Tag Archives: paper props

Prop Links of November

The Master of Paper Props – Great Big Story visits Ross MacDonald’s shop to see how he makes paper props for movies and television shows. This video delves into his process and into the power of paper props in general. If you haven’t seen Ross’ work before, this blog has covered him many times over the past nine years.

Want my job? with Khadija Raza, set and costume designer – Khadija talks with Voice about her job as a theatre designer in anticipation of TheatreCraft, the UK’s largest theatrical careers event for 16-30 year-olds.

Shrinking the world: why we can’t resist model villages – Simon Garfield ponders why we are drawn to miniature urban landscapes and why model builders feel compelled to create them. Along the way, he treats us to many photographs of some of the world’s finest examples of miniatures and model towns.

Original Big Bird, Caroll Spinney, Leaves ‘Sesame Street’ After Nearly 50 Years – In case you missed the news a few weeks ago, Caroll Spinney is retiring from Sesame Street after its 50th Anniversary special. Spinney has played both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since the show’s inception, making him one of the last original cast members to leave the show. The New York Times has this fantastic retrospective of his career.

Mortal Artists – The Craftsmen | Episode 3 – The upcoming Mortal Engines film features massive mobile cities that prowl a post-apocalyptic landscape. This video looks at all the prop builders who constructed the imaginative weapons and devices that make up this world.

A Man of Letters, 1943

The following is an article about Joe Lynn, a twentieth-century American props master I have written about frequently on this blog. It comes from a 1943 issue of The New Yorker:

by Eugene Kinkead and Russell Maloney

A local stage property man named Joe Lynn is, we would guess, the most zealous prop man in the business. A prop man, you know, takes care of everything in a theatrical production that isn’t part of the set or a member of Actors’ Equity—dishes, weapons, rubies stolen from an idol’s eye, or whatever. The job also includes taking care of letters, if letters are called for in the script. In “The Eve of St. Mark” a letter figures prominently in Act I, Scene 3. As the scene opens, a girl is just finishing a letter to her sweetheart in the Army. She seals it and gives it to her father to mail. Well, Joe Lynn is the prop man for “The Eve of St. Mark.” Every day, and twice a day on matinée days, he has written a real letter for the use of Mary Rolfe, who plays the girl, and she has added a few words of her own before sealing it. There’s no need for any of this super-realism, you understand; a sheet of paper with a few random scribbles on it would be good enough to fool even the people in the front row.

The letters thus composed are kept stacked on a shelf backstage at the Cort—quite a pile of them now, the show having played over two hundred and fifty performances. Joe Lynn, a stocky fellow in his mid-forties, allowed us to skim through and transcribe a few selections, though it was plain that he thought our interest was misplaced. “I don’t go in much for this literary business,” he told us, busily stacking away a plateful of dummy hamburgers. “I just catch-as-catch-can with it. It never takes me more than three or four minutes.” Having read a few of the letters, we decided that Joe was being too modest. The letters, most of them on current events, were uniformly pithy, studded with cracks like this one, apropos the rumor that the Little Flower was going to join the Army: “Well, it happened. We now have a one-star general direct from City Hall. I’d like to see him in his uniform. I’ll bet he will look like a wet football standing on end.” One day last week the letter read, “Now they’ve knocked Rommel’s ears back. On our own shores Congress has been kicking around the Ruml Plan. I guess some of them figured any thing or name that sounded like Rommel was no good, and they wanted to share in the glory.”

On the twelfth of February there was a brief tribute to Lincoln, beginning, “One hundred and thirty-four years ago today Nancy Hanks lying on a rough-hewn bed with an old rough bearskin as a mattress gave birth to a baby boy who was later to become the Great Emancipator.” Other topics touched on in the letters are liquor rationing, the Supreme Court, Valentine’s Day, the old Tiller Girls, General MacArthur, and the Shubert brothers. Miss Rolfe’s additions to these notes, having been made onstage, are naturally somewhat perfunctory. Usually they have no relation to Joe’s topic of the day; for instance, her post-script to Joe’s letter on liquor rationing read, bleakly, “Well, here I go with another cold. Love, Janet.” All the letters begin with the salutation “Dear Quizz” in Joe’s handwriting and end “Love, Janet” in Miss Rolfe’s. Quizz and Janet are, of course, the play’s lovers.

Joe had a forthright answer when we asked him why he goes to all this extra trouble. “I got to do something to earn my money,” he said. He figures that since 1915, when he started his career as a prop man, he has had about a hundred shows, probably half of which involved letters; during the runs of these shows he wrote letters for every performance. He has apparently established a tradition for “The Eve of St. Mark.” The prop man for the road company was furnished with a batch of Joe’s letters to use as models and ordered to do likewise, willy-nilly. Understand the theatre any better now?

Kinkead, Eugene, and Russell Maloney. “Correspondence.” The New Yorker, 22 May 1943, p. 14.

Late Weekend Links

Hero Props: Graphic Design in Film & Television – The 99% Invisible Podcast sits down with Annie Atkins, a graphic designer who makes paper props and other signage for films.

Blood Test – The Many Shades of Bookshelves and Blood – Jay Duckworth talks about how he got the blood just right for one of the Public Theater’s latest productions.

The film props firm targeting the YouTube generation – BBC News sits down with Ryan Johnson, president of NewRuleFX. They make breakaway bottles, as well as foam frying pans, custom e-cigarettes, and other special effect props.

Weta Workshop: Behind the Scenes on Thor: Ragnarok – Weta Workshop made some super colorful weapons and armor for the latest Thor film. Check out some behind-the-scenes footage in this video. In another video, Tested visits Ironhead Studio to talk about making Hela’s magnificent headdress from the same film.

Probius the Protoss Probe – Prop Build Tutorials – Punished Props debuted a replica prop of the Protoss Probe at this year’s Blizzcon convention. Check out this series of videos detailing the build process as well as giving tutorials on many of the techniques used.

St Patrick’s Day Props

First off – the second edition to The Prop Building Guidebook is finally here! Go buy it so I can feed my babies! And if you like it, please leave a review on Amazon or wherever you purchase it from. And if you really like it (or you really liked the first edition), feel free to shoot me an email; the sad fact of being an author is you do not know how people are using your book unless they decide to tell you.

What’s in a letter? Prop or prank? – The Chasing Aideen blog has a fascinating look at prop letters on stage. Through conversations with directors and historical artifacts, we get a glimpse of how prop letters range from nonsensical scribbles to fully-realized reproductions from the imaginary world of the play.

Skylight Music Theatre’s ‘Beast’ puppet a giant thing of beauty – It really is. This massive, fully-articulated puppet looks like it stepped straight out of a Guillermo del Toro film.

Adam Savage Behind the Scenes of Ghost in the Shell! – In this video, Adam Savage heads to New Zealand to see some of the practical masks and animatronics which Weta Workshop designed and produced for the upcoming Ghost in the Shell film. The aesthetic is an amazing blend of smooth futuristic tech with old-world hand craftsmanship.

The Make: Guide to Dungeon Master Crafting – A lot of props people love models and miniatures, and a few enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons. Make has put together a guide of some fine tutorials on how to make your own miniature terrain and buildings for whatever role-playing games you prefer.

And finally, I’ve started this Instagram thing where I’m sharing all my photographs of prop shops, prop builders at work, and other backstage theater stuff. Come check it out!

Everybody’s Propping for the Weekend

Star Trek just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Make Magazine has rounded up seven fun Star Trek–themed projects. Some are goofy (“spocks” are socks with Spock on them), while others are quite ambitious (an Enterprise Bridge playset for Star Trek action figures).

2StoryProps has started work on a replica of the spacesuit used in The Martian, and his first post is on recreating the astronaut’s helmet. The whole thing is built from scratch and is pretty cool.

Tane Williams is an illustrator who worked on the 2013 remake of Evil Dead. He has posted 15 illustrations from the Necronomicon used in that film over on his blog. Careful! Grossness ahead!

It’s not a tasty treat; Popular Woodworking shows us how “sandwich construction” can help make thick wooden panels using multiple layers of thinner plywood. I do this a lot when building prop furniture, and I’m sure others do as well, but I’ve never seen a write-up with illustrations showing the process.

Make Magazine tells us everything we need to know about lube. Ever wonder whether to grab oil, grease, or WD-40? This article breaks down all the different types of lubricants and describes when to use each one and when not to use each one.