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Though there’s only one more week until Christmas, you still have enough time to order The Prop Building Guidebook for that special prop maker in your life!
Frank Ippolito has a post out called “Blame the Maker, not the Material“. He reminds us that many of the more complicated materials – resins, rubbers, laminates, etc – have so many specific variations, that you cannot expect consistent results if you use them in a different manner than expected. Or if you substitute brands when following directions. These materials are manufactured to do what they are meant to do, and if you are not getting the results you expect, you are either using the wrong materials or using the materials wrong.
It is always fun when you inherit a props stock to go through and imagine what shows the props have previously appeared in, or to see how previous props people have solved problems. Every once in awhile, though, you see something that is so… “theatrical”, that you just have to stare at it for a bit:
If you are familiar with the “fast-good-cheap” triangle, this prop is firmly in the “fast and cheap” category. Despite its aesthetic shortcomings, it is actually a fairly clever solution. It uses materials and found objects that are common to most prop shops, and it is constructed in a manner that probably took less than an hour. It is also possible that on the right stage, under the right lighting and in the right context, this may have looked fine, and the time it would have taken to make this look better was better spent on other props.
Obviously, you would never put a prop like this in your portfolio, and it is not something you should aspire to. It can definitely use a second-pass of sanding and painting. The plywood could have been cut out more carefully, and the excess of glue oozing out everywhere is disturbing. But as I said above, without knowing the circumstances of when this was built, it may have been the least-bad option at the time. There are no judgments in props, only opportunities for improvement.
When I began my blog back in 2009, it felt like only a handful of sites for the prop maker were out there. Since then, the field has practically exploded and you can find information everywhere. I post links to sites regularly, but I wanted to make a list of the sites you should be checking out regularly. So I’ve collected and categorized what I consider to be the 100 best sites for a prop maker. Now, this is far from comprehensive, particularly if you are working on specific objects or using less-popular materials, but hopefully it will keep you busy for awhile. If you know of a site I’ve missed, drop a note in the comments or send me an email!
Forums remain a great way to find information about prop making, since much of what we do is so specific and unique. You can ask a question, search for answers to other questions, or just browse through and pick up tips on how other people work.
Replica Prop Forum – A very active and very informative forum filled with fans recreating their favorite props from films, television, video games and other media.
ControlBooth – A US forum for technical theatre, with a small section on props.
A number of sites may not be devoted entirely to teaching prop-making, but they still have regular tutorials, news and information relevant to the prop maker, or deal with comparable and related industries.
Prop Agenda – Now, I couldn’t omit my own blog. How-tos, news, videos and more from the props world.
Make Magazine – Blog companion to the magazine, this site regularly has posts on prop making and associated materials.
Tested – What began as site for testing consumer electronics has quickly grown to have regular features on props and prop making, particularly with Adam Savage as one of the regular hosts.
Propnomicon – A regularly-updated look at props built around the mythos of HP Lovecraft.
Stan Winston School – The new school run by the peerless studio responsible for the most famous practical film effects of the last thirty years runs a blog of related information. The school also has online video classes you can take for a paid subscription.
Sizes – A vast index with information about the sizes of practically everything. From definitions of units of measurements, to standard sizes of common furniture, to sheet metal gauges, and everything in between.
I really like this illustrated chart of hand tools over at Popular Mechanics. The chart itself is good-looking enough to hang up in your shop, while the tools pictured on it give you a great idea of what your shop is missing.