We Have The Stars

Christmas is the best time to be working at Props Studios. It’s like being in Santa’s workshop. There was fake snow, sleighs, polar bears, giant candy canes and glitter by the sack load. I went into Props to help them with these silver stars as part of Liberty’s Christmas decoration scheme.

The star shapes were cut out of a light silver aluminium that was embossed with a pattern. They came in two sizes. For further variation, some of the stars were rubbed lightly with tiny amounts of black spray paint to bring out the embossed pattern and give an antique look. Then, we used a jig to score and fold each star so that it was 3 dimensional. There were thousands of them.

The stars were to hung in the atriums on each floor of Liberty using wooden rods and fishing line. The rods had to be measured and spray painted. Each rod of stars had to be made to measure so that it would fit perfectly into its allotted space within the department store. This included measuring the exact length for each strand of stars so it was a lot of work to prepare and organise.

I was also part of the team that took all of these decorations down when the season ended. We worked through the night while the shop was closed and had to be careful not to make a mess or damage any of the displays. It was fairly easy for the most part, until we had to take down all of the stars in the ceramics department which was a bit nerve wracking as everything looked so fragile and was precariously stacked up around the edges of the atrium. A lot of splinters and tangled wires later, the store was back to normal and it was as if we’d never been there.


Diamond Dogs

Last summer I was back at Props Studios to help them make these Denim Dogs for Oasis. We received a prototype from the client that we had to stick to closely and I think we made around 30 in all.

The team at Props constructed a metal frame to form the skeleton of the dog, consisting of legs, neck, spine and tail. We then used stuffing and bubble wrap to mould the body of each dog. As none of this was going to be seen, we used parcel tape to attach the wrap and stuffing and to manipulate it into defined shapes such as the nose and the belly.

Once the dogs had taken shape, we used recycled denim from Oasis jeans to finish the dogs. We started by making feet with a little extra stuffing. Then we wound strips of denim up each leg and around the body until the dogs were fully covered. It took a long time to cover each dog as trying to fit the irregular denim pieces together was a bit like doing a puzzle. We also had to try and cover the ends of each piece of denim so that the joins weren’t visible.

We cut ears out of plastic that we coated in denim, attached jeans buttons for eyes and used waistbands to create collars for the finishing touch.

I really enjoyed this job as I found that shaping the dogs was a lot like the puppet making I have done in the past for my animation work. If you’ve seen any of my animation work you’ll know how much I love to bring different creatures and characters to life.

The nature of the design meant that no two dogs looked alike and each one seemed to have its own personality. It was quite fun watching them grow in number around the workroom until they were sent out to Oasis stores around the country.

I Wish That I Could Bake A Cake Made Out Of Rainbows And Smiles

My largest job to date with Props Studios was making a range of table decorations for Lady Barbara Judge’s 2011 Summer Ball at the Royal Academy of Art. The event is a fundraiser held every three years at the Royal Academy of Art. The 2011 event was sponsored by Faberge.

The centrepieces for the Summer Ball are always cakes, sometimes real, sometimes fake. The cakes are usually decorated with flowers, crystals and petit fours.

Props Studios were tasked with creating cakes that looked as if they had been iced and, as the event was sponsored by Faberge, decorating them with giant Faberge style eggs that looked as if they too were made of cake.

We made three different types of cake for the event, in varying sizes – a medium sized round cake that formed the base of a column, a medium sized square cake with an arched sturcture on top and a large three tiered cake. All of the cakes were adorned with flowers by Simon Lycett’s team of florists.

The below picture only shows a few of the cakes that we had to make. This was a huge job which took a good two or three weeks to complete in the studio and several hours to complete and install up at the Royal Academy.

The bulk of each cake was cut out of polystyrene. In order to smooth the texture of the polystyrene we coated each cake in papier mache. Once dry, the papier mache cakes were sprayed with a combination of paint and plaster and then sanded down in order to create a thick, royal icing-like finish. Getting the consistency of the paint and plaster right proved difficult, which meant that the cakes needed to be sprayed, sanded down and repainted several times.

Draoed cloth pieces were created for the three tiered cakes, which we painted with plaster so that they would set and then spray painted white. The draping was then fixed onto the cakes and decorated with fake flowers.

For the square cakes, we spray painted drawing pins in pink and cream, then we used a template to plot out the patterns onto the side of each cake and stuck the pins into the holes.  We then added bunches of tiny fake flowers to complete the pattern.

On top of the cake we built a wire structure with a metal rod in the middle and a hollow round ball holding it all together. The rod and ball were spray painted gold and we glued strings of tiny pearls to the structure, which was to house a floral display on each cake.

We used drawing pins and fake flowers to create a similar decoration for the small round cakes. The round cakes formed the base of a column of flowers that we then fixed eggs on top of.

Up at the Royal Academy of Art we had to work in stages alongside the florists as they added arrangements to the cakes and then we added the eggs and finishing touches. The flowers looked incredible.

The eggs also started out as polystyrene shapes in varying sizes.

We coated them in a thick layer of a polyfilla-like substance that was spongy and set like a lightweight plaster. We had to put all of the eggs in paint pots and sit them outside to dry. They looked completely bizarre all lined up in the sunshine and they kept wobbling around in the breeze. It reminded me of the egg farm in Ridley Scott’s Alien.

Once dry, the eggs were sanded down then painted in the same plaster/paint combination in matching colours to the cakes and sanded again. We then decorated the eggs using various fake flowers, crystals, gold ribbons and paints. The final effect was completely surreal!

When I went up to install the work it was amazing getting to see the preparations going on behind the scenes of such an enormous event. It seemed like there were hundreds of people there to decorate, arrange flowers, set the tables and put out goody bags. I also got an opportunity to look around the Summer Exhibition which was great.

I like to use movie quotes and song titles as titles for my blog posts. In titling this post, only one cake related movie quote came to mind, which is one of my favourite moments from Mean Girls. It was either that or MacArthur Park. If you can think of any others then stick them in the comments below.

I Wear My Sunglasses At Night

In 2011 I worked with the lovely people at Props Studios on a variety of projects. My first project with the team at Props was to construct this giant chandelier for Liberty’s Sunglasses Hall.

The chandelier was made out of dark brown, mid brown, clear and rose sunglasses lenses. I drilled holes in each lens taking care not crack the lenses as they broke easily. The lenses also had to be kept clean throughout the construction.

We then had to measure out and cut varying lengths of wire that we could suspend the lenses on. The wire was rough and frayed, everyone went home with little splinters of wire stuck in their fingers and clothes.

We  arranged the lenses to get a good spread of colours, threaded them on to the wires and attached them with grips. Then we fixed each length of wire into a light box, arranging them in rows by length.

The chandelier then had to be hung in the van and surrounded by bubble wrap to stop it from swinging around and getting tangled on its way up to London to be installed.

…Go To War

In my last post I talked about my role as a Make Up Artist on the short film Crossed Paths. I talked about how I created make up effects for each of the two leads and gave a brief synopsis of the film, which was made by young people in Crawley.

I also worked as the Art Director for the film, making key props and dressing the locations. A lot of the action in the film takes place in a small square with shops and a pub where the characters hang out.

One scene required filming in a shop where Aaron gets a job. We were lucky to find a shop in the square where we were shooting that allowed us to film on their premises over night. The shop was closing down and the owners agreed to leave behind their remaining stock for us.

There wasn’t enough stock to fill the shop, which was a bit of a challenge, but I managed to fill the front of the shop, the till area and a central aisle. It was a good couple of hours of shuffling stock around while the crew filmed scenes outside. As often happens with set and props work, the crew only ended up using a portion of the set but I was very happy with how it all looked under the lights.

Aaron’s neighbour Hasan has given him a job in his shop, but they soon come to blows over Aaron’s growing right wing views. When Aaron’s new friend and N.E.M. member Joe asks Aaron to post flyers about their march in Hasan’s shop, Hasan objects and Aaron quits.

We used a local pub as the meeting place for the N.E.M. which was conveniently located in the same square as the majority of our shooting, in Gossops Green. The close proximity of our locations lent itself to the sense of confinement and the intensity of these different cultural groups struggling to live side by side.

The staff of the Windmill Pub were extremely accommodating and nothing like the scary looking thugs we filled their pub with. The pub was already decked out in England flags, which made for a perfect backdrop for the N.E.M. meetings. My work at this location consisted of lighting the scenes and rearranging the pub’s interior to accommodate our equipment and make the most of the location. I repositioned a lot of the furniture and decorations to suit the blocking of each scene, added some more patriotic embellishments and filled the pub with N.E.M. flyers, advertising the march.

We first see the pub when Aaron meets Joe and they go for a pint. Joe is in a similar position to Aaron, out of work and angry at the lack of opportunities. He tells Aaron about the N.E.M. who blame immigration and multiculturalism for the lack of jobs. Joe takes Aaron under his wing and encourages him to come to the next meeting.

In the next scene at the pub we see Aaron becoming indoctrinated into the group as the N.E.M.’s leader rallies them for the march. It was a tough scene to shoot as the interior of the pub was quite dark and the number of wide shots necessary to show the whole group meant that we were limited as to where we could place our lights.

As the N.E.M. are preparing to march, a group of college students plan a counter-demonstration to oppose the right wing group. We filmed the scene in the canteen of Central Sussex College in Crawley.

I decorated the canteen using Stop the N.E.M. flyers, which the protest organiser also hands out during the scene. I created a range of placards for the protest scene, some of which I left unfinished and placed around the canteen along with marker pens, paint and brushes so that our extras could be seen working on them. I also created a large banner to be used later at the protest, which I hung as a backdrop.

The action of the film all builds up to the day of the protest when all of these groups face off against each other.

As this was a Council funded projected we were able to close the roads where we were filming, which was great. It also meant that we had police officers with vehicles on hand who were happy to participate, which really added to the look and feel of the scene.

I made a range of banners and placards for the protest scene, some of which were also used in the earlier canteen scene. I wanted the various signs to look homemade and so I used fairly cheap materials. I also tried to create a difference in style between those belonging to the N.E.M. and those belonging to the students.

It was a strange experience creating protest signs for both sides of the protest, a bit like having split personalities – switching from extreme right-wing hate-speak one minute to anti-fascist imagery the next. I was also a bit worried about what my neighbours would think when I had to leave a lot of the placards outside to dry.

The film was used as part of an anti-extremism project by Crawley Borough Council. It was distributed to schools along with an education pack to help teachers explore the issues raised by the film. The pack also contained further interviews with the characters, which lent more context to the story.

They’re Coming To Get You, Barbara!

During my time working with Worthing Youth Media we produced the short zombie film Outbreak. The film was funded by First Light, the UK Film Council’s initiative for young filmmakers.

The film was crewed by the members of Worthing Youth Media, who were given assistance and training by mentors such as myself. For this production, I was in charge of the Art Department – running workshops in Production Design for a small team of young people, as well as sourcing locations, props and costumes, dressing the sets and working as a makeup artist on the shoot.

My favourite part of this job was working with the team to design the various zombie characters who would populate the world of the film. I’ll talk in more detail about this in my next post, as right now I want to focus on the props that I made for the film.

Obviously when you deal with zombies, you expect a certain level of gore. For certain scenes, I had to create flesh for the zombies to eat.

The first challenge, was creating entrails for our Zombie Brownie to eat in the opening scene (pictured above.). This led to some interesting home experiments!

The obvious choice was sausages. I purchased several links of sausages from the butcher and untwisted each link to make one long sausage. I then soaked the sausages in food dyes, deciding after a few tests that a combination of red and black would look just disgusting enough, and contrast well against red fake blood. Then, to add texture, I mixed food dye into liquid latex and painted it onto sections of the entrails to look like fatty tissue. I love working with latex as there are so many things you can do with it. Finally, the entrails were placed into a box of girl scout ‘cookies’ made by the props team, which we filled with blood on set.

In a later scene in the film, the heroine’s dog gets eaten by the Twin Zombies.

We see them surround the dog, and then when they reappear, they are chewing on the dog’s severed leg. It was my task to add gore to our dog’s leg prop, and create prop flesh for the zombies to chew on.

Again, I used liquid latex to create the effect. By layering the latex on tin foil I created strips, which I then treated with vinegar to create texture. The vinegar causes the latex to wrinkle, bubble and contort. The result was lots of twisted, lumpy bits of rubbery flesh, which I soaked in food dye and then arranged and layered up on the dog’s leg, using more coloured latex to attach it all. I also twisted some of the strips to create sinewy tendons. Once we added some fake blood on set, it was ready for filming.

The rubbery texture  of the latex was perfect for the scene, as it allowed the twins to bite and stretch the fake flesh, even snapping bits off. It also produced some fantastic squelching noises. I also created a small piece of flesh for Zombie Chef to chew on in the same scene, using the same method but with less texturing effects. Here’s how it all looked on set –

The finished film was nominated for Best Drama at the First Light Awards 2010. You can see the finished product below. If you want to just skip to the gory bits, you’ll find the entrails at o:50 and the dog eating at 3:05. I’ll be talking about the various makeup effects created for the film in my next post.