Just a reminder that there’s little more than 25 days left to enter the Prop Building Guidebook Contest! You can’t win if you don’t enter. I also wanted to ask a favor; if you have already bought your copy of the Prop Building Guidebook, head on over to the Amazon page (or to whichever store you bought it from) and leave a rating or a comment. I also have a Facebook page where you can tell me what you think. I’d love to hear what you like about the book, what you don’t, and how you’re using it. Now, onto the links!
David Katz has a website with a lot of information centered around his “Chemistry in a Toy Store“. It has some pretty fascinating articles about how common chemical toys work, such as Silly Putty, Slime, Shrinky Dinks, and the like. What is even more useful is if you scroll down, you will see Chemistry in the Toy Store Recipes; Katz shows how you can use common household ingredients to make things like slime, ooze, disappearing ink, various putties and more. Props people need these recipes all the time, and Katz is the chemist who originally came up with most of them.
Phil Obermarck is a sculptor who runs a blog, and he has an in-depth article about his experience using Jesmonite. Jesmonite is a gypsum-based acrylic resin that can be used with fiberglass. Unlike typical fiberglass resin (usually a polyester resin), Jesmonite is water-based and contains no solvents, which gets rid of a LOT of the health and safety hazards inherent in using fiberglass (though certainly not all of them). It unfortunately looks as though it is only available in the UK and Europe, though you can get comparable products in the US (Aqua-Resin being among the more popular).
Photographer Andrew Scrivani has an interesting article in the New York Times on how to choose props to improve food photography. While few of us may be propping a food photo, the ideas he shares are just as useful for anyone dressing a set or designing the props in a scene.
The original Frankenstein movie was a hallmark in special effects makeup as well as set dressing (try to think of a science laboratory that hasn’t been influenced by this film). So how cool is it to see behind-the-scenes photographs of Frankenstein and similar monster films?
Okay, you can’t read my whole book online. But I do have two whole chapters you can check out on The Prop Building Guidebook’s companion website.
What are these chapters, you may ask? Well, as you can imagine, prop making covers a vast amount of information, and choosing what to put in and what to leave out was one of my biggest challenges. We could have made the book longer, but that would have pushed the price up, which we didn’t want to do. We could have made the pictures smaller, but that would not be good either. In the end, we decided to take the last two chapters and put them up on the website for free. This way, the book can remain affordable, the pictures can remain a decent size, and you get a sneak peek at some of the book. These chapters have been edited and proofed just like everything else in the book, they just appear online rather than in print.
The two chapters are called “Formal Training” and “Maintaining a Portfolio”. The first digs through the tricky question of what kind of training or schooling you may wish to pursue to become a better prop maker. Vocational classes, colleges and universities, graduate schools and more are talked about here. I also look at the various types of jobs and work one can get. I present information useful whether you wish to be a prop maker for film, television, theatre or any of the related industries, and whether you wish to pursue a full-time job or work as a freelancer on different gigs. It can be a tricky field to navigate, so I try to present as much information as I’ve gleaned along the way.
The second chapter gives an introduction on creating and maintaining a portfolio of all the work you do. I discuss both online sites and paper portfolios; though paper portfolios have become far less prevalent these days, I’ve still used them in the last couple of years, both in applying for work and in hiring people. This chapter also discusses photography and how to take better pictures of your work. A bad picture of a good prop can make it look like a bad prop.
So check out the bonus chapters of The Prop Building Guidebook when you can. And don’t forget to pre-order your copy if you haven’t already!
If you excel at something, it can be hard to describe in words how you differ from someone who is merely competant at it.
A photograph of a finely-made table in your portfolio has a much larger, and much more immediate impact in a job interview than listing the word “carpentry” on your resume.
It can be difficult and sometimes impossible to get photographs from a show you’ve done. Even when you specifically ask someone to take pictures for you, it may take weeks or even months to track them down and get copies of the pictures. The only way to guarantee photographs of your work is to take the pictures yourself; consider the photographs you get from other people to be a bonus surprise.
What goes for production shots goes even more so for process shots. Taking pictures of your prop through it’s various stages of construction are a great way to show an interviewer how you work and how you think. It also gives tangible proof that you know what you’re doing (and eases the mind of those suspicious that you did not do the work yourself). Interviewers love to ask how you achieved something, and having a visual road map of the process in your portfolio can be easier than attempting to describe vague concepts through words alone. Sometimes, you may even teach a new trick or technique to an interviewer, and props people love learning new tricks.
The important thing to remember is that no one will be taking these production photographs for you. You need to make it a habit to take pictures whenever you get to a new stage of your prop’s construction. It will certainly behoove you to learn how to take photographs of your work. It is especially true at the beginning of your career, when you have less of a network and bank of experience to point to your abilities, and the pictures in your portfolio are the sum total of what you have to show for your skills. Sometimes, it can come down to a single interesting and well-documented prop in your portfolio to convince the job interviewer to take a chance on you. That’s certainly happened to me; even when the season has come to a close, the prop master will remember that one prop I had in my portfolio that impressed him.
Welcome back from Thanksgiving (if you went somewhere)! Here’s a quick round-up of some new sites I’ve found.
- Letters of Note – These are some great scans of old historical notes and letters. Besides the sheer fascination of exploring them for their own value, they are also a great source of historical typography, paper styles, and other details of ephemera.
- Square America – Vintage snapshots and vernacular photography. What sets this apart from other vintage photograph sites is how it tags them by the contents and decade, so you can quickly search for useful images.
- The Daily Scrapbook – A collection of scrapbook pages. It’s great to see some well-preserved ephemera which is usually thrown away, though it’s hit or miss what you’ll run across.
- How to Use a Handsaw – The Art of Manliness has a nice post illustrating the various types of handsaws and how to use them.
Just a reminder that the first ever New York City props summit is today at the Public Theatre from 6-9pm. Send me or Jay Duckworth a message if you want to join us.
Here are a few links for today: