Tag Archives: resource

The 100 Best Sites for the Prop Maker

When I began my blog back in 2009, it felt like only a handful of sites for the prop maker were out there. Since then, the field has practically exploded and you can find information everywhere. I post links to sites regularly, but I wanted to make a list of the sites you should be checking out regularly. So I’ve collected and categorized what I consider to be the 100 best sites for a prop maker. Now, this is far from comprehensive, particularly if you are working on specific objects or using less-popular materials, but hopefully it will keep you busy for awhile. If you know of a site I’ve missed, drop a note in the comments or send me an email!

Forums

Forums remain a great way to find information about prop making, since much of what we do is so specific and unique. You can ask a question, search for answers to other questions, or just browse through and pick up tips on how other people work.

  • Replica Prop Forum – A very active and very informative forum filled with fans recreating their favorite props from films, television, video games and other media.
  • ControlBooth – A US forum for technical theatre, with a small section on props.
  • Blue Room Technical Forum – A UK forum for technical theatre, also with a section on props.
  • The 405th – Halo costuming forum
  • Dented Helmet – Boba Fett costume resource
  • The Hunter’s Lair – Predator Costume and Prop forum
  • Astromech – Forum for the R2-D2 Builders Club
  • Cosplay – For fans of dressing up as fictional characters, this also has sections on props and similar items.
  • PropPeople Forum – A once-thriving forum that still limps on, this is the only one devoted entirely to props people working in theatre.
  • TheatreFace – Forums built around the TheatreFace social network, with a section on props.
  • Brass Goggles – Steampunk forum with some prop-making threads
  • The FX Lab – Special makeup effects, mask making and creature design.
  • Haunt Forum – Lots of information for those who build their own sets and props for Halloween displays and haunted houses.
  • The Clubhouse – For modelers, sculptors and model collectors.
  • Concept Art – Forum for concept artists with a small section for sculpture and other 3D media.

Prop Makers

Many prop makers have their own website or post their work online, but a few go the extra mile and show how they’ve built specific props.

  • Volpin Props – Unique commissions for props and objects based off of items from video games, television and films.
  • Punished Props – Another fine replica artist making props from video games and other pop culture.
  • Fake ‘n Bake – If you ever want to make fake food, Anna Warren’s site should be your first stop.
  • Dave Lowe Design – One of the prop masters at the Hallmark Channel.
  • Kamui Cosplay – Armor and cosplay from Wonderflex and Worbla built by this talented German artist.
  • Blind Squirrel Props – A replica prop maker working on commissions and personal projects from all manner of films, television shows and video games.
  • Folkenstal – Interesting weapons and items based on the video game Skyrim.
  • Theatre Projects – Props and prop-related information from a freelance theatre prop master in Chicago.
  • Amethyst Angel – Armor and other cosplay projects.
  • Jay Surma – Another prolific replica prop maker.
  • 2StoryProps – Yet another replica prop maker.
  • MRX Designs – A prop maker working in the Steampunk and Lovecraft genres.
  • Tom Banwell – Leather and resin Steampunk projects.
  • Barnyard FX – A behind-the-scenes look at the props, exhibits and displays by Greg Aronowitz, a prolific special effects artist and design specialist on over two hundred films and television projects.
  • Spirits Dancing – Puppetry and prop-making from Hilary Talbot, a working Australian artisan.
  • Fevereon Props – A prop and costume maker out of Georgia.

Blogs

A number of sites may not be devoted entirely to teaching prop-making, but they still have regular tutorials, news and information relevant to the prop maker, or deal with comparable and related industries.

  • Prop Agenda – Now, I couldn’t omit my own blog. How-tos, news, videos and more from the props world.
  • Make Magazine – Blog companion to the magazine, this site regularly has posts on prop making and associated materials.
  • Tested – What began as site for testing consumer electronics has quickly grown to have regular features on props and prop making, particularly with Adam Savage as one of the regular hosts.
  • Propnomicon – A regularly-updated look at props built around the mythos of HP Lovecraft.
  • Lost in Schlock – Down and dirty prop making tips for low-budget films.
  • Design Realisation – backstage at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.
  • La Bricoleuse – costume crafts teacher at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
  • StageBitz – a prop inventory software company that regularly posts prop-related news and interviews.
  • David Neat – Theatrical model making.
  • Stan Winston School – The new school run by the peerless studio responsible for the most famous practical film effects of the last thirty years runs a blog of related information. The school also has online video classes you can take for a paid subscription.
  • Meanwhile in the prop shop… – A Tumblr of random encounters in a regular props shop.
  • Theatre Safety – Articles and information on safety in the performing arts.
  • Technical Direction Tidbits – News and tidbits from the world of technical theatre.
  • Rosco – Spectrum – while also a lighting company, they do have tutorials on their paint and coating products
  • Mantle Studios – The sculpting blog of Jason Babler
  • The Dark Power – Bizarre sculptures and metal art with a theatrical flair.
  • Design*Sponge – Inspiration and reference for all manner of interior-design and furniture-related things.
  • Fake Believe – A behind-the-scenes look at props and sets made for various photography projects.
  • Haunters Digest – Tutorials and showcases of haunted house props and Halloween decorations.

Tutorials

If you need to learn how to build specific items or work with certain materials, these sites have collected the information you need.

  • Instructables – If you need to build something, chances are, you can find a tutorial here from someone who has already built it. This site should be your first stop for finding how-to’s, period.
  • Smooth-On videos – Tons of videos on molding and casting.
  • Deviant Art – You have to do some digging, but people post a lot of tutorials here, or post props with a detailed “how-to” in their description.
  • Woodgears.ca – Wood working by an engineer.
  • Hirst Arts Fantasy Architecture – Tutorials for molding, casting and painting of miniatures and models.
  • Ultimate Paper Mache – Information and tutorials on, you guessed it, paper mache.
  • Monster Makers – You may never need to make monsters, but you may find their tutorials on sculpting, molding and casting, working with foam latex and painting to be helpful.
  • Paint-Sculpt – Tutorials and reference for both painting, and, wait for it, sculpting.
  • The Gizmologist’s Lair – A cornucopia of tutorials and links to all manner of gizmo-related projects.
  • Craftster – Projects and tutorials from the crafty side of the prop-making spectrum.
  • Mask Makers Web – Information and links for things related to masks and mask-making.
  • Costume Properties Construction Handbook – An online book of sorts with helpful information on building objects like hats, armor and masks.
  • Puppetry Home Page – Information on building puppets, and lots of links to other sites.
  • Proptology – A magazine devoted to props from 1995-2004 with some articles available online

Tools and Reference

  • Fastener Information – Everything you want to know about bolts, screws and similar fasteners.
  • This to That – Interactive tool for selecting adhesives for specific materials.
  • Golden Paints virtual paint mixer – Pick a color and this site will tell you which acrylic paint colors to mix to get that color.
  • Glass Attic – 1700 pages of everything you need to know about polymer clay.
  • Green Theater Choices Toolkit – A rundown of common building and crafting materials ranked by their environmental impact.
  • Sizes – A vast index with information about the sizes of practically everything. From definitions of units of measurements, to standard sizes of common furniture, to sheet metal gauges, and everything in between.
  • Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards – A guide to help workers recognize and control common chemical hazards in the workplace.
  • Wood Database – Pictures and information for identifying or selecting hundreds of types of wood species.
  • Toxipedia – Encyclopedia of toxins.
  • Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety – Provides health and safety information to artists worldwide.
  • Beacon Adhesives Adhesive Selection Chart – Like “This to That”, but dedicated to adhesives from the Beacon company.
  • Colorit Color Formula Guide – Pick a color to see which RIT dyes to mix to get that color.
  • Chemistry in the Toy Store – A look at the chemistry of various toys, including recipes to make your own slime, play dough, disappearing ink and other novelties.
  • Properties Directors Handbook – An online book showing how a theatrical props shop is setup and organized.

Research

Organizations and job sites

Finally, if you want to join a larger community of props people or find a job in the industry, check these sites out.

Chair Backs

Chair Back Styles

From 1995 to around 2004, a magazine known as Proptology was published by a Canadian props professional named Wulf. He published a multi-part series called “A Field Guide to Furniture Styles”, which contained a lot of useful illustrations and information for identifying period Western furniture. One of the parts had a nice little list of chair backs. I have taken this information and these illustrations and arranged them in a nice little grid where they are grouped by similar appearances.

I have some other helpful illustrations in previous posts: analysis of a chair, 40 styles of chairs, and parts of a chair. Armed with these images, we are well on our way to developing a visual guide to identifying the period of a chair based on its appearance.

Chair Backs
Chair Backs, illustrations by Wulf

Bentwood: Late 1800s.

Fiddle: Characteristic of Queen Anne style. 1700s.

Sheaf: Can also be a splat which is pierced in the same style. Late 1700s.

Pierced Splat: Characteristic of Chippendale designs. Late 1700s.

Balloon: Characteristic of Victorian style. Mid 1800s.

Round: Often an open frame with no upholstery. Mid 1800s.

Anthemion: Greek motif favored by Hepplewhite. Late 1700s.

Shield: Characteristic of Hepplewhite. Late 1700s.

Lath: Curved, flat uprights. Very sturdy. 1800-1900s.

Bannister: Like stick back but with turned posts. 1600-1800s.

Stick: Primarily used in country furniture. 1600-1800s.

Bow: Typical form of Windsor style chair. 1600-1800s.

Pillow Top: A narrower top is called “Bolster Top”. 1800s.

Lyre: Popular motif in Empire style designs. Early 1800s.

Ladder: With pierced splats is called “Pretzel Back”. 1400-1900s.

Square: Characteristic of Sheraton’s designs. Late 1700s.

Build it Green! NYC warehouse sign

Build it Green NYC

Build it Green! NYC warehouse sign
Build it Green! NYC warehouse sign

Last week, Jay and I finally got to check out Build it Green NYC. It is a non-profit group that collects salvaged and surplus building materials, and sells them to the public for low prices.

Pile of lumber, beams, and flooring
Pile of lumber, beams, and flooring

The location is a bit of a bear (the northwestern corner of Astoria); then again, if you want cheap prices in New York City, you have to expect to get off the beaten path. The great news is that they will store your purchases for seven days. If you have to rent a car or truck (which is what New Yorkers usually have to do), you can do it after you’ve bought your goods. You don’t have to worry about spending money on a car rental only to find there’s nothing at the store you want to buy.

Chairs for sale at Build it Green
Chairs for sale at Build it Green

In addition to construction materials such as lumber, sheet goods, flooring, windows and doors, they also have a selection of furniture items like chairs and tables.

A small sampling of stoves
A small sampling of stoves

A props person would also be interested in their selection of appliances, like stoves, fridges, and other items. They’re a little more expensive than what you might find on Craigslist or other classifieds, as they only sell working items; often, your show doesn’t require an operating fridge, and you can save money hauling away something destined for the landfill. But don’t forget that you may need a fridge for your backstage area to keep prop food and consumables cold.

Porcelain sinks in a row
Porcelain sinks in a row

For those bathroom scenes in your production, they have several aisles dedicated to sinks, toilets, bathtubs, and an assortment of other accouterments from both residential and commercial restrooms.

Books and their prices
Books and their prices

If you go, don’t forget to check out their side room filled with books, records, other media, and paint.

You can find a number of unique and smaller items as well. There’s an area up front filled with the kind of sundries you might find in a thrift store or flea market. It also appears that display companies donate items, as we saw a number of mannequins as well as giant fruit sculptures.

Obviously, they accept donations. So in addition to reusing items that would have ended up in a landfill, you can also make sure the stuff you’re getting rid of stays out of a landfill. There’s a list of accepted donation items, which will also give you a better idea of the kinds of things they normally carry.

Set Decorators Society of America

comic by Terry Hart
comic by Terry Hart

I haven’t done any film or television prop work, so I was unaware of them, but the Set Decorators Society of America has quite a handy website. First off, they show off the decor in films which their members have worked on. These are extensive photo-essays showing the sets from these films, often without actors in the way. You can also read interviews with their various members.

They publish many of this in their quarterly magazine. Luckily for you, you can download their back issues in PDF form… for free!

They also have a list of resources for shopping, as well as a healthy list of books to check out. Also, the comic above is by my twin brother; click on it and you can check the rest out!

Animatronics and Automata

I like things that move on their own. An automaton is a self-operating machine, usually through mechanical means. Animatronics is a more specialized type of automaton; it is a form of mechanized puppet. Neither of these should be confused with a robot, which is an object which can sense and/or react to its environment. Here are some starter links if you are interested in making or learning more about animatronics and automaton.

photograph by Compound Eye
photograph by Compound Eye

How Animatronics Works“, by Jeff Tyson. A look at how Stan Winston Studios creates a full-scale animatronic Spinosaurus. In addition to describing the animatronic parts, it’s an interesting look at how to sculpt, cast, and fabricate a full-size dinosaur.

Instructables has a number of guides on creating animatronics of varying complexity:

  • Grim Reaper Animatronic is one of the simplest; it uses an oscillating fan for its movement. It shows how you can simplify things by using already existing parts and mechanisms if you can look at their possibilities. This is true of all props.
  • Halloween Animatronics is a nice introduction to computer-controlled movements. It uses a USB interface to connect the parts directly to your computer for manipulation. My how far we’ve come.
  • How to create simple animatronics – Part one: using the MAKE controller. Using a controller board allows your animatronics to be self-contained, since the controller board takes the place of your computer. You still set up the board with your computer. This tutorial also involves hooking up sensors to control the movement, much like in the first link, where Stan Winston Studios uses arm-length gloves to control the Spinosaurus’ arms.

In a posting called, “Robots, Artificial Intelligence, Steam Power, and Sound Effects“, Michael Addicott describes a number of marvelous contraptions and mechanical devices in use since the Ancient Greeks. He includes such inventors as Hero (one of Bland Wade‘s favorites), and devices like the mechanical singing birds of Theophilus.

For Automaton, the Automata/Automaton Blog is the greatest place to start. Not only does it continually update with photographs and information about both antique and contemporary automaton, but it’s the perfect starting place for further exploration of information.