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.
Back when I lived in New York City, I spent a couple seasons working at Spaeth Designs, building props for the holiday window displays at stores like Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. They’ve produced a few videos this year showing some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into these mini-productions. These windows are quite intense, with designers and department heads beginning work in February, and dozens of skilled craftspeople starting as early as July to get these ready by Thanksgiving.
First up is Saks Fifth Avenue, which went with a “Yeti” theme:
Next up is Lord and Taylor, who do variations on a Victorian Christmas every year:
It is Thanksgiving tomorrow for those of us in the US. It is a time to reflect on the things we are thankful for, and I thought I would make a list of ten things that prop masters are thankful for (plus one bonus thing). What would you add to the list?
- A props list that fits on one page.
- Being able to return an item with an open package.
- Finding the perfect prop on eBay… and it has a “Buy it Now” option.
- Interns who understand the difference between craft and fabric scissors.
- When the designer says “I have the perfect one at home, I’ll just bring it in.”
- A publicity photographer who actually includes some of the props in the photos.
- Finding out the Meet and Greet for the next show has real food provided rather than just light snacks.
- When the designer chooses the fabric to reupholster the couch and it’s the cheapest option you presented.
- A cast with no food allergies.
- When that challenging prop you don’t even want to think about gets cut before you even thought about it.
And of course, the thing we can all be thankful for this holiday season:
- Not having to shop on Black Friday because you can just buy The Prop Building Guidebook for everyone this Christmas.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
To all of my American readers, I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving this week! Brian Wolfe from Costume Armour sent me some photographs of a trick turkey they recently created, which seems apropos to the holiday.
For this trick, a waiter needed to walk in with a food cart. He lifts the lid off of a covered tray revealing a delicious roast turkey. He replaces the lid, and the next time the lid is removed, the turkey is gone. Instead, an actor’s head is on the tray, and the actor begins to speak.
This is the drawing he shared with me:
They needed a giant, oversized turkey with enough room inside to fit a head; it also needed to be light enough that it could be lifted along with the tray (you will see why in a minute). They had a rubber turkey in stock, but it was too small and heavy. So they decided to vacuum form a new one. They carved the turkey in foam, made a two-piece mold, and vacuum formed it in 0.04″ Kydex plastic.
They cut out the pieces, glued them together, and painted them. Next, they cut a large hole in the bottom:
The tray was also vacuum formed, this time in a heavy 0.093″ Kydex plastic with a metallic finish. The bottom was formed over a wooden mold, while the lid used a plaster mold. They also added some artificial lettuce which was bought.
A brass drawer pull completed the look to the lid. The small black rectangle next to it in the photograph below is a small toggle switch:
When the waiter flips this switch, a small battery-powered electromagnet turns on (shown in the next photograph). The turkey had a small piece of flat steel hidden on top which is grabbed by this magnet. So when the magnet is on and the tray lid is lifted, the turkey travels along with it, hidden from the audience’s view.
The diagram below illustrates how the whole trick was set up. I’ve seen this same basic principle carried out in a number of different ways, but the combination of the hollow turkey and electromagnet makes this execution especially elegant; you can control whether the turkey or head is visible simply by the flick of a switch. The actor underneath does not have to do anything.
Hope you enjoyed this! Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
This is very cool; Bergdorf-Goodman has made a making-of video for their 2010 holiday windows in New York City. It’s almost like a time-lapse. The style of the windows is eye-catching too, with a lot of vintage and steampunk elements. Watch the video below, and have a happy New Year! See you in 2011.