Size matters

Size matters; it matters to everyone. Even if you don’t want the biggest, the smallest, or even the perfectly average, it matters. Try wearing shoes a size too small for a day, and then argue it doesn’t. It matters even more if you spend your life making things. Almost the first question a prop maker asks after, ‘when do you need it?’ Is ‘what size do you want it?’ One of the reasons we were asked to make anything, was that it didn’t exist in the real world, or in the size required, so needed to be made, usually at far greater cost than its regular cousin. There is no other way, you have to bite the bullet and pay someone to make it that little bit different. Of course we spent a lot of the time making things that didn’t exist at all in any size, but that is for another day. For the moment I am just going to consider the size of things and why their size mattered. We were sometimes asked to make something larger so that a particular product could be shown off to its best advantage, maybe on a trade or exhibition stand.

ICI Autocolour in original and large size

ICI Autocolour in original and large size

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Sally wearing the larger rucksack she made for W H Smith.

It is the modern version of a large boot hanging outside a shoemakers shop in the past. More often props of differing sizes were needed to alter the scale of an actor, usually to make them appear smaller or larger. W H Smith ran commercials for a long time with Nicholas Lyndhurst playing all the members of the same family. It required sofas, chairs, even a table full of School sports trophies, all to be made in different scales. Here is a link showing Nicholas Lyndhurst wearing an orange rucksack that we made to match those on sale in 1996. In this he plays the young son, the mother and the sister.

Two sizes of Rucksacks made by Sally.

Two sizes of Rucksacks made by Sally.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxzscZRdWsM For ‘Blue Remembered Hills’, Dennis Potter’s ‘Play for Today’ in 1979, where all the children were played by adult actors, we had to make an oversize grey squirrel for the ‘children’ of the cast to kill. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrJAMEnd5OQ The BBC made ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ based on the four books written by C S Lewis. It was made in three parts between 1988 and 1990. We made many props and costumes for all three but in the “The Silver Chair’ the last in the series, we had to make copies of props for the section with the Harfang Giants.

Dolls in two sizes made by Christabel for 'The Silver Chair'.

Dolls in two sizes made by Christabel for ‘The Silver Chair’.

Two figures in two sizes both made by Alastair for 'The Silver Chair'.

Two figures in two sizes both made by Alastair for ‘The Silver Chair’.

One rustic barrel with a smaller version made by us.  One bucket and metal container with a larger ones  made  by us for 'The Silver Chair'.

One rustic barrel with a
smaller version made by us. One bucket and metal container with a larger ones made by us for ‘The Silver Chair’.

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Two carts.  We made the smaller of the two - the larger one was hired - for 'The Silver Chair'.

Two carts. We made the smaller of the two – the larger one was hired – for ‘The Silver Chair’.

Some items we had to make in both large and small versions. Others, we had to either reduce in size, or scale up from an item supplied by the prop buyer. Thames Television put on a production of ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’ with children from The Royal Ballet School as mice, finishing off the tailor’s garments during the night, as he slept.

Embroidery, buttons and thimble made for 'The Tailor of Gloucester'.

Embroidery, buttons and thimble made for ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’.

Original scissors with enlarged version for 'The Tailor of Gloucester'.

Original scissors with enlarged version for ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’.

 A ten foot spoon and a six foot high tankard, make the children dancing the mice look tiny in 'The Tailor of Gloucester'.

A ten foot spoon and a six foot high tankard, make the children dancing the mice look tiny in ‘The Tailor of Gloucester’.

Other productions such as ‘The Borrowers’ and ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ are the classic examples of where scaled props were required. One of the very few props we made for the Theatre was an oversize boot for the first production of ‘Cats’ in 1981. We arrived at The New London Theatre about 11pm to show the boot to the designer John Napier and the director Trevor Nunn. We had not been told it would be thrown every night from the gantry above the stage. It was constructed like a real boot and when we saw the show a second time it did indeed look like an old boot.

Boot for 'Cats', plus one  of original size if not design.

Boot for ‘Cats’, plus a new boot for the scale.

As the show has now been performed into the tens of thousands, I imagine that most prop-makers in the world have made at least one boot for subsequent shows. The last time we saw the show, the boot was cast in solid foam rubber; a lot more durable, but with a very different feel. Sara reminded me that one of our clients, Bob Warans, who specialised in Light Entertainment shows, would request ‘Comedy Size’ props.  We were never quite sure of the exact size but assumed they just needed to be a more obvious version of what was available. I think we made more oversize mallets than any other prop. Comedy was always a good source of work.

Sue inside Ernie Wise's  wallet

Sue inside Ernie Wise’s wallet

From Morecombe and Wise’s oversize wallet,

Dean about to be squashed.

Dean about to be squashed.

a giant hammer for Jim Davidson

A triple buggy with Dean and Carole with the designer of the show

A triple buggy with Dean and Carole with the designer of the show

to a huge triple pushchair for ‘Teachers’. In the commercial for Walkers Say Cheese Snack, starring ‘Little and Large’

Giant 'Say Cheese' packet with original in the crescent shape.

Giant ‘Say Cheese’ packet with original in the crescent shape.

Giant mouse trap wrapped in polythene for transportation.

Giant mouse trap wrapped in polythene for transportation.

they punned on the artists name and we made a giant mousetrap to convince you that their snack contained at least enough cheese to attract a mouse. Size, like colour, is an illusion. These days of oversize television screens, everything is larger than life. In the cinema, things are even bigger. Alan Ladd in the 1940’s and 50s would stand on a box to make him look taller, in ‘The Outlaw’ Howard Hughes designed a bra to make Jane Russell’s breasts look more impressive. It’s all trickery, and we must get things into ‘perspective’. Now that’s another kettle of fish, or blog. I hadn’t realised when I started this section how impossible it would be to do justice to the subject of ‘size’. I should have known it would get too big. There is going to have to be a ‘Size Matters 2’, or even ‘The Return of Size Matters’, my favourite would be ‘Size matters – Then Some More!’ but then sequels have always been a favourite of the film industry and who I am to try and manage without one.

Graham Norton ready to help with the next oversize blog.

Graham Norton ready to help with the next oversize blog.

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2 thoughts on “Size matters

  1. I love the mousetrap. Just think of the mouse! Got me thinking of that classic 1950s film The Incredible Shrinking Man and that spider. I thought the special effects were pretty good or at any rate I remember being terrified by it.

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  2. I don’t think we ever made a mouse big enough to fit the giant mouse trap, but we did make a mouse costume for Warwick Davis when he played Reepicheep in the BBC’s ‘The Chronicles of Narnia – ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’. Quite coincidentally his autobiography is called ‘Size Matters Not’ – and he should know.

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