threedystarsHere are some 3d printed Christmas stars  made in Bronze filled plastic by Kat Mercer and Myself.

Stephen mask Day

and here’s a photo of our recent Mask Workshop hosted by mask maker Stephen Jon. It was a great day  and everyone enjoyed creating their own papier mache mask.

Earlier in the term we worked on Le Donne Curiose where Sunny Smith and her team created a shop full of Venetia tourist souvenirsDonne masks2


Later this Term Alena Tryapitsyna and her team upholstered a suite of furniture for our production of Lulu.

Lulu Furniture

Alena also made this gory prop for the end of the play where Lulu is violently murdered by Jack the Ripper.

Lulu Organ


Here’s Rosie Stroud working on her Graduation project a working Wurlitzer

Rosie Wurlitzer

and finally here’s a photo of our First year’s Design Realisation project a recreation of a painting by Willem Kalf of a kitchen interior.

We’ve had a busy and productive term and we’re now of for a well earned break. See you in the New Year




Tonight is the last night of our hugely successful production of Guys and Dolls.
The props department was heavily involved in the creation of a cartoon version of Broadway to Adam Wiltshire’s designs.

Here are some photos of the build process for the Hot Box nightclub sign made by second year student Jonathan Gilmer:plan

Glittercloth was put into all the boxes before led strip was set all around the edges.Plastic chrome trim and velvet were used to create the finishing touches.glitter

.silver trimfinished with trim
The sign was lit up during the night club scenes and as part of Miss Adelaide’s dressing room. The screen, chair and dressing table are by Clare Hellyer 3rd year props co-ordinator and Imelda Cox Yr 2.DSC03934

Clare also made the In God We Trust sign and the fabulous newsstand filled with authentic but brightly coloured period magazines.DSC03872


ten desks
Last week Guildhall produced Sophie Treadwell’s Machinal: a powerful drama about a woman trapped and crushed by the industrial life of the 1930’s. The props department led by Jasmine Bromley produced a wide range of props, Jas and her team made 10 office desks and a switchboard.

Victoria Shillingford made a greasy sink with 3d printed handles.
Kitchen Sink

Imelda Cox made and grained a beautifully swanky Vegas hotel bed.
Vegas Bed
Jonathan Gilmer made an art deco sofa which split in half reflecting the separation between the young woman and her distant unfeeling husband.
split sofa

To finish here’s a close up of the detail of the bed including some gorgeous 3d designed and printed cabinet fixtures by Jas.
deco knob2
sketchup knob

I’ve handed over the blog for a guest post from Hannah Stewart one of our graduates of 2014. For her Graduation Project Hannah made three prop costume masks of three monsters called Angerbird, Greedmonkey and Pridefly from Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play ‘The Ash Girl’. She made the masks, additional props and a painted backdrop within five weeks, and she also directed a short video trailer of three third year actors performing as the monsters.


“For each mask I wanted to use different materials so I could try out new techniques and broaden my prop making knowledge.


For Angerbird I used withies to create the beak muzzle section. To shape the withies, I left them to soak in water for twelve hours and then shaped them around a polystyrene base that I previously cut into a beak shape. After securing the withies together with glue and button thread, I glued it into an old vapour mask, which fitted perfectly around the actor’s nose, mouth and chin. I then attached leatherette covered elastic straps to the vapour mask so that it would be held to the actor’s head, whilst also suggest the idea of the monster having to be contained due to being so aggressive. I dirtied down the leatherette and painted a rusty iron finish for the beak muzzle.


For the Pridefly mask I wanted to create a plastic and crisp look. I vacformed two polystyrene eggs to create the fly eyes, and I used a vacform of a wig block to make the mask’s base onto which I glued on foam and calico. I sprayed the eyes with an iridescent two-tone spray paint and I stretched fish net tights overtop. To create the antennae I used soft aluminium wire and hot glue. I made the glittery black skin by applying on a mixture of latex and rubber crumbs to the calico, as well as placing in brush bristles to create Pridefly’s hairy skin. Once it was dry I sprayed the entire head with black spray paint and whilst it was still wet I sprinkled on some black glitter.


When making the Greedmonkey mask, I did a two-part face cast of the actor with medical plaster bandages. Once these were dry I pushed clay into the negatives and positioned the two halves around a mannequin head that acted as a core support for the clay head. After removing the plaster bandages, I sculpted the Greedmonkey features and then created a plaster of paris mould of it. Once the plaster was dry I removed all of the clay and mannequin pieces from the mould and cleaned it up with water, I then used it to create a liquid latex slush cast. I poured the liquid latex into the plaster mould cavity, rotated the mould so that all the inside walls were covered, and then poured out the excess latex into a bucket. I left this to dry for about four hours. I did this about six times and I added muslin strips into the penultimate layer to add extra strength and durability to the latex mask. Using talcum powder I gently removed the latex mask form the plaster mould, applied gold leaf patterns onto it and glued on fake fur to create the monster’s wild hair.

This was a challenging project but I am so thrilled with the result. I feel the video trailer not only showcases my work but also puts the monster characters into context”.

Bob Cowley
I’ve just come back from visiting the Make/Believe exhibition at the Newton Building at Nottingham Trent University.
Make/Believe features set design from over 140 UK Theatre Designers. The exhibition runs until 31st January and then it is on display at the Prague Quadrennial from the 17th to the 28th of June this year. it then moves on to the Victoria and Albert Museum from the 9th of July 2015 until 3rd January 2016. Do go along if you can the designs are stunning. Many of the designers featured have worked with us at the Guildhall and at least two of the designs have graced our stages here. The image featured above is a design for A Winter’s tale designed by Bob Crowley. The following image is of me inside Solotoria, a scale model of The Royal Opera House auditorium where as an audience of one I saw a short ballet performed by a pair of nail scissors in a tutu,- as you do.
There’s lots of beautiful work on display, don’t miss it.

This year we ran two one week Summer Schools.
Eight students each week. We covered basic drop out mould making from a clay sculpt and cast our north west coast masks in latex. Everyone had masses of practice cutting out objects on the bandsaw, polycarved a large biscuit and made a book box. The students took a trip to the Museum of London and selected an object to copy the next day. The final day was spent studying specialised paint and texture effects. here’s a few photos of some of the things we made.




Pat’s Propmaking Diary  for The Cooper and San Giovanni Battista.

3rd June 2014.
We’re in stage and orchestra rehearsals for our double bill of Thomas Arne’s the Cooper and Stredella’s San Giovanni Battista; two 18c operas/. Technically San Giovanni is an oratorio which will be performed by Guildhall students on original instruments. I’ve yet to hear the full orchestra but the theorbo player has joined this afternoon and the wonderfully plangent melancholic tone of the eighteenth century is wafting through the theatre.

Director Rodula Gaitano and Head of Opera Studies Dominic Wheeler have revived these rarely performed pieces and breathed new life into them.  They have provided some interesting challenges for the Props department.

The Cooper is set in a cooperage or a barrel making workshop, and propmakers and performers have had the challenge of discovering and re-learning how a barrel is made.  Tenor Gerard Schneider sits astride a shaving horse made by Props Supervisor George Walters and whittles a beautiful barrette for his sweetheart, and with tenor Piran Legg they pull together the staves of a barrel and hoop it with metal rings every night. We’ve also researched old carpentry tools and equipment and reproduced them for the piece. One online research tip   try translating your search terms into another language: “barrel making”, and “coopering” found us more or less the same research but “tonnelier” which is French for Cooper found us a full set of engravings of coopering tools.

Prop maker Tommy Keatley reproduced two barrel makers compasses and a strap clamp for the first scene where Martin the Cooper and his apprentice fit the hoops on a barrel.

Prop maker Clare Hellyer took apart a 56 gallon whiskey barrel bought online, labelled each piece and re-made each stave in a two layer laminate of airex an extruded foam product from trident foams. We used the barrels original hoops and created something which was flexible and could close up every night.

Kim North and Clare explored the world of prosthetics and created false noses and chins for singers Piran Legg and Frazer Scott. We also exploited the particular feature of alginate to create a tiny shrunken head of Frazer.
San Giovanni Battista has provided much darker unpleasant challenges: we have created John the Baptist’s severed head and the team joined by Giulia worked together to create the mutilated corpse of the Baptist. Designer Simon Corder wanted to create a fresh new take on the old idea of a headless corpse and decided on the concept of the hacked apart pieces thrown ruthlessly into a body bag so out team set to creating a series of bloodied body parts.  We were very constricted in time so we started with a shop display dummy from Morplan which we used as a mould and backfilled with clay. We were able to twist the body into the right position and then proceeded to inflict wounds onto the torso and fashion the extremities so they looked as if they had been brutally butchered.  Giulia researched and built intestines which had been  pulled out and George fashioned broken bones and severed muscles using my old German anatomy books and reference books of 18th century  anatomical models.
We took a two part plaster mould of the torso and then filled it with Tiranti’s flexible expanding foam weighted down with scrap pieces of scaff bar to add realistic weight to the corpse. , in fact on reflection we added too much weight the corpse was extremely heavy.
It’s important not to take a director or designer  totally absolutely literally when they ask you to go over the top and drench the body in blood  because  there is a  tipping point, a point at which  you can see lots of blood and you can also see what body part you are looking at. Go beyond that with the gore and all you have is a bag of red mince and you might as well have not bothered to sculpt anything because it can’t be distinguished any more.


It is really important to give your corpse a back story and to decide exactly what wounds have been inflicted and when and to decide at what point in the process the body died.   Forensic nursing has a really good infographic on this:
Programmes like CSI which focus on police procedurals also help educate us in how to make a realistic corpse.  Although be warned what they tell us they’re showing us on CSI is often far from the reality of what they are actually showing us, often they’re showing a change in the direction and colour of light and shadow but talking about isolating something from something else, take it all with a pinch of salt.

Propmakers need to decide the time of death of the corpse and relate that to the corpse’s appearance on stage.   We have seen John the Baptist. Descend into the pit from which his corpse will be lifted so we know the blood should be fresh, he has had his head cut off so there will be fresh arterial blood spattered all over the place.  After he was killed his body was chopped up and dismembered so there will be lots of pooled blood in the bottom of the bag.
Lots of different types of blood were used. A rusty red oxide Rosco colour was sponged all over the sites where amputations and wounds had been sculpted, this oxide paint went mainly into the crevices. A purpley colour was used to identify muscles. High points were left clean, and then a brighter red was sponged over the mid ground. Finally “Pigs might fly South” blood smeared and spattered with toothbrushes over the clean high points.

The body had to bleed a stream of blood which was achieved by filling a cyclists back water pack with Kryolan stage blood. With a brewing tube tap switching it on and off. We filled the bag with the same volume every night confident that the bag would be empty before the hook had to carry the bag off stage.

Our head had been made for a previous show. it was a silicone life cast. The hollow core of the sculpt was then backfilled with two part foam.

We added a new wig, precisely matching those worn by the performers.  Whenever I make a severed head I make sure that I embed a strong cord around a butterfly cross of wood in the centre of the foam head. This cord can become a loop or be knotted around a ring or a bead which can ensure that however much it is covered by fake blood and slime it won’t slip out of the grip of the performer. We disguised the loop in with strands of hair.  If Salome had dropped The Baptist’s head the accelerated force could have taken out the theorbo player.

For this show I excavated a sea sponge sized hole in the neck and put in a sea sponge which was drenched with Pigs might fly South .

Pigs might fly South is made from inverted sugar.  It is viscous; it sits above fabric and skin.  It has a beautiful colour quality and a bit of yellow separates out from it, and when smeared over Salome’s nightdress it retained its deep colour.

Friday 13th June.

The show’s now up and running and we’ve now moved onto different challenges on Grand Hotel. Last week blood and guts were the focus of our prop making lives. This week it’s just a routine check to see there’s sufficient supplies of blood and that the body isn’t twisting inside its plastic sack.

Monday 23rd June

The show is over. We have received back the head and body bag of John the Baptist.  I’ve washed all the blood out of the hair removed the sea sponge and left it hanging up over the sink to dry terrifying anyone who comes by to casually wash their hands.
Friday 27th June

Today there is a careers fair, and Vanessa took the head along as an example of the work we do. I’ve been told that Ben the Director of Technical Theatre has been joking around carrying the head under his arm. Ben is wearing a beautiful pale blue linen jacket and the head is still oozing and seeping blood.  I am not accepting responsibility for any dry cleaning bills.

We’ve had our 3D printer for just over a year now so it seems a good time to review what we’ve made on it and to assess its use as a propmaking resource.

Firstly we bought our Makerbot from for around £1700 and we also bought a session of training with them. Since then we’ve also discovered iMakr: London’s first 3D printing shop situated conveniently in Clerkenwell.

3D training

Initially whilst learning how to operate the machine we made use of Thingiverse which can best be described as an online free catalogue shop you can download and print objects from their ever increasing list of open source objects. We’ve downloaded and printed Dalek cufflinks, a sippy cup which is made entirely from a spiralling straw, a model of Stonehenge, an iPhone cover with cogs and some fine scale model wickerwork furniture.

>First Printed objects

I made some vases copying Navaho designs and they are actually watertight!
we also made some spear points, half 3D, half MDF.

Meg Courage made the handle for a phonograph, Hannah Stewart made its wax cylinders, and James Stallwood made the horn.


Neville Billimoria printed a scale model of Theatre Technology’s video mapping project.


vid mapping

George Walters made a vintage top handle.

Spinning top

Our First years Hellen Bassett and Imelda Cox made some silver goblets for their Pompeii project

Pompeiian vases

Sasja Ekenberg and Kim North made two defibrillator pads,
Kim sasja

I challenged myself to copy an 18th century inkwell,
and we’ve also made Satyrs horns.
Our most complicated make so far was the set of growing noses for Pinocchio using the combined talents of Anna Driftmier, Katie Wheeler and myself with lots of AutoCAD advice from staff members Andy Wilson Edd Smith and Abi Emmett. The noses were hollow so they were comfortable to wear and freelancer David Field sanded and filled them and fitted tiny magnets inside so they clipped securely to the mask.

Pino Noses

Most recently Jonathan Gilmer made a 1:25 scale motel sign for his model box project for The Mountaintop.


The Makerbot is clearly a wonderful machine. Ours cost £1700 and prices are coming down. Entry level machine kits can be bought from Maplins for around £600. But there are some limitations in what they can do in prop making.

The first limitation is size: our 3D printer can only print things about the size of a loaf for bread or a shoe box. The maximum specified dimensions are 28.5 x 15.3 x 15.5 cm ( 11.2” x 6.0” x 6.1”) and I’ve experienced problems pushing objects to these maximum dimensions.

The next limitation is speed: The time it takes increases exponentially the bigger you go. A sugar cube takes about 5 minutes, an object twice as big as a sugar cube will take 20 minutes: four times as long. Three times the size is 45 minutes and and four times the size is sixteen times as long at an hour and 20 minutes. The is the tipping point as if we were to print a loaf of bread it would take about three days and any competent prop maker can carve a loaf of bread from polystyrene in about an hour so it would be pointless to do this on a 3D printer.

However if the project were a detailed medieval casket the size of a loaf of bread with arches, recesses and lots of small architectural details then 3D printing might again be a contender.

The next limitation is quality: 3D printing is a prototyping technology. If you look closely at a 3D printed object you can see the 0.1 x 0.4 lines of plastic from which it is made. For work on stage this isn’t too much of a problem and half an hour with filler paste and sandpaper can get rid of this problem completely but it doesn’t produce high quality work right off the bat. This might be a problem for close up film work.

Reliability is the next issue: a 3D printer is a complicated piece of machinery which needs regular maintenance. Projects can be scuppered by a tiny piece of grit getting into the drive shaft, someone sneezing over a half made print can stop the next layer from adhering properly. The plastic feed can snag, someone can accidentally turn the machine off, or bump into it, or there could be a power cut, the nozzle can also clog. Each of these things could cause a project to fail half way through production.

Tempting as it is, the machines are not safe to be left running overnight. Whilst you don’t have to pay eagle eyed attention to them every minute, if you walk away you can return to find the extruders have been pumping spaghetti like strands all over the bench for all the time you were away. As mentioned before printing takes time and something going wrong half way through can mean you don’t have the time to complete a project as you cannot correct the fault and continue, you have to start again.

The final limit is your own ability:
To be a useful tool for a propmaker, the propmaker needs to have skills in programmes like Sketch up, Autocad or Vector works . It is important for propmakers to acquire these skills and for prop workshops to embrace this technology and invest in training. There is a growing outsourcing market in 3D printing. People come up with an idea or concept for a 3D print then take it to a commercial outlet or hire someone else to design and print it for them. Here at the Guildhall we’re working to ensure that our students have the skills to make use of this new growing technology themselves. We’ll keep you posted on what we do next.

Just as I’m writing on the limitations of size on 3D printing I come across via and Designboom , a youtube video on 3D printed houses . Wow!

Siegfried dragon schematic TYWKIWDBI (Tai-Wiki-Widbee) one of my favourite blogs has an interesting post on how the dragon Fafnir from Fritz Lang’s 1924 silent classic Siegfried was built and operated. It’s pretty impressive.

Mean, Nasty, Unpleasant.These were three adjectives which director Christian Burgess gave Tara Wells Props Co-ordinator on the Guildhalls inaugural production of the Seagull as inspiration for the titular prop.

Dead animals feature frequently in plays and operas so the props department has to have a working knowledge of animal anatomy.

The Props Department took a trip to the Grant Museum of Zoology where Dean Veall dug into the archives and produced seagull skulls, wing structures, and skeletal remains for us to studyTara zool
As we worked an orang utan, a gorilla, a human , and a chimpanzee stared down at us from the upper galleries of the museum.

The seagull gives a performance in the play, just as much as the actors do. Tara gave the bird a back story, and researched how his wound should look. Through discussions with designer Agnes Treplin she established just how articulated and floppy the bird should be.

The seagull is a symbol par excellence. It represents many themes of Chekhov’s play: a seagull is a bird comfortable roaming between three elements air, land and sea, it is a symbol of freedom and the Moscow Arts Theatre used it as its masthead.

In the play Nina refers to herself as a seagull, referring to its wandering qualities. However this interpretation is nuanced by our knowledge of the performance space. The play takes place on the banks of a lake, an inland stagnant pond which is a poor substitute for an ocean. This overlays another theme of the piece: that of the limited, frustrated lives and careers of many of the characters.

Tara sculpted the skull of a herring gull in clay then took a silicone mould from which she produced two casts.
It’s always a wise move to sculpt the skull of an animal rather than the fully fleshed out creature. If you produce the latter then when you cover it with skin, fur or feathers you end up with an overstuffed cuddly toy rather than the lean, mean living creature you are after.

Two casts were necessary as our seagull makes a second appearance later on in the play as a stuffed and mounted version of his earlier self. Props Assistant Kim North took on this second bird and sculpted two pairs of feet from clay , moulded them in plaster and then cast them in wire reinforced latex. The wire reinforcing helped to bend the feet into flight mode for the first seagull and helped secure the second seagull into its wooden base.

Tara and Kim each made polystyrene core shapes for the main bodies to the same dimensions but carved into different poses.
Tara made aluminium wing struts and hot glued goose feathers, brushed cotton, fun fur and flocking powder to create the wings and feathered body of the seagull.

A Quick online shop with Snowdonia Taxidermy Supplies: won us two wonderful pairs of seagull eyes in gorgeous tinted resin which added spooky life to the sculptures.

The freshly shot seagull is a deliberately unpleasant image, which prefigures the tragedy of the last act. It’s arrival makes us all uncomfortable on a primal level. Blood and fresh kills attract predators. The prop subconsciously alerts us to potential danger and sets off our fight or flight responses.

Here’s Kim’s stuffed and mounted seagull A symbol of freedom crushed. img_0414

Thanks to Abi Emmett for the photos.