PS: I think there are two frames. One is where
there’s a right answer, or you want to meet specifications, and you’re successful if the result is
how you imagined it ahead of time. And the other
is, this is a process, I don’t know where it’s going,
but I’m going to enjoy it and let it unfold.
AS: You can build things to meet expectation, like
for a job, but the most creative work is when the
material shows you something unexpected, or
you get new ideas as you’re working. There’s
a book that I love called Interviews with Francis
Bacon: The Brutality of Fact by David Sylvester.
It’s a phenomenal book, and I don’t know anyone
else I’ve read in modern criticism that talks about
things like Truth and Reality as terms of art that
makes sense. Bacon describes painting as a process where you attempt to represent something,
and this is true whether you’re a representational
painter or abstract or whatever.
And you always fail, but what you end up with
is just as real as the original. A great portrait has
a personality of its own, a vitality, and any artist
will tell you that their best work changes every
year. I look at favorite sculptures I’ve done years
later and think, “How did I know how to do that?”
PS: One thing I’ll notice while making things is
long periods of time when no words go through
my head. I just think on the level of what’s in front
of me, bypassing all symbols, which is grounding.
It anchors you to reality. “Be here now.”
AS: I see it as a form of meditation. Making
things is a great form of escape, particularly
in one’s own shop. The radio’s playing, you’re
making something that’s good, and it works.
It’s incredibly relaxing and satisfying.
My favorite part is first getting my head around
something, so that I understand it. I start out
going, how the heck are we going to make a lead
balloon? Then I think, we’ve got to spread the
load, spread the force, do this, do this, all those
things. Or when I’m making props that I like, the
meditation I get into is, how do I make it really
tight? How do I make this into something that
I really want to have in my home?
I got into prop making after I moved to San
Francisco in 1990. For my first three or four years
here I focused on serious sculpture. I got some
good press, had some shows, sold some pieces,
and then I found my way into special effects,
36 Make: Volume 20
which I had tried to break into before. But this
time I was actually in the right place. I found I was
good at it, and I wanted to put all of my creative
faculties into it. So I gradually stopped making
sculpture, at least in the fine art sense. I can only
do one thing at a time.
I was working at Industrial Light and Magic
when I started participating in the Replica Prop
Forum [ therpf.com], which I still visit almost
every day. It’s the central hub for a vast community of replica prop builders. There’s an R2-D2
builders club, a C-3PO builders club, B- 9 from
Lost in Space, Robbie the Robot, the Dalek, plus
costumes, scale models, paper props, and so on.
I’ve posted lots of information to the RPF and
I do lots of research there.
For example, there’s been a great recent
discussion thread about the Farnsworth Communicator, an alternative-history handheld
videophone from the TV series Warehouse 13.
Someone posted screenshots of it from their HD
recording of the show. Someone else then takes
measurements off the screen and says, OK, this
looks like this part from Digi-Key. Then someone
else says here’s one that’s slightly better, and
everyone starts comparing them. Then people
started creating and sharing graphics files. This
thread is 55 pages long, with 115 comments to
date, and pictures on almost every one. I’m not
interested in making this prop myself, but I went
through the discussion and was like, oh my god!
And then there are the prop collectors who pay
lots of money for original props and they want
the only one, or at least they want to control
who makes accurate replicas. So some replica
makers get information that they can’t reveal.
I myself have secretly distributed specifications
to a couple of prop builders’ groups based on
information I had access to at the time. I won’t
say which forums, but I was supplying measurements, and the people who ran the forum just
explained that the source was rock-solid, but
they could not reveal who it was.
PS: There should be a declassify date for this
kind of information!
AS: With some of the Star Wars props, people
know so much that it gets to the point of absurdity,
like, “The scope rings on that Han Solo blaster
are incorrect; they should actually be r"