It remains one of the most widely recommended books for molding and casting props because of the unique niche it fills. It describes the most common materials and methods used in props shops and by hobbyists; these materials are used because of their cost, ease of use, availability, and proven results. Books on molding and casting for manufacturing and industry are more focused on specific or specialized materials, and they aim for a level of consistency and cost efficiency which the prop artisan would never possibly need. Shaving a tenth of a cent off the cost of a casting makes a difference if you are casting ten thousand pieces, but it will be impossible to notice if you are only making ten.
James seems to have had an epiphany in shop safety between this book and the last, as he now presents clear and accurate safety precautions in the beginning of the book, and continues to reiterate them throughout. In his Theatre Props Handbook, safety precautions were nearly nonexistent.
The book does a good job of covering the generalities of mold making and casting. It discusses the model and its preparation, and defines a number of necessary terms, such as undercuts, release agents, mother molds and the like. It describes the considerations of making a mold of your specific piece, and breaks the various molding materials and casting agents into categories. In a way, it describes the process of choosing your materials in an almost flowchart-like manner. If you know what your model looks like, and you know what kind of properties and appearance your castings need, then you can narrow your choices of mold material and casting material down to a few choices. In the book, he describes over thirty of these material choices.
The bulk of the book is used to guide you through the specifics of working with each of these materials. Specifically, he talks about plaster, alginate, latex rubber, and silicone rubber (RTV) mold-making. The casting materials he describes include latex, neoprene, papier-mâché, Celastic, fiberglass (GRP), hot melts (such as wax, plasticine, hot melt glue and hot melt rubber, breakaway glass, thermosets (specifically polyester resin), water-extendable polyester, and urethane. He also has a section on casting with hardware store products, like caulk, autobody filler, water putty, and several others. Finally, the last section of the book describes vacuum forming and how to construct a vacuum forming machine.
You may have noticed a new link over in the blog roll, called Zen and the Art of Prop Making. DW is a Sydney-based prop maker, and this blog has a wealth of information and tutorials on a number of prop processes. From fiberglass, to mold (or mould) making, and special effects, there are quite a few well written how-to guides to be found here.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies