The Path to Becoming a Prop Maker

At this stage you might be wondering ‘what does a prop maker do?’ or maybe you already know, but, you’re looking for more information on how to become one or what the job entails. This guide will cover everything you’ve wondered about prop makers. We have extensive experience that enables us to provide you with everything you need to know.

What is a Prop Maker?

A prop maker will create anything from replica gaming weapons, giant props of food or life size props for theatre productions. Prop makers work with a variety of different materials and their methods are constantly changing as each new prop challenges their skills and ability to create real life looking props. Prop making is an art which needs patience and the ability to be extremely creative.

Day to day, prop makers usually work in a workshop, theatre studios or at a TV or film studio. Day to day, you’ll be discussing the props that need to be created, creating plans and sketches as well as detailed designs and detailed research if creating replica designs. You’ll be using different materials and a multitude of tools and machinery. You may also be required, not only to create, but also to repair props.


Prop Making Courses

 Wondering how to Become a Prop Maker? There are a few routes you can take. There are many apprenticeships around as well as university courses; it’s completely down to personal choice as to what route you take. Some prop makers have made it into their dream career without attending an apprenticeship, college or university and instead have achieved so through hard work, connections and self entrepreneurial qualities. It is always a good idea to get in touch with a prop company and offer to work on a voluntary basis for a few weeks, proving your worth and making good connections along the way.

Prop Maker Apprenticeship

There are many apprenticeships that become available throughout the year in regards to prop making. The National Theatre has had an apprenticeship programme running since 2011, you can also find opportunities on the National Careers website. 


University

 

To get into university and on a path that will enable you to become a prop maker, you’ll typically need:

  • 2-3 A levels to get onto a degree course
  • 1 A level to get onto a foundation level
  • A foundation diploma in art & design

To become a prop maker you may decide to take a foundation degree in:

  • Prop Making
  • Art & Design
  • Scenic Arts
  • Production Arts

College

 

You can go to college and complete a variety of courses there in order to get some of the skills needed for prop making. Just a few examples of the courses you could take are:

  • Level 2 Diploma in Art and Design
  • Level 2 Certificate in Carpentry
  • Level 3 Certificate in Creative Craft
  • Level 3 Diploma in 3D Design and Crafts

Entry requirements:

  • 2 or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) for a level 2 course
  • 4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) for a level 3 course

Prop Maker Vacancies

 

There are many prop maker job vacancies online.

You can use any popular jobs posting websites such as Indeed, Total Jobs, LinkedIn as well as National careers to find opportunities within the prop industry.

Do you have what it takes?

It takes a special person to create props; you’ll need to be adaptable and explorative.

Skills Needed to Create Props

The great thing about being a prop maker is that no job is ever the same. This also means that you’ll need a different set of skills each time you create a new prop. The prop industry is constantly developing and so will you. Below are some of the many core skills that you’ll need.

Carpentry

Carpentry involves constructing and repairing structures made from woods and various other materials. Carpentry involves mechanical skills such as use of tools and machines. This can involve anything from power saws to drilling and remodelling. You will also need maths skills to measure materials, work out angles, scale objects, work out volumes and mass. You’ll also need to utilise your maths skills for calculating costs and estimates.

Carpentry also involves a certain degree of critical thinking and problem solving. Prop making does not always go to plan and you’ll need to think on your toes as well as strategically. Critical thinking will also help you with the design, layout, time management and planning of your prop creation.


Sculpting

Sculpting involves the transformation of any solid materials into any form or shape. Making sculptures takes a lot of patience. Sculpting may be done with materials such as clay, polystyrene, wood and metal. Sculptors will need to carve, chisel and model their materials into a finished sculpture, and often bearing in mind how the finished piece will be moulded, making sure to minimise any undercuts that can be time-consuming and costly in the moulding process.

Moulding & Casting

Moulding is a process that is used extensively in prop making, especially when multiples of a prop are required. Moulds can be made with silicone, fibreglass or plaster and some moulds are more intricate than others, but a knowledge of this process is invaluable. Once a mould is created, casting can take place. Materials used to cast in to moulds are fibreglass, also known as GRP: Glass Reinforced Plastic, or Jesmonite, otherwise known as GRC: Glass Reinforced Concrete, or polyurethane foam, often used to bulk out and strengthen a cast that has been rota-moulded or to give a soft finished prop rather than a solid, non-malleable one.

Painting

There are many forms of painting, each entailing their own skill necessity. Painting props requires special attention to detail in order to enhance the realism of the props. You may be required to paint a prop that needs to have a glossy smooth finish or a textured prop that required you to paint over materials to create a certain effect. Anything that is seen in nature can be replicated with paint effects. The painting of a prop is the last process, and the knowledge and skill of the painter makes all the difference in what level of quality the finished prop has.


Welding

There are different types of welding; the ones mainly used in prop making are MIG welding (Metal Inert Gas) and TIG welding (Tungsten Inert Gas). MIG welding is easier to learn compared to learning how to TIG weld. Welding is used across a variety of prop types and it is an invaluable skill to have.

Computer Design

As well as drawing up designs, you’ll also be required to create digital designs. Computer aided design is used to create detailed designs prior to prop making. The design will factor everything from measurements, paint, materials needed and the overall look. These can be shown to the clients for approval as well being used as an aid to create the prop when the time comes.

Soft props & upholstery

Soft props are props made using fabrics, foam, card and anything that results in a soft feeling prop. A puppet made using fabrics and foam is a good example of a soft prop.  Weapons cast in silicone rubber or polyurethane foam are another. Upholstery is used when you are looking to cover a prop with material; this can be anything from creating an antique looking chair to creating a soft backdrop.

Prop Maker Salary

So you’re wondering ‘how much money does a prop maker make? Like most artistic and creative roles, it’s hard to completely define how much people in these professions earn. Earnings may depend on where you work, the size of the company and how in demand your job is.  Below are some broad averages in terms of salary:

PositionSalary
Starting Salary£15,000 a year
Self-Employed£85 – £250 a day
Mid – Senior Salary£25,229 – £53,469 a year

Prop Maker Jobs

Model Making

Model making jobs requires real attention to detail. A model is often smaller than the object it represents. Many people like to collect model figures so many businesses, film companies or gaming companies like to make models of popular characters. Models are also often used within architecture, product and theatrical design.

Set designer

Set, production or stage designers are in charge of creating the overall look of a theatre, television or film production. Set design jobs are such an important part of telling a story, the set needs to fit the story and aid the actors in their roles.

Prop Maker

You could work as a prop maker over a variety of different industries or become a prop maker within a workshop. If you work in a prop workshop you’ll be creating props for a variety of different customers such as film, theatre, business, retail and many others.

You’ll need to be adaptable and have a really wide set of skills in order to fulfil clients prop requests. They may provide you with a rough idea of the type of prop they’re looking for but you’ll then need to go away and decide on the best method and materials to use. You could be creating anything from theatre props, film props to window display props.

The great thing about being a prop maker is that it can take you into many roles. There are always new and exciting designs to create and you can always be creative. These skills are also very transferable across many different artistic and creative sectors so you’ll have many options. No day is ever the same as a prop maker, so if you’re looking for a job that enables you to be innovative and adaptable, prop making could be the profession for you.

Sources:

https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk

https://www.planitplus.net/JobProfiles/View/831/97

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/model

https://www.thebalancecareers.com/carpentry-skills-list-2062368

http://www.teach-nology.com/teachers/subject_matter/arts/sculpture/

https://sewcreative.org.uk/