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.
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.
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 can also take a college or university qualification to learn some of the skills needed in this job. For example:
- Level 3 Diploma in Production Arts
- Level 4 HNC / Level 5 HND in Performing Arts (Production)
- foundation degree, HND or degree in prop making, technical theatre or set design
Other useful degree subjects include art and design, fine art and 3D design. 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, such as graphic design, furniture making or model making.
Some of the institutions that offer qualifications in prop making also run short taster courses, so you can get a better understanding of what the role involves and whether it's for you.
Where to find out more
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.