Tag Archives: Bill Doran

Prop-tastic Friday

Meet Jim – Our Props Director – The Milwaukee Rep Tumblr has a conversation with Jim Guy, their props director. Jim is also the President of S*P*A*M and knows 97% of the props masters in the US.

The Day They Nuked Buffalo – Propnomicon brings us this interesting historical tidbit. In 1952, the State Civil Defense Commission had the Buffalo News print a newspaper as if a nuclear bomb had been detonated over the city. It was “the only prop newspaper ever officially sanctioned by the US government.”

Check Out This Amazing Ghostbusters Proton Pack – The new Ghostbusters movie opens this weekend, and Make Magazine brings us this great Arduino-powered proton pack. It’s from the original film; maybe in the coming weeks, we’ll see more builds of the new equipment.

Punished Props’ Foam Viking Axe Build – Tested shows us how Bill Doran built a viking axe out of flexible foam in this video.

How to Build a Foam Cosplay Helmet – Also from Tested, Evil Ted shows us how to make a helmet out of flexible foam. Basically, you can build an entire suit of armor and weapons out of your floor mats.

To the Weekend and Beyond

Bill Doran shows us how to mold and cast tiny parts, which often have their own set of challenges distinct from molding larger pieces. One word: bubbles.

Modern-Day Gepettos Keep Marionette Making Alive – Make Magazine introduces us to Mirek Trejtnar, a puppet-maker who not only carefully researches traditional methods of building marionettes, but shares his techniques on his blog.

Most explosive squibs used on film sets contain lead, which spreads lead all over the film crew. A new report highlights the potential dangers and asks if your film crew is being poisoned. It came to no surprise to me that Monona Rossol was behind this report; she often appears to be solely responsible for pointing out the toxic dangers hidden in the entertainment industry. Many of us have learned safer practices either from one of her classes or from her essential book, The Health and Safety Guide for Film, TV, and Theater.

Propnomicon points out that the New York Public Library has a great collection on old apartment buildings. They have detailed floor plans from the early Twentieth Century, as well as common plumbing and bathroom fixtures. It’s great research for any play from this time period.


Chuck Fox, the props master at the Arena Stage in DC, is retiring, and the Washington Post has a great look back on his career. He started as a props carpenter at the Arena back in 1980. Kids, that was before props masters had Amazon and eBay. It was before you could do research on Google. Heck, it was before you could keep your props list saved on your computer and print out a copy every you updated it.

Genevieve Bee has this massive blog post documenting her construction of a life-size troll figure out of foam.  Over 150 photos and a video detail her process from scale model to finished piece. She uses flat foam patterning, fabric manipulation, sculpting, plaster molding, latex casting, and a plethora of other techniques to bring this to life. And it’s her first time doing a project of this scale; she points out all the things she learned along the way.

Bill Doran brings us this introduction to 3D modeling for prop and costume making. Doran got his start as a 3D modeler, and he shows us some of the more accessible programs out there. 3D modeling is great for making 3D printed parts, but it can also be used to visualize a project and create blueprints for more traditional fabrication projects.

Myles McNutt hates when television characters carry around empty coffee cups. I mean, he really hates it. He has put together a video showing some of the more egregious examples of empty coffee cup usage, and has even created an award for the best (or worst?) empty cup acting on screen. Despite being a props person, I have actually never noticed this when watching TV.

March Forth With Props

Over at HowlRound, Seth Tyler Black talks about career transitions from theatre to film. He interviews a few art directors and props people to see what skills are shared between the two fields, and what makes them different.

I loved this article and photographs about Syrian refugees building scale models of historical landmarks. As their homeland is destroyed by war, and ancient artifacts are being destroyed, these artists are coming together in their cramped camps to create a record of what is lost. They construct the models with whatever materials they can find, from rock, to MDF, to wooden kebab skewers.

Brendan Bernhardt Gaffney has been researching ancient methods of measurement, and has come up with the Rulers of the Ancient World. These wooden measuring devices come in several flavors: Ancient Egyptian, Japanese “Kanejaku”, and Ancient Roman. So if you’re sick of inches, but millimeters leave you cold, why not measure your next project in Pes and Uncia?

Bill Doran shows us how to make shiny metal prop finishes. The real trick he shares? Make your prop glossy before adding the metal spray paint.

Finally, Make Magazine has 11 tips for creating a good weld. Here’s a twelfth tip: welding is awesome.

Review: Foamsmith, by Bill Doran

Anyone who reads this blog (or really, any blog about props) probably recognizes the name of Bill Doran. You’ve either marveled at his prop work over at Punished Props, watched his how-to videos, or followed his live chats with other prop makers.

One thing you pick up about him is how much he loves teaching and demonstrating everything he learns. Not only is he an enthusiastic teacher, but his knowledge comes tested from building countless costumes for numerous conventions, and regularly talking with other cosplayers. It’s a great recipe for making a book, and a book is exactly what he made.

Foamsmith is all about building a suit of armor out of EVA foam. He began with a series of e-books on different foamsmithing techniques, and has now collected them into a single print volume. Even if you’ve never worked with foam before, you can have a full suit of armor built by the time you’re done with this book.

Foamsmith by Bill Doran
Foamsmith by Bill Doran

The book is gorgeous. Full color pictures and easy-to-read layouts meet you on every page. Websites and e-books are certainly a great resource for learning how to make things, but there’s something about a physical book that makes the information so clear and accessible. Plus, you don’t have to worry about the words and pictures suddenly disappearing like when a website goes down.

Doran covers the basics, from patterning, cutting and shaping your foam, to carving, texturing and adding other details. He delves a lot into the specifics of wearing a full suit of armor, like designing it to be easy to take on and off, adding pockets to hide your cell phone, and making sure you can go to the bathroom while wearing it.

Even if you never intend to walk around a convention in a suit of sci-fi armor, this book still has a lot to offer. EVA foam is a wonderful material to build many things out of, and Doran has lots of specific tips and tricks for getting the most out of it. He has built entire props just from foam; I’ve used it for puppet-making in the past as well. His instructions on sealing and painting the foam are very useful, and his chapter on LEDs and wiring are helpful even if you are not working with foam at all.

If you’ve ever watched Doran’s videos, you know he has a cheeky sense of humor, and his personality is all over the book as well. You get the sense that this is a lot of fun for him, and he wants to share everything he knows with us so we can have fun too. It’s not distracting though; his instructions are clear, and he does a wonderful job of matching photographs to his text to further reinforce what he is describing.

I wish he had a few more photographs of his completed projects. He has a few, and I know you can find them online, but it would be nice for the book to show the culmination of his processes. The tutorials throughout the book show bits and pieces of some of the suits he built, and you just think, “wow, that little wrist gauntlet looks awesome, I wonder what the whole costume looked like?”

There are very few Bill Dorans in the world, and it is exciting to see him put his experience into book form. Prop making and cosplay still suffer from a lack of books and learning materials, so I’m glad to see more people contributing to this vast field.

Foamsmith is sold exclusively on the Punished Props website. It is 184 pages with over 400 color photographs.