Epic battles, blood cannons and fantasy swords: a day in the life of prop artist Hannah Crosby
Above: artistic finishing aid for Aquaman (left), creating large foam sculptures for Dora and the lost city of gold (middle) and assemble a four meter high CNC cut foam statue to Godzilla vs. Kong (law).
Above: While at NIDA, Hannah sculpted a scale replica of the statue of David for a student production (left) and learned SFX mold making techniques (right).
Above: Stunt weapon replicas for an independent Australian horror film Two Heads Creek, with their real originals.
NIDA alumnus Hannah Crosby (Properties and Objects, 2014) is a multidisciplinary artist who has worked on video games and films like Thor: Ragnarok and Aquaman for 16 years in digital and practical artistic creation. We met Hannah in her busy day as a senior 3D artist at Gameloft Brisbane, who recently released a stunning visual remake of a gaming classic. The Oregon Trailâ¢ on Apple Arcade.
Before moving on to the movies, Hannah worked in video game production as a 3D artist. After completing a bachelor’s degree at NIDA, Hannah branched out into prop sculpture and artistic finishing for movie props.
What prompted you to get into this field? Did you study visual arts at school?
Cinema was a natural industry for me, as I have been both an avid artist and a geek who loves fantasy and sci-fi movies since I was a child. I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged my artistic inclinations. I never knew what I would do with this hobby until I saw behind-the-scenes videos from the the Lord of the Rings and I realized it was something that I could pursue as a career.
What are some of the common weapons that are produced in movie stunt weapons?
The category of “stunt props” can include anything from fantasy swords and realistic pistols to items used as weapons in the context of the scene, such as a boulder or a heavy torch. All of these frequently require a âheroâ version that can be seen up close and looks realistic, and various software versions to use in action scenes. These are often created by taking a mold of the original hero prop and pouring a soft foam version which is then painted identically, from a distance. Swords are probably the most common type of stunt prop, as they may need to come in contact with an actor and obviously a sharp or even hard blade would do some damage. For Thor: Ragnarok the prop team and I had to paint hundreds of acrobatic swords for an epic battle sequence in Asgard.
What materials do you commonly use?
When creating a fantastic accessory we often start with oil clay and water clay which are all very safe on the skin. Then we create a silicone mold and maybe a fiberglass shell to wrap it around. Many silicones are harmless to the skin, but since fiberglass is a specialized skill, there is often a dedicated team to handle this part and this requires more personal protective equipment (PPE).
Regarding the materials that are poured into the molds, more care should be taken as the expanding resins and foams can release fumes during the chemical curing reaction. Painting is also often done with more aggressive chemicals such as automotive paints. For this reason, proper use of PPE is essential and required; wearing gloves, goggles and a respirator is part of my normal day. This is to protect us not only from immediate spills, but also to avoid the long term health effects from repeated exposure that can build up in the system over time if the proper safety guidelines are not followed. are not followed.
What are some of the challenges for someone working in this industry?
Cinema is a very demanding industry, the norm in Australia is ten hours a day, and to meet deadlines it can sometimes be longer. Many movie veterans take breaks between big contracts to recharge for the next project.
Having a stable family life with disrupted filming schedules and moves is a challenge. The industry is very dependent on government tax subsidies to win movie deals (this is true all over the world), so you may need to be prepared to move for the duration of a movie, or at least move there. where the big studios are, like the Gold Coast or Sydney.
Why did you switch from digital creation to sculpting practical accessories and artistic finishing?
After several years as a digital artist, I felt a lack of challenge. It was a good time to consider spending some time pursuing cinema, my other love. The props course at NIDA gave me the opportunity to master all the techniques needed to create real-world art, such as large-scale sculpting, airbrushing, and even soldering. Working on such a large scale on physical media was an exciting new challenge, but I was still able to use my digital skills when I started working professionally as 3D printing and other manufacturing methods modern models are increasingly common in the production of accessories.
Are there a lot of women in these roles?
The distribution of women in movie roles can depend a lot on departments. In the artistic department, it is common to find many women in managerial positions such as Designer or Department Coordinator. Set dressing, costumes and make-up SFX also have a high proportion of women, often in managerial or department head roles, in fact the designers of the costume department are almost always entirely female! However, departments like fittings and construction have a very strong male focus and it can depend a lot on the head of that department and the personalities of the people who work with you whether it’s a welcoming environment for you. women creators. I have had both good and bad experiences in these departments.
What’s one of the highlights of your incredible career so far?
To be honest, I am absolutely blown away when I step into one of the huge settings that transports you to another place – like the Sicilian village of Aquaman, or the streets of Sakaar of Thor: Ragnarok. But I always wanted to work on a low budget horror movie and when I was Prop Master for Two Heads Creek, I had the chance. Hiding right behind a silicone torso, holding the pipes that directed blood from the ‘blood cannon’ to the set in a ridiculously over-the-top beheading sequence, was one of the many highlights of this movie, which was just a joy. to work on it.