DIY Prop construction – need recommendations

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    • #81401

      I am in preproduction on a video project right now which requires some custom props.  I need to make dominos that are about 4 feet tall and I'm trying to find a good way to build them.  The shot goes from a set of real dominos to a set of large dominos through a camera zoom.  I can cheat the transition a bit with a little VFX work, but I need to make the props look like real dominos when next to the character who appears to have shrunk down for the shot.


      So the question is; what is an inexpensive material to build something like this out of?  Styrofoam seems to be a decent option, but it doesn't have a nice smooth surface like it needs to have.  Is there a good material to use to coat them for that look?  Any other suggestions?

    • #210970

      Either ‘Foamcore’ or ‘Gator board’ would work for making your oversized dominos. Foamcore is less expensive, but is also more flexible at larger sizes. Gator board is very rigid, yet lightweight, but is also more costly. Find an art framing shop near you – they should at least have foamcore in stock as it is the industry standard for mounting photographs. Good luck!

    • #210973

      I would look at the "rigid pink insulation" they have them in 1", 2" and 3" thick and sold in strips our 4×8 sheets… also its a smooth surface taht can probably be painted… using a hot knife you will be able to make the holes for the dots…


      Good luck!



    • #210980

      What about actually using real dominos, and using forced perspective?

    • #210986

      Thanks for the suggestions so far.  I'm looking through the material costs (and investigating where I might be able to get materials for free) as well as planning some material tests to see how they look.


      Foam core and large foam blocks were my first consideration, but they may be cost prohibitive.  I need 6 – 8 separate dominoes and they will be scaled up to 5'x2.5'x9 3/8" and so the scale is going to be quite large.  Once the shape is build, it can be weighted with just about anything to get good dynamic movement, but I'm trying not to spend $2k on this one prop build.


      I've got access to some heavy duty cardboard tubes from a large scale printer and I'm looking at cutting them lengthwise in quarters to make rounded corners and possibly making a full cardboard shape and painting it with something like Plasti-dip (I have no experience with that stuff though, so it will need some tests).  I think the biggest thing is getting some "thinking out of the box" ideas to build off of (pardon the pun).


      Forced perspective works for a lot of stuff, but I need some interaction with the props and the character, and I want to be able to get a matched focus depth which would be hard to match using FP.  There will be a series of dominoes that will fall in sequence that the character needs to get in the middle of.  For the pieces before and after the action I am going to use CG, but I want to go with practicle effects for the action that is primary in the shot.

    • #210998

      Can you cheat the shot with green screen? I once had to literally pop the talent out of a box of cereal. Green screen and a couple of green cardboads masks did the trick. Cost nothing to do.

    • #210999

      Let me elaborate on the shot a bit; the shot is of a man at a large office desk or table setting up a series of dominoes.  He then knocks over the first domino and the camera zooms in as they begin falling.  In the close up shot, he steps in and stops one as it is falling before it can hit the next.  He holds it up as he speaks, then lets it fall after the dialogue has concluded.  Only one or two more are seen falling as the camera pulls back slightly, then flys back along the path of toppled dominos which appear to go on infinately.


      For the camera fly over, I'm going to be doing CGI, and I'll probably use a bit of CGI to do the transition from the first shot to the closeup, but I want it to look realistic.  The concern with a green screen shot is the composition of lighting and shadows, along with the potential mismatch in focus depth due to the substantial scale difference.  I could make a few cardboard boxs that are the right scale to get the right movement and interactivity, but the composite would be difficult due to the reflection (physical contact with a color keyed surface giving a colored light bounce, not to mention the shadows causing a difference in color for keying).


      The more I evaluate the shot, the more I think I will need a composite of different effects to pull it off right, but at a minimum, I need one prop to have the character interact with directly.

    • #211001

      If I was building it myself, and it needed to be tough I'd use jesmonite on poylstyrene foam – it's a bit like fibreglass, and you simply mix it and paint it on. It sets rock hard. It can be smooth or textured before it dries, and coloured.

    • #211017
      AvatarDamian Lloyd

      You might build a frame out of 1" x 4" pine (or some cheap lumber) and cover it with doorskin or cheapo plywood, then paint it black. That's how we used to make flats in amateur theatre.

    • #211023

      I'm going to try to play with some green screen a bit this weekend to see how much I can cheat it.  Maybe using a skinned frame for motion tracking will work, otherwise I will need at least one interactive prop.


      paulears – Do you have a link you recommend for learning more about jesmonite?  As a 3D artist I haven't had much opportunity to work with much in the way of practical media, so I am hoping to learn some new tricks.


      Also, do you (or anyone else here) know where to find large blocks of polystyrene foam?  I've had difficulty locating  decent resources on that front.  I've concidered getting the pour foam (the A+B stuff) but would still need to make a mould to scale, which brings me back to the original problem.


      Thanks for all the recommendations so far!

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