When the Movie Camera Won’t Lie (Dec, 1924)

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When the Movie Camera Won’t Lie

Wizards of the Studios Aid Realism by Building Everything from Twelve-Ton Sphinxes to Lifelike Imitations of Flies

OF all the strange sights to be seen in movieland, the property department is one of the most wonderful. Toys of all kinds hang from the ceilings and walls. Here, a tiny castle, complete in every detail ; there, an assortment of ships ranging from sections of ocean liners to submarines—each miniature made by a craftsman expert in his line.

To state that the wizards who manage these shops can make anything, is not so very far out of the way. And when you consider that daily orders from directors run from twelve-ton Sphinxes to hand-carved house flies, you can realize why these men must be skilled in almost every trade and profession.

One “prop” wizard has made mechanical ants, bees and other insects. Recently he was called upon to equip a huge live alligator with wings and tusks, thus converting it into a dragon. Again a replica of the electric chair was needed. With only a photograph as a guide, an exact duplicate was made in a few days’ time. It wasn’t constructed of the same materials, of course, as the original but to the camera it registered exactly the same.

However, many of the articles demanded must be practical to a certain degree. Cannon, for instance, are so made that they can be fired. An oil gusher was needed, so the “prop” man erected a derrick on the outskirts of the town set. A pipe ran from the bottom of the derrick to a spot outside the camera’s vision. A fire engine was hitched to the pipe line and at the signal, water which had previously been colored black so that it would photograph like oil, was pumped through the pipe with considerable force. The effect was that of an actual oil gusher.

The plaster shop is another department which employs men at the top of their trade. In making imitation marble a special cement is used, and before it sets, silk threads dyed various colors are drawn through it. This leaves the characteristic marble texture. When a piece of this composition stone is broken the colors can be seen through the entire thickness. Tons of gypsum and bales of fiber are consumed every month. Statuary that would cost thousands of dollars if purchased by the piece is molded every day.

As photoplays must not lie, research departments devote much time to the digging up of necessary data which make pictures true, faithful revelations of the actual life of the characters which people them and a correct representation of the locales of the stories.

Although the property department may receive orders for furniture of an ancient, medieval or modern period to decorate a set, the work does not begin until the research experts have supplied photographs or descriptions.

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