The Prop Building Guidebook
For Theatre, Film, and TV
By Eric Hart
Focal Press – 2013 – 384 pages
Theatre and film frequently require replicas of three-dimensional objects built for actors to use. This book lays the groundwork for an artisan to determine what materials and techniques to use to build these props. Walking the reader through the various tools and techniques used in historical and contemporary prop-making, the author presents a process for deciding the materials and methods to build any prop. With an explanation of how the craft and its products have developed over time, the budding artisan will understand not just how and when to use certain techniques or materials, but also why to use them and what advantages they give. It arms the prop maker with a structured procedure for approaching the construction of any prop. Illustrated with step-by-step examples of how to use each construction method, and explanations of different types of materials, this book gives the beginner prop artisan a strong foundation to approach the construction of props and answers the question, "How should I begin?"
The author is hosting an online component to the book along with his successful blog. It will feature additional resources for the prop maker, including books, shops, contact information, and how-to videos.
'By focusing on how we build static objects using common materials…Hart has generated an excellent primer text for students and amateurs just getting into the field… [and] as a professional props master and a university instructor, I have found this book to be both a wonderful addition to my reference library and an invaluable teaching tool.' - Erin Freeman, UNC-Charlotte, Southern Theatre
'In the preface to The Prop Building Guidebook For Theatre, Film, and TV, Eric Hart writes, "This book will show you how to look at an object you wish to create, break it apart into its component parts, and put it all together." His well-organized and beautifully illustrated book accomplishes this goal of familiarizing the reader with common tools, materials, and techniques used to build quality properties for a show, and it offers guidance that allows the user to select the most appropriate materials and best method of construction. Hart's writing style is straightforward and reflects a personal, tongue-in-cheek wit.
[The book] is an equally valuable resource for the professional prop artisan, the experienced designer in an allied area who also works with properties, and for the student entering the world of design and technical entertainment production. It is an interesting and informative book for the first read-through. It could be used as part of a stagecraft or practicum course in an academic setting and certainly deserves a place on the reference shelf in the design studio or shop.' Lighting & Sound America, Book of the Month, December 2013 Issue
'This compendium by Hart (a free-lance prop builder) is designed to assist amateur and professional properties artisans in planning and building properties for stage, television, and film. Organizing his book into four parts, Hart first deals with preparations for the prop assignment. He provides terminology for the various kinds of props and breaks down the task according to its stage requirements and such elements as research, drawings, shop organization, safety, or selection of the appropriate materials and tools. Part 2 deals with construction methods and assembly in wood, metals, plastics, fabrics, papier-mâché, molding, and casting. In Part 3, he discusses finishing techniques, from sanding and preparing the surface to painting techniques and protective coatings. Part 4 addresses the profession of props artisan, covering budgeting, fees, job sources, and portfolios. This last section is very useful to young professionals because these topics are rarely addressed in how-to-books.
Numerous photographs illustrate tools and props projects in process, although materials mentioned do not have accompanying pictures. The author maintains a freely accessible website, Prop Agenda, as an accompaniment to the handbook, offering step-by-step illustrated instructions for various properties, along with book reviews, resources, how-to videos, interviews with props-related artisans, and more.Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels of students and professionals.' Choice, R.A. Naversen
'In a personable, informative style, Hart gives you the full rundown, from basic to advanced techniques across a spectrum of disciplines, supported by excellent tutorial photos as well as theatrical eye-candy shots. Chapters cover safety, shop tools, joining, measuring materials, sculpture, finishing, and more with rich detail and sparkling clarity. The heavy-duty comb binding is a thoughtful touch. Hart's book makes a valuable shop companion for makers of all types and skill levels.' Gregory Hayes, Make Magazine
'…I was asked to review what I'm sure folks will be calling the new bible by Eric Hart…because that's what I'm calling it. I'm going to gush like a fanboy…I love this book for the content and for the fact that it has a hard cover and is coil-bound so it can be laid flat on the work surface like a workbook and be used as such!…As Eric Hart, who has been a freelance props builder for theatre, retail display, and other industries since 2003, points out in the preface, no book about props can be comprehensive. It's impossible to compress the collective knowledge of all prop makers into a single volume. Well, this book comes pretty close! In addition to nineteen well laid out chapters, there is a website link that will guide you to two bonus chapters, videos, and a link to the author's blog, Prop Agenda (www.props.eric-hart.com) where he documents ongoing prop fabrication projects…Now I will tell you to buy it because it's going to be a valuable resource in your library and worth every penny.' Todd Debreceni, Theatre Design & Technology
'Since graduating as a theare major with an emphasis on set design, Eric Hart has earned a national reputation as a prop master, working on major stage and screen projects and maintaining the popular Prop Agenda blog at props.eric-hart.com. He has recently written the definitive reference for his industry that is being hailed for its clarity and breadth, The Prop Building Guidebook.' Claudia Ebeling, Bucknell Magazine
Part One: Preparation
1. What are props? - Definitions in theatre and film; Why make?; A brief history of prop-making
2. Getting Started - Making the shape; Shape vs surface treatment; Structure
3. Breaking it Down - What your prop needs to do; Reference and research; Dividing complex shapes into simpler parts; Work- flow; Construction drawings; Mock-Ups and Patterns
4. Choosing your materials - Strength; Weight; Appearance; Realism; Resources
5. Safety - Chemicals; Respirators and Ventilation; Gloves, Sleeves and Clothes; Eyes, Ears and Shoes
6. Tools - Hand vs power tools; Jigs and measuring; Adhesives and attachment
Part Two: Materials and methods
7. Constructive Materials - Carpentry; Metal; Plastics; Cardboard and other non-traditional
8. Drape it and shape it - Fabric and Soft Sculpture; Sheet Metal; papier mâché; Fiber Glass and composites; Pepakura
9. Armatures and skeletons
10. Sculptural Materials - Foam; Clay
11. Assemblage - found object; repurposed pieces; nurnies, greebles, diapering, and kit-bashing molding and casting
Part Three: Finishing it off
12. Getting it smooth - sanding; filling
13. Getting it rough - Texture; Scenic dope and monster mud
14. Painting - Primer and base coats; faux finishes; translucent coats; protective coats
Part Four: Finding jobs and getting paid
15. Budget estimates
16. Charging for your labor
17. What types of jobs can you get as a props artisan; Where to look for work
18. Maintaining a portfolio - photography and process shots
Eric Hart has built props for numerous theatres off-off Broadway, off-Broadway and Broadway, and has worked with some of America's top directors and designers at the Santa Fe Opera, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the Public Theater. He has also constructed props for display and exhibition, including the Macy's Herald Square Holiday Windows, Saks Fifth Avenue Holiday Windows, and Lord and Taylor's Holiday displays. His articles about props have been published in Stage Directions Magazine. Eric's blog, covering all aspects of prop making, receives over 10,000 visits each month. Eric belongs to the Society of Properties Artisan Managers.