Tag Archives: wood

Prop Time Links

Warner Brothers has a huge prop and costume warehouse hidden somewhere outside of London. CNN brings you some of the first pictures from inside, showing us props from films such as Harry Potter, the Batman series and Gravity. Don’t forget to check out the video as well.

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.

Fake tree branch

Fake Tree Branches

We have a production of Brother Wolf currently running out in Winston-Salem. One of the props they needed were some tree branches which they were doing some choreography with. So they needed to be light-weight and safe around the actors. We decided to go with pool noodles over an aluminum pole, coated in cheesecloth and glue. I sent a photo of the following sample over to Howard Jones, the scenic designer, and got approval.

Tree branch sample
Tree branch sample

The two full-size branches were made by the assistant props master, Lisa Bledsoe (I merely took the pictures). She started by bending the poles to match what was drawn, and adding a few extra branches. They were bolted on since we do not have an aluminum welder at the shop.

Foam and structure
Foam and structure

She adhered the separate pieces of pool noodle together with spray foam, which also filled the gaps. Once it had cured, she set to shaping the foam using a mix of knives and an angle grinder with an abrasive flap wheel.

Carving the shape
Carving the shape

Once the branches were properly shaped, she painted on the cheesecloth with a 50/50 mix of Elmer’s Glue and water. I should mention that the branches got a quick coat of grey primer, since the cheesecloth is fairly translucent, and we did not want pink trees.

Coated
Coated

Once everything was dry, our scenic painter, Jessica Holcombe, gave the final paint treatment. It was a weathered grey wood, with a thin white wash over top. It matched all the wood elements in the scenery, so it was easier to just have her do the branches as well, rather than having us try to match it.

Fake tree branch
Fake tree branch

Overall, they worked pretty well. They are far lighter than a real tree branch, and they won’t hurt an actor if they accidentally make contact. There are a few spots at the tips where the pool noodle extends past the aluminum pole, and we found they were cracking at those points; a few times during the run, we had to glue on a “bandage” of cheesecloth to repair those cracks. Other than that, I thought they were a great solution.

Full bar

Building a Bar for “Anna Christie”

The first scene of Anna Christie takes place in a small waterfront bar in the New York City harbor around 1910. For our production at Triad Stage, the design had a large back bar and front bar which could appear for that scene and strike backstage when it ended. The scenic designer drafted the front bar and the back bar for the props shop to build, and away we went. Standing nine and a half feet tall, at almost twelve feet long, the back bar really pushed the limits of the definition of a “prop”.

The back bar was built mostly out of lauan with half-inch plywood framing pieces to make it as light as possible, since it would need to be pushed on and off stage a vista by three crew members.

Beginning construction
Beginning construction

It was constructed in three sections to make transportation to the theatre possible. You can see two of the sections below, showing where the piece broke apart. You can also see the beginnings of the wood grain paint treatment which I wrote about last week.

Two sections
Two sections

Most of the vertical surfaces on the top section of this piece were meant to be antique frosted mirrors. I used some silver Mylar as the mirror, laid a section of lace on top, and spray painted through it. This left a lace-like design on the Mylar, and after a few more coats of spray frosting over the whole thing, it looked just like a mirror.

Making the mirror
Making the mirror

The unit was originally on wheels, but when it got to the theatre, the noise it made while moving was deafening. The stage floor consisted entirely of expanded steel panels. We discovered that plastic furniture gliders actually made moving the unit completely silent and fairly effortless. They also ensured the unit remained stationary when no one was touching it.

Back bar
Back bar

With some practical sconces, some lace runners and doilies, and a whole bunch of vintage liquor bottles, the piece was complete. Below is a photo of the whole setup, which includes the front bar that our prop shop also constructed.

Full bar
Full bar

You can also see a side-by-side comparison of the final piece with a research image. Obviously the proportions and specifics were changed in the design, but the inspiration is fairly clear.

Research vs final piece
Research vs final piece
Step-by-step wood graining process

Graining Some Wood

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.

Base coat
Base coat

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.

Graining
Graining

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.

Glaze coat
Glaze coat

The picture below shows the progression of this graining process, starting with an unpainted chair I bought.

Step-by-step wood graining process
Step-by-step wood graining process

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.

Final glaze
Final glaze

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.

 

 

Costumes and Scenery for Amateurs, 1915 (part 2)

The following comes from a 1915 book called “Costumes and Scenery for Amateurs”. I published the first portion of the chapter on props way back in 2009. Here, without further delay, is the conclusion.

Stimulate initiative and invention wherever possible. A round collar box is only a collar box until you use it for an earthen bowl. A white cardboard shoe box is cut down a little, covered with black tissue paper, has a little yellow pane inserted in each side, and a curtain ring for a handle. Behold a lantern for a Yankee minute-man, or Paul Revere, or anyone else who wants to use it.

Remarkable stage furniture can be made from wooden boxes of all sizes. A packing case makes a dais. Several boxes nailed together and stained brown will make a peasant’s cupboard.

Three boxes nailed together like this |¯| will make a hearth. If it is to be a mediæval or fairy tale hearth, cover it with cheap gray cambric, bulked to look like stone, and marked with splotches of white and brown chalk. Be sure you turn the unglazed side of the cambric outward. Use chalk because paint will not show up well on cambric. A brick fireplace for a modern scene can be made in the same way, covering the boxes with brick chimney paper than can be bought at Dennison’s Tissue Paper Co., Boston, Chicago, or New York. One of their catalogues will prove invaluable to directors living in the country. A narrow box on rockers, stained brown, becomes a Puritan or eighteenth century cradle. Gilded and hooded it is the cradle of a royal Princess. Couch seats can be made from boxes, only be sure that they are secure.

Originally published in “Costumes and Scenery for Amateurs”, by Constance D’Arcy Mackay, 1915 (pp 95-96)