When the Actors Are Students, and They’re Armed – In this climate of daily school shootings, how do high school theater departments deal with plays and musicals that feature guns? The New York Times is on it. They showcase a number of schools who take different approaches; some use abstract props to represent the guns, while others use as realistic a prop as possible. As a prop master, you need to be in on the conversation early whenever your production will include firearms.
Adding Smoke F/X to Toys Using E-Cigarettes – Make Magazine rounds up some tutorials on using e-cigarettes to add smoke effects to toys (or props). Remember, if you are working on an Equity show, there are guidelines on how much smoke you can use, and the levels need to be tested. There are a few brands you can use without the need for testing, but they cannot be hacked or modified.
Why Puppets (and Puppeteers) Are Still Important – Smithsonian has a great article on the world of puppetry today, including a short interview with Basil Twist. The article has a plenitude of photos from the Smithsonian’s puppetry collection; if you are in Washington, DC, you can check it all out in person.
Inside Syfy’s Cosplay Melee Workshop – Syfy Channel has a new competition show called Cosplay Melee, where contestants build original costumes and props in an insane time crunch. Tested takes us inside the workshop they use, with a look at all the tools and materials they have access to.
This was making the rounds on email yesterday: The Pure Smoke system by Jason Brumbalow. Say you need a clothes iron or a tea kettle to make steam on stage, but generating that kind of heat is too dangerous for the actors. You can probably hide one of these somewhere and let it make some room-temperature theatrical fog for you.
It essentially works like an e-cigarette with a nicotine-free cartridge. The major difference is you cue the vapor with a squeezable trigger rather than an airflow sensor which is activated when you inhale on the end. The vapor is generated from propylene glycol, which is among the safer kinds of chemicals used in theatrical foggers and electronic cigarettes. 1
The website lists the system at $147, with refill smoke packs starting at around $25. It says each cartridge gives you over 80 large “puffs”, with a refill pack giving you 10 cartridges, so that’s about 3 cents per puff. The cost is a great deal cheaper than palm-sized theatrical foggers ($1850), though I’d imagine the vapor is considerably less dense and long-lasting.
It has a battery pack which takes 4 AA batteries (not included) which is connected through a long wire to a squeezable trigger mechanism. The mechanism is rigged to be strapped to a performer’s chest, though I imagine you can alter it to fit any prop you need the smoke in. A hose runs from the mechanism to the dispenser tip, which also holds the smoke cartridge. The dispenser is about 3 1/2″ long; the diameter of the base is about half an inch, and the tip is a quarter of an inch.
The amount of vapor produced by the Pure Smoke in the video looks to be extremely small, but if you are interested in the possible health risks of inhaling propylene glycol, especially in the quantities produced by full-stage theatrical foggers, I urge you to check this fact sheet about propylene glycol from Monona Rossol, the leading expert on chemical hazards in the entertainment industry. ↩
I came across this website called Gremlins in the Garage. It’s an older site; most of the articles are from the late 1990s. It deals with “kits”, which are sculpted busts or figures from mainly horror and sci-fi films that collectors buy and paint. It has some interesting interviews with movie monster makers though, and some how-to articles, like this one on getting started with sculpting.
In “Bringing Xiphactinus Back to Life” we see a prehistoric fish being sculpted, cast and painted by museum exhibit designers (or, as I call them, “science prop makers”). The video is a bit over 6 minutes, but well worth a watch.
As if e-cigarettes aren’t already getting a bad rap, news came out yesterday that one exploded in a smoker’s mouth. Details remain scant at this point, though the article suggests this particular e-cigarette was specially modified by the smoker. I’ve never heard of any exploding before, and industry statistics say 2.5 million Americans use them on a regular basis. Cell phones explode more often.
If you saw the film, The Help, you know how important the food was to the characters, setting and plot: everything from fried chicken to an, ahem, chocolate pie. Variety has a brief article about Chris Ubick, the film’s “food stylist”.
I will be taking the next week off for the Holidays, so it will be 2012 the next time you read this. The world of props isn’t exactly one of constant change, but news stories occasionally affect us. I’ve narrowed down four of the most notable ones of 2011. Here they are, in no particular order:
E-Cigarettes are banned in Boston workplaces. I am not sure how this affects their use on stage. I’ve written about e-cigarettes before on this site as their legal status and safety issues are constantly changing and evolving. Expect e-cigarettes to continue to make the news in 2012.
Guns on the set of Brad Pitt’s World War Z were seized by Hungarian authorities. This story first appeared with sensationalistic flair in the gossip and tabloid sites; they got most of the facts completely wrong, and the real story was far more interesting to props people. I did my own round-up and debunking of what really happened.
Occupy Wall Street began on September 17th, and dominated the news through much of the autumn, and is still happening in various forms throughout the world. If you’ve looked at any of the photographs, you may have seen some protesters wearing a certain kind of mask. “Say,” you ask yourself, “isn’t that a prop from the film V for Vendetta?” It is, and several news articles discussed who is behind the masks and interviewed Alan Moore, creator of the original V for Vendetta comic.