Friday, September 23, 2011

The Prop Master

The Atlantic has a great interview with propmaker Ross Macdonald, the man behind some of the most iconic paper props of the last two decades. It includes an overview of the projects he's worked on, including his current gig producing period documents, paper goods, and ephemera for "Boardwalk Empire". The article includes some all-too-brief glimpses at the techniques used by a master like Mr. Macdonald.

"Water is my first go-to technique for aging documents. I also have lots of different stains that I use," he says. "Shoe polish is one, others are water-based. Heat is good too. Typically to age a single page, I'll get it damp, spray or blot on a couple of stains, wrinkle it and fold it, and then press it against an industrial hotplate. Some stains are activated by the heat. The intense heat flashes the water into steam, which seems to loosen up the fibers of the paper a bit. Then I might wrinkle it, and rub some graphite powder on the corners and sand them. Some guys use an airbrush to spray on faux stains. I prefer man-handling stuff and staining it in ways that quickly replicate the real process by which documents get aged. When I'm aging a book, I bash it lightly with a sculpter's mallet, rub lots of different stains into it, and wrinkle and smooth out every single page."

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