Tag Archives: leather

Daenerys' chest of dragon eggs

Replica Chest from Game of Thrones

Usually, I am building props for a show or production I am working on. I rarely have time to work on my own projects. However, someone was interested to see if I could replicate a chest from the television show Game of Thrones. Now, I have nothing to do with the show itself, but it sounded like an interesting challenge to see if I could match something I could only see on screen. There wasn’t anything particularly tricky about this chest; it just had a lot of pieces and parts made of an assortment of materials, and some very time-consuming detail. For those who watch the show, this is the chest given to Daenerys in season one, which held her petrified dragon eggs.

I shot video of most of the build along the way and somehow edited several months of work into seven and a half minutes of video, giving an overview of the process.

If you are interested in more detail and photographs, read on!

Daenerys' chest of dragon eggs
Daenerys’ chest of dragon eggs

The first part was the box itself. I worked out a quick mock-up of the whole piece in SketchUp to figure out the sizes and proportions of all the parts. I decided to use ash on this because it is hard and strong like oak, but I really hate working with oak. The grain pattern of ash was also a better match to the real chest than oak. We have a great local hardwood store that I visited, and I was able to find boards wide enough that I could build every side (except the top) from a single width of wood. The bottom was a piece of oak plywood.

Wooden box
Wooden box

The chest has a number of areas covered in metal. I bought a sheet of 22 gauge steel and cut it up by hand with my airplane snips. I used my sheet metal bending brake on the corner pieces, while the rolled-over edges of the top pieces were bent by hand with sheet metal tools and pliers. Although I could have saved time by making these out of plastic and painting them to look like metal, the “roll over” parts would have ended up too fragile; on the very corners, you can see how thin the metal is, and any plastic that thin would flex whenever you touch it. The hasp on this chest also rests against a metal section, so it gives that solid metal-to-metal sound every time you open and close the lid.

Sheet metal layers
Sheet metal layers

The most time-intensive part was the applied decoration. I used styrene plastic for this because using actual brass would have been prohibitively expensive and time-consuming, and a cheaper metal would have required just as much paint to match the appearance that the added labor was not worth it. I began by going through all the scenes in the TV show where the chest appeared and pulling out as many clear screen shots as I could, and then manipulating them in Photoshop to get a straight-on view. I scaled them up to full-size, printed them out and cut the pieces into patterns to trace on the styrene. Some parts of the design needed to be extrapolated slightly because I never got a clear view, but because it was symmetrical, repetitive and followed a certain logic, I was pretty confidant with how well my version matched the original.

Patterns and reference
Patterns and reference

Nearly every element was made of at least two layers of styrene, so after cutting the several hundred pieces out, I began gluing them together using model airplane glue. I did not attach them to the box just yet, but I did lay them out to test fit everything.

Unpainted decoration
Unpainted decoration

With all the pieces ready, I began painting. They received a base coat of hammered silver spray paint, followed by a heavy dusting of hammered bronze spray paint. They would receive more paint later on, but at this point I began attaching them. Working on one side at a time, I first laid every piece out and used careful measurements to make sure everything was symmetrical and evenly-spaced. I then traced every single piece in place and labeled them by number before taking them off. I did some tests and found contact cement gave the strongest bond, though that meant I had to apply it to both the plastic piece and the box, and I could not apply it to the parts of the box where the wood was visible, so I had to carefully paint it within the traced outlines I had made. Luckily, the contact cement bonds almost instantly, so I could begin working on another side after one was completed.

Spray painted pieces
Spray painted pieces

The inside of the chest was leather, though I went with a slightly-more processed version which was already finished and could fit through my sewing machine. I stitched all the pieces together first, and then attached them in as a single unit. I used a bit of spray adhesive to keep them from shifting around, but they are mostly held in place with the visible upholstery tacks. I pre-drilled holes for the tacks so I could make sure the spacing was even, and also because the ash was too hard to just hammer the tacks straight in.

Leather interior
Leather interior

I found hinges online that were so close to the ones on the real chest that I wouldn’t be surprised if the prop makers bought theirs from the same supplier. I could not source the hasp though, so I had to fabricate it from scratch. I started with a basic hardware store hasp and cut notches in the edges. The tip was cut from another decorative gate hinge. I cut a bar of steel to length and bent a curl in the edge, than plug welded the whole thing together from behind and ground the welds flush to the surface.

Pieces for the hasp
Pieces for the hasp

With all the pieces in place, all that was left was some painting and sealing. The top layers of all the decoration were sponged with a lighter brass color to set them off, and the whole chest was washed down with some dark browns and blacks to age and weather it. Finally, everything was coated in a clear satin Polycryclic.

Pristine and unsealed chest
Pristine and unsealed chest

I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did!

Fabric hinges

Deer from Shakespeare in the Park

I spent the early part of the summer back in New York City working on the first show for Shakespeare in the Park. As You Like It, directed by Daniel Sullivan and designed by John Lee Beatty, required a dead deer corpse that could be carried around the stage.

Fabric hinges
Attaching the pieces with fabric hinges.

Jay and Sara had already purchased a urethane taxidermy deer form, which was waiting for me when I arrived. I proceeded to chop it apart at the joints and reattach them with fabric hinges (using left-over canvas from the tents we made for last year’s All’s Well That Ends Well).

Creating the spine
Creating the spine with rope and foam.

The spine needed a bit more flexibility. The deer was going to appear on stage as if it had just been shot, and then one actor was going to hoist it over his shoulders and carry it around fireman’s style. I used several pieces of rope to give a semi-flexible span between the front and back half of the deer, while a big piece of upholstery foam was added to help it maintain some shape and volume.

Eric Hart sewing
I am sew good at this.

I also carved the neck out of upholstery foam. I wrapped the foam in fabric, sewed it shut and glued it to the rest of the body.

Attaching the pieces
Attaching and articulating the pieces.

The photograph above shows the deer all jointed and floppy and ready to be covered in fabric. Yes, that is pantyhose on the legs; I added them to give further support to the legs while maintaining full flexibility.

Gluing on the hide
Gluing on the hide.

It took three separate deer hides to completely cover the whole body. I arranged them as best I could around the deer so the fur coloring, direction and length would match the hide of a real deer. Real fur has so many variations throughout, whereas fake fur would just make the whole thing look like a giant stuffed toy. Jay bought me a bottle of “Tear Mender”, which is a latex-based adhesive designed for fabric and leather. As the back of the hide is essentially leather and the body was covered in fabric, the glue made a really strong but flexible connection.

The hooves were also purchased from the taxidermy supplier. I had to drill out the bone a bit on top so I could slide them onto the threaded rod which ran through the urethane foam cast legs.

Head and face
The head and face.

We also had some glass eyes for the head as well as plastic ears from the taxidermy supplier. I patterned some fur over these ears, but they were deemed “too stiff” after the deer’s first rehearsal. Luckily, I just had to reopen the seams and pull the plastic parts out; the fur maintained the shape pretty well on its own.

The deer also got a nice open head wound. We had a separate set of antlers that the actors danced around with, and the scene opened with the antlers already removed. I mixed various colors of acrylic mixed with epoxy to give it a permanent “wet” look.

Raphael and the Deer
Raphael and the Deer.

I had Raphael, one of the other prop artisans, pose while holding the deer. He moved fairly decently, though the joints between the legs and the body were a bit stiff-looking. Some of the transitions between the different hides I pieced together were a bit rough when viewed up close, but on stage under the lights, he looked amazing.

A dragon on a bookcase

The Prop Building Guidebook: Full Draft Complete!

I just reached a major milestone today with the submission of the last of my chapters for The Prop Building Guidebook: For Theatre, Film and TV. I now have the next two months to edit the whole thing and try to turn it into a usable book. Luckily, I’ve been receiving a lot of help from my technical editor, Sandy Strawn. She’s the author of the very-helpful Properties Directors Handbook, which is listed over on the side of this website. After August, the whole thing gets proofread and designed (I’ve seen some mock-ups of the interior so far, and it’s going to look great). When everything looks good, my publisher (Focal Press) will send it to the printers, and it should hit bookstores next February, right on schedule.

I know that still feels like a long way off (though for me, it feels like it’s all happening very quickly). As a prelude to what you will find in the book, here is a small sampling of some of the photographs that belong with the chapters I just handed in.

A brush-on mold inside of a mother mold.
A brush-on mold inside of a mother mold.
A dragon on a bookcase
A dragon on a bookcase
MIG welding
MIG welding
Molding a leather mask
Molding a leather mask