I like this article with interviews of the original creators and operators of Jabba the Hut. It’s unfortunate that, these days, he is made entirely in CGI. At least you can still find giant puppets in theatre,.
Speaking of How to be a Retronaut, I’m adding it to the sidebar as a permanent link because it continues to be so incredible. It’s constantly updated with photographs and video from throughout history, in particular color film from periods you didn’t know had color film. At the site, you can search their posts by decade too. It’s not the most comprehensive source for research imagery, but it has a lot of pictures you can’t find anywhere else.
Playbill has an article on Charlie Rasmussen, the oldest active member of IATSE Local One. At 85, he is still running 8 shows a week of Sister Act as the head carpenter. He gives a great answer when asked why he chose show business: “An old-timer told me years ago that if I was going to work with my hands, I should go where I’m going to make the most money.”
Happy July, everyone. And to my US readers, happy Fourth of July weekend. I’ll keep this brief as most of you are off work and school, or drifting away to vacation. Unless you’re in summer stock, in which case, you should be building props rather than reading my blog!
Here is an interesting story for those of you who make replica props: DC Comics Sues Gotham Garage Over Replica Batmobiles. Prop replicas live in a murky area of copyright and trademark law, and this lawsuit has a lot of specific factors (and it hasn’t been settled yet). It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
This past June, Dave Lowe celebrated the 30th anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark with thirty days of posts about the movie. In a post titled “The Temple of Dagobah“, we learn how the vines from Yoda’s planet in Star Wars ended up being reused for the temple Indiana Jones steals the golden idol from in the opening of Raiders.
Dream Now Reality: A filmmaker from Victoria wins a contest to make a movie from his script. His script is about a ten-year-old girl who builds a robot friend from old VCR parts. The filmmaker suddenly realizes he needs to build a robot. Luckily, he has Paxton Downard on his team, who built props for Stargate and Fringe. Man, I wish this article had photographs; still, it’s a cute story.
Finally, Make Magazine has an interesting editorial by Saul Griffith called “DIT: Raising Our Collective Barn“. He writes about the importance and benefits of collaboration when making things, and describes it as DIT—do it together—rather than DIY.
Also at Make is this great interview with food sculptor Ray Villafane. Not only are the pictures incredible, but his explanation of his carving process is very clear and well thought out; it’s helpful even if food is not your medium of choice.
Finally, here are some great photographs of intimate spaces of renowned artisans. On a personal note, the first photograph of Henry Mercer’s home is where my wife and I were married. Not right inside his bedroom; it was on the grounds surrounding his home and in the courtyard of his tile factory.
We’re right in the middle of tech for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park, so I don’t have time to write as extensively as usual. Here are some interesting links to keep you busy in the mean time.
Jesse Gaffney writes about her goal to create a Chicago props community. It’s a good rundown of how to create a community of props people in any locale, which is good for sharing resources, mutual borrowing agreements, and knowing who to recommend when you can’t take a job. We have one here in New York City.
If you’re a fan of Instructables, you’ll like Make: Projects. From the same people that publish Make Magazine comes this library of user-submitted DIY projects and how-tos.
Speaking of Instructables, if you are a teacher and like the promise of the site, but are unsure how to integrate it into your classroom, the editors have just published a post on how to use Instructables at school.
This past weekend, I attended Maker Faire in New York City. For those who don’t know, Maker Faire is an event begun by Make Magazine. This year was the first time it came to New York City (or anywhere on the east coast for that matter). Though not strictly prop-related, it has a lot of overlapping areas of interest to the props community, and a lot of props people are interested in a lot of things here. Imagine if a science fair and a craft fair had a baby and it went to Burning Man for an episode of Mythbusters.
The New York Hall of Science and Flushing Meadows Park could not be a more ideal setting for this Faire. There is a retro-futuristic rocket sculpture in the center, and off to the side is a Gemini Titan II rocket and a Mercury-Atlas D Rocket; two of the rockets that first shot Americans into space.
Outside were several very dangerous looking carnival rides set up by a Brooklyn art collective called the Madagascar Institute. They had also set up the World’s Largest Mousetrap, a reference to the classic kid’s board game, not an actual mousetrap.
Later in the day, they hosted a chariot race, featuring all sorts of home made vehicles racing around the Rocket Sculpture in a truly dangerous and hilarious spectacle.
The Faire had a few tents devoted to fabrication technologies. In the first were the familiar commercial brands, such as ShopBot CNC machines, Epilog laser cutters and engravers, and a slew of similar devices. Another tent was set up with MakerBots, RepRaps, Fabbers and the like. These are 3d printers designed to be made-yourself. Some, like the MakerBot, can be purchased as a complete kit which you assemble, while others, like the Fabber, you can build solely through blueprints and instructions available online. Most of them have various intermediate possibilities, where you can purchase the electronic parts as a kit but construct the physical parts yourself, or vice versa. The common thread between them is that they are based on an open-source community, where individuals make modifications or improvements and tell everyone else in the community how they did it. None of the technology that goes into them is secret or hidden.
The Faire offered a number of events, talks and demonstrations. I attended one called “Turning Pro: Becoming a Professional Maker” presented by the husband and wife team of Because We Can. They talked about the lessons they learned and mistakes they made in their journey from full-time jobs to running their own design and fabrication shop for interiors and events. It was very interesting; like many other prop-makers, I frequently do outside projects, and occasionally consider breaking away and making that my full-time job (especially during meetings or tech!) Their talk was based on an article they wrote called “Venturing Out…” if you’re interested in hearing what they had to say but couldn’t make it.
I watched the Fashion Show by Diana Eng. For you Project Runway fans out there, you may remember her from season 2. Since then, she’s remained busy in the fashion design world, incorporating all sorts of technology into her pieces. I wanted to see some of these in person, so I figured I’d check it out. A lot of other people had the same idea, as the line to get in was very long. Still, it was interesting to see clothes with LEDS and other lights, inflatable dresses, and 3D printed fabrics.
One of the things which surprised me was how many children were there. I follow Make Magazine and a lot of the community online, and just kind of assumed the attendees would be the same set of people. It wasn’t a bad surprise; it was actually very heartening to see kids who were even more excited and knowledgeable about these things than I am. If Maker Faire was around when I was a kid, I would probably be a bigger (and better) nerd than I am now. One might not think kids should be in the same space as anarchic arts collectives like the Madagascar Institute, but then again, this is New York City; if parents have their kids pose with topless mermaids for pictures at Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade, than seeing guys wearing nothing but gold lamé short-shorts is downright pedestrian.
At the end of the day, I attended a talk by Mark Frauenfelder, founder of Boing Boing, editor of Make Magazine and author of Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World. He talked about his book, which describes his efforts to take a more DIY approach to his life rather than just buying a solution. It’s a great inspiration to props people (I’ll be doing a full review at some point in the future). At the end, I introduced myself and got my copy of the book signed. It was a nice way to end a long and tiring, but insightful and inspiring day.
So if you’re into props, I highly recommend you check out the next Maker Faire that comes near you. Outside of USITT and SETC, it’s one of the most relevant get-togethers for us, and certainly one of the most fun.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies