What does a prop maker do?
Prop makers might make anything from fake jewellery to replica weapons and moving models. They work with a broad range of materials, including metal, latex, fibreglass, wood and textiles. Prop makers use a range of different skills to create props, such as carpentry, sculpting, casting, sewing, painting, welding and computer-aided design. Prop makers might work for a range of different clients including TV and film, theatre, museums, retail and corporate commissions.
On a project, prop maker will:
- discuss what props are required with production staff
- interpret plans made from rough sketches to detailed designs
- carry out historical or cultural research to make authentic-looking items
- experiment with different materials and methods to create effects such as ageing
- use hand and power tools to create props
- hire or buy props when necessary
- repair props
On larger productions, typically in film and TV, this role would work closely with a team including production designers, set designers, set builders, wardrobe and costume staff.
On smaller productions, often in theatre, prop makers may be responsible for set building and costume work as well as making props.
Cheshire Cat Animatronic Prop, Hidden City
Where could I be working?
You could work in a studio, workshop or prop room, which may be backstage at a theatre or on a film or TV set. You would also spend time on research and visiting theatrical suppliers.
Working conditions may be cramped and dusty at times, and you may have to work with chemicals such as adhesives and paints.
- Attention to detail
- Financial planning
- Problem solving
- Time management
Fasnacht Masks for Théâtre Volière’s Arnika,The Bridewell Theatre
What do I need to do to become a prop maker?
For this job, you'll need to be good at solving problems and able to pay close attention to detail. Your creative talent and skills will often be more important than formal qualifications to start in this job. Courses such as art and design, prop making or technical theatre can help you to develop the skills you need. Practical experience is very important.
In the theatre you would typically start as a props assistant or technician. In film or TV you would start as an art department trainee. The key to finding a job is to gain practical experience and to build up a list of contacts within the industry, with people such as set designers, for example.
Student productions, amateur theatre, festivals and events are useful ways to gain practical skills.
You might study for an undergraduate degree in one of the following areas:
- prop making
- scenic arts
- production arts
Other useful degree subjects include art and design, fine art and 3D design. You may also be able to get into prop making after training in related areas, such as graphic design, furniture making or model making.
You'll usually need:
a foundation studies diploma in art and design
at least 1 A level for a foundation degree
2 to 3 A levels for a degree
Universities across the UK offer courses in this area; look carefully at the content of each course to ensure it meets your needs and interest. Some providers include:
You could study for:
Level 3 Diploma in Production Arts
Level 4 HNC / Level 5 HND in Performing Arts (Production)
foundation degree, or HND in prop making, technical theatre or set design
N.I.G.E.L Robot Puppet/ Prop, Danger Mouse, MJN Productions
Find out more:
1/5th scale Model H- Class Steam Locomotive, The Importance of Being Lewis, The Dominion Theatre
Miles Ascough makes props for just about anyone—theatre, film, TV, museums, retail, private and corporate commissions! Miles says:
‘As a prop maker I utilise the skills, materials and techniques of many different crafts to find creative solutions to complex problems. The job is very varied—one week I may be required to replicate an artefact, animal, or natural object (at any size or scale), the next week I may adapt my thinking to a more specialised prop like a stunt (SFX) prop, or perhaps an item that doesn't exist yet on planet earth! It's my job to combine ideas, research and skills to create three-dimensional pieces of art that meet the specialist requirements of the designer, client or production. A prop maker must also balance the look and function of a prop with the available budget and timeframe to determine how a prop is made. A prop rarely exists in isolation; it may form part of a larger display or stage set, and often prop makers must collaborate with other makers and departments as part of a larger team effort.
Making the weird and wonderful every day is a lot of fun. There are many facets to a prop maker’s job, it's the large variety of artistic, practical, technological, historical, financial, organisational mathematical and scientific problems (to name but a few) that make my job so addictive!’