Happy Friday, everyone! I have a short, but sweet, list of links today:
This should keep you busy for awhile: 110 Best DIY Tips Ever. Popular Mechanics magazine is celebrating its 110th anniversary, and to celebrate, they have looked through the pages of all their old issues to find all the best tips and tricks they have ever printed. Whether you are a beginner or an old pro, you are sure to learn something new here.
This next article comes from an interior designer, but it’s really about the secrets of a prop stylist. She lists some ways to improve your ability to dress and style a set (though she is actually talking about applying those tips to your own home).
Whew! Crazy For You opened last night, so my wife and I can finally take a breath and return to normal life. I will post some pictures of the props once the show closes. I made a lot of fun items for that production: four tables (two with turned legs), 12 pink candlestick phones, a custom-sized player piano, an exploding cuckoo clock, a break-away sign, 3 benches, lots of signage and much more, not to mention tracking down all the normal everyday items and hand props they needed (did you know it’s illegal to sell deer antlers from local deer in North Carolina? Because I didn’t).
In other exciting news, I have received the electronic proofs for The Prop Building Guidebook. This is essentially an e-book showing exactly how all the text and photographs will be laid out. I have to go through every single sentence and check for typos, misprints and all other errors (such as making sure the photos have the correct captions). Once that’s done, those files go straight to the printers, and my book will be in your hands before you know it! It’s very exciting to actually see the book in it’s final form.
With that news out of the way, here are some links I’ve come across in the last week:
First, here is a nice little tutorial for making latex bladders. I’ve seen blood knives and similar effects where you store the blood in various squeeze bottles, but sometimes you need a custom-shaped bladder to fit inside; that’s where latex bladders come in handy.
Volpin Props has a new website, and it is pretty spectacular. Harrison Krix is one of the hottest independent prop makers working in replicas of video game props and other pop culture artifacts (he has also kindly provided some photographs for my book), and his website is a great showcase for his work.
Halloween is the time of year when many non-professionals try their hand at prop making. The American Scream is a new documentary showing the work of three “home haunters” who put together impressive haunted shows in their houses every year. The trailer looks like all kinds of wonderful.
I’ve been researching the wide world of plastics for the book I’m working on. I’m trying to make sure my terminology is correct, and it’s proving daunting; plastics is a world where many terms can refer to the same thing, and common-use terms may not be technically correct. Add to the mix a bunch of trade names which are used generically, and you end up with one big confusing mess.
Take urethane rubber for instance. If you are into molding and casting you may have used it. “Urethane” in this case is a shortening of “polyurethane”, the same kind of plastic you use as a clear varnish among other things. “Urethane” is also a specific substance in the world of plastics; it is known as “ethyl carbamate”. Polyurethane does not contain ethyl carbamate, nor is it made from it.
Rubber can refer to a material or a substance. The substance, sometimes clarified as “natural rubber”, has historically been derived from the latex tree, though the proliferation of latex allergies has led to some companies experimenting with different plant sources. Synthetic rubbers, such as nitrile, do not contain latex; the “rubber” in their name refers to the fact that their properties mimic natural rubber. Technically, they are all referred to as “elastomers”.
Thus, “urethane rubber” contains neither urethane, nor rubber.
Speaking of latex, we all know and love latex paint for painting houses both inside and out. Sometimes we even use it to paint props. It does not actually contain any latex. It refers to paints which use plastics as their binders, such as acrylic, polyvinyl acrylic, styrene, etc. Vinyl resins are cheaper than acrylic resins, and most house paints contain a lot more vinyl than acrylic, which is why pure acrylic paint is a lot more expensive than house paint.
In case you are wondering, the acrylic in paint is the same acrylic found in sheet form, known commonly by trade names such as Plexiglas and Lucite. Crazy!
If you don’t know what pepakura is, the RPF has a huge introductory thread on pepakura. Basically, you cut and fold paper to make complex three-dimensional shapes; afterwards, you can even coat it in resin or back-fill it with fiberglass to strengthen it. The real breakthrough comes from the fact that you can take three-dimensional computer objects (from CAD files or from video games) and use software to automatically transform them into pepakura files which you merely need to print out and follow the directions to construct your model. I used to have a book where you could Make Your Own Working Paper Clock, but I lost most of it when our apartment burned down and the flames ate the paper up. What’s your excuse for not trying it out?
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.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies