Tag Archives: vacuum forming

Friday Night Links

Friday Night Links

Happy Friday, everyone. It’s that time of year when summer seems to be winding down; summer theatres are getting down to their last few shows, schools are getting ready to start up, and busy props people are panicking that they haven’t taken a vacation yet. If you’re stuck inside on a computer, I hope these links will keep you busy for awhile:

The Credits has a great interview with Conor O’Sullivan, prosthetic supervisor for films and shows such as Saving Private Ryan, The Dark KnightGame of ThronesX-Men: First Class, and the upcoming Hercules. While the art and craft of prosthetic effects often gets all the press, this article delves into something just as important: the logistics and planning to get it all done. Putting a fake tattoo on an actor is far different than getting matching tattoos on 150 extras every morning in less than five hours.

Fon Davis shows you how to make your own vacuum forming machine in this video. While others have shown how to build cheap or free machines like this, Fon goes a step further and assembles a machine entirely out of found parts, modified with only a drill and some duct tape.

I needed to make some small translucent crystals for a project I’m working on, and the Arms, Armor and Awesome blog has a fantastic tutorial on how to cast gems out of clear resin (h/t to Propnomicon for the link).

The NYC Prop Summit just got a webpage. The Summit itself is typically held each year around August (this year it is August 22nd), where props people from in and around the New York City area get together to network, celebrate, and learn new things. They also have a Facebook group where members go for help or advice.

Mid-Week Links

Things have been hectic here in the Hart Household, and you may have noticed I’ve missed a few posts. So I am switching things up and posting a bunch of links on a Wednesday rather than a Friday. Here we go:

Chris Ubick has been the props master on dozens of films, such as The HelpPractical MagicMilk, and The Internship. Dianne Reber Hart has written a great article on her life and career which you should check out.

This article is a few years old, but worth mentioning: The Last Electronics Project I Completed. It’s a little deep and heavy at times (the author was building a fake bomb prop in lower Manhattan in early September of 2001) but it brings up some questions about the questionable legality of what we sometimes find ourselves building.

On a lighter note, here is how to force a patina on carbon steel. Short answer? Shove it in a lemon.

And finally, here is an interesting Instructable on assembling a vacuum-formed model. If you have tried vacuum-forming before, you will know that making the parts on the machine is just the beginning. You still have to trim, assemble and reinforce the parts to get a usable prop. This Instructable steps through some of those processes to make a fake ammo drum.

All Props Day

All Props Day

So it’s the day after Halloween, but most of my links today are for Halloween-related props, because that’s what everyone has been writing about for the last couple of weeks. Luckily, us props people can use some good fake blood advice any day of the year.

First up is fellow SPAM member Deb Morgan, props master at the Lyric Opera in Kansas City, showing us how to make some fake edible blood and a blood bag. It’s a basic recipe that most of us know, but it’s great to watch how the different ingredients affect the final product.

Next is another SPAM member Seán McArdle giving his local Fox News channel a show-and-tell of fantastic props he has built. Besides his own take on the blood bag, he’s got a really cool non-pyrotechnic gunshot effect for a musket.

Ed Edmunds makes monsters and effects for haunted houses, and created the animatronic electric chair prop that essentially transformed these rides from cheesy diversions to high-tech affairs. Check out his interview in Esquire Magazine to learn more.

Finally, check out this super-cool video where artist DiResta makes a quick vacuum-formed mask, going from clay sculpt, to plaster mold, to vacuum-forming, to paint:

Turning foam

Giant Champagne Bottles

With this summer’s season at the Santa Fe Opera at an end, I can begin to show off some of the props I’ve built there. First up is a giant champagne bottle.

We needed four champagne bottles of a very specific size; they were going to be the barrels of cannons that I would also build. Nobody manufactures champagne bottles that large, so we had to make them. Since we would vacuum-form them from plastic, I began by making a solid foam bottle.

Blank and pattern
Blank and pattern

I drew out half the shape at full-scale on a piece of plexiglass. We have a duplicator on our lathe, which allows us to rough out the shape by directly following a pattern like this. I also got the block of foam ready. This piece was so wide, it barely fit on the lathe; I had to take most of the attachments off and round off the foam by hand before there was enough room to put the attachments back on.

Turning foam
Turning foam

As you can imagine, turning a block of foam this large creates quite a bit of debris. I am still finding bits of foam in my clothes to this day.

Splitting the foam in half
Splitting the foam in half

To vacuum form this piece, I only needed half of the bottle. I built a box so I could hold the bottle straight. The top of the box reached the exact middle point of the bottle, so when I ran a hot wire along it, it sliced the foam bottle directly in half.

Vacuum formed half
Vacuum formed half

I mounted the foam onto a board and drilled holes all around the circumference, as well as holes in the concave portions to ensure the plastic would be sucked all the way down. I also coated the foam with Aqua Resin and sanded it smooth. I posted a video a few weeks ago showing the vacuum forming machine in action; check it out if you want to see how I made the piece in the photo above.

Painting the halves
Painting the halves

With a successful pull on the vacuum former, this project was turned over to the crafting department, and my work on it ended. They began manufacturing clear plastic halves like you see above, and spraying them down with green dye to match the color of a real champagne bottle.

Finished bottles
Finished bottles

They glued the halves together and added some labels and gold foil to complete the look. The final bottles were over four feet tall.

 

 

Mounting the wooden forms

Vacuum Formed Balustrades

One of the first projects I worked on when arriving in Santa Fe was actually for a scenic element. One of the shows has a number of decorative balustrades way upstage, and they wanted to vacuum form them. I was tasked with turning the wooden master.

Clamping the boards
Clamping the boards

The first step was gluing up a number of poplar boards. This was going to be a fairly thick piece. I made two, so I could split them down the middle and give them four halves to vacuum form on a single sheet of plastic.

Turning the blank
Turning the blank

The lathe in our props shop has a duplicater set up. This allows you to cut out the profile of what you want to turn in a thin sheet of plexiglas, and the blade can follow that shape. You still need to finish it up by hand to make sharp corners and smooth it out, but it helps keep your shapes and sizes consistent across multiple pieces.

Completed balustrades
Completed balustrades

Above are the two balustrades, ready to go!

Cutting in half
Cutting in half

Next I had to split them directly in half. Luckily, we have a massive bandsaw, and I could build an oversized dowel-splitting jig to cut the whole baluster in half in one pass.

Mounting the wooden forms
Mounting the wooden forms

The next step included a new technique for me. I had to drill holes throughout the wooden mold for the vacuum to pull air through, paying particular attention to the undercuts. They also asked me to mount the molds on a sheet of plywood with a gap underneath, and drill holes all along the periphery. Since the vacuum form platen only has holes at regularly-spaced intervals, it would not suck the plastic tight against the bottom of the mold; this technique was like creating a custom platen to sit on top of the regular platen.

Vacuum formed copies
Vacuum formed copies

That was actually the end of my part. The scenery department took my molds and began running them through the vacuum former. I don’t have any pictures of that, but I do have a video of the machine in action. Above is a photo of the resulting pieces as they get mounted to the scenic piece.