Propnomicon does a great job showing us some of the best props from the Cthulhu mythos and similar realms. But this one time, he found this faux-antique vampire-killing kit that was so horribly done that he just went to town criticizing every aspect of it. From the random screwdriver gouging and haphazard use of a blowtorch, to the over-reliance on upholstery tacks, this prop has it all. It is actually a good lesson on what not to do when ageing your props. It’s very distressing.
Olivia O’Connor used to be a prop maker in Sydney, working on films such as The Wolverine and Mad Max: Fury Road. But she’s given that all up and now carves rocking horses out of wood on her parents’ farm in south Gippsland. It’s amazing what you can do with the skills you pick up as a prop maker.
The Spaeth Design website has a whole slew of videos up giving a behind the scenes look at their shop. They have a couple of episodes of “Making Magic at Spaeth Design”, where they look at the various departments and people who work there. Spaeth Design is the New York company that builds animated window displays for companies that include or have included Macys, Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Chris Schwartz has some good thoughts and advice on how to store your hand tools (be sure to check out parts two and three as well). Of course, props get a little more complicated because we have tools from many disciplines, and never build the same thing twice, but the basic principles here are still worth exploring for your own hand tool storage area.
We have a bit of a break during the summer at Triad Stage between when the last show opens and the new season begins. It’s the time we spend cleaning and organizing the shops. We’ve been busy in the props shop doing a pretty big overhaul with building new shelving and storage spaces, and moving around where things go. Organizing a props shop can be a challenge, since props people want to save every bit and scrap they come across. I thought I’d share some pictures of various shops I’ve been in to show how others have tackled this problem.
The first picture is actually from the scene shop at ACT in San Francisco, but props shops need to store and organize hardware as well. It’s pricey way to store things, with tons of metal shelving and matching bins. But it allows everything to be separated out while allowing you to find anything just by visually scanning the room; nothing is tucked away.
Childsplay Theater in Arizona uses the full wall approach, where a whole wall is covered in shelving from floor to ceiling and filled with bins. You can see boxes and bins of all sizes, as well as plastic tubs, baskets, and loose items. It’s very modular, allowing one to change what is stored there if you run out of one type of material and decide not to reorder it. It also has the benefit of displaying everything you have available without hiding anything away.
The Berkeley Rep props shop takes full advantage of using every square inch of their tiny props shop. A mix of open shelves, bins and drawers fill every hole in the wall.
Various cabinets and shelving units are tucked in every corner to keep every spare area utilized. I’ve found that if you don’t designate uses for all the out-of-the-way areas of a shop, they end up accumulating piles of random items and scraps in a big heap. Likewise, if you don’t have a bin or shelf to put a thing away in, then it will always be in the way, and you will always be moving it around.
Here is part of a shop of a Broadway prop maker in New York City. He is also using the “every square inch” approach in his tiny shop, though he has opted to keep everything out in the open, rather than in bins and boxes.
Props shops seem to naturally accumulate little metal file box cabinets over the years, and Milwaukee Rep has put them to good use. With bins, you can carry the whole bin to wherever you need it in the shop, whereas with drawers, a prop maker doesn’t have to hunt down a missing bin that someone else has taken. It’s a matter of preference which you use, though many prop shops have a mix of both.
I liked these drawers underneath the chop saw in the San Francisco Opera. Adding storage under tools and machines is a great way to use space, especially if you can store the materials and equipment associated with that tool.
The tool and hardware cabinet at the Public Theater was in a weird area, so a custom storage area was built by the shop. The angle in that corner was not square, and the walls sloped backwards as well, so any ready-made shelving or storage units would end up wasting precious space.
Here is the opposite side of the Public’s tool cabinet. With the right organization and storage, a shop can hold more tools, materials and supplies, and yet have more open working space than a poorly organized one.
How is your shop organized? I’d love to see pictures. Send them my way.
You may have noticed a distinct lack of posts this week. Between tech, a minor flood at the theatre, and personal challenges, I did not have any time to write this week. But have no fear, the Internet is here, with stories about props of all shapes and sizes:
First off, the Chicago theatre community has an annual props, sets and costume give-away amongst all the professional theatre companies. The Sun-Times Media has a nice write-up, including video and photographs of some of the theatre’s storage spaces. It is also a great exploration on how local theatre communities share resources with each other.
Dave Lowe, the props master at Hallmark Channel’s “Home and Family”, makes custom trophies for the winner of a game segment on the show. When Florence Henderson guest-starred, he set out to create a replica of the cursed tiki from when the Brady Bunch went to Hawaii.
Before I jump into this week’s links, I wanted to mention that next Saturday (October 26th), I’ll be traveling to Central Pennsylvania for a book signing at my alma mater, Bucknell University. If you’re in the area and want a signed copy of my Prop Building Guidebook: For Theatre, Film, and TV, or just want to say hi, swing on by the Barnes and Noble from 10-11am!
First up is this fantastic glimpse into the Trinity Rep prop storage. Take a look at the thousands of props which props master Michael Getz keeps in what was once an old cotton mill.
Collectors Weekly has a great article on the history of amusement park dark rides. A “dark ride” is like a haunted house, except you ride in a car, rather than walk. Collectors Weekly interviews George LaCross, one of the leading experts on dark rides. LaCross has produced a documentary on the history of the Knoebels Haunted House, a well-known dark ride which I must have ridden at least once a year throughout my entire childhood.
Finally, this is interesting in its possibilities. Disney is developing software to help design automaton and other moving machines. It looks like you just draw what you want a figure to do, whether it is a cheetah that runs or a man that pushes a block, and the software will automatically position levers, linkages and gears to create that movement from a single rotating axle. The video below shows it much better. Not only can you design it all, but it looks like you can then send the drawings of the parts to a 3D printer or laser cutter and have them fabricated exactly as they were in the software. It’s the future!
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies