Tag Archives: breakaway

Video: Breakaway Glass with Isomalt

Now that the holidays have passed, I am back to posting companion videos for my upcoming book, The Prop Effects Guidebook. The latest is on how to make a breakaway glass using isomalt. Isomalt has a lot of advantages over cane sugar, and it is not much more expensive.

Most of the work in this video was done by my assistant at the time, Lisa Bledsoe. We needed a breakable whiskey glass for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, so she made a mold of a real glass and figured all of this stuff out.

I bought the isomalt from Make Your Own Molds, which also has some great tutorials to help you get started with making breakaway glass.

Breakaway Glass with Isomalt

I will be releasing more of these companion videos as we draw closer to the book’s release. You can watch all of them on YouTube.

The Prop Effects Guidebook is available for pre-order now at most major retailers.

Late Weekend Links

Hero Props: Graphic Design in Film & Television – The 99% Invisible Podcast sits down with Annie Atkins, a graphic designer who makes paper props and other signage for films.

Blood Test – The Many Shades of Bookshelves and Blood – Jay Duckworth talks about how he got the blood just right for one of the Public Theater’s latest productions.

The film props firm targeting the YouTube generation – BBC News sits down with Ryan Johnson, president of NewRuleFX. They make breakaway bottles, as well as foam frying pans, custom e-cigarettes, and other special effect props.

Weta Workshop: Behind the Scenes on Thor: Ragnarok – Weta Workshop made some super colorful weapons and armor for the latest Thor film. Check out some behind-the-scenes footage in this video. In another video, Tested visits Ironhead Studio to talk about making Hela’s magnificent headdress from the same film.

Probius the Protoss Probe – Prop Build Tutorials – Punished Props debuted a replica prop of the Protoss Probe at this year’s Blizzcon convention. Check out this series of videos detailing the build process as well as giving tutorials on many of the techniques used.

It’s 2017, and All the Props are Here

Yolanda Baker is the Last Disco Ball Maker. She has made tens of thousands of mirror balls by hand for the past fifty years at Omega National Products in Louisville, the last American manufacturer of this iconic object. Chances are, if you have a US mirror ball, it was made by her. She even did all the balls in Saturday Night Fever.

Make Magazine shows us How to Make Breakaway Bottles and Window Panes.  They use sugar glass, ugggggghhh. The process they describe is easy enough to adapt to isomalt, though, which is superior to sugar glass.

Adam Savage visits Weta Workshop’s Model Painting Shop. Adam seems to be visiting all sorts of cool places lately, and the model painting studio at the shop that built Lord of the Rings is no exception. Check out all the cool work they did while learning some painting tips for yourself.

PuppetVision has a Pinterest board with 92 pins of Animatronics & Puppet Mechanisms. You can spend days looking at all the clever ways to make objects move and come to life.

“Designing Windows is an Art”. Take a look at this interview with Erin O’Brien, a freelance window designer at Bergdorf Goodman in London. She talks about how she got started and shows off some examples of her work over the years.

Breakaway Window Pane

A few months back, I did the props for Arms and the Man at Triad Stage. Set during the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War, the first scene revolves around a Swiss soldier breaking into the bedroom of a Bulgarian woman. The war rages around them, and at one point, a bullet shatters through the glass of her balcony door. That’s a prop.

We not only needed to make a breakaway window pane that would fit the decorative transom, but I had to come up with a way to break it. Obviously, we couldn’t fire a bullet through it; we couldn’t fire any projectile through it because it was facing the audience. I needed something that could be triggered from offstage and remain hidden both before and after the trick. Luckily, the audience could not see the upstage side of the door unit. The video below shows the mechanism in action.

Essentially, I took a mousetrap and tied a nut to it. When triggered, the mousetrap flung the nut into the window, breaking it, and then it hung out of sight. The rest of the mechanism is simply to keep the mousetrap secure so it will not trigger prematurely, but also to make it easy to pull the string when the cue is called.

The Bedroom, Act One
The Bedroom, Act One

The photo above shows the window in the context of the set. Somehow this is the best photo I could find.

Glass mold
Glass mold

The window pane itself was made from isomalt, a sugar substitute which works a lot better for breakaways than traditional sugar glass. I get mine from Make Your Own Molds, but you can find it at many baking and confectioners shops since it is used for sugar sculpture on cakes.

For the mold, I cut the shape of the pane I needed out of a sheet of silicone rubber, and placed it on a silicone baking pad.

Breakaway glass pane
Breakaway glass pane

Above is one of my first attempts. The panes became a little clearer and smoother as I made more of them and experimented with the process. Below is a behind the scenes video put out by Triad Stage for this production. It has a bit of footage showing me making the breakaway window panes.

The effect was eventually cut during tech. The scene was rather dark, so the audience could not see the glass breaking. The setup and cleanup of the effect was not worth the little it added to the scene, so it was replaced with a sound and lighting effect.

Slave Shack hand props

A week and a half ago, I wrote about the set props for Slave Shack, a show I prop-mastered at the Algonquin Theatre. Now that the show has closed, I can talk about the hand props (the hand props give away several key plot points, which is why I held off until the show closed). There were several interesting challenges with the hand props for Slave Shack

Slave Shack, end of Act One
Slave Shack, end of Act One


Leg Cuffs
Leg Cuffs

The “handcuffs” actually needed to be leg-cuffs, as you can see in the first photograph. They also needed to be trick cuffs, with the ability to come apart without a key at any time. We couldn’t find any leg cuffs with that ability, so we had to invent them. The first thing we tried was grinding down the teeth; this would allow  Candice LaGia Lenoir, the actress who played Janice, to pull the handcuffs apart as easily as they could be pushed together.

During the play, however, Janice jumps out of her seat a couple of times. When she did this, the handcuffs would pop open. My first idea was to rig some sort of latch on the handcuffs, which could hold the handcuff jaws together. This created more problems than it solved, as Candice needed to undo the handcuffs in the dark and get off stage at the end of Act One. It introduced a whole lot of fumbling whenever the handcuffs needed to come on or off.

I got another set of cuffs which still had un-ground teeth. I put the key in the hole and covered the slot so the key remained inside permanently. I then cut the end of the key off and replaced it with a less visible lever to operate it. Basically, I turned the leg-cuffs into a set of trick cuffs. This seemed to work for the most part.


Swivel chair on pedestal
Swivel chair on pedestal

The play called for a large sofa in the middle of the office. Jack handcuffs Janice’s leg to one of the sofa’s legs. There is a line about the sofa being so heavy “it took five guys to carry it up here.” The implication is that Janice cannot simply lift the sofa and slide the cuff out from underneath to free herself.

Unfortunately, the stage at the Algonquin is 12′ by 15′, and a sofa of any significant size would fill the entire set. Natalie (the set designer, and my wife) designed a swivel chair with a heavy pedestal as pictured above. Unfortunately, such a thing does not exist; the only chairs close are designer mid-century pieces which cost thousands of dollars.

We found the top part of the chair on Craigslist, and was able to get it delivered. It originally had a rolling base. I removed that and replaced it with the base you see above, which was taken from an outdoor pedestal table. It was extremely heavy, which was good, since we needed to sell the idea that Janice could not simply sneak off with the entire chair, and also so the chair would not tip over during the violent scufflings which occurred throughout the performance.


One of the major plot points of Slave Shack involves a racist monkey cartoon which appeared on a company brochure to depict Africa. Jack Blake, the main character was held responsible for it and forced to retire. During the play, Warren, his underling, gives Jack a going-away present – a stuffed toy which resembles the racist monkey cartoon described earlier. Debra Whitfield, the director, wanted something creepy-looking, like the cymbal monkey toys from the 1950s.

original monkey toy from eBay
original monkey toy from eBay

I found a significantly creepy version of this toy on eBay; it was fairly cheap, as the moving parts were broken. I removed the clothes and added a grass skirt, feather headdress, a bone in its nose, and some decor around his neck.

monkey toy used in Slave Shack
monkey toy used in Slave Shack

I had to add some additional fur as removing the clothes revealed the metal skeleton underneath.

Breakable Statue

You may recall my earlier post on how to make a breakable glass. When we tested it in the space, it was still too dangerous. The space is so small that any breakable item had the potential of throwing shards into the audience. The space was also completely enclosed, so no matter how you blocked the action, the pieces would eventually ricochet off a wall and head toward the audience.

A breakable wooden statue
A breakable wooden statue

The only safe alternative on our budget (short of cutting the moment) was a wooden statue which could be pre-broken and reassembled with hot glue every night. Once again, Natalie decided to carve one herself rather than buy one. Though more labor-intensive, this gave us one distinct advantage. We cut the block of wood into five pieces and reassembled it with hot glue before carving it. This gave us nearly invisible break lines. If we cut a statue that had already been carved, the kerf, or thickness of the cutting blade, would have kept the seams from lining up completely.