CMU School of Drama

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

How Prop Makers Engineer the Weapons and Gear of The Expanse!

Tested: Adam visits the props department of Syfy's The Expanse, where armorists and propmakers engineer the weapons, helmets, and the gear that give weight and story to the universe of the show. Prop master James Murray shows Adam some of the unique props his team has made


Delaney Johnson said...

A recent lesson in my props class has left me more and more interested in stage weaponry, so this video was right up my alley (and it had a cameo by Mythbusters!) The two details I picked up on are things that prop masters must keep in mind while making weapons that normal gun manufacturers do not: 1) How comfortable is the weapon for the actor to use and 2) How can we make the prop easier for a filming/live theatre situation. I was very intrigued by the creators use of textured materials not only for the look of the gun but also the comfort and realness for the actor carrying the piece. I can imagine it is very helpful for actors to fell as if the props their using are real, and thus make it easier for them to fall into character. Also the use of aluminum for the guns is very ingenious for the theatre world as it is both light weight and cheap, making it easy to throw around and easy to make or manufacture. Aspects such as these are things the props masters must do on a regular basis and makes the job and task of creating weapons for film or the stage such an intriguing yet intricate career.

Julian Goldman said...

The thing I found most interesting about this video was the discussion of helmets. Before watching this I never would’ve considered issues such as the inside of the helmet fogging up or the effect of the helmet on sound. It seemed obvious once he said it, but I never would’ve thought of it myself. I also found it interesting that they solved this problems by finding helmets with existing technology that did what they needed to do. Additionally, I wouldn’t have expected the helmets to come apart into multiple pieces that can be assembled on to the actor rather than just being a complete helmet. On top of all the logistical elements, I thought it was interesting that they had a variety of worn and faded stickers on the helmets as a way of giving the helmet history and adding to the character. I think taking a tradition that exists in our world (stickers on hardhats) and then applying it to the world in the story you are telling is a really good way to make a world feel relatable and real.

Claire Krueger said...

All of the props were phenomenal but I couldn’t stop looking at the sparkly pink backpack in the background and I’m disappointed to say I didn’t get any information on that backpack. Otherwise it was cool to hear about the process and the considerations taken to really tell a story. The weight of the prop so the actors portrayal it more correctly or the weathering so it looks used. I found the storytelling very satisfying in the sense that they used logic to make the prop as realistic as possible. Too often we would make props look old at my high school theatre by slapping some dirt and rust on it and calling it old. We didn't consider if it would actually rust or dent in the areas we chose to degrade, and now I realise while it always looked slightly off for no distinguishable reason. It’s goes to show why planning and concept work is important regardless of the field.

Article Rating:
Had a slight musty smell, like lemons and elderly people

Cosette Craig said...

I've been into fabrication lately since it's the season of the box project. It's astounding to see the realism of these weapons from the materials to the finish to the weight. With so many tools to help the process move along more efficiently and precisely like 3d printing etc, extremely detailed prop fabrication is becoming easier and cheaper for artists who needs that precision for film, or don't have the time or money to put hundreds of hours into one weapon.

I also found it interesting that the props master was making design decisions regarding weaponry and armor. I would like to know about how they work with other departments (most obviously, costumes) to make a final cohesive look.

Their work also requires a lot of diving into the character and personalizing something design wise to fit the characters needs/personality/image etc. It would be interesting to see a timeline/breakdown/process of brainstorming to see what kind of things were scrapped along the way.

Chris Calder said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Calder said...

I have never put that much thought into the complex props that are part of the futuristic action movie. As I was watching this video there were some very similar parallels to the theatre world. The biggest one is probably the damages that the props see before they even hit the screen. Most of these movies call for the actors to interact with prop guns at a very extreme level making aluminum one of the only viable substances. I must say I am surprised that they start with airsoft guns as a base. I envisioned this process starting with a custom made casts that are then fabricated into the final product. If you start with a conventional airsoft gun that shares the characteristics of traditional hand guns it might take the viewer out of the environment. But after seeing the add on elements and intense finishing process that goes into the prop they have me convinced.

Simone Schneeberg said...

This is so cool. The fabrication and detail work in every piece is amazing. It also seems like so much fun to do; like Adam said, finessing the details is his favorite part and it does seem like a lot of fun. Beyond the artistry and creativity, there are so many small details involved that I have never even thought about. There are so many things to make sure each department has what they need, from lights to sound to directors. The ingenuity required to find the various pieces that one can re-purpose requires incredible problem solving and thinking out of the box. Like using a paint respirator for a helmet.

The thing that struck me most was the first line of the video. "When you design a futuristic item, you have to give it a past." Adam is right, I have never thought about that. It adds such a new and impressive layer in my mind. Not only do you have to design for the future - a place we have obviously not seen and therefore have no real life reference material - but you have to design for the past of that particular object. If it just looks new it has no life, no story. It would look out of place. I guess because they don't look out of place you gloss over this part because it's done so well there's really nothing to draw your attention to it.

Mark Ivachtchenko said...

Whenever I think of weapons and armor, I think of it in a very traditional sense where props is in charge of weaponry, costumes is in charge of armor. However, I've slowly become to realize that special armor types that require more specific skills such as sculpting, mold making, or vacuum forming are completely in the scope of the props master (usually). I love watching tested because Adam Savage, besides being the co-star on Myth busters, was a props artisan in the movie industry when special effects still had to be done by hand. Their channel is super impressive and teaches any props maker a few tips because of the long career Savage has had. I never really realized just how much thought had to be put into a prop; Savage makes sure that every single mark, brushstroke, or element he adds onto the props design is there in relation to how the character would have treated it, held it, or used it. And although these types of videos usually only concern themselves with film props, there are a bunch of parallels between theater and the movie worlds.