As Doctor Who gears up for its 50th anniversary in little over a week, check out this new interview with their prop master, Nick Robatto. In it, you can read how he got started, what he studied in college, and how he hates fiberglass and refuses to build props with it (yay!).
For fans of a different genre, Buzzfeed has the stories behind 10 iconic Grey’s Anatomy props. It’s Buzzfeed, so they don’t go into too much detail for each one, but it is still interesting to hear the (often relatable) challenges the props team encounters with making or finding these strange items.
Here’s a brief (but illustrated) look at how furniture design changed due to World War II. The examples look incredibly contemporary, and none of it would look out of place on a modern set. It is a great post for those interested in historical trends in furniture and period styles.
So, the Smithsonian is 3D scanning their massive collection. They only have a small library of models online at the moment, but more is sure to come. Imagine the possibilities for research, where you can view a 3D model of a piece of furniture or an historic weapon right on your computer. You also have the possibility of downloading the models and exporting them to fabrication tools, such as CNCs or 3D printers. Your designer wants a wooly mammoth skeleton in the show? Just download and “print”.
The following comes from a 1915 book called “Costumes and Scenery for Amateurs”. I published the first portion of the chapter on props way back in 2009. Here, without further delay, is the conclusion.
Stimulate initiative and invention wherever possible. A round collar box is only a collar box until you use it for an earthen bowl. A white cardboard shoe box is cut down a little, covered with black tissue paper, has a little yellow pane inserted in each side, and a curtain ring for a handle. Behold a lantern for a Yankee minute-man, or Paul Revere, or anyone else who wants to use it.
Remarkable stage furniture can be made from wooden boxes of all sizes. A packing case makes a dais. Several boxes nailed together and stained brown will make a peasant’s cupboard.
Three boxes nailed together like this |¯| will make a hearth. If it is to be a mediæval or fairy tale hearth, cover it with cheap gray cambric, bulked to look like stone, and marked with splotches of white and brown chalk. Be sure you turn the unglazed side of the cambric outward. Use chalk because paint will not show up well on cambric. A brick fireplace for a modern scene can be made in the same way, covering the boxes with brick chimney paper than can be bought at Dennison’s Tissue Paper Co., Boston, Chicago, or New York. One of their catalogues will prove invaluable to directors living in the country. A narrow box on rockers, stained brown, becomes a Puritan or eighteenth century cradle. Gilded and hooded it is the cradle of a royal Princess. Couch seats can be made from boxes, only be sure that they are secure.
Originally published in “Costumes and Scenery for Amateurs”, by Constance D’Arcy Mackay, 1915 (pp 95-96)
Triad Stage’s production of Wait Until Dark was set in a hip and modern New York City apartment circa 1963. The kind of furniture it required was not easily found in your typical antique store, nor was it cheap to come by. One key piece we needed was a sleek upholstered settee; with the stage in a thrust configuration, it needed to be low-profile as well. A settee like this easily cost as much as my entire props budget, so I had to build it from scratch.
I started off by building the basic shape out of plywood, with wooden tapered legs. A lot of the challenge here was thinking forward to how I would upholster and attach all the parts. It’s easy to work yourself into a corner if you don’t plan ahead; you may end up covering a bolt with a piece of fabric, but you cannot attach the bolt until the fabric is on. It can be quite the brain-twister.
I then began covering the plywood with upholstery foam, followed by batting. The cushioning was a lot more stiff than what you may typically find in a settee, since actors tend to sink into soft cushioning, making it harder to stand up quickly. I find myself reinforcing and stiffening a lot of upholstered furniture for this reason, so I just built this settee to be somewhat stiff from the get-go.
I was lucky to have the costume shop pitch in and help me with the fabric parts. Once I found a fabric the designer approved of, my intern cut all the pieces, and the costume shop made all the piping and stitched the pieces together. All I had to do was staple it on.
This particular settee had some buttons, so I got to try button tufting for the first time. It only had nine buttons laid out in a simple grid, so it was relatively easy to figure out. The cushions on top were attached by bolting through the settee into the plywood below. Again, that was only possible by planning it all out ahead.
So there is the final piece with all the fabric attached. It was very much a group project, with the other people at Triad chipping in, as well as my wife giving me a crash-course in upholstery as I built this. The result was a piece of furniture that helped give the set the right touch.
I have a new video up on my Prop Building Guidebook companion video site. It’s a bit lengthy at almost 12 minutes, but you cannot really upholster a slip seat much faster than that. Did I mention that the new video is about upholstering a slip seat?
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies