Tag Archives: scenic art

These Props Links Will Blow You Away

It’s the middle of a hurricane here in North Carolina, as well as Opening Night for my first show of the season, but I still found some great stories and videos on props that you can check out:

Broadway’s Biggest Debut: King Kong – Ugh, this puppet is so amazing. It is controlled by 14 puppeteers and it contains a ton of animatronics as well. Be sure to see some of the videos of Kong in motion.

TAIT Take Over – Karla Ramsey – Scenic artists at TAIT Towers create the proscenium arch for the Elton John concert. It is a combination of foam carving and clay sculpting, with everything molded and cast for the final piece. A few of my friends and colleagues spent the summer up here working on this, and the results are spectacular.

Cosplay Shines At DragonCon – Make Magazine has a great round-up of cosplay photographs from the recent DragonCon in Atlanta, GA. Yes, there is a whole convention just for dragons.

Modeling and 3D-Printing Wonder Woman’s Tiara for Cosplay! - Darrell Maloney made this video to show us how he modeled a digital version of Wonder Woman’s tiara from the recent film. He then 3D printed it, and shows us how he finished and painted it as well.

Submit Your Role Call-ers! – American Theatre Magazine has a regular segment where they highlight theatre workers that more people should know about. This December, they will be profiling twenty folks that should be known outside their discipline. You can nominate people you think they should highlight; let’s see some props people up in there!

Here We Go With More Props For You

Silver Ain’t Steel – But It Can Be! How To Paint A Faux Steel Effect – Over at the Rosco Blog, Angelique Powers shows us how she came up with some convincing steel surfaces using only paint.

Quantum Creations FX’s Fallout Pip-Boy Prop – Tested takes their video cameras to Monsterpalooza, where they chat with Christian Beckman, founder of Quantum Creation FX. He shows off a Pip-Boy prop they fabricated for a Fallout commercial, as well as a custom spacesuit they constructed specifically for the trade show.

Late Show Backstage Pass: The Invisible Props Department – In lighter news, Stephen Colbert brings us a day in the life of Sarah, the head of the Late Show’s “invisible props” department.

Pro-tips for Painting Pretty Patinas - Angelique Powers brings us another article over at the Guild of Scenic Artists’ page, this time showing some cool techniques for faking patinas and verdigris on metallic surfaces.

Woodworking from the ‘Bone Age’ – Chris Schwartz unearths this great article on how archaeologists attempt to recreate ancient woodworking techniques using ancient tools to help them understand some of the artifacts they discover.

Stage Scenery and the Men who Paint It (part 2), 1908

The following is a few select portions from an article in Theatre magazine in 1908. I posted the beginning of the article a few months ago:

by Mary Gay Humphreys

[Mr. Unitt at the Lyceum Theatre said,] “There is a story told of a firm of which one of the members thought a chandelier would look well in the scene. So he went out and bought a fine crystal affair. At the dress rehearsal he noticed it was not lighted, and demanded the reason. He was told that the act took place in the afternoon, and the light was coming in the windows.

“He went to the back of the house where his partner asked the same question, and was told the same answer.

“‘Well, light it. Who in h–l’s goin’ to stop us?’

“The anecdote gives the note which dominates a large part of theatrical production to-day, ‘Who in h–l’s goin’ to stop us?’…

Ernest Gros
Ernest Gros

“In the evolution of the scenery of a play, the scene painter is or should have the manuscript to read. In the rush of affairs now he may see only one act, or perhaps only the scenario. In the meantime the stage manager has made a plot and works out the exits and entrances on exact lines. Then the stage manager, author and scene painter get together and consult. That, at least, is the way they must do to get the best results. The scene painter sees only the pictorial side and must be held to the practical necessities of the case. One of these is that the wall scenes must be folded that they can be put in the six feet of doors, for scenery must travel. Fireproofing is another great handicap. This is usually done by painting on fireproof cloth, of which the chemicals are pretty apt to affect the colors. Another difficulty is the harmonizing of real things with the artificial. The use of real antiques, real palms, real flowers and foliage does not produce as successful results as when purely artificial scenery and stage properties are depended on.”…

[Mr. Homer Emens said,] “He must have an instinctive knowledge of effects. A handsome thing may not look handsome behind the footlights. An expensive stuff may look cheap. It is a fact that painted properties look more real than do the real things…

On the edge of things, in one of those architectural monoliths described, Mr. Ernets Gros, the scene painter, was found. His office was interesting with a collection of stage models which could be identified as scenes on the Belasco stage. Here was a scene painter’s library filled with handsome volumes labelled “Greece,” “Rome”—every nation, ancient and modern—books of epochs, periods, archaeology, costumes were represented, as well as periodicals of the most luxurious types in paper, illustration and text. Truly an equipment…

“Modern developments have not helped us in the least,” said Mr. Gros. “Scene painting has in no way advanced. The whole matter lies with the manager. If he is a man with artistic perceptions we have one result. If he depends on his advertising, we have another…

“The first thing the scene painter does is to prepare his model. Then he gives the stage carpenter the measurements. When the frame is ready the painting proceeds. Dry colors only are used; no drop of oil goes into scene painting. Fire-proofing has added to our labors by its effect on the colors. When the scenery is ready comes the problem of lighting, which must be determined by experiment. The electric light is brutal. We try to control it by the use of different media, but in no way can we get at the softness and mystery of gas.”

Stage scenery and the men who paint it. M. G. Humphreys, il. Theatre 8: 203-4, v-vi, Aug 1908.

Easy Prop Links

The Artist Behind Some of the World’s Most Famous Images Isn’t A Photographer, It’s Top Backdrop Painter Sarah Oliphant – I never realized that the backgrounds of photographs on the covers of magazines are actually painted backdrops. I especially did not know that most of them are painted by the same people. Sarah Oliphant and her studio create the custom drops you see on magazine covers such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and GQ.

Prop Emergency & A Drag Queen To The Rescue – Jay Duckworth recalls the time his drag queen brother had the perfect solution to a prop problem he had. Meanwhile, I built all the furniture for that show.

Easy Casting of Small Model Parts and Miniatures with Blue Stuff – Make Magazine shows off a product called “Blue Stuff” which is used to make molds for small parts. It becomes soft in hot water and is reusable. It seems to be fairly similar to “Friendly Plastic” over here, but definitely worth testing out.

Majoras’ Mask – Accurate Replica – User Hydromatic93 brings us this Instructable on constructing a mask from the Legend of Zelda video game series. The process starts with a clay sculpt which is molded in silicone and then cast in a two-part resin.

Stage Scenery and the Men Who Paint It, 1908

The following first appeared in an issue of Theatre magazine in 1908:

by Mary Gay Humphreys

That for the most part virtue must be its own reward is the scene painter’s ethics of his own profession. When, as it sometimes happens, the curtain goes up on an empty stage, and the audience breaks into involuntary applause over the beauty of the scene, such are his crumbs of comfort, and he takes them thankfully.

His own standards are much higher than he is able to realize. In this respect there seems to be but little difference between his attitude and that of the painter regularly accredited to the Fine Arts. But at no previous period is his discouragement greater than at this moment, when to the man in the orchestra scenic productions seem to have profited so greatly by modern inventions and scientific developments, as that, for example, of the electric light. Nor on no other man has later managerial conditions borne more hardly.

Physioc and Hawley
Physioc and Hawley

“There is no book that gives the history of scenic art. It would be too sad. It would tell only of disappointed hopes, of melancholy failures.”

This was said by Mr. Unitt in his interesting den at the Lyceum Theatre:

“Scene painting differs from the paintings known as among the Fine Arts only in degree. The principles are the same as in miniature painting. The only difference is you have forty feet of canvas. A portrait must resemble the subject more minutely than the scene resembles a situation, but that does not concern the principles involved. But, unhappily, to say that a picture represents scene painting is to make a disagreeable criticism.

“But it should be remembered that in painting, as the term goes, the artist does as he wishes; he consults no ends but his own. It is not so with the scene painter. His painting furnishes only the background, and this as a picture is likely to be thrown out of key because the other parts, of which he has no control, are not consistent with it. The lighting of the stage, for example, may not agree with the atmosphere the scene painter has given the scene. He also has to contend against costumes out of key, and as the living element of the picture is most prominent, the scene suffers.

“But nothing has tended to retard the development of scene painting as has the decay of the old stock companies. In those days the scene painter was part of the working staff of the theatre, and in daily intercourse with his principals. It took time, if you will remember, to produce such scenes as those in ‘The Amazons.’ This could be only accomplished by having a manager with artistic perceptions, and a staff that felt that pride and enthusiasm which must accompany good work.

“The method of production is now entirely different. The scene painter is not part of the theatrical staff. His is an employee of a firm. He is required to produce as rapidly as possible the scenery for perhaps twenty plays. The greater number of these will be failures, and others must be ready to take their place. This means a large plant and more rapid work. The scene painter cannot follow up his work; frequently he never sees it afterward. He has absolutely no opportunity for individuality, and naturally does not take the same interest as he did in that artistic atmosphere engendered when he was a member of the staff of a theatre.

“The conspicuous defect to-day in stage production is the lack of team work. The men who now control these matters are not distinguished for their keen artistic sense as was the manager in the old days. The commercial element, that has to be considered in view of the number of plays and possible failures, requires that the plays be put on as cheaply as possible. Suppose the scene painter attempts to carry his point and the play fails. He would probably have to listen to such comments as:

“‘Now, if you had put that girl on the fence and thrown a lot of color around her, the play would have gone far better. See?'”

Stage scenery and the men who paint it. M. G. Humphreys, il. Theatre 8: 203-4, v-vi, Aug 1908.