Secrets of the Solo: a Star Wars Story Creature Shop – Despite its unimpressive cinema run, Solo was actually one of the most expensive Star Wars films made, and was packed to the gills with practical creature effects. Puppeteer Brian Herring talks about how they brought all those crazy aliens to life.
We recently opened “And Then There Were None” at Triad Stage in Greensboro, NC. Agatha Christie’s classic murder mystery takes place in 1930’s England in a sleek, unique seaside home. Robin Vest’s scenic design gave us a sparse, Art Deco-inspired interior populated with a few trappings of a world traveler.
Flanking the fireplace were two tube sconces. Finding an appropriate vintage pair was proving to be too expensive, so I decided to make them.
I turned the top and bottom caps out of poplar on my lathe. I think this was the first project I personally used the shop’s lathe for, even though I purchased it last year.
I bought some plastic mailing tubes for the lamp shades. Glass tubes were pricey and difficult to find in the right size. I measured their inner and outer diameter and turned the end caps so the tubes would slide onto them snugly.
I needed some curved metal arms to hold the end caps, and they needed to be hollow so I could feed the wires through. I had some spare chandelier arms in my bin of lamp parts which I cut to size. It was a lot easier than attempting to bend a metal tube without kinking it.
Above is all the pieces mostly assembled. I drilled holes in the end caps to feed the metal arms in, and used epoxy clay to secure them. I cut a disc out of poplar for the wall plate and drilled two more holes to hold the metal arms. The bottom arm was epoxied in place, but the top arm was only bolted to the plate. I wanted to be able to disassemble the sconce in case I needed access to the interior of the tube.
I added a decorative disc of metal to the wall plates that also came from my lamp parts bin, which you can see in subsequent photos.
With all the pieces fitting together as they should, and sanded smooth, I took them apart and painted them. I used a variety of spray cans. First was a sandable primer, followed by two coats of gloss black, than two very light coats of chrome, finished off with an extremely light dusting of the gloss black again. I only waited about half an hour between coats, so the whole process was finished in a morning. If you wait too long between coats, the paint may develop that dreaded “orange peel” appearance.
Because the tubes were plastic, I could not use any incandescent or halogen bulbs. The heat would build up and melt everything. I bought some warm white LED tape and mounted it to a small stick of wood to hold it straight against the back of the tube. The wires ran through the arms and out the back to a transformer and DMX controller, where it could hook up to the theater’s light board.
I cut a piece of thick vellum to line the inside of the tube and provide some diffusion.
Here they are, fully assembled and ready to go. Even though these LEDs were the warmest white I could find, they were much cooler than every other practical light fixture on stage when we got in the space. I opened the tubes and added a piece of orange gel from my lighting designer to warm them up.
Here they are on stage. While they are very similar to modern tube sconces, they have just enough subtle period detail to help create the world on stage.
Disney Dream Job: Walt Disney Imagineer Prop Master – In this video segment, 11-year-old Adam spends a day learning about how to become a Walt Disney Theme Park Prop Master. He visits with the people who design the attractions, tours the shops where the props are fabricated, and browses the warehouse where pieces are stored. It’s not only a great look behind-the-scenes at the park, but it’s also refreshing to see a young kid like Adam who is so passionate about props.
Light Up Leather Arm Braces – Make Magazine has this great project that marries the old-school techniques of working with leather with the state-of-the-art techniques of blinking lights.
10 Famous Props And The Actors Who Stole Them – I question the authenticity of some of these stories; the iconic props for major franchises are tracked and cataloged so carefully, that I really doubt Chris Hemsworth just ‘walked off’ the set with a Thor hammer. These antics are usually allowed to happen to generate further publicity for a film. That being said, I definitely believe that Hugh Bonneville walked off with a letter from the set of Downton Abbey.
I started a survey a few weeks back to gather some information for my upcoming book, The Prop Effects Guidebook. While most of the answers were only relevant to me, I thought I would share the results of one of the questions.
Ninety-eight people answered the above question, which is a good chunk of props people. I also had a short text box so people can clarify their answers, and that received forty-eight responses.
A number of respondents stipulated that while they will often mount fixtures on the set, such as sconces, any hanging fixtures will be handed over to the rigger or carpenter.
A small few stated they were responsible for the whole practical; everything from choosing the decorative fixture to getting a bulb in and wiring the thing. Basically, when they hand it off to the electrics department, it just needs to be plugged in. On the other hand, at least a dozen people stated they were responsible solely for sourcing or building the fixture itself; adding a bulb and wiring it is all done by electrics, while mounting or hanging are the purview of scenery.
For another small percentage, this was the typical practice at their theatre, but the props department was ready to help out with the wiring of practicals if the electrics department got swamped.
For the prop departments responsible for bulbs, most people clarified that they based their bulb choice off what the lighting designer wanted or what the electrics department suggested. Others elucidated that they were responsible for bulbs which were a visible element, such as period incandescents.
A similar response happened with plugs; if the lamp has an Edison plug which was a visible part of the world, it is more likely to be props’ responsibility. If the fixture had a cord that ran offstage, the stage pin connector is probably put on by Electrics.
This survey was a fascinating glimpse into how various other theatres work. Even something as simple as sticking a lamp on a table can be handled in a variety of ways. One respondent works at a theatre that does not even have an electrics department! If I were to take a guess, I would bet that many theatres operate the way they do based on the traditions of who has worked there in the past. If the props department never had anyone able to wire a lamp, then over time, the electrics department would just take that job over.
That being said, being able to make a lighting fixture function is a skill which new props people should be learning. If you end up working at a theatre where the electricians do all that, great, but you may end up at a job where it is your responsibility.
Also, in my own opinion, you can find so many interesting and fun things in the world of lighting today, from EL wire to LED tape and more. Many electricians live in the world of Source 4s and giant PAR lamps, and may not be aware of all the cheap, tiny lighting stuff that exists outside of the theatrical world. A props person can bring that knowledge to the table and help open up more possibilities to the production.
Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies