Friday, January 28, 2011

Foam Heads

So after the post about the successful foam fish, I bring you the story of the failed foam severed head.

Again I was working on a show with a tiny budget and a giant props list. I needed a severed head, and a plea to fellow props masters for a rental in the area turned up empty. One of the props masters mentioned though that he had made a severed head once with a cheap wig and a painted wig head.

I took a male wig head and added paper mache to make the neck look severed.

I painted him with a flesh tone (with a little green to make him look dead). I speckled him with blood and added a cheap wig from the bargain bin at a local costunme store.

Later I decided to cut the neck on a rougher line becuase it looked too long and clean.
I printed out the eyes and modge podged them in. The ink ended up running and the eyes looked a lot less realistic than I wanted. If I were to do it again I would spray them with some sort of spray fixative to set the colors before trying to glue them in.

The problem that I couldn't solve was the position of the mouth. The foam face was constructed with the jaw firmly set. A dead person does not have the muscle to hold their mouth the way that the wig head did.

When I asked the props master who gave me the idea he told me that the problem hadn't come up for him becuase his show had been heavily masked. The mask on his head hid the jawline.

I couldn't figure a way to change the existing jaw line without totally destroying the face.

In a last ditch attempt to distract from the mouth I added a fake moustache I bought at a costume store. It failed miserably and the head ended up getting cut.

If I had to do it again I think I might have to carve the whole head myself, or find someone with the expertise and supplies to do a good casting of a face.
Or just suck it up, cut money from somewhere else and invest in buying one (you can find them online through halloween stores year round).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Foam Fish

So first, some personal news, because I'm so excited I have to tell everyone that reads, I got engaged last Friday night. So keep an eye out, because in addition to props work and theatre crafts, you may be seeing some DIY wedding crafts on here in the future.
On to the fish!

For a production of New Electric Ballroom at A Red Orchid Theatre, I needed lots of large fish. On the small budget I knew I couldn't afford to cast them (I didn't have any leftover supplies from other projects and the right supplies can be expensive), so I started looking online for possible places to buy them. This also came up empty, as the fish I was finding were all too small and too expensive. To fill the two tubs I needed to fill I estimated I would need about 20 fish at that size.

I finally came around to the idea of carving them. I started with 2" pink foam and traced a fish shape onto the front.
On a side note, one of my favorite tricks when cutting intricate shapes with a jig saw is to do it on a foam base as opposed to trying to prop your piece between makeshift sawhorses. The foam doesn't resist the blade or slow it down, but still supports your project as you cut. In this case I was using a foam base under the foam I was cutting, but I have used this same method for cutting lauan and plywood too.
After I had the basic foam shapes, I carved them down with a long razor (also known as an olfa knife or a snap blade knife)
 And then I sanded them to a smooth finish.
I painted each fish with three coats of liquid latex,
 And then painted them all with a silver base coat.
Then they all got a dusting of green, concentrating on the fins.
I inserted little black beads for eyes, and painted a little red behind the gills and in the mouth and they were done. 
Because I was able to make them as big as I wanted, I only needed ten fish, and the total cost of paint, latex, and foam was only around $50, less than half what I would have paid to buy the fish online.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cheap Duct Tape Dummy

One of the recent shows I worked on needed a dummy to sit in the background. None of the audience was closer than about 20 feet, it was rarely involved in the action, and was partially obscured by a platform; all of this made my job easier. Still though I needed a dummy that reasonably looked like an old man sitting at the base of the tree. I also needed it to be cheap because the budget for this show was tiny and had already been spent on more prominent props.

To make the dummy I went back to a trick that my master carpenter taught me while I was working on murder mysteries in Pennsylvania. All you need is a model, pants and a long sleeve shirt you don't mind ruining, a couple rolls of duct tape and something to stuff your dummy. 

Have your model put on the trash clothes, and then wrap them tightly with the tape, they will tell you if it is too tight, I promise. After you have finished wrapping, carefully cut them out of the clothing and then repair your cuts with more duct tape. 
(I wish I had taken pictures of this part, my wonderful boyfriend is probably really glad I didn't think of grabbing my camera)

Here are a couple of pictures I took while I was in the process of stuffing him. For this project I just used crumpled newspapers, but you can see even from these pictures that the body is starting to get some definition (compare this to a scarecrow body you might see at Halloween where the clothes are stuffed directly). 
After the stuffing was finished we dressed him in some rejected costumes and placed him on stage (the knee is bent back because we thought it might be a trip hazard).
Add a beard to disguise the white wig head, and a noose just for fun, and from a distance it didn't look too bad. Even more importantly, the total price tag was around $20 (not bad for a full dummy)

When we created our dummy in Pennsylvania we used it for a series of fake outtakes from a fake horror movie film shoot. 
Inside the duct tape shell we had a wooden frame and all the rigging for spurting blood. We filled out the dummy with Great Stuff expanding foam. 
You should check out the videos on You Tube
My appologies to the actors who may have wanted to forget that they took part in this one (or had that hair). 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Doll bed posts

Just a quick post about another holiday project.

My boyfriend's mom, Cindy, asked if I would help her with a gift for her niece. Like so many little girls, she is very into American girl dolls, and Cindy wanted to make her a bed for her doll. Cindy sews and was planning on making the mattress and the bedding, but she hoped I could make the frame.

I wanted the bed to be more interesting that just a flat headboard and footboard, so I bought these two table legs at my favorite antique store.
I cut them up, used a leftover piece of furring strip from another project for the cross pieces,
And I ended up with a cute little bed.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

measuring hack

For Christmas this year, I built a cabinet that my mom had been wanting made for about a year. We inherited an old player piano from my grandparents, and she wanted a cabinet for all of the song rolls made using an old glass door she had also found while cleaning out my grandparents' house.

I decided to wait until I got home to St. Louis to build it, I'm not currently working with any large theatres and really didn't want to be loading full pieces of plywood into my apartment to be cut in my kitchen. I headed down to my parents house five days before Christmas and was able to take advantage of my dad's pickup truck and a nice open garage and basement.

Once I got there I ran into the problem of measuring and planning. My mom had made some changes to what she wanted (once we both realized how large the original planned cabinet was going to be), which made all of my pre-planning useless. I was trying to replan the project without computer drafting, scale rules or even a good calculator (the cell phone just isn't up for this kind of math).
I tried to do all the math by hand, but with so many shelves (they were less than 3" apart) and the awkward size of the door I was basing my measurements around, I wasn't doing well. Every time I went back to check my math, something wouldn't add up quite right.

My solution came from a roll of 1/2" scotch tape I was using to wrap presents. I opened up my tape measure, marked off a few of the points and knew and then started using little chunks of tape to figure the spacing of my 1/2" ply shelves.

It ended up turning out really well. I was happy with it, and more importantly, she was too!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Finding your motivation

Once upon a time I was working at a theatre that was in a super time crunch. We had three giant musicals (All Shook Up, Joseph...Dreamcoat and Thoroughly Modern Millie) back to back to back. Everyone was stressed and overworked, but the schedule was particularly hitting the costume shop hard.

One day discussion in the costume shop turned to motivation. "I am motivated by fear" the costume designer said, "the more scared I am, the faster and harder I work."
"I am motivated by praise," the shop manager replied, "I like feeling like my hard work is recognized and appreciated, it keeps me moving forward."
"I am motivated by rewards" said the sticher, "I like the trade off of 'do this and you will get that.'"

The next day I walked into the costume shop and, after days of seeing these three women tired and cranky and hopeless, they were having a great time. And more importantly for all of them, they were all three working at a ridiculous speed. As they were working they were motivating each other.

To the designer they would call out, "Hurry, this show is never going to get done. The actors and the director will hate the costumes and you will never be hired back again."
"You're doing a great job," they would tell the shop manager, "I can't believe you finished those fitting notes so quickly, we are so lucky to have someone like you."
And for the stitcher, "Did you finish those hems? Good job. Here's a piece of candy."

The whole scene was hysterical, the costume shop took it all in a very joking manner, but I think that in the middle of their stress-induced joking, they hit on something very important. It is very useful to know what motivates you and take advantage of that.

Over time I have discovered that I am motivated by progress. I like to be able to see exactly how much I have accomplished. One way I have found to use this motivation is by making lists, and making them very detailed. I find it very satisfying to cross something off my list, so I have started to break tasks down into small manageable chunks.

There is nothing worse than working all day on something and still not being able to cross something off my list. I get discouraged and tend to feel as if "I got nothing done today." If I break down the job though, I can cross off, "buy supplies," and "measure and mark lumber" even if I don't get to cross "build table" from my list. The visible progress helps me feel motivated to keep pressing forward.

(blog post, check)