Tag Archives: paper

Props Errata

How to Slush Cast a Prop Helmet – Tested visits Frank Ippolito to learn how to slush cast the Rocketeer helmet, which is perhaps the greatest helmet in cinematic history.

‘She Loves Me:’ David Rockwell Serves Up Old World Flavor with Modern Flair - She Loves Me snagged the Tony for Best Set Design of a Musical, preventing Hamilton from a clean sweep. Find out all the details and dressing that go into this amazing set for a show with horrible music.

New York Spectacular Statue: New York Public Library Lions – Matt Acheson tells us how he brought the NYPL lions to life (in puppet form) for The Rockettes latest show.

Make Edible Paper in 3 Easy Steps – I haven’t tried this recipe yet, but edible paper is one of those prop things that come up from time to time. Sure, you can buy it, but if you need a custom color or size, this may be the way to go.

Another Friday, another set of links

Creative Choices has published a fantastic article about Antony Barnett, the Head of Props at the Royal Opera House. He has been working at the ROH since the mid-1980s. Incidentally, the ROH remounted a production of Cendrillon in 2011 that I worked on back in 2006; I built some pretty cool props for it, including Prince Charman’s throne, and it’s nice to see how well they have stood up.

The New York Times has an in-depth look at how the Metropolitan Opera stores and maintains all the sets for their repertory productions. I find this stuff fascinating, particularly since I’ve been reading a lot about how the Met’s technical department worked 100 years ago. The locations of their storage units may have changed, but the amount of work and organization they have to do to put up a different opera every night remains the same.

Bill Hunt has a “virtual tour” of Bob Burns’ massive movie prop collection. Scroll to the bottom of the article to see a slideshow of all the historical film props he has in his collection. Burns has been collecting for decades, and has quite a few unique pieces, including the only surviving King Kong armature from the original 1933 production.

Here’s a shorter interview of a working prop-maker; Rosie Tonkin is a UK-based freelancer and artist. It’s an interesting comparison between a young prop maker at the start of her career like Tonkin and a seasoned veteren like Barnett up above.

Finally, at last week’s Burlington Mini Maker Faire, I was making a miniature Dr. Who TARDIS out of paper, and handing away sheets to people to make their own. If you didn’t get one, or you couldn’t make it to the fair, you can download and print your own TARDIS, complete with instructions.

Make your own TARDIS
Make your own TARDIS

Bad Tarts, 1903

The following comes from a column called “Some Theatrical Observations”, written by Adolph Klauber, and first appearing in the April 26, 1903, issue of The New York Times. Besides being a humorous story (and a reminder to maintain consistency with the props), it also details an interesting props solution for eating a lot of tarts. I’ve heard this same method was used to make dumplings eaten by Carol Channing in the 1964 production of Hello Dolly, but this article predates that by over sixty years.

On one occasion when James. T. Powers was a member of a traveling company he had a scene in which he was obliged to simulate the eating of a dozen or so of jelly tarts in the shortest possible time. When the tarts were properly prepared, the comedian could make way with them easily, and the act never failed to create much amusement. Indeed, Powers was so sure of his laughs at this particular part of the play that he always looked forward to it as a bright particular spot in the performance.

It was the duty of the property man to make the tarts for each performance by pasting together thin strips of tissue paper, adding a daub of jelly to the tops. The paper used was so thin that the tarts would collapse with the slightest moisture, and Mr. Powers could easily store away a dozen or more of them in his cheek.

One night Powers discovered that some of his friends were seated in front, and he was more than usually anxious to make a hit. He longed for the tart-swallowing moment and eventually it came. He seized the dish containing the tarts and hurriedly crammed a number of them in his mouth before he discovered that the property man had used stiff wrapping paper for preparing the dainties and they failed to collapse as usual.

The result was a highly realistic choking scene that was not a part of the business of the piece, and, when the comedian finally managed to dislodge the thick wad of paper from his mouth, there were some laughs both before and behind the footlights that were not usual to the piece.

Written by Adolph Klauber, first published in The New York Times, April 26, 1903.

A Papier Mache Chair from 1854

The following comes from “The Illustrated Magazine of Art”, Volume 4, Number 24, page 344, published in 1854. I thought the process they described was interesting. First, it is the first time I’ve heard of using metal molds for papier maché; second, they let each layer dry fully before applying the next (I learned to lay up each layer while the previous is still damp).

The polished French claim the honour of being the original inventors of the papier maché. In Paris the manufacture of the article is carried on very extensively; but far beyond the articles produced there—articles both of utility and ornament—stand those of the Birmingham manufacturers.

The old method of manufacturing papier maché is as follows:

—The paper for use is gray in colour, but similar in texture to ordinary blotting paper. Prior to using it, the paper is well saturated with flour and glue mixed with water, in about equal proportions, and is then laid on the mould of the article intended to be produced. These moulds are of iron, brass, or copper. The mould, coated with the first layer of paper, is then dried for twelve hours. A careful smoothing by a file follows, after which another deposit of paper is made. The processes of drying and smoothing are successively repeated with each additional layer of paper, until the article assumes the required strength and thickness. When the newly-formed article is taken from the mould, the several parts are planed, filed, and trimmed, so as to be quite correct and level. The process of stoving then follows; after which the varnish is laid on, and brought to a smooth, hard, brilliant surface. The article is then coated with several layers of shell-lac varnish, coloured, which, after being hardened, are scraped quite level. The different varnishings and smoothings are carried on for a period varying from twelve to eighteen days, according to the purpose for which the article is required. The exquisite surface is produced by manual polishing with rotten stone and oil; but the finish is obtained by the process of handling alone.

Various alterations and improvements have been made from time to time in the manufacture of papier maché; and sometimes the paper is reduced to pulp, cast to the form required, and then rendered compact and solid.

The specimen which we present is of a chair in papier maché; the grace and elegance of the design deserve especial attention.

Papier Mache Chair
Papier Mache Chair

Papier Mache Chair. The Illustrated Magazine of Art, Vol. 4, No. 24 (1854), p. 344


What is pepakura? Pepakura (or ペーパークラ) is a Japanese word which refers to the art of papercraft. In papercraft, you cut and fold paper (or heavier card stock) apart and glue the pieces together to create a three-dimensional object. This is different from origami (折り紙) in which a single sheet of paper is folded into a shape without cutting or gluing.

A papercraft Uzi printed from the internet
A papercraft Uzi printed from the internet

Papercraft first began appearing in magazines as printing became ubiquitous. It really boomed during World War II when paper remained one of the few materials to not be rationed in the US. When I was younger, I received a book called Make Your Own Working Paper Clock, in which you cut the book apart, assemble according to the instructions, and you are left with a working clock made completely out of paper (and a few paper clips). It took me awhile to work the courage up to actually start building it; I was in my late twenties when I began. Unfortunately, our apartment building burned down, including most of that book, and all I was left with was the center wheel.

Besides being a fun hobby unto itself, the ideas behind papercraft can find their way into props. Paper, card stock and cardboard are inexpensive materials which are easy to manipulate, so they lend themselves to quick mock-ups. You can whip together a quick papercraft model to help you figure out the scale and proportions of a complicated prop, or to help you determine complex angles and measurements. They can even be used for quick rehearsal props. Last year–no kidding–we made a Victrola with a giant cardboard horn coming out of the top for Merchant of Venice rehearsals. It allowed the director and actors to see whether that large of a prop would work with their intended staging before we committed to purchasing an expensive antique.

The finished papercraft Uzi
The finished papercraft Uzi


In addition to making your own models, you can search for papercraft models all over the internet; most come in common PDF or graphics files which you simply print out and start building. They can also feature colors and graphics to spice up your model. I recently finished the scale model Uzi pictured above in such a manner. It even features a removable magazine clip:

Uzi and a magazine
Uzi and a magazine


The term “pepakura” became more popular in the West with the introduction of a computer program from Japan called Pepakura Designer. The software takes a 3-dimensional object and turns it into a papercraft model; it arranges the individual pieces on pages you can print out, draws lines showing where to cut and fold, and even adds tabs for glue. Everything is labeled as well, so assembly is straightforward.

One of the more common sources of 3D objects for pepakura are video games. With the software, a hobbyist can print out the armor of his favorite video game character and wear it around. They began developing it into a construction method all its own, yielding strong and light-weight pieces. The basic method involves stiffening the outside with resin, then filling the inside with layers of fiberglass or some other stiffener; water-based materials are less popular because they warp the paper. Rather than tread the same steps already trod, I’ll point you to lists of resources which are far more comprehensive than I could hope to provide. The Replica Prop Forum has collected a huge thread of pepakura links, tutorials and tips. As I write this, it contains eleven pages of great information. The second great repository of pepakura information is at the 405th, an online community for people who build guns and armor from the HALO video games.