Anthony Hitchcock ~ Prop maker

Although I've been mainly a painter and illustrator for the past 14 years or so, I've always had an interest in model and prop-making, which probably stems from my lifelong love of films:- Ray Harryhausen, Star Wars, cowboys and indians, The Crimson Pirate: all the stuff that makes a rainy Saturday afternoon worth it when you are a kid... as a result, over the years, I've done various bits and bobs of 3-d work, more for fun than anything else.
An early experiment with an old Super-8 camera led me to realise that I loved making models, but didn't have the patience for animation; I still have the moth-eaten King Kong and Dinosaur figures lurking somewhere in my parent's loft.
A couple of years ago, however, I made a Chewbacca mask for a friend of mine, who is a Vicar, and the reception it received made me think it might be worth pursuing this line of work a little more seriously.

Chewbacca mask

Fortunately for those of us based in the West Country, Bristol is a veritable mine of prop and model companies, so I duly put together a quick portfolio, and punted it off. That was two years ago, and since then, I've sent numerous images of pantomime props, shop window displays and small sculpts to a handful of companies. In February, my persistence finally paid off, and a lovely firm called Codsteaks invited me to do a sculpt of a New Zealand Long-finned Eel for them.
I had recently completed a Tyrannosaurus Rex model for my 4-year old, and the picture of it arrived on their desk just as they were looking for someone who was comfortable with wildlife modelling. The Rex now has pride of place on my son's bedroom wall!

Tyrannosaurus Rex model

Having never worked in a workshop like Codsteaks before, it was something of a steep learning curve, particularly as I only had 8 days to do the model, from sculpting it in clay, to producing a plaster mould of it, to casting it in Dragon Skin, which is a 2-part silicone designed for the film and TV industry. Incredibly good fun, but also quite nerve-wracking given the very tight turnaround and the fact that I was very aware of how much of an opportunity this was.
In the end, it all worked pretty well, and the eel came in on time, and looking quite fishy. From a technical point of view, it is always interesting to try out new techniques, and one thing that did make me giggle a little was the mix of traditional skills, hi-tech chemicals and Blue-Peterism that were need to create an eel with the correct heft and feel to it: beneath its specialised silicone skin lurks an old pair of tights, stuffed with sand and knotted like a string of sausages as ballast.

Long-finned Eel prop in publicity shot 

The eel was used for publicity shots for the Discovery Channel's "River Monsters" programme, and the resulting pictures appeared on their website: Animal Discovery, around the net and on billboards as well, which was incredibly satisfying to see.
Since then, I've helped Codsteaks make a giant sea monster for a French film, have worked on some props for the new Aardman Animations feature, and have just finished some pirates for an interactive display at the Museum Of London.

All of which, it has to be said, is a lot more fun than having a proper job! Sadly, despite promising otherwise, my friend the Vicar has yet to deliver a sermon whilst wearing the mask...

1 comment:

Frances Cony said...

Fantastic, Tony, especially when Chewbacca gives the sermon. Hope you get some more to do.