COSMOS MOVIE PRODUCTION BLOG 18:
MAKING PROPS & SET DRESSING
“In the property-maker’s room lives the wizard of the studio. He is an inventor, a chemist, a bit of an artist, and an engineer.” — Edward Carrick
The first thing you need to know is what the difference is between Props and Set-Dressing…
Prop is short for Property – suggesting that an actor will somehow use such an item as their character’s property. A phone, a compass, a gun, a camera are all Props IF the character uses them in the scene.
BUT if the character does not interact with these items, and the phone or the camera just sit on their desk in their office they become Set-Dressing – these items are not pivotal to the action of the scene but help to make the environment more realistic.
This cool video essay, Why Props Matter, takes a look at the hidden power of movie props. And how filmmakers use those everyday (and not so everyday) objects to enhance cinematic storytelling.
Both Props and Set-Dressing fall under the creative responsibility of the Production Designer with assistance from the Art Director, Set Decorators, Set Dressers and the Prop Department led by the Property Master. Working together they ensure all Props and Set-Dressings are designed, fabricated and available by the time of filming and that these items are correctly placed with the actors and within the scene according to the script to maintain visual and story continuity with the rest of the film.
As independent filmmakers, we all have to make our own props now and then and COSMOS has been no exception. We’ve already written a blog about creating the “Astro-Nuts Astronomy Society” baseball caps which are key ‘hero props’ in the film, but there are also plenty of other props that need designing and making (… or buying!).
One of our most recent creations was an employee I.D. badge for the company that Mike Webster works for. This company plays a key role in the story, so we felt it really important to have an official looking I.D. badge to help sell the idea of this huge space technology company.
Like all of our concepts, early designs were sketched out on paper and then created in Photoshop by Zander. After a few hours tweaking we were happy with our final design and had several copies of the I.D. badge printed up by a seller on ebay. (We’ve also added a fun little QR Code in the design for any true detectives!).
COSMOS also has a requirement for some cool looking fully interactive computer displays (known in the biz as Fantasy User Interfaces). These have been painstakingly designed and created by Zander using a variety of techniques and software such as Photoshop, After Effects and Blender. The results are a true geek-out experience guaranteeing many Jurassic Park quotes and demands to see Dennis Nedry!
On the topic of Set-Dressing, COSMOS really only has one main set which is the interior of the ‘crew-car’…
“The inside of this vehicle is jammed with HIGH-TECH EQUIPMENT; frequency scanners, aerials, radio transmitters. Coiled cables hang from the ceiling like jungle vines.”
The concept is that the characters have kitted a car out with all their favourite gadgets allowing them to pursue their hobby away from the city and light pollution – as most of their kit is computer based the car needs to be fitted with some custom work-surfaces. Time to dust off the tool kit… Some serious sawing, screwing and gluing later we have two made-to-measure tables fabricated mostly from MDF board salvaged from a skip! We’ve recently painted the tables a dark blue to match the colour of the car interior, hopefully making them a more seamless fit.
To make enough head room for the actor located in the boot (trunk), we’ve removed the collapsible rear passenger seats – an interesting experience first time round but much simpler the more you practice.
We’re now on the hunt for lots of knick-knacks that can litter these desks; indicators of the characters past and personal interests.
We have one major prop left to make – The ‘Annabelle’ Telescope – but she’s going to have a separate blog all of her own!
Thanks for dropping in. We both hope this insight into the production of COSMOS, our first feature film, is both entertaining and informative. We only want to share the fun and experiences with other filmmakers. You can follow more day-to-day progress via our twitter @CosmosMovie