Tag Archives: paper

Fridays Links

I continue to be in USITT in Charlotte, North Carolina. Please enjoy these other sites from around the internet.

Foam latex step by step. A tutorial on modelling, molding and casting foam latex prosthetics.

Chronicling America has scanned images of a variety of newspapers from 1860-1922. It’s presented by the Library of Congress.

Time Magazine presents their list of the greatest 100 toys (from 1923-present). It also includes highlights of each decade from the 1920s on.

If you don’t know what pepakura is, the RPF has a huge introductory thread on pepakura. Basically, you cut and fold paper to make complex three-dimensional shapes; afterwards, you can even coat it in resin or back-fill it with fiberglass to strengthen it. The real breakthrough comes from the fact that you can take three-dimensional computer objects (from CAD files or from video games) and use software to automatically transform them into pepakura files which you merely need to print out and follow the directions to construct your model. I used to have a book where you could Make Your Own Working Paper Clock, but I lost most of it when our apartment burned down and the flames ate the paper up. What’s your excuse for not trying it out?

Snow

Every winter, many performing arts institutions put on some kind of winter or holiday show. From a traditional Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker Suite, to the more modern A Christmas Story and The Santaland Diaries, many of these shows involve snow to some extant. Now, depending on the context of the snow and the traditions of the theater you work at, snow can be the responsibility of one or more departments: props, scenery, sometimes even lighting. Still, it doesn’t hurt to know some of the many ways snow is recreated, whether or not it ends up being the prop department’s responsibility.

For the 1936 Broadway production of Ethan Frome, scenic designer Jo Mielziner was very specific about the properties of the snow which covered most of the stage. It fell to Joe Lynn, the property master, to come up with a recipe. After much trial and error, they arrived at a mixture of white cornmeal, ground quartz and powdered mica flakes. As Mielziner himelf explains:

The cornmeal provided the right consistency, the quartz gave the crunching sound and the mica simulated the sparkling surface of snow in moonlight.

(from Designing for the theatre: a memoir and a portfolio, by Jo Mielziner; Atheneum, 1965, pg. 90)

Joe Lynn also added some rat poison to the mix to keep vermin away, which is probably not the safest solution available to today’s theatres. Also, using particles and powders as a floor covering—this is true of sand as well—can trigger issues with your fire marshal and even Actor’s Equity; you want to make sure you involve them as soon as possible so that you don’t end up using something which is not allowed.

For snowballs, previous props people have used white bar soap shaved into bits with a cheese grater. The resulting bits can be packed into a snowball which explodes on impact. Others suggest instant mashed potato flakes. In either case, water can be mixed in or spritzed on to make the snowballs stick better. If the actors are throwing the snowballs at people, obviously you want the snowball to break apart on impact as easily as possible. A lot of variables come into play: how hard the actor throws it, what it is hitting against, the temperature and humidity in your theatre, how far in advance you need to make the snowballs, etc. As a result of all these variables, there is no “exact recipe”, and research and development is essential.

Another option is the interior of disposable diapers (new ones, not used ones). They contain a powder called sodium polyacrylate, a polymer which absorbs 800–1000 times its own weight, effectively turning a liquid into a solid gel. It is also sold in magic shops and novelty stores as “slush powder”.

If a show calls for falling snow, it is often the props departments duty to procure the snow, while scenery is in charge of making it fall from the air. I know, it’s bizarre. The preferred method for at least the past hundred and thirty years is using clipped paper. Unfortunately, regular paper will not pass today’s fire retardant standards. If the thought of fire-proofing every snowflake for every performance is too overwhelming, theatrical suppliers, like Rose Brand, sell flame-proofed paper snow flakes. Expect to pay a lot though, and be aware that everyone needs snow during the winter and they are often sold out by this time of the year.

A more modern alternative is plastic flakes. Rose Brand sells these as well, but you can make your own if you wish. You can find paper shredders (for offices) which not only cut in strips, but also crosscut those pieces to make confetti. You can run white grocery bags or garbage bags through one to make your own plastic snow flakes. Bear in mind that you need a lot of snowflakes to make even a short-duration snowfall over a small stage. You’ll need more for multiple performances. You may be tempted to sweep as much as you can from one performance to use in the next one. Be aware that when you are picking up the old snow, you are also picking up all the dirt and dust from the stage. You don’t want to rain crud down onto your performers during a show; the dust can get in their eyes, and larger particles may even injure them when dropped from the top of the stage.

Monday Blogroll Links

If you’re new to this site, or if you follow it in a blog reader, you should check out the Blogroll links in the sidebar. These are other sites and blogs of prop-makers and prop-masters and general crafty people.  Here’s a sampling of some of the recent posts from these sites to entice you to check them out:

Via Propnomicon, I’ve found this collection of 11 old and grungy film textures. I’m going to use these to make some aged daguerreotype for our upcoming Merchant of Venice.

Speaking of Merchant, Meredith Ries at Malaprops shows how she is making fake books out of real paper for that show.

Jesse Gaffney at Theatre Projects has listed a few of her favorite things; tools and materials which come in handy on nearly any prop challenge.

Volpin Props always features incredible process photography of exquisitely-crafted replica props. The latest post on a light staff from Final Fantasy XI is no exception.

Lost in Schlock has a fun video on how to create fake edible raw meat.

Anna Warren continues to impress with her documentation of all the fake food props she makes at Fake ‘n Bake. One of my favorite recent posts is how to make Roast Beast in gravy.

Instructables is an incredible resource to find information on techniques you want to learn or materials you’ve never used before. Two tutorials I’ve enjoyed are:

  • Casting a Pear – Probably the quickest and grittiest way to cast something I’ve ever seen.
  • Sci-Fi Handgun – There are a lot of Instructables on making or remaking weaponry from science fiction movies. These are a good way of showing how a uniquely shaped prop can be broken down into simpler parts, and how found objects and tiny details can transform a prop from simple parts into a homogoneous object.

Keep readin!

BAM! Creative Art

Society of Prop Artisan Managers
SPAM logo designed by BAM! Creative

Ah, paper props. They can be fun to do… if you have time. And if you know how to use the software. And you’re able to print them correctly. My friend and colleague Will Griffith recently began a company to do all that. BAM! Creative Art is a one-stop shop for designing and printing any manner of paper props, whether posters, magazines, book jackets, etc. Will is one of the few artisans I’ve seen actually design and print a full-sized newspaper. It looks very promising, especially since he works in theatre and understands the parameters and challenges that other prop people deal with.

Now that I’ve totally pimped his new business on my blog, I think I’ve made up for the fact that I mistakenly cut up his template for Adirondack chairs back in Louisville.

Old Maps

World Map by J. Blaeu, 1664
World Map by J. Blaeu, 1664

Who doesn’t love old maps? Maybe you don’t love them so much that you made your wedding invitations in the style of an old map (like my wife and I did). But maps pop up in plays all the time. Whether you need a large wall map for King Lear, or a small battlefield map for Arms and the Man, here are some sites that will help you find what you need.

David Rumsey Map Collection – Over 22,000 maps, focusing on 18th and 19th century North and South America, though other continents and time periods are available.

Perry-Casta̱eda Library Map Collection РLinks to hundreds of maps on other sites, as well as a small collection of its own historical maps.

Wikimedia Commons Old Maps – Dozens of maps categorized by location.

World Digital Library Maps – Over 300 high-quality scans of original historical maps (browse the rest of the site for lots of other historical artifacts).

Genmaps – Old maps of England, Wales and Scotland, navigable by county.

National Maritime Museum– Over 1700 historical sea charts and maps from the medieval period to the present.

Library of Congress – Some of their map collections are available online, though the navigation is horrendous.

National Library of Scotland – Over 20000 historical maps of Scotland available.

The 1895 U.S. Atlas – From Rand McNally.

Holy Land Maps – Maps of Judea, Palestine and Israel at the University of Florida.

Stuckenberg Map Collection – Gettysburg College’s online collection of mostly United States maps.

Antique Atlas – A site which sells old maps, currently offering images of over 900 of them.

Hargrett Library Collection -Over 1000 historical map images in another difficult to navigate format.

Historic Cities – Offers a number of old maps from a number of cities throughout the world (mostly Europe).

Reinhold Berg Antique Map Shop – Sells prints of the numerous historical maps on their site.

Old Map Gallery – Another site selling maps with many images.

If you still haven’t found enough map porn, you can peruse larger lists of sites at Odden’s Bookmarks. The site is a little out of date, so many of the sites are no longer available.