Tag Archives: How-to

Friday Rehearsal Notes

Tony Swatton, who we’ve seen on this blog before, has a new video where he builds a set of Wolverine’s claws from scratch. They are 18-gauge steel, and they are SHARP!

Vermont Public Radio has a story on 50 years of the Bread and Puppet Theatre. I first saw these guys around 1998 or so, and again just last year. Their performances are fun but compelling, and the design and construction of their puppets have almost certainly influenced many contemporary puppeteers.

Speaking of puppets, a few months ago, puppeteer Emily DeCola, of Puppet Kitchen, was struck by a cyclist while crossing the street. Her injuries left her with crazy medical bills and the loss of her sense of smell. Her fellow puppeteers have organized a puppet cabaret fundraising event for her TONIGHT, so if you’re in New York City, why not check it out? If not, you can always donate to the cause. Emily worked on a number of shows while I was at the Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park, and her work is always amazing.

Propnomicon pointed me to this great two-part tutorial on making a shrunken head. It steps through the molding, casting and finishing of a clay model.

Finally, enjoy this small collection of 19th-century collector cards featuring various trades, such as woodworking and blacksmithing.

Homemade Coatings

I found a couple of recipes for a coating in some old props forums (circa 2002). They refer to the coating as “homemade Sculpt-or-Coat”, though it is very similar to recipes for scenic dope and monster mud. I have not tried any of these recipes, but I am posting them here for my own future reference and for yours.

This coating is useful for coating foam, to “paper mache” burlap, cheesecloth or muslin to wood and steel, or for use as a general texture. For texturing, you can mix in sawdust, sand, vermiculite, etc., for various results.

For a 5 gallon recipe:

  • Fill 2/3 of a 5 gallon bucket with a 50/50 mix of acrylic caulk and joint compound.
  • Add 1/2 to 3/4 gallon white latex paint.
  • Add 1/2 gal. Rhoplex.
  • Mix well with a drill and paddle mixer.
  • Add about 1/3 gal. of white glue. Mix thoroughly.

You can tint it using latex or acrylic paint, or universal colorant. You can thin it with more white paint or Rhoplex. You have about 20-30 minutes of working time, and it dries fully in 12-24 hours. It should not go on thicker than 1/4″ or it will be prone to cracking. You can alter the recipe to suit your needs; adding more joint compound gives a harder and more rigid finish, while more acrylic caulk gives a more flexible finish.

Rhoplex is an acrylic binder made by Dow Chemical Company. It can be tricky to find, particularly in bulk. There are many other acrylic binders you can find at hardware and paint stores, though I am not sure whether these will also work. Other posters in the thread say they use PVA in lieu of Rhoplex (the PVA paint binder, not PVA glue or PVA mold release).

In another thread, Wulf points out that Rhoplex is pricey and hard to find, and that it may be easier and cheaper just to buy Sculpt-or-Coat for small batches. His own recipe involves PVA white glue, powdered clay and latex paint. Simply combine equal parts, stir very thoroughly and allow it to stand for about a day for the clay to absorb.

War Horse puppet

Friday Link-topia

Here are seven short (under 10 minutes) films about obsolete occupations. I think as prop makers and prop masters, we are called on to do the work of each of these occupations at least once in our careers.

The TK560 discussion board is geared towards making stormtrooper armor from Star Wars, but they have a large section devoted to general tips and tricks for vacuum forming (including instructions for building vacuum forming machines of all different sizes and budgets), molding and casting, and working with plastics in general. There is a treasure trove of useful information here.

I’ve seen discussions of dying plastic in the past as an alternative to painting it, especially with plastics that refuse to take paint (such as polyethylene). Here is a good step-by-step description (with pictures) of dying the case to a MacBook computer.

CNN recently did a profile on Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine and the Maker Faire. You can watch a short companion video and read a brief column by Dale titled “How to make more ‘makers’ – and why it matters.”

Finally, here is an extremely cool infographic on how the War Horse puppets work.

War Horse puppet
infographic on how the War Horse puppets work.

Link-o-Rama

This is great: Michael Fichtenmayer experimented with a number of available art products to create copper finishes and showed off his results. It’s incredibly helpful to see them all together so you can do a quick comparison.

Here is a tutorial to build a homemade plastic bender. Now, remember to do this only with adequate ventilation; heating plastics can release all sorts of chemicals. No one really knows what we’re breathing. The MSDS for the plastic won’t tell you either, because they only have to disclose what the plastic is made of, not what it turns into with the application of heat.

Haunt Forum has a great thread on making a rusty and crusty texture with sand and oatmeal.

Prop Phone is an app that allows you to trigger an iPhone or iPod Touch to ring over WiFi or Bluetooth. They have a video up showing how to make sure the phone can’t receive calls during a performance; I didn’t realize you could out an iPhone in Airplane mode and then turn WiFi back on; I know, I’m practically Amish.

Check out this documentary about the company that made Scar Stuff, Vampire Blood, and Evil Teeth. Yeah, props people rarely use those drug store blood kits, but it’s a fascinating story nonetheless. I love the part where they discover a store has discounted their product as a loss leader, so they buy it all up and resell it to the stores.