Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wrap it up!

Hey all! I talk a lot about how context is really important for 'selling' a food prop.  Ginger ale in a champagne flute is champagne, in a beer stein it is beer, or in a ginger ale bottle where it is....well, you get it.  Instant mashed potatoes can be made to look like ice cream or lemon meringue pie if you put them in the right container- and cotton batting can look like mashed potatoes if served in a bowl next to a turkey.

Often times, performers need to consume a food from a container which is no longer produced. Sure, it's easy to wrap a sparkling soda can with a beer label, but beer cans used to be straight sided with a small opening, and now we have cans that taper near the top and bottom, with wide mouth openings. Contemporary labels may look like their vintage counterparts- except for the huge UPC symbol and Surgeon General's warning.  There are lots of tricks to make your food packaging look right- but the first step is knowing what you're trying to accomplish- and I have a few links I think might help.

Historic Bottle Website
Put together by the Bureau of Land Management and the Society for Historical Archaeology (how cool is THAT!?) this website is full of information about glass bottles of all types and ages. Katie Andrew at Milwaukee Rep found this one for me.

Candy Wrapper Archive
This site is a fantastic find for propsters. You can search by brand, price, era, company, etc for your candy wrapper needs. There's also a blog about candy wrapper history. Pretty swell! Thanks to Hannah Burnham at USC for sending me this one.

Candy Wrapper Museum
Another neat archive of vintage candy wrappers- check it out!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Guest Post- Darryl Marzyck- It ain't easy bein' green beans.

Happy New Year, all! I want to share with you some nifty green beans and catfish dinners that were sent to me by Darryl Marzyck. They are for a production of 'August- Osage County' that he worked on. He was on a budget, and I think he came up with a pretty clever solution. These green beans are made of rawhide chews, acrylic paint, and polyurethane. Pretty clever, I think.

Here's what Darryl writes about his catfish dinners:

"The dinners came out really well considering that they were made from salt dough and rigid insulation.  I worked acrylic paint into the salt dough for the carrots and the broccoli which helped when it came time for paint.  I gave the tops of the veggies a dab of poly to make them look more appetizing.  I was amazed at how difficult it was to make 'broccoli  green' paint!

 Elmer's glue and real bread crumbs made the fish look great.  I was careful to let some of the 'fish' show through.

I also whipped up a loaf of bread with my left over rigid foam.  It has managed to fool quite a few folks backstage. "
I know how he feels about the broccoli- I can't tell you how many times I've tried to make a good tomato sauce color- only to be completely defeated.  Anyway, good work, Darryl- I love to see what other propsters are cooking up!

Happy Propping!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Guest Post- Ariel Lauryn- Roast Beef Sandwich Puppet

Today we welcome Ariel Lauryn to the Fake-n-Bake kitchen! Ariel is a funny and talented lady, who does a great job introducing herself, so I'll just let her take it away. Enjoy! -Anna

Hello Proplettes and Fake Food Fanatics!

I am Ariel Lauryn, your guest poster for the day.  I am a Theatre Maker Jane-of-many-trades (I do props, carpentry, painting, puppets, perform, and teach).  But back to our topic, a favorite of mine and yours: fake food! 
Recently, I was out in New York interning with PuppetKitchen (Check them out—no, really.  And watch their videos).  I was granted the opportunity to bring to life a roast beef sandwich puppet, designed by one Michael Schupbach.
Here are some pictures!  Figures 1 and 2 are photos of the prototype.  Figures 3 and 4 are the final product. 
Figure 1

Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4

Note:  The bread crust in Figures 1 and 2 is just brown Sharpie on the edge of the Poly Foam Bread. 
Note 2 (or, note too):  The lettuce in Figures 1 and 2 is lettuce I made, which is explained below.  The lettuce in Figures 3 and 4 was purchased from displayfakefoods.com.  Because this was a film project, we had to go with rubbery lettuce rather than the plastic lettuce that I made due to the noise that the plastic lettuce made when the sandwich had to speak.  (I love that I deal with things like “the noise the plastic lettuce made when the sandwich had to speak.”)
Note 3:  And this note may be disappointing to some of you.  The roast beef in Figures 3 and 4 is real roast beef. Wah-wah.

Now, I won’t get into patterning the puppet itself, but I will instead focus on making the individual pieces of food that went into it. 

First, the Bread:

Bread Slices
Materials and tools:
For Bread:
1/2” Poly Foam
Razor Blade
Airbrush Paint and Gun (Spray paint will do, it will just get you less detail ability)

1.      Cut bread shape out of foam.
2.      With an airbrush, lightly apply yellowish oxide-y paint to outer edges and a very light dusting over the whole slice. 
-If you don’t have an airbrush, just do a light dusting coat of spray paint to add some variety to the foam color.

For Crust:  (This is for the fancy crusts in Figures 3 and 4)
Matte Gel Medium (Sculpt-or-Coat will do if you don’t already have Gel Medium, it will just be a little shinier—I bet a matte spray might work to dull it)
Corn Meal (Optional)
Acrylic or Latex Paint

1.      Apply a thick coat of Sculpt-or-Coat to the edges of the bread and let dry.
2.      Repeat to desired thickness or until the foam texture is covered.
3.      Paint.
4.      Apply a very light coat of Matte Gel Medium or Sculpt-or-Coat.
5.      Optional: when application of Matte Gel Medium or Sculpt-or-Coat of Step 4 is still wet, sprinkle on some Corn Meal and lightly press it in.  Depending on how much the bread will be moved and manipulated, some of the Corn Meal may flake off. (I was tempted to also try sesame seeds or poppy seeds, but ran out of time). 

Here’s a test strip of different textures I tried out on top of the Sculpt-or-Coat:

The texture on the left is cornmeal, and to the right is a combination of foam and sawdust painted brown. 

Tomato Slice
Here’s what I did for the tomato.  Now, I don’t recommend this method if you have to make a lot of them.  This took a good deal of time, but since this puppet was going to be filmed, detail was of the essence. 

Materials and tools:
¼” Poly Foam
Razor Blade
Yellow Pony Beads
Paint (acrylic or latex)
Clear Coat Spray

1.      Cut tomato slice shape out of 1/4” poly foam.
2.      Carve out innards to varying depths.
3.      Apply a thick coat of Sculpt-or-Coat to fill in some of the foam, but not the innards. And I mean soak the sucker.  Set aside to dry.  This’ll take a while, so go be productive elsewhere.  Listen to a podcast, or something
4.      Once the Sculpt-or Coat is dry, paint a base coat of pinkish white, slightly darker brownish yellow in the innards.
5.      Add any paint detail to Pony Beads.
6.      Fill the innards with Sculpt-or-coat.  Press in some pony beads for seeds. Set aside to dry.
7.      Final paint coat. 
8.      Spray with Clear Coat for glossy shine. 
9.      Go brag to your co-workers about the tomato slice you just made. 

Fast, Cheap, Easy—a great combo!

Materials and tools:
Floral Cellophane (just Google that or go to a florist shop, they’ll probably have it)
Heat Gun
Steel Rod—1 ft long
Spray Paint
Acrylic or Latex paint (Optional)

1.      Cut out the basic shape of the lettuce you want.
2.      Place the steel rod (I used a threaded rod we just had around the shop) down the center of the leaf length-wise.  This will create a general shape for the rib of the lettuce.
3.      Here’s where the playing comes in:  Use the heat gun or blow dryer (a blow dryer takes longer, but might give you a bit more control) to melt the plastic.  The plastic will curl up, depending on the heat, the cut of the edges, and how close the gun is to the plastic.  Play with the angle that you use to hold the heat gun.  I generally had the air blowing from the bottom of the leaf up to the top. 
4.      Wait for the leaf to cool (it won’t take long) and use a leather glove to remove the steel rod (that will take longer to cool!).
5.      Paint!  If the leaf is going to move around a lot, lightly sand the plastic.  But if you know it will be stationary, I’d recommend not sanding—it will leave your leaf shinier.  Speaking of, if you want a shinier leaf, only paint one side.  That way, the unpainted side will still have the plastic sheen!
6.      Use varying shades of green spray paint to suit your lettuce.
7.      If you want super ultra detail, you can paint on some veins with acrylic or latex paint. 


Note: These particular onion cuties were made by Daniel Dempsy, a fellow intern at Puppet Kitchen.

1/8” Plastazote* (White Fun Foam would probably work, too.  Plastazote just has a nice translucency to it)
Purple Sharpie
Light Yellow Sharpie
Gloss Gel Medium (Sculpt-or-Coat might work)

1.      Cut a circle out of the Plastazote.
2.      Cut a spiral in the circle.
3.      Use the Purple Sharpie to color the edges of the spiral
4.      Use the Light Yellow Sharpie to color in the center.  Draw in spokes like a bicycle rather than fully coloring it in.
5.      Use Gloss Gel Medium to coat the onion—this seals in the sharpie so it is less likely to rub off and stain the food props around it.

* For those of you who have never worked with Plastazote, I found this webpage that has a pretty good explanation of it (Do note that I did not purchase from this site, we used material we already had in stock. I note this webpage just for reference.)

Cheese (Cheese, Gromit!)

Note: The cheese made for this sandwich was made by Jamie Sunwoo, another fellow intern at Puppet Kitchen.

1/8” Plastazote (Again, same note about Fun Foam as the Onion)
Paint (Acrylic or Latex)
Sealer (Gloss Gel Medium or Sculpt-or-Coat)

1.      Cut out a square of the Plastazote.
2.      Paint to your liking.
3.      Lightly coat with the sealer of your liking.

All photography credits go to The Puppet Kitchen. 

Prop on, Prop Tarts!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Guest Post- Jason Dearing

So, I have to say, I love it when you guys send me photos of your fake food projects. It totally tickles me that people out in cyber land are not only reading this blog- but looking to it for advice and inspiration. Awwww....shucks.

I wanted to share some delicious looking props from Jason Dearing who is studying art and enjoys theater as well. Here is what he writes:

I recently found your blog while doing some frantic research for a community cabaret I was assisting with. They wanted a fake pizza and I had no clue what to do. Luckily, I read some of your posts and discovered salt dough. It worked perfectly! Unfortunately, I didn't have many materials to work with for the toppings and ended up using white vinyl spackle for the cheese. Once it dried, it began to crack and crumble almost instantly. A thick coat of white glue (which gave the cheese an nice sheen) and some acrylic paint got it through the show, but I probably wouldn't do it again or recommend the material. The pepperoni was made from some red rubber I found lying around. I attached a picture of the final project, post show (the cracks weren't as noticeable beforehand).
Really digging the crust shading and texture.

After I made the pizza I read through almost all of your posts and got really inspired, so I decided to try something else, just for fun. I chose danishes. They're made from upholstery foam, which I carved with a utility knife. I didn't have liquid latex, so I used Elmer's glue. 3 coats later, I used tissue paper and watered down glue to soften the edges and give it a flakier appearance. I then painted the pastries with watered down acrylics (yellow, brown, and white). The fruit filling was made from  an adhesive I found called "shoegoo", dyed with food coloring. The icing is white puff paint. I attached a picture of the final product.
I love that texture!
 Thanks, Jason, those are awesome! And the rest of you out in prop land - show me what you're up to! Happy propping!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Fake Food on NPR!

Guys!! Guys!!!! Guys!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Fake food is on NPR. Check out this neat-o article on the salt blog- it's about Sandy Levins and her historic faux food. How cool is that!? Thanks to Sarah K. for the heads up on the article!

Fake Food George Washington Could've Sunk His Fake Teeth Into

and be sure to check out her page directly:

Historic Faux Foods by Sandy Levins

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Yes dear, but we Cantaloupe!

At some point in your props career, you start to realize that certain people are hard on props-no matter how much love and effort you put into a project, once it is handed off, you know it's done for. Now, a lot of you are thinking "Yup, Actors. Why would they do that with an antique silk parasol, no one would ever do that in real life!? What do you mean you still haven't found some of the spines!?"  And you'd be right, just what in blazes DID they do to that parasol?!? In the interest of fairness, however, there are also certain run crew members that I've encountered who seem to think that the best way to preset a prop is to drop kick it into place. "What do you mean you don't know how ALL of the gilded saucers broke? They were glued to the tray for F#$%'s SAKE! Why does the tray have TIRE TRACKS on it?!" Ah, the joy of the collaborative process.

You might be wondering what this rambling has to do with melons. Well, I'll tell you! During my first season as a starry-eyed Journey-person in the prop shop at Santa Fe Opera, I was part of a large group of people that put together an entire banquet of fake food to be 'served' during our production of 'The Tempest.' On the day that the banquet was to be rehearsed, a line of props run crew and artisans marched single file our of the shop carrying silver platters laden with mounds of painstakingly arranged foods. They returned in the same single file line, minutes later, with crestfallen faces and silver platters mounded with the detritus of their torn-apart projects.'WHAT HAPPENED!?' the rest of us cried, and Eileen regaled us all with the tale. 

Apparently, the director had requested that certain parts of the banquet be removed during the scene. The propsters who delivered the banquet to rehearsal explained to the entire cast that most of the food was glued down, but that items that were left unglued and could be removed had been marked with a piece of spike tape.  Simple enough? No. No it wasn't. As the scene was rehearsed, the chorus rushed downstage to devour the banquet. Fruit went flying, garnishes were torn away, there was no regard for adhesive, and the entire banquet was reduced to rubble. "My favorite part" Eileen told us later "Was watching the chorus member who couldn't pick up an orange place the heel of their palm against the tray to hold it in place while they pried the glue free."

Yup. Sometimes, your props are just doomed. And now, on to the crafting.

Materials: Foam, Cheesecloth, Flex Glue, Joint Compound, Hot Glue, Paper Clay, Paint

This project was one of my first fake food projects, so it is near and dear to my heart.I can't really claim that I did more than help on this project, but it is still one of the most successful fake food pieces I've seen.

When the canteloupe came onto my craft table, it was a carved piece of bead foam that had been coated with flex glue and cheesecloth. I was also handed a pile of seeds that had been made from paper clay. My job was to affix the seeds inside the melon, and apply a texture to the outside before handing it off to the painters.

To make the texture, I used joint compound with a little bit of flex glue mixed in. Any time I use a brittle material to coat something (like joint compound or Durham's Water Putty) I like to mix in a little bit of flex glue.   I think it gives it just a little bit more durability. To make the texture of the cantaloupe skin, I took a small chunk of wood, and covered it with dots of hot glue.  I then dabbed this pebbled surface into the joint compound on the melon to make peaks. Once the joint compound dried, I sanded the peaks off of the melon, giving the craggy, pitted texture of cantaloupe skin.

 Now for the seeds. If you look at the inside of a cantaloupe (Go on, look:)
you'll notice that they are held in place by a mass of soft fibers. To recreate these fibers, I used hot glue strings. I placed the hot glue onto the walls of the seed cavity, and drew strings back and forth across the cavity with a popsicle stick to create the fibers. Once that was done, I nestled the  paper clay seeds into the fibers and glued them into place.

The real magic of this prop lies in the paint job. I'm pretty sure that Amy Weller could have painted a golf ball and people would have thought it was a cantaloupe. Isn't that gorgeous?
I love how she really used the texture of the skin to her advantage, and I love how she focused on the texture of the seeds and the color of the rind around the edges. Really lovely work, I think.

So, that's the cantaloupe! Happy Propping, y'all, and may your props be ever safe from clumsiness and idiots.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Magic Turkey-Day!

Happy Thanksgiving, all!  This is the time of year that we all take a moment to reflect on the things for which we are thankful. I'm thankful that I have a job that pays me to make ridiculous things. I'm also thankful that a blog post, whole and entire, found its way into my mailbox last month.

This week's blog post comes from Brian Wolfe at Costume Armour Inc.  I love how this project showcases the particular challenges of theater- and the amazing things that props folks can accomplish. If you like what you see, I encourage you to check out more of the company's prop work here. So, without further ado, I'll turn it over to Brian.
We had an interesting challenge this past summer that I thought you might like to see.
The challenge:  A waiter walks in with a food cart with a covered tray on top.  He lifts the top to reveal a delicious roast turkey.  He covers it.  The next time it is opened by an actor and the turkey is gone and there is a speaking actor’s  head on the tray.
Here is the drawing:
We have a turkey mold we took off a real roast  turkey similar to the way Anna made her chicken pieces.  We have used this mold many times, pictured here for Great Expectations.
Unfortunately a human head does not fit into this 18 lb. turkey and the customer wanted a cartoon styled oversized turkey.  In addition a rubber turkey is pretty heavy for the magic trick.
So what we did instead was opt for a very lightweight vacuum formed turkey,  a vacuum formed tray in a metallic silver and an electro magnet.
We carved a cartoon version of a turkey in styrofoam,  split it and made it into a two piece mold which we vacuum formed in .04 Kydex plastic.
The pieces are cut out, assembled and painted.
A large hole is cut in the button of the turkey.
The bottom of the tray mold is made in wood and vacuum formed in a heavy metallic finished .093 Kydex plastic.  We have molds for lettuce but as in this case it is sometimes cheaper to buy and the quality of this lettuce is amazing.
The hole is obviously an accommodation for the head trick.
The tray top is made as a plaster mold, vacuum formed in the same metallic plastic and an added a purchased brass drawer pull finishes the lid.
The little black rectangle next to the handle is a small toggle switch.
The waiter flips the switch which turns on a battery powered electro magnet inside the lid.
Inside the top of the turkey is a piece of flat steel that the magnet can grab.  We had hoped to put it behind the plastic but an electro magnet has to actually touch the plate to work.   We eventually cut a hole in the turkey and inserted the steel plated and painted it to match.
Open the tray and the turkey is there.
Close it, flip the switch and voila the genie’s head as the turkey stays in the lid which the waiter faces upstage.