Props makers create objects for use on stage in theatre. Props are essential in helping to bring a production to life. Prop makers make a huge variety of objects including furniture and soft furnishings, weapons, statues, jewellery and animated models.
Props makers may specialise in a certain area, or could be expert in a number of areas such as:
- Computer-aided design (CAD)
- Mechanical and electrical engineering
- Distressing - using a range of techniques to make an object look old or worn.
Prop makers may work with designers on large or complex projects. They follow a designer’s brief to create specific props.
The work of a prop maker
Props are essential in helping to bring a production to life.
As a prop maker, it would be your job to create realistic-looking objects for use in theatre, film and television.
You might make anything from fake jewellery to replica weapons and moving models, depending on what the script calls for.
You might use a wide range of skills, such as carpentry, sculpting, casting, sewing, painting, welding and computer-aided design. Your typical tasks could include:
- being briefed by a production designer, set designer or props master
- making props from rough sketches or detailed designs
- carrying out historical or cultural research in order to make authentic-looking props
- working with a variety of materials such as metal, latex, fibreglass, wood or fabric
- experimenting with different materials and techniques to create realistic effects
- using various hand and power tools - anything from paintbrushes to welding equipment
- adapting existing items, for example 'distressing' an object to make it look old
- hiring or buying props
- repairing props.
On larger productions (typically in film and TV) you would work closely with a team including production designers, set designers, set builders, wardrobe/costume staff and model makers.
On smaller productions (often in theatre), you might carry out set building and costume work as well as making props.
Becoming a prop maker
Your talent and skills are more important than your formal qualifications, although many prop makers choose to take an art-based or technical theatre course before looking for work.
In the theatre you would typically start as a props assistant, or in film/TV you would often start as an art department trainee. The key to finding a trainee job is to gain practical experience (for example, from student productions, or from amateur theatre) and to build contacts with set designers and other people in the industry.
You may have an advantage with a college or university qualification such as:
- BTEC Level 3 Certificate or Diploma in Production Arts
- BTEC Level 4 HNC and Level 5 HND in Performing Arts (Production)
- a drama school diploma in stage design or technical theatre (see the National Council For Drama Training website for details of approved courses).
Other useful degree subjects include art and design, fine art, 3-D design and model making. You should check with colleges and universities for exact course entry requirements.
You may also be able to get into prop making after training in related areas like graphic design, furniture making or model-making.
Throughout your career, you should keep a portfolio of your work to show to potential employers. You would develop your skills on the job, learning from experienced prop makers.
You may be able to receive apprenticeship-style training at the start of your career from new entrant training schemes occasionally run by the BBC, regional screen agencies or media training organisations.
Competition for places on this type of scheme is very strong so you should still gain practical experience before applying.