Blog

My name is Mitch Heil. I will post blog updates, things I learn, and basically ramble about whatever I want here. On other pages you can find my portfolio pages. This page is where you can learn who I am.

Making your own props

Whether it is a photograph, feature film, or commercial it is sometimes required to source out certain props for a shot. It does not matter if it is the hero prop or just background clutter. At one point or another you will need to find something to fill the frame. Sometimes it is easy. Go to the dollar store and pick up some shampoo bottles or grab a chair from your dining room. Other times it requires a little bit more digging and sometimes some creative ingenuity.

Primarily I am a photographer and videographer but I have delved into prop making in the past. When I was 17 I had an independent study with an art teacher. I had 100% creative ability to make whatever I wanted. At the time I was sort of into cars, but not enough to ever take it on as a profession. I absolutely loved the Toyota Supra. It was 2003 and the Supra had been discontinued since 1998 but it was still a fascinating car to me. For the independent study I decided to spend the entire semester carving out a 1989 Toyota Supra from a solid block of drywall mud.

Drywall Toyota Supra

Drywall Toyota Supra

Overall it came out quite well. The overall length was about 15” The base has long been destroyed by my mom. When I was in Iraq or Afghanistan she would clean my room; probably because she missed me. During one of those cleanings the base split in two. It was a poor design and had no structural integrity so I didn’t mind. Since then I have always toyed around with things to improve them or to make something from scratch if I thought it could benefit me in one way or another.

Foothills Whiskey
Foothills Whiskey

In 2010 I was working on a feature length film Into The Void for my instructor Wayne Johnson. During pre-production I held many hats. One of those was set construction. If you told my parents I was one of the builders on anything they would have told you it was not their son. This is probably because I tried to hide CAT5 wire behind wall trim at their house. I couldn't find a small hammer so I used a 2lb sledge. Oddly enough when I was finished all the trim looked brand new. I don’t even think it was the same color.

For Into The Void I ended up making a few props as well. I designed and created two liquor bottle labels and a label for a chewing tobacco can. The liquor label was especially difficult because they didn't want alcohol on set so I had to make it disappear. Even worse was it was a few bottles. Those were some good nights.

All this build up leads me to the point of this article. I recently worked on an assignment for the Project 52 Pro group. The assignment was called light as a feather. I was tasked to take an image of something light, but not just a feather falling in the park. I decided to take an iconic image of something heavy and portray it as very light. I chose one of those cartoon caricatures of a 1 ton weight which would be balancing on my fingertip.

Light as a Feather

As you can imagine it is not as easy to find a small cartoon weight as one would think. So instead of giving up I decided to make one myself. I had some thick black matte board lying around so I cut out the shapes and taped them together.

Weight Texturing

Weight Texturing

It needed some texture and weathering to not only make it not look like cardboard but to also give it detail and character.

For texture I used a can of knockdown spray texture. It is typically used for patching holes in the wall where a cellphone, fist, or mouse accidentally goes airborne and somehow finds its way into a wall. Oddly specific causes.

The paint is from a can of black truck bed liner. I used that instead of plain spray paint because it gives it more grain texture rather than just a coat of paint.

The ring is a plastic hoop that holds women’s scarves on the shelf at target. My girlfriend loves scarves so I was able to hide it as a gift to her. All I cared about was the hoop. I attached the hoop to the weight with some industrial strength adhesive. Everything was given a final coat of truck bed liner.

Finished Weight

Finished Weight

To add weathering I used metallic silver and rust colored model paint. The metallic paint was applied to edges, corners, and the underside of the hoop. Places where you would expect to see the most wear. The rust paint did not show as prominently as I had hoped. It didn’t look like rust at all actually. It did help give it more character though so it was not a loss.

All in all it was a few hours of planning, cutting, assembling, and painting to make a prop that will probably never get used again. All of the materials used were things I had lying around except the model paint, glue, brushes, and scarf hoop. I spent about $20 total. I will use the paint and glue on future projects so nothing is lost. Without some creativity and basic construction understanding I would have been sunk on this project. I would have had to come up with something else and whatever that may have been probably would not give me as much joy as knowing my subject is a 1-of-a-kind item.

Lighting Setup

Lighting Setup