Tag Archives: thermoplastic

Donkey Mask from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Nick Bottom finds his head transformed into that of a donkey, courtesy of the mischievous fairy, Puck. The donkey head is among Shakespeare’s most distinctive props, and has been on my bucket list of famous props to build. Recently, Triad Stage mounted a production.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream", Triad Stage, with Rebecca Hirota and E.E. Williams. Photo by Bert Vanderveen.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Triad Stage, with Rebecca Hirota and E.E. Williams. Photo by Bert Vanderveen.

The mask was designed by our costume designer, Hannah Chalman. She designed masks for all the fairies as well, so we split the fabrication of the masks between the props and costume departments.

Continue reading Donkey Mask from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

Four Hot Prop Links

What’s the difference between Worbla and Wonderflex? Kamui Cosplay puts these low-melting thermoplastics through the ringer to find out how they differ. She also looks at lesser-known brands like Thibra and Cosplayflex.

BBC asks ten questions of Craig Williams, props master on Orphan Black. Find out what his favorite prop is and whether the crew plays pranks on each other. Oh, there’s a bit more useful information here too.

Ward Works builds a vacuum former and presents the whole step-by-step process with photographs. The whole thing was done for under $600, though you can save money if you have a lot of scrap around the shop.

Make has 11 hot glue tips, tricks and hacks. Most of these go outside the realm of normal hot glue usage. I especially like the one of using hot glue to glue your hot glue into your hot glue gun.

Last Links of May

Vulture has a nice piece on the unglamorous, punishing hours of working on a Hollywood set. Below-the-line workers in film work longer hours than soldiers in Afghanistan. And it’s dangerous to do so. On the flip side, a film shoot has an end date, and if you’re a prop builder, you’re probably not on set.

If that previous article does not turn you off, Frank Ippolito has some advice on how to get started in the effects business. Though he’s talking about practical and makeup effects, the props business has many similarities, and there are some people who work in both worlds.

Tandy Leather has come out with their own thermoplastic, similar to Wonderflex and Worbla. Check out their introductory video on working with TerraFlex Sheets.

Wired has an epic oral history on Industrial Light and Magic, which just celebrated its 40th year in business. It’s interesting to note that the company which pioneered the use of computer effects in the nineties is the same one currently pushing the envelope of practical effects.

If you like the photos in the previous article, check out the accompanying gallery of the awesome props inside ILM’s vault.

Friday Prop Links

Happy Friday, everyone! For those of us in the middle of holiday shows, whether NutcrackerChristmas CarolTuna Christmas, or what have you, I hope it’s going well. I have some fun things from around the internet you can read:

Propnomicon has been doing some research into early shipping crates and packaging, and has shared some of the discoveries made. It may be surprising to see that manufacturers were shipping products in corrugated cardboard boxes rather than wooden crates back in the 1920s.

A short article of note tells how 3D printing is finding a home in Hollywood. Of course, regular readers of this blog already know this, but it is still interesting to see specifically how and where prop makers are using 3D printing technology.

La Bricoleuse has an interesting post up about the parasols her students made in her decorative arts class. Now I know many props masters do not consider parasols to be a “prop”; I’m sharing it because Playmakers’ props assistant (and good friend) Joncie Sarratt has a stunning diagram of the parasol she had to create for their production of Tempest.

Finally, Kamui Cosplay is poised to release The Book of Cosplay Armor Making with Worbla and Wonderflex. I haven’t seen the book yet, but if it is anything like her tutorials, it’s sure to be a very informative look at working with various low-temperature thermoplastics.

Vacuum Forming on Zero Dollars

I am currently working as props master on Crazy for You at Elon University. In one of the musical numbers, twelve showgirls dance around the main character while talking on the phone. The show is set in the early 1930s, so that is twelve candlestick phones needed (all of them painted pink). If you’ve ever had to get candlestick phones, you know that the real ones are prohibitively expensive, and even the replicas are too expensive when twelve are needed. I decided I would make them all (which is what most theatres do).

Most hand-built candlestick phones I’ve seen have a pretty simple base, and I wanted to try for something a bit more interesting and realistic. Since these were just being used during a dance number, the dial didn’t need to work. It looked like I could sculpt the base as a solid object and than just vacuum form twelve copies. The only problem? I don’t have a vacuum forming machine.

Vacuum forming one of the telephone bases
Vacuum forming one of the telephone bases

I ended up assembling a very small and fairly weak vacuum forming system out of tools I already had and scrap materials which were laying around. Other than my time, the cost was free. I was able to make all the phone bases I needed though the process was a bit inelegant at times. I like what vacuum forming can accomplish, and I think I may spend some more time (and maybe even some money) making a more usable vacuum former after this show opens, but it was nice to be up and running without too much investment on my part.

I have posted an Instructable on how I built my free vacuum forming machine if anyone else is interested in how this all works. I also have a video of how it works and what it looks like when it’s being used: