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.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Finger Lickin' Good

Fried Chicken

Materials: Fried Chicken pieces (the real thing), Casting plaster, Liquid Latex, Flexible Pour Foam, Talcum Powder (Baby Powder), Design Master Honey Stain and Glossy Wood Tone,  and Sawdust

This project was a real treat- I had lots of fun doing it! Sometimes, you get a food project, and you really have to give a lot of thought to how you'll go about it, and sometimes you know instantly how you're going to make it happen. This project was one of the latter, I knew immediately that I wanted to do cast latex for that chicken skin feel, and have the flex foam fill for the weight and feel of the chicken.  Also, fried chicken is one of my favorite foods- and it's always fun to fake something you love.

This was no ordinary chicken! These chicken pieces weren't just going to sit in a bucket, no, these chicken pieces were going to be shot at. In 'Assassins' Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore use a bucket of fried chicken for target practice. In our production, a pneumatic pin flipped the chicken bucket off of its perch, and the chicken pieces went flying. Okay, technically they didn't go flying, I tethered them with mono filament so that they couldn't get too far away. They went ...hopping.

The first step was to make the molds for the chicken. Fried chicken has such a distinctive texture and shape to it that I thought that molding the real deal was the way to go. Now, there are a few caveats when casting real food.  Firstly, food spoils, so you have to have a good sense of how long your process will take.  Plaster heats as it cures, which can speed up the spoilage process.  (There is a story at the rep about an intern and a plaster mold of a cantaloupe that ended in sticky, liquid disaster.)  Plaster is also porous, which means that it's pretty hard to get all of the food residue out- so this isn't a good archival mold. You don't want a chickeny smelling mold sitting around in stock growing fuzz.  Gross.  So, you need to make your mold quickly, clean it well, and make your casts quickly.

I used a two part mold to make these chicken bits, so I started with a mold box.  I stuck the grocery store fried chicken  down with hot glue, which worked better than I thought it would, and I used cooking spray as mold release.  As the plaster was curing, I had to be careful to sculpt some of it up around the chicken wing to avoid undercuts.  Once the first half of the mold had cured, I used cooking spray as a release agent and poured the second half. I think I may have used a bit too much of the spray, I had some oil slick on the curing plaster.

The de-mold had to happen almost immediately. After throwing the chicken away, (and giving the pieces that we didn't use to our poor, starving intern) I used dish soap and brushes to thoroughly scrub out the mold. That said, I wasn't able to get out all of the breading bits, due to all the nooks and crannies in the mold. I also had a bit of trouble keeping the mold in one piece. It seems that I made the bottom section of the mold a bit too thin, so I had some breakage during de-mold. Since this was a one-shot mold anyway, and the breakage wasn't too extensive,  I decided to piece the mold back together, and go for the casting as is.

To secure the molds, I wrapped them in plastic wrap and tape.  I poured the latex into the cavities, and let them sit and skin up for a few hours.  Once I felt that the skin was thick enough, I poured the uncured latex back into the bucket, and let the latex in the mold cure fully.  Once the skin was cured, I used flexible pour foam to fill it. This happened in increments, as I didn't want overflow that would ruin the mold.  Once I had the fill that I wanted, I removed the chicken pieces from the plaster block molds. This lead to more breakage, which meant a bit of piecing before using the mold the second time.  Even with overnight fridge storage, I did end up with moldy molds by the end of the two castings.  The mold blocks went into the trash, and we hoped that they wouldn't need more than eight pieces of chicken. We were lucky.

The skin is the best part of fried chicken.
To finish the parts of the chicken that had no skin, I mixed clean sawdust into latex, and troweled it on the bald spots.  Once this dried, all that was left was to paint the chicken which I did with the Fake n' Bake kitchen's favorite colors: Design Master Honey Stain and Glossy Wood Tone, I think I even threw on a bit of Chestnut Stain for good measure.

 Then, as usual, it was all about selling the fake food with the right container. Jill to the rescue again, this period restaurant bucket gave us the perfect showcase for the chicken.

Extra crispy!
 And there you have it! This was a fun one, guys. I hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I did making it.  As always, I'd love to see what you guys are working on, so send me some photos! If I like 'em, I'll put 'em on the blog.  Happy Propping, y'all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It ain't easy bein' cheesy.

Actually, in this case, it's REALLY easy bein' cheesy.

Materials: Hilti foam, Spray Paint, a kickass graphics artist

These are for our upcoming production of 'Assassins' and they were a hoot to make.  The actress will be eating out of the bag- but she prefers to eat something that won't leave cheesy orange powder all over her costume and props. Can you blame her? Cheetoes are delicious, but you have to be committed to orange. Our solution is a double layered bag.  Jill Lyons, prop graphics artist extrordinaire, created our vintage bag. This, we stuffed with a layer of fake Cheetoes, and nestled a clean plastic bag inside to act as a nest for the edible snacks.

It's worth noting that we did consider using real Cheetoes, but decided that the real thing wouldn't hold up to the constant use, and we'd end up with Cheeto dust.  (How exactly DO you spell the singular of Cheetoes?)

These are incredibly simple to make. I used our Hilti foam gun to make tiny strings of foam on aluminum foil , which I then allowed to cure in our spray booth.

Ignore the blob in the middle, I was playing with sprayer setting. Hey, I said to ignore it!
 Once the stringies were cured, I used Design Master spray paints to make them look cheesy.  I first used a layer of yellow to make the corn curl color, then hit them with orange for the cheese powder.

Yikes! Blurry photo!

That's it! This is yet another one of those food props that is sold by it's packaging as much as its substance.

Don't you think?

Happy Propping!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Waxing Faux-etic

Me: 'Hey all! I'd like to take a moment to welcome myself back to the Fake-n-Bake kitchen after a summer away for the opera season.'

Myself: 'Thanks, Anna, you know, it's been a while since I've posted here on the blog and I just wanted everyone to know that while I was toiling away in the desert, my thoughts often strayed to my Fake-n-Bakers.'

Me: 'That's great Anna, welcome back. Tell us, what have you brought for us today?'

Myself: ' Well, in the spirit of the Olympics, I thought we'd take a look at fake food from another country. The USA may win the gold medal in swimming, but if there was an event in fake foodery, Japan would take the gold.'

Me: 'That's really dumb, why are you talking like Bob Costas?'

Myself: 'Your face is talking like Bob Costas.'

Me: 'Uh, okay, getting back to the food. Why is Japan so good at fake food?'

Myself: 'Well, according to my extensive research on Wikipedia and the feature film 'Big Bird Goes to Japan......'

Me: 'You mean 'Big Bird Goes to China?'

Myself: 'Whatever.  According to my research, restaurants in Japan often use display dishes or sampuru to advertise their dishes to passers by.  The display pieces are unique to each restaurant's menu and are executed in beautiful detail.'

Me: 'Those look good enough to eat! Now, for our readers at home who would like to make their own sampuru, where should they start?"

Myself: 'Funny you should ask! I've brought two videos to get people going, and both are pretty straightforward. It looks to me like both techniques are done using paraffin wax, which can be purchased in any grocery store. Be careful while heating and melting paraffin, it can be quite flammable. You can melt crayons into the wax to color it, but if you are making large batches, I recommend buying candle coloring pellets like the ones sold at Soda cans are a great container for heating paraffin in a water bath as they are light weight and disposable. Just cut the tops off with a pair of craft or kitchen shears, and watch out for sharp edges.'

Me: 'Great Anna, we'll get to the videos, but first, are there any paraffin projects here on the Fake-n-Bake blog already?'

Myself: 'Indeed, Anna, the pickled herring for Cabaret was made of paraffin. Now to the videos, I have two for you today, both from the traditional Japanese website 'YouTube' the first shows a man making beautiful fake lettuce, and the second shows a technique for wax tempura.'

Me: 'Well, that's all the time we have today on the Fake-n-Bake kitchen. I hope you've enjoyed our post. Welcome back to Anna, and happy propping to all!'

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Teeny Tiny Fakey Bakeys

Ok, y'all. I know it's been a while since I've posted. Fair warning, I'm about to leave for the summer, and I imagine that posts will be a bit few and far between.  I enjoy posting here on the blog, but life does have a tendency to get in the way.

Today, I want to share with you some tiny fake eats by an artist named Shay Aaron.   Shay is a Tel Aviv based artist who makes tiny and beautiful food stuffs.  His stuff is really neat, so I encourage you to take a look.  His etsy shop is currently on vacation, so until he returns, you can take a look at some of his work in this article from the Daily Mail, or better yet, on Shay's photostream.

Thanks all, and Happy Propping!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Handy Dandy Cotton Candy

So......this one is super, super easy. All you do is buy cotton candy cones (or roll your own), wrap poly batting around them, and spray the batting pink with spray paint. Wow!

Or you can put it into a cotton candy bag. Neat!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Olive you!

Materials: Polymer Clay, Spray Paint

Well, it's almost Valentines Day, so I think we should do something romantic here in the Fake-n-Bake kitchen, and what could be more romantic than making fake olives?  What's that, you say? 'Almost anything is more romantic than fake olives? Even saving the cherry post from a few weeks ago would have made more sense- at least they are red like valentines!' To you, dear reader, I say this. Shut up!  Olives are plenty romantic and, more importantly, I don't have anything else to blog about at the moment. So, there.

These olives, like the hilarious white olives from the Dirty Martinis post, are made from Sculpey, a  polymer clay that hardens when baked.  For these olives, I decided to start with polymer clay that was closer in color to the finished product. I was hoping that this would be exactly the right color as is, but we will talk about that a bit later.

The first thing I did was to shape the olives.  What makes an olive look like an olive?
The oblong shape, of course...

A pit....(I used the hollow end of a pen to make this)

The x shape made by the pitting machine....
...and a pimento!

Hehehe! Olives on parade!
Once I had sculpted the olives, I baked them according to the directions on the Sculpey package. This worked well, but I found that the olives didn't look exactly right. For one, they lost much of their sheen in the baking process. Also, in comparing them to real olives, I found them to a be a bit dark in color.  To solve both of these issues, I used a bit of Olive Bright Design Master spray paint to brighten them up, and add a bit of variation of color over each olive.  (Part of what often gives fake food away is unnaturally uniform color.)

Aluminum foil olive trough!
Once the paint dried, all that was left was to put the olives in a bowl, and set them on the bar cart next to those maraschino cherries I made.
Olive you 'til the end of time.
Happy Valentines, y'all.  Olive you lots.

Sunday, January 29, 2012


This blog post is dedicated to the mayor of East Haven, CT. Oh, I'm kidding, calm down. Wait, you're not riled up? You don't follow the news in Connecticut? Oh, well, um....carry on then, never mind.

There are people who go into theater with great ambitions.  There are actors who dream of moving an audience to tears with an emotional performance, designers who contribute to the elegance of a well told story, and directors who aspire to shed light on the human condition and pay homage to our common experience.  And then there's me, and I dream about making fake tacos...

....and my dream came true.

This taco is for 'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged" which just opened this weekend.  It was a quickie, given a bit more time, I might have worked on the shell texture a bit longer, but I think it does the job.

The delicious meaty filling of this taco is made out of good old bead foam. I like the bead foam because of its texture.  I carved the rough shape of the taco filling, and then broke off bits of the foam, leaving the lumpy shape and texture of ground beef.  I gave this a coating of flex glue to prime it for painting, and then used acrylic paints to make it beef- colored.
Taco blanco.
The shell of the taco is made of Fosshape, a felt-like thermoplastic material. (You can buy it at Dazian.) I cut out the shape of the shell, pressed the Fosshape, steamed it into shape, and painted it with Design Master sprays.  Once dry, I used hot glue to attach the filling to the shell.

The shredded lettuce in the taco is fake lettuce that I cut up with scissors, and the fake cheese is made of scraps from the acrylic caulk cheese in the last post.  I sparingly used fabri-tac to glue the lettuce and cheese into place, doing my best to place it securely and convincingly.  Then, I found a stage management intern on which to test the believability of the taco.

It passed.
Happy Propping, y'all.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Materials: White Latex Acrylic Caulk, Acrylic Paint, Spatula

Well, all, I promised you cheese for our sandwiches and, unlike most of my other 'Part One' posts, I'm gonna give you the part two for this one!

You might remember another post about cheese that I wrote a while back.  That cheese was made with hot pour vinyl. The vinyl cheese has an incredibly 'cheesy' look to it. It looks greasy and wonderful. The caulk cheese (insert 12 year old- like guffaw) can be glued to things, and is a little more shelf stable. Plus, if you don't have hot pour vinyl in your shop, you can make this for a lot less money.

The sliced cheese is actually incredibly simple to make.  Basically, all it is is colored caulk left to dry flat.  First, tint the caulk to the desired color. I used acrylic paint for this batch, but any water based tint should do it.  Then, spread the caulk out until you have a thin, smooth sheet of it.  I did my first batch on wax paper, but that got a bit wrinkly. Aluminum foil or plastic seem to be the best way to go, but make sure to avoid wrinkles. 

Then, I let the caulk dry to the touch.  It's going to have to dry on both sides, so plan to peel the backing off and let that side dry, too.  You should be able to judge pretty well when the caulk is dry enough for you to peel off the backing, and you can always test by peeling off a corner.  If you let it sit too long, it will be harder to peel off, but it shouldn't be impossible.

Once the cheese was dry on both sides, I cut it into 4" squares.

It's the best thing since sliced bread!

Happy Propping, y'all!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wunda Bread

Materials: Latex, White Upholstery Foam, Design Master Sprays, Bread Bag,
Special tools: Electric carving knife

Hey all, I thought we'd start off 2012 here in the Fake-n-Bake kitchen by making some sandwiches, cheese sandwiches to be exact.  Let's start off with the bread, we'll get to the cheese later.  This bread was made for our recent production of 'Next to Normal' for a scene in which a woman is making sandwiches on the floor. You know, like you do.

I had a lot of fun playing with all of the samples over at Active Foam Products, and I chose an upholstery foam with a color and texture similar to angel food cake. After putting in an order for a thick slab of the foam I wanted, I began plotting my bread loaves.

The first step was to carve the foam into shape. I did this using the band saw, the foam saw, and my trusty Olfa knife.  The foam will dull the utility blade quickly, but you can help to mitigate that by putting a little bit of sewing machine oil on the blade to lubricate the cuts. It helps make cleaner cuts, as well.  (That's a tip I learned from Marit A. Thanks, Marit!)  Otherwise, change the blade often. I also highly recommend using a curry comb for carving. It shapes very nicely, but does leave grooves in the surface of your foam shape. Since the bread was going to be reset in the bag every night, I tried to make the loaf as uniform as possible along its length, and square off the ends to avoid oddly tapered end pieces.
The carved loaves.
To make the crust, I went with my bread crust go-to, latex.  I used casting latex from Cementex, but any liquid latex should do the trick.  I gave the foam several liberal coatings, letting the latex dry between each. I wanted the crust to be smooth enough to look....well, to look like crust.

Once the coating is complete, it's time to add color.  Design Master Sprays are, of course, a staple in any prop shop. I love the Honey Stain- I think it's exactly the color of "fresh out of the oven, golden brown" so I use it liberally. I also used a bit of Glossy Wood Tone to darken some areas, but it's wise to be conservative with this color because it can end up looking dirty.  (Insert joke about dirty conservatives here.)

The next step, and the fussiest, is the slicing. I was really hoping to slice these bad boys on the band saw: set up a fence, zing them on through. Alas, the band saw grabbed at the soft material and ripped it to bits. After attempting a few other methods, I found one that worked.  After carefully measuring out half inch slices, I used an X-acto knife to cut the thick latex crust on the top of the bread. Then, I very carefully used the electric carving knife to finish slicing through the loaf.  The carving knife slices very evenly, but you have to be careful to keep it going straight, or your slices will be all wonky. Once the slices were done, they were still a bit too smooth, so I took a rasp to them to give them some texture.

The one on the right is the real one.
The final touch on any processed-food prop is the packaging. Bread packaging is easy, you go to the store and buy a loaf of bread. You take the real bread out of the package, wrap it, and put it into the green room. This works well for everyone: you get a bread bag to use, and the interns get free toast for a few days. Hurray!
Not bad, huh?

There is something else I should note, here, and that is the problem of oxidation. The white foam that I used yellows over time when exposed to air.  It is likely that I won't get more than a show's worth of work out of these slices.  I would like to do some tests in the future to find out if a sealer of some sort would prevent this, but I didn't have the extra time on this show.

So there you have it folks, bread ala Anna. I've had a good little run of food projects lately so I've got cheese, olives, and tacos coming your way soon.   Happy New Year, and Happy Propping!


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