Tested visits Sideshow Collectibles to see how they sculpt and paint their realistic statues of comic book characters in this video. It’s not quite props, but the look at the tools and techniques they use is pretty fascinating.
Welding is a great skill for a prop master or prop maker to have, though it can be a hard one to begin learning. The best way to learn is to have someone teach and guide you as you practice on your own. Whether that’s possible or not, it is also a good idea to watch some videos on welding to pick up background information and to get a different perspective on some of the techniques.
I discovered Kevin Caron’s videos on welding; he has dozens of videos covering all sorts of welding styles and techniques. His background is in metal art and fabrication, so the way he demonstrates welding is close to how a props artisan approaches welding. We rarely have to deal with all the technical information one might get with a traditional welding course, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed with all of that when you are just starting out and simply want to join a few pieces of steel together for a static prop.
Our production of Anna Christie closed last night at Triad Stage. The first act takes place in a bar, filled with wooden furniture. The bar, tables and chairs all needed to match, and since they were constructed from a variety of wood and other materials, the best way to do that was by painting all of them.
Our scenic charge artist, Jessica Holcombe, helped us develop a process to match the wood sample that our designer picked out. The base coat was a wet blend of two colors: a light tan, and a slightly darker beige. We blended them in the direction that the fake grain would go.
The next layer was a maroon/pink graining layer. A lot of the graining was done simply with a chip brush lightly dragged along the surface to make stripes. For some of the larger surfaces, we broke out the grain rocker to make some knots and other grain characteristics.
For the third layer, we made a glaze from some amber shellac and a bit of brown tint, and painted that over the whole thing.
The picture below shows the progression of this graining process, starting with an unpainted chair I bought.
When the furniture got on stage under the lights, it was too bright and the grain had too much contrast. We added another glaze coat of tinted shellac, this time using a darker brown to tint it. Jessica also showed us how to
flock (edit: I mean “flog”) this layer, giving it a bit of the subtle pores and perpendicular stripes you can see below.
When doing a wood grain, the more layers you can add, the richer and more realistic your final result will be. There are many other techniques and tricks you can utilize depending on the specific type of wood you are trying to replicate; it is important to have a clear reference photo or physical sample of what you want your wood to look like.
David Neat, author of Model-Making: Materials and Methods, has a blog going with all sorts of model making techniques. Posts on painting, mold-making, working in scale, and more are described and shown with ample photographs.
I really like this illustrated chart of hand tools over at Popular Mechanics. The chart itself is good-looking enough to hang up in your shop, while the tools pictured on it give you a great idea of what your shop is missing.
Smooth-On has a ton of great videos over at their website showing how to mold and cast with many of their materials. If you haven’t checked them out yet, start with one of their newer ones on how to make a mold for a replica of an antique rifle.
If you ever wanted to take the time to make chain mail by hand (as opposed to just spray-painting some crocheted yarn), Make Projects has a great tutorial on just that.
“Kill Phil” continues to be an interesting and informative little series over on the YouTube. The premise is simple; take a well-known prop maker and give them 3 days to recreate a prop from a film. In one of the latest episodes, they turn to Dragon Dronet of Renegade Effects, one of the top prop makers of Star Trek: The Next Generation and other sci-fi shows and movies from the 1990s onward. They task him with recreating Matt Damon’s gun from the film Elysium, which hadn’t come out yet when this was filmed.
He slams together this prop by hacking apart several toy guns and a vacuum cleaner, than refining all the details with pieces of styrene, jelutong wood and Bondo. It is also interesting to see that he works with little more than a band saw, belt and disc sander, Dremel and a drill gun.
On an unfortunate note, he does all this without any protective gear. You see him using Bondo and Zip Kicker without a respirator, sanding and cutting without a dust mask, and applying Bondo without gloves (even using his hands to smear it on!). With that in mind, watch the video for the techniques, but don’t forget about the safety.