Hopefully none of you need to shop for your shows today, which kicks off the official “worst time to do prop shopping” season. If you are safe in your shop or in tech, here are a few interesting prop-related sites to read and visit:
Check out these hotel menus from the 1850s and 1860s. The Hilton College of the University of Houston’s Hospitality Industry Archives has dozens of scans of menus from throughout the Eastern seaboard and Midwest of the US. It’s a great resource if you need to make period-correct food for fancy gentleman.
Genevieve Bee built this great animatronic Wheatley puppet from Portal 2. She has a video showing it talk and move its giant blinking eye. Be sure to check out all the process shots of the construction over at her blog as well.
It’s that time of year again for the New York City holiday window displays. These windows give jobs to dozens of props people for several months throughout the year, and the results are always spectacular. Gothamist has a great rundown of all the major displays, including photographs and videos showing them in action.
Make Magazine delivers some useful tips for props people again, this time giving us 10 great painting tips. These aren’t tips for creating the perfect faux marble, but rather helpful hints on masking and keeping your paintbrushes and cans neat and clean.
Happy Friday, everyone! For those of you in my part of the country, I hope you survived the winter storm(s) alright. Whether you are back to work or still stuck in your house, here are some prop-related articles for your reading pleasure:
The ever-inspiring prop maker Ross MacDonald has a post on some of the period paper props he has made for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire over the past four years. His props are always well-researched and produced on vintage machines as close to how they were originally produced.
Collector’s Weekly has a great piece on the fifty year history of Easy-Bake Ovens. If you have never checked out their blog, this is a great piece to start on. Their stories are always a cut above the rest, filled with tons of great photographs, and delving into the history of various objects in great detail.
If you are interested in making props while spending barely any money on materials, check out the Cardboard Armory. As the name suggests, this blog details various armor and weapon projects built with little more than cardboard, hot glue and the occasional piece of PVC pipe.
Though directed at woodworkers, Popular Woodworking’s “Top 6 Ways to Become a Better Woodworker” is just as relevant to the prop maker. Ok, it’s actually five ways, since one of the ways is to read Popular Woodworking (though if you build prop furniture from wood, it’s a good magazine to check out).
Alpha Officium makes historically-accurate coins out of real metal. His website has some common coins like Florins and Groats, and he can also do custom orders if you need something more specific.
As Doctor Who gears up for its 50th anniversary in little over a week, check out this new interview with their prop master, Nick Robatto. In it, you can read how he got started, what he studied in college, and how he hates fiberglass and refuses to build props with it (yay!).
For fans of a different genre, Buzzfeed has the stories behind 10 iconic Grey’s Anatomy props. It’s Buzzfeed, so they don’t go into too much detail for each one, but it is still interesting to hear the (often relatable) challenges the props team encounters with making or finding these strange items.
Here’s a brief (but illustrated) look at how furniture design changed due to World War II. The examples look incredibly contemporary, and none of it would look out of place on a modern set. It is a great post for those interested in historical trends in furniture and period styles.
So, the Smithsonian is 3D scanning their massive collection. They only have a small library of models online at the moment, but more is sure to come. Imagine the possibilities for research, where you can view a 3D model of a piece of furniture or an historic weapon right on your computer. You also have the possibility of downloading the models and exporting them to fabrication tools, such as CNCs or 3D printers. Your designer wants a wooly mammoth skeleton in the show? Just download and “print”.
The following is the third portion of an article which first appeared in the New York Sun in 1912. You can catch up on the first part and the second part.
In “Donne Curiose” there are short columns on which candlesticks are placed. But they are always called “Pique Dames” columns because they were made for it in the first place. The same way with some tablecloths which are used in several productions. The plot book always calls them “Traviata tablecloths” because they were first provided for that opera.
More interesting even than the size of this great mass of material is the attention to artistic and historical veracity in its selection and designing. One would think the same swords and spears could be made to do duty in many operas. Of course, the same ones occasionally reappear, as in the Ring, but not often. Even the poles to which banners and pennants are attached are not the same in “Carmen,” for instance, as they are in “Le Cid” or “Le Prophète.” The fashion in the metal points which crown these poles wasn’t any more the same in different periods than the style of headgear was the same for Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria.
So just because of that one detail there are a dozen different sets of these poles and spears at the opera house. Probably not half a dozen persons in the audience would know whether a spearhead was historically correct even if they happened to notice its shape. But if the point was radically wrong some one would be sure to see it and apparently wouldn’t be able to see anything else in the entire production. Not long ago one of these particular persons wrote to the management complaining about the revolvers in “The Girl of the Golden West.”
Oddly enough this connoisseur of guncraft was a woman. She said she was amazed that the Metropolitan Opera Company, usually so careful about historical accuracy, should have in the Puccini opera pistols so unlike those carried by the gold seekers in ’49. As a matter of fact those guns are genuine old ones secured at considerable cost and trouble.
Then there is the detail of playing cards. Anybody would think a pack of ordinary cards would serve every purpose. Not at the Metropolitan! Those in “The Girl” are American cards; those in “Carmen” are foreign ones with quite different pictures from ours, and those in “Donne Curiose” are a different shape, much longer and wider than cards of the present day.
This article will continue in a later post. It was originally published in the New York Sun, February 25, 1912, page 16.
The American Museum of Natural History has an amazing historical photo archive, many of which show the setup and construction of their dioramas and exhibits. Museum props is props too!
Here is the curious evolution of the typewriter, with pictures. I’ve certainly had to provide my fair share of vintage typewriters for shows, but I’ve never had to track down one of those writing ball machines.
Haley Polak, a props artisan, had to build a mastodon skeleton. She used urethane foam and FoamCoat to pull it off.
Finally, here is a very cool photo set of an android being built. It has lots of great process shots of sculpting, molding and casting.