Tag Archives: How-to

Last Prop Links in June

Behind the Scenes of the 2017 Season. Episode Two: But What If – The Santa Fe Opera is producing a series of videos going behind the scenes of their summer season. The second episode focuses on production, and features a lot of the people in the props shop that I have worked with and miss greatly.

Pretty Little Liars prop master Chris Vail explains season 7’s sinister hacker device – The Verge looks at some of the crazy prop devices invented for the final season of Pretty Little Liars. I posted a similar article last month, but this one delves into the actual construction methods and specific materials used to build them.

Building a 13-Foot Long Robot Dinosaur “Watcher” Costume from Horizon Zero Dawn – Spectral Motion constructed a giant robot dinosaur costume slash puppet to interact with guests at E3, the popular annual video game conference. The video shows the process from cardboard model to final piece.

Skyrim Dragonbone Sword Prop – How To – Dogless brings us plenty of photographs to show how he constructed this unique weapon from the Skyrim video game. He used MDF, Sintra, and a bit of 3D printing to bring his prop to life.

Papier-mâché Stage Properties, 1905

The following instructions for creating props from paper-mache comes from a 1905 book, but the techniques remain virtually unchanged over a hundred years later:

Papier-mâché, as its name proclaims, is of French origin. Good examples are still to be found in many French buildings of the sixteenth century. The grand trophies and heraldic devices in the Hall of the Council of Henri II. in the Louvre, as well as the decorations at St Germain and the Hotel des Fermes, on their ceilings and walls, are executed in papier-mâché. In 1730 a church built entirely of papier-mâché was erected at Hoop, near Bergen, in Norway…

Papier-mâché Stage Properties.—Modellers and plasterers often find employment in the property rooms of theatres in modelling, moulding, and making masks, heads of animals (the bodies are made of wicker work), and architectural decorations for solid or built scenes. Papier-mâché properties are produced from plaster piece moulds. Large sheets of brown and blue sugar paper are pasted on both sides, then folded up to allow the paste to thoroughly soak in. The first part of the paper process is known as a “water coat.” This is sugar paper soaked in water and torn in small pieces and laid all over the face of the mould, to prevent the actual paper work from adhering. The brown paper is then torn into pieces about 2 inches square, and laid over the water coat, and coats of sugar paper are laid in succession in a similar way until of sufficient thickness to ensure the requisite strength. The various pieces of paper are laid with the joints overlapped. Care must be taken that each coat of paper is well pressed and rubbed into the crevices with the fingers, and a brush, cloth, or sponge, so as to work out the air and obtain perfect cohesion between each layer of paper, and form a correct impress of the mould. After being dried before a fire, the paper cast is taken out of the mould, trimmed up, and painted. A clever man can, by the use of different colours and a little hair, give quite a different appearance to a mask, so that several, taken out of the same mould, will each look quite different. The use of different coloured papers enables any part of the previous coat that may not be covered to be seen and made good. Some property men do not use a water coat, but dry the mould, and then oil or dust the surface with French chalk to prevent the cast sticking to the mould. Others simply paste one side only of the sugar paper that is used for the first coat…

Paste is made with flour and cold water well worked together, then boiling water is poured on, and the mass well stirred.

 Millar, William. Plastering: Plain and Decorative. 3rd ed. London: B. T. Batsford, 1905. Google Books. 14 July 2011. Web. 20 June 2017. <https://books.google.com/books?id=iOVZAAAAYAAJ>. P399-400.

Friday Rehearsal Notes

Tony Swatton, who we’ve seen on this blog before, has a new video where he builds a set of Wolverine’s claws from scratch. They are 18-gauge steel, and they are SHARP!

Vermont Public Radio has a story on 50 years of the Bread and Puppet Theatre. I first saw these guys around 1998 or so, and again just last year. Their performances are fun but compelling, and the design and construction of their puppets have almost certainly influenced many contemporary puppeteers.

Speaking of puppets, a few months ago, puppeteer Emily DeCola, of Puppet Kitchen, was struck by a cyclist while crossing the street. Her injuries left her with crazy medical bills and the loss of her sense of smell. Her fellow puppeteers have organized a puppet cabaret fundraising event for her TONIGHT, so if you’re in New York City, why not check it out? If not, you can always donate to the cause. Emily worked on a number of shows while I was at the Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park, and her work is always amazing.

Propnomicon pointed me to this great two-part tutorial on making a shrunken head. It steps through the molding, casting and finishing of a clay model.

Finally, enjoy this small collection of 19th-century collector cards featuring various trades, such as woodworking and blacksmithing.

Homemade Coatings

I found a couple of recipes for a coating in some old props forums (circa 2002). They refer to the coating as “homemade Sculpt-or-Coat”, though it is very similar to recipes for scenic dope and monster mud. I have not tried any of these recipes, but I am posting them here for my own future reference and for yours.

This coating is useful for coating foam, to “paper mache” burlap, cheesecloth or muslin to wood and steel, or for use as a general texture. For texturing, you can mix in sawdust, sand, vermiculite, etc., for various results.

For a 5 gallon recipe:

  • Fill 2/3 of a 5 gallon bucket with a 50/50 mix of acrylic caulk and joint compound.
  • Add 1/2 to 3/4 gallon white latex paint.
  • Add 1/2 gal. Rhoplex.
  • Mix well with a drill and paddle mixer.
  • Add about 1/3 gal. of white glue. Mix thoroughly.

You can tint it using latex or acrylic paint, or universal colorant. You can thin it with more white paint or Rhoplex. You have about 20-30 minutes of working time, and it dries fully in 12-24 hours. It should not go on thicker than 1/4″ or it will be prone to cracking. You can alter the recipe to suit your needs; adding more joint compound gives a harder and more rigid finish, while more acrylic caulk gives a more flexible finish.

Rhoplex is an acrylic binder made by Dow Chemical Company. It can be tricky to find, particularly in bulk. There are many other acrylic binders you can find at hardware and paint stores, though I am not sure whether these will also work. Other posters in the thread say they use PVA in lieu of Rhoplex (the PVA paint binder, not PVA glue or PVA mold release).

In another thread, Wulf points out that Rhoplex is pricey and hard to find, and that it may be easier and cheaper just to buy Sculpt-or-Coat for small batches. His own recipe involves PVA white glue, powdered clay and latex paint. Simply combine equal parts, stir very thoroughly and allow it to stand for about a day for the clay to absorb.

Friday Link-topia

Here are seven short (under 10 minutes) films about obsolete occupations. I think as prop makers and prop masters, we are called on to do the work of each of these occupations at least once in our careers.

The TK560 discussion board is geared towards making stormtrooper armor from Star Wars, but they have a large section devoted to general tips and tricks for vacuum forming (including instructions for building vacuum forming machines of all different sizes and budgets), molding and casting, and working with plastics in general. There is a treasure trove of useful information here.

I’ve seen discussions of dying plastic in the past as an alternative to painting it, especially with plastics that refuse to take paint (such as polyethylene). Here is a good step-by-step description (with pictures) of dying the case to a MacBook computer.

CNN recently did a profile on Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine and the Maker Faire. You can watch a short companion video and read a brief column by Dale titled “How to make more ‘makers’ – and why it matters.”

Finally, here is an extremely cool infographic on how the War Horse puppets work.

War Horse puppet
infographic on how the War Horse puppets work.